Captain Nyota Penda Uhura looked over to her chief science officer. "Mister Drevan, it appears that we are experiencing a momentary lull in our activities. I think we all would benefit from some shore leave. Is there a suitable place within reasonable range?"
The Andorian answered almost immediately. "Very much so, sir! Were near Bacchus Three."
Bacchus III wasnt a planet the captain recognized. Knowing Drevan, his enthusiasm made her a little skeptical. "How about some details, Drevan? Whats on Bacchus Three?"
Ensign James Marsden turned around from the helm. "You name it, they have it, Captain. Its one of those colony worlds that turned out to have a ton of wildlife and jungles and all that sort of thing, but precious little in terms of necessary minerals. Since theyre not actually a part of the Federation, and theyre on the border of Federation space, they can do almost anything they want, and often draw patrons from outside the FederationKlingons mostly, some Orions, a few Romulans and such. Any how, they started out with hunting and fishingas I recall it, they have some really wonderful big game in magnificent profusion, and theyre controlling the take to keep it that way, which keeps the prices sky highbut from there they added fancy accommodations, night clubs, sports arenas, everything. Their entire off-planet income comes from entertaining people. The place is Mardi Gras at warp speed."
"Really." Uhura was not sure how to react to Marsdens enthusiasm. She turned to face TSoral, her communications officer. "Are you aware of anything there that would appeal to more refined tastes, such as a Vulcans?"
"Indeed so, Captain. They have an excellent museum focused on extant and extinct cultures; several of the items appear to be from extremely advanced cultures that have disappeared. I believe that there are three art museums, two museums of natural history, a very creditable reconstruction of the heart of ancient Athens, complete with individuals assuming the roles of the better known ancient Greeks of Pericles day; there is an equally creditable reconstruction of ShiKahr, similarly staffed. On top of that, there is...."
The Bantu held her hand up in mock surrender. "Enough, TSoral, enough! Youve convinced me." She swivelled the central chair back to the helm. "Mister Marsden, plot a course and get us there. How long?"
The helmsmans brow furrowed. "Lets see, at maximum warp, hmm..."
Uhura shook her head. That one, she realized, she had asked for.
Harrison Davids, the physicians assistant who handled Sickbay during the night shift, looked up from the console where he was finishing off the details of some paperwork. Doctor Eletto, the assistant chief medical officer, was coming out of the turbolift. "Rising early, today, eh, Giac? Were you overwhelmed by an insatiable desire to do more paperwork? If so, I have a supply thats definitely adequate to sate that desire."
"I may be going nuts, but I havent gone totally space happy yet, Hardav. I just needed some advice on handling a quasi-medical situation thats come up, and youre just the man to give me the input I need."
"Now thats bad news: the great-grandfather of modern medicine needing help with diagnosis and treatment! Doubt I can give you any help, but Ill try."
"Its not diagnosis and treatment, Im afraid. Its a different issue, more an administrative one. I need to confront a crewman about shore leave. Hasnt taken any leave in, oh, three or four years, maybe more, certainly since long before coming aboard the Hyperion. Performance is still at acceptable standards, of course, otherwise I could nail his hide to the wall easily, but its slid from the usual stellar level to near mediocrity." Eletto spread his hands in uncertainty. "I mean, this is totally unlike what Ive had to field before, man. How do you do that sort of thing?
The physicians assistant pursed his lips. "Yeah, I should have guessed itd be something like that. My advice is to get eyeball to eyeball with the crewman and tell him to his face. Or her face, you understand. Want me to do it for you, so you get the idea?"
"Couldnt hurt. If you dont mind, I mean."
Hardav grinned. "Mind? Id love to. Get em where I can nail em! Ive always had a thing about folks that damage their own effectiveness through neglect. Ill give em a tongue lashing for you."
"I can do that." It was Elettos turn to grin. "Mirrors over there, Hardav. Go talk to yourself. I believe the phrase was Give him a tongue lashing wasnt it?"
Davids jaw almost hit the floor. "Now just a minute, Giac, I..."
The physician shook his head. "Mirrors over there, Davids. I took a look at your service records. Your last real leave was more than three years before you signed on with the Hyperion. Although youre still performing up to average standards, youre running at about seventy percent of your usual efficiency. Youre overdue for shore leave, Hardav; dont make me make that an order."
"Did I ever tell you that youre a sneaky little stinker, Doctor?"
"Ive been told that before. Come to think of it, Ive been called worse than that, too." Eletto tilted his head to one side. "Do you go voluntarily, or do I have you thrown off the ship?"
"Okay, okay, you win. Ill go." Hardav obviously wasnt totally thrilled about the idea.
"Youre dead right youre going to go. And to make sure that youre goofing off, rather than trying to keep working under the guise of goofing off, Im sending you down with Webb, Marsden and Ensign Patricia Denala, the brunette from Engineering. Rumor has it you two are reasonably chummy..."
"Youre not only a stinker, you miserable old icicle, youre a snoop, too."
"Coming from the likes of you, Ill take that as high praise." The physician chuckled. "Now get out of here, get some sleep, and prepare for shore leave when we get to Bacchus. MBenga and I can survive without you for a few hours."
"I hope so." Hardav picked up his mediscanner, moving toward the turbolift. "But I guess youre right. The years in clandestine operations, never knowing when the knife might come for my back, was no picnic. A little fun and frolic probably wouldnt hurt me a bit."
"Just careful with the frolic, okay?"
Davids disappeared into the turbolift, his only response being an excessively toothy grin.
Chief Medical Officer MBenga quietly walked into the ready room off the bridge, looking for the ships captain. As he expected, he found her gazing through the window at the arboretum below. The physician smiled to himself, thinking it was an opportunity too good to pass up. Making an effort to be as silent as he could, he moved up behind her. Just before he could reach his arms around her, she turned.
"Keme, will you look at that pair down there? I think theyve both gone insane. What in the universe do they think they are doing?"
Disappointed, the half-Zulu, half-Masai physician moved to where he could look at the scene in the arboretum below. It was, to him, far less interesting that looking at Uhura. For a moment, he was unsure what Uhura was referring to. Suddenly, a bush moved. Behind it, Running Bear was moving slowly, apparently blissfully unaware of Eletto creeping up behind him. The physician suddenly swatted the engineer on the shoulder, said something that neither could hear, then disappeared into the brush.
Unable to restrain himself, MBenga began to laugh, the merriment in his baritone pulling his Bantu commanding officer into laughter with him. "I should take lessons from that man, you know it? I had no idea he was that good."
"Take lessons from an adult acting like a lunatic?" Uhura rolled her eyes. "I was under the impression that males didnt need lessons on being insane."
"Oh, come on, Captain, thats not what I meant, and you know it!"
Uhura turned toward MBenga, her fists on her hips, but a half smile on her face. "If you think thats an explanation, youre deeply confused, Keme. First off, that totally fails to answer my question. Second, I could see your reflection in the window as you were sneaking up behind me, so no amount of quietness would have helped."
Still chuckling, the physician stepped forward and wrapped his arms around Uhura, planting a friendly kiss on her forehead. He let her go, stepping back. "They are playing Indian, my dear captain. A couple of times a week, they take over the arboretum for a couple of hours. Sometimes, they look at the tracks other crew members have left, reading what they can from themwho it was, what they were thinking and doing, that sort of thing. Other times, they stalk each other, trying to touch without being seen, which is what theyre doing now. When they do it, I understand theyre supposed to say that they count coup on the other one. Running Bear says its good practice for them in stalking and tracking. Eletto just thinks its good fun. Of course, last I heard, Eletto was in the lead on coup counting, but the margin is reputedly very narrow. Watch!" MBenga pointed again.
Below them, the pair saw Eletto cautiously moving around the bole of a large ash tree, trying to find his opponent. What Eletto could not see, but the two above him could, was Running Bear sitting on a branch, waiting patiently. With almost lightening speed, as the physician moved under the branch, Running Bear reached down, swatted him on the head, yelled, and disappeared. The physician wore a look of major chagrin, obviously chiding himself for not paying attention to the tree above himself. Undaunted, the Human began to watch the trees and ground around himself, looking for the engineer and his next move.
"That pair of dingbats are half-naked, Keme. Theres nothing on them but trousers! I dont think they even have shoes on!"
"Theyre barefoot, all right," MBenga responded, shaking his head. "That alone brands them both as total lunatics, like that was news. Had to fish a nasty looking splinter out of Elettos foot a couple of weeks ago. Just give thanks theyre wearing the deerskin breeches now, Nyota. When they first started this, they just wore the traditional loincloth, until they overheard TSoral quizzing Marie on some aspects of Human male anatomy they didnt realize she knew about."
Uhura blushed a little as MBenga continued. "Yep, that anatomy. I guess theyd forgotten about the windows from here and the cafeteria. Of course, to TSoral, it was nothing but an academic exercise in Human anatomybut they were deeply embarrassed, to say the least."
"They deserved to be!" Uhura slipped her arm around MBengas waist, drawing him closer to her. MBenga reciprocated, still standing at her side. "Giacs about to, whatd you call it, count coup again, Keme."
True to the captains word, Eletto was moving in on Running Bear. Just an instant before the physician tagged the Illiniwek Indian, however, he turned, swatted Eletto on the arm and ran off laughing. There was no mistaking the physicians amusement at being outwitted.
"Giac deserved that, too, Nyota." The Masai shook his head. "Didnt have decent cover as he came in."
"I bet hes got more cover now than he used to when he was wearing the loincloth!" Uhura turned, turning MBenga to face her. She hugged the man close to herself, nuzzling her face on his shoulder, feeling suddenly warm and cozy. "Im sure youve heard were going to be doing a little shore leave soon. Maybe we could find ourselves a quite little restaurant, one with low lights and a romantic atmosphere, hmm?" She moved her hand up MBengas back, moving his face down towards her own.
Just before they met, the ready room door started to open. "Pardon my intrusion, Captain," came the voice of the Hyperions chief communications officer.
Physician and captain moved apart quickly. "Yes, TSoral?"
The Vulcan was clearly more curious than embarrassed. "Ensign Marsden wanted me to inform you of the fact that we are now in orbit around Bacchus Three. He stated that you had told him to have you informed the moment we arrived."
Uhura sighed. The Vulcan was right; it was just that the timing was very wrong. "Thank you, TSoral. Ill be out to start sending folks down for shore leave in a couple of minutes. Do you have the leave rosters?"
"I do, Captain. As per your request, you and Doctor MBenga will both be in the third group." Uhura noticed that the tips of the Vulcans ears showed a slightly greater hint of green as she spoke.
MBengas rolling baritone broke into another laugh. "I guess theres a definite downside to a well-honed ability to read a Human mental signature, isnt there, TSoral?"
The green tint on the Vulcans ears expanded to include most of both ears.
"Dont worry. Neither of us is embarrassed in the least."
Uhura swatted MBenga on the derriere. "Speak for yourself, big fellah." She turned to TSoral and winked. "Thank you for dealing with that little detail, too, TSoral. If Eletto and Running Bear arent on the same shore leave roster, better make it happen that way; I think theyd like to stalk some of Bacchus wild game. Its a skill that we may need some day."
She turned back to the Masai. "As I recall it, you and Giac ordered Hardav to be in the first group down for shore leave, Keme. Youd better get back to medical so that Davids can skedaddle to the surface."
Harrison Davids, Patty Denala, Marie Webb and Jim Marsden sat in a booth, talking and laughing over dessert, largely ignoring the rapid-fire movement of the two Vulcan acrobats on the stage. Davids sipped his wine again. "Its been too long since Ive taken any leave, you know it? I didnt realize how tightly wound I was getting."
"That makes one of you, any how!" Webb gibed. "The rest of us in Sickbay were beginning to worry that you were wound so tight that your mainspring would break."
Denala leaned over and nudged Webb in the ribs with her elbow. "You leave his mainspring alone, you hear me?" She giggled, clearly a little tipsy. "Hes mine, all mine, mainspring and all."
Marsden and Davids looked at each other, Davids staring at the ceiling in mock horror. "I knew we shouldnt have let them order that last bottle of wine, Jim. Look what theyve done to themselves. Theyve both had a little too much."
"Spoilsport!" Webb giggled too. "I bet I can walk a line as well as you can, smarty pants!"
"As long as you use a cork-screw for a straight-edge, sure." Marsden was clearly amused by his lame bit of humor.
Davids realized that he was probably the only one of the foursome that was sober. Unlike the other three, the physicians assistant had barely touched his wine. In the length of time the other three had gone through at least an entire bottle each, Davids had not even finished a whole glass. His training for clandestine activities had fundamentally altered his approach to even casual situations, and he found it hard to ignore.
For the hundredth time, he let his eye run over the crowd in the night club. One booth contained a half dozen or so Klingons, deeply engaged in what appeared to be a game of chance that involved patterns created by what looked like icosahedrons with various magnetic charges on different faces. What looked like large sums of currency were on the table, often changing hands with the results of a throw of the icosahedra. Several tables of Humans were visible, in varying stages of inebriation. Other tables and booths sported mixtures of Humans, Orions, Vulcans, Gorn, Tellarites and other sentient species, in conversation. To one side, there was a booth full of Vulcans, obviously deeply engrossed in discussing the details of some issue or other, and a little closer, there was a table full of Orion traders, hotly debating an issue in their native language.
Davids survey was interrupted by an elbow in the ribs.
"Hey, you, Im being ignored, here!" It was Patty Denala. "Were supposed to be having some fun together, and youre off looking for other women."
Contrite, Davids wrapped an arm around the engineer, pulling her a little closer to him, trying to make amends as best he could. "Got distracted by those Klingons over there, trying to figure out how their little gambling game worked, thats all," he lied. "Youve known me long enough to know how easily I get distracted by things like that. Ill probably end up looking it up in the ships database tomorrow."
Denala dragged Davids closer and started some serious kissing. Out of the corner of his eye, Davids saw the Orions leaving, one of them staring at him intently as they walked past.
Denala tightened her arm around Davids. "Late tomorrow!" She snuggled closer, obviously intent on continuing her amorous activities.
Before the pair could become more than slightly involved in that activity, one of the servers arrived at the table. "Excuse me, please, but would you be Harrison Davids?"
"Yes, I would be." Davids straightened up, both he and his companion slightly annoyed at the interruption. "Why do you need to know?"
"Secure call for you. The source is most insistent that it is urgent, and that the identity can only be divulged to you. Your presence in a secure communications area is most intensely requested."
Denala favored the server with a glare that would have spoken volumes of anger to a Human, but was totally lost on the Vulcan bringing the summons. Davids leaned over, planting one last kiss. "Mark my place, Patty. I promise to be back as fast as I can get rid of whomever this sadist is thats interrupting us might be."
Pouting, Denala started to pretend to look for another companion. "No need to hurry, naughty person." She giggled, pushing Davids out of the booth. "Soonest gone, soonest back!"
The Vulcan guided Davids out of sight.
"I tell you, that boys brain just isnt wired right," Webb asserted. She leaned over to Marsden. "He didnt even react to that woman doing her version of the Dance of the Seven Veils. What do you think, Jimmy? Is he really a Vulcan in disguise?"
Marsden pretended to whisper into her ear. "Oh, no, Marie, not at all. I hear hes actually a cleverly designed robot that is doing a whale of a job impersonating a real Human."
"Well, somebody forgot to program in some very, very important behavior!" Denala looked at Webb and winked. "I think I need to get him alone and see what I can do about fixing that deficiency. Think I can manage that, Marie?"
"Dunno." The nurse smiled somewhat lopsidedly. "But think of all the fun you can have trying!"
Inevitably, between the wine and the ambience, the conversation rapidly degenerated into a series of increasingly outrageous scenarios involving Davids as the butt of their humor. Finally, Denala looked over at Marsden. "Hes been gone too long. I bet hes found another woman. Think we need to go hunting?"
Marsden nodded, his head rapidly being cleared by the awareness of a potential emergency. "Youre right, Ensign." The sudden use of rank rather than name had a similar, if less pronounced, effect on the two ladies. "Keep your eyes open. Im going to talk to the maitre d." Moving quickly, he did exactly as he promised.
Moments later, he disappeared around a corner, then returned. When he reached the table, the ensign was all business. "Davids is gone, and no one saw him leave. I have good reason to believe that hes been kidnapped. Its time to get back to the Hyperion immediately."
Uncertain, Webb looked at the helmsman. "Thats pretty serious business, Marsden. You have any evidence?"
"Just this." Marsden opened his hand. Davids communicator lay in it, partially smashed. Marsden opened his communicator. "Hyperion, three to beam up, immediately."
"Captain, Admiral Gragar is hailing us on an ultra-secure channel."
Uhura nodded. She had more or less been expecting this. "Mainviewer, TSoral."
To the surprise of all on the bridge, Gragar was not alone. Standing behind him was Admiral Sevral.
"Captain Uhura, I have been informed that you declared one of your crew AWOL, specifically Lieutenant Commander Harrison Davids. Since shore leave is characteristically granted for eight hours, and you reported him AWOL in less than five, I am rather curious to know what is happening." The Tellarite was doing his best to remain as stone-faced as the Vulcan standing behind him.
"That would be the official report, Admiral. It seemed more prudent to report him AWOL than otherwise."
"The official report, Captain?" Gragar turned to Sevral. "Sounds to me like there might be more to be said here, Sevral. Your opinion?"
"I concur." Sevral looked Uhura in the eye. "I would appreciate your reaction to Admiral Gragars deduction."
Around her, on the bridge, Uhura could feel the tension starting to rise. "It is accurate, Admiral Sevral. We have good reason to believe that he was kidnapped by parties as yet unidentified."
Gragars hog-like snout wrinkled in a Tellarite expression of displeasure. "Wonderful." He leaned forward, his hoofs planted on the desk before him. "Does anyone on your ship realize the disaster that Davids falling into the wrong hands could cause?"
Drevan stepped behind the captain, defensively. "Offhand, Admiral, I think I may have a better idea of what that means than you think." TSoral left her station to join the Andorian, who turned to look at her before facing the viewer again. "And shes got as sharp an idea of what it means as anyone in the Federation, Admiral Gragar, with the possible exception of Admiral Sevral. We are already doing what we can to find him."
Before the Tellarite could answer, the Vulcan placed his hand on Gragars shoulder, restraining him. "The Andorian speaks the truth, Gragar. Moreover, Davids is their comrade; all three, I understand, feel they owe their continued survival to the others, several times over."
Gragar nodded, turning to Uhura. "To put it bluntly, if what Davids knows gets into unfriendly hands, half to two-thirds of the Federations clandestine activities will be jeopardized, if not eliminated. Hundreds, possibly thousands of men and womens lives are at stake, here. You are hereby authorized to do whatever it takes to keep what Davids knows out of those hands, by any means you can."
Slowly, the captain nodded, shifting her gaze to Sevral. "Are there any limitations?"
"None, Captain. As bloodless as it may sound, preventing the information from being divulged is more important that protecting Lieutenant Commander Davids life." Even in the unemotional face of the Vulcan officer, Uhura could read considerable distaste for that truth.
"For that matter, Captain," Gragar added, "as valuable as your and your crews service on the Hyperion has been, I am not exaggerating when I say that if you all were destroyed along with the Hyperion but the information was protected, the Federation would grieve at the loss, but would not complain." He looked at his hoofs on the desk before him for a moment before continuing. "Personally, you understand, Id much rather see the lot of you still patrolling the Beta Quadrant, but..."
Sevral looked his sister, TSoral, squarely in the face. "It is the only logical conclusion, Sister."
TSoral nodded silently.
"If there is nothing else, gentlebeings," Uhura offered, her voice just barely audible, "it might be wisest for us to return to our efforts."
"Logical, Captain." It was Sevral speaking. "I wish you all good fortunes in your efforts."
The connection broke. If anyone on the bridge understood the Swahili Uhura mumbled under her breath, none of them admitted it.
Uhura sat in the central chair, listening as the people she had ordered to the briefing room made their way there from the turbolift, her face an emotionless mask. Only TSoral, acutely aware of the status of the captains mental signature, was aware of the roiling emotions within her. Uhura stood. "Lieutenant Tucker, you have the conn. And I dont want any interruptions until we come out, Joe, unless its life or death. TSoral, Drevan, Marsden, come with me." She moved to the briefing room.
The others present sat in the few remaining open chairs, but the Bantu stood behind her selected chair, looking each of them in the eye. Eletto looked deeply guilty, obviously regretting that he had all but forced the physicians assistant to take shore leave. MBenga, next to him, was concerned, too; the way he stared at Eletto on occasion, it was clear that there were two shipmates whose condition worried himDavids and Eletto both. Denala, Marsden and Webb were clustered together, half afraid of how the others would react. Indris face bespoke a determination to deal with whomever or whatever it took to regain a friend; Running Bear, TSoral and Drevan were, as far as Uhura was concerned, unreadable.
Uhura took a deep breath, laying her hands on the table in front of her. "Lets get something clear right now. We are here to develop a plan for rescuing a kidnapped shipmate. If I hear any blaming, if I hear any accusations, if I hear anything other than a concrete contribution to a plan to find and rescue Lieutenant Commander Davids, Im going to let the frustration and fury bottled up in me loose on whomever is foolish enough to do it. Trust me, it wont be a pretty sight. I can read enough pain in some of your faces to know that I couldnt do anything worse to you than youre doing to yourselves, and I am not going to add to it, nor will I let any of you do so. Have I made myself adequately clear, gentlebeings?"
Silently, heads nodded assent around the table.
"Good. Doctor Eletto, did you notice anything unusual in Davids demeanor prior to his going on shore?"
The physician closed his eyes in concentration for a moment, then shook his head. "The only thing I can think of was that he looked a little tired, which seems appropriate, given how hard hes been working lately, and the length of time since he last took leave. No hint of his having suicidal tendencies, no hint that he was going to have a fugue incident or disappear. This whole incident is totally unexpected, at least from the medical standpoint."
"Very well. Marsden, you were with him. I want everything you can recall from the evening, particularly anything that might be related to why Davids might be AWOL. Webb, Denala, if he forgets a detail you think is important, or soft pedals something you think might be useful, interrupt and tell us." Uhuras face remained an almost emotionless mask.
"We were at the Silenus; its one of the swankier nightclubs in Bacchus City. There were several acts ranging from vocalists and acrobats to comedians and other things."
"One act, which Hardav, uh, Lieutenant Commander Davids pointedly ignored involved a Human female who left the stage in considerably less attire than she arrived with." It was Denala offering the information. She reddened a little bit before going on. "The dance she was doing was, um, well, frankly sensual. We made a few jokes about his being a Vulcan over his lack of reaction to her. I mean, the way that woman was built, I was rather surprised, especially when she removed her..."
"Davids ignored the other acts, too, Patty," Marsden interrupted, before the ensign could finish her description; hed tried to ignore that act, too, when they were planetside. "Mostly, when he wasnt actively talking to one of us in the booth, he was watching the crowd around us. We were on the north wall, where we could see the entrance. We had gone through about three liters of wine, and had started a fourth, I think." He looked over to Webb.
"We were pretty well into it. I dont think Hardav had touched a drop, though. Patty and I were, um, ..."
"Admit it, Marie, we were drunk. Marsden wasnt as intoxicated as we were, maybe, but he wasnt totally sober, either. Davids was stone sober, though. When I tried to get things moving a little, there was no doubt that he was in total control of himself. You know what I mean, Captain?"
"Not that Ill admit to, Patty. Marsden, were there any groups that Davids was particularly watching?"
Marsden rubbed his chin. "Im not totally sure."
"Oh, be honest, Marsden, you werent watching Davids all that closely." Marie Webb shook her head. It was obvious what she felt Marsden had been watching. "But I remember him making a comment about a group of Klingons to you, Patty."
"I think there were six of them. Hardav claimed he was trying to figure out their gambling game."
"That, and there were a group of Orions in another booth." Marsden furrowed his brow. "Ladies, correct me if Im wrong, but didnt one or two of them come out of their way to pass close to us on their way out?"
Denala nodded vigorously. "Yes, yes, youre right. One of them was trying to stare holes in Hardav when we were, um..." The engineer blushed slightly, then decided to be blunt. "When we started necking, to be honest. I thought they were just interested in what we were doing, and I was just about to ask Hardav to pull the curtain on the booth shut, so we could get a little more personal. Weve been an item off and on pretty much since we joined the crew, and I was thinking that he would be a good catch. Thats when the Vulcan server arrived announcing that there was a call for him, and that he had to go to the secure booth area."
Uhura nodded, her face softening a little. "I appreciate your honesty, Ensign; some of that couldnt have been easy to admit in front of a group of senior officers. Those details wont make it into the log, okay? In fact, a lot of her remarks had better not leave this room." Her eyes glanced around the table.
Nodding, still slightly red faced, Denala spouted a soft, but very sincere, "Thank you, Captain," then lapsed into silence, looking at Marsden.
"From there, we talked for a few minutes, until we decided he had been gone too long. Thats when I went to look for him. When I saw signs of a brief scuffle, and found his communicator, broken and on the floor, I had the restaurants manager summon the local police and brought the ladies back to the ship."
Pensively, the captain stared at the tops of the trees in the arboretum, digesting what she had learned. She looked at her communications chief. "Conclusions?"
TSoral looked across the table at Drevan, who nodded. "I agree. All of us present should be sufficiently secure." She took a breath. "One of the last achievements of our clandestine activities was taking down the San Francisco arm of an Orion drug smuggling ring. Lieutenant Commander Davids was pivotal in amassing the evidence that led to that collapse, but he was most disappointed that it was not possible to reach all the way to the leaders of the ring." TSoral looked Uhura squarely in the eyes. "It was that achievement that made our situation intolerably dangerous; your offer of a berth on the Hyperion was literally a life-saver for all three of us. I conjecture that the Orions may have either been a part of, or the leaders of, that cartel, recognized Davids, and decided to take him."
"The problem with that, other than his being a shipmate and a good friend, is that he still holds a lot of stuff in his head that would be damaging to clandestine operations if it got into the wrong hands." Drevan turned to Uhura. "With all due respect, thats an issue that looms larger than his life, or the lives of all of us on the Hyperion."
The captains face remained almost impassive. "Drevan is not exaggerating. We had a little discussion with Admiral Gragar, and his remarks echo theirs." She took a deep breath. "Our orders are to locate Davids, and make sure that he is unable to divulge any information to his captors. Gragar made it abundantly clear that it didnt matter to him whether Davids, or any of us, survived as long as the information remained secret."
"Thats our Gragar." To everyones surprise, it was Indris voice. He turned to Drevan. "How tightly can you tie his position down?"
"Error is plus or minus ten kilometers, Indri." The Andorian shrugged. "I did everything I could to tighten it. All I can say with certainty is that hes on the planet, possibly in one of the rougher areas of Bacchus City."
"His communicator isnt with him," Uhura objected. "I dont see how you can know that."
"This is ultra secret, Captain," Drevan answered. "However, every member of clandestine operations has a small subspace pinger inserted somewhere in their bodies."
"In essence, Captain, it is similar to the rubidium subcutaneous transponders Starfleet has implanted in each admiral." TSoral looked back to Drevan, turning the floor over to him.
The Andorian nodded. "In the case of clandestine ops, the pinger produces a picosecond subspace pulse on pseudo-random frequencies, at pseudo-random intervals, not more often than once every hour, not less often than once in forty-eight hours. It is too short, and too randomized, to be triangulated with any great precision."
Indri nodded, almost as if he expected to hear Drevans remark. "Figures. That explains a couple of projects I worked on for Gragar, back when I was in advanced engineering training at the Academy."
"Thank you, Mister Drevan. However, although that narrows our search considerably, it fails to solve our problem." The captain looked from face to face on the table. "None of us leaves this room until we have a concrete plan for finding Davids. And I want him back alive, preferably unharmed." She sat down, finally, punctuating her remark with the motion. "I am open to any and all ideas."
The silence was, for an uncomfortably long period of time, almost palpable. Finally, TSoral, whose head had been bowed slightly and whose eyes had been closed, looked up. "I have a thought, but it is risky."
"On the whole, it appears that the Starfleet brass couldnt care less about the risk to the crew, TSoral. Im willing to take a risk or two for a member of my crew. Im sure we can find enough other volunteers, if we need them."
"I believe we can trick the kidnappers into telling us where Lieutenant Commander Davids is hidden. If Mister Indri can produce subcutaneous transponders that we can trigger when were ready to be transported up, the danger will be considerably lessened."
"Not a problem. I can have a couple of dozen ready in fifteen minutes. The only thing well have to engineer will be the triggers. Ill need someone from Medical, though, to double check us on a couple of design elements. Running Bear, Marie?" Indri stood to leave.
"If I may, I should like to keep Running Bear with us." TSoral turned to the Native American. "If you would be willing to assume the risk."
A fire that bode ill for Davids captors smoldered in the deep brown eyes. "I am eager."
"Excellent. Indri, if you could stay a few moments longer, there is another device or two that you may need to prepare for the teams when they go down. Here are the basics of the plan. If any of you have additional thoughts on how to make this work, please tell me."
The threesome attracted attention the moment they stepped into the Silenus. It was hard to tell which of the three was the most worrisome. At the lead, swaggered a dark-skinned woman carrying an air of authority that bordered on arrogance, dressed in a loosely fit, long black leather coat, and a long, crimson leather dress. Hanging from a strap around her waist was a large, black pouch, clearly her version of a purse. Neither hid the fact that she carried a very businesslike knife on one hip, and a medium power hand phaser on the other.
Trailing behind her, to the right, was a taller, black male. Reading his face was impossible; a band of reflective material crossed his eyes, rested on his nose, and was anchored to his ears. Although he carried both knife and phaser, it was clear that he didnt need either to get his way: iron hard muscles showed through the black T-shirt, and equally hard muscle declared itself everywhere else. His dress was flamboyant; his neck was festooned with multiple decorative chains, and his hands sported several large, almost outrageous, rings. To the left, a smaller, olive-skinned man followed. In stark contrast to the other two, his dress was conservative, to the point of being almost bland; the only striking features, other than his deep, penetrating eyes were the ebony braids hanging down his back, one on either side of a long, cylindrical weapon he carried, slung on his back. The Centaurian maitre d scuttled forward. "Please, what can I do for you?"
The woman spoke. "There were some Orions here last night. Rumor has it they know where an individual nicknamed da Weed is. I want this Weed fellow, want him badly."
The Centaurian shook his head. "I surely wouldnt know anything about such things, oh, no, not at all. We have many guests here, and it is so inappropriate to enquire about their..."
The woman gestured, almost imperceptibly. From behind her, an arm swept forward, picking the being up and holding him almost face to face with the larger of the womans companions. "Listen, punk. The lady isnt worried about protocol, get it?" The fist twisted slightly in the Centaurians shirt, tightening the collar slightly, leaving him scant ability to breathe. "Shes got good reason to believe this Weed character was here, and these green bums took him out of here. He queered the pitch on her in an operation in the San Fran area on Earth. Me and my friend, here, were going to gently remind him that he needs to show better manners. Got my point?" He deposited the Centaurian back on the floor, none too gently. Flustered, the Centaurian tried to smooth his shirt and return it to its original condition.
The braided one looked up from cleaning his fingernails with the point of a small stiletto, a thoroughly sadistic glint in one eye. "Boss lady, is he giving you grief? Can I hurt him? Just a little? Please? It wont even show; I can just rip off a couple of his toenails, maybe, or..."
"Leave him alone, for now." She looked back at the maitre d, trying to seem apologetic. "My associates occasionally get a little too eager. Im sure you will be willing to cooperate. He was supposedly here last night, and I want to know where they took him." A wad of credits flashed in one hand, appearing out of the pouch hanging in front of her. "I would like to remonstrate with him over his past, unfortunate behavior."
"Naturally, madam, naturally." The being was clearly shaken by the behavior of the two men. "But really, I must insist that you speak to others; I was not here yesterday, so I can be of no use to you. Pleasethe manager is this way. Let me escort you, if I may."
"Just dont try anything unwise," the larger of the men suggested. "My friend here, he hasnt seen a lot of action lately, and he might overreact, know what I mean?"
Hurriedly, the Centaurian led the three a short way down a wide corridor, ushering them into a large antechamber. "I shall bring Mister Peabody immediately."
The woman stood, near one door, the large black male with arms akimbo and legs spread shoulder width behind and to one side, the smaller one, at the other side, working on his nails with his knife.
Scant moments passed before the promised Mister Peabody was ushered into the room. "Sherman tells me that you wish some information?"
The woman nodded. "Yes. My sources tell me that an individual I want to find was taken from your club last evening. Rumor has it that it was by a group of Orion traders. Unless you can deliver the person to me, I want to be put in touch with these Orions, to work out a deal."
"Alas, I cannot claim to know precisely whom you might mean, Madam, nor where to find them." The burlier of her escorts began to reach forward. Hurriedly, the manager continued, watching both men carefully. "However, there was one group of Orions who left earlier than usual last evening. Over the last few weeks, they have been here most evenings. Should they return, I am sure the good Sherman would be pleased to introduce you to them. Being traders, I have no doubt that they would be more than happy to hear any business proposal you might have to offer them."
Peabody was clearly nervous; as far as he knew, only the planetary police force knew of the activities of the night before. The woman knowing about the incident suggested that she had managed to buy the information from an informant in the police. That made her, at least potentially, a very dangerous opponent. "Might I suggest that you find a comfortable place in our humble establishment to wait for these Orions? We would be most pleased to have you as our guests, on my personal tab."
She looked at her companions, then back at the manager. "That will do nicely. If you will find us somewhere inconspicuous?" She turned to her companions, her gentle and soothing voice suddenly becoming abrasively harsh. "No booze, you hear me? And control your tempers. I dont want to deal with a repeat of what happened on Garrideb Four. Theyre still after your stupid hides over that episode. Try another stunt like that, and I turn your scabby carcasses over to the enforcers. Dead. Got it?"
The mens eyes made it abundantly clear that they understood completely, and were obviously convinced she could and would do as she threatened. She turned back to Mister Peabody, her voice gentle and soothing again. "After you, good sir."
Thankful to have a chance to escape the trio, he led them to a secluded booth and scurried back to his office.
Reichard turned to Science Two. "Any luck, Drevan?"
"Not yet; just frustration. Finding one person in a city of a million or moreseveral million, if you count the touristsis not exactly easy. Ten kilometers either way is as good as I can do, Ken, at least so far."
The lieutenant commander nodded sympathetically, reacting as much to the tone of the Andorians voice as the content of what he said. "I wish I were down there hunting, too, Drevan, but itd be too risky for you, and we both know it. And Im stuck here with the conn, like it or not."
The chief science officer turned to face the center seat. "Wed make a great duet, whining about this, wouldnt we?"
"Duet nothing; itd be a whole choir. Did you hear that everyone down in the Nutrition area volunteered to try to get jobs cooking in Bacchus City, to see what they could learn?"
"Well, hopefully theyd learn some new stuff to serve, any how." Drevans antennae drooped a hair, as he ran his hand through the hair between them. "I know youre right, Ken, but it just grates on me: Andorians arent very good at sitting on the sidelines, being idle."
"Some Humans arent, either." Reichard turned to Lieutenant ODoul, at Communications. "Deanna, its time for me to talk to the chief cop in Bacchus City. Mainviewer, please."
An instant later, the face of a uniformed official filled the screen. "Captain Hallum here, Hyperion. What can I do for you?"
"Lieutenant Commander Reichard, Captain. Id be interested in knowing what youve learned about the suspected abduction of Lieutenant Commander Davids."
"Of course." The officer played a couple of contacts on his desk. "The main findings, other than the evidence your crew has offered, are traces of trichloromethane at the probable site of the abduction and a surveillance tape showing a Human compatible with the information given us on your Davids being escorted out of the Silenus by a pair of Klingons, then put into an automated public transport unit."
Reichard looked over at Drevan. "Trichloromethane?"
"Chloroform. Fast acting, inhaled anesthetic, useful on several humanoid lifeforms, including Humans, Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, but not Andorians. Not sure about Tellarites, but I think it works on them, just not as fast."
The Human turned back to face the police captain. "Basically, youve mostly confirmed the abduction theory, then, even if it looks more like Klingons than Orions. Was it possible to identify any of the beings?"
"Regrettably, the record failed to provide sufficient resolution of their faces to be of use. However, the manager of the Silenus has several Klingons on staff, working as bouncers and as escorts for dignitaries; it could have easily been two of them, delivering your comrade to the transport unit. Unless we know exactly which unit it was, and where it went, the information is of precious little value other than supporting your theory, and the only strongly supportive point is the trichloromethane."
Reichard fingered the ends of the arms of the command chair pensively. "Thank you, Captain. If there is any further information, please notify us immediately."
"Naturally. Has your crew had any results?"
"Only that we have strong reason to believe that he is somewhere in an area of about ten kilometers radius, centered at the coordinates you already have."
"Indeed. The circle includes areas of Bacchus City that are comparatively disreputable, but also areas that are quite luxurious. Regrettably, the information is of little help."
Reichard shrugged. "Agreed, but its all weve got. Well keep trying, and if we turn anything else up, Captain Hallum, well notify you immediately. If we find a situation that requires an urgent response, may we have permission to act under your authority?"
"As long as it doesnt involve anything more than making an arrest and turning the individual or individuals over to us, Lieutenant Commander, you may." The screen blanked. Reichard shook his head. "Drevan, keep trying. Its all we can dofor now, any how." He turned to the communications console. "Deanna, monitor as much of the communications traffic as you can, to see what you can find."
The establishment was known only as "the grill at the end of the alley"; it neither had nor needed any other name. Its regular patrons knew it well enough, and those who needed somewhere to go where business could be conducted over food and beverage and lodgings procured, all in total anonymity, could find it easily enough without its having a name.
As wide as the range of different species represented in its clientele and as diverse as their economic status was, it was rare that an arrival sparked much in terms of curiosity, even when the faces were unfamiliar. The Human, and the Vulcan in his tow was a remarkable exception, managing to spark considerable curiosity. The Human, an otherwise fairly unremarkable male, wore what looked, superficially, like baggy, ill-fitting clothing, but that closer inspection showed to be purposefully tailored to give that appearance while it concealed whatever else he was carrying in terms of resources or weapons. It was his Vulcan companion that triggered the curiosity: she wore trititanium manacles on wrists and feet, which connected to a chain attached to the Humans belt. The womans gait was a shuffle, her shoulders sagging forward with her almost expressionless face pointed at the ground just before her feet. Her clothing was patched and filthy. The Human found a secluded place to sit down. The Vulcan curled up, sitting at his feet, seeming almost afraid to be separated from him.
A Human server moved to the table, scarcely able to conceal his curiosity. "Whatll you have, sir?"
"Any kind of steak, with Centaurian puffball mushrooms, some bread, and a carafe of water for now; a room for later." The man looked down at his companion, then back at the waiter. "Shell want the water to drink, of course. Hard to get her to eat, lately; soups probably the best choice. Maybe a cream of some vegetable or other soup, with shiitakes if possible. She seems to like them these days. Have anything like that?"
The server made notes on his padd. "I am confident we can handle it. How would you be paying?"
From somewhere in the mans garment, he produced a couple of thick, yellow disks. "In advance. These acceptable? Ninety-eight percent gold; just enough nickel to make them hard."
For a moment, the servers eyes dilated with greed. "If the assay is as you claim, they will be most acceptable." He palmed the offered disks.
"It is, believe me, but check it any how. There should be more than enough to feed and house us both for three days; you can issue an anonymous credit chit for whatever is left." He leaned back against the back of his chair, the chain connecting him to the Vulcan clinking softly. "After eating, I will have other needs, perhaps, that you can help me satisfy. You will not go unrewarded for your efforts when the time comes."
"Thank you, sir." The server displayed real respect, rather than the formal, quasi-artificial respect he had shown before. Within moments, he returned with the food, laying it on the table. "Will there be anything else?"
"Eventually." The Human stuffed a forkful of meat and mushrooms into his mouth. "Food, first."
As the waiter moved away, the man reached down to the Vulcan with the bowl of soup. She drank it directly from the bowl, spilling some on her already stained clothes. Somewhat revolted by her behavior, the Human returned to his meal.
A corpulent Tellarite wandered up to the table, watching the Human, and being studiously ignored. Finally, the Human clearly could ignore the being no longer. "Dont believe I know you, Tellarite. Something you need?"
"Not much. I run this place. I wanted to know how your food was."
"Excellent. Not sure what this steak was cut off, but its the best thing Ive had with the puffballs." Pointedly, he went back to eating, clearly hoping the Tellarite would disappear. When he didnt, the Human looked up again. "Anything else I can do, other than offer my compliments to the chef?"
"A point or two of information, if I may. Your, um, companion and her attire pique my curiosity."
"Thatd be the chains, right?" The human put another fork full of food into his mouth.
"You have to admit, chaining a Vulcan woman to yourself is not what folk would call run of the mill behavior." The Tellarites snout wrinkled. "For that matter, chaining up any woman like that is quite unusual..."
"Yeah, I get the point." He turned to his Vulcan companion. "This being wants me to unchain you. What do you think?"
The Vulcan dropped her almost emptied bowl of soup on the floor and in what appeared to be a complete panic, grabbed the mans leg tightly. "Please, Master, please, dont do it. Dont let this terrible creature make you do that to me, please. Ill be good, really good, honest. Ill..."
He patted her on the head, as a man might pet a beloved dog. "I wont; I promise." He looked up at the Tellarite. "Point made? You should have seen her when someone moved wrong, and looked like they were going to attack me. She went for the poor guy, almost killed him before I could intervene. Very embarrassing. Hence the shackles."
"Looks to me like youre more chained to her than her to you." He shook his head. "What happened to her?"
"Miscalculation of dose. All we intended to do was make her an addict. This is what we got." He took another bite. "Addicted, too, of course, and Im her only source. Makes for some interesting experiences." The Human face made it clear that, though interesting, the experiences werent all exactly pleasant. "Look, mind if I finish my meal and head for a room?"
"Not at all. Your server indicates you paid in gold, far more than youre going to use for a meal and a nights lodging. How would you have me handle the excess?" The Tellarites eyes were fixed on the Vulcan.
"Like I told him, anonymous credit chit. Oh, and give the cook and the server a nice tip, too. Ill wait here, then you can show me to somewhere to sleep."
"Please, Master, hurry. You know what I need. My time is soon, very soon."
"Be patient." He patted her head again. "Ill take care of you."
Convulsively, the Vulcan suddenly drew her legs up against herself, clearly in pain. "Please, Master. Ill do whatever you want. I need it, need it now." She began to paw at the Human. "Please. I know what you like. I..."
The Tellarite, clearly disgusted by the Vulcans behavior, interrupted. "If you are done, I will escort you to a room. I will personally deliver the credit chit in the morning."
Nodding, the Human got to his feet. "Fine. Seems like Im done, like it or not, and that Im going to have to head to my room sooner than Id planned, any how. Look, you probably know a lot more than you need to about a lot of the folks here. Im looking for someone to take a little package for me to a place on Earth called San Francisco, strictly on the sly, and deliver it to a friend or two. Think you could find someone?"
The Tellarite shook his head, his multiple chins wobbling to and fro. "Dont honestly know, but I can look." Rapidly, he led the pair to a door a little ways down a corridor, opening it. "Will this be suitable?"
The Human didnt even bother looking at it. "Yeah, probably." He walked in, the Vulcan in tow, grabbing her abdomen in agony. "You serve breakfast, or do I have to forage?"
"We have a wide assortment of viands for your morning meal, available at all hours of the..."
"Ill take that as a yes." He looked into the room. The Vulcan had hurried in ahead of him, and was doubling up in pain, whining piteously, rocking and writhing on the floor. "Look, I got urgent business here. I dont mean to be rude; youre a wonderful fellow and all, but she gets pretty shrill if Im too late with what she needs. The noise would probably be really, really bad for your business. If you dont mind?"
Offering the Human an ID key, the Tellarite nodded and backed out of the doorway, watching the Vulcan roll in increasing agony on the floor. The door shut behind him.
No sooner than the door had shut, a small device appeared out of the mans outfit. He triggered it and put it the table. After a moment or two, a green light on top lit. "Okay, TSoral, you can get up. Indris little jammer says were totally snoop-proof. Hey, you did a marvelous job acting."
The Vulcan stood up, removing her chains. "Thank you, Doctor." She straightened her garments, searching for something to wipe the spilled soup off herself. Eletto tossed her a damp face cloth from the washroom, followed by a hand towel. She applied them to herself, greatly improving her appearance.
"Dont wipe all your makeup off, TSoral. We still have to play the game a little longer."
"I am well aware of that, Doctor." She handed the face cloth and hand towel back to the physician. "Marie used makeup that will not come off without the use of acetone."
"Glad to hear it." Eletto exited the washroom, doffing the bulky outfit and sitting on the edge of the bed. "Im going to assume the same is true of me. Look, theres only one bed in herewhich is an issue I didnt expect. Ill flip you for it."
"There is no need for that. I will not need sleep tonight. There is another, more significant issue we need to discuss."
"Im listening, but I thought wed hashed everything out in the ready room. You just settled the only issue I know of that we hadnt discussed in advance." Eletto scratched his back through the light clothing that he still wore. "Except for the fact that stupid outfit itches. Stupid thing is hot, too."
"The itch was, I am sure, unanticipated. I had anticipated the issue I am concerned about, but did not believe should be discussed before the whole group."
To Elettos surprise, the Vulcan paused, clearly unsure about how to continue. He stood, walking over to his companion. He almost reached for her shoulder, then stopped himself: Vulcans, being touch telepaths, found the physical contact with the resultant emotional exposure quite distasteful. "Sorry, TSoral, I almost forgot. You look like youre not sure how to say whatever it is you need to say. No need to worry about offending me, kiddo. Just say it however. Well, as long as it is in Federation Standard, any how. I mean, I dont know Vulcan, after all."
"As you wish." TSoral closed her eyes. "You are, I am sure, aware of the Vulcan mind meld, are you not?"
"I have some passing familiarity with it. MBengas taught me a bit, and Spock did something or other to me years ago that might be along those lines."
She looked at the physician. "It is possible, using the meld, to extract information from another being, whether or not they wish to divulge it; it is called mind rape. At the moment, you have no protection against such an assault. Davids has a protective mechanism that Vulcan experts in the clandestine arm provided for him. Creating it requires a meld, often for a prolonged period of time." The Vulcan paused, allowing the Human to digest the information. "In Vulcan, the procedure is called tahlal wu haan. I would counsel that I create such protection for you, if you are willing. It is not without risk; there may be some unpleasantness for you. It will involve re-experiencing some distasteful memories very vividly."
Eletto looked TSoral in the eyes for a moment, well aware of the fact that she could sense a great deal of the inner workings of his mind as he did so. "What you did not say, but what I guess is probably the case, is that this is something that youve never done before, at least with a Human. How am I doing?"
"You are correct."
"TSoral, if I didnt trust you, Id never have volunteered to do what were up to. Ive read your fathers Tractate on Vulcan Medicine, and I know you worked with him on occasion." Eletto took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Frankly, Im not afraid for me; Im afraid for you. Theres a lot of stuff locked up in my noggin that a Vulcan might find hard to handle."
"This is true of all Humans, Doctor." TSoral shrugged. "All I can do is promise to do my best to protect both of our psyches."
"Thats good enough for me. Im curious, thoughwhy didnt we deal with this on the Hyperion?"
To the physicians astonishment, his Vulcan companion blushed. "I am the only individual on the ship with the training to do this, and only a few others on the Hyperion know about tahlal wu haan; I do not believe even Doctor MBenga is aware of it. However, melds of the depth required for tahlal wu haan are not usually permitted between individuals of opposite genders. Other, I mean, than life mates."
"Oh." It was the Humans turn to struggle for words; it was a twist he hadnt anticipated. "Look, when they thawed me, Webb had to keep me fed and clean for days. Maries seen more of my hide than anyone outside of Sickbay is ever likely tofrankly, shes seen every square inch of it, including parts that my late wife was the only female that ever sawbut that doesnt bother either of us. Shes a professional, and was acting like one when she did whatever it was she had to do. Youre a professional too, TSoral, and Im sure youll be as professional with this as Marie was with equally personal things. Am I making sense?"
"Eminently so." The green tint on the Vulcans face reduced considerably, but did not disappear. "It would probably be easier for you if you lay down." Obediently, the Human stretched himself out on the bed. TSoral moved to where she could easily reach him, putting her fingers in the necessary locations on the side of his face. "My thoughts to your thoughts; my mind to your mind..."
Eletto was aware of the expected unusual warmth of the Vulcans fingertips on his skin. Medically, of course, he had known that Vulcans ran higher skin temperatures than Humansand that the temperature inside their thorax was actually slightly lower than Humanbut experiencing it was a different thing altogether. He willed himself to relax, physically and mentally. From what little he could glean from written sources, it was clear that establishing a meld was not always easy; in retrospect, that Spock had managed to do as he had done, long ago on Kahla, amazed the physician. TSorals voice began to blur into a steady croon; as it did, Eletto could feel the gentle tendrils of another awareness wandering through his mind, looking for the core of his awareness.
Here, TSoral. I am here.
Yes. I see you. Let your self-awareness relax.
Unsure exactly what she meant, the physician tried the best he could to comply with her request. Suddenly, he was aware of seeing himself, a strange being stretched comfortably on the bed before him, hearing his own heart beat and breathing as that of another being. Other sensations, ones he could not describe and did not understand, intruded into his awareness, colored by a hint of what almost seemed to be wistfulness. Almost as swiftly as they arrived, the odd sensations disappeared and he was aware of no other additional sensation than TSorals presence in his mind.
Was that what being a Vulcan feels like?
A female Vulcan, yes. I have walled off as much of that as I can; many of the sensations are ones the male mind, even in Vulcans, would find distracting if not disorienting. I need you not to be distracted or disoriented, Doctor.
Might as well call me Giac. Were shipmates and friends, and, well, under the circumstances...
I understand, Giac. This degree of mental intimacy is unfamiliar to Humans.
But not unpleasant, TSoral. Just unfamiliar and, I admit, a little scary.
I have already given you my word that I will not willingly, knowingly harm you. For now, you must sleep. What I must do will be much easier, so sleep, Giac.
Drowsiness washed over the Human. I do not fear for me, my friend. I fear for you, and I fear that what you find hidden in the corners of my mind may horrify and disgust you.
Do not worry. I will not be disgusted or horrified. Even if I am, we will remain friends.
Sleep began to claim Eletto. As it did, he thought he sensed something else behind the words, but before he could identify it, he was deeply asleep.
Uhura, MBenga and Running Bear sat in their booth in the Silenus, waiting quietly. They had shared a meal, and were ignoring the stage showDenala, Uhura decided, had been right about the dancer from the night before, but she had grossly understated her casefocusing instead on the complimentary snacks and their non-alcoholic beverages. As best they could, the threesome tried to make small talk without revealing their identities. It was, in the captains opinion, unfortunate that their respective roles demanded that she sit across from the other two. She looked MBenga in the eye. "Seems to me those Orions arent arriving early tonight."
The half-Masai shrugged. "Nights young. Ill wait as long as you need, Boss."
"Yeah. Whatever it takes." It was Running Bear, adding his comments. "But you know how I hate waiting."
Before Uhura could answer, Sherman arrived. "The Orions have arrived. The leader of the group is willing to dialogue."
"Drag him up a chair, or whatever." Uhura gave Sherman a thin stack of currency; the bills were of moderately large denomination. "Get him whatever he likes to drink, and do the same for his buddies. Keep the rest for yourself. There should be enough to go around."
Moments later, an Orion trader arrived, the unctuous Sherman placing a chair at the end of the table in the booth. "This fellow says you folks had a business proposition for me, but said nothing of what."
Carefully, Uhura sized the being up before answering. "May have; I dont know. Im looking for someone that I need to teach some manners. The guy did me a disservice two or three years ago, and Im looking to have him, ah, apologize properly. Rumor reaches me that you may know where to find him." The Bantu produced a holocube of Davids in his wharf rat outfit. "Last I knew, he looked like this." She triggered an inconspicuous contact on the bottom. "Clean him up a bit, he might look like this." The cube shifted to a picture of Davids in civilian clothes, without the facial hair and with his shaggy mop trimmed. "One of my contacts says he left this place last night, right after a batch of Orion traders disappeared. Seems to me, he might have some business he was doing with you."
Taking the holocube, the Orion trader studied it briefly, handing it back. "I knew the man, once, indirectly. A friend of a friend, that kind of thing. Whats he worth to you?"
MBenga started to reach forward, his action stalled by a sharp glance from the captain. "Relax, muscle brain. Ill tell you when its time." She turned to the Orion. "Alive, plenty. Dead, not at all. Like I said, I want to re-educate him a little bit."
"Yeah. Re-educate." Running Bear grinned evilly. "I get to do the teaching." A stiletto surfaced, its thin metal surface reflecting the light. "He wont forget the lessons I give him."
"Put that away." Uhura turned back to the Orion. "I suspect you get the point."
The being nodded. "I will see what we can do. Where can I contact you, if I need to?"
"Ill leave my card with Sherman, here. Just a word of warning: I dont appreciate tricks."
"Nor, madam, do I. Until later?"
The Orion bowed slightly, then returned to his companions. After settling the tab, the threesome left the Silenus for other quarters, leaving an anonymous BellComm address in the event of messages.
Davids awakened with a splitting headache that he knew he hadnt earned. Before opening his eyes, he strained his ears to see if he could hear anything that might give him a clue about where he was. The last thing he remembered was being grabbed from behind, and despite struggling, feeling a cloth pushed against his mouth and nose. The odor of chloroform registered briefly before he lost consciousness. There wasnt much question in his mind what had happened: someone had remembered his face too well from Smokies place in the San Francisco bay, and had decided to take him.
Mentally, he assayed his status. There was no doubt that he was no longer wearing the outfit hed worn to the Silenus. His clothing was gone, along with his communicator, all his credits, and the few surreptitious tools that he never left ship without carrying on his person somehow. He could feel the cool surface of a biomonitor under him. Clearly, whoever had kidnapped him was in no hurry to put all their cards on the table. There was no reason to force them to do it, either. The physicians assistants reverie was interrupted by an arrival in the room.
"I see you are finally awake, Weed." Hearing his clandestine name, Davids realized there was all too likely more to the monitor than he had thought. He opened his eyes. "Do you recognize me, eh?"
The being was clearly an Orion, but otherwise not immediately recognizable. The PA memorized the face; he would recognize it again, that much was certain. Suddenly, something from the back of his mind triggered. "The Silenus. You were there, staring at me as you left."
"Nothing else. Well, other than thinking it incredibly rude of you to be glaring at my lady friend and me, under the circumstances. Some things deserve a little privacy, eh?"
"Let us see how much more you can remember." The being turned. "Barlat, come join us."
Another Orion entered the room. "Yes, Hornag?"
"An unfortunate case of amnesia, Im afraid. See what you can do to help."
The Orion moved to a small cabinet to one side of the bed, selecting a small tool. "This should help." He moved toward Davids. "It directly stimulates pain fibers, where it is applied. I find it to be most helpful in improving memories." Barlat applied it to the Humans shoulder, triggering the mechanism. Davids arm felt like it was on fire and freezing into oblivion at the same time. His face writhed in agony.
"Enough, Barlat." The Orion tilted his head to one side. "That was the lowest of the settings Barlat has at his disposal. I will give you a moment or two to consider how that would feel, applied to the back of your neck at higher settings. Then, perhaps you can talk to me a little about your clandestine associateswho they are, where they are, that sort of thing. I would truly hate to see you suffer further." The Orions face wore an expression that strongly suggested his claim to not wish to see the Human suffer was hardly true.
"Lieutenant Commander Harrison Davids, Physicians Assistant, Serial Number DH4598NK7732."
Hornag shook his head sadly. "Really, I had hoped you were wise enough not to be so obstinate. Barlat, I fear you must give this poor man greater help with his memory."
There was no mistaking Barlats enthusiasm for his work. The being increased the intensity on his machine, applying it to the Humans groin, this time. Removing it for only a moment, Barlat moved the setting even higher, applying it to the other arm. Davids gritted his teeth in pain. The Orion applied his device yet again, moving the intensity to the highest level.
"Stop; hes going to black out," ordered Hornag, and Barlat removed the device. Hornag turned from the biomonitor readout back to the Human. "Talk to me about your friends from Smokies Place, in San Francisco Bay, first."
"Lieutenant Commander Harrison Davids, Physicians Assistant, Serial Number DH4598NK7732." Davids face wore a look of stolid defiance. It was clear that the pain, though immense, had not broken the Humans will, and that he was intent on keeping it that way.
Shaking his head sadly, Hornag turned to his lackey. "Alas, he is such a slow learner. Have you no other tools to help his memory?"
A thin smile took its place on Barlats face. "Many tools, yes, an abundance of them. This was just the beginning."
As Barlat rummaged in the cabinet, Hornag turned back to Davids. "You must excuse me. I have just eaten, and my stomach is sometimes weak. I confess that I do not share Barlats enthusiasm for watching you suffer." The Orion turned to Barlat. "Let me know how things are progressing in two hours. Let us hope he is able to remember by then, shall we?"
Hornag exited swiftly as Barlat applied restraints to the PAs arms and legs. "Mustnt have you flailing about, or trying anything stupid like escaping. The guards on the grounds usually shoot on sight, you understand, and they shoot to kill. You are much too much fun alive."
Eletto found himself in that happy, cozy state of semi-alertness that comes just before awakening, enjoying the pleasant sensation of a warm, soft presence in front of him in the bed, his arm draped over the clearly feminine waist. Gently, his eyes closed as he savored the sensation, he drew her to him. "Good morning, honey. Howd my little Louise sleep?"
She wiggled appreciatively, snuggling the bare skin of her back against Giacs belly. "Slept fine, Mister Omo, just fine. How about you?"
Giac smiled. Like the presence of his beloved wife, the little pet name seemed to have an indestructible pleasantness to it. Louise had accidentally coined it long years ago, when they had first been introduced: when she was told he was named Giacomo, she thought they meant Jack Omo. The situation being a slightly formal one, she had mistakenly called him Mister Omo; as the relationship blossomed, it had become one of those secret pet names such as lovers have shared and treasured having for each other since the dawn of time. Giac stretched a little forward, kissing her on the neck. "Couldnt have asked for better, sweetheart." He felt her preparing to turn over.
Giac opened his eyes as his partner turned to face him. It wasnt his Louise: the face wasnt even pink. TSorals name and identity returned to his sleep-befuddled mind. Suddenly, the memories of Louises fatal car accident, of the Jovian Platform tragedy, of the sense of loss and of lostness that he had felt as he awakened nearly two and a half centuries away from his own time flooded through him, mixed with a sense of betrayal and of having been violated.
With that came the embarrassment and shame of what he had done: Vulcans, being touch telepaths, rarely tolerated physical contact from any but their mates, and he had not only been in contact, but had had large areas of his skin against hers, kissing and caressing her as if they were married, which they emphatically were not. Before he could react, the emotions were bottled up and corked, the iron strength of his Vulcan companion holding him in place.
"TSoral, how dare you? How could you? How could you let me?"
Gently, the Vulcan put her finger on his lips, despite such contact being uncharacteristic of the Vulcan race. In his mind, her voice echoed to him. There is no need for words, Giac. We are in Meld. The Vulcan reticence to touch is, for now, irrelevant between us. There was a brief pause, as TSoral seemed to seek the proper words. Please forgive my methods, but they were necessary. If a Vulcan tries to mine you for your knowledge, accessing any of your memory will require going through the barriers around those emotions. When those walls are breached...
I see. Breach that wall, and deal with a lifetime of grief, of anger, of loss, and with the shame and embarrassment of the moment. A booby trap, isnt it?
Yes, Giac. TSoral moved back from the Human, releasing her grip on him. And a deadly one. She reached out, touching Elettos face as his late wife had once done. You loved her greatly, Giac. It is carved deeply into the shape and structure of your katra, of what you call your soul. Your feelings for your lost life mate are a beautiful thing. I did not realize this, or I would not have profaned them by doing as I have done; tahlal wu haan could have taken other routes; this was just the most potent one. I beg your forgiveness.
Its all right, TSoral. Eletto took the Vulcans hand from the side of his face, gently kissing it. Hearing that nickname again was good, at least until I was shocked back to reality. Do Vulcans know nothing of feelings for a spouse like I felt for my Louise?
TSoral abruptly sat up, modestly clutching the sheet to herself, leaving Eletto covered by the light blanket. I am told that it is so, but I do not know. I have never had a life mate, nor can I expect to have one. My genetic eye disorder, you understand, makes me less than desirable; that I am sterile renders me even less so. Though her face showed nothing, through the meld, the Human could recognize a sense of loss, almost of griefand a whiff of envy of his late wife in specific and all wives in general.
I am sorry, TSoral, truly sorry. The sincerity of Elettos remark would have been obvious even outside the mind meld. I did not know.
Outside of my family, Doctor, you are the only one who does.
Should I let it remain so, TSoral?
Please. There was a brief pause in her train of communication. May I ask you a question?
You just did. Eletto smiled visibly. The joke was hardly grand, but both found it pleasing. Feel free to ask another one or two, if you like.
What was the meaning of what you did to my neck and hand?
It is called a kiss. Elettos ears reddened slightly. It is an act of affection, usually between members of opposite sexes among Humans. Youre the first person Ive kissed since I kissed the grandkids goodbye when I headed out to the Jovian Platform, and the only one that Ive kissed that way since Louise died. It is most often done mouth to mouth between a man and a woman.
TSoral nodded. Using her upper arms to hold her sheet in place, she picked up the Humans right hand, forming it into a fist with index and middle fingers extended. She formed her own right hand into the same shape, touching the tips of her extended fingers to his. I understand. Among Vulcans, it is done thus.
Eletto felt a gentle, but very pleasant, tingling sensation at the touch. Moved by he knew not what, he sat up, leaned forward, and gently but firmly kissed TSoral on the lips. And this is how Humans usually kiss, man to woman. More or less, any how. There are some variations, especially in a married couple. Suddenly embarrassed, he leaned back. We need to get back down to the public area, TSoral. You can have first use of the washing facilities.
To Elettos surprise, TSorals face registered a hint of a smile. Thank you, Doctor. For the convenience of communicating, it would be prudent to maintain the meld a little longer. And perhaps later we could continue to teach each other of the ways of our different kinds.
Perhaps so. Strictly in the interests of science, of course. Now go shower, or whatever it is that Vulcans do. He turned to face away from TSoral, to allow her some semblance of privacy as she made her way to the washroom facility. Oddly, Eletto found that TSorals suggestion interested him considerably, beginning with a study of Vulcan bathing practices.
For a moment, he felt a strong urge to offer to scrub her back, which embarrassed him greatly: this was hardly the time or the place. With it, he suddenly became aware of a background of controlled amusement, if not downright merriment. It dawned on him that TSoral was playing tricks on his mind. This is serious business, TSoral. I didnt think Vulcans played pranks like that. Eletto managed to suppress a giggle, being more amused than anything else.
Staying clean is serious business, too, Doctor. At least this little episode with tahlal wu haan has quite fully answered many questions that the somewhat revealing outfits you and Running Bear used to wear had raised for me, much more clearly than Marie could. There was clear merriment visible through the meld. Contrary to common belief, Vulcans do have feelings, you know; we just control them. Except for special situations...
"Well?" Barlat stood before Hornags desk. "What have you learned?"
"All Ive learned is that he is just tough enough to refuse to divulge anything before he loses consciousness. Been a long time since I ran into a tough nut like this one." Sadly, Barlat shook his head. "You know I dont call it quits easily, but this ones going to take days. Do we have that long?"
The Orion shook his head. "We cant bank on it. He is from the starship, on shore leave. Theyve already reported him AWOL, and the local cops are working on this."
"Youve got enough key folks paid off that we dont need to worry, dont you?"
Hornag shrugged. "Under normal circumstances, Id say so, but if the local yokels dont produce soon, the Federation folks are going to start twisting arms. I wouldnt count on anyone staying bought for long against the pressure their legal machinations can produce."
"You mean the renegade Vulcan?" Hornag winced. "Hes expensive, very expensive."
"Its either that, or give me a week with him in sleep and sensory deprivation, boss." Barlats furrowed, his eyebrows almost meeting over his green nose. "Take your pick. Ive hit him with everything Ive got. Nothing but Lieutenant Commander Harrison Davids, Physicians Assistant, Serial Number DH4598NK7732. Ive heard that so many times, Im sick of it."
"Get Xalat, then, and have him mine this man in meld. It may be expensive, but mind rape never fails. After what hes done to the drug ring I had going on Earth, I want everything I can wring out of him."
"Then you can have him for your sadistic pleasures, Barlat, for a little while longer. Just dont kill him. I have someone who will pay and pay well to have that privilege."
Disappointment washed across Barlats face. "Ill find Xalat."
"Ken, I think I may have a lead."
Reichard turned to face Science Two. "Thats good news, Drevan. What have you got?"
"Dont get your hopes up too much, but theres a compound, just a little northeast from the center of the area the pinger seems to be in. As near as I can figure it, its a private dwelling of an affluent Orion Trader." The Andorians antennae twitched in frustration. "The BellComm identification is unlisted, and the area directories dont give any information beyond the absolute minimum. Theres a medium intensity shield over the entire area, just enough to prevent scanning and transporting in."
"Thats pretty slim pickings to call a hit, Drevan. There are plenty of rich folks that dont want unannounced visitors." Reichard turned to the mainviewer. "Wake me up when youve got something more impressive."
"Dont sack out, then. Theres more. With a little help from ODoul and Indri, I hacked into Bacchus Citys civic data files. Personal shield generators are supposed to be inspected annually. The inspector thats signed off on the generators for this spread for the last three years is dead. Near as I can track it, shes been dead for at least three years."
The center chair spun back around. "Suddenly, youve got my attention. Any interesting traffic through the area?"
"Hard to be sure, but it looks like an automated transport picked up an individual at the Silenus and dropped him or her off there. Oddthe usual passenger identification data that the transports routinely record for all patrons is missing. Payment was made with an anonymous credit chit." There was a hint of a smirk on the Andorians face. "What odds are you offering?"
"Sounds like a smart bet, but theres no way youre going to lead an assault party there." The Humans brow wrinkled slightly. "Well, yet, any how. ODoul, monitor the communications from that area as best you can. And Drevan, monitor every vehicle, every individual that enters or leaves the building as tightly as the scanner can. I want an excuse to get a search warrant."
"Will do, Lieutenant Commander," ODoul responded. "But dont expect much help from the local enforcers. If a dead inspector has signed off on the shield inspection, Ill bet that too many of the force are on the payroll of whoever lives there."
"Thats not going to stop us from trying." Reichard faced the viewscreen again. "Get me anything you can." After a pause, he turned back to communications. "Come to think of it, get me Indri. Maybe he can whip something up to let us spy more directly."
ODoul tapped the control surface before her. "Indri here, Lieutenant Commander Reichard. How may I help you?"
"I need something to sneak into an area thats shielded, Indri, and do some snooping."
"I see." A moment of silence followed. "The shielding will be a problem, sir; you know that as well as I do. Wed have to do something with the capacity to be autonomous, the ability to get around the shield somehow, and then still be able to sneak out and report without being caught. Any mechanism that can do all of that is all too likely to be noticed and destroyed."
"Look, all I really need to do is be able to pick up and locate the signals from the gadgets you installed in the away team, before the shield goes down, and maybe monitor any internal broadcast stuff. Itd be nice to be able to see whats going on, too."
"Let me guess: you want it quickly, and you want several of them, too." It was clear Indri was uncertain how he could do anything close to what Reichard wanted.
"Hey, I have an idea, Indrisomething quick and easy, and maybe able to do it all." It was Drevans voice. "That, and itll get around the shield with no problem, and no one will notice. Game?"
"I would be most interested in any thoughts you have, Drevan," Indri responded, clear disbelief in his voice.
"Mechanical earthworms, man." Drevan clearly was excited about the idea. "The shields shorted out within a centimeter or so below the surface of the soil. Hide the things in what looks like a boring old rock, then let it tunnel under the shield. You can put low level sensors in the tip end somewhere. Rig the thing to communicate with the rock by, say, wire or a line of conductive stuff it leaves behind as it crawls. Let the fake rock do any communicating, and maybe let it do some of the more complex judgment calls if needed."
"Earthworm-like diggers. Yes. That degree of yours in biology is a great source of ideas, Drevan." It was clear Indri was warming up to the idea. "Get enough of them, and the data from the dozens of small sensor clusters can be synthesized up here to provide a much more detailed picture. Hmm... Let me work on this a few moments, and get back to you, but I think we can manage something."
Davids awakened, aware of the fact that his arms and legs were no longer pinioned. Memory of the pain that Barlat had inflicted entered his mind and was forced aside. It had been brutal, but the PA knew he remained unconquered. Theyd gotten nothing more than name, rank and serial number from him. He inspected his forearms. On them, he saw the telltale circles of redness that marked the use of a hypospray. There was no question that they had tried using drugs to break through his wall of defense; the fact that he was still alive, as far as he was concerned, was adequate evidence that he had spilled nothing, or at least had not given them what they had wanted.
Other than giving up and killing him, there were only two possible paths that remained open to his captors: deprivation of food, water, sleep and sensory input, or a rogue Vulcan committing mind rape to harvest information directly from his mind. Neither option was one that he relished.
Relaxing, he reached into the depths of his mind. The last ditch escape was still there, the death switch theyd called it when he was in preparation for clandestine operations. As reassuring as it was to know his final escape was available to him, Davids was determined to give his shipmates on the Hyperion time to find him before he turned to the final escape route.
The door to his room opened, letting two Orions and a Vulcan in. The Vulcan turned to one of his companions. "When did this wretch last eat or drink?"
Hornag looked at Barlat. Barlat shrugged. "Dont know; before he was brought here, but Im not sure how long before."
Xalat turned to Barlat. "Idiot, feed him. This is hard enough without having to deal with the ravages of hunger and thirst. And make sure he is reasonably rested; exhaustion is a major problem to me, too."
Flushing a deeper green than usual, Barlat scuttled out of the door, returning with a bowl of a cream soup, some rolls and a flagon of ice water. The aroma of the soup assaulted the Humans nose: it smelled delicious, and the glistening of the ice in the flagon of water reminded him of his burning thirst. Determined to make the Vulcans task as hard as possible, he refused both.
"He is disciplined, strong." Xalat shook his head. "It will be a challenge. I hope you are prepared to pay well."
"You have already had a quarter kilo of dilithium in advance; the rest of the kilo, you will receive when youve found what I want, and it proves accurate." Hornag scowled. "That is twice what you wanted last time, Vulcan."
"Had I known what you were putting me up against, I would have demanded even more." The Vulcan turned to the Human. "Do not fight me, and I may leave you with a functional mind. What I want, I will getwhether or not your mind survives is up to you."
Xalat moved nearer to Davids, reaching out for his face. Without warning, one of the Humans legs swept up, targeting the Vulcans head. It did not connect: Xalat caught it in mid air. Xalat turned to Barlat. "Restrain him. Soft restraints will do, but be sure they will hold him."
The Vulcan twisted the leg slightly, causing significant pain, then stopped, releasing the limb and stepping out of range. "You are clever, silent one, very clever. You almost tricked me into breaking your legalmost. I will take great satisfaction in breaking your will."
Hornag and Barlat brought long, cloth bands, using them to tie Davids down. Xalat moved within reach, again. Despite the Humans efforts, the cloth held.
"Good, good." It almost appeared that the Vulcan savored watching the Humans struggles. "Dont worry. It will all be better soon." Xalat reached a hand toward the PA, placing his fingers at the contact points. "Whether you like it or not, my mind to your mind, my thoughts to yours..."
Davids was aware of the small tendrils of the second consciousness trying to enter his mind. Without thought, he whipped his head to the side, biting hard. Howling, Xalat pulled his hand away. It dripped green blood: the Humans teeth had scored. He allowed himself a thin smile.
"Gag him," Xalat demanded. "And bring me something for the wound." Hornag and Barlat scuttled to obey. Xalat turned to Davids. "You will pay for that, Human. You will pay direly. There is suffering that can be inflicted on the mind that is far, far worse than anything that the body can experience. Believe me, you will learn of it at my hands. Shortly."
The gag in place, and an appropriate dressing on the Vulcans wound, Xalat reached for Davids face again, this time with both hands. Xalats brow furrowed as he concentrated on entering the Humans mind.
The physicians assistants face furrowed with concentration in equal measure, clearly focused on resisting the assault on his psyche. It suddenly relaxed, as Xalat found his way through the barriers.
Welcome to my world, Vulcan. Just watch your step. Davids focused on the words, knowing that his doing so would hamper the assault. Having said that, he focused on the irritation caused by one of the straps on him, avoiding any verbal thought as much as he could. His main defense, he knew, would be in staying with sensory, non-verbal activity as long as he could, but throwing out the gauntlet was hard to resist.
Xalat ignored the mental gibe, searching the mind for clues as to where the memories he wanted might be hidden. Humans minds were, to a Vulcans taste, messy and chaotic things; searching through it felt like foraging through a garbage dump. He saw an area of potential value and began to focus on it. Before he could probe it, he felt a sudden stirring where there should have been none: it was easily two years until he reached pon farr again. Graphic, obscene visual imagery flooded his consciousness, carrying with it explosively violent, equally graphic and obscene sensations and cravings. Shutting the imagery down demanded immense effort.
I warned you, stupid. It was Davids mental voice. If I were you, Id run while I still could get away with a mind.
Rather than being intimidated, Xalat became more determined. Someone trained you well, Human. You will not manage that again. I will be watching.
The PA chose not to respond, this time concentrating on the thirst and hunger he was experiencing; the sensory focus would provide the equivalent of noise, interfering with the mind meld. Undaunted, Xalat moved forward. Before him, suddenly, the Vulcan saw the mental equivalent of a bank vault. The mental barriers were powerful, but not impenetrable. Systematically, the Vulcan looked for the chink in the mental armor, confident that he would find it before long.
Look, fellow, you really dont want to go there. Trust me on this, okay?
Annoyed by the distraction, the Vulcan performed the mental equivalent of turning his back on Davids. I am ignoring you.
Mentally, the PA shrugged, this time tuning all his mental energy to recalling the near miss with court-martial and dishonorable discharge from Starfleet he had experienced over his prank with the nutrition dispensers, long years before. Inexorably, Xalat pecked away at the protective barriers edges, knowing there was a way in. With a sensation of triumph, the Vulcan found the weak spot. Prepare for defeat, Human! Xalat gloated, then he pried open the walls.
From behind the mental barrier flooded tidal waves of violent emotion, unlike anything Xalat had ever met: anger at being picked on for being different, not only as a child but as an adult; the pain of seeing comrades die needlessly, as the result of a foolish command given and obeyed; the unspeakable agony of throwing every scrap of medical knowledge, experience and skill into the ring, and seeing a valued friend die despite him; and emotions deeper, more agonizing and feral than words have ever been found to express, if indeed the Human mind could ever endure looking at the emotions long enough to need words to express them.
Floundering, indeed drowning in the unendurable, the unimaginable explosion, Xalat focused all his consciousness on protecting his psyche from the devastation, forgetting all else.
Davids seized the opportunity. Quickly, unhindered by the emotions that were devastating his adversary, the Human found and shut down the Vulcan equivalent of the Human autonomic functions. Heart beat and respiration ceased in the Vulcans body. By the time Xalat realized what was happening, it was too late. The Humans death grip on the vital centers was too strong to be dislodged by the Vulcans dwindling mental power.
To Hornag and Barlat, the subtleties of the conflict were invisible. All they could see was the Vulcans face shifting from agonized concentration to a more relaxed focus and back. Suddenly, the Vulcans face contorted in what seemed to be agony. Xalat dropped to the floor.
Afraid, for a moment, to touch the Vulcan and trigger his ire, the Orions stood staring. Seeing that the Vulcan remained immobile, Hornag pushed his underling toward the Vulcan. Almost fearfully, the lower ranking Orion reached out and tried to find the Vulcans carotid pulse.
"Dont waste your time, Barlat." It was Davids voice. "Hes effectively dead. Even if you started resuscitation efforts now, his brain has been starved for oxygen long enough that hell be a vegetable."
"You lie!" It was Hornag.
"There isnt a pulse, Hornag. He just may be telling the truth."
Infuriated, Hornag grabbed the front of the Humans garment. "What did you do?"
"I killed him in self defense, Orion." Davids face registered clear, but controlled, hostility. "He made the mistake of taking me on, wouldnt believe me when I warned him to leave an area alone, and he has paid for it. Ive been in Starfleet Medical long enough to know a couple of dirty tricks, and when its do or die, Im not above using them."
Hornags fury was unmistakable. "You have not won yet, Human. I will have everything you know about the clandestine arm of Customs; I am owed dearly for what you and your comrades did to my smuggling operation there, and I intend to have revenge."
The Orion spat in the Humans face, throwing him back against the bed. "Barlat, get rid of that corpse. We need to find another Vulcan to meld with him."
"That wont be easy." Barlat began straightening Xalats corpse out, preparatory to carrying it out for disposal. "You know how Vulcans are: they can feel the death of one of their own, and Im told they can even tell who it is that died. There wont be a Vulcan on Bacchus thats too dumb to guess whats happened to him."
The Orions eyes narrowed to slits. "Youd better find one, Barlat, and quickly, or your carcass will end up next to Xalats, after Ive tried some of the tools Ive bought for you out on you." Hornag stormed out of the room. Hurriedly, Barlat summoned assistants to take the Vulcan out and bury him.
"Hey, greenie," Davids said. "How about letting me sit up and eat, now? That soup smells delicious."
Barlat gestured to one of the new arrivals, who released the Human. "Enjoy it while you can, Human. Whatever trick you used wont work twice."
Greedily, Davids spooned the soup into his mouth. "Dont bet on it, Barlat. Theoretically, it couldnt have happened in the first place." He tore a bite of bread off one of the rolls, washing it down with a long draught on the ice water. "But it did. Lifes not as simple as you are."
The Orions face registered a snarl, but he said nothing. He and his companions carried the body of the Vulcan out of the building.
Drevan looked up. "The worm snoops have picked up some really weird activity, Lieutenant Commander." The Andorian scratched himself. "Im not totally sure, but the sensor readings are suggestive of diggingthe kind of digging youd do for burying a body. We need to get a handful more of the snoops down there to the correct coordinates."
"We can do that. ODoul?"
"Already on it. Drevan, Indri wants coordinates." There was a pause. "He says, five minutes, and hell have ten of em there. Enough?"
"I hope so." The Andorian shrugged. "If I knew, I wouldnt need em there."
Reichard snickered. "Good point."
The minutes crept past, until finally, the Andorian bent over his console in earnest. "Snoops in place; lets see what we see." Hunched over the console, the science officer was the focus of attention. After an almost intolerable period of time, he straightened up. "Someone dug a grave, all right, and they are filling it in. Bodys around two meters tall, slender, but apparently muscular, and male. This is not cheerful."
"Time to talk to the captain."
"Gin!" Running Bear laid his cards on the table, grinning happily. "Tally up the points, folks!"
MBenga and Uhura glared at the engineers cards. "Nyota, I think that little creep is peeking into my hand. Hes got the one card I needed to go out."
The captain looked over at the chief medical officer. "He discarded the one I needed. Either hes reading our minds or these cards are marked." She turned to Running Bear. "Thats the fifth time in a row youve done that to us."
Shrugging, Running Bear collected up the cards, pretending to study their backs. "Dont see anything on em, myself. Just remember who pulled them out of her little sporran."
"My what?" Uhura was clearly unsure whether to be scandalized by the word or not.
"Sporran. Its what Captain Scott called the fuzzy little leather pocket he always wore on the front of his kilt, at least as well as I can pronounce it without his brogue." The Illiniwek Indian scratched his head. "Would you rather pouch, or belly pack or..."
MBenga grabbed a pillow off one end of the couch he was sitting on, hitting the engineer on the side of the head with it. "Knock it off. We get the picture already!" The doctor turned to his captain. "Hes right, though. Youre the one that pulled out the pack of cards."
"Dont rub it in, Keme." She sighed, obviously tired of playing gin rummy. "At least I had the foresight to bring along something to do while we waited, unlike two lummoxes I know."
The comeback Running Bear was about to offer died before being uttered: the BellComm signaled. Uhura triggered it to speaker mode, nodding to MBenga to answer.
The chief medical officer shifted to his thug voice. "Yeah?"
The voice was a familiar one. "Yep." The Masai shifted his voice back to normal. "Reichard, right?"
"That would be correct. Reporting in on progress, sir. We have a possible location, but remain uncertain. We have deployed a number of snooping devices Indri and Drevan cooked up, and are trying to learn what we can. Any progress so far?"
Before answering, Uhura double-checked the electronic protective screen. It was still functional. "Some. Made contact with an as yet unnamed Orion who might be the right fellow, but no confirmation. We were hoping you were him, frankly."
"Any data on the being, Captain?"
"Just that he frequents the Silenus a lot, and that an automated transport dropped someone off there at the right time. Were trying to amass more."
"Why dont you just go to the enforcers, Ken?" It was Running Bears voice.
"Weve got good reason to believe that the occupant of the dwelling owns enough of them to be functionally immune." Reichard sighed. "Thats why the little spy gizmos, man. Look, theres an issue here. The place were watching shows evidence of someone having been buried there, a male about Hardavs height and build."
Before anyone else could react, MBenga took over. "Can these little sensors give me a ratio of iron to copper in the body? Even a rough one would do. And a ratio between magnesium and calcium, and technetium levels, too. Lets see if we can figure out the species of who was buried."
"Ill try, Doc." It was Drevan. "I should have thought of that first. Looks like the iron to copper ratio is one or a little less. Thatd make the body most likely a Vulcan, then; isnt the Human ratio above one?"
"Way above it, Drevan. Dont bother with the magnesium to calcium ratio; its only useful for recognizing Orions and Tellarites. The technetium would be a Xartheb. Wonder what theyre doing with a dead Vulcan?"
"Getting rid of him, Keme." Uhura scratched behind one ear, then smoothed her hair back into place. "The question is what they were doing with him before he was killed."
"It doesnt take a shipload of brains to guess that, Captain." Reichards voice was clearly worried. "They were trying to use him to mine someone for information in a meld, Id guess, and its a good bet its Hardav. That changes the question to wondering how much they got."
"Little or nothing, Ill bet." Uhura and MBenga turned to face Running Bear as he made his announcement. The Illiniwek continued. "Come on, think it through, folks. If the Vulcan had gotten them enough of what they wanted, it would be Hardav in the grave. Conversely, if they had gotten some, but not enough, they wouldnt have put the Vulcan out of business. Ergo, they must have gotten little or nothing, and the Vulcans death probably is a side issue. I hope."
"Of course, this still might have nothing at all to do with Davids and his disappearance," Uhura pointed out. "From what youve said, Ken, this already looks like a shady establishment, and the whole thing could be a red herring. We need more evidence. Listen, talk to Indri about his little mechanical snoops. Any chance he could modify the design a little and have them find and short out a force field generator? The field is one thing we hadnt anticipated."
"Ill bet he can, Captain. Hell be on it as soon as were done here; by the time you need it, well be ready. Is there anything else?"
"No. Surface out." Uhura toggled the BellComm off. She looked at her two companions. "Back to waiting, gentlemen. Anyone know something other than gin rummy?"
MBenga smirked. "Well, we could always play fizzbin, Captain."
Running Bear and Uhura both assaulted the doctor with pillows.
Eletto sat patiently in a secluded booth, TSoral at her post at his feet, each finishing their breakfast. There were still patrons in the establishment; some, presumably, had arrived from either their rooms or from other establishments; others looked like they were still present from the night before. Eletto took another swallow of his coffee. This stuffs terrible, you know it?
TSoral shifted, her chains clattering a little. Its the water, Giac; its got too much iron in it, for one thing, and there are unfortunate amounts of other cations as well. What do you expect in a dive like this?
One major advantage, Eletto decided, to the decision to remain in meld with TSoral had been reducing the boredom; they could converse without jeopardizing their cover. Good point. At least the pastries were palatable.
I appreciate your deciding not to have a steak.
You Vulcans are vegetarians; I figured that would probably be distasteful for you if we were in meld and I ate meat.
I suppose its possible to adapt. I am amazed at how sensitive your gustatory sense is, compared to my own. That roll you ate tasted like it contained birkeen.
Cinnamon to me, but its the same flavor, Im told. It also contained lots of sucrose. I know what that does to Vulcans. Stick with the bagels and tofu.
Before TSoral could react, an Orion stepped up to the table. "Mind if I join you?"
"I guess not. What sparks your curiosity, Orion?"
"Names Barlat." He slid into a seat across from Eletto. "Mostly, rumor has it you might have a little business proposition I could be of some help with."
"Watch him, Master. He is slippery. He says this, but also thinks that." TSoral moved closer to Eletto, trying to get away from Barlat as much as possible, curling her legs up against herself. "I do not trust him."
Patting the Vulcans head, Eletto turned to Barlat. "My little pet, here, is an awfully sharp judge of beings, Mister Barlat..."
"No need for the mister. Just Barlat will do."
"As you prefer; matters not at all to me. Shes a sharp judge, nonetheless. Whats really on your mind?"
"Is she really Vulcan?"
"She is. A minor mishap, shall we say? But thats not your concern, Barlat."
"Maybe it is. She can meld?"
TSoral suddenly almost climbed onto Eletto. "Master, dont! Dont even consider it! I think he wants to buy me. Dont accept any offer he makes. I can make you happy, very, very happy. There are pleasures I can let you taste that..."
"Dont worry; he wont talk me into selling you. Relax." Eletto looked up at the Orion. "Shes too useful to me, Barlat; shes a walking advertisement for my product line. And yes, as far as I know, she can meld."
Barlats pupils dilated slightly. "Most interesting. What would your product line be, if I may be so bold as to ask?"
TSoral hissed like an angry cat, reaching for the Orion as if to claw him. Eletto smoothed her hair gently, soothing the Vulcan. "It isnt prostitution, if thats what youre thinking, and the way shes acting, its obvious youre thinking exactly that. She just got a little too much of the product, eh? Not only addicted, but mentally injured. Regrettable, but useful. Arent you, my sweet?"
TSoral grabbed onto Elettos leg again, snuggling against it, obviously pleased by the simple praise. "Useful, very useful. Master would not want to lose me, would you?" She rubbed her face against the side of his knee with apparent adoration.
"Look, Barlat, I have some business Id like to work on, and maybe you could help me. Ive got a box, only weighs six or seven kilos, and its not really all that large, maybe twenty centimeters by twenty centimeters by ten centimeters, maybe a millimeter or two more or less. Theres a fellow on Earth I want it delivered to, strictly surreptitiously, you understand."
Sagely, Barlat nodded. "You want it there, no questions asked by nosey officials, eh?"
"Precisely." A thin smile formed on Elettos face. "That, and no effort to get into the box by unauthorized persons. The contents are quite valuable, mainly because they are so popular. Very pleasant stuff, isnt it, little one?"
"Oh, yes, Master! Yes, yes! Pleasures beyond anything I had ever known before!" She began kissing Elettos leg, vigorously.
"Not now. Maybe later, eh?" TSoral sat back, still clutching the physicians leg. "Would you happen to know anyone that could give me a little hand on that delivery? I will be generous." The Orions eyes turned to TSoral, an action that was not lost on the physician. "With money. Dont get any other ideas."
"That is not what he thinks, Master, not at all. He thinks about me, but not that."
Allowing a hint of surprise to wash across his face, Eletto turned back to face the Orion. "What were you thinking, Barlat?"
"There is a fellow, someone that is withholding information from my boss and me." Barlat looked at TSoral carefully, studying her features. "If she can meld with him, maybe she can get it for us."
"Whats it worth to you?"
"Whats it worth to get your package delivered?"
The thin smile on Elettos face was replaced by a broad one. "I think you have a bargain, Barlat. Wheres this person at?"
"Not so fast, Human. I have to clear this through the boss, you know. Ill tell you what, you be here in, say, eight hours. If things work out with the boss, Ill be here and pick you up. Both of you."
"Eight hours?" The Humans eyes strayed to a clock. "No, not eight hours. Twelve would be better."
"Why?" Barlat was clearly suddenly suspicious.
"Master must take care of me, must make sure I have what I need. Eight hours, I will need it too soon to be any good. Dont let him make you make it too soon, Master, please."
"She speaks the truth, Barlat. She needs her fix in about eight and a half hours; then, shell sleep for a couple of hoursand nothing will waken her, and I mean nothing." Eletto winked, lecherously. One of the Orions eyebrows raised briefly, but the being made no comment. "I cant guarantee shell be useful before twelve hours, not for what you need."
"Must be good stuff." It was clear that the Orion was impressed by TSoral and her attitude. "Maybe the boss will want in on the trade, too."
"Dont push your luck." The smile disappeared from the Human face. "Theres going to be a longer term relationship before youll be safe suggesting that again. Am I clear on the matter?"
"Perfectly clear." Barlat showed no signs of being intimidated, but was clearly unwilling to push the issue. "I was just thinking that if things worked out, the bosss shipping resources might be worth keeping in mind, thats all."
"He does not speak all that he thinks, Master."
"Thanks, little pet." Eletto rubbed her back; TSorals face showed near bliss. He turned back to the Orion. "Twelve hours. And I recommend against trying anything stupid, hmm? Shes very protective. You probably dont want to see a Vulcan female in full fury."
"Twelve hours, then. Here." Barlat nodded and moved away from the booth. "Be ready."
Eletto lifted his coffee cup, moving as if to toast Barlat, then concentrated on his breakfast.
MBenga and Uhura were sitting on the couch, the Masais arm around her shoulders, watching something on the holovid. Running Bear was studying the cards laid out on the table in front of him. Without warning, he scooped them up. "Whipped again."
MBenga pried his eyes away from the holovid for a moment. "Look, why dont you try some other kind of solitaire, man? Or maybe find something else to do. Maybe you can talk Ken into beaming down something to play with."
The Indian rubbed his chin. "Not a bad idea. At this point, Im mainly just a chaperone for you two, any how. Maybe Indri could spare a few toys..."
Uhura looked over at MBenga. "At least he didnt want any other crew members beamed down. Maybe if we could get the right one here, we wouldnt have to worry about being chaperoned, Keme."
"Oh, Id love that, Captain," he shot back, "But with TSoral on the surface, I cant feature Ken letting me drag Deanna down hereshell be needed to do communications."
The BellComm chirped. "Say communications, have it happen." It was Uhura. "You answer it this time, Running Bear."
He toggled it to speaker function. "Hi."
"Your boss, the lady in the red dress, is she there?"
"Maybe. Who wants tknow?"
"I do, the being who was talking to you the other night. Someone who might be able to help find da Weed."
"Nice. Meet somewhere?"
"Silenus will do. When?"
Uhura held up one finger. Running Bear nodded. "An hour too soon?"
"One hour. Get a booth, okay?"
"Booth. At the Silenus. One hour. Fine. Anything else?"
"No." The connection broke.
MBenga got up. "Time to put on my monkey suit. Nyota, did I tell you that you look fantastic in red leather?"
"You didnt need to, drool monkey." She pretended to swat at him; the half-Masai dodged her. "Now get into your outfit, and quit fishing for complements."
Running Bear rolled his eyes. Out of the three of them, he was the only one whose outfit was comfortable; all he needed to do was sling his weaponry over his shoulder, and don his knives and phaser.
With it being early in the day, the Silenus was considerably less crowded than it had been during the evening. Several clusters of beings were having lunch, but the large room was mostly empty. Recorded background music was playing; the stage was still more or less empty, containing nothing but staff setting up the necessary equipment for the nights shows. Uhura, MBenga and Running Bear sat, waiting patiently in their disguises.
Almost to the minute, the Orion from the night before appeared at the foot of the booths table. "Mind if I join you?" He moved as if to slide in next to Uhura. Her look made it clear that he wasnt welcome to that degree of familiarity.
"Pull up a chair, friend."
As the Orion complied, the Bantu continued, "My associate here says you might know where I could find da Weed."
"I might. Would this be him?" The being produced a holocube. It was clearly Davids, conscious, laying in a biomonitor bed, strapped in place.
"Could be. What do you think, boys?"
The other two peered at it intently. Recognition was no problem; both men were trying as hard as possible to find clues to help find their comrade. Whoever had taken the holopic was a pro: there not a hint of useful information to draw on. Both nodded, returning the holocube to its owner.
"Looks probable, Boss," Running Bear answered for them both. "Hard tellin without the beard and all. And hes clean, which isnt exactly what Im used to seeing. Could be."
"Ah, excellent." Hornag rubbed his hands. "You wish him alive, yes?"
"Alive, and able to recognize me," Uhura responded. "When were done with him, hell be neither. I just want him to know whos doing it, and to be able to feel what happens. Im sure you understand."
"What is it worth to you, madam?"
MBenga produced a gem of dilithium from somewhere, one as fat as his fist, and almost the length of his palm. At a glance from the captain, he produced a second, then a third.
Uhura turned to the Orion. "That much in advance; three times that much at delivery."
"Please pardon the discourtesy," Hornag flagged the server. "But in these troublous times, one cannot be too cautious." The server appeared. "Scan these for purity, will you?"
Moments later, the server returned. "Ninety-nine point fifty-seven, sir. Traces of lithium only."
The Orion nodded his thanks, turning back to Uhura. "That will do nicely."
Running Bear pulled a small pouch out of a pocket, opening its mouth. "In here. Unless you want to risk a patron trying something before you get out of here."
"You are most kind." Hornag dropped the crystals into the cloth pouch. Running Bear ran the bead up the loop of string, cinching the top tight, releasing the pouch to the Orion. It disappeared into a pocket. "Also most wise. Thank you. This time, here, tomorrow. Be ready. I will take you to him."
"Youre on." Uhura extended a hand. "Shake on it?"
Obliging, Hornag turned and left.
Uhura summoned the server, settled the tab and the threesome returned to the room. Once the snoop scan registered that they were clear, all three flopped down.
"Good thing you didnt have Indri put the homing device in the dilithium crystals, Captain," MBenga said. "Smooth move, getting him to take the pouch. Wonder if hell guess that bead on the drawstring will track him?"
"I dont know, Doctor," Running Bears forehead wrinkled. "Well find out soon enough. Id bet that Reichard will be calling shortly."
TSoral and Eletto were in their roles and in their places minutes before Barlats expected arrival. Almost to the instant, the Orion arrived, looking for them. As soon as he saw them, he hurried over to their table. "The Boss has agreed. If youre still interested, we can do business. Youll have to bring your box with you."
"Wait here, and Ill get it. Or do we meet just outside the door?"
"Outside the door would be best. When?"
"Five minutes should do."
Once outside, Eletto, TSoral and the box were ushered into a ground transport. The windows were opacified, and the machine moved off. With TSoral still curled at his feet, Eletto turned to Barlat. "Sound shielded, too?"
"Of course; no sense in taking risks."
"Good enough. Look, what sort of information are you after, any how? The better refined you are about what you want, the easier it is for her to get it."
Pursing his mouth slightly, Barlat thought for a moment before answering. "Names, addresses, pseudonyms, areas of operation of agents for the spies in the Customs service. They took down the Boss San Francisco operations; he wants to give as good as he got, maybe with interest."
TSoral looked up, as if she was going to comment, but didnt; the vehicle slowed to a stop. Barlat slipped out of the door, only to return shortly. "The Boss keeps his home well protected; matter of security, you understand. Dont need anyone snooping."
"Yeah, I understand that." The vehicle stopped again; Eletto continued. "End of the line?"
"End of the line. Come on." Barlat opened the doors. The Human and Vulcan found themselves in an enclosed garage area, with no windows, and with the door closed. They followed the Orion to a small turbolift, then exited in a nondescript hall area. They moved through a number of corridors, finally entering into a well appointed, indeed a luxurious office. Barlat ushered Human and Vulcan into the room, then disappeared.
Behind an Arcturian hardwood desk sat another Orion. Human and Orion sized each other up for a few moments before the Orion spoke. "Folks call me Hornag." The being stood, offering Eletto his hand. Eletto took it briefly, then released it, pointedly not sharing his name. "Barlat tells me your companion there might be able to help me out."
"Could be; dont know until we try. Shell pretty much do as I say, any how. Your henchman says you can get this box to San Fran for me." Eletto offered it. "Its not too big. No opening it either, not without some pretty potent cutting tools. Try to open it, and youll ash the contents before you get in. Just in case you were curious."
"Or in case my minions had any unfortunate ideas, right?"
"Yeah. Wheres the guy at? Times limited: shes going to need her fix in six or seven hours, and it might take all that time to get what you need." TSoral looked up at the Human, then rubbed her face against the side of his leg, beaming happily. He reached down, smoothing her hair. "Good girl. Be really good, maybe youll get it a little early, hmm?"
Saying nothing, she hugged his leg, clearly pleased by the thought.
Hornag watched for a moment, then walked around the desk. "Follow me, then. You can leave the box here." Moving swiftly, he led the pair to another room, opening the door and ushering them in.
"Captain, weve got a rough fix on the locator. It disappeared into the shielded area we suspected."
The Bantu smiled. "Good, Ken. Eletto and TSoral?"
"Neither have triggered their locators, Captain. With the worms snooping, well be able to locate them without trouble. As soon as they confirm, you can move. So far, weve..." There was a brief silence. "Captain, Elettos locator has triggered. Prepare to deploy."
"MBenga, Running Bear?" As swiftly as he could, MBenga donned a loose camouflage outfit. Running Bear donned his weaponry and camouflage. Both men took their position around the captain who was in the same garb. "Lieutenant Commander Reichard, were ready."
The three disappeared in the sparkle of a transporter. Seconds later, they found themselves standing at the perimeter of a force field. Silently, Running Bear pointed. To one side, there was a gap, just over a meter wide, where the branches of the trees near the shield were able to move freely, into a perimeter the other trees werent entering. Up and to one side, there was an optical monitor. The threesome dropped.
"Great. There goes our chance at secrecy," Uhura hissed. "Ideas?"
Running Bear said nothing; instead, he produced one of the knives he carried, dipping it in a muddy area at his feet. Scooping out a dollop of mud, he took aim and threw it at the monitor, covering the outside fairly completely with a coating of mud. "We need to move. The goon squad will probably be here in a few minutes."
MBenga looked about himself carefully. "Cant count on evading them; we need to outwit them. Running Bear, heres what I think we should do, if the captain approves..."
Five Orion guards came from behind a clump of bushes, looking around themselves, expecting trouble at every step, moving in near total silence. Instead of finding an assault team, they found MBenga and Uhura, kissing each other passionately and holding each other enthusiastically, on the ground under a tree, clearly oblivious to their surroundings. The leader gestured to the others. Almost before the pair on the ground were even aware of the new arrivals, they were grabbed and being lifted up.
"What did you two think you were doing?"
Uhura looked at her companion. "Doesnt this idiot know smooching when he sees it?" She turned to the Orion. "I suppose Orions reproduce using test tubes or something. We were just building a sand castle at the beach, you green moron. What did it look like we were doing?" Rolling her eyes in agony she looked back at the physician. "What do you have to do on this cockeyed planet to get a little privacy?"
"Trespassing isnt the way, thats for sure." He turned to go. "Come on, lets see what the Boss wants to do with them."
Just as the Orions and their captives moved under the branch of a tree, Running Bear swung a branch hed harvested, knocking down one of the guards holding MBenga, and stunning the one holding Uhura. The leader turned, unsure what to make of the situation, to find Running Bear in front of him, stiletto bared. MBenga wasted no time. His free arm swung, planting his ring-encrusted fist in the face of the Orion holding his other arm. Uhura had already planted a foot in the groin of her stunned captor, dropping him, and was squared off with the other. Before she could plant a blow to his face, MBenga delivered one to the beings flank. When the Orion turned, the Bantu put her foot into the back of his head. Running Bear delivered a surprise blow to his opponents gut, using the hand not holding the knife. As the being doubled over, the Amerind hit him in the back of the neck.
With the Orion guards out of commission, Uhura straightened her outfit. "You were sure enjoying your role, Doctor MBenga." The captains voice was stern, but her face belied considerable playfulness. "Youd better be married to me before you try getting any more personal, fellah."
"Just trying to make things believable, Captain."
"From up in the tree, Captain, it looked like you were enjoying playing your role as much as MBenga was. Lets get back to business, okay?"
Uhura smiled tightly. "Time to pull their power plug. Running Bear, which way to the power plant?"
The engineer consulted a readout concealed on his large weapon. He pointed, and began to lead the way.
Hornag swung the door to the room open, ushering Eletto and TSoral in. Before them, Harrison Davids lay on a biomonitor bed. Instinctively, Eletto looked at the readout; he was alive, but hed clearly not had it easy. There was no sign of recognition on the PAs face. He turned to Hornag. "This the one?"
"Of course. If your companion would begin the process?"
"Little pet, you must meld with this man, so we can learn information he withholds from us." TSoral, what does his mental signature look like?
I believe he recognizes us, but is not tipping his hand. "He is strong, Master. I am not sure." TSoral cringed, pretending fear.
Davids looked up at Hornag, then Eletto. "Shes right. Hornag, here, has already tried with one Vulcan; the poor being is buried out back. He couldnt handle wrestling mind to mind with me. Your little friend in chains there hasnt got a chance." He faced TSoral. "Better run now, kid; Id hate to damage a pretty lady, you understand."
Deciding to play his role to the hilt, Eletto got face to face with his kidnapped shipmate. "Listen, clown, there are worse things than having your mind robbed. You want to end up like her? Because if you damage her in the least, Im going to end up with a new slave, you understand me? Its not like you have any way of stopping me." Eletto turned to TSoral. "Dont worry, little pet. I dont think hell be stupid enough to hurt you."
Fearfully, TSoral allowed herself to be coaxed to Davids side. Just before she could make contact, the main lights went out, the glare of battery backup lights snapping on. Barlats head stuck into the room. "Problem, Chief. Border team three failed to report in, and theres a shield breach near their guard shack. Visual monitor in the area is blocked by what looks like mud. Weve got intruders, and it looks like they found our power plant. Weve got maybe fifteen minutes before the shields fall."
Davids grinned widely. "You are in hard vacuum, Hornag, without the benefit of an environment suit. Thatll be my shipmates from the Hyperion finding me. Starfleet personnel dont take it kindly when you mess with one of their shipmates. Its not like youre in the Federation; they can do pretty much what they want. Youre lucky they didnt phaser this place into oblivion."
"Prepare to evacuate." Hornag turned to Davids. "You havent won yet." The Orion turned to Eletto. "Come with us. Ill have your box picked up as we evacuate." He turned to Barlat. "Help me with him."
Swiftly, Barlat and Hornag shifted the restraints on the PA. Before the Orions could do anything else, TSoral lifted the Human, slinging him across her shoulders in the classic rescue carry. The physician smiled. "Shes Vulcan. Dont worry; she can carry the load a long ways. Lead on."
Silently but swiftly, Hornag led them all through a series of corridors and stairways, ending up in the garage facility at the base of the building. Numerous other Orions were there, loading into ground transport vehicles. Barlat and Hornag moved toward the vehicle that they had arrived in. Barlat took the front seat with Hornag; at their instruction, Eletto, Davids and TSoral took the back. They were barely all in when Barlat floored the accelerator. The vehicle lifted and raced forward.
Four Orions were holding one of the garage doors open; the vehicle exited at high speed, barreling down the road. Without warning, the road was blocked by a single individual, holding a huge tube horizontally. Unexpectedly, the engine died, and the vehicle settled back to the ground. Behind it, the other vehicles suffered the same fate.
"I thought these things were at full charge, Barlat. Whats wrong?"
To Hornags surprise, the answer came from behind him. "My guess is that every dilithium crystal in the area just got drained, Hornag. Its one of those little secret tricks we learned a while back." The Orion turned, to see Davids grinning like a hungry shark, the restraints that had manacled him gone. TSoral, now free of her chains, and Eletto were already opening the vehicle doors, preparing their escape. Davids reached forward, grabbing the Orion by the neck. "Just remember, Hornag you started this." Davids dragged Hornag out the back door of the car as Eletto pulled Barlat out. The other cars were emptying.
"Get them off me!" Hornag screamed. Daunted by their leaders voice, the other Orions poured forward. Barlat dropped, TSoral applying a nerve pinch. Out of what seemed to be nowhere, MBenga and Uhura appeared.
One Orion reached for Elettowhich was a mistake; Uhura planted a fist in his gut, dropping him before the physician could react. MBenga, using the rings on his hand as if they were brass knuckles, was reducing the odds rapidly; Davids, Running Bear, Eletto and TSoral were thick in the fray as well, but the sheer number of Orions was overwhelming.
From an unexpected direction, there was the deafeningly shrill sound of an Andorian battle cry. Orions began to fly in a dozen directions, all of them with an astonishing vertical component. In the center, a white-haired, blue form was moving, swiftly and violently.
"Drevan!" It was Davids voice.
"Dead right, Weed. You think Im going to let you an the Mole have all the fun?" The Andorian swung again, a jaw shattering where his fist landed. "ODoul says that little box Indri cooked up for Eletto has every file on every computer they have, comfortably stored. Were going to break their backs, man!"
Running up behind Drevan came a squad of security guards from the Hyperion, Reichard at their head, phasers drawn. "Leave us something to arrest, you guys." A second group of security guards materialized, then a third.
Reichard turned to the Orions. "As a representative of both the United Federation of Planets, and the Police Force of Bacchus Three, Im placing all you Orions under arrest. I would suggest that you surrender without further resistance. If you dont, Im going to let your victim and the Andorian continue to work you over. On the ground, face down, hands behind your backs."
"Spoilsport!" It was Drevans voice. The Andorian had two Orions, one in each hand, suspended above him, clearly about to bash their heads together. "I was just getting warmed up." Pouting, he dropped them both.
Orions began dropping to their faces all around. Only Hornag tried to escape. Davids stepped in front of him, the PAs face wearing a cross between a snarl and a smile. "You deserve this." The Orions head snapped upward as Davids punch landed. The being dropped, unconscious. "And youre going to get worse when Customs gets hold of you."
Davids looked up at the others, eyes watering with gratitude. "Thanks. I knew youd come."
It was all Eletto and MBenga could do to catch him before he hit the ground.
"Youve forgotten one important person on your list, Captain." Uhura spun her chair around, seeing MBenga behind her. "Your name is conspicuous by its absence."
"Dont be ridiculous, Doctor," Uhura lifted one eyebrow, consciously imitating Spocks facial expression. "It would be completely illogical to put my name on a list recommending a commendation."
The Masai snorted. "Ill grant you that, but still..."
The Bantu winked. "Ill be satisfied with that quiet table for two somewhere romantic, Doctor."
Eletto was standing next to Davids, a mediscanner in his hand, when TSoral arrived. He looked up. Hardavs going to be fine, TSoral. Hell be back on duty in thirty six hours, give or take, as good as new.
I am glad, Doctor. Eletto was slightly surprised by her use of the title, but made no comment. I need a moment of your time.
The physician made a couple of adjustments to the medbed, then turned to Davids. "For what you probably went through, youre doing fine, young man, just fine. Theres a little more nerve injury to repair, but youll be back to top shape in no time. Now, if youll excuse me, I seem to have another patient here."
"At least shes back in uniform, Doc." Davids stared at the ceiling. "How you talked her into playing your slave girl, Ill never know."
"The plan, including that detail, was of my own devising, Lieutenant Commander." The Vulcan shrugged. "It appeared to be the logical thing to do. It was considerably more believable than having it be the other way around."
"You win. Giacs certainly not pretty enough for that."
"Thanks loads, Davids. Im going to see if Nurse Webb is willing to try a little ice therapy on you." The medical officer turned to TSoral. "I can tell that hes doing almost too well." Eletto left the bed, opacifying the walls as he left. "You said you needed a moment of my time?"
"Somewhere quiet, Doctor."
Eletto led her to an office area, rendering the walls opaque there. "Satisfactory?"
"Quite." Her voice silenced, but she continued communicating. It is time to discontinue the meld, Doctor. It has served its purpose.
The Humans eyes dropped to the floor for a moment before he looked at the Vulcan. I guess so, TSoral. As much as I would prefer otherwise, I dont suppose it would be logical to leave things as they are, would it?
It would be improper as well as illogical. There was a pause as the two beings looked at each other. But it has been a very informative time for me.
Yes, very informative for us both. I hope to continue to learn of Vulcan customs from you, TSoral. And it has been pleasant for me, I hope for us both.
I shall continue to teach you, if you wish. This time has been very pleasant.
Eletto sighed. Even good things have to come to an end. Just one thing before you break the mind meld?
The Vulcan lifted her hand, index and middle finger extended. Just one?
Forming his hand into the same shape, the Human placed his fingers to hers, feeling the pleasant tingle one last time. He dropped his hand, eyes locked on hers. She moved up against him, putting her arms around his neck. Very well; just one more time, Mister Omo.
The physician wrapped his arms around her, pulling their faces together, kissing her hungrily, as she severed the mind meld.
He stepped back, still looking at her, feeling strangely empty and alone. With no further comment, TSoral turned and walked to the turbolift, her face an unreadable mask. The Human stood, watching silently, wondering whether or not the solitary tear on the Vulcans cheek was his own.
Free counters provided by Andale.
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES --
Return to the index of ORION ARCHIVES On-Line Fiction.
Click Here to Return to the Orion Press Website