Federation year: 2369

In some dark spot of the Klingon Empire…

Ragnhilh struggled under the other woman's weight as she hung from one manacle. All her body ached even though she hadn't supported her for long; her former strength had left her quickly in the harsh confinement. Other fellow prisoners had tried to hold her, but most of them were even more worn out and fell quickly> Managing to stand was difficult enough for them, and exhaustion called them to the pleasing blackness of unconsciousness.

The woman worried her. She hadn't uttered a word since she came. She remained still, her face blank, her eyes void. She seemed dead, and only the steady rising and falling of her chest against her head told her otherwise. Ragnhilh sighed inwardly, wondering where the deprived woman's mind was. Far away probably, in a safe place where Klingon torture could not penetrate. Nowhere maybe - perhaps there was nothing left of her but that vacant look in her eyes.

One of Ragnhilh's crewmembers was speaking, but his words were lost to her. Her intent was fixed on the manacled woman as she cursed the Klingons vehemently, raw fury building inside of her. Anger and hatred drove them forward, that gave them strength to carry on, day after day, torment after torment, thinking of the moment they would break free and fulfill their desired revenge.

“…the traitorous citizens that followed Spock…”

‘Spock', that was the key word that got the woman out of her reverie, but Ragnhilh, caught in the middle of one of her curses, only noticed her slight movement and looked up to see her unfocused eyes sweep over her surroundings. She murmured something, but her voice was too low even for Ragnhilh to hear. Then, she lowered her eyes, expressionless but focused now, and as her gaze fixed on her, a shadow crossed her face and her features hardened.

Remembering the open hostility she had showed before, Ragnhilh smiled at her sincerely, hoping that whatever grudge the other woman held against her remained in the past. Right now, they were just prisoners and their only enemies the Klingons from whose camp they should escape.

"I'm Ragnhilh," she offered, although she guessed the other woman already knew, otherwise why react so strongly.

The other woman just stared at her and she felt unsettled, realizing she was being judged. Finally the woman spoke, her voice weak and hoarse.

"Saavik," she muttered.

Ragnhilh couldn't even think what to say next. In that same moment, the woman fell silent, her vision clouded again and the sparkle of life that had shown in her eyes vanished, as she got lost in the emptiness of her mind.

Silence reigned in the cell. All the captives were looking now at her and Saavik. She was weaker than most of them, scars and burns covered her frail body telling a long story of unbearable pain. Although a stranger, they all respected her for this: because she was still alive, because she continued fighting against the odds, suffering but not despairing, clinging to life, and hope, struggling for survival until the time came... to seek revenge. She was an example they would follow. They were soldiers and soldiers fought until the end; they were Romulans and even trapped in this foul camp, they would show the Klingon beasts the better warriors they were.

Ragnhilh regained strength from this thought and drew herself up, supporting Saavik's body firmly. Her chin raised, she looked everyone of them in the eye, ignoring her filthy bruised naked body and trying to appear before them as the proud commander she once was.

"We will get through this and we will make the Klingons pay," she reassured them, stressing the last word. "Now, talk," she ordered again, almost the only command she had been giving since she was imprisoned.

 At first, Ragnhilh had tried to count hours and days, but she had lost track long ago, or maybe not that long at all; she couldn't tell. However, she was sure that their captors had been quiet for an unusual amount of time, ever since throwing Saavik in the cell. It was this uncommon release of their torment that she feared the most.

What are they up to?

Saavik was on her own now, still hanging painfully, her free hand gripping the offending chain. She had not said a word, had not even grunted her discomfort, as if her body were just an empty shell and her spirit wandered somewhere else, waiting for the right moment to come back and put up a fight. Ragnhilh had been thinking about her again and, try as she would, she could not place her anywhere; she simply didn't know anyone called Saavik and, therefore, had no idea how she had wronged her. So, was it a family matter, perhaps? If it was, no one in Ragnhilh's family had told her.

She did not know if it was day or night, not that it mattered. The Klingons usually left them in complete darkness for long periods, or, as currently, let the lights on for days. She had discovered how much light could hurt. It was very bright and painful, it stung even when she kept her eyes shut. Or was it just a psychological effect? She didn't care.

She was famished, she was thirsty, she was cold; her body ached, her worst injuries gave her no rest. Her brain refused to cooperate with her any longer, sending her only images of pain and suffering, screaming, begging for the end. She could not fight any more. Exhaustion was overcoming her will. She lowered her gaze; the sickening soil, covered with mud, dirt, blood and secretions, now appealed to her. She was just unable to stand on her feet. A weak inner voice still reminded her not to succumb. But she could not fight, not anymore. Her cellmates' talking seemed a light-year away; her vision blurred and, finally, she fell, her knees touching the floor first, her face later. She welcomed it and her eyes closed as she surrendered to oblivion.

Ragnhilh woke up in a jolt, instinctually. She could hear the thud of boots coming closer. She tried to stand up but failed, and would have fallen if a hand had not grasped her arm firmly. Tottering, she looked up and a familiar face smiled at her. He had been one of her security officers, and, even now in their imprisonment, he continued to protect her, holding and supporting her while unconscious. Grateful, she smiled back at him.

The door opened noisily, and they all straightened and tensed in preparation for whatever was to come. Six Klingons entered with their disruptors aiming at them, barking orders in their own language and beating the prisoners. They tossed them against the walls and demanded they stand there. She could understand them, she had learned their language when she took command training, but most of her fellow Romulans could not figure out more than the few words they had picked up while incarcerated. Besides, the cell was crowded and they were exhausted. It was not easy to move as fast as the jailers wanted.

Yet, soon they complied and stayed cramped against the walls. The six guards had taken positions around the cell, watching them intently. Ragnhilh wrinkled her nose, their smell was even worse than the prisoners'. Only Saavik remained in the center, chained, and she did not react in any way to the Klingons' entrance. In that moment, another Klingon stepped inside and Ragnhilh's hateful glare turned to him.

He was someone she knew too well. His eyes glittered under his perpetually furrowed brow, a nasty battle scar crossing his right cheek, his long brownish hair falling loose and entangled, and a very ornate Klingon uniform fitted his stocky body tightly. He was the camp's commandant and, although he had conducted most of her personal interrogations, he had never come into the cells before. Only his lowly minions did. He walked slowly and confidently into the cell, ignoring all them. His gaze, and his steps, were directed only to Saavik. He stopped just a few centimeters from her, and let his hand play idly with his knife's hilt and smirked.

"So, did you enjoy the pain?" he taunted her in a highly accented Romulan.

Saavik did not answer, she did not even look at him. Her void eyes were lost, fixed on the door. The commandant shook her roughly.

"Damn you, I asked you a question! I know you heard me," he shouted and punched her hard in the stomach.

Saavik trembled under the shock for a moment but her expression remained unchanged, showing no emotion. The commandant also held himself in control. He was not angry like most Klingons would be, and grinned mischievously at her again.

"Should I use another type of stimulation, then?"

And he began to caress her cheek with his big hand, slowly, sensually; then lowered it, touching lightly her throat and finally reaching her breast. His smile broadened, mocking her, and becoming increasingly lascivious.

"You will talk," he stated matter-of-factly. "I will break you, you know."

Ragnhilh, the other women, and some of the men had stiffened when the commandant had placed his hand over the defenseless Saavik. Rage was threatening to overcome Ragnhilh and only the disruptor aimed at her barely kept her at check. She was feeling sick, and she wasn't his intended victim. In a quick look, she could see that most of the other prisoners were thinking the same.

Except Saavik. Her features were as unreadable as before. Nothing seemed to intimidate her. She remained unaffected even as his movements became more and more repulsive.

His words echoed in the silent cell. "You will talk."

Then he lowered his hand, turned abruptly and waved slightly. He started to walk towards the door without looking back. The nearest guard released Saavik from her chain and dragged her away, roughly. She was too weak to fight back, unable even to keep her own pace. The rest of the jailers exited after them, eyeing the caged Romulans with suspicion, disdain or hate, some of them with a self-satisfied smile while probably imaging the next torment they would make them suffer.

The prisoners relaxed when, once again, they were left alone. It was selfish, they knew, and they all felt sorry for her comrade, but they also felt relieved knowing this time she was being tortured instead of them.

Ragnhilh's narrowed eyes where fixed on the now locked door. There was something about that Saavik that intrigued her and made her feel uneasy. She was so calm, so in control of her emotions. She had never flinched, she had never showed... anything. She wondered how the other woman could do that, where she had learnt to mask her reactions so well. She only found one possible answer: the Tal Shiar, and she did not like it a bit. The Tal Shiar... she despised them. They were no soldiers, they had no honor; they were supposed to protect the Empire from internal threats, but in most cases they only terrorized innocent citizens. Loyal officers she knew had fallen under them. The Tal Shiar were the only ones who could have taught her mind disciplines, and she was appalled because of this. She had a liking for Saavik and had wanted her to be a fellow soldier, probably a fellow commander. She did not want her to be a spy.

Federation year: 2373

Saavik used to count the days when she was awake. Thanks to her, Ragnhilh knew that she had spent approximately four years caged in that sickening cell. She never thought she would survive for so long, and probably would have not if Saavik hadn't been there to support her. The camp commandant was obsessed with her. He always took her away and tortured her, but she never succumbed. Every time, Saavik was carried back half dead and Ragnhilh gave her the little help she could. Most of her former crewmates were long dead and new prisoners now shared her fate, but Ragnhilh continued to live, because Saavik did and she had come to admire her.

Saavik hardly spoke, but she always listened to Ragnhilh when she talked about the Empire's victories and about revenge. Sometimes Saavik's eyes shone when Ragnhilh rambled on, before all her emotions were crushed down and she remained impassive again. Saavik controlled her feelings to better endure torment, but Ragnhilh suspected Saavik's hatred was even stronger than hers and that it kept her alive.

The commandant's voice speaking in hushed tones penetrated Ragnhilh's mind. He was again near the cell, in the corridor. She had heard the Klingons approaching before and coming surprisingly to a halt. She tried in vain to guess what was happening; she just suspected Saavik was with them.

Why was she so important?

She strained to catch the words and, as understanding came, she was left stunned. The commandant is talking in English! Why? Why would he address Saavik in English? If Saavik was really the one out there.

Other cellmates looked puzzled too. They had listened to his words, and while they probably could not understand them, they were smart enough to recognize it was neither Klingon nor Romulan. At least, they could understand well the way he spoke, the same mocking way he reserved for his unfortunate prisoners. Ragnhilh, however, formed the words' meaning.

"... back with your friends, Admiral." He was being sarcastic.

Ragnhilh repeated the cut sentence. It did not make any sense, yet the last word was really interesting. Admiral? Is Saavik an admiral? If she did hold that rank in the Romulan fleet, the commandant wouldn't speak English.

"You will talk."

Saavik, indeed. He seemed obsessed about this sentence while talking with her .

"Or next time I will tell your beloved cellmates your little secret. And you wouldn't like that, would you?" He laughed loudly, a proof that he was enjoying himself.

Little secret? What is he talking about? Ragnhilh's mind raced, trying hard to find the reason under all the alien words. She had no time.

In the next moment, the cell's door opened, and a Klingon was there, carrying effortlessly an almost unconscious Saavik. He tossed her bloodied body mercilessly to the floor and turned to go. He didn't get the chance to do it.

At the same instant Saavik hit the hard soil, she stretched the hand she kept hidden under her upper body and slid a shiny object toward Ragnhilh. All her thoughts were interrupted when she crouched and caught it: a Klingon knife, Saavik snatched that fool's knife!

Finally, their moment had come. Ragnhilh's eyes flashed in anticipation as her gaze turned to the unsuspecting guard and her hand readied the knife for the attack. It flung across the air and stabbed neatly in the Klingon's back. No sound came from him, he just fell, dead.

Ragnhilh did not spare a single glance to the prone Saavik. When the knife reached its target, she spoke up, forcefully, rallying the other captives, as she raised her right fist.

"Glory and honor to the Empire!"

"Glory and honor to the Empire!" others repeated.

"Death to the Klingons!" someone called out.

"Death! Death!" the prisoners echoed across the cell.

The nearest Romulans had taken the Klingon's weapons immediately; one of them loaded and aimed the disruptor, another brandished his bat'leth and the last of them pulled the knife from his back. The rest, unarmed, kept a fighting stance. Their spirits high, they cast aside their severe weakness and exhaustion. Battle claimed her abandoned children again and they were ready to please her.

The other guards hurried to the cell when they heard the first cry. They appeared at the door, weapons first. The bloodthirsty prisoners were awaiting them, a surreal army of living skeletons, and charged against them as a swarm.

Someone pulled Saavik away just as the Klingon warriors crossed the threshold. They fired against the incoming Romulans and some of them were vaporized, but they continued advancing. The Romulan with the disruptor shot down the first Klingon to enter. The one armed with the bat'leth engaged the next. He managed to open a gash in one Klingon's chest before he was easily overcome; he lay on the ground, lifeless. The woman who had seized the knife threw it at the last guard. He was wounded, but still alive. The blood falling free, however, reminded him how much he loved hand-to-hand combat and, discarding his gun, he unsheathed his own knife and charged against her. She had no chance.

At the door, dead and severely injured Romulans huddled together; that did not stop the others. The first one slain, a young woman had taken his place and killed the Klingon swinging the bat'leth. Other prisoners reached the door and took the fallen's weapons. The last remaining Klingon was overpowered and murdered by the enraged captives.

The first Romulans fled out of the cell, each of them carrying a weapon. Ragnhilh assessed the situation quickly and, arming herself with one of the disruptors, took the lead. Two more cells also contained Romulan prisoners and their occupants were now chanting with them.

"Honor to the Empire!"

"Death to the Klingons!"

"Freedom!"

"Freedom!"

And freedom came for them, just for them. Other alien prisoners begged to be let free, pledging to fight together. The Romulan officers, however, would not band with them and risk themselves to fall later in their hands. They did not need them, anyway. They alone would break free from the hated camp.

Ragnhilh was looking intently for the commandant. She had expected him to be at the corridor, but it looked deserted. Coward!

As she advanced, she tried to decide which was the best way to follow. There had to be a hangar somewhere with a shuttle or small they could take. Sadly, she had no idea where it could be, because she had been unconscious when brought into the prison camp.

Up the corridor and then through the left door: the right led to the interrogation rooms. A wider corridor, no guard in sight, no force field either: Klingons were so primitive... The man walking beside her, her security officer, took a step forward when they reached the next door. The rest of the armed Romulans clenched their weapons as they got closer. He opened the door cautiously, remaining behind it. Ragnhilh was in one corner, forming the first line. He had just unlocked it when Klingon fire welcomed them, vaporizing the door and him with it.

The corridor turned into hell in a split second. Romulans and Klingons fired at each other before the guards charged. Some of the prisoners could not wait for the hated foe to cross the door; they wanted to feel the pleasure of slaughtering them. The cooler Romulans maintained their positions, three of them already lost. Anger boiled in their veins, but their cool heads would decide their actions. Five jailers were coming, swinging their ruthless weapons against the weaker prisoners who fell easily under them.

But the former captives were not defeated. They numbered almost fifty and defended themselves punching, kicking and even biting. They threw themselves against their stronger opponents, trying to weaken them in any possible way.

Ragnhilh had survived the fire charge and, from her corner, had shot down her first objective as the Klingons penetrated the corridor. The enemy, though, was now engaged in close combat against her comrades, and she could not make a clear target. Aiming carefully, she fired again, and another Klingon fell. One of the guards turned to face her when he realized his fellow had been vaporized. She was the only Romulan left with an energy weapon, and this Klingon was smart.

He snarled and, tossing a wrestling Romulan away, sprang over her. He was fast and Ragnhilh did not have time to shoot again; her right hand fell loose and powerless when his blade stabbed in her shoulder, impaling her on the wall. She stifled a scream and cursed him, her left hand coming reflexively to cover the bleeding shoulder, as the offending weapon was pulled roughly free. He licked his lips excited and raised his bat'leth to give the final blow. She just glared at him, not giving him the satisfaction of seeing fear reflected in her eyes.

His sneer suddenly changed into a pained expression, the light faded in his fixed gaze, the blade was kept high and he fell forward over her, stiff, a knife in his neck. She sighed, relieved, but her vision clouded, and, a second later, blackness came.

Saavik had taken a knife again before exiting the cell. She felt dazed and was finding great difficulty in walking; even remaining awake was not an easy task. Blood flooded from her several lacerations, burns covered her body, her head pounded and her charred nerves gave her no respite. She pulled forward. Surrender was not an option, she would be free again, she would be alive again.

Since she was captured, she had been functioning in a very basic mode; she had locked up, in a remote part of her mind, all her knowledge, all her memories, all her life... She had only kept what was necessary for survival. She knew well that if she could not reach everything that she buried, neither could the enemy; and she would never betray those she loved. So now, all she once was lay forgotten; those who held the key, hardly remembered. She was just a savage fighting for self-preservation, her instinct telling her she had to run away and leave the prison camp behind.

However, instinct sent her other odd warnings. Those who were her fellow cellmates, those who had helped her and now fought by her side, were not to be trusted. The mean ones, an inner voice told her, they will kill you slowly and painfully while they laugh. These people, so familiar to her and, at the same time, foreign were not the only ones to trigger confused memories to her. She felt safe and strong gripping her knife, and, when she had snatched it from the Klingon's belt, something had told her that she had done that before, that the same action had saved her life a long time ago. She paid no heed to the warnings though, they were of no consequence. The Romulans were her temporary and very much needed allies, and she would flee with them.

She ran through the corridor along with the others and, when the guards attacked them, she joined the scuffle. A big muscled Klingon lunged at her; she ducked swiftly and managed to avoid the lethal blow, his sharp sword only cutting her left forearm. She did not react to the new gash. She never acknowledged pain. Before her adversary could do anything more, she plunged her weapon into his belly and withdrew it only to open his throat. A feral grin spread in her former solemn expression as she whirled around to face her next opponent. She was alarmed somehow, because the sensations she was experimenting, fighting, even killing, were... satisfying her, and brandishing the knife seemed so easy, so... natural. Her control was wearing thin and she was not herself anymore. A disquieting thought.

People were killing and dying around her, but as she turned, her attention focused on the deadly struggle occurring in one corner. An imposing jailer raised his oddly looking blade to kill; his objective was injured and just stared at him, as if all her hatred could defeat him. Hatred. Saavik's inner voice was whispering to her again. She despised the mean ones, they had been cruel to her but, above all else, she loathed that mean one; she recognized her face, somewhere during the now forgotten past she had met her... and hated her. Let the Klingon kill her, she is no better than him.

However, she just could not hate because of some erased memories she did not recall anymore. She remembered how this woman had welcomed her, had helped her, holding her when the Klingons left her manacled and sharing her pain. She had even given her name to her: Ragnhilh.

She is not an enemy, she is a friend! Wasn't she?

Despite what all her internal alarms told her, she could not deny she had a liking for the other woman. She trusted her implicitly. Ragnhilh always seemed honorable; she acted like it. Because of that, Saavik had handed her the knife before, letting her lead them to safety when Saavik could not. And Ragnhilh had not failed her, and those supposedly mean ones had taken her out of danger.

The side of her that wanted to help the Romulan and the one who wanted her dead struggled to control her actions. It was futile argument, though, for Saavik was a noble person and she knew she was in the other woman's debt. Even if all the ghosts of her past shouted at her Let her die, she just couldn't. Because right now, Ragnhilh was a fellow prisoner needing her assistance.

And so, she thrust her knife against the confident Klingon and, when he fell over Ragnhilh, rushed towards her.

She dragged the guard away from Ragnhilh's body. He was heavy and she panted under the effort. She then kneeled beside the Romulan, ensuring she was still alive and assessing the severity of her injures. The wound was not a serious one, but, like the rest of the prisoners, she had suffered too much and now she paid the price.

Saavik began examining carefully the other injuries, then suddenly froze. Her fingers still brushing the other's shoulder blade, her other hand over the chest, she remained motionless for a second before starting to remove the grime firmly attached to the other woman's skin. And there it was. Masked by filth, blurred by new scars, but unmistakable. A Romulan family mark, her Romulan family mark. Suddenly, she remembered shattered pieces of her long life, just fragments that unfolded a puzzle before her. And suddenly, she understood. A new key she had not chosen had unburied a past best forgotten, but, at least, everything now made sense.

She saw the unconscious woman in a new light, strain making it difficult for her to suppress her confronted emotions. Just in that moment, the Romulan's eyes fluttered open. She was going to smile, but looked alarmed instead when she realized hate was again reflected in Saavik's eyes. And Saavik reacted, putting aside her long resentment against the Romulan people, putting aside her possible personal vendetta. Ragnhilh was not the one she was looking for. It pained her to discover the truth in such a way, because of that part of her past she had never known before, not until exposing Ragnhilh's brand. Ragnhilh... As the truth dawned deeply in her, she sighed.

Wiping out the hatred that showed in her eyes before, Saavik let a brief smile play in them instead. Composing her face and squaring her shoulders, she grasped the Romulan's arm and addressed her in a confident commanding tone she had not used in a very long time.

"We group together here. I will get you through this."

And then, she pulled Ragnhilh on her feet. Reaching for the disruptor lying on the floor, she handed it to her. Ragnhilh was just starting to feel sick again, her eyes unfocused and her stance unbalanced. Saavik had noticed it, and so kept hold of her when she claimed the Klingon's disruptor for herself.

Before succumbing again, Ragnhilh did not miss the part of her own words Saavik had deliberately omitted: if I can. She was really grateful for that, and her admiration for the intriguing woman grew.

 

Meanwhile, the combat between jailers and prisoners continued. The two remaining Klingons killed any nearby Romulans with satisfaction. But, even if most of the prisoners were unarmed, injured and starved, hatred, rage and sheer desperation made them dangerous enemies. They hurled themselves against the Klingons like mad men and their eyes never entirely lost the glint of cunning.

A young man had managed to place himself behind one of the guards who was too busy butchering his former cellmates. The Romulan caught his breath, stretched his hand and touched with his spread fingers the energy weapon the Klingon carried. Next, swiftly, he drew it and pulled the trigger. The Klingon warrior vanished in a sparkle of light. The last jailer was lost in his bloodlust and did not notice that his comrade was gone. He realized, however, that the Romulans who had been coming blindly towards him were then pulling back. Swinging his bat'leth he snarled at them, calling them the cowards he always knew they were. He charged against them, but his blade would not taste blood again. His target clear now, the young Romulan fired calmly, a cruel smile in his lips.

The last enemy had just fallen. The surviving Romulans at first looked at each other and then at their compatriots who lay lifeless on the corridor's floor. In the quick fight, more than ten had perished, others were obviously wounded, none were healthy. The chants and battle cries intoned before had turned now into respectful silence. They lowered their eyes for a moment, mourning. Their comrades had given their lives so they could escape. They were nameless heroes they would hold in their hearts. And for them, they would break free. No Klingon would ever stop them.

The young man broke the silence, calling to battle again. "Glory and honor to the Empire!"

"Death to the Klingons!"

"Death!"

The others answered, and the ones who were nearest to where the dead rested, took the weapons from fallen comrades and enemies alike and brandished them. Still there was not much to ravage: most weapons had been vaporized too.

Saavik stood quiet, supporting the unconscious Ragnhilh. A middle-aged man approached them, smiling shyly. He bent down to unclench the Klingon's fingers that still held his bat'leth. Seizing it, he drew up again and looked at Saavik kindly.

"Are you all right?" he asked.

Saavik nodded.

"The commander? I can help you-"

"I will manage," Saavik replied.

 The Romulan man grinned and shook his head.

"You are tough, I see." He lowered his voice then. "The living hero."

He bowed to her before walking past her towards the door. At the threshold, he turned around to face the others.

“Kill every Klingon in this damn hellhole!" he yelled, then crossed the door knowing he would be followed.

Saavik at first did not move; she watched the first Romulans as they passed her. Surprisingly they all bowed or nodded to her. She thought that they were paying their respects to the injured Ragnhilh, a commander. It was not entirely true. Saavik could not realize the image she portrayed: all her body covered in blood, she stood straight and cold, her chin high, her eyes cool, her features hard. She was the image of control and power. She was the perfect Romulan even, if in her mind, she acted the perfect Vulcan. Ragnhilh was badly injured and they had picked a new leader. They had chosen her.

The prison camp was a small underground facility only formed by cells, interrogation rooms, two offices, sleeping quarters for the guards and a mess/recreation hall. The Romulans easily found their way out and discovered a barren landscape welcomed them. A soft wind blew and dust whirled around them. The air was cold and the weakened prisoners shivered. Darkness was enfolding the desolated grounds and they strained to see. Hope was renewed when one of them pointed out a Bird of Prey landed nearby. The stronger ones ran towards it, while others trailed slowly and painfully behind.

Saavik half dragged Ragnhilh as she hurried. The Romulan commander kept waking up every few minutes. Every time, she tried to keep the pace, smiling faintly to Saavik, but soon she blacked out again. Unconsciousness also tried to engulf Saavik, but she doggedly refused to surrender to it. Holding Ragnhilh firmly with one hand, gripping the disruptor with the other, she continued advancing. No rest would come until she was safe.

The Klingon ship's entrance was closed. The first arriving Romulans stared at it. The young man armed with the energy weapon, however, raised it resolutely.

"I know an easy way into this ship," he commented. An instant later, the hatch blew up. Then, he climbed his way up, helping the others into the ship.

The middle-aged Romulan lifted Ragnhilh while Saavik pushed from the ground. Once she was inside, Saavik pulled herself up.

"Now, where is the bridge?" the young man asked.

An old memory suddenly surfaced. "This way," Saavik said self-assured as she took the lead, her disruptor ready for action.

When they were walking one of the narrow corridors, they heard the engines coming alive and the floor trembled below them. The Bird of Prey was taking off. They stopped just a moment, contemplating the new situation, for they thought the ship was empty. Now they would have to overthrow the crew.

Fortunately they reached the bridge's door without incident. The young Romulan, still with his smirk plastered on his face, whispered again.

"I know an easy way."

And he, Saavik, and another middle-aged man holding a disruptor aimed their weapons at the door, ready to blast anything moving in the other side.

The door vaporized and they fired without warning against the Klingons inside. Taken off guard, three of them were killed before drawing their own arms. The last of them, however, who was bent down working in a station, whirled around and returned fire. The middle-aged man fell and the rest of them ducked for cover. A Romulan woman situated behind them was also shot.

It was the camp's commandant.

The Klingon stepped forward, firing all the time. From the floor, the young man tried another shot. He missed and the energy ray only brushed the Klingon. Saavik readied to fire again. It was not necessary. The power of the weapon was so high that it disintegrated his right arm. He growled and moved his left hand to draw his knife.

"Stay still," Saavik cold voice commanded in his own language.

She had entered the bridge, her disruptor firmly aimed at him. For a second, her eyes blazed, but now her stare was cool and hard. Ragnhilh rested on her side, her left hand holding a disruptor loosely, her eyes shut.

The young man and the middle-aged one who handled a bat'leth flanked them. The other Romulans were crowding the cramped bridge, the armed ones first, all of them glaring at the commandant. He swept his gaze over them and then returned his attention to Saavik, motionless.

He grunted. "Saavik... You have become quite the leader." He spoke in Romulan. A mock smile appeared in his face.

She ignored him and voiced what everyone was thinking. "You were trying to flee," she stated matter-of-factly.

The commandant laughed. "Me? I'm no coward. I was calling in reinforcements."

"You could do that from the prison camp. You came here to escape and avoid a battle any true Klingon would face. You are a coward," Saavik replied calmly.

The Romulans played with their weapons, waiting for Saavik to finish her speech and then, dispatch him. The commandant, however, knew what to say next.

"And what exactly do you think you are?" A beat. "Half-breed," he spat.

Saavik internally recoiled; she remembered the insult quite well. But she did not show it and remained unaffected. The commandant had tormented her enough to know she would not react. He did not intent that. Around Saavik, the Romulans were looking at each other wondering how to interpret his words. He leaned against the captain's chair that was nearby. Saavik just followed him with her disruptor.

"Joining the Romulans. Who would have thought? I got the impression you hated them."

He paused and looked around. The Romulans were now stealing disconcerted or menacing glances at Saavik.

" I know what the mighty Federation will think of your actions, Admiral Saavik. Treason."

Saavik tensed then. She had not thought of the Federation in a very long time, but some memories were still accessible and she knew where her loyalties stood. She was not a traitor. She only did what was necessary to escape.

The commandant, smirking now, was not finished.

"Now you can be reunited with your husband, although you'll find him in the Romulan Empire, not on Vulcan. The happy couple. I'm sure Ambassador Spock will appreciate it."

The Romulans exchanged hissed words. Realizing she was a Federation officer had shocked them, knowing she was a hybrid was disgusting, but learning she was Spock's wife outraged them. Ignoring the hateful commandant, they turned their weapons against her.

Saavik kept the disruptor pointed at him, but her gaze faltered. This was what he expected.

"Belay that!" a voice roared.

Ragnhilh, still supported by Saavik, was now awake and well aware of their present situation. Paying no attention to Saavik, she aimed her disruptor at the commandant.

"Don't try to use Saavik as a diversion," she warned him scornfully. "You come first."

The others had obeyed the former commander and were again eyeing him. The young man kept his weapon fixed on Saavik, though, his disruptor brushing her damaged skin.

His battle lost, the commandant smiled at Ragnhilh and commented, "Today is a good day to die."

Ragnhilh grinned in return, a sadistic gleam in her eyes. "Today, you are not going to die."

She waited to see fear glimmering in his eyes. "Your men died like warriors, you will not. You will rot in our cells and suffer as you made us suffer. I assure you: your death will be slow and painful. I will see to it."

She motioned for the man at her side and another one also armed. They approached the Klingon, took his bat'leth and knife and then, beat him with their pommels of their blades until he was knocked to the floor.

"Take him to the brig," she ordered, already comfortable with her reclaimed role as commanding officer.

She now stood on her own and as the two Romulans dragged the commandant away, she spun on her heel to face Saavik, who had lowered her weapon and remained calm. She knew it was not logical to act then. She met Ragnhilh's glare without flinching. The commander grabbed her disruptor angrily and she did not resist.

"Rear Admiral Saavik of the Federation." It was a statement that demanded an answer.

Saavik only nodded.

Ragnhilh's look softened a little and she stifled a sigh. She handed Saavik's weapon to a nearby woman and, signaling to her and the young man, she flicked her gaze towards the door. The man took Saavik roughly by her arm. The woman just positioned herself at the other side, aiming at her. They knew what to do.

When they reached the door, Ragnhilh added, as an afterthought. "Unharmed. Just lock her up."

Saavik stood in her new empty cell. A Klingon cell, again, but now she was being held by the Romulans and that was worst. In the aftermath, she realized there was no other way her attempt to escape could have ended; it had been foolish to trust them. The voice of her past experiences had warned her: the mean ones will betray you, they will kill you, they will make you suffer. This is what they always do. No exception. And it was painfully true.

"Damn," she muttered.

Ragnhilh had ordered her to the brig. She had saved the Romulan's life and Ragnhilh in return had imprisoned her. Now they headed towards the Romulan Star Empire, the last place where she wanted to be, the last place where she wanted to die. And death awaited her. She had been so blind trusting Ragnhilh... who helped her because she thought Saavik was Romulan; now, however, Ragnhilh despised her because she was a foe.

Or maybe Ragnhilh was just doing her duty? She was an enemy officer, after all, and she had to be a prisoner, nothing personal. And yet, it was painfully personal. Saavik could not believe the Romulan commander was just being a professional. Ragnhilh was untrustworthy, dishonorable, cruel. Just like her mother.

Mother, what a difficult word to pronounce. When she thought of it, she wanted to cry, or to tear apart every available object, to crash them, to crush them with her bare hands until her strength left her. But that was the Romulan in her, and she was Vulcan, or as Vulcan as she could ever be. So she breathed deeply and tried to gather her control.

She felt so drained... However, she needed to be in control of her emotions again, to rebuild the walls in her head that had been broken down, to bury again all the memories that had surfaced. She was a prisoner again. The Romulans would interrogate her and she would reveal nothing: no pain, no fear, not even her ingrained hatred. Maybe she could not escape Hellguard, but she would never let it conquer her. Even if her fate was to die in Romulan hands, she would not end like the enraged, scared child she once was. She would be Vulcan, for the Federation, for her own children, for her beloved Spock.

Spock. She wanted to cling to him, to reopen the link that had been severed. She wanted to feel his strong presence in her mind. But it could not be. Besides, she could not keep her memories out of reach with him recalling all they once shared. And if she was going to endure torment, she did not want him suffering with her. And so, silence answered her instead of Spock's essence when she called for him. She was alone.

Ragnhilh was now lying in her new quarters', smirking inwardly. She contemplated the ceiling with a sense of satisfaction she thought she would never felt again. There she was, relaxing in her former tormentor's lodging while he stayed enchained in the brig, eating his food while he starved. His ship, now hers.

The four Klingons they had encountered in the bridge had been the only ones aboard and the Romulans had seized the Bird of Prey without difficulty. As its design and technology was very similar to the old Romulan ships, they had had no problems understanding and manning the stations. They had found the armory, and now every one was carrying an energy weapon and a blade with them, ready for a possible new confrontation with the Klingons. They had also dressed with the former crew clothes: Klingon uniforms and oddly looking civilian suits. The thin Romulans were really uncomfortable wearing the big and somewhat heavy Klingon clothes, but it was better than going naked around the ship. They had discovered the few sonic showers existing in the ship, too, and now were taking turns to wash themselves, removing the filth from their bodies and for the first time in tortuous years, feeling clean again.

Ragnhilh could not say the same about Klingon food and drinks. She only ate because she was famished, but even being desperately thirsty, she found the blood wine repulsive. Why couldn't Klingons have water in their ships just like everyone else? Why couldn't they have replicators?

The so called sickbay was another example of Klingon primitiveness. It was small and badly equipped. The medical personnel who had survived were doing their best to treat the injured Romulans, including themselves, and it was not enough. Ragnhilh had been there. They had partially healed the wound she had suffered during the scuffle, the rest would have to wait.

Next, she had gone back to the bridge, installing herself in the captain's chair. They were traveling fast towards the Romulan border, the ship cloaked, hoping they would not be intercepted. She knew every Romulan name, rank, and former position in her new crew, and a roster with their new duties had been scheduled. Fortunately, an experienced sub-commander from another ship had escaped with them and she felt confident leaving the bridge.

He now the conn. While in the bridge, her conversation with the doctor in sickbay had come to her mind and she had mulled over it until it had been unbearable. She had needed to exit, to go back to her newly acquired cabin, to have a meal, to sleep and just forget.

She did it for a while, but she could not anymore. She heard the doctor's words all over again.

"And what about the prisoner Saavik?"

"What about her?" She had snapped.

"She is seriously injured, commander. Maybe she could-"

She had cut him off. She did not want to hear anymore.

"She is just a prisoner. I don't give a damn if she dies in there." Her voice had been harsh, and even if she had tried to look cool, the undertones had betrayed her, showing her rage.

 The doctor had recoiled. He knew well prisoners were not usually treated, but Saavik had just saved their lives. Steeling himself against her wrath, he had tried a new approach.

"Yes, sir." He had answered respectfully. "However, Admiral Saavik is a valuable prisoner and surely you will not-"

He could not finish his sentence again. The new tactic had not worked. Fuming, she had jabbed a finger at him.

"Don't dare to tell me what I will or will not do, Healer. Maybe you have spent too much time in that damned prison camp, but you are on starship duty again. And you will not question my decisions or you will face the consequences."

After hearing the threat, he remained grimly silent.

Was she really going to let Saavik die? Since discovering Saavik's identity, she had felt utterly betrayed. She had cared for her so much, helping her, protecting her. She laughed now at herself when she had thought of Saavik being a Tal Shiar operative. She had been so stupid! She should have understood then, she should have remembered where she had heard the name before. And when the commandant had spoken to her in English, why hadn't she made the connection? Even a Klingon would have figured it out!

And now she faced the consequences. She was really enraged and she could not help hating Saavik, but she was only angry with herself. Because it was all her fault. She had befriended her and had relied on her. And Saavik, considering her an ally, had trusted her knife to her and later... she had saved her life.

She knew Saavik was an enemy of the Empire, a very remarkable one, only ranking below her hated husband, Spock. And now she was in her debt.

She owed her life to Saavik. Was she really going to let her die?

She did not want to ask herself that question, she did not want to answer it. How could it be possible? The reviled Saavik she had despised all her military career, the half-breed she had wished to see shamefully defeated, was the same brave honorable person she had admired during her captivity. Now duty dictated the half-Romulan Federation officer face a death sentence. And honor dictated that she, Ragnhilh, repay her debt to her savior.

And when she thought about all that, she could not smile anymore; she could enjoy neither her triumph nor her foe's humiliation. She smirked no more, a sour mood returning.

What do I do?

 

The dim light that illuminated the cell was perfect for meditation. Saavik was seated on the floor, her legs crossed. Her mental control gathered, she concentrated to lock the memories up again. However, slumber called her. She was exhausted and in need of a rest that meditation could not give her. Saavik fought the urge to sleep, to stay awake so she would not miss any chance to escape, and focused her attention on putting her memories out of reach. She did not succeed for long. She laid on the ground, forgetting her meditation and welcomed a very much needed healing trance.

Three days later Ragnhilh headed towards the cells. She had barely slept; she spent the time stretched on the bed, laughing wryly at herself or cursing the wicked destiny that had brought her to that situation. She could not stand it anymore; she had to do something, anything, to appease her inner demons.

She went into the detention area trying to look like a proper commander. The guards at the door saluted her and their serious expressions revealed nothing. She guessed, however, that they were puzzled. A proper commander did not show herself around her ship with a bundle of clothes and food, some medical equipment on top of it, and a full jar hanging precariously from one of her fingers. But in that moment, she did not mind. She had decided that she would not spare Saavik execution (that was not her decision to make) but, at least, she would protect her until then. This way, somehow, she repaid her debt.

She stopped in front of Saavik's cell. Feeling confident, she drew herself up before addressing the other woman.

"Admiral Saavik, I'm going to enter your cell. You could try to attack me, but you know you will not go far. Besides, I'm here to help you, not to hurt you."

On the other side of the solid cell door, Saavik had woken up when she heard the footsteps approaching. The healing trance had helped her, but she was still very weak and felt dizzy. She forced herself to stand up and listened to Ragnhilh.

"I have brought food and clothes for you, I'm sure you are cold in there. And I will look after your injuries." For the first time, she faltered. "I... I owe you."

Ragnhilh hoped the explanation was enough, she was feeling stupid doing all this. And justifying my decision to a prisoner is ludicrous!

Saavik kept silent. She had contemplated her options and decided to wait, to see if the commander's words were true, although she did not trust her anymore.

Ragnhilh had expected an answer but, of course, nobody had checked on Saavik before; she could be already dead. She reached the control panel and pressed the button that opened the door. Noisily, it did. And Saavik was there, just a few centimeters from her. Ramrod straight, her hands clasped behind her back, she looked at her coolly, her features as unreadable as ever.

Ragnhilh tossed her load to the floor, careful enough to not spill the wine, and then placed the jar beside the other things. She folded her arms, lifted her chin and watched Saavik with slight irritation.

"Aren't you going to say thank you?" she asked scornfully, then snorted. "Of course not. Aren't you going to tell me to go hell?" She smiled sardonically. "I would."

Saavik just stared at her. She only spared a glance at the clothes and food lying now by her side.

"As you wish." Ragnhilh bent and took one of the medical devices. She cocked her head as she looked Saavik up and down.

"You look better than I thought. Most of your lacerations and burns are now healed. The healing trance?"

She had not expected an answer this time. "You weren't much of a talker when we were friends, either," she commented dryly. Showing Saavik the device, she informed her, "This is for infections; it will help you, external use only, nothing to dread."

Finally, Saavik spoke. "I'm not afraid of you," she stated.

Ragnhilh scowled, her eyes sparkling menacingly. "You should be."

She hurled the device against the floor, and it shattered at Saavik's feet. Saavik just looked at it dispassionately and then back at Ragnhilh. She lifted an eyebrow.

"Damn you!" Ragnhilh exploded. "Don't you know who I am? Don't you know where we are going?"

Ragnhilh realized she was losing control, and her questions only reflected her own fears. Before she had time to compose herself, however, Saavik was replying.

"I know perfectly well who you are, Commander Ragnhilh of the Gerik and the Dhel'ae, House Seble-Firyal. And I know we are going to Romulus."

Ragnhilh looked haughtily at Saavik before answering, "You have been a prisoner for a very long time. You think you know pain. But you don't."

She unsheathed the Klingon knife she carried with her and caressed its blade.

"Klingons are just animals. We, Romulans, however, will show you perfection."

She was smiling appreciatively, as she remembered one of the many executions she had witnessed. Then, coming back to reality, she fixed her gaze on the knife for a second.

"Only draw your blade if you are going to shed blood," she said as if quoting a book.

Then, she glanced up at Saavik and, grinning, sliced the knife over her cheek. Saavik had not stopped her. She had not flinched. Her hands were still resting on her back and her gaze had not changed at all.

Ragnhilh was not entirely surprised. She just continued to play with the blade lightly cutting her prisoner's skin. She had forgotten her initial purpose. When she stared at Saavik looking so... Vulcan, she only saw the cursed enemy she had dreamed to bring down to her knees long ago. The brave woman she had respected and had considered a friend no longer existed.

"You are worse than an enemy, you are an aberration," she spat, her nose almost touching Saavik's, eyeing her intently.

Saavik had noted her mood shift but refused to acknowledge fear, even disquiet. She held the commander's glare unmoved, paying no attention to the sharp blade damaging her skin. The last insult was especially painful to hear. She remembered past experiences with Romulans, including her terrible childhood, and they always branded her with similar titles, considering her inferior. Ragnhilh had not finished, though, she continued ranting.

"A child of dishonor. A half-breed. Half-Romulan!" She stressed the word. "Damn the Romulan who fathered you!"

Ragnhilh was definitely furious. She had thrust her knife deeper while pronouncing her last sentence and now blood flooded freely from the open gash across Saavik's abdomen. Saavik did not pay attention to it, though. Her gaze stayed locked on Ragnhilh. She took one step back and tilted her head to one side, measuring.

Then, she spoke softly, "As you wish." A pause. She tried to control her voice, but her next words were full of resentment. "You will be cursing your own mother."

Ragnhilh winced and lowered her knife in astonishment. It only lasted a second. Next, her eyes flared again with wrath.

"Liar," she hissed. "How do you dare?"

The depletion of her years of imprisonment, the tension of the last days and the shock of Saavik's words impaired her judgment. Blind with rage, she lunged at Saavik, her blade poised to kill.

Even if she did not like it, Saavik was born a warrior, and a ruthless survivor. She had let the other woman hurt her, but she was not going to die without a fight. A flicker of fire in her eyes, she grasped the commander's wrist, twisted it until the knife hit the floor and, without releasing her grip, knocked her against the wall. She held her this way for an instant.

Her next statement sounded like a joke after her actions, although she had not intended that. "Vulcans do not lie," she said seriously, looking calm.

Saavik loosened her hold on Ragnhilh and let her go. Ragnhilh was torn between being utterly enraged or relieved, for a moment she had seen again Saavik's Romulan side and had feared for her life. She did not have time to decide. A second later, Saavik was turning her left shoulder to her to see, rubbing it roughly, trying hard to remove the grime that covered it.

"You can see it for yourself, Ragnhilh, daughter of Ajeya." The commander did not miss the slight tremble in the otherwise controlled voice.

Two Romulans soldiers appeared at the door, their rifles aimed at Saavik. The guards had heard the upheaval and had immediately rushed to the cell. Saavik and Ragnhilh turned to look at them.

"Commander?" one of them asked warily.

Ragnhilh's glacial stare fixed on him, daring him to question her next order.

"Leave us alone."

They saluted smartly and returned to their post, but their eyes took in the situation before complying.

Ragnhilh noticed that. She also was aware of her position: her back almost touching the wall while Saavik stood near the open door, a knife lying beside her on the floor. That was about to change. She drew her disruptor and pointed at Saavik.

"Go back where you belong," she said disdainfully, tilting her head to indicate the cell's back.

Saavik did as she was told. Always watching her, Ragnhilh bent down to retrieve the knife and sheathed it. Then, she positioned herself on the threshold again.

For a minute, they stood silently eyeing each other. Ragnhilh did not need to look at the scratched faint mark on Saavik's shoulder. The other woman's conviction was enough proof. She felt sick. She had always pictured the half-breed Federation officer as an abomination, but the rumors concerning her conception did not place her Romulan parent in a better category. She looked coldly at Saavik, but her words were just a whisper.

"It's not true. She would never have..."

She trailed off, unable to utter the thoughts coming to her mind. However, Saavik continued for her, speaking impassively as if she were giving an inconsequential report instead of recalling her childhood's hardship.

"Tortured a defenseless Vulcan prisoner? Violated him? Given birth to his child? Used the child to humiliate him? Abandoned the child? Tormented the child?"

Saavik stared at Ragnhilh as the ice in her eyes melted. She went on.

"Used the child for weapon experimentation? Ordered her child's execution?" She paused. "Believe me. She did."

Ragnhilh's grip faltered on her gun and her hand lowered a bit. Her look now revealed her disconcert. She did not want to accept that truth.

"It's not true," she muttered again.

"I did not know she was my... mother, either, not until I saw your family brand during our escape." Saavik was trying very hard to suppress the emotions that threatened to overwhelm her. "I though she was just one of Thieurrull's officers. It was what she told me when she attempted to murder me years ago."

Saavik leaned against the wall, strain and exhaustion begging her to take a rest. She cocked her head before speaking again.

"You look like your mother. When I first saw you, I knew I should not trust that face." Regret was not apparent in her controlled voice. "I did. I was a fool."

Although Saavik intoned her next words in the same unemotional way, her expression hardened and her gaze turned cold.

"I considered you a friend. I saved your life. I helped you to escape. Now you repay me."

As she said the last sentence, Saavik traced the bleeding laceration with her hand. Ragnhilh winced. She had felt betrayed when discovering the other woman's concealed identity; she had never really thought the Federation officer would feel the same way.

"You are like your mother." Again resentment filled Saavik's words, her inner fire resurfacing for a split second in her eyes.

She bluntly voiced her opinion, "You are dishonorable and treacherous. You are not a soldier, you are just a cold-blooded murderer. Like your mother." A beat. "I should have let you die."

Ragnhilh repressed the urge to strike her and instead punched the door frame with her left fist.

"Shut up!" she snapped.

Her right hand almost trembled as she aimed at Saavik. She gritted her teeth, trying to control herself. Her former icy glance had turned into an angry glare again. She was not sure if she was furious with her prisoner, with her mother or with herself. She knew her mother was ruthless, she just never thought she would have done something so disgusting... And here she was, with her half-sister.

A sickened laugh threatened to escape.

After Saavik's long speech, she only replied, "I'm not dishonorable."

She took a deep breath before explaining herself. "You have to understand. You are an enemy of the Empire, I'm treating you like one. It is my duty. We are both duty-bound, Admiral." She stressed the last word, a remainder of their respective loyalties that drew a clear line between them.

Saavik at first just stared coolly at her, then answered, "We are also honor-bound." Her next statement startled Ragnhilh. "Mnhei'sahe."

"You, a half-breed, an outsider, dare to lecture me on Mnhei'sahe?"

"I do."

Ragnhilh's temper flared but she controlled herself. She smiled, and then, surprisingly, laughed.

"Damn you. You have backbone." She muttered in a light mood. "Drop that Vulcan facade, you are as Romulan as any of us, aren't you?"

"I am not," Saavik quickly replied. She frowned at the commander's words and mentally she told to herself: when no offense is intended, no offense is taken; but it was difficult not to react in that way.

"You were, for four years." Ragnhilh said regretfully. "We were friends." She lowered her disruptor. "We are now enemies. We were strangers and now we are... sisters." She snorted. "Funny, isn't it?"

Saavik opened her mouth to answer, but Ragnhilh waved her hand.

"Please, little Vulcan, don't tell me that humor is a difficult concept for you. We both know better."

"Mnhei'sahe," she murmured as she leaned on the door frame, folding her arms. She sighed.

"I'm not dishonorable," she repeated. "I owe you my life and I will repay you."

Ragnhilh drew herself up and looked Saavik in the eye. Saavik just stared calmly at her, neither challenging nor accepting her words. They stood silent again for a minute. Finally, Ragnhilh turned to go, but glanced over her shoulder at Saavik, a half smile in her lips.

"I will get you through this," she said wryly, and then laughed lightly.

The cell's door closed behind her. Saavik only spared a glance at the items now lying on the floor and then contemplated the door again. She did not know what to think or what to expect. In this last encounter with the Romulan commander, she had seen the worst and the best of her. She was the same complex person she had befriended in the prison camp, but now she was not sure if she could count her as an ally or a ruthless enemy.

She was distressed. She did not want to acknowledge the truth, either. She now looked at Ragnhilh and saw the daughter she could have been, if only Ajeya had cared for her instead of treating her as an instrument or weapon to be used and discarded. This commander was the future that she had been denied. And she was not sure if she should feel enraged or grateful.

She did not want Ragnhilh's life; she was glad of living in the Federation, of serving in Starfleet, for Spock and their life together. But, still, Ragnhilh's appearance had increased her bitterness towards the Empire, a bitterness she could never entirely suppress.

The Romulan commander was so like her mother… and, yet, quite different. When she insisted on acting as an honorable person and helping her, Saavik could understand why they had become friends. When Ragnhilh insulted her and even harmed her with pleasure, she was like any of the cruel soldiers that had tormented her during her childhood. Saavik was still confined in the brig, and that confusing passionate woman would decide her outcome. She could not tell if the friend or the foe would prevail.

Ragnhilh strode briskly onto the bridge. The sub-commander stood up from the central seat and snapped to attention. She ignored him and turned to the young woman at her left.

"Helmsman, set a course for the nearest Federation outpost."

The woman was ready to comply, but froze when the command was given. The sub-commander spoke visibly agitated.

"Commander?" he questioned.

She stared coldly at him, her chin up and her back ramrod straight, and addressed the young helmsman again.

"You heard me, centurion." Her tone did not allow for objections.

“Yes, Commander!"

The young soldier obeyed immediately, and the rest of the bridge personnel did their best to appear busy and ignorant of the senior officers' confrontation.

Ragnhilh was unaffected. She passed by her shocked second in command and placed herself in the captain's chair, looking cool and confident. The sub-commander remained where he stood, but met her eyes, demanding silently an explanation. Ragnhilh chuckled at his wary but firm gaze.

"Don't worry, sub-commander. No one is going to defect," she told him dryly.

His face reflected his confusion and, later, his understanding. His eyes shone when he figured out what was going on and then faded, his expression grim. He moved to stand at attention before her again, saluted and answered her, "I understand, commander." He dipped his head and positioned himself behind her, at her right. He had pledged his allegiance to her and now shared her fate.

Most of the bridge crew did not understand their commanding officer's intention, but relaxed as the tension between her and her second dissipated. They did not need to understand. They would follow their superiors' orders.

A few weeks later, in Romulan space...

The beautiful D'deridex-class warbird stood above the small Klingon Bird of Prey as a menacing shadow. Both ships were de-cloaked and their shields remained down, aware of the supposedly enemy vessel's real occupants .

Inside the Bird of Prey, three uniformed Romulans materialized in the transporter room. The first one, a full dressed admiral, swept her gaze over the assembled crew. It was an odd view. The thin and obviously ill Romulans, wearing too large Klingon clothes, stood at attention. Her intense look fixed inwardly on the middle-aged woman who stayed in front of them. The woman's eyes glittered when meeting hers. However, the admiral's icy blue eyes only stared back at her.

She walked calmly and stopped once she faced the commander, only a few inches apart. The commander gave her a crisp salute.

Returning it, the admiral said, "At ease."

The two women locked their gazes again, the same dark blue coloring their eyes. The admiral was an old woman and wrinkles were visible in her hard features; Ragnhilh's scars stated her past suffering. Otherwise, their faces mirrored each other. The high ranking officer did not show recognition, though. Turning on one heel, she ordered briskly.

"At your stations. Commander, with me."

She strode out of the room, Ragnhilh closely behind her. The two other soldiers forming her personal guard marched after them. Only a glance from Ragnhilh indicated to the sub-commander he was then in charge.

Ragnhilh walked quietly behind her superior officer. She had been born in a family of military tradition and was used to the discipline with her relatives while on duty, but she realized that her mother was being unusually cold. Normally, she would have answered her personal greeting and would have started a casual conversation by then. Instead, she remained distant and silent, and her pace and the way she carried herself told Ragnhilh that she was all business. She could guess why.

Ajeya found her daughter's cabin without being told and crossed inside. Ragnhilh followed her while the guards stayed at the door. The veteran admiral paid no attention to the alien surroundings and instead bore her eyes on Ragnhilh, who stopped opposite her and stood in a tense parade rest. Ragnhilh had prepared herself for this conversation during all the journey and still was not ready; she supposed she would never be. She waited for her mother to raise the subject; she did not have to wait long.

"I'm glad to have you back."

It was a simple but sincere statement, and for a moment both women relaxed slightly. Ragnhilh curled up her lip.

"We will talk at length later," Ajeya continued. "First, duty calls." Her voice hardened again and her gaze turned glacial. "In your initial report, you declared you held a Federation prisoner." A beat. Ragnhilh's heart quickened. "I want her immediately executed."

Ragnhilh shuddered inwardly. She drew herself up as she tried to explain the new situation.

"I think it won't be-"

"Don't think, commander!" Ajeya chided.

Ragnhilh snapped to attention. The encounter was going to be even worse than she thought.

"Just make sure my orders are carried out, at once!"

Her mother's expression was so severe, her tone so cold... Ragnhilh did not know how to address the matter and remained silent. Ajeya did not want to spare another second handling that problem, her problem, and so, spurred her child mercilessly.

"What are you waiting for, Commander? You're dismissed!"

Ragnhilh stood stiffly at attention and summoned her courage to meet her mother's forbidding eyes. She dragged her words out.

"I know why you want her dead before... before the High Command or the Senate have a chance to interrogate her.”

Ajeya was about to cut her off, but listened to her instead when she realized the reason for her daughter's reluctance.

"I know who Saavik is, Mother," Ragnhilh finished more confident.

The Romulan admiral refused to acknowledge what her child hinted.

"She is a prisoner sentenced to death, and that execution will be carried out immediately. She is a liability I will be rid of, right now."

Ragnhilh said nothing, still seeking the best words to face her uncompromising mother. Ajeya noticed then the tension in her scarred body, that testified to her mind's former torment and current strain. Her gaze warmed with love and understanding. She stretched her hand to caress her daughter's sable hair, that had grown long and wild during her captivity.

"I've been hard on you. You have suffered much, but have come back to me unbent, commanding the captured enemy ship... and I only mistreat you."

Her voice had been sharp at the beginning, but had turned softer as she spoke. Her last words were said in a whisper. She traced one of the many scars that covered Ragnhilh's face with loving tenderness. Looking at Ragnhilh, she forgot for a moment the foreboding that haunted her and concentrated instead on the joy of having her missing daughter back. She smiled fondly.

"I thought you dead and here you are, alive and kicking, a mother's daughter. And I only..." She trailed off and then said hoarsely. "Forgive me."

Ragnhilh kept her feet together, still unsure of her predicament's outcome. Her eyes shone, returning her mother's love, but she curled up her lips, refusing to smile. Ajeya's last statement, however, had thrown her off; she could not remember the last time her proud mother had asked forgiveness to anyone, much less to her. She realized then that she was not the only one stressed because of Saavik's appearance; she could perfectly understand why her mother wanted the half-Romulan dead now.

Ajeya ignored all military decorum. They were alone, in Ragnhilh's private quarters, and she only wanted to hold her child again, as if the last years had never happened. She opened her arms and hugged her, murmuring, "Please, don't stand at attention before me as if I were a stranger. Not now."

Ragnhilh needed to feel her mother's warmth desperately. After her years of harsh imprisonment, her mother's embrace was a paradise. She grasped her tightly and felt her eyes watering; she fought the urge to weep, but could not avoid quivering as she rested her head on her mother's shoulder. Paradise was not mean to last, though, and Saavik's image was present in her head even if she tried hard to forget her for a while and focus on her beloved mother. Saavik's mother, an evil voice told her. And all her past experiences flooded her mind.

"I'm sorry, I'm really sorry," she muttered, her voice quavering, even if her mother could not yet understand.

Ajeya was again brushing Ragnhilh's hair, calming her down. She spoke softly this time. "You know she has to die before we reach Romulus. It's a family matter. You will see to it."

Ragnhilh wiped her eyes reflexively, even if she had not shed tears, as she pulled out of her mother's embrace. She tried to control her voice, but the eyes that locked on her mother showed her despair.

"How could you?" she asked. "How could you do such a disgusting... act?" She steeled herself then, expecting a rebuke.

Ajeya's gaze hardened, but the coldness reflected on it was not directed at Ragnhilh. "I did it for you, Ragnhilh, for our House. The project promised high rewards, the return of our past glory... But its failure left me empty, and vulnerable."

"You never spoke of Thieurrull," Ragnhilh interjected warily.

"And I never would have!" Rage blazed in her eyes for a second before being quenched. "Thieurrull doesn't exist, and nothing ties me to that damned world but the half-breed. She has been hard to kill, but I will finally get rid of the cursed aberration." Her blue eyes were icy, a sparkle of fierce determination lighting them.

"Saavik is not an aberration."

Ragnhilh's answer surprised even herself. She had shared that view until meeting the half-Romulan, but she could not deny anymore that their close relationship had completely changed her opinion. Even if she was still an enemy, she could not despise her now or regard her as a lesser being.

Ajeya's stare drilled on her. "No, she is my aberration."

The commander tried to hold that gaze, but could not. She paced before asking, "Then, if you thought nothing of her, why did you brand her?"

Ajeya winced, then composed herself. "I didn't. I never would have. She is nothing more than the product of a failed experiment that must be obliterated."

Her ruthless determination and her disdain were clear in her voice. Ragnhilh stopped pacing to look at her again.

"She is not my daughter," Ajeya continued, "you are." She reached to touch her again.

Ragnhilh subtly avoided the contact; she was feeling hurt and did not know exactly why.

"You did," she said steadily. "I saw her family mark." It was not entirely true.

The admiral ignored her daughter's refusal and centered instead in finding an explanation to her statement. Her eyes burned when she said, "So they set a trap for me since the beginning, marking her... They always sought my ruin..." Then, she turned to Ragnhilh. "Who has seen her brand?"

"Nobody," Ragnhilh replied quickly. "Nobody knows but me."

"Another reason why she must be swiftly eliminated. But we still have time until we arrive at Romulus and this damned half-breed will repay me for all the trouble she has caused." She smiled. "Now, prepare her execution."

Ragnhilh tensed; it was difficult not to obey. However, she stayed in the room and spoke her mind.

"You continue to treat her with contempt." Ajeya's eyes glittered menacingly, but she continued, "She is not a monster, Mother. She is brave and honorable." She was treading a dangerous road; she felt, however, that she needed to tell her. "She helped me to survive, she led us to freedom," she stressed the next words, "she saved my life."

Ajeya did not miss the plea hidden in her daughter's words and did not like it a bit. Eyeing her coldly, she hissed, "You befriended her, you befriended the enemy."

 "I didn't know who she was!" she answered defensively. "I thought she was one of us."

"Does that Vulcan freak look like one of us?" Ajeya fumed; she was angry with herself and her past mistakes, and very angry with her daughter. She breathed deeply before talking again, smoldering her temper. "You have grown soft in that damned prison camp. That's about to change. You are an Imperial Fleet commander and will act like one. We show no mercy to our enemies and Saa-" she amended quickly, "the prisoner is an enemy. Execute her and do it yourself. Make it slow and painful, as it should be. No objections, Commander, or I will charge you with insubordination."

Ragnhilh snapped to attention again. The moment she had dreaded had finally come. When she had lain awake all those nights, she had thought over and over again about this precise instant. She had fought so hard to reach her position as a fleet commander, she had endured so many tortures to be free again... She had devoted her life to duty, and had dreamed about the day she would return victorious to the Empire. Fate had been unfair with her.

"I would never disobey you, Admiral." A little softer. "I would never disobey you, Mother."

Ajeya smiled pleased, but frowned when she heard the next words.

"But I am a honorable Romulan and I owe Saavik my life."

A brief silence. Fear and determination shone in the younger woman's eyes; disbelief and fury in the older's. Ragnhilh swallowed.

"I let her go, as men'sha demanded. She is now in the Federation."

Ajeya was shocked and only stared incredulously at her daughter, utterly still.

"I realize that Saavik is an enemy of the Empire and that I, therefore, committed treason setting her free." She was now calmer and spoke slowly and steadily. "My life is now forfeit." Ragnhilh stretched her right hand and raised her leg to take the knife from her boot. "I am a honorable Romulan and I will-"

"You will not!" Ajeya cut her off at the same time her hand gripped Ragnhilh's wrist before she could touch the blade. An incredible strength immobilized Ragnhilh's hand. The old admiral's fierce determination was fixed on the wary commander. Ajeya released her daughter roughly and commanded, "Sit down!" She jerked her head, pointing at the table and chairs that were in the room's left corner.

Ragnhilh complied, dumbfounded. Her mother followed suit, her eyes on fire. She grasped Ragnhilh's shoulder firmly as she looked at her in the eye.

"For more than four years, I thought you dead. I did not get you back to see you die disgracefully before my eyes. You hear me?"

Ajeya shook her daughter slightly, demanding an answer. Ragnhilh gulped, and nodded, still confused.

"You always were a dreamer. Now, face reality. I committed a mistake: your dear Saavik." She spat the words, but a shadow of sadness, and angst, covered her face. "Did I kill myself because of that? No, damn it! I continue living, and fighting, and no enemy of mine has ever heard of her. And no one will!"

The admiral's determined gaze drilled on Ragnhilh. The commander faltered, she sagged inwardly.

"When you contacted me and told me you had her in the brig, do you think I reported it to anyone?" She repeated and stressed the word, "Anyone? I would be a fool if I did!" She slammed the table to emphasize her message. "I came here to eliminate her as if she had never existed!" A beat. "And she has never existed!"

Ajeya stood up and stared at her subdued daughter from her dominant position.

"You never met the half-breed. You never liberated her. You never committed treason." It was an order. "Who knows you ever did? Yourself? Me?" She waited for an answer.

Ragnhilh swallowed again and spoke in a whisper, not meeting her mother's confident gaze. "The crew, but they will not talk; we all owe her our lives."

"Good." Ajeya allowed herself a smile.

"The Klingon prisoner," Ragnhilh added.

"Then we will have an execution on board, after all." Ajeya grinned now and a sadistic gleam appeared in her eyes. Ragnhilh only smiled faintly in answer.

The old admiral sat down again. “I'm not proud of what you have done, but I won't make you pay for it with your life.” She paused and placed her reassuring hand on her daughter's shoulder again. “You are in distress, I understand. I will let you rest. You can come to my flagship, if you prefer; and stay with me.”

Ragnhilh shook her head and replied hoarsely, “No, I will stay here, thank you. I'll be all right.”

“We will set the execution for tomorrow, do you agree?” Ajeya did not wait for an answer. “I'm sure you will enjoy it, tormenting your tormentor.” Ragnhilh was in no mood for enjoying anything. “First, you have to see a doctor, in a Romulan sickbay. You all have to. Make your chief medical officer set an appointment with mine.” Ragnhilh nodded. “And change your clothes, wear a proper uniform. That's not exactly your Honor Blade, you know?” She grinned as she flickered her gaze towards the Klingon knife.

The commander did not appreciate the joke, but forced herself to grin.

The admiral's stormy eyes fixed warmly on Ragnhilh; she did not care for what had happened. Saavik was not an immediate menace anymore and her daughter was again with her. “I'm glad to have you back,” she repeated, then she whispered lovingly her secret name, “Sfre. Welcome home.”

When Ragnhilh was left alone, she slumped on the chair. She still wanted to cry, and still believed in the honorable way. She glanced at the Klingon knife. Her mother had always teased scornfully that no honorable Romulan would ever be a powerful Romulan. Her mother had done worse things than she thought; her mother despised and demeaned Saavik and she would always do so.

But her mother still loved and protected her, and the affection was mutual. Ragnhilh once had faith in an honorable Empire, but now she was a dishonorable and deceitful soldier herself and that made her want to cry.

Then, she saw the jar on the table, still filled with blood wine. Its disgusting taste reflected her sour humor. She took it and raised it in a self-mocking toast. “Glory and honor to the Empire,” she said aloud.

She drank deeply, feeling the repulsive liquid as it ran down her throat.

Meanwhile, on Vulcan…

Setik contemplated the emaciated woman who lay sleeping on the bed, a soft light covering over all her body except her scarred face. She was weak and her injuries were not entirely healed, but she seemed to rest peacefully. His features composed and his gaze serene, he stared at her as a proper Vulcan would.

“Mother,” he said softly, and a glimmer in his eyes revealed his feelings.

He ached to touch her, to feel her and make sure she was real. At first he hesitated, then remembering a childhood where his mother had comforted him with her light touch, he reached out with his hand and took hers.

Saavik's eyes fluttered open and locked on her grown-up child, an intense fire burning in them. Her hand gripped his son's, almost crushing it. When Setik had touched her, a faint flow of emotions had run across her body: relief, renewed hope, joy, love. Her son's essence had invaded her, warmly and delicately. She could hardly believe that she was again on Vulcan, that she was again with her family. She pressed her hand to feel him fully, a gesture she had almost given up hope to do again. Without restraint, she let her emotions flood Setik: relief, returned hope, happiness, love… and a shadow of distress, and rage, and hatred; dark strong emotions that still troubled her.

Understanding his mother's confusion, Setik spoke again, comforting her, emphasizing his reassuring presence. “Mother, welcome home.”

It is such a simple sentence… Her intense eyes fixed on her son, then she closed them, releasing her grasp slightly. His words echoed in her mind, Welcome home. And she relaxed, her old ghosts vanishing. Home.


Disclaimer2: Ajeya and Setik also belong to Kerry. Thank you for all the wonderful stories you had written and had inspired me, Kerry! And thank you for your support!