"Just so we're clear," Stevenson was saying, "I want to repeat -- this is a court of inquiry. That means it's an informal hearing. If we find the accused guilty, she will then move to a general court martial." He stared significantly in our direction, especially at Saavik who was the accused. I knew what he was telling her with that look: I'll ring your neck if you're guilty. She appeared unmoved by that, but she nodded acceptance when Chekov, Uhura, and I did.

Stevenson looked around at everyone else in the utilitarian office assigned for today's use. The starkness seemed ugly to me or maybe it was a reflected ugliness from the situation. I had a dirty feeling growing in my chest ever since Chekov got a hold of me. He had looked ill. "Hikaru, Nyota was attacked--" Even if Excelsior hadn't been in for refit and I wasn't facing a long leave, I'd have bolted for this place.

Stevenson's desk was center and across from the only door. We were sitting on his right; across from us, on his left, were the Romulans. Their commander gave a bored wave of acceptance and her subcommander let that be his answer. To our right and in front of Commodore Stevenson, the civilian attorney for the three plaintiffs also nodded. Only two of his clients were present, the third being in the hospital following Saavik's supposed assault.

Two Starfleet security officers framed the door. Despite the fact they were there to guard the plaintiffs, two counterpart Romulan guards flanked their commander. I didn't care about that; I only cared that the plaintiffs were under arrest for their attack on Uhura. The only people missing were the doctor who had treated Saavik in the hospital and the one from the clinic who had treated the Romulans in the mob the other night. They had sent written testimony.

Having everyone's agreement, Stevenson continued. "I'll remind you this is a neutral world. The alleged assault on the plaintiffs --"

The civilian lawyer interrupted while the men in question sent angry glares at Saavik as if they could teleport their large, muscled bulk into a blow just by looking at her. Like that would affect her. "My clients want to reiterate that it's not the assault that's important, but the wrongful arrest charge."

"So noted."

Chekov whispered behind us, "Eweryone will please remember that the plaintiffs are embarrassed they were beaten by a Wulcan voman, granting she had help."

Saavik looked back over her shoulder with just slightly arched eyebrows, but I bit back a laugh. Even better, Uhura clamped down on the inside of her lip to stifle hers. Good for Pavel.

The commodore was saying, "The alleged wrongful arrest was started, in theory, by the accused in this planet's Romulan zone when the plaintiffs... sought sanctuary--" I knew the hypocrisy tasted sour in his mouth. "-- there. As independent traders, they were within their rights to do so. Commander Tlhei and I are here as the Convening Authority, being the senior officers currently on the planet. We will make the final judgment in accordance with the procedures set by the native population and the bordering governments. The Federation thanks the Romulan Empire for not claiming this as a diplomatic incident and letting us handle it this way."

That was a touchier situation then it sounded, despite the real lack of concern these Romulans had for three humans being assaulted in their territory. Everyone on both sides of the Neutral Zone felt trouble brewing between Starfleet and the Romulans, something big. I hoped neither my daughter nor I lived to see it.

The Romulan commander just waved acceptance again. I was beginning to think she was asleep with her eyes open and waving whenever there was a pause in the conversation. Stevenson nodded to the lawyer.

"Thank you, Commodore," the attorney began. He moved to Uhura. "Captain, this, in some ways, really begins with you."

She stopped him immediately. "Sorry, but you're wrong. This, in all ways, begins with your clients."

Chekov glanced at me from the corners of his eyes. Uhura was handling herself well. Angry, yes, with every reason to be so, but in control of it. I knew she hated being here -- I hated that she had to be here -- but we were too experienced, too disciplined for any of us to show it.

The attorney accepted the correction. "You were allegedly assaulted by them."

She interrupted again. "Allegedly is a term for the courts, not for victims. I was very much attacked by your clients. I saw them, I positively ID'd them, and they immediately ran for the Romulan zone where we couldn't follow them."

He took a long, patient breath. "For the record, despite Captain Uhura's statement, my clients' guilt is alleged."

They attacked her from behind, three of them... not a battle, but a brutal beating by obscene cowards who made sure she was all alone. If she hadn't fought back long enough for help to come... if she hadn't seen their reflections in that window...

Stevenson nodded tightly. He had no sympathy for the plaintiffs either, but if we didn't use the word alleged, then Saavik also was automatically guilty and we couldn't afford that.

"The accused knew of your attack?" the lawyer asked Uhura.

"Yes." She looked over to Saavik who was between us. "I didn't know it, but she was in the same hospital where I ended up. I'd have found out, but it was my first day in port when I was attacked. I would have found out," she stressed to Saavik who knew that already. "As it was, she found out about me when I was admitted and came to see me... after I was assaulted by your clients and before I was transported to my ship's sickbay."

His jaw worked for a moment. "You say the accused was also in the hospital. Was she wounded?"

Saavik looked to Stevenson, obviously wondering why she couldn't answer for herself. So did I, but I'd rather she stayed quiet. Working around the Vulcan ability to lie already caused one thing to be missing from the case file.

Uhura was answering the question. She gripped the arms of her chair so tightly, I saw the paleness in her fingertips. "Was wounded, yes. While on special assignment. She was brought to the hospital here because it's the rendezvous point with her ship. By the time I saw her, she was almost ready for release."

"So she was pretty much healed, then?"

"Yes."

"Pretty healthy?"

"Yes."

"If you saw her, you wouldn't know she had ever been hurt. Like she appears now?"

"I said, yes," she said angrily.

"So she could be the woman in the security recordings we'll play later. She had no visible injury or anything that prevented her from going to the bar that night?"

Jaw clenched, Uhura finally nodded. "Just like your missing client could've been here today instead of trying to get sympathy by staying in the hospital."

He ignored that. "Was she with you when you identified your attackers?"

Uhura shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "No, not with me. But she was there when I told everyone later on, back in my hospital room."

"Everyone?" the lawyer asked.

She moved her neck slightly to ease the tensed muscles. Chekov suddenly made a concerned noise in the back of his throat and Uhura warned him with a glance not to go further. I knew she blamed herself for getting in the position where she was beaten. If this had been the result of a mission -- starship captains weren't indestructible -- she'd take it better, but she felt that with her training and experience, she never should've let these men get the best of her.

"Everyone." She encompassed Chekov, Saavik, and me with a gesture.

"And the accused was there when Commodore Stevenson briefed you on not making an arrest in the Romulan area?"

"Wait a minute." All eyes turned back to Stevenson. "For the sake of expediency, I'll go over that briefing. I issued the orders you're alluding to: No Starfleet officer could cross into the Romulan zone to retrieve your clients. If, and only if, they returned to the Federation area -- or their ship entered Federation space -- could they be arrested. No exceptions. If an arrest was made within the Romulan area, neutral or Romulan space, it'd be declared wrongful and the Starfleet officer would face courtmartial."

I had seethed under those orders. So did Chekov, so did Stevenson for issuing them, and Uhura went silent. I'd wished then that Chekov was the hothead he used to be. He'd have charged after Nyota's attackers the second we arrived in port and before those orders were issued. Then I could have thrown my hands up and said, "What can you do? It's Pavel." and joined him. We came close to doing it anyway, furiously ranting about Uhura's condition, until she told us, with a smile, that she couldn't breath through the cloud of testosterone we gave off.

"Your clients," Chekov said with a withering look, "played this trick before. You know that a couple years ago, on this same planet, they attacked a lone Romulan voman -- from behind, just like they did Keptin Uhura -- and then hid from the Empire in the Federation area."

And the Federation didn't help then just as the Romulans don't care now. It was bitter knowledge.

One of the plaintiffs stirred. He was washed out against the black shipsuit he wore, hair the color of dirty water, eyes so light blue they looked white, and gray skin that never saw a sun. He spoke with a dialogue and accent I couldn't identify, and he had the bad habit of punctuating everything with one repeated phrase. "Lay off. We'm never done a Rom woman. S'true, innit? Arsk Cass. Innorcent like a chirld, that's us. Why be in a Rom bar ifin we'm guilty? S'true innit? Arsk Cass."

Cass said nothing. Older by who knows how many years -- a dozen, twenty? -- he was a barrel shaped mass of muscle. His bald head accentuated his large, bulbous ears and sunken dark eyes. When he did speak, it was a surprise because his voice was rich and dulcet, the way I always described Uhura's. But he didn't talk now, he smiled. It pulled his upper lip back from his teeth and arched his eyebrows into triangles, giving him a demonic look that chilled the back of my neck.

Chekov asked, "Maybe you vent into the bar because the voman's ship vasn't in orbit? Otherwise, vhy not go vith the Romulan voman who accused you and prove you vere innocent?"

The first man squirmed uneasily back and forth, and his tongue darted out repeatedly across his lips. "Nah, we'm do that and dey know we'm --"

Cass slapped him hard on the chest, cutting off the next words 'did it'. He was no longer smiling, but Pavel was. Score another for him.

Commander Tlhei made a remark in her own language to her subordinates, stage whispered so as to be heard, if not understood, by everyone. At the Romulans' burst of laughter, Cass' partner -- Plomin, I finally remembered -- hotly demanded an explanation. Stevenson's mouth thinned almost as angrily as the prisoners -- plaintiffs for this case, I forced myself to remember. One policy here was turning off the Universal Translator in case the Romulans needed to speak privately. It wasn't meant for them to insult people who couldn't speak their language.

I couldn't believe it when, in the next second, I heard Saavik speak up. I've never heard her speak Romulan before or even translate it. I always thought she hated -- excuse the emotional word -- admitting she knew it. "She said their brains are as dull as the tips of their ears."

For those of us who immediately got it, we were hard pressed not to smile, while the Romulans looked at Saavik like a parent who said their party was too loud. For Plomin who still looked confused, she translated further. "I believe in the Empire it is a common idiom. She is calling you ignorant."

I thought she might have to explain what 'idiom' and 'ignorant' meant when a dark red flush of rage rose in the man's face, mottling his paleness. He lunged out of his seat, Cass with him, at the grinning Commander Tlhei. Immediately four weapons bore down on them, two Romulan disruptor rifles from their front and two Starfleet phaser rifles from behind. Weapons caused their IQs to rise a bit, because they thought better of what they were doing and sat down.

Not that they'd have done anything anyway. Her back wasn't turned. The dirty feeling in my chest grew without an outlet. And what was this doing to Nyota?

Their lawyer pulled his jacket back into place and smoothed his thick, brown hair. His frazzled appearance made me question for the first time how much he liked doing this job. "Commodore, was the accused in the room when you gave your orders?" She was. "When you left, she was still there? She hadn't left in the middle of them?" No, she hadn't.

I didn't volunteer what had happened next. After all, he only wanted to know if Saavik had heard the orders in full. Chekov, Uhura, and I had gone back and forth on how we could get around those orders: hire other free traders -- or dress someone to look Romulan -- to drag Nyota's attackers over the Federation boundary. I had looked over then and found Saavik gone. I didn't see her again until after the fight in the bar.

"I'd like to play the security footage from the night in question," the lawyer requested.

Stevenson agreed. "We've had the relevant parts put together in one---"

"The raw footage, please. You understand. I can't risk someone having edited out anything important."

The commodore bristled at the inference, and we were forced to wait while the Staff Judge Advocate, Stevenson's legal advisor, came in and prepared the footage, forwarding through all the bar's events to the right moment. I sweated, Chekov drummed his fingers, Uhura remained unusually quiet, and Saavik still wasn't affected by any of it. Sometimes, I very much envy Vulcans.

Watching that footage fast forward didn't help my edginess. I've been in my share of bar brawls. They always seemed harmless, the sort of machismo amusement where lively background music was expected. This was something different.

The only important detail from all the recordings was one question: was the attacker Saavik? The first time I saw this, I hadn't wanted to look, not really look; I didn't want to recognize her and be forced to admit it. Uhura, on the other hand, could've burned holes into the recordings with her stare.

As the woman onscreen crossed the bar's main room, we saw her height and build were basically the same as Saavik's. That meant nothing; plenty of Romulan women fit that mold. When she called out to Cass, Plomin, and Samaleon, their partner still in the hospital, her voice was deeper. The lawyer would make the point Saavik lowered her voice that night. Anymore of a description was brilliantly thwarted by the woman's clothing: her blouse was blood red -- correction: a human's blood red. The sleeves, like the black pant legs, ballooned out, slit at the joint to allow freedom of movement. A belt holding her weapons fitted snugly at her waist. On her head was a Romulan helmet with a stylized bird of prey emblazoned on it. The piercing eyes and sharp beak lay on her forehead, the wings curved along her jaw to her chin. Over her eyes were what we in Starfleet called tacglasses; I don't know the real Romulan name for them. Something popular in the Empire right now, or at least on the border worlds where we saw them, they were dark and gave the wearer not only night vision, but a tactical display. When the three men later described their attacker, all they could specify was her bright, unusual clothing. Even in the footage, the helmet and glasses hid her features.

I watched for any moves that came from Starfleet training, but the whole thing was a street fight. Cass called the woman a Vulcan and a heavily booted foot slammed the table against his and Plomin's chests, pinning them down. She clubbed the rising Samaleon with the butt of her disruptor as she colorfully described their cowardice in attacking a friend aboard the Khellian a couple years ago. Samaleon managed to knock the disruptor from her hand. Plomin and Cass finally untangled themselves from the table, and, in a brilliantly stupid move, jumped in. How dumb was it to attack a Romulan, there to take you in for a crime against another Romulan, in a room full of Romulans? Even the pair of Tellarite traders in the bar cheered against the three humans.

The crowd mostly kept Plomin and Cass contained, pummeling them as the two men struck out over and over instead of staying out of it. That didn't mean the Romulans wanted a fair fight. Samaleon towered head and shoulders over his opponent giving him the advantage of at least a longer reach, Romulan strength helping the woman stand against him. But whenever he beat down his opponent, another Romulan moved in, taking him on, until the woman was on her feet, and she always got back to her feet.

The fight moved out of the bar into the street, drawing the attention of every Starfleet officer on the Federation boundary. In a break amongst the mob, one officer shouted he recognized Uhura's attackers. That drew Chekov and I. Pavel even jumped up to the closest security camera, using it to zoom in on the action. He called down to me, confirming it was the men we wanted, and I ordered the boundary guard to keep their positions.

I remembered those moments vividly. Chekov rigid next to me, neither of us saying any of the thoughts racing through our heads. I felt him press a phaser into my hand. Everyone almost quivered with this opportunity, but no one, true to their training, broke the boundary.

The Romulan crowd blocked our view as they cheered and yelled, and the fight would seem to stall, then draw closer to us. Snatches of the woman and Samaleon appeared in the mob, disheveled, tired, battered, and then they'd disappear again. Before long, they were close enough that I could hear the blows, and then the sound of wrought metal and cheers. The crowd almost jerked as one, nearer to us, and then one time more. Suddenly, the mob parted as Samaleon was flung back through them, revealing a quick glimpse of the woman with a broken pole in her hands. Samaleon was only a meter away now, lurching up to his knees, snatching at a Romulan's belted disruptor. The woman shoved more, then kicked at his ribs and as he fell on his back, an outstretched hand, flung above his head from the blow, just crossed the Federation boundary.

Immediately, we grabbed his hand and dragged him as fast as possible across the border. Angry shouts from the Romulans fumed across to us. Chekov was the closest, calling to them, trying to install sense into the situation. Finally, with his phaser aimed down, he yelled, "He's a Federation prisoner! He's a Federation prisoner! Stand down!" The translation rang out. The small glimpse of the woman who began this was gone.

The crowd shifted on both sides of the boundary until a Romulan voice called out, "Then take back all your trash." Cass and Plomin were flung at our feet amidst a confusion of laughter and protest. The Romulans moved off, nursing their wounds, some hanging back wanting the prisoners for themselves.

I aimed my phaser in Samaleon's face, not caring how overdramatic I sounded. "Welcome back to the Federation."

The lawyer reversed the recording, freezing on that last momentary view of the woman. The tacglasses, with their loops for around the ears, were still in place but cracked. The helmet was dented from some blow. She was bleeding in places.

The lawyer addressed Saavik finally. I sat stoically in my chair, but I was tense with each question.

First, the easy ones. Did she agree the woman's size was similar? Yes. The woman, based on the color of the blood, was Vulcanoid, like her? Yes. A little harder now: she knew who Uhura's attackers were, she had been missing after first rounds at the hospital, and was discovered researching the past attack on the Romulan woman. Yes and yes. For third rounds, she couldn't be found at all although her computer was still pulling research; in fact, she wasn't seen again until the early morning rounds. I gritted my teeth. Saavik pointed out they must not have searched for her thoroughly, because she had heard them when they looked in on third rounds.

"Where were you hiding?" the lawyer asked.

Her eyebrows drew together. "I was not hiding."

"Your hospital room has only the bed and a bathroo-- oh." The lawyer cleared his throat.

I was pretty sure that Saavik had been in the bathroom changing to the clothes she wore in the bar that night. I was glad the lawyer didn't press further.

"And the rounds after that?" he asked.

"If you speak with the staff, you will see the attendant in my area only notes problems on his reports."

He didn't catch that she didn't say where she was, only that the attendant wasn't thorough in reporting everything. I knew Saavik was given permission to roam the grounds; the attendant probably thought she was just out and made no note. I knew he hadn't been questioned, but probably would be if this went to courtmartial. I glanced at Uhura; she posed very effectively as someone in control of the situation, which we were so far.

Lastly, the lawyer asked Saavik to confirm she had a medical scan the day before, confirming signs of healed injuries like those she'd have sustained in the fight. She did. The lawyer simply nodded and spoke to Stevenson. "Commodore, I state that I've shown enough evidence to move this to courtmartial. The accused fits the description of the woman in the footage, she knew of the previous attack from her research, and medical scans showed recently healed injuries. Based on all this, it's at least extremely possible the accused is guilty and my clients should be released."

Stevenson's intertwined fingers on the desk tightened into a ball. He shot a glance at Commander Tlhei who just shrugged. He opened his mouth to speak and got no further.

"I disagree," Saavik said. I felt confident, knowing how well we worked on her cross-examination. "Your evidence is circumstantial and your conclusion, therefore, faulty."

"If I may?" I asked the lawyer, "Do you know Vulcans well? Any of them? Because what you're asking -- you're saying that a Vulcan threw away all her disciplines, all her emotional control, and acted violently. Not for self-defense or the defense of another's life, but to attack someone. Do you really think any Vulcan could do that?"

"You're saying it's impossible?" the lawyer asked.

I skirted the question neatly. "I've served with Vulcans almost my entire career. I've never seen one of them act that way."

The lawyer checked his padd and began reading from his notes. "In 2292..." He looked over to the Romulans, "...Federation standard year, a Vulcan woman serving as helmsman aboard the USS Enterprise was arrested for treason, conspiracy, multiple counts of murder, accessory to murder--"

Damn! Valeris! I walked right into that one.

Chekov was on his feet. "You can't compare that! It vas a different situation that happened tventy years ago!"

Saavik was scowling. She hated being compared to Valeris, of course. "Eighteen point--"

"The point is," the lawyer said firmly, "a Vulcan, despite disciplines and emotional control, murdered people and you want us to believe that another one isn't capable of a simple fight?"

Fortunately, Saavik saved me from answering. "Your statement is incorrect. Lieutenant Valeris, the Vulcan you refer to, showed no emotion, only misguided logic. While the results may seem similar, the behavior is not. If it was, Valeris' treachery would have been discovered much earlier than it was."

The lawyer steepled his fingers and pressed them to his lips in thought. The gesture reminded me so much of Spock, it startled me. Chekov's eyebrows disappeared into his hair. "Do you know Captain Uhura and these gentlemen well?" the lawyer asked Saavik.

She turned to us. She had the natural ability to take all of her formidable personality and focus it into her eyes. "I owe them my life."

"So you're friends, you feel you owe them some loyalty?"

"Yes."

He addressed me. "Would you contradict me if I said a Vulcan's sense of loyalty is very strong?" No, I wouldn't and he knew it. "So if they asked you," he said to Saavik, "to impersonate a Romulan to arrest these men," indicating Cass and Plomin, "you'd feel obligated to do it."

"They would not ask."

Uhura, Chekov, and I barely stopped from exchanging guilty looks.

"Maybe not in so many words," the lawyer was saying. "But in subtle hints or pressure? You're Vulcan. Humans can be very confusing to Vulcans. You could have misunderstood them at first, but then later..."

Her intent focus now honed on him like a targeting laser. "Vulcans are very confusing to humans as well. For example, you assume a number of things about me. Do you know so much about my species? Can you speak my language so I no longer need to speak yours?"

He swallowed hard. "I'm not making assumptions. I've made judgments based on facts."

"Your facts are what is assumed," she said. "First, that I am the only Vulcanoid female who fits the very broad description given. Second, that the medical scan, to which you referred, found injuries caused by this attack, instead of seeing the possibility they are the original injuries causing my hospitalization. You must have seen this same latter conclusion in my doctor's testimony."

Good point! I encouraged silently.

"In addition, the clinic that treated the Romulans after the assault in question reported they never saw me."

That's two.

"Also, after my research revealed the prior attack on the Khellian's officer, why would I keep such knowledge to myself? Surely you recognize the logic of passing it to the Romulan authorities?"

...another good point. I didn't think of that either.

"And if, for some reason, I chose to apprehend the plaintiffs while disguised as a Romulan, at the first sign of trouble I would have stunned the three of them and removed them from the scene. I then could have turned them over to the Empire, being under too much observation to take them to the Federation zone. So as you can see, multiple, viable solutions were available without giving into the illogic of the high odds against being able to manipulate the fight to the Federation boundary."

...Oh my god.

I heard other hushed exclamations from Chekov and Uhura. Never, never, did it occur to me that Saavik might be innocent. I just as suddenly saw that I didn't want her to be. I wanted her to be guilty of charging to the rescue when no one else could.

The lawyer stared down at the floor, then had to quickly quiet his complaining clients. "Commander," he said to Saavik, "you never said contacting the Romulans with your information worked or that you even did it..." He stopped dead. Something had struck him. "Wait a minute, wait a minute." He ran back and attacked his case file.

Behind me, Chekov cursed softly and emphatically, Uhura ground her teeth together, and I was hard pressed to keep my reaction as small. Oh, dammit... The curse wasn't strong enough if the lawyer had found -- when he jerked up his head and slapped the table loudly with the palm of his hand, I knew he had.

"Commander," he asked Saavik, "did you enter your plea of Not Guilty or did someone enter it for you?"

She didn't betray me, not even with a glance in my direction. I had entered that plea as her legal representative; my captain's rank allowed that position. I had justified it by telling her more was at stake than the law, counting on her decades worth of experience. Justice, I had said, honor. She had repeated that last word -- Honor -- and agreed to do as I said. Why hadn't I seen that maybe she allowed it because she never committed the crime?

"It was entered for me," she had to admit.

"Has anyone -- ever -- asked you straight out if you attacked these men?"

"I thought you were more concerned with the wrongful arrest?"

"Answer the question!"

She said nothing for a beat, but I knew that she couldn't lie about this one. "No, I was never asked."

The lawyer threw his padd to the floor hard and it sounded like an old fashioned pistol shot. "I want a verifier in here. Now!" he commanded Stevenson.

The commodore didn't like being ordered, that was obvious, and after reminding the lawyer of his place here, he asked, "For what reason?"

"I'm going to ask her if she did it and I want the truth. The verifier will make sure I get it."

"Are you saying she'd lie?"

The lawyer punctuated his words by jabbing the air with the point of his joined thumb and finger. "She went along with an entered plea of not guilty even when she might have done the crime. I don't want her giving half-answers or not saying anything and acting like it's the truth!" He glowered at her. "It's the same as lying."

She looked like she wanted to argue that, but Stevenson was already saying, "Commander Saavik--"

In that instant, the tension we had experienced was nothing compared to what was about to happen. The Romulan commander, who had leaned her chair back, now slammed the legs down to the floor. "What's her name?!" She snatched at her given padd and rapidly searched through the case files.

Stevenson, confused, saved her the time. "Saavik." And then in the familiar litany, "Commander, Serial number--"

"I don't believe it." In the next second, fury wiped out her stunned surprise, and the woman vaulted halfway across the room where Saavik met and blocked her way. "How did you get a Romulan name, y'kllhe?"

Stevenson caught the exchanged glances between Chekov, Uhura, and me. He probably assumed, like a lot of people did, that Saavik's parents had given her a Vulcan male's name, not knowing how very far off any assumptions about her parentage were. The name certainly was similar to that old pattern, and it did originate from PreReform Vulcan, but the Romulans evolved into the way it was.

Stevenson asked, "How do you know it's Romulan? Couldn't it be--"

The Commander swung on him sharply. "Because I---" She did an obvious catch on her words. "--know. I am Romulan, after all."

Chekov, as covertly as possible, was flipping through case records himself, moving up so Uhura and I could see: Tlhei, commander of the Kaleh and the Wagiin. But Romulans have a name they gave in no records, and I was willing to bet the commander just gave away hers. I could tell it galled her that a Vulcan hybrid had the same name as her secret one.

Saavik, our Saavik, was meeting the commander's glare with equal hardness. Challenge given and met.

Tlhei's next words, used with the keen sharpness of blade, were pitched too low to hear. Luckily, Uhura turned on the court recorder's display, text readout only. Its pickups were all over the room. We could see what was said on the computer display.

"Intelligence has reports on you, sseikea." Nostrils flared, Commander Tlhei ground out, "But I thought you were just a rumor, some phantom made up to excuse someone's mistakes. I'll be damned."

"How fortunate if you are." Saavik's voice was cold.

Romulan hearing was equal to a Vulcan's. Their rifles now snapped on her but were held back by the commander's raised hand. The moment froze in that pose. I could think of nothing to get Saavik out of there without making things worse. If she backed off, she weakened her position, and I didn't know what the commander would do then.

A glance at the Security officers at the door showed they were torn between watching Cass, Plomin, and the Romulans. After silently agreeing amongst ourselves, Chekov signaled Security to watch the prisoners. We'd somehow match the Romulans.

Tlhei stabbed a corner of the padd into Saavik's chest. "Not for a half-breed." Her teeth were bared. "My people did not protect a half-breed that night."

Without moving from the spot, she swung back to Stevenson. "Yesterday, you swore if the attacker was one of ours, the Federation would not take it as a diplomatic incident. You understood it was our area, and we have our own charge against the prisoners. Does that still hold?"

He was a good man. The important thing here was to get Uhura's attackers firmly in custody and banish the wrongful arrest charge. He nodded in response.

"I want it in writing," she said.

He hastily scribbled it out, passed it through his legal advisor, and handed it to her. She scrutinized it intently and handed it to her second. "Go. Check our people. See who it was. Go!" He ran out, ordering the guards to stay behind, and she stabbed Saavik once more with the padd. "Not for a half-breed."

She stormed back to her side of the room. Angrily, we realized the Romulans had never looked in their own people for a woman matching the description of the attacker, never even read over the files before. They either assumed, like we had, that Saavik was guilty and didn't care, or didn't care if she was punished for it even if she was innocent.

"Why did you call her a half-breed?" the lawyer asked Tlhei.

Saavik moved closer to us, gesturing for Chekov to move up into her empty chair, as she remained standing in the line between the Romulans and us. We were higher ranking officers, and she became the forward guard, looking like what McCoy once described as "You could hit her with the broadside of a starship and she wouldn't budge".

She glanced over her shoulder and her eyes widened, suddenly flickering between the three of us. She bent closer, whispering. "Why are you angry with me?"

Not angry. Disappointed and it surprised me. Why was it so bad if Saavik was innocent? When did I see friendship amongst us requiring doing the unthinkable?

Would Saavik risk her life to save another? Yes, I've seen her do it. Would she risk everything for someone important to her, even if it wasn't life or death? Yes. But was Uhura that person? For that matter, was I? Or Chekov? That was the catch.

Oh, but if it was Spock-- I made myself stop. The peevish thought made me feel childish.

Another thought came unstoppable. Would I have done this for her? I struggled to conceive of something as unthinkable to my ingrained nature as violence and course emotions were to a Vulcan's. I thought I knew the answer, but a lot of things I thought I knew were blown away today.

The lawyer was in the middle of a tirade aimed at Commander Tlhei's back. "--the answer's obvious but for the record, tell me why you keep calling her a half-breed!" When she didn't answer, in fact, didn't seem to know he was there, he turned on Stevenson.

"I'm warning you again," the commodore said acidly, "to watch yourself. You're out of line." He let that sink in before saying, "But the simple answer is Commander Saavik is half-Romulan."

"You listed her as Vulcan!"

Stevenson held up a hand silencing Saavik. "She is Vulcan. Nowhere do the records require her biological background."

"But in this case, her background has everything to do with it! You're all sitting here telling me a Vulcan can't attack people and a Vulcan can't lie, but here she's half-Romulan!"

The lawyer forced himself into Stevenson's face. "Captain Sulu should be brought up on charges and you should be declared unfit to judge this case. You've both withheld evidence."

"Stand back!" When the other man didn't right away, Stevenson got slowly to his feet.

The lawyer stepped back, but jabbed again at the air with his hand. "I have the right to ask her if she did it. I want that verifier."

Stevenson paused, but had no choice. He ordered a verifier brought in, and I felt all our careful plans slide away. I now had to hope Saavik was innocent because if the verifier said she was guilty, Uhura's attackers got away. Nyota's jaw was clenched with the same thought.

"You did not answer my earlier question," Saavik said abruptly. "Why are you angry with me?"

Uhura hastily asked the commodore if we could turn off the court recorder in our area while we consulted with Saavik. He nodded. Nyota didn't spare a second after shutting it off. "Did you do it?" she asked Saavik.

She looked taken aback. "You ask me now?"

"Answer me."

"May I ask you something first?" That was said to all three of us. "Do you think me capable of such violence?"

I thought of the way that woman in the footage had acted. I thought of the pipe in her hand that she had used as a club. But Chekov had already answered. "Yes. If necessary."

"Interesting," she said.

"Just answer me," Uhura said again. "I have the right to know."

Those words ended Saavik's placid attitude, and with precise deliberation, she said, "Yes, you do. And I promise I will answer, but I wonder if you realize the consequences when I do. If I am guilty, can you accept getting your attackers through illegal means?"

"You bet I can," Uhura said strongly.

Saavik's close attention landed on me. "Of course, honor... justice. However, if I am guilty but remain undiscovered, your attackers go to trial where you will sit at a verifier and testify to all you know. Most likely, that will include whether I was the assailant in the Romulan bar."

"Not necessarily," Chekov said.

She said, "I calculate the odds--" He stopped her answer with an angry chopping motion. "Once they discover I was guilty after all, your attackers will go unpunished."

I shook my head. "The double jeopardy law says you cannot be tried twice for the same crime, despite new evidence."

"I cannot be tried twice. This is not a trial, it is a court of inquiry. However, if Captain Uhura does not know I am guilty, the verifier during her attackers' trial can only acknowledge that truth."

Uhura leapt onto those few words. "If I don't know you're guilty? Then you--"

"I spoke hypothetically. On the other hand, if, hypothetically, I am not guilty, the repercussion is different. If you believe I am unaware that the three of you feel I betrayed your friendship, you are mistaken." I haven't seen Saavik keep herself removed from us in a very long time, but her stillness spoke volumes. "I think the only reason why you ask me this question now is in the hope that I did commit this crime and thereby justified my loyalty to all of you."

A loud commotion at the door broke in, sparing us from answering. What would I have said?

A woman in Centurion's uniform burst through, a heavy bag in her hand. On her heels were the subcommander who had left earlier and a Security officer to tell Stevenson the bag was okay. Plomin started to snarl at the woman, but hastily shut up when she advanced on him. She was as blistering furious as the woman in the recordings had been, but a sharp order from her commander reined her in.

"What's this?" Stevenson demanded, but the subcommander informed Commander Tlhei and let her answer.

"Centurion Sutka," she pronounced the name with a long vowel sound, like Suetka, "of the Kaleh."

"And why are you here?" the lawyer asked.

Sutka dropped her bag and it landed with a heavy sound. "I came to confess."

Like a cliché, everyone murmured to themselves. The lawyer chewed on his lip while he waited for quiet. "That's damned convenient."

Sutka's hands clenched into fists and her sharp gaze asked her commander if she had to deal with this. She did. "I don't think so. I pay an honor debt to a friend, bring in the three slykhe lhonae--"

"What does that mean?" the lawyer demanded.

She translated it into words not suitable for the general public and Stevenson, his lips twitching, overruled the lawyer's objection. After all, he had asked for the translation.

"And after I risk myself and my shipmates, I have my prisoners stolen by the Federation!" She glared in loathing at us.

Something big was definitely brewing between the Empire and us. How long before it exploded, a year? Ten? Twenty?

"Why haven't you come forward before?" the lawyer asked.

I sat poised like I was in my captain's chair, and then Chekov matched me like we once more manned the helm on the Enterprise. We each kept an ear cocked to Uhura in case she pulled something communicated, verbal or not, that we missed. I felt us breathe together.

Chekov reached for Saavik, hovering for a second so her senses registered him, and then hooked her belt, pulling her from a possible belligerent position. She stood next to me, and I caught the subtle shifts in stance and balance.

The centurion spoke through gritted teeth, reminding anyone who might have forgotten how primal a Romulan could be. "Do you know the penalty for attacking humans? When my prisoners were stolen and the next day we hear Starfleet's looking for who beat them, anyone with brains can put together they're hunting for trouble."

"The Federation announced their intentions--" the lawyer began.

"And you think I believed that?"

"-- so you obviously made up this confession when your commanding officer told you to."

Sutka looked at the subcommander. "Do you kill him for that or do I get to?" She leaned down for her bag enjoying the lawyer's reaction. "The subcommander announced coming forward was safe and if the right person didn't, a Vulcan -- a Vulcan -- would get the credit." Her eyes glittered as they caught Saavik's. The women were the same basic build and Sutka's voice was a bit deeper.

She threw the bag hard at the lawyer's chest. "Here, look."

He reluctantly did, opening the bag's unfamiliar closures causing a red blouse with streaks of dirt and green blood to spill out and a dented helmet to clang to the floor. She reached down, scooped up the helmet, and pulled out a pair of cracked tacglasses. Her mouth pulled up into a steely smile.

That ended it. Stevenson banged his gavel. "We have the Centurion's confession and her evidence. With Commander Tlhei's agreement--" She nodded. "--the Convening Authority declares this inquiry adjourned."

He signaled Security to take the loudly complaining Cass and Plomin into custody; they struggled against their guards, shouting at their lawyer who reminded them they still had a trial to shake this out.

Tlhei and Sutka pushed themselves right into the middle of this. "You made powerful enemies today," Tlhei warned the two men. "Pray the Federation locks you away forever, because if you come out, we'll be waiting."

She looked back at Saavik and hard lines showed around her mouth. They left to heavy silence.

Stevenson crossed to Uhura, saying he was glad it turned out the way it did. He congratulated me on handling the situation, and then sternly turned to Saavik. Suddenly he winked. "You know, I heard about a rumor that said Mr. Spock stole the Enterprise to help out Captain Pike somehow. Not life or death, mind you, just to help."

"Yes, sir, I know," Saavik said evenly. "I also am aware that Spock kept his actions a secret until he had no choice but to reveal them."

My head snapped up, and I heard Uhura's and Chekov's sharp intake of breath. But Stevenson chuckled. "Good work, Commander. Now then, Captain Uhura, I believe I hear your officers cheering outside. Don't make them wait too long."

Then we were alone. Saavik stood up calmly as our eyes pierced into her. Was that or was that not a remote twinkle in that otherwise Vulcan expression? Abruptly, she said, "The statute of limitations for assault is three years."

Uhura blinked. "So... it's safe to talk then."

Saavik spoke carefully. "And if I am innocent?"

"Then we still know you did what you could."

Saavik nodded. "Satisfactory."

Uhura glanced at Chekov and me, asking, both teasing and serious. I couldn't answer her. I just didn't know.