The prisoner lay crashed and unconscious on her side. She was stripped down to her underwear with her legs bound at the ankles and thighs, and her hands tied behind her back with another strap around her upper body so her arms were pinioned mercilessly.

Sheís lucky itís not worse, her captor thought. Standard interrogation procedures entailed stripping a captive down to the skin and putting them in more torturous positions, but this prisoner wasnít here for interrogation. She was here to die.

But since she was Vulcan--

Half-Vulcan.

-- removing her Starfleet uniform exposed her to the dank cold in the filthy rented room. Her flesh already bore raised stoma and turned a chilled green.

The more sheís shown how weak her position is, the better.

The captor tapped pointed, hard nails on the helmet sitting on the table at her right hand. Specifically designed for interrogation, the helmet issued shrill, stabbing pulses into a captiveís ears as well as strobing light into the eyes. Vulcans sometimes reached a level of meditation where the noise and light meant nothing, but not always. In the latter cases, they lasted longer than other species, but ended up as screamingly insane.

She had strapped it over the prisonerís head as a precaution while transporting her, even though her captive never regained consciousness. If she had, the helmet and its painful distractions would have kept her occupied, lessening the chances of her striking back or learning the pathway out of where they were going.

Using the helmet in the future depended on how much time was available. If nothing else, the prisoner would be under complete control if it came down to it.

Remember the goal: confirm the threat she forms and then kill her. And pay back the trouble Ė and the possible trouble -- the prisoner had caused her.

The captor grabbed a tricorder, and once more scanned the unconscious woman. No transponder chip under the skin Ė thatís odd. But then, she didnít know I was hunting her down. She pushed the tricorder underneath the other items just in time.

The prisoner stirred. Her body tried to stretch before she was conscious, but the bindings prevented her moving out of the cramped position. The serene expression remained on her face despite the restraints informing her she was ensnared. So will she play at being asleep? Or realize Iím in the room and that such a pose is worthless? Muscles tightened around the eyes and the nostrils widened; the captor imagined senses stretching out, taking in everything but sight, before a second of motionless passed and the dark lashes parted suddenly, the eyes immediately finding her in the room.

Seeing that face as an image in a file didnít prepare her for seeing it for real, or how much of difference it made to see those eyes locked on her.

"About time," she said. She kept to the other side of the small space, but crouched down, disruptor dangling from her hand between her knees. She tilted her head to the right so they gazed at each other from the same perspective. "You kept me waiting long enough."

She waited while those eyes took her in: sable hair showing some gray and braided behind pointed ears; medium height and fighting trim; deep set, stormy blue eyes with a faded scar running from the right, upswept eyebrow down into the hairline next to the cheekbone; casual, dingy clothes almost blending into the gray and brown room with its layer of grime and stains; disruptor in the hand and an Honor Blade hilt peeking from the right boot.

No sign of recognition. Was the instinctive, momentary feeling she felt one of disappointment or relief? Didnít matter; it was immediately and fiercely quashed.

The prisoner drew in a slow, long breath that was exhaled silently. The stink in the air would make some retch; something definitely had died in here, amongst other stenches best left not thinking about.

The captorís lips pulled tight across her teeth. At least I donít ruin the accommodations by killing her here.

That deep breath was a precursor to the prisoner gathering herself, pushing off the floor with the muscles from shoulder to knee. She instantly pressed against the wall with her back, preventing a rapid return to the floor, and then heaved again until she was in a sitting position.

Her captorís head followed this progression. "Anything else?"

The prisoner waited, judging the reaction, and then slipped her fastened hands under her hips and tethered legs until they lay more comfortably on her lap, not an easy feat with her upper arms bound tight against her sides. She returned to staring calmly at her captor who gazed back sarcastically.

"Apparently so. Iím guessing youíre done for the moment?"

No answer, but none was expected. The easy way she held the disruptor was deceptive. Any sign, any sign such as a twitch or caught breath from her prisoner, and the disruptor would be up, aimed, and fired. The prisoner knew that and didnít move.

The captor stood up and placed the weapon on the table, next to the helmet. She brushed her fingers idly over the last item, watching the prisoner gaze in that direction and come back to her.

So, she doesnít know what it does or doesnít care. Another thing that didnít matter.

"Do you know why youíre here?"

The prisoner finally spoke. "Saavik, Commander, Serial number--"

"Spare me, although I appreciate you confirming who you are." The captor reached under the helmet, gauging the prisonerís reaction to the unknown, hidden thing. Watchful, but not afraid, not even leery. Better than I thought. She squelched the complimentary notion with the hard, remembered idea of why she was here.

She pulled the tricorder out and activated it, turning the screen so her captive could see the display. She sat on her heels again so they were eye-level. The prisoner was taller than she was, but trussed up, she wasnít much of a threat. The few pieces of furniture were on this side of the room Ė table, chair, and the bed no self-respecting person would ever lay on Ė and safe from being vaulted as a weapon by those long legs.

"See?" she indicated the data screen. "Everything you just gave me. So letís move on, Commander Saavik, first officer and science officer of the USS Armstrong."

"I will give you no other information, Commander Ajeya of the Aminta and the Liusaidh, House Seble-Firyal."

Her internal alarms screamed. She carefully kept from openly reacting, but her hand tightened on the tricorder, and she ached to draw the disruptor. She hid the fact she recognized me before. Damn her, what does she know? "Have we met?"

"I am as well aware of Starfleetís Intelligence files regarding noteworthy commanders, as you are aware of my file gathered in your Empire."

"Of course." Her alarms stilled. "But in answer to you not giving me any information, youíre not in the position to say what you will and will not do."

"Saavik, Commander, Serial number--"

"Yes, I know. Letís talk about the things I want you to answer."

"We are not on a ship."

The unexpected reply caught her next words on her tongue, and the way the prisonerís eyes looked over and then into her, searching, made Ajeyaís temper flare. She covered it with a mocking smile and reprimand. "You canít throw me off, and you canít seize control. And believe me, you will answer my questions."

"You are out of uniform, Commander."

This was insane! "Weíre on the same neutral world you so casually traipsed about an hour ago. Iíll add that I took you quite easily. You should be embarrassed. A neutral planet doesnít mean some place safe for you."

Saavik Ė no, the prisoner! She wouldnít deign to acknowledge a name. Ė cocked her head, watching again before she sprang out flat, her feet catching the chair and flinging it with what force she could. But as Ajeya planned, the distance was just a bit too much for the prisoner to get any real momentum behind her kick; not that those legs had much power anyway, having been tied up for so long. She grinned as the chair banged into the wall and nothing more.

But the prisoner pulled herself composedly back into a sitting position, listening. Someone with a Tellarian accent down the hall yelled for them to knock off the noise while another denizen pounded on the ceiling above them. Nothing else.

The prisoner nodded. "No guards."

"You think thatís important? I am more than a match for you, hence the fact Iím the one standing here in charge, and youíre the one tied up on the floor."

"We are in a room in a neutral space, Commander, not Romulan, not on your ship, and without your uniform or a sanctioned force accompanying you."

Maybe this was interesting after all. She had time. She was enjoying watching that mind at work, and it surprised her. She grabbed the brutalized chair, swung it around and straddled it. "All correct."

"That makes it highly likely this is a personal attack not having to do with your Empire."

Ajeya mulled that over, and decided telling the truth didnít hurt her situation. "Also correct. Now what possible benefit does that give you?"

"It satisfies my curiosity."

The prisoner never could know how those words burned. He had said those same words as she so angrily remembered during these last days that drove her after Saav--her prisoner. He had stared up with burning eyes as his body was ravaged by the damage done to him, forcing a thin layer of control over himself as she stalked around him with the upper hand.

She flung the chair behind her, and this time, it splintered against the wall. She aimed the disruptor between the prisonerís eyes, and felt the first rush of hot anger grow cold under control. The prisoner saw it and grew watchful, more wary, but equally in check. "All right, weíre going to start again. I will ask questions, you will answer them. Your life depends on it."

"You will kill me regardless of my cooperation."

"Yes, I will, but how long and how painful your death is depends on you. You confirmed your identity, now tell me this. You were at the Battle of Tomed as you call it?"

The brow furrowed and the eyes narrowed, but in confusion, not temper. "Yes. Were you there?"

Ajeya fired the disruptor, deliberating missing only slightly, and the blast singed the prisonerís hair. The Vulcan jerked as shrapnel from the wall sprayed the side of her face, burning and cutting. She turned back, eyes hard now, green blood dotting her skin over top an angry burn.

Minor injury, nothing more. Their neighbors didnít complain this time. The captor laughed to herself; no one in a forsaken place like this would bother interfering. They only waited for her to get her killing or torturing done so the noise would stop. "You will answer only what I ask. You just got the only warning shot Iím giving. Any more from you, and I will slowly reduce you to ashes. Now then, your record also states other conflicts with my people. A battle over a minor planet where you took command of your ship Ė then the USS Venture Ė while your captain was caught below. A covert mission into another neutral world where you seized information that was supposed to pass into our hands. A rescue mission where you once more disguised yourself as a Romulan Ė this time as a trader Ė and retrieved two Starfleet officers."

The prisoner watched quietly, and when Ajeya paused, she said evenly, "If I may? It will be a more efficient use of time if I read the record you have and note any places where itís false."

Ajeya tossed the tricorder into her lap and waited with cold patience. At length, the prisoner looked up. "This is accurate. For the information you gathered."

"Iím not interested in anything but the information in that file. Youíre half-Romulan."

A pause. "Yes."

"Weíve met."

For the first time, the prisoner showed signs of being taken offguard. "Excuse me?"

"We did meet before."

Another pause. "I believe you are mistaken."

"Thieurrull, 872 Trianguli V, translation into the Federai tongue, Hellguard."

Ajeya looked for any reaction, using what she knew about Vulcans and how to read them. Perhaps the prisoner showed nothing more that a tightness in her expression, but something, something underneath the surfaceÖ

"Is that meeting the reason we are here?"

Definitely an edge to that voice, but what did it really mean? Surely even a Vulcan was allowed an edge under the circumstances. And why should I care one way or the other?

She thought before she spoke, again weighing what damage the truth might cause. "For the most part, yes. Rather weíre here because of who we were back on that world." She glimpsed that undeniable something grow, but her prisoner was decades away from the savage creature she once was, and with too much experience in controlling her Romulan side.

"And who were we?"

Ajeya smiled, her own burst of temper over, and enjoyed the display of backbone in the otherwise Vulcan woman. Soon the prisoner would calmly accept her death when she saw escaping it was impossible. Like He had. "Who we wereÖ" She hitched a hip on the table, the disruptor still aimed steadily, now at the prisonerís chest. "I was with the warriors sent to break down the colony. I left with the first wave, shipping out all military equipment except what was needed for defense until the last wave left. You were evidence of a mistake they wanted covered up. You were scheduled for execution, you and the others like you. Someone obviously didnít carry out their orders."

Nothing. Of course not; a Vulcan wouldnít argue against established facts. This prisoner was getting disappointing.

She leaned back against the doorjamb. "No more questions?"

"You explicitly proved you were not open for them, remember?"

Ajeya grinned in delighted surprise and nodded approval. "Sarcasm? Or acidity?"

Saavik -- The prisoner ! Ė reared her head back and looked down the length of her nose with noble dignity, not fooling Ajeya at all.

She mocked the prisonerís cool display. "Fine, Iíd rather ask the questions again anyway. Why werenít you executed?"

"We were thrown to the streets."

Her breathing just quickened. "Why?"

"No reason was given."

Ajeya fired and another hole blew out in the wall. The shot raked the prisonerís ribs, immediately cauterizing the wound. The prisoner curled up reflexively and stayed that way.

"I warned you. Bit by bit, Iíll burn you to ash. Why werenít you executed? I know you know."

The prisoner drew back up, trying to hide the careful way she did it. Those pain controls.... "No reason was given. However--"

Ajeya relaxed her finger over the trigger.

"We and the remaining Vulcans were used as subjects for weapons testing."

"Obviously not all of you. What else do you know?"

"That is the end to my knowledge."

The prisonerís defiance was too strong. The disruptor flared again, higher up catching the upper arm and elbow.

The prisoner didnít bother uncurling this time before looking up from again. That something rippled closer to the surface and was reigned in. "I have never seen a full report, only one scientist's recorded notes. Full records were destroyed."

Ajeyaís abdomen unknotted. "Good. Bad enough youíre still around. I donít want to track files across the universe."

"What could it matter?"

She shrugged. "We were given orders. Iím late, but they will be carried out."

"After all this time? If it has bothered you so much, why wait until now?"

She was going to enjoy this next part. "I didnít know any of this had happenedÖ until you became enough of a disturbance that your file was sent to all ship commanders. You brought my attention to this problem. Here I am. And after you, any others like you still alive."

She gloated over the realization in the composed eyes. She chuckled; it wasnít a pleasant sound. "Hell of a reward for being so good at your job, isnít it? But I owe you some thanks. If someone else discovered you before I did, it would have been embarrassing."

"You said my file was given to other Romulan commanders. Does that not make it too late for you already?"

"No. No one has caught the fact that I was there. And once youíre dead, the evidence is gone." Ajeya raised the disruptor. "A last statement?"

Those eyes were so hard, so cold, and the something threatened to escape.

"As you wish."

She took aim, but her sights were empty. The prisoner rolled head over heels and lashed out violently with her feet, enough strength still in them to catch the Romulan hard in the abdomen. All her wind rushed out and she staggered. The closed door saved her because hitting it kept her on her feet.

She snarled. Vulcans die when itís logical! They donít fight back uselessly! But the eyes in her target sights cursed her as if the clenched jaw spoke the words.

She paused, almostÖ almost in admiration.

But the prisoner was a threat, especially alive, and Ajeya never let anything, especially something as insignificant as admiration, stop her from removing threats.

Those eyes though... they reminded her of--

Suddenly, she felt the familiar catch of a transporter. She hurriedly shot the disruptor as the prisoner threw herself sideways. The fall didnít finish and the disruptor fire didnít strike before the beam caught them.

 

 

Spock waited in the transporter room next to a tense Captain Truman Howes. They had said nothing to each other since Saavikís team had beamed aboard without her.

One of these chagrined crewmembers started again to explain. "Captain, we--"

Howesí pale, blue eyes landed hard on him. The young lieutenant shut up and exchanged nervous glances with his compatriots. Spock saw them begin to sweat.

He had no words or time for them either. Like Howes, he wanted Saavik safe and sound back on the Armstrong before listening to explanations. No, more than Howes; Saavik was his betrothed. Their bond reassured him she was alive. It could not tell him how long she would stay that way.

"Captain, we have a weapons discharge in the beam!" the transporter chief announced.

"Disarm!" Howes ordered, and signaled the security team standing by. Already at sharp attention, they drew their weapons.

Spock rigidly held himself back from calling orders. He was no longer in Starfleet. He held no command position here. He kept himself to what he could do: think about that weapons discharge, wonder if it was aimed at Saavik, or if she was defending herself from the other person caught in the transport, a person sensors confirmed as Romulan.

Two figures formed on the transporter plates, and even with only their patterns visible, Spock knew Saavik was the one crouched down and falling. In the mere seconds before the figures solidified, he crossed the room.

The security chief called out, "Ambassador, stand clear please, let us Ė Captain!"

Spock grabbed Saavik the instant it was safe to do so, pulling her clear and to her feet next to him in one movement. He half-turned at the same time, forming a shield, and felt instead of saw Howes seize the Romulanís gun hand, and drive it up and away from everyone in the room. Security swarmed up the steps as Spock quickly drew himself and his bondmate out of the way.

Saavik was struggling to stand on her own, but her legs were tied for too long, denying them their usual circulation; the muscles cramped under her weight and she almost fell. He was still holding her, so he easily tightened his grip to keep her upright.

He suffered the stickiness under his one hand where he held her, and called for the medical staff before he even had time to look at her. He shifted his hand off the wound on her right bicep and elbow, and said nothing about the pungent smell of charred flesh now registering in his nostrils; or about the sight of seeing her stripped of her uniform, mottled with cold and wounds, and disgracefully bound four times down her body.

He grabbed the first restraint, the one around her chest and arms, with both hands, planning to break the hard synthetic, but Howes was suddenly there holding out a knife. A Romulan knife.

He met the captainís eyes over the blade.

"I took it from our guest."

Spock nodded curtly. The four bindings fell rapidly in succession to the floor. He pulled off his outer robe and wrapped it around Saavik. She rubbed her stiff muscles, stimulating the returned blood flow, as Dr. Rhys worked on her wounds. That was the first moment she and Spock finally looked at each other. It said everything.

The moment for words came upon them, but he was keenly aware of their audience. He raised an eyebrow calmly, never removing his hands as he still supported her.

"Saavik, I suggest becoming captured only further limits the minor amount of time we have had together since our betrothal 4.73 years ago."

She understood, of course. Now was not the time or place. "This was not my original plan," she responded dryly.

"No, it wasnít!" Howes hissed, keeping his voice low from their prisoner and the surrounding crew.

Spock dropped his hands seeing she could finally stand on her own. Her landing party stole nervous glances in her direction, and sheíd never want them to see her weak if at all possible.

"Iím sorry for interrupting, Ambassador--" Howesí eyes bore into his first officer. "--but you were not to engage the enemy! And you certainly werenít to go off alone without your landing party! You were to wait until this ship returned from picking up the Ambassador."

"The plan needed to be altered, Captain."

"Not that much."

"Sir," Rhys interrupted. "I suggest this be continued in Sickbay. Commander Saavikís wounds arenít severe, but they need treatment." No one was going to argue with that, and Rhys ordered a gurney brought in.

"I can walk," Saavik said immediately.

"Painfully," Rhys remarked, "and I donít want you pulling that lower wound. Thank god itís not the side where your heart is."

She looked ready to argue, but Howes looked ready to pick her up and dump her on the gurney, and Spock made sure, when she darted her eyes towards him, that he conveyed the message that he would help the captain. After all, Dr. Rhys was the chief medical officer. Even Spock knew when to follow such advice.

Saavikís team stood stiffly at attention. As if they asked her something, she nodded. "Sir, permission to dismiss the landing party. I suggest a full debriefing can be done after mine."

"They can go when they explain how they bungled their mission so badly that you were captured."

"They made no mistakes, Captain. They followed my orders. My calculations were wrong on how quickly I would be captured and on my route being traceable," she said. "My enemy was more resourceful than I allowed for."

This drew Spockís eyes momentarily to a now very enraged Romulan who realized she'd been tricked. His breath caught as he identified her.

Howes was saying firmly, "Thatís no excuse for losin-- Good God, is that Commander Ajeya?"

Security had her safely constrained with more guards than normal for the situation. No doubt they too recognized who they had. Two guards bore marks from the scuffle it took to secure the prisoner, and she still struggled in her restraints. She looked around her, noting the phasers aimed at her head, and the strength and numbers of Security officers ready to leap. She stilled, and Spock saw the glint of cunning. The Romulan plan of attack: wait, appear placid, and then strike with the otherís defenses down.

The shield he had provided was gone and Ajeya saw Saavik. Her eyes screamed in anger.

Saavikís back straightened, and her eyes came up: one immovable force against another. The incongruity of Ajeya challenging while fettered, and Saavik answering while injured and dressed oddly stopped neither of them.

Somewhere inside of Spock, something clenched. He remembered the disruptor aimed at his wife, and the transporter chiefís call that the weapon was discharged as the beam caught them. Saavik was lucky to be alive. She had managed to avoid the first shot, but how many more could she have escaped before her blood-depleted muscles gave out?

Howes motioned Security to take the prisoner away, orders quietly passing to his security chief on how to make damn sure the prisoner made no more trouble. Ajeyaís eyes stayed on Saavik who returned the stare until the door cut them off.

"Sir," Saavik asked, "the landing party?"

"As you said, I can better talk to them after youíve filled me in." He jerked his head, signaling their dismissal.

The party left, clearly relieved, and each darted a thankful glance at Saavik, a glance that turned back to worried concern in seeing her wounded, and then changed to mirth at the site of her unbowed, in her underwear and Spockís robe, fending off her captainís ire.

The gurney arrived, and Saavik kept anyone from offering help by climbing up by herself... delicately. Rhys most likely noticed, but Spock wondered if anyone else saw the beginnings of strain she kept in control.

As they moved to Sickbay, he glanced between her and Howes. "You hinted you were forewarned of this attack. Am I correct?"

"Yes," Howes answered at the same time Saavik replied, "No."

The captain looked ready to argue, but subsided. Spock, after all, was her bondmate. She was the one to tell him of the rumors they received of someone gathering information on her. In most cases, the rumors remained unconfirmed, however each one grew closer to the Armstrongís location. One week ago, Captain Mattoon of the science ship Assay brought proof of someone purchasing intelligence along the neutral worlds.

Saavik explained, "This unknown person managed to discover we were the ship assigned to your mission. Granted, the security clearance for it is not high. However--"

The lift doors opened, but some waiting crew blocked the door. They jumped out of the way even before Howes got the words out of his mouth.

"However," Spock finished for her, "any outside source discovering Federation diplomatic missions is unsettling."

She nodded. "Especially as we know now it was a Romulan source."

A plan was devised. Announce a change in mission orders: Armstrong to arrive at this world under the pretense of Spockís pickup point being moved. The ship left Saavik and her team while it rendezvoused with Spock as originally scheduled, but under the guise of meeting interested parties trading for medical supplies. "In truth, my team and I were to ascertain who was the guilty person searching for me, and apprehend them when the ship returned. However, Captain," Saavik finally addressed Howes, "what I discovered was our quarry was not going to surface with a Federation starship in orbit. I altered our plan."

"Using yourself as bait."

She nodded again. "After discussing the details with the team."

"Who promptly lost you."

She arched her eyebrows. "No. They did exactly as we planned. I went on my own. As soon as they confirmed I was apprehended, they were to contact the ship and arrange transport."

"With no transponder chip? After this long a time?"

"I knew my adversary would search for the chip and only remove it violently. Instead, we sprayed a microscopic chemical residue onto my skin. The compound is not native to the planet. If you check with the transporter chief, she will confirm she was told by the landing party to scan for it, but we needed the strength of the shipís sensors."

"Is that what this is on my scan?" Rhys asked. They entered Sickbay.

"On your scan, yes. I calculated a 90.7563% chance my antagonist would not search for anything outside of weapons or communications."

"And if your calculations had been wrong?" Howes asked.

Her eyebrows went back up. "I apologize for causing you concern over my welfare, Captain."

Howes blushed to the roots of his hair, and looked away with a strangled noise that came out like, "Aaaaaa."

Spock recognized the symptoms. Saavikís captain was angry because of his fear over what might have happened.

"Commander Ajeya," Howes breathed. "She supposedly fought off four Starfleet vessels with her old class Warbird."

Saavik was unimpressed. "I do not consider her that resourceful, Captain."

Spock did.

He and Howes made room for Rhys and his staff. He moved up by her head while the captain took a place by her legs on the opposite side of her injuries.

Howes was asking, "Why is she after you?"

"That is what I intend to discover when I question her."

"No, Commander." Howes held off her argument. "Itís what Iíll find out when I question her. You are staying here."

"Captain--"

"No arguments, Saavik." He leaned closer. "I know how strong you are, but even you need to take the time to get well."

"Captain, a compromise. Commander Ajeya is following a personal vendetta. I must finish this myself. Dr. Rhys has stated my injuries are not severe. I will follow whatever his treatment is, but you must allow me to question the prisoner alone."

Spock didnít see Howesí reaction to the words Ďpersonal vendettaí or Saavikís instance she be alone with someone as menacing as Ajeya. He didnít see the captainís reaction because he was too involved in his own. What did the Romulan want with Saavik that she so forcefully kept Howes far away from it?

The captain made his decision. "Further compromise. You handle the questioning with Security present and you outside the cellís security field. Iíll be there too -- but I promise to let you handle it. No further deal making, Saavik. This woman is one of the worst dangers on record, and sheís attacked someone important to me. Iím not your captain if I just let that go."

A comment that was fully appreciated, but did not win the argument. Spock knew her expression all too well. It was why he intelligently stayed silent throughout this conversation while wondering what drove her insistence.

"Captain--" An antibiotic spray made her pause, but only for a second. "This woman is hunting me. I must do nothing to appear weak in her eyes. I need to be the one to face her, and I need to do it alone. Anything else gives her the stronger position."

"Sheís going to a maximum prison, Saavik. You donít need to worry about her."

"Sir, she is Romulan. Her vendetta will be carried on by any family or allies she has."

Howes took a long breath, thought, and turned to Rhys. "Youíre quiet."

"Following the good advice of an old expression: stay under the sensors. But as Iíve been noticed, Iíll give my report. Commander Saavikís condition isnít severe. No organs were damaged, and the underlying muscles beneath the burned skin almost escaped unscathed. Minimum blood loss as is usual with these types of wounds, and fortunately the injuries along the cheek didnít hurt the eye. Nature was kind to Vulcans in giving them those protective inner eyelids. But I need the next few hours to regenerate the injured areas, and sheís not going to have full strength. Sheís off duty until tomorrow."

Saavik argued. "I only need to put in an appearance with the prisoner today."

"No, you donít," Howes argued back. "Let her stew down in the brig for a day. Sheíll get the impression you canít be bothered."

"No, sir. Sheíll know she hurt me. Captain, with all respect, I know these people better than you."

He exhaled loudly in a sigh. "Well, I never thought Iíd hear you say that. All right, if Rhys has no objections, we do this your way. Doctor?"

"I donít like it, but if she keeps it short today and then stays in her cabin tonight -- resting! -- okay."

"There you go, Saavik. You got your orders."

"Aye, sir." She settled back on the bed, missing the way Howes watched her before saying heíd be on the bridge if she needed him. The skin around her eyes and mouth grew taut as she gave in to her injuries. A hypo hissed, and the strain lessened.

Rhys murmured he needed to get a few things and left. For a moment, she and Spock were alone.

He moved down a step so she could see him more easily and leaned closer. She didnít give him a chance to ask.

"Spock, Ajeya is from Hellguard."

 

That was why he stood in the brigís observation room hours later. Heíd most likely be here anyway, to see what happened with such an important prisoner. However, once Saavik had whispered about Hellguard, nothing could have kept him from here. This way, in the privacy of this separate room with its monitors showing any part of the security area, he observed without being observed, and without damaging the strength in Saavikís position.

It was no surprise when Howes walked in a moment later. The captain did a double take on seeing him, then shook his head with a small laugh. "Should have known." He settled in front of the large monitor that Spock aimed on the area outside Ajeyaís cell.

"Captain, a moment of your time."

Howes turned towards him. "That sounds ominous."

"On the day Saavik and I were bonded, you gave Dr. McCoy a message. I was to be good to her or I answered to you and your crew."

The other chuckled. "He told you about that? Good. I meant it."

Spock nodded. "I am pleased Saavik serves with a captain who thinks so highly of her. However, I thought it went without saying that I expect you to have the same care for her as you demand from me. And yet, this problem happened today."

Howes got defensive, angry and defensive. "Just what are you driving at?"

"You knew someone endangered her, and yet you left her with only a small party to defend herself, while you took the safety of this ship to our rendezvous."

"Hold it a minute, Ambassador! I gave her orders that she was to stay away from the enemy until we returned. She thought otherwise. We donít like it, but sometimes we put ourselves in bad positions to do our jobs."

"Yes, we do -- when Starfleet or the Federation is at risk and we have no other means. However, this threat was against Saavik personally. As captain, you never should have allowed her to take the risk."

"Excuse me, but do you even know the woman youíre supposed to marry? You think it would have been that easy?"

"I know Saavikís propensity to risk herself if she believes it necessary. I also know you have the ability as her superior officer to order her to safety."

"Fat lot of good itís ever done me. But youíre right. I could have changed her plan and made it stick. But hereís what she didnít tell you. She thought the person chasing her was after you. That she was being used as a means to get you killed. Thatís why she went one way to draw attention to herself while I came to pick you up. My job is to make sure civilians, especially those put in my charge -- that means you --are kept safe, even if I risk my people and myself to do it. I donít have to quote the regulations to you, do I?"

Spock stared at the monitor. Saavik had endangered her life for his sake.

"I didnít think so."

"I... was wrong, Captain. I apologize."

"... Itís all right. Look, to tell you the truth, Iím glad to see you get like this over her. I was beginning to wonder about you two. It looked like all the talk about a political marriage, and it being arranged by your father was true. After all, youíre sleeping in separate cabins, you barely see one another, and both those facts donít seem to bother either of you. But... I remember when she told me you were getting engaged, and I saw you together that day." Howes leaned an elbow on the wall above the monitor, and then put his head on that hand as he watched the brig. "I guess Iíll just never understand Vulcans."

Spock watched him a moment. Finally, "Keep her safe."

"Gladly. You first."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning weíre in here while sheís in there alone. Neither one of us got far in that argument. Not that you tried."

Spock returned to watching the brig. "I do not engage in useless debate."

And she is not in there alone. She has the two Security officers on duty, and the field activated on the cell. Saavik is brave, not foolish. But Howes already knew that. They were only observing for their own peace of mind.

The Armstrongís captain grinned. "Logical."

Saavik entered the brig and crossed directly to Ajeyaís cell. Her uniform was crisply pressed, and her appearance neat and healthy. She seemed to have done nothing more today but work at her desk.

Howes glanced from the sides of his eyes at Spock. "She wanted to make a strong showing. Sheís doing it."

Spock only nodded once in response.

Ajeya was waiting with arms crossed, leaning insolently at the doorway as close as she could to the Security field. "About time, Little Cat."

Saavik remained unaffected, but Spock knew what it meant to have her nameís meaning bandied about. "This ship is engaged in a mission. You take second priority to it. And you will understand if I do not call you Invincible. You have hardly lived up to your name."

A slight reaction to the insult, but not much. Ajeya was too seasoned a veteran. "Donít think this means anything. No oneís ever held me captive for long. And when Iím free, Iím coming back for you."

"Because of your orders."

"Because of my orders."

Howes frowned. "Now what does that mean?"

Spock didnít answer. Saavik played a dangerous game. She didnít know Howes was watching, but the guards were still on duty in the brig. She couldnít let them hear about Hellguard, but if she switched languages, did it indicate to Ajeya she had something to hide?

"Then you leave me little choice," Saavik said. She drew closer until only the thin electronic field separated them. "I must ensure you do not escape, and if I hear you have, I will come after you."

Ajeyaís voice became harder. "Donít underestimate me."

"I advise you to do the same."

"You canít make me afraid of you. Donít try."

"It was not my intention. I am warning you not to put me on the offensive."

"Keep your warnings. I got you once, Iíll do it again. The next time I wonít have to take you prisoner."

"I allowed you to take me prisoner. The next time will be substantially different."

"Because Iíll kill you on sight."

"You understand the same holds true for me."

Ajeyaís smile mocked her. "Not very Vulcan of you."

"Even a Vulcan practices self-defense. Heed my warning. Your orders are old, canceled by the command force that succeeded you. Your career in the Empire brings you much while this feud does not."

"I have not sworn a feud on you -- yet."

"See that you donít. A commander of your expertise knows which battles to choose. Do not choose this one." Saavik started walking away.

Ajeya called after her. "Thatís it? You think you made some point?"

Saavik spoke over her shoulder, not deigning to give the Romulan anything more. "I am too experienced to waste breath on repeating myself. You are in Starfleetís detention system. This shipís captain, per his jurisdiction, will deal with any further trouble you cause. We have no other business until the day you may be so foolish as to draw my attention again."

She stalked out, composed and in command, without a backwards glance for her seething prisoner.

Howes let out a low whistle of appreciation. "You canít do it any better than that. Well, I better make sure everythingís going smoothly for your mission. Are you coming, Ambassador?"

"In a moment."

He paid no attention as the captain left, but watched in continued fascination as the Romulan cursed and slammed the wall in her cell.

He inhaled sharply, and watched her pace furiously liked a trapped predator.

Could it be? So much pointed towards his conclusion, but was he correct or did he give too much weight to coincidence?

Too much depended on his being accurate. With steady hands that belied his thoughts, he rewound the playback and watched Ajeyaís encounter with Saavik again. They were so physically different, locked together in a battle of wills with a thin, transparent field being the only thing separating them.

No, the field was hardly the only thing separating them. Differences in composure, mental attitude, and their desire to be in the battle made them lightyears apart.

Fascinating. Almost unthinkable, and if true, dangerous.

He watched the playback a third time. No matter how many times he looked for mistakes, he proved himself right. His next decision: what to do with his theory? Perhaps nothing. Did he do any good by going to Saavik? Not without the theory confirmed. To do that, he must go to the prisoner, an action that demanded he have good reason to have his conjectures confirmed.

Ajeya sought to murder Saavik. If his theory was correct, would the fact he knew it warn her away?

When he stepped into the brig, the guards came to surprise attention. One asked, "Can we help you, Ambassador?"

He shook his head. "Only a question or two for the prisoner. You need not be concerned. I will stay on this side of the field, but I request you give me what privacy you can."

Fortunately, they paid a high degree of respect to his former career in the Fleet as well as his current occupation. They moved off what distance they could, not bothering to check with Howes or Saavik for permission. Ironically, giving him what he wanted because of his reputation was an action sure to receive disapproval by both Howes and Saavik if they found out.

Spock stepped in front of the cell. Ajeya shot a look in his direction when his shadow passed over her. She stopped her restless pacing in surprise.

"What do you want?"

He addressed her in Romulan. "To discuss an issue of grave importance."

She snorted in impatience, but replied in the same language. "We have nothing to discuss."

"On the contrary, we do." He waited for a reply, but received only silent scorn. He plunged ahead. "She looks nothing like you."

He knew she was taken aback by the suddenly careful way she kept her face composed. "What are you talking about?"

"Your physical mannerisms give you away. She has inherited quite a number of those."

She cocked her head to her side, her brows drawn together in confusion. "I donít know what you mean."

"That is one of them."

Her head snapped up, and then leaned back. She stared at him coolly. "One what?"

"That is another."

Temper rose up in her expression like a wave, and she spun away from him, resuming her pacing, banging a fist on her thigh. "Youíre delusional."

"A third. Although with her controls as strong as they are, it has been many years since I last saw that particular one."

She reeled on him, hands clenched. "Just because Iím held here doesnít mean Iíll listen to your ramblings."

"I assume Saavikís physical appearance is similar to her fatherís as it not yours, except perhaps for the hair color, common enough in both our people. Or perhaps she is like another member of your family, a grandparent or someone else?"

She tried boredom. "If you were right, sheíd have seen it."

"We often do not see what is right before us. My own similarities to my father had to be pointed out to me."

She ignored him, staring at the opposite wall.

"You do no good by feigning ignorance. I have other facts subscribing to your identification. You are not here following a set of old orders, which I presume refer to Thieurrull in some way. As Saavik indicated, those orders were overridden when the remainder of the colony was put under control for weapon development. Also, no one in the Empire would care if you did fail to carry out your former instructions. Thieurrull was abandoned, and in fact, the planet is destroyed. No one gives it any further attention including other officers who served there."

"However, if one of the hybrids born there was yours, Commander, and she drew attention to herself through her successes against the Empire, you may fear the possible consequences if she was traced to you."

Silence. It went on for so long, he thought of walking away with his suspicions unanswered. Perhaps that was best. If he did not know, he had nothing to hide from Saavik.

He pondered this point until she spoke harsh and low like a growl. "Sheís supposed to be dead."

Did that count as a confession? "You admit you are Saavikís mother."

She flinched and glared. "Donít insult me. I admit I gave birth to her. You make it worse with pinning titles to it."

He nodded calmly. "As you wish."

She started to tilt her head, and caught herself angrily. "What do you hope to gain from this?"

To keep you from harming Saavik. "To show you this vendetta is unnecessary."

She put a hand on either side of the door and her eyes narrowed, wondering, putting pieces together. "And how do you plan to do that? You just pointed out the danger she is. You understand my predicament."

Those eyes were a darker blue than his own motherís, with black streaks lacing them. "I explained the situation as you see it. I believe I can show you that your concerns are unfounded."

She thought about that, and her answering smile had a nasty bite to it. "No, you canít."

"No records exist for what Romulans took part in the genetic experiments. Saavik lives outside the Empire. How could anyone discover your relationship?"

"Sheís getting more and more attention! A half-Romulan Starfleet officer? Ship commanders recognize her by name. And Iím not the only one from those days starting to worry our mistakes may catch up to us, except Iím the one whoís in danger from my mistake not dying when she should have."

For too brief a second, sudden pride flashed in Ajeyaís eyes against her will, and her mouth curled at one corner; the reason for it was plain to see: Saavik survived, Saavik was the one who drew commendation from her enemies. Not the other hybrids: Saavik. Hers.

Then the pride was squelched with such ferocity, Spock doubted he could appeal to it.

Ajeya returned to her original point. "I have enemies, people who know how to seize any opportunity they can. Someone takes her prisoner, theyíre going to wonder where she came from, and how they can use that knowledge for extortion."

He shook his head, honestly confused. "I still do not see why. Thieurrull is gone. No one gives it or what happened there any thought."

She sneered. "And they say Vulcans kept all the brains when we left. Show some of them! If my enemy is one of the so-called Ďhonorableí warriors, they will play appalled at what happened on Thieurrull. If theyíre honest and show they sold their honor for a chance to get further, they will mock the people who were there. Thieurrull was a failure and it could have gotten us into a war with the Federation for stealing Vulcans." Her sneer strengthened. "The only thing that saved us is your peopleís absolute terror over talking about your mating drive. Youíll never tell the Federation or Starfleet what happened on Thieurrull, and so we remain safe." Her anger came back. "But the possibility is there that theyíll find out, and my part in it is something someone could use against me. Nothing exists to tie me to that hellhole except her!"

"The odds are exceedingly against-"

"But theyíre there. I didnít survive this long by leaving weapons lying around for my enemies to find." She tapped the wall for emphasis. "This isnít about covering my tracks, itís about destroying them like they were never there."

His mind raced with arguments, trying to put something together. "The question remains, if you were so concerned, why did you wait this long?"

"I didnít name her, the scientists in charge of everything did." She stopped in her rampage, and he saw her mindís eye turn inwards. "I donít even know his name -- the Vulcanís. I didnít want to know it. Thatís all I ever called him."

The Vulcan? Spock thought. How cold. Why? To make the man less real? He was real. As Saavik is. But then, why did Ajeyaís voice grow hoarse?

"So I didnít know she was my -- who she was. In fact, I was planning to do just what I told you my enemies would do. I was going to find who was responsible for her, and use the information. But then I got her file, and I saw her for the first time." Spock could hear her swallow. "She does look like him. Thatís when I knew."

She stopped, and her rigid control slipped. "He killed himself shortly after her birth. They took her away after showing her to him, and I heard him say his shame against his family was complete. And how long was his life expectancy on Thieurrull any way? So he did the logical thing and the honorable thing. When they turned him out to the streets, he committed ritual suicide under the sun. I saw them bring his body in." The blow of her eyes, so haunted and distressed, struck him physically. "So much for honor."

She looked mortified by what she had revealed, and hastily drew the scorn back across her face. Too late.

"Believe me, if I knew she was my mistake, Iíd have come sooner. Iím lucky this isnít worse." She looked up in alarm. "She said my file was missing information. She doesnít have children, does she?"

"Not currently."

"Good. I donít need any more evidence against me. Wait -- Currently?"

"If all goes well, in the future she will."

Her eyes narrowed. "With you." He nodded, pleased by the thought as always. "So thatís why youíre here. Who are you?"

In the next second, her eyes flew open wide before they narrowed again, and she cursed him vehemently. It was not surprising she didnít recognize him sooner. As she said, many of her people and his own knew the names and reputation of the enemy, but not always their appearance. But she had known the Armstrong was meeting him, and he did have a Romulan death sentence on his head.

At her raging curses, the Security personnel present pulled phasers and checked the Security screen, knowing her tone without understanding her words anymore than they had the rest of the conversation. She silenced herself while they did it, and pushed away from the wall when they stepped back. Spock saw he had lost the argument.

"Take your information," Ajeya said, "and go tell her it for what little good it will do you. I have allies as well as enemies, and two ships of my own. I wonít be your prisoner long."

Was that something he could use? "Are you so certain? For one who is convinced she is vulnerable to something that happened decades ago, you cannot have so many people willing to aide you."

Her grin bared teeth. "I know when to keep people well paid for their loyalty. I will escape."

"When you claim honor is nothing more than something to be sold? Wonít your allies now sell theirs, leaving you alone?"

She stared at him for a long moment. "Youíre afraid."

He cocked an eyebrow at that. "Hardly."

"Then why donít you run and tell her what you know?"

"We have not settled the matter between us."

"And we never will. Go."

He took a second, regrouped, and tried again. "Commander--"

"You are afraid."

"I have already answered--"

"You tell her who I am, and she demands a duel for retribution. Am I right?" She caught his eyes, and he felt he could never break free of her. "Thatís what has you scared. Do you know her? Really know her?"

"Quite well."

"Then youíve seen it, havenít you? The part of her that comes from me."

He told himself the fact that Ajeya was still talking to him was the important thing. He could ignore the words themselves, but her opening up even this amount might take them to a point from where he could negotiate. "I take it we are no longer discussing mannerisms. Could you be specific?"

Ajeya knocked on the cell wall. "She lives her life on a starship."

"You give yourself too much credit. Saavikís father served on a Vulcan starship, as well as a woman named TíPren who cared for her, giving her the stars as a gift. She has kept it. It has nothing to do with you."

"Oh, I think it does. She serves on a Federation military vessel with all its capacity and prevalence to violence. She picked this over the peaceful exploration and sciences of Vulcanís space force."

"A weak contention. She is not the only Vulcan serving in Starfleet."

"But humans and the rest are blind to the part of her that isnít Vulcan, arenít they? I bet if we asked this crew, theyíd say she was no different from any other set of pointed ears this side of the Neutral Zone. But if she serves with nothing but Vulcans, that part stands out like a beacon against them. So she hides in Starfleet where no one sees the cracks in that facade."

He started to argue, but she cut him off.

"Donít bother answering that. I already know. The list of my better qualities includes my being hard to kill, determined to survive, and ruthless if need be. And sheís inherited it all. How many other half-breeds died on Thieurrull? How many of them died because she killed them? And what else did she do to survive? How many atrocities that you pack of pacifists on the Motherworld would never do?"

Each question cut without chance for recovery before the next dagger was thrown. She leaned forward, the Security field shaving her front. "You know not to appeal to my heart, because I raped one of your kind, and then carried your betrothed knowing the entire time I was going to toss her aside. But do you know why I did all that? The Vulcan? Her? My House was once one of the most noble in the Empire until a new Praetor caused our downfall. Because we had supported his opponent, he sought our ruin. But Thieurrull was the project to be a part of. It promised power and glory, so I did what I did for the rebirth of my House... only to have Thieurrullís failure become my failure Ė and my Houseís failure. But I did it. I sold my honor. It cost me my husband, and might cost me my children if they learn of it, but thatís what Iím willing to do for survival. And thatís whatís in your betrothed and what will cross down into your children. I suggest you never turn your back on them."

He mourned for the person Ajeya once was and never would be again. If anything of her was salvageable, it was born in Saavik.

She saw where his thoughts turned and drove her point home. "Sheís threatened my life once already, and youíre afraid that if she knows who I am, sheíll try to carry out that threat. Either she dies -- the only thing that would happen -- or, for the sake of this discussion, she kills me. What makes you more afraid? How Starfleet will throw her out for not being Vulcan? Or to see that side of her for yourself?"

The moment he first met Saavik, she had killed someone, then held him at knifepoint for an entire night. She was approximately ten years old, and did both these things without a second thought. He remembered her words to him almost twenty years later: Must we discuss every brutality? The ones done to me? The ones I committed?

But that boy she had killed when they first met was about to kill Spock, someone she didnít know, but saved anyway. And she held him at knifepoint for the subconscious knowledge that below the mountain lay a place where Vulcans died.

"You are wrong," he said. "I do not fear seeing Saavikís flaws. I have seen them, and she has seen mine."

"I notice you donít argue about what Starfleet will do. So youíre not afraid of what you think youíve already seen, but what will happen when the Federation sees it."

It was true. When an officer took the oath to join the Fleet, they swore to put aside whatever cultural or personal demands conflicting with the ideals of the Federation. The punishment would be high if Saavik murdered Ajeya out of revenge.

And it wouldnít stop her.

Would she seek revenge? It had been a long time since she spoke openly about it. Had she put that demon to rest, or did she consider revenge as an incontrovertible right that she no longer needed to discuss?

Must we discuss every brutalityÖ The ones I committed?

He found the knowing gleam in Ajeyaís stare ugly. "Youíre shaken," she said. "Iíve made you doubt."

He thought about it, and then shook his head. "No, you have not. You made me see not everything stays in the past, but it does not change my bond to her."

"So you say. Weíll see if it holds true. But Iíll warn you again, if for no other reason than I like seeing what it does to you. Stand in the way of something she wants, and sheíll sacrifice you. Just as I sacrificed my husband and the Vulcan."

"You only show how little you understand her, Commander. However, I know the futility of any repeated attempts to convince you."

"Then you might as well go," Ajeya said. "I have made my threat, and you have made yours."

His eyebrows rose, almost forming a line across his forehead. "My threat?"

"Iíve shown you that Iím coming after her. You have shown me that if I do, you will come after me. A vicious cycle, isnít it? But I have played this game longer and better than you two have. You would do well to remember that."

 

 

He entered Saavikís cabin. It was dark except for the one light on her desk, and the firepot flickering in her sleeping area. The paradox of shadow and light glinted across her weapons collection on the wall.

She was sitting up in a chair, her deep red robe drawn about her. Her arms were crossed with fatigue, not anger, and she had turned the chair to face the door. "You went to see her."

"I did," he said just as softly.

"I knew you were too quiet earlier." She asked with weary patience, "Does this have to do with Unification?"

He knew it was Romulans like Ajeya that stopped Saavik from seeing his point of view. "No, only curiosity."

"Regarding?"

"Regarding my belief that I could convince her to cancel her feud against you. I had to try."

She rested her head on her hand, the light on the desk striking a soft band across her eyes. He saw they glowed warmly in response to his words. "Did you succeed?"

"No. Logic is wasted on her. So is a call to her nobility."

Neither of them had anything to say to that. In a moment, Saavik shifted in her chair as if her side bothered her. Her side, her near death today, and Hellguard once more returning, this time in the form of Ajeya.

"You should be resting," he said gently.

"I am." The faint note of humor touched him.

"Try to sleep."

She stood up and walked to her sleeping quarters. He held out a hand as she went to go past. She stopped and looked up at him, curious.

He started to ask her if she would still seek revenge against her Romulan parent, but she was too intelligent not to see the connection. And then, if the answer to his question was Yes, he would open a door he didnít want to open.

But it was hard keeping it from her. If she found out and she most likely might -- after all, how to keep a secret in his mind when bonded to her? Would she understand he kept this secret for her own sake?

He held out his first two fingers, and found some measure of reassurance in her touch. "If you like, I will stay."

She nodded again, and he sat next to her as she stretched out on the bed. They stayed that way, in the dark, needing no words.

 

Ajeya escaped one month later during the transport to her trial.