Hunter grinned. “Damn, I do believe our Lieutenant Savage is actually excited.”
Stuart craned her neck carefully around the shuttle bay observation alcove and gave a snort. “For a Vulcan.” She smiled. “You know Lauren says she’s the only one who can call Saavik by name. And Lynne. She's received the special Lauren Warfield dispensation."
"I know exactly what Warfield and her Siamese twin say. I outrank them."
"You've also said, Captain, that the nickname wasn't such a great idea."
"My exact words were 'in public'. You are not public, and I only said the nickname to you. Captain's prerogative."
Her first officer nodded in Saavik's direction, a lock of blonde hair falling next to her blue eyes. "Who did you say was coming?"
Stuart groaned and thumped her head against the alcove wall. "With all due respect, ma'am, you are just absolutely unbelievable."
"All due respect noted and rejected. What did I do?"
"Saavik finally shows some interest in something other than a new data burst and all you can say is 'some cadet'? Who?"
Hunter's mouth twitched and she grinned again. "Her name is Valeris." They both peeked around the wall. The captain frowned. "And I'd know more if Saavik weren't so secretive--"
"Private," Stuart corrected with a grin, "she'd say private."
Hunter rolled her eyes. "Whatever." She crossed her arms and stared deep in thought at her science officer. "Maybe we should contact Amanda."
Stuart's eyes went wide. "Are you insane? And risk Saavik finding out about our source? No way!"
Hunter chewed on her lower lip, considering. "True." She shook her head ruefully. "Our girl needs more friends."
Stuart bristled and her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Like that piece of--"
Hunter's face instantly blackened at the mention of Spock. "Don't say that name on my ship."
Stuart gritted her teeth and took a long breath, forcing herself to relax. Her mouth moved bitterly. "Everyone thinks he's such a hero back at Command. The Great Spock. Even I bought into it, and I thought I was hard to fool." She turned and stared down at Saavik walking the length of the bay deck. "I can't believe he did that to her, cutting her off like an enemy, sabotaging her career." She looked over her shoulder to Hunter. "I think she actually -- what's the right word for a Vulcan? He was important to her, really important."
Hunter sighed and moved to stand by Stuart. "I was there when she got that last comm, remember? And I was the one who had to tell her that her transfer to Enterprise got cancelled. Jim Kirk couldn't even contact her himself. I never thought he'd be like that." She rubbed her face tiredly and smiled ruefully. "Damn, I haven't been so angry like that in a long time."
Stuart gave a soft snort. "You might have to stand in line for that one. I think Warfield and Hoskins want a piece of them both." Her eyes found Saavik again and she smiled as she watched the woman smooth the lines of her already pristine uniform. "She's too good for him anyway. For all of them over there, if they want to be like that. The great Enterprise. Who knew it was so..."
Daanan watched her for a moment, but no more came. She finally grinned and leaned against the wall. "Me, I'm voting for our Truth or Dare king."
Hunter choked a laugh, and they both had to duck down to smother themselves in case a certain pair of ears heard them out in the bay.
"Archernar?" the captain asked. The black tipped, red feather woven into her braid swept down, casting a slight shadow that emphasized the white of her teeth. "Only you would suggest she'd pick a Romulan. But then only you – add Warfield and Hoskins to that list – would play Truth or Dare with that one!"
Stuart wiped her eyes and leaned carefully around the alcove to make sure Saavik hadn't noticed them and then grinned back at Hunter. “You told me to get information from him, to see if we could trust him. And admit it, he'd be worth the court martial for... fraternizing with the enemy. And you've seen the way he looks at her." She leaned closer to Hunter and lowered conspiratorial eyebrows. "In fact, I'd bet fifty that not only has she noticed it, but that some part of her -- ok, a very small, deeply buried part that she doesn't even know exists -- likes it."
Hunter covered her mouth and then pulled her hand away, giving Stuart a stern look. "If she ever hears you even suggest that, we'll be looking for your body all over the quadrant."
Stuart grinned and then sobered, her eyes glittering. “He didn't cut her off--"
Hunter scowled instantly, her fists clenching. "I told you to stop bringing up Spock! Not in front of me, and especially not within her hearing!"
Stuart sighed and shook her head, looking down at Saavik again. "If Rrelthiz hadn't been onboard or Amanda... " She swallowed hard and turned back to Hunter. "She may be Vulcan most of the time, but I saw her eyes that night." Her voice dropped to barely above a whisper. "It was like... someone used one of those weapons in her new collection on her. Dammit, Hunter."
Hunter's shoulders sagged and she leaned heavily against the wall to stare down at her boots. "I think he's still... important to her."
Stuart stiffened upright, outraged. "What? After what he did!"
Hunter shrugged and turned to watch her officer down below. "Our hearts take down the best of us." She frowned slowly. "Which is what's making me nervous about this Valeris."
Stuart blinked. "The cadet? Why?"
Hunter crossed her arms over her blue silk, distinctly not uniform, tunic. "When Saavik asked permission to extend a training tour to her, I did some discreet checking."
"You called Amanda."
"Of course. And a few close friends at Command." Hunter moved close to Stuart so she could keep her voice as low as possible. "It looks like Cartwright has noticed this Valeris."
“Cartwright authorized Saavik’s transfer cancellation.”
“And you think... what?”
“I don’t know. Except... this Valeris ranks high in her class and she’s up for a lieutenant’s promotion. She’ll get a good berth somewhere.” She stared significantly at Daanan. “She’s a science officer.”
Stuart jerked back, and then moved her head close to Hunter's. “You think Spock wants Valeris for Enterprise? So he and Kirk got Cartwright to cancel our Saavik?”
“Or Valeris asked for the position.”
Stuart said, “I don’t know... but then I never thought they’d cut Saavik off at all. And it makes some sense, but that’s even more underhanded that I gave them credit for."
Hunter nodded. "I’m the same. I knew Jim Kirk, and he didn’t work like this. But I don’t like the coincidence. And Amanda doesn’t trust Valeris at all. In fact, she told me a few things I hadn't heard."
Out in the bay, Saavik heard something that made her turn in their direction. In the next second, she passed by them to reach an ensign mishandling a cargo sled.
Stuart waited for her to pass. "What are you saying?"
Hunter sighed; she crossed her arms and began to pace in the tiny space. "I'm not saying any more until we can get some sort of proof that what we've all been hearing is right. I can't get an audience with Command with only unsubstantiated rumors."
Stuart's eyes almost bulged. "Unsubstantiated rumors? We're talking about Ambassador Sarek's wife! Her word is--"
"Which is why I won't risk it until I have something to back both of us up." Hunter held up a hand. "Until we have solid evidence, even Amanda knows we don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting heard -- let alone avoiding the career suicide for suggesting it." She began to pace again. "Which brings us back to this cadet of Saavik's." She stopped and looked at Stuart. "You aren't going to like this, but guess who happens to be this Valeris' sponsor to the Academy?"
Stuart groaned. "You are kidding."
"I wish I was."
"Then in my book that makes her already guilty. He didn't have any trouble betraying, so why should she? Especially if she's already hooked herself up--" Dannan's eyes suddenly widened. "Oh, damn. Saavik."
Hunter grimaced. "Precisely. And it gets worse. According to Amanda, there are five people in this universe that our little Savage trusts implicitly."
"She trusts anyone after him?"
Hunter kicked Stuart's shin. "Focus! Five. Now apparently, this Valeris is one of those five."
Stuart winced and rubbed her ankle. "Great. Just absolutely great." She rubbed her forehead and swore again. "And we're supposed to tell her that this Valeris, who she trusts like she did him, could very well--" She groaned. "Oh, damn." She looked up. "Hey, what if Amanda--"
Hunter shook her head. "No good. Since him, Amanda says Saavik won't even listen to anything negative about Valeris."
"Hell, then she's not going to listen to us."
Hunter smiled. "Precisely. Which is why we aren't going to say anything about this."
"What?" Stuart’s eyes widened. "Captain! The only reason why you have us down here for some cadet’s tour is because of all of this! What if what you’re thinking is true and this Valeris turns out to be in on it? We can't just do nothing! Saavik can't take another hit like that!"
Hunter's jaw firmed. "Exactly. Which is why we're staying out of it."
Stuart jumped to her feet. "What? Like hell! I'm--"
Hunter pulled a data padd from her belt and held it out. "Read this."
Stuart fumed for a minute and then snatched it. She stabbed it on and read the comm message recorded on it. Her anger instantly evaporated. In fact, she had to crush a hand over her mouth to keep from suddenly laughing.
Hunter nodded, her own face split with a grin. "Rrel's coming. And no, Saavik doesn't know it." She began to pace again in the small space. "Five, Stuart. And thanks to Amanda -- and what we saw with him--" her face temporarily darkened and she forced it to smooth, "--Rrel's one of those five."
Stuart grinned. "And we can trust Rrel."
Hunter nodded again. "Which means, if this Valeris is up to something--"
"Rrelthiz will find out."
"And get Saavik to believe it."
Stuart whistled softly. "Damn, you are good!"
Hunter grinned. "That's why I'm the captain." She sobered then and went back to stare down at Saavik. She smiled sadly as she saw the light in Saavik's eyes, the barely Vulcan controlled excitement as she paced like her Romulan namesake. "I hope to hell that this cadet's clean." She looked at Stuart grimly. "Or we may need Rrel for more than just an investigation."
Stuart's eyes narrowed. "If we do, a certain cadet's going to get a personal tour of the airlock."
Hunter snorted wickedly. "I think we named the wrong officer Savage. Come on, let's go stand with her before she wears a damn hole in my deck."
"It's still twenty minutes until the shuttle arrives!" Stuart protested.
They started down the stairwell to the bay floor.
Hunter grinned slyly. "Perhaps we'll play a game."