Time Out of Joint

TIME OUT OF JOINT
CHAPTER 1 With all due credit to that Rihanna Goddess Diane Duane. Star
Trek is the Property of Paramount. This is for entertainment purposes only. No
commercial use is intended.
“The time is out of joint; O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right.”
Hamlet-William Shakespeare-16th Century Terran

NCC 1701-C, the third in a long line of ships named Enterprise. Enarrain
Merohe, senior centurion of the Rihannsu fleet involved in the Narendra
campaigns, stared, with a mixture of unbelief and incredible joy at the message
before her on the com screen. “Captured intact at Narendra III , fourteen
prisoners taken. Awaiting arrival of senior centurion Merohe ir Nakhal.” No
more needed to be said. The enormity of her victory washed over her. The
nemesis of the Rhihannsu military for more than a century, Enterprise had been a
hissing and an abomination, and a glittering prize for whoever captured her intact.
the name Merohe ir Nakhal would be remembered forever, the possibilities for
reward and elevation endless. She would walk its corridors, inspect and evaluate
every minute detail of information plucked from its computer banks. Take her
apart and learn every secret of her design and construction. No time would be
wasted. Engineers from all parts of the Empire would be summoned to
participate in her dissection. Her own flagship would arrive within 2 standard
hours. With luck, a great deal could be gleaned before the political busybodies
began squabbling over her broken hull, each eager to take credit and gain
reputation from her capture. Commander Mijhak had already sent her a cloying
message, praising her skills in battle and not so subtly inviting himself to the
feast.

The Enterprise itself lay stunned in space, unmoving and seemingly dead.
The only sign of life the faint emissions from the minimal life support she was
still capable of. Debris from destroyed Klingon battle cruisers, and the few life
pods that had managed to get away hovered around her. She was attended by 3
Rhihannsu warbirds and the numerous shuttlecraft that buzzed to and fro around
her. 6 tractor beams held her firmly in her resting place. One would think that
the death of a great lady like herself would be momentous and awe inspiring,
instead the enormity of the task involved in making her fit to be towed back to
the homeworld lent an efficient businesslike aspect to the whole affair. There
was simply too much to be done to spend much time thinking about historical
significance or anything else but the task at hand.

Interrogations would not, of course begin until the prisoners had been
treated for their wounds and the various experts had been assembled whose job it
was to extract information. A great deal has been made in the Federation and
other circles about the skill and ruthlessness of Romulan interrogations. Lurid
tales of torture, deprivation, and insanity have been told and embroidered
endlessly. If truth be told, pain was a very unreliable and inefficient means to
gain access to a prisoner’s mind. A truly skilled interrogator left that sort of thing
to the Klingons. Over a 3 to 4 month period of careful preparation, appropriate
administration of drugs, and various subtle psychological techniques learned from
the Feds themselves, a prisoner could be induced to reveal anything and
everything his interrogator desired. Subtlety and patience were called for not
brute force. The fourteen prisoners now in custody would provide a wealth of
new intelligence that would keep the intelligence divisions busy for years
evaluating and dissecting, separating truth, half truth, and fiction.

Starfleet officers were given intensive preparation for situations like this.
Techniques from every culture in the federation were scoured and evaluated for
anything that would help a prisoner withstand interrogation without revealing
anything of any value. As soon as the Enterprise had been reported missing in
Romulan space an elaborate and sophisticated plan had been launched. Of course
all access codes, communications codes, operatives cover names, etc.. were
immediately changed. A preset series of messages were immediately sent, in the
old codes of course, to provide a tantalizing broth of truth, half truth, and
downright lies for the enemy to sift through. The officers themselves had been
practically programmed to tell these same set of lies to their interrogators even
under the influence of powerful drugs. Some intelligence leaks were inevitable
of course, all prisoners can be broken eventually. Hopefully it would take the
Romulans so long to sort through the debris that when they were through, what
they had gleaned would be worth much less.

Two standard hours were an eternity . Mehore’s cruiser “Stoops for the kill”
charted a leisurely path around the prey to be devoured. She gazed with singular
pride at the phaser burns crisscrossing the hull her eyes narrowing avariciously.
Enterprise’s crew was said to have fought with great ferocity, making victory all
the sweeter. A victory tour was absolutely essential. Merohe steepled her hands
as she considered which officers had served her loyally enough to be invited
along, and thence to rise with her. She punched her com panel impulsively, eager
to be on with it. “Moret, report.”

Prepared as always Moret replied instantly. “Our engineers estimate more
than an hour before minimal repairs can make the Enterprise spaceworthy again.
After that we can be underway at minimum warp to the nearest berthing port
which would be Toggarat Star Base. There we can continue our investigation in
secrecy and security,” replied the Subcommander.

Merohe stared pensively at the view of her prize from her tiny “window”
“Why did they not destroy her before they could be captured?”

Moret continued with surprising calm efficiency. ” Our findings indicate
that only 2two officers were left alive. It seems that that was insufficient to
activate their self-destruct sequence.”

“Beam me aboard at once. I wish to inspect everything myself before a
gaggle of bickering beaurocrats takes over.”

“As you wish commander.”

Merohe had herself beamed directly to the bridge, directly before the
command chair. Linking her arms casually behind her back, she strolled slowly,
stepping casually over the dead and dying. Feigning an interest in computer
readouts and technical displays she attempted to absorb her surroundings. The
first thought that struck her was one of space. So much room. The command
chair, oddly enough was situated below that of the duty stations ringing it. She
wondered what sort of alien psychology would account for this.

Wandering to one of the stations she seated herself in one of the soft,
uncomfortable chairs. Astonishing how such soft weaklings had come to
dominate the greater part of the quadrant. No speaking to anyone she rose and
entered the turbolift. “Crew quarters.” The lift obeyed, whisking silently to its
destination.

Again the overwhelming sensation of space and light. These people
surrounded themselves with shocking indulgence. Musical instruments,
antiques, more soft uncomfortable furniture, family momentoes. She found a
hologram under a pile of rubbish. A man and a woman in elaborate ceremonial
dress, young and smiling. Another of the same couple with an infant this time. In
the closet, the same garment the woman had been wearing, preserved in a stasis
field box. Merohe discharged the field and did not resist the impulse to inspect it.
A shimmering, slippery fabric, elaborately embroidered with birds and flowers.
This had not been replicated. The exquisite, tiny stitching showed the slightest
irregularity, indicating it had been constructed by hand. She replaced the garment
carefully and reactivated the field, feeling an odd sense of having intruded.

The remainder of the tour did not turn out as satisfyingly as she had
hoped. She instructed her had picked officers to finished quickly and accompany
her back to “Stoops for the kill.”

Tasha Irina Yar lay quietly and unmoving in the tiny space allotted to
treating the sick and injured. Carefully, she flexed each finger one by one, then
the wrist, elbow, shoulder and neck. Repeating the process with the rest of her
she determined that everything was functional. Slowly, she opened her eyes and
cautiously examined her surroundings. “God” she thought, “I go to all this trouble
to die a meaningful death and I can’t even die.” The sight of Romulan military
tunics confirmed that she was indeed alive.She certainly wouldn’t have seen this
in heaven. Captured! Closing her eyes again she tried to begin a calming
meditation for her ordeal. A muffled roar from somewhere became apparent to
her, setting off alarms and causing Romulans to scurry, either for computer
screens or other stations on the ship. Tasha mouthed a little prayer of thanks that
she had heard once somewhere to whoever might be up there to hear it. Then she
smiled.

Senior Centurion Merohe was not smiling, indeed if curses were money
Subcommander Moret would be a rich man by now. Enarrain Merohe, senior
centurion, colonel of infantry, commodore of Fleet forces summoned every one at
her command All of them leveled at Moret and his incompetent staff.

“I suppose it would be pointless to ask you Moret why this eventuality was
not anticipated?” She had attained an outward calm by now, more out of a desire
to keep from killing him before she had all the facts, than to assuage any guilt or
fear on his part.

“Ihhei, this should have been impossible! Federation ships have too many
fail safe devices to prevent warp core breach. All were fully functional. The
ship’s computer was completely under our control. There was only enough power
left for minimal life support.”

Merohe gestured . “Then why subcommander are pieces of what is now
LEFT of the Enterprise floating by this window!”

Moret bowed his head “I have been deceived, Enarrain, it is my
fault entirely. I will not ask for forgiveness.”

“I have not the time to deal with disciplinary matters. I want to know how
this was done. Did we get any information at all from their computers?”

Moret stared at a fixed portion of the Centurion’s desk. “About 40 percent
of their computer files had been retrieved before this “incident”. They have not
yet been evaluated However, we do know that files of the most intelligence value
and sensitivity are buried deep in the computer core. It is unlikely that we have
anything more than historical archives, personnel records, star charts, and some
scientific data.”

The woman stared, flabbergasted. Silent for several moments she
contemplated the enormity of this disaster. As enormous as her seeming victory
had been hours before. “Well,” she grated. ” Perhaps we will get some good
recipes from it. You are dismissed, subcommander, you will be placed under
confinement until such time as you can be dealt with.”

Moret saluted and left . Merohe sank into a chair. One of the two
officers in her custody had done this that much was certain. Probably both. After
contacting the ship’s surgeon she gave orders that both were to have a preliminary
interrogation immediately. She would, of course attend personally. Perhaps
something could be salvaged from this debacle.

Why had the Enterprise always been their nemesis? The ship herself was
a thief. Perhaps that was the “enterprise” the Feds had named her for. Every time
we encounter her we lose something, technology, influence, honor. This time it
was all three. She had no illusions as to what awaited her when the magnitude of
her failure was known. Her failure, yes she had blamed Moret. Perhaps I can
salvage some scrap of honor for my house by admitting my own folly. Blinded by
the possibilities the Enterprise’s capture represented and flushed with victory she
had overlooked the abominable cleverness of these people. Somehow they had
found away to bypass the failsafes to prevent self destruction. Lacking enough
officers to initiate self destruct on their own they had rigged an undetectable
timing device to cause a warp core breach. She would have done the same, she
was forced to admit to herself. Nevertheless these officers were now her personal
as well as her empires enemies. Unable to bear defeat and capture honorably they
had used trickery and subterfuge, killing many of her people.

————————————————————————————

“What is your name and rank?” The interrogator’s voice was all calm
authority, sifting through the haze of drugs.

“Lieutenant Natasha Irina Yar.”

“What is the name of your commanding officer?”

“Captain Jean Luc Picard”

“What was your mission at Narendra III?’

“………. We received…………a distress signal from a Klingon outpost and
moved to intercept it.”

“Why would you render assistance to an enemy ?”

“All distress calls are priority one operations regardless of where they
originate.”

“How long have you served aboard the Enterprise and what was your post?

“Which one?

“Which one? I do not understand.”

“The Enterprise C or the Enterprise D.”

—————————————————————————————————-

Nakis, Merohe, and Tepet the first of the Imperial interrogation team to
arrive had much to ponder. The human woman, Tasha she was called, had made
a startling revalation indeed. She had been sent, or volunteered to come, from 30
years in the future to this time to restore the timeline to what she considered its
proper place. Their history had recorded that the Enterprise C had been lost at
this place coming to the rescue of a Klingon outpost. Restoring the timeline
would prevent the ruinous war that the Federation would be fighting against these
Klingons in the future.

Tepet stared hard at the report on her vid screen. “Any intelligence we
gather from this prisoner would no doubt be useless to us if she came from an
alternate timeline as she claims.”

“Do you honestly believe she is telling the truth?” Merohe asked, with
genuine interest, flinging her a scornful look.

Tepet intercepted the look but chose to ignore it “It will of course be
necessary to validate her claims somehow. Science teams have been assigned to
study this area of space for evidence of time displacement. It is of course
possible that this is just another piece of disinformation she has been
programmed to reveal under questioning. It is the responsibility of the
Intelligence Service to sift through and find the truth. We will not fail.” Tepet
pulled up another report on her screen with a proud flourish. “We do however
have the answer to how the Enterprise was destroyed”

“Does the Federation have some new technology we should know about?’
Merohe turned toward her colleague eager to know .

Tepet distributed copies of her report to the other screens. “Have you
heard of nanotechnology?”

Nakis nodded his head slowly. “It is only a theoretical concept now. It
has not even reached the stage where serious research can be done.”

“According to our intelligence, and it is very good, the Federation is also
at this stage.” Tepet agreed.

“Are you saying, the crew of the Enterprise C employed this
nanotechnology to create a warp core breach?” asked Merohe, alarmed.

“Yes. Our findings indicate clearly that tiny fractures in the containment
field went undetected by our engineers. These fractures were created by nanites.
After they were created the nanites manufactured an undetectable “repair”. At a
predetermined time, no doubt when a critical number of ship’s systems had failed
, indicating defeat, the nanites began to dissipate the repairs in these fissures. I
can only speculate that their calculations were crude and they did not anticipate
our boarding their vessel. Once the warp core had reached a critical level, breach
was inevitable. There was nothing we could have done to stop it.”

“If as you say The Federation does not posses this technology…” began
Nakis, puzzled.

“They do not posses it now but they very well could in 30 years.” Tepet
concluded, gravely.

Merohe was already leaning back in her chair, fondling all the
possibilities in her mind. If the human woman could be made to reveal what she
knew, she might be able to use this knowledge to ameliorate this disaster. A 30
year head start on a new technology would more than make up for the loss of the
Enterprise. “This is a matter for the strictest secrecy I’m sure you all agree.” she
suddenly announced. “I want these officers questioned most closely and with
whatever means necessary to get what we need.”

“That is already being done commander. You need not concern yourself.
Imperial Intelligence takes its responsibilities most seriously. You will not find
us lacking.”

In other words stay out of our territory, Merohe thought . I did not come
all this way to be defeated now. Intelligence would of course take credit for all
the successes and Merohe and her crew would be left with all the blame. ” I am
ordering all interrogations to cease until all members of the team are present.”
Tepet moved immediately to protest. “Do not question my orders now Major, I
am still in command of this task force and I do not want any more mistakes.
There is time. The prisoners are not going anywhere. Nakis, see to it that their
health is strictly preserved. Humans can be fragile and they are much too
important to us alive.”

CHAPTER 2 25 years later
Commodore Larkin regarded the scene from his office window. Refugees
had been pouring across the border for months now. Strangely disciplined , they
waited patiently to be processed and their needs attended to. They did not jostle,
shout, argue or complain. They wore the typical stunned drained look of people
that had turned their backs on the only home they knew for an uncertain future
with an alien people.

Since the debacle with Vice Proconsul Meret the Romulan government
had begun turning the screws on dissent. The Federation had barely been
prepared for the influx of political refugees. Old fashioned purges and pogroms
had been used with particular efficiency and cruelty. No one was safe. It was
the same old story as with tyrannical government everywhere. Rights suspended,
people disappeared never to be heard from again, mass murder and worse. He
had spoken to many of them himself. They did not want to be here. They longed
for their home. The idea of taking charity from the Federation appalled them.
The fact that they were here at all bespoke a seachange in their society. Larkin
sighed, and answered the tweep of his office communicator.

“Larkin here”

“Commodore, I have a “situation” here. One of the refugees refuses to be
interviewed by anyone but you. We explained to him that we simply don’t have
the time but he insists.” his harried exec explained. ” He says his name is
Hanain.”

“What does he want?”

“He won’t say sir, he just insists on speaking with you.”

“I suppose if we want to hear what he has to say. Send him up
Lieutenant.”

Hanain entered the office a few minutes later. A Romulan of typically
indeterminate age he reminded Larkin of an old Grizzly bear, wily, experienced ,
and sometimes dangerous if not approached carefully. Larkin waved him to a
seat. “What can I do for you Hanain? I’m Commodore Larkin.”

The man hesitated, as if having waited so long for his opportunity, and
keeping silence, the words would not come. “There is nothing good nor bad,
Commodore, but thinking makes it so.”

The code phrase startled Larkin into attention. “The better part of valor is
discretion.” he replied correctly.

Satisfied, Hanain began bluntly. “I have something for you.”

Larkin regarded him carefully. “Yes?”

“A message, with instructions that it be delivered only into your hands. I
can speculate on the contents, but I have not read it.” Hanain reached into a
hidden pocket and handed Larkin an old style type 4 computer chip. He rose
wished him Jolan Tru and left.

Larkin anticipated a long afternoon. He canceled trivial appointments,
reconfigured the computer for the old chip, and began to read.

My name is Lieutenant Natasha Irina Yar. You must forgive me if my
Anglish seems stilted and forced it has been so long since I have spoken or
written it. This text fulfills my final duty to the Federation and the people I
served with, admired, respected, and loved. It is also my legacy to my daughter.
Sela, I have always known that I would not live to see you grown. I hope when
you read this you will understand the decisions I made. Remember this, you are
the one thing in the universe I adore.

Thirty years in the past……

Three months of intense interrogations by her captors have, she admitted,
almost destroyed her will to fight. They were masters at psychological
manipulation. Strangely enough she had not been physically harmed. Tasha
anticipated that this would not continue for much longer. They would almost
certainly be executed soon. Moving restlessly about the exercise yard, she gave a
stone a vicious kick. It was one thing to die doing your duty but to wait to be
executed for no crime was as senseless as the death she had sought to avoid. The
stone plonked satisfyingly against the stone wall, causing the man standing
between the two guards at the top to flinch slightly. Tasha felt the tiniest measure
of satisfaction which almost surely was communicated in her blue gaze. The man
said something to one of the guards and then nodded, turning to disappear on the
other side.
————————————————————————————————
– “Where were you born Lieutenant?”

What was the point to this?, Tasha thought irritably. “Turkana four, you
know that.” The man at the wall had taken a sudden interest in this prisoner. He
had introduced himself as General Tellorn, and had begun a habit of conducting
nearly daily interviews with her. Tasha found them excessively irritating.

He began to look at her with that damnable intensity that told her he
sensed something interesting. “Turkana IV was a failed Earth colony was it not?”

“Yes”

Jaris, his personal name her had told her, leaned back comfortably, Tasha
glared. “Your interrogators were most thorough. You have already given them
detailed accounts of your experiences. ”

“Then why do you want to hear it again?” She didn’t notice how tightly
she was gripping the arms of her chair. Jaris did.

“I want to hear it from you directly. It will give me insight into your
character. Human psychology has always fascinated me.” The black eyes
regarded her with patient intensity.

Tasha looked away, flustered. Gathering herself, she swallowed, and
treated him to her number five intensity glare. “Fine, here’s the story. My parents
died when I was three. The people that took care of us abandoned us two years
later. I grew up on the streets, uneducated and uncivilized. I scrounged for food
and dodged the rape gangs, not always successfully.” She looked away. ” When I
was fifteen a Starflleet vessel arrived to find out what had happened to their
colony. They rescued me. Everything I have become I owe to them. They have
my entire loyalty. There, end of story.”

Jaris was silent for several long minutes. “You have indeed a tenacious
grip on life Tasha Yar. That is a characteristic I can respect. Your people are a
strange mixture. Cunning and foolish, warlike and pacifistic, one minute weak
and fearful the next like tempered steel. I find you and invaluable resource in
furthering my understanding.”

“I’m not flattered to be considered your lab specimen.”

Jaris actually smiled a little. “No of course not.” He didn’t speak for a
span of several minutes, seeming to consider something of the utmost interest.
Tasha fidgeted in her chair. She wanted out of here. She almost wished he
would just act like a regular Romulan and threaten her with torture and death.
Having your psyche picked apart on a daily basis was torture. What did he want?
His mind had layers within layers, had to to have risen to where he now was. She
was no fool. She had noticed the intent way he watched her walk into the room,
the brief appreciative glance at her face and figure. He did it every time in almost
exactly the same way as if sending her a silent message. She wished he would
stare rudely or try to make a pass, then she could cheerfully despise him. Instead
she found herself looking forward to their discussions. Long months of
imprisonment had left her starved for conversation and company. He treated her
with a share of courtesy that was not tinged with sarcasm. Honesty forced her to
admit that under other circumstances she could like him a great deal.

Jaris came out of his reverie. He seemed to have come to some decision.
“Lieutenant do you have any children?”

Children? “No, you’ve seen my service record.”

“Yes, it lists you as unmarried. Lieutenant you must be aware that all
prisoners of the empire are executed eventually?”

Tasha stared at him intently, willing his eyes to give up their secrets.
What was he up to now? “Yes.”

Jaris looked away from her for the first time. “I find myself unwilling to
see your young life ended, and am prepared to make you an offer . Hear me out
and say nothing at this time, consider carefully before you answer. Do you
understand?” Tasha nodded.

“You have youth, strength, intelligence, character, and physical beauty.
You survived what most humans could not. Our people abhor waste and your
death would be a waste. I am prepared to spare the lives of you and the other
prisoners. However, I will not do it for nothing in return. If you will agree of
your own free will to become my consort and bear me at least one child, I in
return will see to it that your comrades are placed on one of our worlds inhabited
by human offshoots where they may live out the remainder of their lives.”

Tasha had been prepared for many things slavery, concubinage or simple
rape. What he was offering astounded her. “You’re not serious.”

He flashed her a faintly offended look. “I am perfectly serious Lieutenant.
I believe in straightforward honest dealing. If I make a promise to you I will keep
it. I will in turn expect you to keep your promises to me. If you do so you will be
treated with respect.”

Tasha recovered her aplomb. “I’m a Starfleet officer. I have not and will
not cease to be that. I won’t submit to blackmail and I don’t mate in captivity.”

Jaris regarded her with wry approval. “Of course.” he paused, measuring
his words. “Lieutenant, have you fully considered that you do not even exist in
this time frame? Even as we speak a small girl named Tasha Yar is growing up
on Turkana IV. If you return to the Federation you may significantly alter its
future.”

“I came here to die.” Tasha replied tightly .

“Admirable, it makes you the more worthy to be my mate. There is little
point in further discussion. I have made you an honest offer. I will give you 48
hours to make a decision. The guard will escort you out.”

Jaris thoughtfully watched her leave. Why had he done it ? he asked
himself. He had never met or talked to a human before, much less a human
woman. When he had first met her , her physical presence had excited him. He
had not expected that. She had immediately impressed him as being very…..
female, that in addition to her obvious intelligence and tenacity had smitten him
utterly. He would never have gained her cooperation if he had simply taken her,
and her wanted her cooperation. He also wanted to put another dagger in
Merohe’s eye who would rejoice when the prisoners died. This woman came with
no political ambitions, no sticky family connections, and no jealous rivalries with
other houses. Marrying her would also end the endless maneuvering and plotting
of ambitious families trying to secure him for their own daughters since his first
wife had died. Humans had their redeeming qualities the empire could use.
Their child would undoubtedly inherit some of her mother’s character traits. He
allowed himself a moment of self congratulation at his sensible course of action.

——————————————————————————————-

Tasha sat on the edge of her hard narrow bunk. Still in numb shock she
considered the possibilities. ” Well, well, well, my first proposal of marriage .”she
chuckled to herself. Something akin to fear but not quite settled over her at the
thought of being married to this man. He was an alien and a stranger with a mind
she could not comprehend. She wrapped her arms around her knees and rested
her head on them. Where did her duty lie? The answer was obvious. With her
crew and with a chance for life and eventual escape.

48 hours can pass very slowly. Her decision made, Tasha felt calmer.
The sound of voices outside the door made her jump unexpectedly. Her guards
said nothing, merely stood at the open door . Tasha straightened, took a deep
breath and left with them.

Jaris regarded her with amused admiration The woman bargained like a
Ferrengi!
She sat before him ticking off her conditions.

“First we have to get clear what “consort” means. I know you’re widowed
so you have no excuse. I won’t be your concubine or official mistress. You have
to marry me. Secondly I want to be a proper citizen with legal rights and
protections .
I won’t accept the status of prisoner. Thirdly you must prove to me that my
comrades are indeed alive and well and living as you say they will be.”

“Is there anything else? Perhaps you would like a seat in the Senate as
well, perhaps command of your own ship.” Jaris voice hardened. ” Your
bargaining position is severely compromised Lieutenant. You are my prisoner. I
need give you nothing not even your life.”

Tasha raised one eyebrow. “That’s true of course. You can have me one
way or the other. If you meet my conditions you will find me……..cooperative. If
not, there’s an Earth saying that applies. ” Be careful what you wish for, you
might get it.” I can find a thousand ways of making you wish you had never been
born. If you threaten me it will make no difference. I came here to die anyway.
Later is as good as sooner.” Tasha hoped she sounded more confident than she
felt. “I was under the impression that you desired my…….cooperation.”

Jaris pinned her with a look. “Know this then, I will not threaten you with
the lives of the others again out of respect for your position. However, If I agree
to your terms I will expect you to behave as a proper Rihanna wife. If you want
rights and privileges you must accept duties and responsibilities also.”

Well Tasha, you asked for it , you got it. She wasn’t at all sure she could
or should trust him. “Fine, what’s next. Do I pick out my china pattern?”

Jaris gave her a look of incomprehension, almost asked what she meant,
then obviously thought better of it. “I will make arrangements. You will be
informed.”

Obviously dismissed, she rose with alacrity and paused at the door “Oh,
and one more thing.” She regarded him with utter seriousness. “I’m never
wearing my hair like that.” The sound of muffled laughter trailed her down the
corridor.

———————————————————————————————–

Richard Castillo and 13 other crewmembers regarded Tasha with
amazement. They would have looked less suprised if I’d walked in with two
heads, she mused. Her announcement of their reprieve from execution still hung
in the air.

“How can you be sure he’ll keep his word? He may just kill us anyway
after her gets what he wants from you.” Castillo was fighting to keep his anger in
check.

“I’ve made it as clear as I can that my cooperation depends solely on how
you are treated.” Seeing Richard again was beginning to soften her resolve.
“Look I know this isn’t the best solution but its the best that I can come up with.
It keeps us alive and as long as we’re alive we have a chance to escape.”

“How will you know how we’re being treated if we’re on two different
planets?”

How indeed? she thought. “I’ll insist on visiting you regularly”

“It doesn’t seem to me that you will be in a position to insist on anything.”
Castillo replied.

“What do you want me to do? Give up? Throw his offer back in his face
and get us all killed?” Uncertainty made her agitated. “I can only take this one
day at a time. Every day we live is a victory. It is our sworn duty to escape if we
can and if I can give us that opportunity I will.”

“You sound like you’re trying to convince yourself” said Castillo softly.

Tears stung her eyes. Oh the luxury of a good cry and a shoulder to cry
on. “Richard, you’re the senior officer in charge now. Don’t let them break you
down. Don’t let them rob you of your decency and courage. ” Tasha gave him a
crooked little smile. “He’ll find he’s got more than he bargained for!”
“I’ll just bet he will!” His next words never came out. Tasha had thrown
her arms around him for a lingering good-bye kiss. There! let them see. She was
gone before he could say anything else.
———————————————————————————————
Her wedding was Tasha’s first exposure to a Romulan, no Rhihannsu,
cultural practice that did not involve disruptors. No that wasn’t exactly true.
Their witness was a young man who just happened to be around on some
administrative errand or other and had been pressed into service. Everyone in the
room was armed except Tasha. She fought down a hysterical desire to giggle
over the thought of her “Shotgun wedding”. Mercifully, Jaris had kept things
brief and to the point. The law only required that they each state their intentions,
sign the appropriate documents, and have suitable witnesses. Tasha wondered
idly if Romulan law honored contracts signed under duress. The Magistrate
concluded the legal niceties, wished them an ironic Jolan Tru and made his
escape. Jaris had left almost immediately after pleading a busy schedule and she
had been escorted back to her new living quarters.

The young woman that awaited her was typically brisk and efficient. She
had been instructed, she related, to provide the general’s new consort with
whatever she required and to begin her instruction on the requirements of her new
life. Her manner was arch and superior as if instructing a clever animal. Tasha
deposited herself on the edge of her sleeping couch and waited.

“I am called Jailem. I am not a member of the military. I am employed
here as support staff for the General himself. My expertise is in protocol. It is
my responsibility to see to it that all matters relating to General Tellorn are
handled with due propriety .”

“Is that his last name, Tellorn?”

Jailem replied with exaggerated patience. “Tellorn is one of several
names. It is what we would call the line name or family name. You have been
given a new name for legal purposes. You will use it as your legal name in all
correspondence and legal documents. Only your husband may address you by
your birthname Tasha, it would be an insulting presumption for anyone else to do
so. You may choose a second name for family members and friends to address
you. All others will call you Ihhei, meaning lady, madam, or mistress.” Jailem
was not quite grinding her teeth. Poor thing, it must be hard to address one
miserable human prisoner as “madam”.

“So what’s my new name?” Sensible question, thought Tasha. The first
thing a pet must learn is its name.

” You will be known as Mirete Linai Jaris ie Tellorn. Your husband has
an ironic sense of history. Mirete Linai was an “Princess who rules” who sold
herself into slavery to save her line city from destruction by an enemy. After
extracting a binding oath from the commanding general to spare the city she
allowed the general to visit her and then killed him for presuming to touch her.
She was of course executed by fire for her crime.” Jailem finished with relish.

Tasha eyed her calmly. “Nice story, reminds me of the Spanish princess
who got caught in her stirrup. No one had sufficient rank to touch her so there
she lay upside down and unable to get up. An attendant took pity and helped her
up. She thanked him nicely, promoted and rewarded him, and then had him duly
executed for presuming to touch her.” Tasha finished with a flourish.

Jailem raised an eyebrow. “Indeed, perhaps you can understand mnhei’
sahe after all.”

“Mnhei’ sahe?”

“It is our concept of honor and does not translate exactly into your
language. Suffice it to say that in my story everyone behaved with mnhei’ sahe.
The lady for saving her kin and avenging a dishonor, and the enemy for punishing
a presumptuous slave.” Jailem replied with not quite as much superiority.

“I’ll keep it in mind. By the way on Earth we call it pundhonor, “point of
honor”

The eyebrow climbed even higher. She changed the subject. Your
husband has purchased a slave for you.” She stated baldly.

“A what?!”

“A personal attendant versed in the ways of humans. You are not the first
human female to have enamored a Rhihannsu male. For some unfathomable
reason they become easily fascinated by your women. Of course the general is
free to choose an alien mate after contracting a proper Rhihanna marriage and
producing children.” Jailem paused, suddenly realizing she may have gone too
far. “Your attendant is Kh’ashet, a people conquered by us centuries ago. They
have adapted quite well and make loyal and clever servants. Humans seem to
find their company soothing. She will be waiting when you arrive at your new
home.”

“When will that be?”

“Soon I imagine. The general has many responsibilities but is entitled to a
brief sabbatical to welcome a new bride.” Jailem’s glance was sly. “Oh goody,
thought Tasha. I can be with him now 24 hours a day, or however long the days
are here.”

Jailem’s “initial instructions” took the better part of 2 hours. She was first
of all to go nowhere unescorted by her guards. Humans unfamiliar with the finer
points of Rhihannsu etiquette could get themselves in a great deal of trouble. She
must always keep in mind the incredible honor her husband had done by marrying
her and behave with suitable dignity. She could tolerate disrespect from no one,
it would reflect badly on her husbands’ honor and mark her as a foolish and
indiscreet mate. She must never address her husband by his given name in
public. He should be addressed as Ihhein, Lord or sir. Nheiv, husband was also
acceptable on less formal occasions.

In matters of dress and comportment, the principle “less is more” applied.
Rhihannsu have a horror of excess, waste, and vanity. To flaunt ones’ wealth or
status by an unseemly display was in execrable taste. As the wife of a prominent
citizen she would be expected to set an example. Eventually she would be put in
charge of all matters pertaining to the family. Rhihannsu had no religion to speak
of, but any public criticism of government policy, officials or the military was not
tolerated. This was almost the same thing as religion in Tasha’s mind. Her duty
now was to the promotion and honor of her new house. The rules seemed endless.
There seemed to be hundreds more which she would never remember.

Its really not that different from Starfleet when you think about it, thought
Tasha, now that Jailem had left. She had given her an enigmatic look and a small
jewel box which she said was a gift from her husband. In Starfleet there were
also rigid rules of conduct, dress and title. Previously she had been an officer with
a staff under her. Accustomed to commanding and dealing with subordinates she
was sure she could adapt. The bit about criticizing the government was harder to
swallow. Always outspoken, she sometimes had difficulty keeping her opinions
to herself. She was going to have to learn discretion. She eyed the box she had
idly laid beside her. Curiosity won out and she opened it. A necklace with tiny
clasps all the way around it. It was meant to decorate the collar of a tunic. It
was gold and etched with savagely beautiful mythical beasts, like Inca or Mayan
art she thought. Remembering the proscription against vanity she put it away.
Thankfully she shed her prison uniform and put on the practical clothes that had
been left for her. Rhihannsu didn’t seem to care much for color in their dress, but
this was a rather attractive eggplant color. She left the tiny vial of scent
untouched. “Wouldn’t want him to think I’m flirting with him ” she muttered
under her breath. She then sat down to study the vast materiel her instructor had
left.

The change in her status was immediately apparent. Her fairy godmother
waved a wand and she went from a scullery maid to a princess. Well, not exactly
but the difference was pronounced. Guards made respectful, if a tiny bit forced,
half bows. Her wishes were respected and her “requests” carried out. People still
stared, but tried to do so politely. Her bright hair, and strange pale eyes and skin
put her in vivid contrast with her environment. Jaris could not yet leave the
installation and she was now housed in family quarters. Jailem stayed with her to
continue her education and other military families even paid her polite calls.
Currying favor with the new wife, presumably. Understandable. She had attended
no social functions, if they had anything like that, she presumed because she was
not yet “presentable”. “Probably afraid I’d get drunk and dance on the tables.

The oddest thing was that Jaris had left her strictly alone. Humans and
Rhihannsu surely couldn’t be that different thought Tasha. She had learned that
the term “visit” was a polite euphemism, entailing everything from chaste
courtship to conjugal sex. Jaris had not yet “visited” her and no one seemed to
think it was odd. Where he ate and slept she had no idea. He did come to her
quarters from time to time to be updated on her progress and ask a few questions.
Really intimate stuff like “Is the food to your liking, and did you sleep well?” If
her education was going to be complete this was one area she had to know about.
She tackled Jailem about it at their next lesson.

“OK Jailem, you’re supposed to be my teacher. I wish to be instructed.”
She perched herself casually on a table edge.

Jailem looked at her from her customary seat. She sat in the same place
every day. “What do you wish to know?”

Tasha hesitated, searching for a delicate opening, then thought “Oh what
the hell, what can she do?” She jumped right in. “Perhaps the term “enamored” in
your society doesn’t mean the same thing as in ours. I’ve been here four weeks
now and the man hasn’t made the slightest move to so much as touch me. Not
that I’m complaining, mind you, but I’d really like to just get it over with.”

Jailem pursed her lips with disapproval. “Coming from a basically
patriarchal society as you do you of course expect the male to be the aggressor do
you not? ”

“Not precisely. Our culture has shaken off a lot of that and either the man
or the woman can initiate. My puzzlement is that he doesn’t even seem
interested.”

“He would not be so crass as to initiate your conjugal relationship until
you had signaled your readiness.” Jailem replied, as if such things were self
evident.

” You mean I’m supposed to show up at his quarters and say Hey, how’s
about you and me baby?” Tasha asked incredulously.

It took Jailem a few moment to digest the colloquialisms. She replied
carefully. “That would be one, although a very undignified way.”

“Well If he’s waiting for me to make the first move he’ll be waiting till hell
freezes over.” Good Tasha, just wait till that tidbit gets back to him. She
collected herself. “What I mean is I’m aware that he calls all the shots. All this
politeness and bowing and titles is all a smokescreen. ”

Jailem gave her a hard look. ” This politeness and titles and bowing as
you call it are terms of respect from an old and respected tradition. Rihanna from
all over the Empire would sacrifice almost anything to be in the position you
enjoy today. You dishonor a good and generous man with this attitude. If you are
going to act like a prisoner you cannot expect to be treated as anything else.” she
stopped, aware of having gone too far. Tasha regarded her silently, a blush
creeping into her fair skin.

“I’m sorry.” she mumbled miserably. “I didn’t realize. I can’t help feeling
like a prisoner. I’m not exactly free to go.” said Tasha, chastened.

Jailem’s look softened fractional. “You are as free as you make yourself.
All of your demands have been met. You may travel, enter into contracts, even
divorce your husband if you are that foolish.”

“And if I do that, my comrades die.” Tasha finished quietly. Jailem had
no answer.

CHAPTER 3

Jaris obviously lived by the principle “throw it in the water and see if it
swims”. Jailem informed her that she was to attend the next officers “gathering”
the word wouldn’t translate right. It would be an opportunity for Jaris’ staff to
meet her. ” Yes and a good opportunity to put me to the test.” thought Tasha with
not a little resentment. Taking Jailem at her word she had “requested” access to a
com link to communicate with her crew. After satisfying herself that her “I do
not like green eggs and ham” was answered with the proper “I do not like them
Sam I Am.” from Richard, meaning that all was well and he was under no
compulsion. Vowing to visit them soon she had signed off, unable to look at him
any longer. Jailem had raised another eyebrow at seeing her wearing Jaris’ gift
but had said nothing. She sensed approval.

Oh dinner was just peachy. The men regarded her with a sort of awed
fascination, the women with something else entirely. They were seated in a way
that mimicked human etiquette, she and Jaris occupied opposing ends of the
table. Jailem’s training had been very thorough She ate everything in the
prescribed order whether she recognized it or not making the proper little pause
before beginning out of respect for the food. The utensils were not complicated
and she managed not to land anything on her lap. Incense had been lit, something
about fire and air and Jaris had made the proper introductions starting with the
most senior and ending with the most junior members of his staff. Everything
was Oh so proper. Then the conversation began.

“Your husbands’ bonding gift becomes you very well Ihhei” Lunai, seated
on her left regarded her like a feline anticipating a treat. “Is it the first time
you’ve worn it?” She had been introduced as Subcommander H’alahd’s wife who
was seated at Jaris’ left. She threw a significant glance at Jaris who seemed to
have just noticed the bauble himself.

“It goes with the outfit.” replied Tasha without preamble

Lunai smiled thinly. “I would have thought that a loyal citizen of the
Federation would die rather than submit themselves to our tyrannical rule. Indeed
it astounds me how quickly you seem to have adapted to our ways . The next
thing you know you’ll be dueling.”

“I suppose that’s a possibility.” replied Tasha evenly refusing to glance
away. “As for the other, loyalty and duty in our society are more complex and
subtle than here apparently.” she punctuated her comments with a tiny bite of
hlaja.

“You would not die for the Federation! Your concept of loyalty is thin
indeed.”
The lady was obviously enjoying her outrage.

“I do not serve the Federation per se but the set of principles it embodies.
If at any time it ceases to uphold those principles to my satisfaction my loyalty
would end. As for dying for the Federation that’s silly. We in Starfleet don’t fight
for politics, family loyalty, government or anything else. We fight for each other.
I would give my life for a comrade, but my job as an officer is not to “die for my
country” but to make the other poor guy die for his. If we do our jobs properly
fighting is unnecessary and wasteful.” Tasha finished her last piece of Hlaja
delicately, as if savoring its delicate flavor. Actually it tasted like rubber. There!
Chew on that you old battle ax.

“Obviously you Feds (she said the word in its contemptuous Rhihanna
context) are of a higher moral order than we. Perhaps you will be able to instruct
us in these matters of Human Values.” Everyone else at the table had fallen into
an uncomfortable silence. No one came to her rescue, no one changed the
subject.

“You may be right, commander,” Tasha replied, cheerfully. “But then I
have never believed in Human Values, as you say, only values. The Tao is the
same everywhere.”

Lunai narrowed her eyes but said nothing more. Jaris, damn him, sat
opposing her watching the interaction with interest. “He’s testing me”, she
suddenly realized. The best defense is a good offense, she realized. “Since
you’ve been so assiduous in questioning me I’d like to ask you some questions
commander.” Lunai sat watching her warily. Good enough for yes I guess.
“Would you tell me where you get your knowledge of Humans? You must have
visited Earth and studied there for many years. Seeing that we have over 5,000
different cultural groups and almost twice that many languages and dialects your
perseverance is astonishing. All that and rising through the ranks of the military
too. “she finished sweetly. Lunai stared at her, speechless.

“You know what I think, commander? I think I have learned more about
your culture in the four weeks I’ve been here than all Rhihannsu have learned
about Earth in the two centuries since we made contact.” she was starting to
warm up now. “As a matter of fact I get the distinct impression that this
deficiency stems from fear. What are you afraid of commander? she asked
softly.

Lunai straightened in her chair, glaring. “I fear nothing!” She began
fingering the little dagger at her side.

Jaris chose that moment to intervene. Rising casually from his chair, he
beckoned for the servers. Dinner was obviously at an end. The others took their
leave respectfully and left gratefully. Lunai gave her one final glare and stalked
out of the room. Feeling like she’d been stampeded Tasha expelled a breath in a
gush and pushed her chair back. Jaris stood by the exit obviously waiting for her.
“Did you enjoy dinner my wife?”

Tasha finished crossing the room and looked him directly in the eye. “No
I did not.”

“That is indeed a pity. I enjoyed it a great deal” He said calmly. He
walked at his normal pace. She extended her stride to keep up. He could be
attempting humor, but who could tell? “You set me up for that!” she accused .
Jaris kept walking silently, seeming intent on what was before him. Finally he
stopped before a set of doors in a part of the base she had never been in. After
entering with him, out of habit she supposed, she realized they were in another set
of living quarters. Rather stark and forbidding actually, to her eyes. There were
no carpets, stuffed chairs or comforts of any kind except for the really terrific
view of the startled from the window. From the casual way he moved about
Tasha realized they were his quarters. He had gone off into another room and she
folded her arms and waited, determined to continue her accusations.

When he returned his calm stoic air had changed to a particular kind of
intensity. The same way he had looked at her during their conversations at the
prison. “If you mean that I knew Lunai would be Lunai then you are correct.” he
began again. “If you are going to live among us you must learn to deal with the
hostility you will inevitably encounter. I thought you dealt with her rather well.
No one ever silenced her quite so completely before.” he ended on a note of
satisfaction. Tasha still stood glaring at him and he noticed her mood. He put
down the sheaf of flimsies he had been going through and crossed to where she
stood. “Diverting as our conversations always are I have no wish to argue with
you tonight.” He eyed her slender form with gentle appreciation. “Lunai was
right, the gift does become you. Now it is time for your gift to me.”

CHAPTER 4

Except for a few outpost stations the planet had only one significant
population center. Detention outpost 39 nicknamed “Stalag 13” by its residents
had a distinctly non Romulan flavor. It was putting it mildly, flagrantly, boldly,
audaciously Terran. “Romulans take no prisoners” is one of those aphorisms
accepted at face value in the Federation. It was true that most encounters with the
Rihannsu over the past two centuries had left no one to tell about them . No one
in Federation space that is. The little town now boasted a population of almost
one thousand, descendants of prisoners past their usefulness and sent here to live
out the remainder of their lives. The Romulan government of course officially
denied their existence and annually appropriated funds for the upkeep and
maintenance of the outpost.

Curiosity was the cause. The place was ninety percent Terran human and
after the first few generations of people had had their way the place was almost
entirely self supporting. The Romulans watched it with awed interest, like an ant
farm. The ingenuity and audacity of these people astounded and amazed them.
They were contentious, daring, insubordinate survivors. Unable to return home
they simply got bored and looked around for something to do.

That something had expanded over the years. They had started out mining
trillium. They had convinced the first outpost commander that this group of
humans would be easier to deal with and a lot less insolent if they had a stake in
their own future. He had agreed at first out of bored amusement, certain that they
would fail with the miserable equipment she provided. Starfleet trains its
engineers very well, in theory and in parts procurement. 3 Starfleet engineers
begged, borrowed, cajoled, and sometimes more from everyone and everything
that came through the place. They put the equipment back in better shape than it
had ever been and started realizing a profit after only two years. They argued
very convincingly that if there were no profit motive then no one would work
hard to achieve results. They kept thirty percent and gave the rest as “taxes” back
to the government. The government in turn turned a blind eye to the activities of
its “slave labor” and pocketed the largesse. They calculated, correctly, that this
system achieved a net increase of over fifty tonnes of trillium mined per year. In
stark contrast to other places where forced labor achieved little but misery for
both sides.

It was to this bustling tribute to human adaptability that the other
survivors were taken. They were fortunate. A human could be expected to last
two years at most on other detention outposts. They were the first new humans to
enter in over fifty years and they were greeted with sympathy and intense
curiosity by the others. Richard Castillo marveled at what he saw. He had
counted so far 3 churches, several dozen small farms, a crude racetrack, and
several manufacturing establishments. One very recently constructed building
was identified as a school. It was a noticeable improvement over teaching their
children in the mines as they had done previously. The residents were glad for
the influx of expertise into their community and the opportunity to learn the truth
about recent history.

The town was ostensibly governed by a Romulan military liaison and
staff. In reality they had very little to do which made the post much sought after
in many circles. In exchange for order and trillium production their jailers
allowed the humans to pretty much govern themselves. They had an informal
council that met periodically to discuss issues and vote on them. Richard et al.
was hastily invited to attend the next meeting. It was scheduled for the following
week when their keepers would be busy with the staff changes for the new liaison
appointed. They would not be bothered.

The arriving official was Jukhas ir Rhinnai he had been thoroughly briefed
before his departure by his superiors. The place practically runs itself he was
told. You’ll have no trouble if you don’t interfere in their affairs or let your men
harass their wives and daughters. Jukhas sat reading the briefing reports in the
official transport carrying him to his new post. Before he had left he had been
summoned to a jovial meeting with General Jaris ir Hammal. He had heard of the
man by virtue of his quite unusual marriage with a human captive. Gossip flew to
all corners of the Empire about how stupidly enamored he was with his new
consort. Jukhas did not believe it until he had met with the man. He had been
asked to keep a careful eye on the thirteen new arrivals. His new wife was most
concerned with their safety and welfare. A favor in this regard would be looked
on most favorably by the branch of the military known as the Romulan guard
responsible for all planetside operations.

Jukhas was of course delighted to comply. Jaris was an extremely
powerful and feared man. If he wished to indulge his human spouse in this regard
it was no concern of his. Jukhas had never seen the woman but of course he had
heard the rumors. She had to be included in any posting Jaris was sent to. Indeed
he seldom traveled without her She indulged the household staff shamelessly and
had even freed a personal slave her husband purchased for her. Jukhas idly
wondered what their children would be like. Jaris’ entire family had been almost
destroyed by an attack on an outpost his wife had been assigned to. All that had
survived was his now nine year old daughter Ninial, who was seldom seen.
Jukhas marveled at the strange hold the woman had on him. He had heard that
humans were “different that way” but had scoffed, not understanding why.

It took a xenoendrocronologist to explain it to him. She had patiently
explained with some distaste, that human females unlike their Rihanna
counterparts were sexually receptive at all times. The period of fertility was
“hidden”, this left the male guessing and necessitated rather frequent mating for
conception to occur. They broadcast this receptivity pheremonally, and
constantly. Rihannsu females on the other hand were only receptive and
irresistible to males at certain predictable times thus ensuring conception unless
ameliorative measures were taken.

This gave rise to the popular prejudice that humans mated like animals in
constant sexual heat, or Klingons. Poor Jaris couldn’t have known that he would
fall victim to a system human males had been successfully contending with for
millennia. Jukhas was too polite to say so but found himself wondering what is
must be like to be under this constant stimulation. How did they get anything
done? He chuckled to himself. This may be the secret weapon the humans have
been looking for. Rhihannsu males might tear the Neutral Zone down with their
bare hands if this knowledge became common. Better for it to remain a secret.

The outpost, when he arrived was nothing like he expected. The only
parts that exhibited what he considered a proper discipline and order were the
administrative offices and staff residences. The rest was gaudy, noisy, unkempt
and eerily Terrene, at least to his eyes. He toured the base quickly, eager to be
back among more familiar surroundings. He had the distinct impression he
would be earning every bit of his pay here.

CHAPTER 5

Tasha gave her boot another tug. It was still too early for the household to
be up and about and she wanted to be alone. Jaris would not notice her absence.
They did not sleep together as a human couple would. The morning was brisk
and cold and she was glad for that. She had quickly adopted the habit of not
asking permission to do anything. She had begun taking long walks alone, glad to
be able to think her own thoughts and not have to monitor every action. She had
expected a struggle and protests from Jaris but he had said nothing. She had
made it a daily ritual whenever she could

She finished dressing for the outdoors and quietly made her way out of the
house. It was modest by human standards, with few luxuries, typically cut of
from the outside by a high fence, and constructed of the local stone. She had
been struck by its austere refinement and disturbed at the contrast between it and
the living standards of the ordinary Rhihannsu she spied on her walks.

The land itself was owned by a handful of powerful families. A basically
feudal system, parcels were apportioned to small farmers but never enough to
allow them to gather enough resources to be independent, leaving the military or
an advantageous marriage as one of the few means of social advancement.

She was finally out of sight . The house was far outside of the nearest
settlement with extensive woodlands Tasha was free to roam as she wished. The
planet itself was the second of the twin worlds ch’Rihan and ch’Havran. Green/
gold skies with towering mountains and lush forests. Walking through them
made her feel peaceful and free. She climbed to the top of a foothill to the
mountains in the distance and sat looking at the valley before her.

She was, of course, not really free. Her life was inextricably bound up in
her husband’s. If he should die her life could be measured in days. Laihah, his
first wife’s sister had made her displeasure at the union quite plain. The house
staff quite properly considered it none of their business and treated her with wary
courtesy. Jaris’ acquaintances and colleagues constantly tested her, causing her to
loathe any sort of social gathering. The only true friend she had was Mejh, her
Kh’ashet slave whom she had insisted on freeing. Her servitude had come about
due to a debt her brother owed to Jaris’ family. The brother had fled and Mejh
had been required to sell herself into servitude to pay for it. Tasha had adamantly
and vehemently insisted on her manumission. Jaris had surprisingly agreed and
Tasha had developed her theory. If you beg, cry, whine, and complain you will be
considered weak and be treated accordingly. If you insist on what you want and
take it you will be accorded respect. It had worked very well for her so far and
she was careful not to abuse it.

Tasha watched the gold and lavender sun rise, savoring every moment of
her freedom . When the last of the colors had faded she rose, dusted herself off
steeled herself for another day.

Jaris was in his private office when she got back. It was the beginning of
the Leejhir feast days, celebrating another glorious military victory and
government offices were closed. “I’m going to visit my crew when you leave next
week.” Tasha knew better than to ask instead of stating what she wanted. She
had walked in without knocking knowing that he expected her every morning at
this time. She shifted uncomfortably in a very straight backed chair. Jaris didn’t
even look up. “Have two of the guards accompany you. I will expect you back
when I return.”

A sound at the door caught her attention. Ninial, Jaris’ small daughter, the
equivalent of a human 6 year old looked uncertainly into the room. The poor
child never had spoken to Tasha’s recollection. The servants saw to her needs and
Jaris hardly ever mentioned her. If she had been human she would have been put
in some type of therapy. Her behavior just wasn’t normal. She suspected her life
would have been mercifully ended had her father not intervened. The child stared
blankly at Tasha for a few seconds and then disappeared. “What’s wrong with
Ninial?” Tasha asked baldly.

A brief look of pain crossed Jaris’ face. “It is not something I can discuss
with you. If her condition continues until she reaches an age to marry she will be
declared “vhashet” of no use to society.”

Tasha didn’t need a translator to tell her what that would mean. Ninial
would be killed. “Haven’t you tried do to anything for her”. Tears began to sting
her eyes.

Jaris’ expression hardened. “Everything that could be done has been done.
Her fate is no longer in my hands. I do not wish to speak of this again.” He then
proceeded smoothly to a discussion of house matters requiring her attention. He
had surprisingly turned over control of the household to her almost immediately.
Undoubtedly another test, in Tasha’s mind. Seeing no reason not to, as it would
give her something to do, Tasha applied herself. He had never complained about
her decisions so she assumed he was satisfied with her work. Another thing to
remember. Don’t expect praise just for doing a good job.

After leaving the room Tasha wandered into the inner courtyard . Some
concessions to aesthetics and beauty could be found here. Some decorative
plants, even an abstract sculpture or two. Ninial sat on one of the stone benches
staring blankly into space. Tasha approached and knelt before her trying to make
contact with her eyes. The eyes registered nothing, blank, no one home. Ninial
responded to some outside stimuli. When presented with food she would eat if
she was hungry. If in pain she would cry out. Other wise she lived inside a
locked black box with no way in or out. Tasha had seen this look somewhere
before. It tickled the back of her mind, tantalizingly. “The child does not mind
you Ihhie.” Tasha glanced over at Mejh standing in an archway.

Mejh was only about a meter tall with very pale skin and hair and large
violet eyes. She was Tasha’s most important link with the society she found
herself in. She seemed to take her servitude with a calm grace. It was Mejh she
consulted for advice when confronted with a problem she couldn’t solve. In
return Mejh had devoted herself to Tasha’s welfare. Everyone except Tasha
seemed to find her uncanny and avoided her, even Jaris. Tasha looked at her
imploringly “Mejh, do you know what happened?”

Mejh paused, seeming to look deep into some other realm. “Her soul was
taken, lady.” She had glided over to where Tasha knelt. Putting one small hand
on Ninial’s head, she shook her head, closing her eyes. “Ninial is not here. She
returned this way after her mother died almost three years ago. The master
brought in healer after healer. She was his only child by then.” Mej glanced
towards the house .”Nothing could be done. You must give him another, lady.”

Tasha looked once more into the girl’s blank eyes. Only empty space
stared back, blinking occasionally. The tickling memory returned, and Tasha
shivered.

CHAPTER 6

Stalag 13 boasted 3 public houses for the refreshment of the human spirit.
Richard Castillo had attached himself to this particular one “The White Boar”
apparently an authentic recreation of its namesake on earth, situated somewhere
in the old British Empire. “Some prison.” he thought to himself. Synthehol was
unknown here. He finished the last of a really superior bitter ale. Human
ingenuity was boundless. The little farms dotting the outskirts grew grain for
more than just eating. He had been drinking more of late, depressed and bitter.
Two “Nazis”, the ubiquitous term for Romulan guards that prowled the street
,appeared at the entrance. Richard turned on the high stool and watched them
scan the room and then point to him.

A woman entered. Richard took in her bright hair, it was the first thing
you noticed about her. Without that hair she really would have been quite plain.
Tasha Yar regarded him uncertainly from the doorway. Bitterness and anger
welled up in him. It was like some plot from an opera. The woman he loved
forced to marry another man while he stood helplessly by. What was she doing
here? He had tried to put her out of his thoughts, which was greatly aided by this
establishment.

“How are you Richard? ” Tasha had crossed the room, not without
receiving several curious glances.

“I’ve been better, darlin’. How’s married life treating you?’ He gave her a
roguish grin.
Tasha flushed and would not meet his eyes. “I came here to see how you
were. To see if you needed anything.” Even to her the words sounded hollow.

Richard rolled his eyes to the ceiling. “Well let’s see. I’m provided with
three squares a day, all the backbreaking labor a guy could ask for, and the
knowledge that I will remain in this enviable position for the rest of my days.
Guess I can’t complain.” He began on another ale. Tasha had perched herself on
the stool beside him, looking small and helpless.

“I’m sorry Richard. What could I have done?” Tasha said in a small
voice. Richard had no chance to reply to that. “Rick, buddy! Where have you
been hiding her! You’ve been holding out on me.” Richard was immediately
engulfed in a huge bear hug by a huge bear of a man. About two and one half
meters tall with sandy hair and beard, and very intense blue eyes. This must be
what Eric the Red looked like. He stared at Tasha with unrepentant admiration
and gave her a brief courtly bow. “Lars Lindstrom at your service madam. Direct
descendent of the famous Starfleet engineer Magda Lindstrom.” He said it with a
flourish like a royal lineage.

Tasha gave Richard a startled glance, asking for an explanation. “This
outpost, or colony or whatever you call it is composed of the descendants of
captured Starfleet personnel and other races beginning with our first contact with
the Romulans.” Began Richard. “The Roms tolerate us because we make the
place operate profitably for them and we tolerate them because we have nowhere
else to go.”

Lindstrom indicated their surroundings with a sweep of an arm. “All this
magnificence you see before you is the product of two centuries of human
ingenuity. We built every building, plowed every field and dug every trillium
mine ourselves. The Roms stood by and pocketed the profits. We have a doctor,
a rabbi, an orthodox priest, and 3 fully qualified schoolteachers. None of it
courtesy of our generous hosts. We’ve even built our own computers and
smuggled in programs for them. Our hosts don’t know about those though.”
Lindstrom gave her a canny grin.

“Has anyone ever escaped?” Tasha wanted to know.

“Oh, one or two carefully planned breakouts have happened.” Lindstrom
replied, carefully. “We have to be careful though to make them look like
accidental deaths, otherwise our lovely setup here would be jeopardized. The
people here decided long ago that they would not be assimilated into the Rom
conquest machine. They’re useful to us too.” Tasha recognized a cover for a
hidden intelligence operation when she saw one and remained silent. Surely their
“hosts” would recognize it too, she thought. Reading her mind, Lindstrom
answered her unspoken query. “We stage the proper number of aborted
intelligence coups just to keep them fat and satisfied. They’re so arrogant, they
refuse to believe anyone could be cleverer than them.” He glanced at Richard
meaningfully. “Two more this week.” Richard nodded, slowly. “Any news from
our Ferrengi friends?” Tasha perked up her ears.

“The disappearances always coincide with the arrival of a special military
transport, no markings, no communications with the base command. They arrive,
apparently do nothing for a couple of hours and leave.” Lindstrom finished
darkly.

“I don’t suppose you see a connection between this transport and our
missing people do you?” asked Richard.

“Wait a minute.” interjected Tasha. “What missing people?”

Lindstrom flicked her a glance as if just remembering her presence. He
hesitated and then made a decision. “About 2 years ago people started coming up
missing. No traces, no evidence of assault or violence and no explanations from
our hosts. About fifty have disappeared so far. No one goes outside the
compounds anymore except in large groups. The two this week got nabbed
hiking in the nearby mountains. Our informants can’t trace them after that.”

Richard eyed Tasha carefully. “Tasha, do you have any influence with
your husband at all?” The word husband didn’t come out easily. Tasha didn’t
hear it easily either. She bit her lip, ruefully. “I take it you want me to see what
he knows.” she replied, not answering the question. Lindstrom explained. “If he
knows he’ll of course never tell you. If he doesn’t he may be shocked into
revealing something. I suspect the secrecy involved in this indicates a very
“unofficial ” operation.”

“I’ll see what I can do. But I can’t promise anything.” No more could be
said so she changed the subject. “Did you say you had a doctor here?”

“Yeah, a gift from Starfleet Intelligence. Why? are you sick?” Richard
sounded concerned.

“No, I just don’t like discussing my body functions with Romulan healers.”
said Tasha evasively.

Dr. LeBarre finished the tricorder scan and lifted an eyebrow. You are in
perfect health Lieutenant. I suppose you don’t need me to tell you you’re
pregnant.” Golly, Tasha just loved bluntness in doctors. “It had occurred to me”
she answered dryly. The doctor continued with brisk professionalism. ” You’ll
need some sophisticated genetic engineering to carry the fetus to term. If you do
nothing, spontaneous abortion will occur within the next six weeks.” Tasha said
nothing, already knowing the basics of cross species conception. She thanked the
doctor politely and left. Outside she wrapped her arms protectively about her and
shivered again. Creating a child with this man would tie her inevitably to this
place. She was no longer Natasha Yar Starfleet officer with a career and a future
to look forward to. She was going to be the mother of a half Romulan child who
would need her. She could no longer only consider herself and her crew. Her
shivering did not abate when she admitted to herself that she may spend the rest
of her life here.

Tasha made her way slowly through the little settlement smiling gently at
what she saw. Small clusters of children seemingly playing on street corners.
Lookouts, she suspected. An amateur artist’s representation of Venus Rising
From the Sea on a building wall. A couple of horses….Horses! Where did they
get them? They must be very useful for getting around quickly on this rugged
terrain No two buildings looked alike. Some had been painted in gaudy colors.
Knowing their prejudices in these matters she could imagine what the guards
thought. Undoubtedly it was done to annoy their Rhihannsu captors, convince
them that they had degenerated into harmless oafish barbarians. Tasha suspected
it worked.

CHAPTER 7

Jaris was, for Jaris, overjoyed at Tasha’s news. Over the next several
weeks he positively fawned over her, inquired after her health, indulged her with
little luxuries. Where he had gotten hold of chocolate she would never know. It
was really rather sweet she had to admit. She had been immediately taken to
healers expert in managing cross species pregnancies. Her DNA and everything
else about her had been analyzed and reanalyzed. Apparently her status had gone
up several notches in this society. Children were highly prized as proof of a
successful union, guaranteeing that this house would survive and increase. That
she had been able to conceive so quickly and successfully was considered a good
sign, luck or something or other. Several of the medical personnel had made a
point to wish her happiness and success for her child. They weren’t just polite
either they were positively warm.

There were all kinds of drugs and therapies necessary. Her own immune
system must be prevented from rejecting the alien proteins in the fetus. With
careful supervision this could be accomplished for one pregnancy. This would be
the only child she would ever be able to give Jaris. Tasha was beginning to feel
moments of tenderness for him with increasing frequency. Her pregnancy had
seemed to bring him out of the rather cool amusement he had treated her with.
She realized that it would be ridiculous of her to expect him to treat her like a
human man would. Richard or any of the others would have complimented her,
given her gifts, taken her to amusing places. Jaris simply gave her an increasing
measure of respect and trust. He sought out her company whenever he was able
and continued their discussions that had begun in prison.

Tasha admitted, with a pang, that she had never made the slightest
overture of affection or trust to him. She had never touched him voluntarily
unless he initiated, she never spoke unless he spoke first, she never sought him
out but waited for him to come to her. He had never demanded it or complained
about it. It must be so lonely for him, she thought. His wife and children all dead
or close to it, his new wife an alien captive who ignores him. The only thing he
had to look forward to was their child. She was afraid of him. Afraid that if she
let herself she would love him and be tied to this place forever. It wasn’t like with
Richard or anyone else. That had been about fun, amusement, sex ,whatever.
Tasha had never considered the ties that bound a married couple together, had
never considered marrying herself. She had thought that she could just exist here
until an opportunity for escape presented itself. She would be able to leave
without a second thought or backward glance. That was over. He was really her
husband now. Their lives were inextricably bound up together. He deserved
better than indifference. Tasha found herself waiting in his private rooms for him
to come home.

His return was like clockwork. He entered by the main door, had a brief
conversation with the Steward, checked for personal messages, and retired for an
hours privacy before last meal. Mild surprise registered in black eyes at seeing
her there. Tasha regarded him with equal mildness.

“To what do I owe the honor of this visit ?” Jaris eyed her with cautious
amusement.

“I haven’t come here to assassinate you or anything. I just thought it might
be possible for us to relate to one another and have a conversation without
sarcasm.” There, Tasha that makes a lot of sense.

“I seem sarcastic to you?” He had seated himself comfortably on a chair
close, but not too close by.

Tasha made a helpless gesture with her hands. “Look, I didn’t exactly
grow up in a normal family. I’ve spent my life either trying to survive or be Miss
Super Starfleet Officer to make up for my uncivilized past.”

“What does your past have to do with me?”

“I’m not going to be very good at this.”

“Forgive me, Tasha but what are you talking about?”

“This family, baby, marriage thing!” Tasha burst out , humiliatingly ” My
parents didn’t die before they abandoned me.” Suddenly, everything came
tumbling out in a jumbled rush. “My mother was an addict. and she gave drugs to
my sister and I when we were small to keep us quiet. My father I never saw, I
don’t even know if my sister and I share the same father. I don’t know the first
thing about children. The whole idea scares me to death! What if I’m as rotten a
parent as my mother was.” Tasha finished miserably, her head in her hands.
What had compelled her to spew all that out? He’d think she was a weak fool!

The silence was so profound Tasha wanted to scream or flee or hit him.
She glanced up cautiously to find him staring out the window at Ninial wandering
aimlessly in the courtyard.

“You asked me once about my daughter, what had happened to her.” He
began quietly.

The change of subject confused Tasha. “You said you wouldn’t talk about
it.”

“Her mother, my first wife, had taken her with her while she inspected a
small outpost on the border far from Federation space. It was attacked, by whom
we to this day do not know. The outpost was “removed” is the only expression
that describes it. No one and nothing had been left behind. We tracked the vessel
for weeks. We never did find it but we did find Ninial, apparently abandoned by
this race because she was a child, or weak, or unsuitable for some reason. She
had been……altered, mechanical components had been used to replace organic
tissue. Apparently she did not respond favorably to the process and it was left
incomplete. We could not recover her. Her body functions but her personality is
gone.” He turned and looked directly at her. ” All of my children are dead now.
The child you carry is my only link to the future. I will not allow you to fail her
or me.”

“Why didn’t you just find some nice Romulan girl to marry?” mumbled
Tasha, humbled by what he had told her.

He seemed amused with himself. “I probably should have but talked
myself into preserving you because I wanted you.”

Tasha cautiously arose and approached where he stood. She put a
tentative hand on his sleeve and he gave a start. “Look, you know I only agreed to
this because it gave us a hope for escape.” He had turned fully to look at her but
she could not meet his eyes. “I didn’t bargain on this. I never thought about
having a child or what it would mean or how I would feel. ” She stumbled to a
halt unable to express what she meant. She didn’t even know what she meant.

“You are not your mother. If you can be torn by your duty to Starfleet and
your duty to your daughter then I cannot imagine you would abandon her.” He
took her hand absently. The simple gesture of affection undid her last defenses.
Tasha couldn’t remember the last time she had cried. She had steeled herself her
whole life to be tough, strong and unyielding. She didn’t just weep she sobbed,
probably some weird hormonal surge of pregnancy she thought. Jaris let her, not
doing what any human male would have done by saying “don’t cry”. He probably
thinks I’m nuts, she thought to herself as she proceeded to soak his shoulder with
tears. She sobbed until exhaustion forced her to stop.

She woke up in the same room several hours later, judging by the twilight.
She was alone and the room was dark. The vividness of the dream she had had
started her awake. Remaining in a half sleep stupor she pieced it together.
Picard. Picard staring at them with alien eyes, barely recognizable and speaking.
“I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile.” Terror bolted her upright and
roaring out of the room . Poor Nevet nearly dropped the tray he had been
carrying, as he took in his mistress’s wild appearance. Yes, lady. The master is in
his work room. Tasha ran.

She burst in without preamble. “Jaris, that ship. What did it look like?”

To his credit he recovered his aplomb quickly. “I don’t know. We never
found it.”

“Find the records for me. There has to be something. I think I know what
it is.”

It took fifteen minutes but eventually the ugly cubic shape materialized on
the computer screen. Tasha sat back hard into a chair. “Its the Borg”
Contaminating the time line hadn’t even occurred to her so great was her terror.

“What is it Tasha, what do you know?” demanded Jaris

Tasha considered everything carefully. Simply by existing in this time
frame history may have been altered. How could she know? Maybe the
Romulans were not meant to face the Borg yet. Could she give him knowledge of
the future without violating her oath? Conflict tore at her, and she stared for a
long time at the floor while Jaris waited.

“About two years before we encountered the Enterprise C. A powerful
alien took our ship hundreds of light years out of Federation territory. He wanted
to warn us about what was coming. What was coming was the Borg, a Cybernetic
race that employ a collective mind. They “assimilate” races and technology for
themselves. We barely escaped with our lives. A year later they arrived. Only
one ship. They captured Captain Picard and altered him into one of them. They
used his knowledge of Starfleet to destroy 37 starships. We only survived
because the Captain found a way to disable the Borg ship through his link with
the collective mind. One of their ships destroyed 37 of ours.” Tasha paused
“That’s what happened to your outpost. They tried to alter Ninial but somehow
she couldn’t adapt so they left her.” Tasha left the obvious unspoken. That Jaris
wife had probably not died but had been “assimilated”.

“Thirty seven starships?!” Jaris asked, shaken. If the Federation barely
survived the incursion of one of these vessels Thirty years into the future what
chance would the Empire have against them? News of this would send panic and
paranoia through the government. Ironic that he had felt compelled to preserve
this woman. Could she be the key to their survival? “Tasha, you must tell me
everything you know about this race. You were the tactical officer aboard a
galaxy class starship. Anything you might be able to tell us could be vital.” Jaris
waited tensely. Where was this woman’s loyalty now? Would she feel compelled
to hide her knowledge of the future? Would he feel compelled to extract it from
her in any way possible? It didn’t bear thinking about.

Tasha sat, looking at the floor. Knowledge of the future was already
theirs. Where did her oath to Starfleet end and her duty to her family…. yes
family begin? Like everything else she had experienced since leaving her own
time, she really had very little choice. “I doubt if it will do you any good,” she
began hesitantly. “Like I said, the Borg do not exist as individuals. We know
they come from the gamma quadrant. They “assimilate” races and technology in
order to improve themselves. Negotiation and reason seem to have no impact on
them “it is irrelevant”. Tasha looked into the eyes of her husband. She had once
imagined she saw only cool sarcasm and sometimes desire in them. His
realization that she had made her decision added something else entirely and she
could not hold his gaze for long. She gestured towards the computer screen as a
distraction. As you can see their ships are entirely functional……”

CHAPTER 8
The light from three moons cast a bluish tone over the mountains. The
creature had been deposited 50 kilometers outside the settlement and left. It was
meant as an act of mercy, for it would never be human again. Better for it to die
among its own kind. It was capable of sensing the magnetic fields of the little
planet and navigating. HOME…….no other thought were permitted to intrude.
They were irrelevant.

The little girl who found the creature screamed the way only little girls
can scream. It had made its way to the outskirts of the settlement but had
stopped, confused by the noise and lights. It had been early morning and the
child had been seeing to her morning chores before attending school. She had
found it in the animal shed gazing, dazed, at the horses. The horses, never having
scented anything like it before were snorting and tossing in alarm. Her shriek of
alarm aroused the entire house.

Dr. LeBarre for his part had never seen anything like it. After tranquilizing
it with the equipment used for the horses the poor thing had been taken to the
caves where it could be examined in secret. Machine parts now substituted for
various organs. Mentally, the personality was simply gone. A DNA analysis
revealed her as Annalise Rambures. She had been born on this colony/prison.
What he was going to tell her husband he couldn’t imagine. She was dying that
was certain. Whatever had been done to her had not “taken” properly and she had
been abandoned. What filthy Rom bastard was responsible for this?

Turning to Lindstrom he demanded “Get me Castillo and the other
newcomers. Tell them to get hold of Yar. I want answers”
——————————————————————————————

General Tellorne was closely closeted with other members of the military
council. Thus far the startling revalations had been revealed only to those few
that he completely trusted. Stalin, Ballor, and Hevhas. The Tal Shiar and even
their own government could not be trusted. Stalin, a tall stocky man, not fat by
any means but with an intimidating solidity had listened without comment for
over two hours as Jaris conducted his private briefing. Ballor and Hevhas both
younger and more naive had questioned and questioned seemingly loathe to
believe that a force more powerful than the Rhihannsu Empire could exist.

“Are you saying then General, that this is an unbeatable foe?” Ballor could
scarcely contain his skepticism.

Jaris considered very carefully before answering. ” Unbeatable? I am not
certain. But I ask you this. Could one War Bird take on thirty seven Starfleet
vessels? This one Borg ship almost decimated their fleet in this other timeline. It
may be our future as well.

Hevhas breathed nervous excitement. “We must inform the government.
Using this intelligence we should refit the fleet. No expense can be spared. Even
a tiny tactical advantage could save us. You told us they did not have cloaking
technology?”

“No”, replied Jaris. “Not according to the information given by my wife. She
was a tactical officer aboard their flagship.”

“She no doubt lies.” countered Stalin.

Jaris collected himself, admitting the possibility. “She would have no reason
to lie or deceive us to our destruction. Humans do not sacrifice themselves the
way we have been taught to do. Even if she cared nothing for me she would want
to prevent any harm to her child and keep the Borg from the Federation in this
timeline.”

“It is typical of humans to avoid their enemies .” drawled Stalin again.

Jaris gave himself three heartbeats before replying. He was within his rights to
challenge the man . Insulting his wife to his face was rude and dangerous in the
extreme. In the end he made a mental note for the future and said nothing,
changing the subject. The meeting went on like that for some time. They would
make no report until a complete tactical plan had been drawn up for defending
the Empire. A small team of trusted experts would be assembled to consider the
matter. After every avenue had been explored and evaluated and only after a
positive finding would any of this be told. The Romulan guard would not be
accused of failing. They assumed responsibility for their actions, confident that
the rewards for success would be great.

Jaris returned to his austere office wearied by the bickering and distrust even
among trusted colleagues. He put the days worries behind him by concentrating
on his future, if he had one. His daughter would arrive within weeks, his Sister in
law Laihah, had returned to supervise the birth. Only females could be present
,males were considered bad luck. Her thinly concealed disapproval of his choice
grated on him but she would do her duty to their family he was certain.

All the preparations for the birth were in order. Fortunately the celebration of
Vasset Rhea had fallen during his consort’s pregnancy. The growing season was
the season honoring the elements of earth. On half-summer day all pregnant
women and even domesticated animals were blessed . The rites were secret and
administered by a priestess. Unfortunately the child would be born in far sun
weather, unlucky and ill omened for those of a superstitious cast.

Ninial sprang unexpectedly to mind. She had died earlier that harvest season
and Jaris had been profoundly glad he had not had to kill her himself. No funeral
was held. The spirits of all the dead were remembered during far sun weather at
half sun day. The name flag would be burned and the cremated ashes distributed
in the mountains among all the Rihanna that had been interred there. She would
have no achievements to list or read out and the period of mourning would be
abbreviated. Jaris had marveled at the pitiful weeping Tasha had displayed. She
had been inconsolable for weeks and had to be sternly lectured by him for the
sake of their child before she had come to her senses.

He had to remind himself of her humanness on many occasions. Rhihanna
emotions tended toward anger, jealousy, personal honor and ambition. Humans
on the other hand could become ridiculously sentimental over an animal
companion, or a possession, or even a day of the year. Her pregnancy had
exaggerated these tendencies. He tried to accept this with proper equanimity.
She could also be surprisingly shrewd, able to “read” people, intuitive, gracious,
and disobedient simply to be disobedient. This was one of her main attractions
for him beyond the merely physical. She forever suprised him, she was never
predictable.

After idly flicking through the routine messages on his office computer link it
suddenly lit up deep emerald. Incoming priority message, the display read.
Annoyed slightly, he gave the directions for it to be put through. Priority
messages had been much abused of late he mused, and made a mental note to put
a stop to it. adred slelnf aoennnseia’aeosnennne,.s ti ennnaoi aeoidde
sodie.eosienn.aee.”Master, return home immediately. Your consort, the
honorable lady is in grave danger.” Jaris sat up suddenly alert in his chair. It
hadn’t been sent by his sister in law it would have had her signature. This was
simply encoded in the everyday language used for public commerce. One of the
servants evidently had unauthorized access. He sent back a priority patch to link
him to his home and get to the bottom of this. Someone no doubt panicking over
some triviality.

Mejh’s face appeared on the screen, flushed with terror. “Master I have
summoned a healer as quickly as I could. The lady is gravely ill. I came upon
her in the courtyard after high sun meal. I found her under the Kabol tree
unconscious and barely taking breath.”

Jaris wasted no time on trivialities and questions. He dispatched Mejh to call
for her xenospecialist and called for his transport, instinctively disciplining
himself for calmness and efficiency. His demeanor on boarding his flitter put the
fear of the elements into the driver and he arrived in record time. Laihah waited
for him at the gate calm and gracious. She was tall and thin with heavy lidded
eyes and a phlegmatic disposition. She had always reminded Jaris of sated
carrion eater looking for its next meal.

“Where is she? What has happened?” Jaris demanded, without preamble.

Laihah sighed deeply. “I instructed Mejh not to trouble you with this
domestic crisis. The healer will arrive soon. I’m certain its a case of too much
sun. These humans have such thin skin.”

Jaris pushed past her. “Send Mejh to me at once” he threw over his shoulder.

Inside the household was in a well organized uproar. Servants milled about ,
uncertain as to what to do but unwilling to appear unconcerned. Jaris arrived in
their private chambers in long strides. Mejh was already there, hovering over her
mistress helplessly. Jaris got a good look at Tasha’s condition and went several
shades paler. She lay unresponsive on the couch, barely breathing. What breath
she did take was rasping and labored. Her pink and white skin had taken on a
blue/gray tinge and her eyes stared dumbly at the ceiling. Laihah had trailed him
into the room with her calm demeanor.

“Sun poisoning you say!” He rasped furiously. Unwilling for Tasha to hear him
he dragged his sister in law in to the corridor. The healer had arrived at that
moment and dashed into the room. “If she and my child die I will hold you
personally responsible Brother/Sister! Why was she not watched?” Laihah had
backed against the wall under the tirade of her Husband/Brother’s fury.

“One cannot watch every hour of the day! If she is so weak and delicate she is
not a fit mother for a Rhihannsu babe! ” Laihah countered desperately.

Jaris turned from her in disgust and knocked over a servant coming out of the
room as he entered. LLevan, the healer bent intensely over her patient.
Diagnostic readings came pouring over her portable equipment, taking only a
fraction longer to interpret the alien signs. Jaris waited, keeping his fury under
tight reign. The healer would speak when she had something to say and not
before. Her mouth tightened grimly and she prepared several injections. Tasha’s
breathing improved dramatically and her skin pinkened. Satisfied she nodded
Jaris into an adjacent chamber. “She has been poisoned with Challa root.”

The bald statement shocked Jaris even more than his consort’s extremity had.
“Then she will die.” he countered with grim fury. “And our child with her.”

LLevan considered this for several moments. “Oddly enough, her alien
physiology may be at some advantage here. The poison’s effectiveness depends
upon tying up the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood resulting in asphyxia and
death. Her blood is based on hemoglobin as is the child’s. I do not believe the
poison will be as effective. She should be transported at once to a medical
facility. I have already made arrangements. Her specialist will meet us there. I
have given her massive doses of antitoxin. It is of itself toxic to some degree.
Her entire blood supply will have to be purified as the toxin can linger in the fatty
tissues for months.”

Jaris nodded briefly and LLevan moved quickly. The crisis had abated briefly
and Jaris” mind began to work. He found Mejh huddled miserably in an outer
room. Her fearful demeanor would not sway him from his purpose. He had
already directed security personnel to conduct a thorough search of the house for
the source of the poison.

“Tell me what you know woman.” Jaris had curbed his rage sufficiently to
think coherently.

“Master, I lie not. I do not know. If she dies I will die with her. You know
this.”

“Show me where she was found.” The little being moved quickly, escorting
him to the Kabol tree. The site looked innocuous enough. The remains of the
mid meal had already been examined. No trace of toxins there. She could have
been injected. Her advanced pregnancy would have made self defense difficult
for her, but the healer had found not the tiniest puncture wound on her body. His
gaze traveled to the tree itself. Even in this season it bore fruit and was highly
prized for doing so. Pollen was stored from the new life season and used
continually throughout the year to produce fruit. The little dark purple fruits
looked inordinately shiny as if the had been cosmetically enhanced for sale at a
market. Jaris pulled a few off and felt the oily texture of them. In this season
they would be rather leathery outside.

Jaris trusted no one and suspected everything. LLevan had left with her patient
so he procured his own tricorder to examine the fruit. There was definitely a
foreign substance on them. How abominably clever! The assassin had known
Tasha’s habit of nibbling the fruit from the tree. He suspected that every one
within reaching distance had been treated the same way. He dispatched a servant
to cut the filthy thing down. No telling how much the tree itself had absorbed . It
would only remain a danger if left alive. He then set his mind to ponder who
would do this.

The terrified servants were questioned on pain of death. No answers were
forthcoming. Jaris considered killing them all anyway just to be sure to get the
assassin. His consort would not appreciate his thoroughness he was certain. A
movement to his right caught his eye and Laihah drifted smoothly into view. Jaris
narrowed his gaze at her. One member of the household had not been questioned.

” Brother/Sister! We have not finished our conversation.” Jaris smooth voice
interrupted her indolent gardening.

“I trust your honored consort will be well soon.” She even bowed her head
slightly as if grieved.

“Perhaps you can tell me Laihah. What sort of coward poisons an expectant
mother?” He paused dramatically and then finished. “If you wanted her dead
why didn’t you at least give her the dignity of seeing your face?” His voice had
turned to a thin growl.

“Jaris! The thought is unpardonable. You should look to that rabble of
miserable servants she has spoiled for the culprit.”

“Only you have the motive Laihah. She took your place in this household.
Imagine being replaced by a mere human prisoner. It must have taken you all
night to spread that over the whole tree.” Jaris surface calm began to terrify her.
Seeing him idly finger his dueling blade didn’t help matters. Jaris reached into a
pocket for a small item. One of a pair of ear ornaments bearing the sigil beast of
his house. They had been a wedding gift from him when she had married his
brother. “I found this under the poisoned tree.”

” Do you accuse me! That has obviously been stolen!” Fortunately Laihah was
a terrible liar. Jaris saw the fear and loathing in her eyes. His calm was being
strained.

“What servant would have the temerity to steal such an item. It is easily traced
and too obviously belongs to you. Any fool does not leave valuable items lying
about to be stolen. You were careless Brother/Sister. Do you want to confess or
shall I extract it out of your skin.?”

Laihah quickly considered her options. A confession might buy her some
amnesty from the punishment for betrayal, which meant her death would be
quick. Impotent fury coursed through her. She clenched her hands and would not
speak. Jaris eyed her intently knowing it was only a matter of time. “I will
confess to no crime. Whatever I have done is fully justified by your insults to the
honor of this house!” She was really quite impressive when she drew herself up
with such proud disdain. Jaris moved swiftly. In one motion he collared her by
her tunic and with another brought the blade up swiftly to the side of her face.
Laihah gasped and drew away blood on her hand.

Jaris looked with some satisfaction at her shock and fury. It was not nearly
enough for him. The urge to plunge the blade into her was over overwhelming, to
watch her twitch and die. That she could have done this and without even the
courage to face her enemy sickened him.

The mark would brand her as a coward and outcast forever. He should have
just killed her but something had changed his mind. Killing someone was no sort
of revenge at all. After they were dead how much could they suffer? Let her bear
her shame for her lifetime. Honorable people would shun her. No door of
hospitality would be open to her. If she were killed by anyone at all it would be
justifiable homicide. Jaris spat at her feet in disgust and called his guards to
“escort” her out with only what she wore on her back. He personally tore down
her name flag and ripped it to shreds and then gave it to the house pets for
bedding.

CHAPTER 9

Tasha felt like she was under water. Sounds were mushy and
incomprehensible . She couldn’t make her limbs move. The one sense that was
sharp was smell. She was not at home….where? She slowly put herself and her
surroundings together like a jigsaw puzzle. First the edges and then the middle.
Sela! Where was her baby? She couldn’t sense the familiar feel of her
scrambling around in her abdomen. Panic jolted her and her eyes opened. She
took in the blinking and bleeping of diagnostic equipment all of it monitoring her.

“Peace, mistress. All is well.” Mejh hovered quietly over her.

Gripping the little servants hand she gazed distractedly about her. “Where’s
Sela? Where am I? What happened?”

“You have been ill mistress, but all is well now. The child thrives. You will
see her soon.”

Tasha would have gone on asking questions indefinitely but at that moment
Mejh distracted her by wheeling the infant close to the bed. Frustrated at not
being able to hold her because of all the tubes going into and out of her, Tasha
adored her instantly. Mejh put the child on her chest and steadied the head while
Tasha inspected her. She was very pink and human looking, and very bald.
“When was she born?”

“Three days ago mistress. The child was taken surgically . You became very
ill. The Master was very angry.” she finished quietly.

Tasha hadn’t been paying attention as Sela’s instincts took over and she began
exploring her mother for a meal. “She’s hungry Mejh, help me.” Instead Mejh
signaled for help and a young healthy looking Rhihanna came into the room and
proceeded to nurse her daughter. “Mejh, what’s going on? Is this another custom
I don’t know about? A mother can’t nurse her own child?”

Mejh paused, uncertain as to what was permissible to say. Tasha’s narrowed,
ice blue eyes brooked no resistance. The servant sighed and sat down. “You ate
the fruit of the Kabol tree in the courtyard lady. It had been poisoned by
that…….vriha!” * Mejh injected an uncharacteristically savage note to the term.
Tasha was certain it was not a compliment. “Laihah has been banished from the
house. She wanted you dead lady and the child with you.” Tasha shivered and
glanced at her daughter greedily feeding. Another thought occurred to her.
“Where’s Jaris?” At this moment it seemed the only person she could trust.

“He went home for rest mistress. He has been here since you became ill. As I
said he was very angry. He should have killed Laihah so savage was his temper
that day! He remained here and had everything given to you inspected. He
posted guards around your daughter and would not allow any treatments unless
they had been cleared with his personal physician.” The young woman returned
Sela and Tasha rubbed her cheek against her soft head. She had almost forgotten
the dangers of this place. It was now more clear than ever that Jaris was her only
protection against them. “I will survive Sela.” Tasha thought, as anger and
determination rose “No one will ever harm you again.” She didn’t feel Mejh take
the baby as she drifted again into sleep.

It took a few weeks for her natural vigorous health to reassert itself. She kept
Sela by her side every hour of the day and night. Jaris had seemed shocked by his
daughter’s human appearance. He seemed to think the slightest breath of air
would disintegrated her. The wet nurse stayed as Tasha was still forbidden to
nurse her daughter. Bishet, though young, guarded Sela like a lioness with her
cubs. Even Mejh could not override her strong personality.

She took a long look at herself in a mirror one day and decided it was well past
time to get her strength back. She had not practiced martial arts for almost eleven
months. She began with Tai Chi, the slow elegant movements familiar and
comforting. Her body slowly began taking on the muscular contours she was
used to. Jaris, noting her new strength and health returned to her bed. She
admitted she had missed this. Bishet baldly stated one day that her mistress could
not fail to recover her vigor with such an obviously vigorous lover. Rhihanna
women were obviously quite straightforward about such things, but Tasha had
blushed nonetheless.
*(Vriha- exactly equivalent to the Terran expression “That Jezebel!”)
————————————————————————————————–
Jaris first broached the subject on a subsequent night. He was so busy with
defense plans during the day it was the only time they had to talk. She had been
lightly dozing with his arms around her as he lightly caressed the back of her
neck. He had become fascinated with the texture of her skin, softer and thinner
than her Rihanna sisters. “Your compatriots have been in contact with me.”
Tasha jerked awake, a little annoyed.

“What did they want? Why didn’t you tell me?” She demanded.

“I waited until you had recovered fully. There was no point in distressing you
over something you could not prevent.”

Now she sat bolt upright glaring. “What’s going on?”

“I visited the prison after speaking with their leader. People had been
mysteriously disappearing for several months.” He paused looking for words.
“The mystery only deepened when one of those kidnapped was returned
unexpectedly. She had been altered much like Ninial had been.” Tasha gave a
gasp of horror but let him continue. “The woman did not live long, fortunately.
The experts I consulted noted significant differences in the cybernetic implants.”
Jaris paused even longer this time. “It appears a good deal of Rhihannsu
technology has been incorporated.”

Tasha digested this in silence. “Are you saying Romulans kidnapped these
people and….experimented on them?” She began to feel sick.

Jaris gave another interminable, uncomfortable pause. ” It is certainly a
possibility. Elements of our society have a much different concept of “honor”
than I would subscribe to. I am responsible for the safety of you crewmates,
nihal.* Jukhas has much to answer for. You need not say it. I have already made
arrangements for us to travel there at first sun.” Tasha sat curled up with her
arms around her knees. She knew she would never sleep after this. The chill in
the room was considerable and she eventually sought the haven of Jaris’ warmth.
That night he did not leave as had been his custom.

The trip was uneventful and Tasha had been very quiet. Jaris had been
annoyed at her insistence on taking Sela with them. Tasha would not let the babe
out of her sight after the incident with Laihah, and he couldn’t blame her. She had
left Bishet in charge and gone determinedly to find the humans. Jaris had made
his way to Jukhas.

It took Tasha the better part of an hour to track down anyone with any
authority. Eventually she made her way hesitantly into one of the churches to see
if anyone there could help her. It was plainly constructed of the local stone and
timber. She had never been inside one or ever understood the need for religion.
Her upbringing had taught her that if a God existed he didn’t care. Her
surroundings immediately gripped her imagination. The walls and even the
ceilings had been painted with vivid scenes. Candles glowed and the scent of
incense hung in the air. She considered yelling for attention but that would be
rude she suddenly realized.

“May I help you?” The sudden voice whirled her around, nearly jumping out
of her skin. “I’m sorry no one was here to greet you but I was busy. We were
christening the latest addition to our numbers.” The woman was fiftyish, ordinary
looking, with the calm demeanor she usually associated with Vulcans. Tasha
noticed the little crosses embroidered on her overtunic.

“Christening?” the term sounded familiar.

The woman smiled. “Yes, an old earth naming ritual. I have a few more to take
care of if you’d come with me you can watch and we’ll talk afterwards.” She
gestured toward a side room. A few more minutes wouldn’t hurt ,Tasha decided ,
so she went. Inside was a tiny room with an elaborately carved bowl on a
pedestal. Two couples with newborn infants stood by as the woman gently
doused them with some water from the bowl murmuring words in a language
Tasha couldn’t understand. She waited politely until the little ceremony was
finished. “Please, I need to find some people.” Tasha implored.

“Yes, I know who you are. You’ve been expected.” Tasha’s eyebrow raised a
fraction. “You’re the officer married to the General aren’t you? Come with me.”
With that she lead the way to the rear of the structure and down a steep narrow
stairway. A tense conference was in progress. Tasha recognized Richard to the
right of Lindstrom. Lindstrom looked up, and recognizing her, signaled her over.
“Lieutenant, I expect you’ve been briefed as to the situation..” He spared a brief,
curious glance at her clothing. It was plain but deeply imbedded in the weave of
the fabric were fantastic, mythical creatures, you could see clearly if you looked
closely. She had never given such things a second thought. They were clothes.
She put them on and wore them. They set her apart in this Terran environment.

“Only the bare essentials. I want to hear the details from you.”

Richard replied. “You remember the last time you were here, we
mentioned missing people? Well, we got one of them back.” Tasha sat slowly
into a chair, listening intently. “Doc Lebarre had never seen anything like it.
Entire organ systems had been replaced with cybernetic implants. The woman’s
entire personality had been…. wiped out.” Richard paused, shaken. “The
implants show the signs of Romulan technology mixed with some we’ve never
seen before.”

“Ninial.” Tasha said softly.

Lindstrom looked puzzled. “Ninial?”

Tasha looked up from her reverie. “Ninial was J… General Tellorne’s only
daughter and his youngest child. She was rescued from an attack on an outpost
with alterations similar to the ones you described She didn’t live long but it
reminded me of something. They reminded me of a race called the Borg.”

The explanations took the better part of two hours. When it was over
Tasha felt that every neuron in her brain had been examined. Romulans weren’t
the only skillful interrogators in the galaxy. Yes their ships were designed with
multiple redundancies, weapons and shields of thirty years in the future were
nearly useless against them. They assimilated races and technology with chilling
efficiency. They employed a hive mentality and social structure, if they really
were a society. When it was over her interrogators allowed themselves a stunned
moment of silence.

“What’s the Rom connection?” began Richard.

Tasha flinched a little at the term. “We don’t know. That’s what the
general is here for. He considers your welfare to be a point of honor for him. I’m
not sure how to describe it but he considers himself responsible for his enemies’
welfare.” Tasha stammered to a close.

Richard grinned sardonically. “Guess its time to talk to him eh,
Lieutenant?”

*Nihal–Pleasure/Pain–traditional endearment.
CHAPTER 11

Tasha squirmed uncomfortably. The two groups had met by
prearrangement in the mineshafts. Male intuition was not to be discounted. Jaris
and Richard had immediately sized one another up like to alpha wolves. No one
noticed it but those three and the seriousness of the ensuing discussion broke the
tension. Jaris discussion with the governor had produced very little obvious
result. The man had no idea what was going on. People disappearing? From his
camp? Unthinkable.

Jaris shook his head. “The obvious secrecy and conspiracy of this
operation has all the hallmarks of Tal Shiar. If that is the case there will be no
“official” knowledge of this and thus no proof.”

Richard made an irritable noise. “So we just sit here and let them do it.
For that matter why would you care?”

Jaris gave him a freezing look which Richard returned with equal
frostiness. “I do not like secrets Lieutenant. You are correct that I have little
personal concern for you. You are however my responsibility. If we are facing
such an enemy it will be the military’s responsibility to defend against it. It
doesn’t take a genius to surmise that Borg cybernetic techniques are being
experimented with on humans. Obviously there are not enough of you to make
that profitable.” He didn’t get a chance to finish.

Lindstrom broke in. “In other words. You’re next.”

Jaris nodded. “Precisely. If we are to die in battle than so be it. I can
imagine nothing filthier than being turned into a soulless vapid creature to be
used as ‘disposable’. It has no honor.”

“What do you propose?” Lindstrom was listening now.

“We wait here under cloak for the next ship to arrive. They will have to
decloak briefly in order use the transporters. We must follow the ship and destroy
the research facility. ”

“You can do that?” Richard was also listening now.

“Not alone.”

——————————————————————————————-
CHAPTER 10

“We speak no treason man; we say the King is wise and virtuous.” Richard III

The history books would record it as “The Arioch Incident”. A contingent
of rebel prisoners attacking and destroying a secret Tal Shiar research facility.
Ah! the perfidity of humans. How could such people ever be trusted? This was
the told truth to every citizen and schoolchild on the two worlds. That the
resources and tactical needs of such a scheme were unavailable to their human
guests was conveniently ignored. If the actual truth were ever told of course it
would not be believed……
————————————————————————————————-

Another long walk, that was what was needed. A week of confinement in
airless caves and the tension of anticipation would wear anyone down. A quick
inspection of the sleeping room found Jaris intensely engaged in a computer
simulation. With Sela securely balanced in a sling against her chest Tasha
considered leaving him to it. Instead she made a great show of gathering
necessary items and tidying up before she left. Curious eyes on her made her
glance backward.
“I’m going for a walk before I go nuts. Want to come?”

It was nearly a mile in underground passageways before they emerged
some distance outside the settlement. What passed for a sunset was beginning
over the horizon, it wasn’t even pretty, but it was something to look at
nonetheless. Sela was sleeping contentedly and Tasha sat down carefully on a
semiflat rock. Perspiration beaded her forehead from the exertion but the fresh
air was worth it. Jaris had said very little, not being much of a one for useless
conversation. He did not perspire.

An interminable silence stretched, it should have been companionable.
Tasha stared seemingly fascinated at the ugly sunset. Jaris regarded the
settlement in the distance.

“What will happen to you if you succeed at this?” she blurted out.

Not turning from his regard he was silent for several moments. He leaned
back against the rock and sighed. “Impossible to say. The powers that be
generally define reality any way they wish. If we turn up valuable research data
the military faction can use against the Tal Shiar I will be a hero. If we fail and
appear as traitors the military will abandon me and I can expect to be tried for
treason.” He seemed utterly calm.

“What do you intend to do?” Tasha asked, nonplused by his calm.

Jaris finally turned to look at her. “Why to get everything I want, of
course.”

Tasha shook her head irritably and chuckled. “What do you want Jaris?”

Jaris seemed to consider this for some time and then sat to face her. “Do
you know, nihal, how long our people have lived on the two worlds?”

Tasha thought briefly. “About two thousand years.”

“Indeed.” he replied, as if that explained everything. “Are you familiar
enough with your own world’s history to have heard of “the middle kingdom.?”

“China?”

“China, one of the oldest and most sophisticated cultures you ever
produced. Their attainments in astronomy, the arts, government, and a stable
social order left them no real need to fight conquest. Their culture was so all
pervasive they simply absorbed them. So why, I ask is this nation not the
dominant force in Terran society today?”

Tasha broke in. “We don’t have nations anymore.”

Jaris waved this away with a dismissive hand. “The driving force behind
the expansionist policies of Terra and the Federation originate in a tiny island
nation whose people were tattooing themselves blue and worshipping trees when
China was the largest and most sophisticated nation on the planet.”

“What’s your point?”

“China did what all cultures eventually do. They turned inward. They
refused to acknowledge or participate in the great social forces swirling about
them. The Renaissance, the age of exploration, the age of Reason. They thought
being Chinese was quite good enough and they had no need for Barbarian ways.
The barbarians from the north eventually became the British Empire and the new
nation of the United States. Almost eighty percent of Starfleet humans is still
composed of this racial stock. They innovated, explored, encouraged
immigration, tried new social and governmental forms. They evolved.” He
pointed to their daughter. “Rhihannsu society is at exactly the same turning point
as ancient China. We are at an evolutionary and social impasse. If we turn
inward and refuse new ideas, thinking that Rhihannsu ways are quite good
enough we will stagnate and die.”

Tasha gave him an affronted look. “Are you saying Sela and I are a social
experiment.?”

Jaris’ glance was candid. “In a way, yes. You adapted, nihal. Much more
so than any one of us could have to your society. We need new blood, and Sela
should only be the first.” His eyes held amusement. “It has the added benefit of
being a very pleasant transaction as well.”

“What does this have to do with the present situation.?”

“If the Tal Shiar can convince the government that they acted heroically
and honorably in this matter “for the good of the Empire” the forces of change
will be set back a half century.”

“Forces of change?”

“Those who understand that we cannot remain in our cocoon inside the
Neutral Zone forever. We must either grow or die. I intend to see to it that we
grow. We must abandon tyranny as our natural birthright. When you humans
cast off the rule of monarchs and began ruling yourselves you achieved
spaceflight in less than two centuries. Rihanna have had spaceflight for two
millennia and were content to do nothing with it until you came along to shake us
out of our doldrums. Perhaps we have cause to be grateful to you.”

“You haven’t answered my question. What are you going to do?”

“But I did nihal. I am going to get everything I want.”

CHAPTER 11

Tasha gathered all her strength and gave herself another heave forward.
She had not yet rid herself of Sela’s legacy in her hips, she wondered if she ever
would. As much as she was sweating she would soon be able to simply slide
through. She paused to catch her breath, smiling a little. She had been missing a
sense of adventure in life. It was a difficult transition from Starfleet officer to
glorified household accountant and mommy. She had been chosen for this
particular portion of their assault simply because she was the only one skinny
enough to fit into the facility’s ventilation ducts. A frustrated suitor had once
likened her to a boy with breast implants.

Convincing Jaris had taken some doing but he had had no other choice.
Tasha felt once more for the life sign signaler she had been given. It would
disguise her human readings and simply read her as a rather large rodent. It was
still there tucked into a seamless pocket. She was barely halfway to her
destination ,the core computer room. No communications of any kind could be
allowed and she was on a strict time schedule. In twenty minutes all thirteen
Enterprise C survivors would be expected to be at their assigned destinations with
the glorified slingshots they had been provided. The slingshots were equipped
with a limited number of toxin laden needles to be used as a tranquilizer. A
disrupter or phaser blast was to be avoided.

Her elbows and shins were in bloody shreds already as she crawled
further, mentally ticking off the minutes in her head.
————————————————————————————————

Richard Castillo and Lars Lindstrom carefully evaluated the sheer rock
face greeting them. The Roms had built their bloody facility inside a mountain.
Only Yar could get through the ventilation ducts, they would have to content
themselves to carving their own entrance at the remotest and least guarded side.
It housed environmental controls, replicator formats and other such housekeeping
devices. Not a priority to be guarded. The remaining humans secreted
themselves in the rocks below waiting.

————————————————————————————————

Jaris evaluated their progress from aboard ship. The only data coming
from homing beacons secreted on their persons. No Rhihannsu would be
permitted to be implicated in this except perhaps, himself. He had already
coordinated his plans with the transporter operator, the only other one who knew.

—————————————————————————————————-

Yar had used a similar device to bring down small rodents and birds on
Turkana IV. The needle gave a satisfying thwock into the neck of the
environmental control tech. After a startled glance backward, she rolled her eyes
back and slumped forward. Yar had a devil of a time moving her, but eventually
got her installed in a supply locker. It would take twelve hours to sleep off the
neurotoxin from an insect native to the Stalag thirteen planet. Really, Romulans
should take more time for environmental surveys.

Yar was grateful she had encountered a woman first. The uniform fit
passably well and she knew she looked ridiculous in the black wig, but she would
pass from a distance. She perched herself on the chair and rolled up her sleeve to
read the cryptic writing on her arm. qwwee sof;emmmdl psme[ e.sdekdmse
f;papeif wkerja’e a’lekjaf epae fapoe.qea’dlkenaq’l;ekjra’d;kle’q;ekljrane’qpdojq’
q’erjq q’;dojqe ‘qnrt’poe qntk’qnf’qkerjq’jrqnw

Reading Romulan was still hard seeing as they wrote from the bottom of
the page up. “A building begins within a foundation” Words must be properly
grounded. It took almost twenty minutes to gain access to the command codes.
Twenty precious minutes and she sweated every one. Better to take the time here
where it could be spared. A sewage leak in a remote area was not difficult to
engineer. It was in a particularly inaccessible spot and would keep several techs
and engineers occupied. One of several difficulties she would manufacture for
them.

——————————————————————————————-

Lindstrom invented several new curses today. They involved the
convoluted and possibly incestuous origins of Romulans everywhere and Jaris ie
Tellorn in particular. Another shard of rock gave way and he kicked it aside.
Two hours they had been working with what could only charitably be described
as a medical laser. Tellorn certainly didn’t want his prisoners armed with
disruptors or phasers. I’d be better off to chew my way through, he cursed again.
A tiny chink of light appeared and he applied himself with renewed vigor.

———————————————————————————————–
The computer core was, obviously enough, situated in the center of the
facility. Yar struggled through an infinite maze of ventilation ducts, wanting to
rip this ridiculous bulky uniform off that did nothing but hamper her progress.
She paused to slow her breathing and wipe perspiration from her eyes. Only a
few yards from her destination she would wait here to be signaled when
Lindstrom achieved his objective.

————————————————————————————————-

Lindstrom’s eyes glowed with success. A neat 30 centimeter hole he had
created, worthy of a Cochrane award for engineering. Tellorn must be chuckling
into his shoulder pads, the bastard. Let’s give him a soup spoon and see how he
does. The fourteen slipped with alacrity into the fissure, arming their slingshots.
A power conduit was not difficult to find, nor the tiny flicker in power necessary
to dim the lights momentarily.
——————————————————————————————–

Yar gathered herself, pulled her chi inward and snuck towards the
ventilation grille. Three, she considered her options, and evaluated the cover
available in the room. A spot of luck was due and she got it when the biggest
male left the room abruptly. The other two were engrossed in conversation over a
portable padd, nowhere near an alarm.

She had already loosened the bolts silently. Gathering every ounce of
inner energy she shot the grille into the room with the heel of her hand. Aiming
instinctively she caught the nearest in the back of the ear with the needle and the
other as she ran across the room for the alarm. They dropped with satisfying
rapidity. A four foot jump and she was in the room. Two disruptors were now
hers instantly. Yar deliberately set them at the highest setting. Disruptors had no
“stun” setting, the only variable being how long it took one to die.

Only one disruptor blast to melt the door power conduits. Safely locked
in she began to work

————————————————————————————————
Castillo quickly surmised the layout of the place. A wheel with the
spokes traveling inward toward the protected center. Castillo got his first
disruptor and uniform simply by waiting by an open door for someone to walk by.
He walked up behind him, placed a hand on his shoulder. When the man stopped
to turn he simply imbedded a needle into his neck. Took three to drag him away.
He didn’t bother with a disguise. It would do little good at close quarters. An
access ID card was added to his inventory.

Lindstrom and the others had gotten pretty good at reading Romulan. A
polite sign pointed the way to the research facility and the next batch of
disruptors.

———————————————————————————————–

To anyone looking in from the outside all that would show was a very
diligent Rihanna technician busily at work at her computer. Doors to computer
cores were expected to be locked, and Rihanna technicians to be diligent. Tasha
had never been a computer whiz and she struggled with her task. Files imbedded
in files, access codes, and an unfamiliar language hampered her. Fourteen data
discs later she finished. Rihanna females were certainly not made of thistledown,
and Tasha gave an unladylike grunt as she dragged them into hiding. At least she
had a decent map of the place now and a tricorder to locate Lindstrom and the
others.

———————————————————————————————-

Castillo rounded a corner warily, seeing two Roms coming his way. He
paused three heartbeats and with his hands behind his back rounded the corner
smiling and confident. “Hi!”

It took two more heartbeats for his human presence to register and for two
swift needles to enter their necks. This is too easy, he thought. Two more ID
cards and disruptors. The entrance to the actual research labs was visible just
down the corridor. It was very likely that no one would be there as this was a
traditional rest day, deliberately chosen so. They carted one of the unconscious
forms over for retinal id after the card had been scanned, and they were in.

Yar was waiting at the ventilation grille when they entered and gratefully
shed the hot tunic and wig. Her hair was plastered to her skull with sweat but she
triumphantly displayed the data discs.

“Got em!”

Lindstrom motioned her over. “Let me make a copy into my tricorder
Lieutenant. Just in case. ” Yar nodded absently and handed them over.

Lebarre was staring fascinated and repelled into one of the cubicles lining
the room. What had once been an adolescent girl had been hideously modified
beyond recognition as anything human. Tasha recognized the format. She raised
her disruptor.

Lebarre gazed at her horrified. “Lieutenant, these people were human
once!”

Tasha hardened her gaze. “They aren’t anymore doctor. Do you have the
ability to restore them? Would you want to spend your days as a guinea pig?”

Lebarre struggled for words. “When the experiment’s over dispose of the
lab rats eh?”

Lindstrom had moved to stand beside Yar. “Doctor, these people have
suffered enough don’t you think? If we leave them the Roms will simply
reconstruct their research using them. All of this will have been for nothing.”
Lebarre backed away, shaking his head. “I want no part of this.”

One by one the cubicles were opened to reveal their Frankenstein
monsters. Tasha flinched only once as the first was vaporized. Castillo,
Lindstrom, and Yar fired in succession in a macabre display of formality
dissolving the last traces of their physical shells. As they turned their attention
the main computer banks the wheek wheek wheek of a klaxon in the distance
paused them, but only momentarily. When a squad of guards arrived two minutes
later they found an empty room and the smoking ruins of a main computer
database, nothing more.

————————————————————————————————–

Jaris stood, waiting patiently behind the pilot’s seat. Sensors registered
the expected blip at, surprisingly close to the expected time. The transporter
latched onto sixteen human shapes but only one arrived at the Imperial transport.
Tasha stormed up to the little bridge stopping short in shock at the display screen.
A tiny shuttle maneuvered its way carefully from planetary orbit.

Jaris didn’t miss a beat. “Lock disruptors, fire when ready.”

Yar leapt over the communications console. “What are you doing!?
Where’s the rest of my crew!?”

Jaris ignored her and a burly guard with a disruptor rifle silenced her. She
gazed wildly around her looking for some explanation. There was none
forthcoming. Two neatly timed blasts was all it took and the shuttle dissolved
into a fireball. Yar screamed and launched herself at the guard with the heel of
her hand. Spitting blood and a few teeth he stumbled backward as she grabbed
for his rifle. Two steely arms about her midriff saved him from an untimely
demise. She centered herself, and planted a shod heel on the arch of Jaris’ foot.
He gave a gasp of pain but did not let go. Two compellingly aimed disruptors at
her temple persuaded her to cease struggling.

Her breath coming in heaving gasps, through a haze of rage she heard
Jaris give orders for an immediate course for the homeworld. The three marched
her unceremoniously to their quarters. Jaris dismissed the guards, who gave her a
knowing smirk, and she was yanked inside

Tasha wasted no time. “You Rom (expletive deleted)! You pestilent
excuse for a man! Your mother was a Klingon and your father a Ferrengi!” Each
insult was punctuated with a deftly hurled object. “You killed my crew!” She
paused in flinging a granite paperweight and stared in shocked amazement. He
was laughing! Silently, to be sure but surely chortling under his breath. Seated
on the edge of a table with his arms folded and head bowed. Tasha shook with
rage, suddenly remembered the dagger she had purloined from one of her victims.
If Jaris hadn’t seen her coming from the corner of his eye any potential for
brothers or sisters for Sela would have been seriously curtailed. His quick
reflexes moved him aside quickly to see the blade imbedded deeply where he had
previously been seated.

This had gone far enough. Tackling her deftly she hit the floor with a
thud that knocked the wind out of her and her potential for further insults. Jaris
pinned her shoulders and legs with his weight and waited for capitulation. “I
apologize nihal, there was no time to explain. Your crew is not dead.” Still
unable to speak Tasha merely glared suspiciously, waiting. “I used the distraction
of the explosion to transport them to a cloaked shuttle, giving my crew the needed
impression of punishing a prison insurrection. They can now truthfully report
that General Tellorn duly punished foul traitors and enemies to the Empire. Why
do you think I insisted on hiding your presence on this vessel.?” He finished
gratefully, he was out of breath too.

Tasha’s head began to clear. She was still confused. Jaris continued.
“They bargained for their freedom in exchange for their help. It seemed a fair
exchange. I get you, the Arioch data, foil a Tal Shiar plot, and a rebellion at the
same time and everyone is happy.” His eyes took on a particularly intense look
that she come to recognize. Adrenaline was pumping through her, with no outlet.
Rage began giving way to something else entirely. He began purposefully
unbuttoning her outer garment, her exertions had increased her body temperature
and her intoxicating pheremonal elixir. He discovered that a human adrenaline
surge can take an awfully long time to wear off………

.
———————————————————————————————–

“I am as preemptory as she is proud minded, and where two raging fires
meet together they do consume the thing that feeds their fury……For I am rough,
and woo not like a babe.” The Taming of the Shrew- William Shakespeare; 16th
century Terran.

ADDENDUM
The Rihanna word for history is literally “told truth by the victor.” Which
was as it should be. Jaris ie Tellorn with several appended house names was a
very skillful historian. His consort had loyally and rightfully informed him of the
attempt on Arioch. He had just as rightfully and loyally foiled it and dispatched
the foul traitors to oblivion.

Certain elements were not nearly so sanguine but what could be done?
The military had enough goods on the Tal Shiar and several senators to boot to
shift the balance of power their way for many years to come. The Arioch data,
however unfortunately acquired, would be invaluable in their defense plans
against the Borg. No lives had been lost and computers are easily replaced are
they not?

CHAPTER 12
“Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies libels and
dreams to set one in deadly hate against the other; I am subtle, false and
treacherous as the king is true and just. I am determined to prove a villain.”
Richard III-William Shakespeare-Terran (Paraphrased.)

“Where does she go? Does she meet or talk with anyone?” Merohe’s
small frame was draped with uncharacteristic ease in her straight backed chair.
The small frame was crowned by a complimentarily small ,neat head and the
silky black hair absolutely essential for true beauty. Her eyes were a nondescript
brown, carefully and cunningly narrow, as if to see from a great distance. Her
brow ridges swept upward on the same elegant angle as her small ears.

Moret gave his ale another appreciative sip. “She seldom leaves the house
without an escort, either her servant or an armed guard. Solitary walks in the
forest seem to be her chief mode of entertainment, that, and looking after that
little mongrel she and Jaris produced.” Moret winced with distaste.

Her head reared back just slightly at the mention of Jaris’ name. “I need to
know more. Can any of the servants be bribed?”

“A Tal Shiar operative has of course been installed in his household from
the beginning. Apart from the daily comings and goings of tradespeople and
guests there has been little to report.” Moret set down the wine decisively. “As it
stands now, the woman will be installed in that house until her grandchildren are
grown.”

Merohe chewed her lower lip with inelegant frustration. “Laihah! that
fool! Her clumsy tinkering is intolerable! Our best chance to gain the human’s
confidence has been thrown away.”

“Why did you take her in anyway?”

The commander shrugged. “She begged me for her vengeance. Mnei’
sahe demands it, she argued.” her chin rested on her hands. “I hoped she could
prove useful.”

Moret turned his gaze to the ceiling. “I did, however hear something
interesting the other day.” Merohe waited. Moret chuckled. ” She has started
teaching standard English to a few of the servants and neighbors.”

Merhoe’s head lifted. “Moret. Haven’t you always considered the
translator to be inferior to actually learning a language?”

Moret’s chuckle was deeper this time. “Indeed, there can be no substitute
for understanding the way an enemy thinks than learning his language.”

————————————————————————————————–

Under the spreading limbs of the dhashon tree Tasha sat cross-legged on
the ground. In moments of whimsy she compared herself to Socrates, then had to
giggle at the contrast. Her students begged, borrowed, or shared personal
computer padds which their teacher supplied with approved files Jaris was able to
glean from the Enterprise’s computer banks. She looked over the group of eight
gathered in a semicircle and wondered which one the spy or spies was. There
simply had to be someone monitoring the class. Three males Movet, Baras, and
H’nain spent most of the class time silently absorbing. The women Miras, Tilar,
Bishet, Benrai, and Lira questioned and challenged constantly, dominating the
discussions. Teaching had been one of Tasha’s responsibilities as chief of
security and the core syllabus for most subjects was a standard component of
starship databanks. Somehow, the women always managed to come up with a
question not covered in the core syllabus.

“Why is there this useless letter “k” before the word knife? It is not
pronounced but must be added for correct spelling?” was Lira’s
uncomprehending query.

Tasha considered briefly. ” I believe that in the old Saxon the k was
originally pronounced but over the centuries ceased to be.”

“How could have such a basically incomprehensible language come to
have dominated the entire planet?” she countered.

Tasha sighed. “English is a …mongrel language. It is composed of a
blending of old Saxon, remember from the British Isles, and Norman French
,from the conquest of 1066. Its strength lay in the fact that it freely borrowed and
incorporated new words. Words from virtually every language on earth have
been borrowed and used and came to be standard English words.”

“But the spelling makes no sense!” This plaintive query came from
Bishet.

Tasha chuckled sympathetically. “Spelling in English was considered
such a difficult task that nationally recognized contests were held and the winners
highly honored. The Klingons concluded that it was done to confuse the
earther’s enemies.”

It had been intended as a joke but the nods of complete comprehension
she received told her it had not gone over as such. English, along with only
Mandarin Chinese was a level five language. The most difficult. Her students
applied themselves like Trojans , eager for the chance to aquire a valuable skill
and improve their status. Tasha was glad for the opportunity to do something, be
useful, and interact somewhat with this society. The sun was beginning to go
down and class would have to be dismissed soon.
“Okay, next week I’m going to deactivate the universal translator for a
time and you will have to make yourselves understood to me. Any questions.?”
Her offer was taken quite literally.

Tilar posed a timorous question. “Teacher, would you tell us about your
world?”

“You mean earth?”

“Earth, the Federation, all of it. Why does the Federation want our
destruction?” Tilar’s voice was shaded with anger.

Tasha paused, ruefully. “The Federation does not want your destruction.”
she replied patiently, knowing she would not be believed.

Warming to her subject Tilar continued. “Every family on this continent
has lost kin to the Federation in the last century. Your ships invaded our space,
enticing us with offers of friendship, forcing us to begin a ruinous war.”

Knowing she was on dangerous ground Tasha replied carefully. “I can see
how you would come to that conclusion. Do you want to know how earth saw
it.?” Eager nods replied.

She took a deep breath. ” In the twenty second century, earth calendar, we
had already encountered two or three intelligent races. The Vulcans, the
Andorians and Alpha Centauri. We had only recently united our own planet and
ended our own ruinous wars. We were eager to explore. Can you imagine the
delighted anticipation when we found another intelligent, advanced humanoid
culture? We could hardly believe our luck. We tried the standard overtures and
got no response. Puzzled we returned home and a year later tried again. All of a
sudden, for no reason we could comprehend, ships from these twin worlds came
roaring out of what is now the Neutral Zone, embroiling us in the first Romulan
War. We concluded that these people must be a bunch of berzerkers. Ironically
enough, this war created the fledgling Federation out of a need for mutual
defense. You would not talk , would not reason, would not interact with us in any
way. We eventually had to negotiate a peace treaty entirely by subspace radio as
you would not allow yourselves even to be seen. The Neutral Zone was
established and we felt grateful to have you caged.” She paused.

Skeptical silence ensued. Bishet took the opportunity to rise to her feet
and start everyone moving. Tasha watched them go. “Bishet?”

Bishet answered from her customary place, two steps behind. “Yes,
Lady?”

“Which one is the watcher?”

Bishet lowered her head, grinning. “Probably Movet, as he’s the newest.
But one never knows, lady, It could be me.”

Tasha moved toward the house gate after Bishet had gathered her things.
“Goodness, I won’t be arrested for sedition will I?”

Quite serious, the servant answered. “You enjoy the protection of a
powerful house and unless you abuse it you are quite safe up to a point.”

“I’ll remember what you said.”

CHAPTER 13

She had found a route that gave her the maximum aerobic and muscle
toning workout while providing the best scenic view. Keeping herself busy and
exercising herself into the ground kept her focusing on one day at a time. Far sun
season never got bitterly cold and the statuesque trees never lost their leaves.
They simply shriveled into a dormant state to be revived in a few cycles time.
She could not really consider herself happy, although she was not discontented.
Her life was not her own to order. She had no career, an uncertain future at best,
and a hostage to fortune in the person of Sela. Tasha reached the summit of her
hike and found the tree she sought.. It didn’t take long to climb. She liked the
feeling it gave of being hidden while allowing her to observe everyone and
everything. Freedom.

The city of Dartha could be seen quite clearly to the north. Feeling
emboldened one day she had taken one of the guards and Bishet to visit.
Rhihanna cities grew vertically like their writing. From this distance the spires
were beautiful and awful. The streets below must have been bustling and colorful
once. Forty five years of isolation and limited trading partners had transformed
them. The homes of the rich and influential including Jaris’ own were tastefully
decorated with valuable works of art. Sculpture, antique weapons and the textiles
of which they were so justly proud. The dark, depressing streets of Dartha were
inhabited by a seemingly different race. Everyone looked out very much for
themselves. Bishet’s family resided there.

Bishet had explained the convoluted economic system that governed
everyone’s life. The oldest and richest families owned the best land. Bishet
herself had leapt at the chance to ally herself to a powerful house no matter how
eccentric its master. Everyone’s life was set out for them almost from birth. If
born into a family of farmers a farmer you would be. The military was the only
truly egalitarian institution in their society. True, the scion of a powerful house
could wangle themselves a position, but merit was rewarded. Entrance into one
of the military academies was a ticket to social advancement.

The population had increased to the point where even mandatory military
service was no longer practical. The military branches could pick and choose
from the best, and they were very choosy. This left the bulk of the population to
plod onward, fulfilling their social function hoping and scheming to advance even
one of their relatives. For when one member of a family advanced, everyone
benefited. The poverty she saw was a result of a stagnating social order. Wealth
could not be created without innovation, conquest, or trade. Conquest was slowly
petering out as they were crowded between the Klingon Empire and the
Federation. Trade was limited, and the best and brightest minds were snatched up
by the military and weapons development. Tasha could see only two possibilities
for the future, rebellion, or disintegration. She couldn’t imagine the fierce, bright
,energetic people she met desintigrating. That left only revolution.

The commanding voice startled her out of her thoughts. ” In the name of
the seven hells human, what are you doing, escaping a thrai!”

Tasha started and whipped around to look. A woman with the typical bird
of prey face she had come to associate with the upper classes looked up with
annoyance and bewilderment. Tasha had no answer so she began a rather
sheepish descent from the tree, jumping the last few meters to the ground. “I just
wanted to be alone” was her lame reply.

Not wanting to get into a discussion of weird Terrene rituals, the woman
introduced herself. “I am Ehras et Morrhain, first mother of that line. I would
speak with you Merete Linai.” Seeing Tasha’s cautious glance around she
continued. ” The one sent to monitor you is now busy with more important
matters that will take some time. Walk with me.” With that the woman turned
her correct military posture down the path without waiting to see if Tasha would
follow. Tasha gave a bewildered glance in her direction and followed.

Ehras walked with long strides to a small clearing and rested one well
shod foot on a rock. Tasha seated herself on a conveniently placed fallen tree and
waited. Ehras examined her openly without self consciousness. So this was the
Terran female who had caused such a stir of jealousy and reluctant admiration
amongst the noble houses. She did not look at all like one who would capture
herself a Rihanna General and force him to take her into his family. True she was
not as insipidly infantile as human females generally were. Her face was oddly
flat, featureless and plain, her hair bizarrely golden. She was no beauty. The
expression of her eyes was arresting, however. Direct, icily blue, and honest.

“I’ve come, Ihhei, to offer you freedom for yourself and your daughter.”

Tasha said nothing for several long moments, staring fixedly at a point
behind the woman’s left shoulder. She managed to preserve a calm exterior as
she answered. ” Surely you don’t think I’m so foolish as to fall into that trap. I
would be executed on sight if caught trying to escape. Besides, why would you
care about my freedom?”

“My motives are purely selfish,” came the surprising reply. “I and my line
owe a debt of gratitude and Mnei’ sahe to another ship called Enterprise and her
crew. Certain elements in Rhihan society have been discontented with their lot
since the sundering from Vulcan. They did not wish to leave but were
“persuaded” to do so. Ever since they have sworn a blood debt on each side. I’m
sure you’ve heard the propaganda tapes about incidents like “Hellguard, Laevari V
and similar atrocities. My great grandam was directly involved in destroying the
research facility at Laevari V with the help of a previous Enterprise and her crew.
Mnei’ sahe will not be satisfied until that debt is repaid. I am prepared to arrange
your escape from this place, to reunite you with the remains of your crew in
neutral space.”

Tasha’s heart began racing. Freedom. No more editing every word. No
more gnawing worry that her one protector would be eliminated leaving her
naked and defenseless in this world. Sela, her little girl, all to herself. Tasha
folded her hands tightly and stared at the ground. Looking up finally her words
were soft but steady. “I won’t leave without Sela, Sela won’t leave without her
father , and Jaris would never leave. I couldn’t take her from her father, they
share a mutual adoration, and I couldn’t live without her myself. I’ve made my
bargain and my choices and I must live with them.”

Ehras looked with what might have been compassion at the alien woman.
“So that is the way of it is it? Some plants have tenacious roots, the more you
attempt to kill them the deeper they grow. I salute your devotion to your daughter
and your choices. I hope they are not misplaced.” she extracted a small object
from a pocket. “This is a thalodistan chip. It will give you a swift clean death
almost instantly if ingested. If you change your mind, our offer still stands. We
have placed a member of our household as one of your household staff. He wears
a ring bearing the sigil beast of our house like this one.” she handed her a carved
black ring. “Wear it and he will instantly know your intention. You must trust
him implicitly for there will not be much time.” She spoke into her
communicator. Heitj’ rhae.” The transporter beacon caught her and she
disassembled before Tasha’s eyes.

CHAPTER 14

Sela’s naming day arrived with all the grand celebration the house could
muster. At the age of four, when in ancient times a child was past the dangers of
infancy, a child received his or her first “real” name and became an official
person. Her name flag had already been prepared bearing her name, of course,
and the sigil beast of her father’s house. Her mother’s contribution became
problematical. Tasha solved the dilemma by suggesting the astronomical symbol
for Terra. This was deemed sufficient and duly added. Sela herself anticipated
the day with transports of delight. It was Birthday, Halloween, and Christmas all
rolled into one.

Her mother’s gift, a holographic tiger with different programs to watch .
Sela became entranced with the “tiger attacks water buffalo” motif. The only
earth creatures she was entranced with had to have fangs, claws or poison glands.
The girl’s increasingly frequent yawns meant bedtime was soon. “Sela, I have
another gift to show you.” Sela’s droopy eyes perked up again at the mention of a
gift and Tasha led her unnoticed to the garden in the back. Kneeling down beside
a bushy plant now in dormancy her mother sat the little girl beside her. “Sela, I
planted this camellia bush the very day you were born. It’s from earth, specially
adapted for this planet, like you. When the near sun season comes again it will
have beautiful scarlet blossoms on it. Whenever you look at it I want you to think
of me and the place where my people come from. Its a beautiful blue and white
planet filled with fabulous things just like this. Will you do that?”

The child had been stroking the little growth buds as if to coax a blossom
out early. “Yes, mamma, I”ll remember. Can we go to earth someday?” Tasha
bit her lip and gave what she hoped was a convincing smile. “Maybe, someday.
Here, here’s something else I have for you.” A tiny gold locket with a fine chain
caught the child’s interest. “This has my picture and is inscribed with the earth
name I chose for you, Celia Jeanette. You wear it around your neck to keep that
person close to your heart.” Tasha gathered the little girl to her savoring her silky
hair and small frame. Raw instinct told her that she would not live to see her
child grow up. Why this should be so she couldn’t fathom, but she knew it
nonetheless. “Time for bed now. I’ll tell you another story about King Arthur and
his brave Knights.”

Sir Gawain and the quest for the Holy Grail were dancing merrily in Sela’s
imagination when Tasha threaded her way back to the noisy throng. Being a
loner by nature and childhood experience she hated swarms of people all crowded
together. Dinner lasted over two hours. Toasts, boasts, and tall tales orbited the
increasingly unruly crowd. Large draughts of Romulan ale and, she suspected,
certain hallucinatory drugs loosened tongues and made the ususally publicly stoic
Rihanna positively merry. Khez, the surprising Klingon addition to the guest list,
declared Jaris’ daughter to be the true offspring of her father when she had had the
Glhaz* to growl back at a Klingon warrior. He had even toasted Tasha herself,
which she had accepted with a weary but gracious nod. “May Jaris have even
finer, stronger sons by her! By Kahless! we may even rid ourselves of this
accursed Federation pact with them!” Tasha’s start of delighted surprise was not
noticed among the enthusiastic affirmatives. She willed Jaris to look at her from
down the table, and he did. You wily old fox you, Tasha grinned to herself. It
wouldn’t have been any fun to tell her outright that the timeline had been restored
correctly. This way was so much more imaginative and elegant.

Seventeen courses and an unknown amount of ale later, the last guests
trickled out of the house into the darkness. Gratefully divesting herself of the hot
stiff brocades, Tasha sank into the hottest bath she could stand. It was one of the
few luxuries she allowed herself, that, and the silk futon she slept on. Rihannsu
sleeping couches could double as church pews or park benches. A quick comb
through of her now chin length hair and a practical sleeping silk brought her back
into the main room. She was not startled to see Jaris waiting there, idly reading
one of the antique books he had brought her from a Ferrenghi trader.

Throwing the comb onto the table she collapsed onto the futon, burying
her head under the cover. “Conversation is all you’ll be getting tonight I’m
afraid.” her muffled voice held some amusement.

“This story is incomprehensible.” He obviously was not going to respond
to her teasing.

Tasha groaned and rolled onto her back, it was going to be one of THOSE
conversations again. “It’s four hours till first sun. Don’t you ever get tired.”

“I will remove myself and allow you to sleep when you explain why this
man this…. Hamlet refuses to avenge his father’s death.”

Oh gods and elements, she sighed to herself. He’s like a terrier with a rat
when he gets an idea in his head. One would not think that Tasha Yar would
have much knowledge of Shakespeare. Her guilty secret was that she had hero
worshipped Picard. If Picard liked Shakespeare then by golly Tasha was going to
learn about it too. A sudden insight made her rise from her bed, cross the room
and put her arms around his neck. “Thank you.” she whispered, resting her head
in the crook of his neck. His pretended puzzlement made her grin wryly. “For
letting me know about the peace accord.”

“It seemed fitting that Khez should tell you. You have not answered my
question.”

Tasha forced herself to alertness one more time. ” Hamlet was not certain
what to do. Was the ghost real? Was his mother involved? How could he justify
the murder of an anointed king on the testimony of a ghost that might have been a
bit of undigested dinner? He vacillated, thought, mused, and vacillated some
more. His inability to come to terms with the situation ruined the lives and
caused the deaths of innocent people. That’s why its a tragedy.”

“Humans think too much and act too little.” he observed. “If he had taken
action from the very beginning the whole mess would never have happened.”

Tasha yawned. “Of course, but that makes for some pretty boring
literature don’t you think?”

Jaris would have replied but sleep had already overtaken her. He put the
book down quietly and deposited her gently on the futon. He would not stay.
Rihannsu did not sleep on the floor.
*Glhaz- guts, Chutzpah
CHAPTER 15

“Why were women not permitted to participate in their own
government.?”

Tasha looked up from her padd and the newest verb conjugation list.
Where had that come from? Lira looked uncomfortable but persisted. “Is it true,
lady, that human women were not even legal persons but the property of men?”

She had, so far, kept the classes strictly to a working knowledge of
common English. The feeling that her time here was limited grew daily. She had
not survived to the age of fifteen alone without learning to trust her instincts.
“Lira, I’m going to answer your question but it will take some time. I’m changing
the syllabus. From now on classes will be conducted entirely in English. You
may use the translators for a time but eventually I will wean you off them. Our
new subject is Earth history the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Delighted and
astonished looks from her students removed the last vestiges of caution. Let them
spy. Telling the truth is no crime.

“Human civilization began in the valley between the Tigris and Euphrates
rivers.” She directed them to pull up the appropriate maps on their padds. Over
two hours later she was hoarse and dying for a drink. The Egyptian and Chinese
dynasties, Nebuchednezzar, King Solomon, Alexander the Great, Elizabeth the
first, Napoleon and Hitler. The dark ages, the renaissance and enlightenment and
the founding of the first democracies and the revolutions that gave them birth.
Who would have thought humans could be so interesting? Bishet returned from
the house with refreshments as her students begged her to continue. The
description of the twentieth century with its hideous wars and tremendous
technical advances sobered them. Tasha spent a long time on Hitler, his
tyrannical reign and the holocaust.

“Now Lira, I’m going to answer your question. Most of human history has
been just that, his story, get it?” After the nods of encouragement she continued.
There were isolated instances in ancient times where women were respected but
they were few and far between. The beginnings of the emancipation of women in
any real sense began on the North American Continent in the eighteenth century.
The basis for Federation law is the Constitution of the United States of America.
The Federation Articles of Confederation are modeled after it. This was a
document strictly outlining the powers and responsibilities of government.”

“How could a piece of paper restrict the quest for power?” Movet’s
question was cynical.

“These people founded a new nation on a new continent because they
were tired of the old ways. European society was stratified and entrenched. The
wealthy few owned everything and there were few mechanisms for upward social
mobility. Religious persecution, and some greed were involved too. They were
determined to establish a government that was answerable to the people it
governed. A government derives its just powers from the consent of the
governed.”

“How did this piece of paper do that?” Movet queried

Tasha warmed to her subject. “By dividing up governmental authority
among three branches of government. Legislative, judicial and executive. Each
had its own powers and prerogatives and each had the authority and responsibility
to check the others. This way no one man or governmental body could take
control because they were continually held in check by the other two. For
instance suppose the legislative branch passed a law that said that people with
green blood could not publish newspapers. In order for this to become law the
executive branch must sign it. Even then the people with green blood could
challenge the law to the Supreme Court which could arbitrarily declare an illegal
abrogation of First Amendment rights.”

“First Amendment?” Lira asked

“Certain delegates to the constitutional convention refused to sign if there
were not a “Bill of rights” attached to the document. This constitutes the first ten
amendments or changes to the constitution. They include, the right to free speech
and freedom of religion, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, protection
against unreasonable searches and seizures, protection against self incrimination
and the right to a trial by a jury of peers, no cruel or unusual punishments, and the
assumption that whatever powers not specifically assigned to government shall be
retained by the people.”

“What does this have to do with women?” Lira asked, impatiently.

“Once they had committed themselves to this document women began to
realize that they could lay hold of the rights and guarantees in it as well as men.
At first it was assumed that only landowning males would vote. When the slaves
were finally emancipated and given the vote women quite rightly pointed out that
they were as entitled to suffrage as former slaves. These women held meetings,
wrote pamphlets, engaged in all sorts of nonviolent civil disobedience to bring
their case to the public. They went on hunger strikes and were arrested and force
fed. Finally the force and logic of their cause could no longer be ignored and a
new amendment to the constitution was passed prohibiting the denial of the vote
on the basis of sex. What this constitution provided was a means of nonviolent
,nonrevolutionary change. If you look at the files I’ve given you you can read the
whole text of the document in English. It should be good practice, and if you like
we’ll talk some more next time.”

Tasha eased her cramped legs from the ground, watching as her pupils
walked silently homeward, thinking private thoughts. Bishet’s gaze was focused
in that direction also but Tasha suspected she was not contemplating
constitutional law. She remained an annoying two steps behind as they made
their way back to the house from the huge tree where classes were held. She
gripped but could not quite manage to hide, the bracelet in her left hand. It had
been carved out of an ebony like wood and sported red stones for the eyes of a
raptorial creature. Tasha, entranced by its savage beauty could not resist a
comment. “Bishet, that’s gorgeous. Where did you get it?”

“It is a questing gift to initiate the courtship ritual.” Her tone was
noncommittal.

Should I ask? Thought Tasha. Yes, definitely ask. “What is a questing
gift and what is the courtship ritual?”

Bishet paused, looking for words. “When a gentleman wishes to make the
acquaintance of a lady he desires he sends her a questing gift. By tradition and
the bounds of good taste it should not be expensive or ostentatious. He must
demonstrate his good taste, and accurate perception of the lady’s personality. One
suitor, in ancient lore, pined unbearably for the beautiful daughter of a local
baron. He sent her heartbreaking poetry, rare delicacies for the table, a single
perfectly formed lesha bloom that would last for only a day. She would have
none of him. She preferred the rich but dull son of one of the Praetor’s retainers.
Finally in frustration, he sent her a carved chest filled with chains of cash and
closed with a sturdy lock. “Break the lock and you are mine.” he wrote. She
laughed so hard at his audacity and perception that the relationship was
consummated the next day and they lived very happily together. She couldn’t fail
to be so with a mate who knew her so well.”

Tasha was now thoroughly intrigued. “So, what happens now?”

“I must determine who my suitor is to begin with. If I have no interest in
the whole proceeding I simply return the gift to the go-between and the matter is
finished. If I wish to continue I may simply keep the gift and say nothing leaving
the next move to him. If I wear or display the gift in public that is of course, an
obvious signal of my intention to consummate the relationship.”

Tasha knew all about THAT. “Does that mean marriage?”

“Not necessarily. A lady who is so quickly wooed and won is probably
not interested in marriage but only in T’vetna.”

“T’vetna?”

“T’vetna means…. sexual partner, an affair. If this is to be the course of
events the man must find a clever way to contrive to get her alone. She may wish
to test his intelligence and ingenuity by making this especially difficult. Once he
has succeeded, she is honor bound to welcome him.”

“What if she doesn’t wear the gift in public?” Tasha asked.

“If his interest is only superficial he may stop at that point or any other in
the process. That is the chance the lady takes. If she insists on continuing the
ritual she risks losing him. The process has been known to take years. The gift
does not have to be something tangible but can be anything clever, amusing, or
original. How else is a woman to evaluate the intelligence and tenacity of a
prospective mate and still retain dignity for both sides?”

“How will you find out who the gift is from?” They were almost to the
rearmost gate of the back garden wall.

“I suspect its from H’nain. The bloodwing is the sigil beast of the house
that has indentured him. As the process continues it will become clearer who my
suitor is. Marriage to me would be a good match for him. I was T’vetna to Jaris
before he met you, and adopting his son would provide a link with a powerful
house.”

“Sela has a half brother?” Tasha gaped, nonplused.

Bishet looked at her oddly. “Of course, how do you think I was available
to nurse Sela at the right time? Jaris and I ended it by mutual agreement when he
married you. I’m quite content to be the mother of his son not his consort.”

Tasha sat absorbing this on the stone bench after Bishet had retreated into
the house. It was none of her business really what Jaris had done in the past. She
hadn’t exactly been a maiden herself. She had been a bit surprised to learn that
Jaris or even she herself could take a second or any number of subconsorts. If
Jaris wife had still been alive that was no doubt what she would have been. She
curled her legs under her and leaned against the stone wall appreciating the
silence, letting her thoughts drift. It was doubtful that her classes would be
permitted if she continued in the current vein. She was going to have to let the
past speak for itself. Jaris had seen no reason not to provide her with the
Enterprise’s database, that part of it that could not be used for any military
purpose. She had access to books, history, art, music, dangerous stuff. The pen is
mightier than the sword, someone had said. Tasha went in search of Mejh.

CHAPTER 16
A thousand hearts are great within my bosom!
Advance our standards, set upon our foes.
Our ancient word of courage, fair St. George,
Inspire us with the spleen of fiery dragons.
Upon them! Victory sits on our helms.
16th century Terran.

The Mikaya nebula stretched from the outer limits of Rihan space through
the neutral zone and extended a good way into Federation territory. It was a
popular tourist attraction, its gaudy colors and changing patterns a feast for the
eye. One generally paid a stiff price to an experienced pilot for a few hours
cruising through it. Navigation was possible, though challenging. Sensor
beacons were set up at regular intervals at the border of normal space. This
allowed a vessel in the nebula to keep a fix on its position and find the way out.
Jaris had promised Sela a guided tour and she would not be gainsayed.

Her father had seated Sela on his lap, letting her work controls under his
direction. Sela was almost five now. Six years. Six years she had lived in this
place. Her relationship with her husband was enigmatic. Tasha had come to the
conclusion that the Rhihannsu were latently telepathic, or rather emotion casting.
His physical attraction to her was as strong as ever and he had never failed to
bring her with him. She guessed that he was able to unknowingly “infect” her
with his emotions. Not a bad system when you thought about it.

Sela was maturing much more rapidly than a pure Rihanna child would.
She had already outstripped others of her age in the exclusive preliminary school
she attended. Her physical maturity would no doubt be just as precocious. Tasha
again felt the shiver of apprehension that she would not be there to guide Sela
through adolescence. She had begun keeping a journal, or history of her time
here. One day, she hoped, her daughter would read it.

Thinking of history brought Mejh to mind. The Kh’asheti had been as
clever and resourceful as she had hoped. Seventy two data discs had been
required to copy the appropriate files, and were cleverly disguised as part of an
ornamental belt. Tasha felt guilt at the deception, and had severely warned the
servant to copy nothing but Enterprise data.

Who to trust with it could not be solved easily and Tasha was still
working on it. Any one of her pupils could be a Tal Shiar operative, even Bishet.
Sela’s childish prattle broke her thoughts.

“Pappa, are there people living on the dust?” She had long ago learned to
separate Rihannsu from English.

“People, tala*? How could people live on dust particles.?” Her father’s
voice was tolerantly amused.

Sela turned solemn eyes to him. “Mamma told me a story about tiny
people who lived on a speck of dust that was their planet. She said a person’s a
person no matter how small.”

Jaris quizzical glance brought a shrug from Tasha. “Horton hears a Who.
A classic of earth literature. No Sela don’t touch that!” Tasha gently removed the
child’s hand from a critical control. Jaris gaze became even more quizzical.

“This scout is thirty years old to me. We used to fly them in simulations
at the academy. I always got to be the bandit, the invader. I won a lot too.”

“Indeed,” he commented dryly.

A huge sensor blip appeared, overtaking the navigational array. Jaris
hands slid over the controls expecting to find an Imperial frigate or Warbird
coming from the nearby Starbase. What he found instead brought feverish blood
pumping to his head. He gripped Sela’s shoulders to tightly she began to squirm.
Grabbing her and depositing her in one of the rear seats his hands flew over the
controls. Startled, Tasha leaned over to see what the fuss was about.

The cubic shape froze her heartbeat. For a few seconds she was certain it
would stop altogether. While she sat frozen in fear for her daughter Jaris was
acting.

“Tasha, you indicated you knew how to pilot this vessel. I am engaging its
cloaking device and sending out a message on a subspace emergency channel
patched through that navigational beacon. We will follow that vessel under cloak
until the first Warbird can arrive. I will be beaming over.” Tasha’s eyes implored
him not to but he ignored it. “When I leave I want you to take this vessel back to
the nebula. Remain cloaked and maintain a sensor lock on the beacon. You may
be the only remaining witness to what transpires here.”

While Jaris was busy at the communications console. Tasha’s training
took over and she blocked out her fear. Trusting the cloak to protect them she
inched the scout out of the nebula and out of weapons range of the Borg Vessel.
The cube traced a leisurely course along the border , using the sensor confusing
properties to avoid detection. Like a predator sniffing the air for prey, the vessel
stopped intermittently ,making sensor sweeps, and then moved on. Tasha moved
when they moved and stopped when they stopped, praying feverishly that Jaris
communication attempts would not be detected.

Two stomach churning hours later, Jaris rose and headed for the
transporter platform. Unable to leave her post Tasha watched helplessly as he
dematerialized. She looked briefly at her daughter playing quietly with a
computer padd game, not realizing this might be the last time she saw her father.

It wasn’t her imagination. The Borg vessel scented prey. The transporter
beam had been detected and Imperial Warbird Kazzara decloaked, firing a
taunting volley of photon torpedoes before she whirled and ran. The Borg vessel
entered warp almost instantly and Tasha took a few fevered moments to plot a
course that would keep her near the nebula. The Warbird kept up a taunting
series of fire, cloak, whirl, and run. The Borg fired no weapons. It did not posses
a cloak and grimly bore down on the graceful vessel, insatiable for new
technology. Decloaking for the last time it screamed at maximum warp to its
destination, the densest part of the nebula. The little scout’s engines could not
keep up so Tasha calculated the most probable course and edged her way into the
dusty border.

The dizzying stream of communications flying over the console was
coded and indecipherable. The sheer volume of it spoke of dozens of vessels.
The cube stopped at the border, its prey trapped in the pink maelstrom.

The first four Warbirds, larger than any Tasha had ever known about
decloaked, at four points surrounding the hideous cube. A curious ballet ensued.
Each Warbird released two or more dozen small vessels each manned by a single
pilot and a suicide mission. Cloaked and armed with antiproton weapons only
they were under orders to self destruct if captured by the Borg. A hive of bees
attacking a tiger flashed through Tasha’s mind. The Borg weapons were superior
and one by one the little drones were dispatched scattering debris and glowing
plasma through the battlefield. They never stopped coming. When one Warbird’s
shields were drained it cloaked and fled and another took its place.

The cube would not flee. Defeat would not occur to its programming. Its
weapons and shields were superior. It would prevail. The rest was irrelevant.
Kazzara listed to port, stung by multiple blasts that had finally weakened a shield.
A swarm of drone ships concentrated fire at a plasma relay point. Slowly,
inexorably, the Borg vessel began to drain. Kazzara limped backward to be
replaced by Bright Fire. Six different locations on the cube were under fire at one
time.

Small fissures were opening in the shielding. The drones, tasting blood
regrouped to concentrate their fire at these points. Two more Warbirds decloaked
and the six together locked their tractor beams on the hideous cube. The Borg
vessel, its hive mind concluding that flight was in its best interest, broke off its
attack and routed all power to its engines. It broke away briefly, at impulse, only
to be snatched up again into the talons of its executioners. Firing now on its
captors it drained the shielding on Bright Fire and sliced through a warp nacelle.
Bright Fire broke off, bleeding warp plasma into a starry background, to be
replaced by Stoops for the Kill.

As each Warbird was targeted the drones concentrated their fire on the
weapons ports being used. As the Borg shields drained, more and more damage
was done, some ports were rendered useless entirely. All six original Warbirds,
now damaged beyond combat capability, dissolved into nothingness to be reborn
as six more, fully armed, shielded, and combat ready.

Tasha stared, entranced, horrified, and helpless at the carnage. Drone
after drone exploded in fireworks before her only to be replaced by dozens more.
The cloak, and their willingness to accept chilling casualties were the Romulans
greatest strategic advantages and they used them. As the fate of the Borg vessel
became clearer Tasha’s mind began to organize and clear. She was hidden
beyond sensor detection in a nebula that extended into Federation space. She had
a fully warp capable, cloaked vessel in perfect condition. If she were careful it
would take about three weeks to navigate to the other side. Her eyes bored into
the navigational array, bringing up the onboard computer. The computer would
not allow her to plot an automatic course she would have to plot each leg of the
journey individually

The thud almost jarred her out of her seat. A polite, pleasant voice drifted
over the intercom. “Ihhei, Khoi! on the general’s glorious victory! Kazzara is
prepared to take you aboard and escort you safely home.

*tala-girl child
CHAPTER 17

It was the stinging under his eyelids that awoke him. Plasma vapor. A
woman in a commander’s tunic eyed him from across the room.

I’m still alive then. “Where am I? What ship is this?”

“You are aboard Imperial Warbird “Stoops for the Kill” general. The
honor is ours.” smooth as honey her voice was.

“And you are?”

“Forgive me general, I thought you would recognize me. I am Colonel
Lira ir Mosrat, of special intelligence. You have been our guest for four days. I
grieve with you.”

Jaris said nothing merely stared.

” My superior Merohe Ir Nakhal regrets that she could not be here to tell
you about it.” her pause was overly dramatic. ” The lady, Mirete Linai et Tellorn
was executed two days ago. Caught in the act of flight there was no need for a
trial. The scout you left her with was programmed with a course across the
nebula into Federation space. Clear acts of treason.”

Jaris struggled to speak. “You dare! You dare execute a member of my
family!”

“We dare a great deal general! The incident at Arioch disrupted a most
sensitive Tal Shiar project. The loss of the Enterprise after so glorious a victory
would whet any Rihanna’s appetite for revenge. It took some time but eventually,
scratch a human and get a traitor. Your daughter is safely in the custody of your
servants. We trust your recovery will be swift.” Jaris was glad when her reptilian
gaze left him and the room.

Merohe’s darjha blade had struck true. A darjha went into its victim
smoothly, almost painlessly, the trick was not to struggle. The more one
struggled the deeper it embedded and the more difficult and painful to remove.
Was it the truth? Had Tasha gambled on her chance for freedom? It would have
been her sworn duty as an officer, he knew. She would have needed assistance.
Who? A lover? That human who had glared at him so icily in the caves?
Jealousy flooded through him. The darjha began its work.
——————————————————————————————–

Howso?
My pleasure, my pain.
Frost
Burns as I do*
*from “The Lament of T’lael, first century post planetfall. Rihan

Mirete Linai et Tellorn sat quietly in the guest chamber gazing with
puzzlement and disbelief at the items in her hand. Jaris’ ceremonial dueling
blade, his house sigil ring, and insignia of rank. His personal effects. Jaris was
dead The grave, polite officer had said so. Tasha placed the gift from Ehras on
her left hand and sent for Movet , the house steward.

His arrival was prompt and proper, standing two steps behind her left
shoulder. She handed him a chain of cash with that left hand. “Take this.
Arrangements must be made for the death rites of your lord.” Movet bowed
briefly, he understood. The chip, configured for her voiceprint unlocked the safe,
the chains of cash fit smoothly into a pocket. The servants melted away as she
wandered through the house to Sela’s room. Bishet lay sleeping on a pallet near
the girl. Tasha’s calm gravity brought her upright. Bishet stared in
incomprehension at the belt and the cash. “Bishet, I trust you with this last gift,
use it with honor. Leave this house now. Your fate and mine must separate
here.” Tasha spoke in the most formal Rihan she could muster. “Your Lord is
dead and, I think, I with him. These words I have written are my testament of the
truth, this too, I entrust with you. Do not fail me.” Bishet paused, then nodded
briefly. Her exit was silent and unnoticed.

Tasha sank slowly on the sleeping couch beside her daughter, drinking in
her chubbyfaced innocence, and waited.

Movet found them asleep when he entered the room. Tasha jerked awake
at his presence. “Lady, at the mid of night be waiting under the dhashon tree.
Trust.” and then he disappeared. Forty five standard minutes ticked by with
curious calm. With ten to spare she wrapped Sela warmly in a blanket, her own
clothing dark and nondescript, her hair covered by a cowl. Into the kitchens and
through the pantry to the locked storage room leading underground to the outside
entrance. Her code chip gained easy, silent access.

The chilly, moist air jabbed at her, and Sela stirred sleepily. Hushed in a
whisper, she settled back to doze. The rear service entrance led beyond the
walled garden, the dhashon tree already in sight. Tasha began an awkward run
with her burden. The child, jolted from safe slumber began to whimper, as her
mother shushed her again.

Sela was having a nightmare. Torn from her warm bed she was being
taken away, away from her father, her home. She awoke screaming. Her mother
clamped a panicked palm over her mouth too late. Lights in the security barracks
flared, and sentinels began scanning the area.

Yar dove for the nearest cover she could find, Sela clutched tightly to her.
Ehras, Ehras, where are you? The booted feet she glimpsed from the corner of
her eye filled her with brief joy. The look in the woman’s eyes did not.

Sela whimpered as she was snatched from her mother’s arms and Yar was
yanked to her feet. Betrayed, I am betrayed. Confused panic replaced her brief
joy, reducing her breathing to jerky gasps. The house sentinels arrived at a dead
run, stopped short by the sight of their mistress obviously in custody. A few
servants observed from a safe distance.

Merohe gathered everyone with her eyes. “Hear me! I am senior
centurion Merohe ir Nakhal. My rank vests me with authority to arrest and give
sentence for capital crimes. This woman stands accused of treason, sabotage, and
murder. I can prove her presence at the Arioch research facility, her DNA traces
were everywhere. Her flight from this house, by our law, is further proof of guilt.
She was instrumental in destroying a captured vessel and murdering twenty three
of our people.” She eyed Yar with distaste. Yar returned the gaze with forced
composure, gathering her courage. The thalodistan chip would not help her now.
One of the servants had gathered up Sela who watched in wide eyed confusion.

“No trial or other evidence is necessary. I have in my possession a
warrant for her arrest and immediate execution Sentence will be carried out
forthwith.” She strolled before Yar with gloating majesty. ” We have many
elegant rituals connected with our execution rites, Ihhei, no doubt you will come
to appreciate them in time. We will begin with hands and eyes, and move on
from there.” Yar shivered briefly, eyeing Sela.

Merhoe turned her head in that direction. “Your daughter will remain, an
excellent lesson in Rihanna justice for her.”

It has been said that the prospect of execution on the morrow concentrates
the mind wonderfully. Yar’s began working at warp speed. Jaris’ dueling blade
nestled with cold assurance against her skin. She swallowed and hardened her
voice. “I demand the right of single combat!” Merhoe’s eyes narrowed in
irritation. Yar ignored her and continued. “Hear me! I took the chance at escape
because I knew that no mere human could expect justice here. Wouldn’t any of
you have done the same to protect your only child? You all know how long I
could have expected to live with my only protector gone. I helped to destroy
Arioch to prevent an even greater evil which the senior centurion is well
aquainted with.” Merhoe made a move to intervene but a baritone voice stopped
her.

“Even an alien prisoner has the right of last statement and trial by
combat.” Low murmurs of agreement followed. Merhoe gestured with grand
condescension. “By all means continue then.”

Yar crossed her arms protectively and continued. “Arioch was a Tal Shiar
project employing helpless human prisoners as research subjects. Mikaya is not
the first time the Borg have been engaged. Entranced with the prospect of total
control over a cyborg army the Tal Shiar expended it resources to that end instead
of defending the Empire. This…. woman would have enslaved your sons and
daughters to her ambition with no more compunction than she used my people.
Merhoe?” The familiar name stung. Yar gathered her anger, focused and
concentrated on her assassin. ” I spit at you, and I defy you. I call you coward
and traitor. A fool such as you should not be allowed to live.”

Such a challenge, duly witnessed, could not go unanswered. “Single
combat it shall be, human.” the centurion growled. Merhoe ripped at the
fastenings of her bulky tunic, discarding it on the ground and retrieving her
dueling blade. Two of her guards immediately stepped between the two women.
Yar turned her back, walked away, removed her own outer garment, slipped the
thalodistan chip safely against her last molar. This, she thought, remembering an
earlier challenge, this I understand. Yar brought discipline to bear on her
thoughts, slowing her heartbeat, regulating her breathing, striving for a state of
perfect relaxation. I am an officer and a lady. I will go out to meet death freely.
I won’t allow them to slaughter me like an animal. Calm descended and a strange
euphoria enveloped her.

Yar turned and faced her opponent ,drained of hate or any other emotion.
The ritual cuts were made on the back of her hand to test the blade’s sharpness
and insure against poison. The requisite minutes ticked by and she rested the haft
easily in her right palm. The leather grip slipped over her fingers ensuring she
would not drop it.
Merohe did not charge, Yar had not expected her to. Yar settled her
stance comfortably, trained her eyes on her opponent’s, and waited. Merohe’s
expression was far from calm, it contained grim, feral rage. She circled her
human opponent, thrailike and vicious, searching for an opening. Yar settled
back, only reacting to her movements, initiating nothing. This state of
nothingness further enraged the Rihanna centurion. She crossed the arena , her
blade slashed upwards, her free hand reaching for Yar to draw her into the point.

Yar dropped to her back and slammed both feet into the centurion’s
midriff, rolled free, and rose to her feet in a single fluid movement. Merohe’s
recovery was nearly as swift. Taking advantage of the brief seconds Yar would
need to reorient herself, she charged again, low, with the intention of tackling her
with superior weight and strength. Her opponent accepted the weight and
velocity, allowing it to force her backwards, her feet once again in the centurion’s
midriff, casting her over her head with her own momentum.

The centurion landed heavily on her back, retaining her grip on one of
Yar’s arms. Yar twisted and stood half upright smashing one foot into the elbow
joint, and gained release. The Rihanna grunted in pain and rolled back into a
fighting stance. The human backpedaled , giving the Romulan no chance to get
her hands on her where her superior weight and strength would be advantageous.
Merohe wasted no time, crossing swiftly again to fasten her hands around the
human’s throat. Yar caught her under the chin with a sharp elbow, dodging the
strong hands. Merohe caught the back of her undertunic instead and whirled the
human around like a doll. Yar kicked sideways and inside at a kneecap and heard
the satisfying crunch of tendons. The knife blow missed her throat and scored
deeply into her cheek instead. The heel of her hand drove into the Rihanna’s nose
drawing blood and gaining her release. Merohe turned slightly , for a single
instant as the force of the blow turned her head aside. Yar planted another boot
into the small of her back sprawling her on her face. The blade sunk to the hilt
into the space between the third and fourth vertebrae, severing the spinal column.

One observer in particular gasped in horror at the twitching corpse. As
the human backed away from her victory Laihah raised the disruptor. The honor
of dispatching the human was to have been hers.

The blue beam caught Tasha squarely in the chest, her arms pulled
upwards like a marionette as she remained trapped in its embrace for several
excruciating seconds. It disassembled her atom by atom and then continued
through to the dashon tree in the background. The leathery bark sizzled and
burned where a deep gouge appeared ,bleeding a sticky resin.

CHAPTER 18

Sela put down the padd, briefly closing the icy blue eyes that were so like
her mother’s. The tree had never healed, its continued bleeding year after year a
source of wonder for the superstitious. That along with the Terran plant her
mother had placed in the garden, which drove it’s roots deeper year by year
despite her father’s attempts to eradicate it, fueled weak minds. She remembered
none of these events, at least not the ones connected with the last day of her
mother’s life. She shivered ,remembering the way her father had raged and
stormed when he finally returned home. He alternated between fury at the
woman who had the temerity to leave him, and the filthy cowards who had
executed her.

Technically Mirete Linai’s death had been perfectly legal. When asked,
her father would only reply that her mother had been caught trying do escape and
duly executed, nothing more. He had given her a home, protection, and a child
and she had repaid him with betrayal. As the little girl grew more and more into
the image of her mother the smoldering rage or something else she saw in his
eyes convinced her that he hated the human in her, hated her for looking like the
woman who had betrayed him. She vowed to eradicate it, drive it so far away
that the father she adored would never look at her like that again.

She had succeeded. By the age of eighteen, and a precocious maturity
,she had built an thick shell of Rihanna ice around herself. Her father would love
and respect her for the perfect Romulan she had become, and her mother’s
perfidity would never come between them.

———————————————————————————————-

Jaris tossed the manuscript aside. A brief surging pride overcame him at
learning how Tasha had dispatched her enemy. Pride was quickly replaced by the
familiar pain and humiliation. He should not have read it. It proved nothing.
She had not even had enough faith in him to wait for his body to be returned to
confirm his death. Cheated of her opportunity in the nebula, she would have
snatched their child and run to any stranger who promised her escape. His
humiliation freshened as he recalled how he had adored her, even admired her,
made a public fool of himself over her. She had only tolerated him, her response
to his passion only a clever simulation. Elements curse him for ever desiring a
human woman.

———————————————————————————————-

Commodore Larkin pushed the vid screen aside and rubbed his eyes. The
entire document would be filed as highly classified. The writer had given written
permission for Starfleet or any of its designated representatives to publish it after
it had been declassified in 40 or 50 years. Even if it was pure invention it would
make a marvelous novel.

————————————————————————————————

Bishet presented her new consort H’nain with a handsome belt as her
bonding gift. They lived together contentedly enough with her family in Dartha.
They kept their own counsel and fueled the discontent of those plagued by
ruinous taxes with tales of the paradise on Vulcan. The Borg encounter had
terrified the government ten times more than the encounter with the Federation
ever would. No expense was spared to refit and arm the fleet against this foe. It
would nearly beggar the Empire.

Three days after the traitor Mirete Linai had been executed
a woman was found in one of the more fetid alleyways of Dartha. She bore the
outcast mark on her face and had not died without considerable struggle. The
superficial autopsy revealed a poison that would have caused her to vomit up the
better portion of her stomach lining over several days. Her death was not
recorded as a crime and no further investigation was made.

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