STAR TREK- The Original Series/Captain Sulu

RATING: R for violence

SUMMARY: In the third part of the series, the U.S.S. Excelsior is pulled into an old war. One of bigotry and violence and because of the chain of events, the crew is changed forever.

DISCLAIMER: The Great Bird of the Galaxy created "the Universe" we play in. Paramount owns "The Universe" we play in. They will have all the monetary gain and the headaches... we will have all the fun!

"Unavoidable Revelations"
Creatively Engineered by Selek
Written by Gayle Rochefort-Potts
March 1999

Other Stories in the Series:
"Unavoidable Destinies" by Gayle Rochefort-Potts
"Unavoidable Hopes" by Gayle and Selek

******

Demora Sulu looked across the crowded dinning room. She was surprised that this is where Pavel was planning to have this dinner. He usually picked quieter places than "Chez Fleet". At least that's what the San Francisco Grandview was referred to as with all its redwood and ebony décor, cream coloured linens and low lights. The senior officers dominated this civilian establishment during off-duty times and for special occasions. She had never been here before and she felt a little self-conscious in the long gown she chose for tonight. She had become too accustomed to the simplicity and comfort of uniforms.

The maitre'd approached her then asked if she required assistance. She told him she was to join Captain Pavel Chekov's party. The maitre'd nodded then led her towards a private dining room. He touched the ident-panel and the door slid open to reveal Pavel and Nyota laughing.

Pavel stood, he was dressed in civilian formal attire. "Come. Demora, you look beautiful." He kissed her cheek. "Have you seen Hikaru yet?"

Demora shook her head. "No, Uncle Pavel. Why?" She sat in the chair he had held for her. She looked across the table to Uhura. "Hi. Glad you could make it. I know you weren't sure if you'd be on time. Dad will be so pleased to see you." She looked back to Pavel. "What's the mystery?"

"Not sure." Pavel poured out some wine for her then sat back down. "Vhen I made de arrangements, I made them for four. Vhen I arrived dere vas an extra setting. I asked and I vas told dat your fader asked for it." He lifted both eyebrows and stared at the young woman. "Do you know something ve don't?"

She shook her head as she swallowed the wine. "Nope. Not a word. Just that he was docked. And that he would see me tonight."

Chekov sat back with a sigh. He hated mysteries and Hikaru knew that.

"So, what's your next assignment?" Nyota asked Demora.

"I tought ve vere not going to talk shop?" Pavel was enjoying the company of these two beautiful women. In this private dining room and with everyone out of uniform, it almost felt as if he was getting to know them all over again.

"What else do we have to talk about, Pavel?" She smiled that gorgeous smile at Pavel. "Our love lives?" She was teasing him. She knew they were both unattached for the moment. She pointed a finger at Demora. "And if you are deliciously happy, I don't want to hear about it. Okay?"

Demora smiled. "Okay." She laughed a little. "But I'm not."

Pavel was the first to react to the door opening. He stood and grinned.

Sulu stood in the doorway, dressed as Pavel was in a tuxedo. Am'ath was dressed in a deep green dress and stood just off to the side until Sulu stepped in. She followed.

Pavel came around the table and wrapped his arms around his friend. He whispered to Hikaru. "This is your surprise?"

Sulu patted his back then separated. "You'll get introduced with everyone else." He reached to Am'ath's hand. "Okay, here we go. Pavel Chekov, he is the one that got me into all that trouble that I told you about."

"You vere de one to get into de trouble, Hikaru."

He moved slightly towards Nyota. "Nyota Uhura, communications expert extra-ordinaire." They exchanged a slight bow of the head and the ta'al. "Lastly, my daughter, Demora." He looked at the faces of his acquired family. "There is no easy way to do this. This is Am'ath. We were bonded four days ago."

Demora leaned back in her chair. She was shocked and happy. Also a little relieved, she wouldn't have to worry if her dad was lonely or not anymore. She looked to Nyota then smiled. They had been discussing this very thing when they went out to choose the dresses for tonight.

Nyota had been standing and was now sitting down slowly. "Bonded?" She stood again then congratulated Sulu and welcomed Am'ath.

Pavel had not stopped grinning. "You are married?" He shook his head slowly. "And you kept dis a secret, from me?" He folded his arms and stared at Sulu and tried to keep the grin off his face. "I do not know if I can forgive you, Hikaru." He looked to this Vulcan female and nodded. "I forgive you."

"It was a little unexpected. Timing wise." He guided her to the chair near Demora then sat in the chair between them.

Uhura reached for the wine. "This calls for a toast." She passed out the glasses and refilled the ones they had.

Demora stood. "To my dad and to the one that makes his eyes shine. Welcome Am'ath."

The toast was repeated varying only slightly. Sulu lifted his glass to his friends and his bond-mate. Am'ath voiced her honour in being accepted so quickly.

Dinner was served and the festive atmosphere began to take hold. Conversations about what everyone had been doing. A few 'tall tales' for Demora's and Am'ath's benefit about the Enterprise Seven. A few bottles of wine were emptied over the evening.

Uhura stood. "Come on, let's go powder our noses and give these two some time to talk." Uhura had expected Am'ath to ask some Vulcan-type question and giving her an awkward moment but she agreed, then accompanied Uhura and Demora.

Pavel poured the last of the wine between their glasses. "Vhy didn't you say anyting?" He turned the glass a few times then looked to Sulu.

Sulu leaned back in the chair, his hand still around the glass. "I didn't want to jinx this at all. We have known each other for a long time, Pav. She was lost for the past three years." He cleared his throat. He had never really talked to anyone about her before. "We had talked about being together just before the mission I sent her on." He still felt responsible for that part and yet he knew if he had it to do over again he would do it the same way. "We arranged for her return during the Tarod Conference. Her memory had been affected to a great extent."

"But she is Wulcan." He wasn't sure what he meant by the remark.

Sulu grinned and nodded. "I noticed." He wasn't sure how to explain something he didn't understand. "It just happened. Slowly. We were friends for a long time."

"You seem to be wery happy." He was concerned that this was a sudden decision. Hikaru had been on his own for a long time and kept to himself since his captaincy. He lifted his glass. "Then I vish you de best, Hikaru."

"Thank you, Pavel. And I want you to come over and get to know Am'ath."

"Did you finally buy dat house on de beach?"

Sulu nodded as he swallowed the wine. "Spent one night there already."

Chekov laughed. "But you have not slept yet? No?"

Sulu laughed. "Still a one track mind?" The discussion was dropped for the present as the women came back in.

Uhura mentioned finding a place with suitable music for dancing. A place was finally decided on and the taxi was called for. They were in the process of climbing into the aircars when a waiter came running out.

"Captain Sulu." He ran up to the waiting officer almost out of breath. He handed him a small reader. "This came for you just as you were leaving."

"Thank you." Sulu took the reader then tapped in the coding. He was being called back to HQ. His hiatus was over and it had just begun. He slipped the slate out of the reader then dropped it into his pocket. He sighed then climbed into the car. "Sorry Pavel, but the Excelsior has been put back on duty. Drop us off at Headquarters. I have to attend a briefing."

Pavel nodded then instructed the driver as to their destinations. He sat back, disappointed that he would not get to spend any time with Hikaru or learn all he could about his... bond-mate.

The laughter that had dominated the conversation had disappeared. There were promises made that they would try and get together if at all possible before the ship left. Sulu held Am'ath's hand as he watched the scenery. He had a bad feeling about this sudden change of plans. He made a mental note to himself to add the newly acquired beach-house to his list of assets that were to go to Demora... just in case.

*****

Captain Hikaru Sulu stepped onto his bridge and sighed. It was in pieces. Panels were being re-wired, overhead panels were being replaced and the chairs piled off to the side. He stood just outside the lift doors and shook his head slowly. How they were expected to get this vessel 'sea-worthy' in twenty-four hours was beyond him.

He took a step over the collection of wires and right into one of the technicians. "Sorry."

"No problem, Captain. Happens all the time." He held the officer's arm until he stepped into a clear spot. "Gets a little nuts."

"Especially when orders are changed at the last minute."

"Especially then, sir." The taller man smiled. "They think we can work miracles all the time."

Sulu grinned. "Isn't that what you get paid for?" He knew how hard it was on these people some times. Even his crew was expected to accomplish a few miracles along the way.

First the tech frowned then grinned back and rolled his eyes. "Yea, right." He leaned towards the officer. "Then I deserve a big raise."

"I'll put in the word." Sulu stated then began to carefully step his way into his briefing-room. He wanted to check on the changes that had been made and what they would have to deal with. Having the briefing room on the "A" deck was a novel approach, one that had been suggested many times over the years. He pulled off his tunic and dropped it on the back of one of the chairs. It was warm in here.

He flicked on the screen and sighed at the top message. It was from Am'ath. She would begin this assignment away from the Excelsior, along with Sencus. They were assigned as consultants on some artifacts found on some boundary world that was being studied for future colonization. It was not certain whether they were Vulcan or Rihansu in origin, and because of Am'ath's recent adventures, they considered her an expert on Rihansu.

He touched the terminal and the 'written' message showed on his screen. She told him about the less than comfortable accommodations and the need to acclimate herself to a smaller vessel. Sencus had been quartered next to hers and they had already spent the evening playing chess. She had even admitted to missing his companionship. He sighed then smiled slightly. He missed her as well. The message was short and to the point and she stated that she would send another message in two days. He was already looking forward to it.

The battle-station alarm sounded.

He stood to reach for the intercom but he was called instead. "Sulu here."

"Sorry sir, it's a fault in the system. Turning it off as soon as we can." The technician was almost screaming.

"Very well." Sulu turned off the intercom then tried a few buttons to close off the speaker into this room. "Damn safe-guards." He muttered then held his breath before he hollered. Battle-alerts couldn't be shut off and he knew it except from the bridge and that was in pieces. He calmed the adrenaline rush that had automatically kicked in and then settled back into the chair. "There are just some days when you should have stayed in bed." He rested his elbows on the arms of the chair and covered his face with his hands.

"Captain...?"

He looked up at the intruder. He smiled then waved Commander Rand in so that the door would close off the alarm sounding on the bridge. "Don't need it any louder.." He waved her to a chair. The sound died slightly as the door closed behind her.

Then there was a squeal. They looked up to the speaker and the sound died gradually, as if someone had strangled it.

Sulu looked to her and they both laughed.

Rand handed him a slate. "Further orders from HQ."

"How did you get them?" He frowned.

"Auxiliary is working." She turned his screen around and ran down the list of repairs. She tapped one place. "See. That was the only thing they hadn't ripped apart." She grinned.

"Three days ago this was a functional ship." He sighed. "I want to resign."

"This time. I'll join you," she countered. She sighed. "Have you eaten today, Captain?"

Sulu thought about it. He had been to HQ in his tux then home to change. He saw Am'ath off then back to HQ then to the Medical building to talk to Chapel and then he beamed up here. "No, I haven't." He stood, lifting his jacket from the chair. "Is the mess functional?"

She shook her head. "It's a mess." She tried to stop her grin.

"That's bad."

"I know."

"Where to then... the Lounge?"

"Sure. We can charge it to HQ."

Sulu grinned. "Definitely."

******Aboard the U.S.S Iron Duke, Daedalus-class

"Captain." Lieutenant Commander Lenard caught up with the captain as he stepped into the lift. He slipped in through the doors as they closed. "I've got our guests settled in the quarters we had available. They did not seem too pleased."

"M-m, most likely a step down for the poor souls. All that room and fancy accommodations in those cruisers. They have forgotten about the way the rest of us serve." He sighed as the lift took them to the recreation deck. "You buying tonight?"

The security officer grinned. "Only if you will agree to a game of poker?"

"You know the regs." Captain Edward Anderson grinned. "How's the hooch doing?"

"Ga'len's learning. The last batch was at least drinkable." The lift slowed then stopped, the doors parted and the officers stepped out.

"If you bring some decent stuff then I will play poker." Anderson led the way to the off-duty mess. He stroked his full beard, slowly graying over the last few years. It had started out a dark red but now was catching up to the colour of his hair. At least he had remained in good physical condition, still within five kilos of his Academy weight.

Lenard looked around the room after they stepped in. "Over there." He was pointing to the table they usually sat at. The first officer Phillip Gitzel was deep in conversation with Commander Brianna Olsen and more than likely trying to talk her into spending time in his cabin. "Hi, guys." He sat down at the table then tapped in his usual beer and the captain's whiskey. The drinks materialized just as the captain sat down.

"Captain." Gitzel leaned back in his chair. "How are our 'guests' settling in?" He sounded sarcastic.

"Okay I guess." Lenard drank down half the beer before setting down the glass. He licked the foam from his lips. "I personally am not pleased about this mission."

"Well we can't pick and choose too many of our missions. And we are assigned to that area so it is only... dare I say it... 'logical' to be given this assignment." Sheryl Williams stated. She was at the end of her supper break and would be taking over the comm for the night shift.

"Maybe but I can think of better things for this ship to be doing than ferrying two Fleet officers to a desert planet just to check over a few broken pieces of some ancient pottery or something." Art Lenard yawned, his shift was just about over and he was looking forward to some sleep unless a poker game could be found. "Well, do we have that game or not?"

"I'm in." Brianna shifted her chair forward a little bit. "Do you have the cards?"

"Ever known me to be without?" Art winked at her. Personally he did not find her attractive; he wasn't in for the delicate type. He liked his women like he liked his work, tough and rough. He reached into the inside pocket of his tunic and dropped the deck of circular cards on the table.

"Phil? Captain? Are you in?" She looked to the others; neither could resist the challenge if she issued it. "Or do you have anything left from the last time I won?" She teased with a grin.

"I might have a credit or two." Phillip leaned closer to her. "Can I run a tab with you?"

"Only if you intend on paying me in credits afterwards."

Lenard laughed. "You're losing ground, Gitzel."

******Galen IV Colony...

The colonists, originally from Earth, had left their home to build a simpler, more rural life. They had achieved such prosperity on Galen IV that they had been granted independence and a seat on the Federation Council. That meant the other governments were permitted to establish Consulates and Embassies in the capital city of Galenium if they wanted to.

The Vulcans were the first to arrive. Sarek was chosen to oversee the setting up of the Vulcan Embassy due to his experience working with humans. Sarek was sitting at his desk preparing for another full day of organizing. His secretary, T'Mir was in the outer office. His aide, Sasev was across the hall. Sasev's bond-mate, T'Mara, was acting as his secretary for the time being and T'Para was monitoring the front door. Deeper in the building, Sekar was setting up the infirmary to his exacting specifications.

T'Para was the first to hear the commotion beyond the front door. Without warning, armed men and women burst in, weapons trained on anyone they could find. They came through doors; windows and some even beamed into the inner rooms. All exits had been covered inside and out, within seconds.

Sarek and Sasev rushed out of their respective offices only to be met by the business end of a phaser rifle. They were herded into the main conference room where they were shoved against the far wall, rifles still aimed and set on high stun.

Sarek noticed that Sekar and his staff had also been captured and Sekar had been struck. Judging from the trickle of blood seeping from the cut on his face, they were not gentle or patient.

After Michael Grant had secured the Vulcan Embassy's perimeter, the staff was herded into the conference room. This room had everything they needed, it was secure, shielded from scans (thanks to the Federation itself), only two exits, plenty of room and the building were equipped with fully functional transporter shielding. Nothing could be beamed in or out once it was activated. He had considered it thoughtful that the Federation was so thorough in its security measures.

The large, burly man entered the room filled with ten slightly confused Vulcans and a detail of twenty-five angry looking humans with force-five weapons trained at each captive. He scanned the room once with his deep-set eyes then demanded. "Who is in charge here."

Sarek stepped forward. "I am."

"Well, well... who do we have here? Could this be the infamous Sarek of Vulcan? The Vulcan who does it with a human woman?" He turned to the rest of the room. "This is the pig who uses his filthy green cock to violate our women," and with that, he whirled around and backhanded Sarek hard across the face.

Sarek was rocked onto his heels with the force of the blow, but remained standing. "Who are you and what to you want with us?" He asked in a calm voice, seemingly unaffected by the attack.

"Me?" He drew himself up slightly. "I'm your worst nightmare come true. My name is Michael Grant and I'm the head of the planetary KEHL." He stepped closer to Sarek. "What I want, is you..." he shoved his phaser against Sarek's chest. "...off our planet...and take your filthy friends with you. I also want the Federation Council to quit setting up non-human Embassies here."

"That is not possible. Part of independence is allowing other governments to be represented on 'your' planet. That is part of the Charter of the Federation of Planets." Sarek stated. He had his share of run-ins with these people and usually it was nothing but talk. This time it appeared it would be different.

"Not anymore. I want a starship sent to remove the trash here." Grant sneered looking around the room. "If they don't, we'll get rid of the garbage...our way."

Sasev spoke up, noting the phaser being shoved in his face. "It could take days for a ship to get here."

"They have one week. That's how long it takes for a ship to travel from Earth to here. You..." he pulled Sarek against him by his robes and holding the barrel of the phaser against his throat. "...will make the call."

"As you wish." Sarek silently relieved that Amanda could not join him on this trip.

Grant looked around at the men in the room. "Evans, turn the heat down in here, will ya?"

******On board the U.S.S Excelsior...

Captain Sulu stared at the screen. He took a breath to calm the frustration that was mounting. "Inform Commodore Parker that she can talk to me directly. I am busy getting this vessel put back together. She can either talk to me over the comm-link or in person on my bridge. End of subject, Lieutenant Renolds. This comm-tag has to stop. Is that clear?"

Lieutenant Renolds nodded. "Understood, Captain Sulu. I will relay the message myself." She closed the circuit.

Sulu looked to the ceiling for a moment then picked up the tools he had been carrying. It had been a few years since he had to put a helm panel back together but the activity was better than waiting around for everyone to finish. It would be another twelve hours before they could leave orbit. He was grateful for the fact that the engines had not been disassembled when the order came through. They would have been in a fine mess if they had.

He stepped onto the bridge then moved to the helm panel. He dropped the tool roll on the chair then slipped under the console and the access panel underneath. He felt awkward as he began the finer work of soldering the connections. His best time was two hours fifteen minutes. He was now on the two-hour mark and he had at least forty-five minutes of work left.

There was a tap on the console. Someone else wanted his attention. He sighed. "Whoever it is... I am down here."

"You expect me to get down there and discuss this with you, Captain Sulu?" She sounded annoyed and insulted.

Sulu closed his eyes and sighed. He recognized the voice. "Yes, I do Commodore. You want this vessel out of here as soon as possible and I am busy trying to do just that." He held his breath wondering if this was going to be his last action as a commanding officer. He opened his eyes to the shuffling that was going on. She was actually sitting on the deck, legs crossed and not looking very happy. He reached to the pouch and pulled it onto his chest. He reached for the tester and the soldering pin. "Well, what can I do for you?"

"First off let's get one thing clear, Captain. I did not ask for you to do this. Ambassador Sarek did. He asked for you specifically. Stated it in no uncertain terms as a matter of fact. If it was up to me, I would have sent the closest ship."

"Fine. But why are you riding me about this?" He paused in all of his activities. "You call through every hour on the hour. It slows down everyone when you do that and you know it."

"Sarek is calling me."

"Sarek is not unreasonable. Did you give him a time that we would be ready?" He saw the hesitation in her eyes. "You did not tell him our condition, did you?" He shook his head then finished the few circuits that needed to be done then fastened the access panel into place. This had gone faster than he had thought. He initialed the maintenance record plate with his thumbprint then rolled the pouch up and pulled himself out. "It amazes me sometimes how Command continually puts people in impossible positions when they have no idea what goes on when they give the commands that they do."

"Meaning?" She accepted his hand in standing then smoothed her tunic and dusted off the back of her pants.

"Meaning, you gave me an order that was impossible to follow." He smiled briefly at her then closed the top of the console down and tapped in a few test sequences. The entire panel's performance lights showed ready.

Maggie Henley watched the dance as she had finished her board only a few seconds before him. "Nice work, sir. I'm impressed." She winked at him then moved off to see to the next panel she had been assigned to.

Sulu folded his arms, the tool pouch still in his hand. "Now I am off to the briefing room for some tea. Care to join me?" He gestured for her to lead the way. He was handed a report as he stepped up from the command well. "I'll take it with me, Yeoman."

"Aye, sir. MacIsaac asked that it be returned A.S.A.P., sir."

"Don't worry." Sulu headed into the briefing room. The table was covered with food and drink of almost every variety. He noted the Commodore's curious look. "Processors are off-line. My crew needs to eat." He poured the tea out into two cups then headed over to the far corner and two empty chairs.

The activity on board this ship had surprised Tanya Parker and what had amazed her even more was the way Captain Sulu stretched out, leaned his head back and sighed. He looked tired. "Why don't you get some rest, Captain?"

"Because my quarters have been disassembled. I spend five or six years out here at a stretch. I wanted it to be comfortable and accessible, so I had my quarters moved. They were not finished when these orders came through. My quarters aren't important. My ship and its key functions are." He sat up and drank some of his tea. He looked at the report that had been handed to him. He looked to the officer. "We will be ready to pull out in two hours."

She was speechless. "That's ten hours ahead of schedule." She was impressed. "I thought you said it was impossible."

"I did. This ship will not be finished. Won't be for another two days. But she can travel. That's what you want." He sipped on the tea. "The rest can be done out of dry-dock. My crew knows how to do the impossible."

She smiled. "Do you know where you will sleep tonight?"

He looked on the board. "Junior officers section, corridor Bravo, cabin Bravo-134." He smiled. "I'll bet they even moved my uniforms in."

"I wouldn't be surprised," she stated as a vote of confidence in this crew. She finished the tea then stood. "Ask for anything for this crew and I will authorize it. They've earned it."

"I will pass the information on." Sulu stood.

"Don't bother, Captain Sulu. You sit. Enjoy your tea and I'll find my way out."

Yeoman Baker showed up at her side. "Ma'am, I can escort you out. I am heading that way." Captain Sulu also had the report ready to be returned to MacIsaac.

"Thank you, Yeoman." She smiled at Sulu. "Call me when you are ready to break orbit."

"I will."

Commodore Parker and Yeoman Baker headed out of the briefing room and to the near-by lift. Baker waved the officer in ahead of her then set the controls to take them to the docking bay.

"Yeoman. Make sure this crew takes care of your captain. He's a rare breed."

"Don't worry Ma'am, that's the second unwritten rule of the Excelsior." They stepped out into the corridor.

"What's the first?"

"Captain Sulu takes care of us, Ma'am." The young officer smiled.

*******Aboard the U.S.S Iron Duke

Am'ath reached over the apparently 'sleeping' crewman. She touched the pulse point on his neck then straightened. She tapped the comm-pin. "Sickbay. Urgent."

"Sickbay here." The voice sounded pre-occupied.

"A crewmember has been discovered slumped over a table in Mess Number Four. He is dead." She turned to face the person entering the mess hall, not surprised that it was Commander Sencus.

"Okay, we'll get someone there. Who is it, do you know?"

Sencus offered the information when Am'ath hesitated. "Lieutenant Junior Grade Shahk."

"Okay. Sickbay out."

Am'ath had remembered this individual from a few days ago and she had commented to Sencus how his colour did not appear healthy. "I do not understand."

Sencus tilted his head slightly. "I share your concern." He felt the uneasiness that Am'ath projected. She had not been able to assimilate all of her previous control. It was understandable. "It is not logical."

"Why did he not seek medical attention?" Am'ath moved the tray of untouched food that had obviously been pushed out of the way. "Why was he alone if he was this ill?" She reached to the fingers that were partially tucked under Shahk's head. They were stiff. "He has been here for some time." She frowned slightly. "This is not making any sense in the least."

Sencus moved to the storage compartment and pulled out a tricorder. He activated it then ran the diagnostic program. The unit was functional. He passed it over the food. "The rate of decay indicates it has been left for seven hours fifty-seven minutes." He lifted an eyebrow. "Mr. Shahk was entering this mess as we were passing last evening. Why did we not sense anything?"

"There should have been at least a hint of his shields dropping. If he had been ill for some time his control would have lessened." She shivered slightly then moved over to the temperature controls. "I raised this two days ago. It is back down." She adjusted the control again. "Have you noted the restrictions on the replicators?"

Sencus nodded. "I had found the restriction before I recycled my thermal bodysuit."

"As did I." She had been surprised that she could not replicate another thermal bodysuit of the requested materials. It was standard issue for any species that required it to maintain body temperature.

Sencus frowned. "The medical team should have arrived by now." He tapped on the comm-pin. "Sickbay."

"Sickbay. Dr. Travis."

"Dr. Travis. Commandeer Sencus here. Is there a team being sent down to deal with Mr. Shahk's death?"

There was a hesitation in the response. "Yea. Okay, I have a team on the way."

"I require a copy of the medical report." Sencus stated.

"Why?" Dr. Travis sounded annoyed.

"I was the senior officer involved in the discovery." Sencus felt uneasy. "It is regulations."

"Okay." Dr. Travis did not sound convinced, nor did he sound amenable.

"When should I expect the report?"

"A-h-h. Oh about... twelve hours."

Sencus sighed reserving his judgement on the matter. "Very well. Sencus out." He was about to question the perceived hesitation in the doctor's attitude when the doors opened and the medical team entered. He moved aside.

One orderly moved the gurney into position, pushing Am'ath out of the way. He glared at her, muttered something under his breath then turned his attention to the dead Vulcan. He indicated to his partner that they lift the body. It was placed on the gurney in a less than dignified manner. Then the orderlies proceeded to attempt to 'straighten' the body so it would remain on the gurney.

Sencus had moved off to stand with Am'ath, both amazed at the treatment this cadaver was receiving. Both orderlies seemed to take offense at the disturbance in their well-ordered day. They headed out of the mess and after a few quiet words, Sencus and Am'ath followed them to sickbay.

Dr. Travis looked up from the terminal and then stood slowly as the Vulcan officers appeared. "Can I help you?"

"I will be present during the autopsy."

Travis chuckled. "I don't think so." He shook his head slowly. "You know you seem to think that you are the exec of this vessel. You aren't. You are a passenger in uniform. Nothing more. Nothing less." Travis eyed the female officer for a moment. "Not full-blooded are you?"

Am'ath lifted an eyebrow and her back straightened marginally. "I am here to insure that respect is maintained for this officer, not for you to judge my heritage."

"He's dead." Dr. Travis drank down the last of his coffee. "I don't need extra people hovering around. I know what I am expected to do. You'll get your report when it's done." He met the dark eyes of the officer. "Sooner you get out, the sooner I can get to work."

Sencus bowed his head slightly. He felt little trust in this man's word and he was not entirely sure why... not exactly. Am'ath walked silently with him. He stopped and turned. "Was he bonded?"

"I do not know." Am'ath felt the shiver at the thought. "We can check the ship's records."

Sencus agreed and they hurried to his quarters.

Once there they had made an interesting discovery. There were no personal records for any Vulcan crewmembers. Service records were intact but no personal information. Sencus stood. "We must find out from someone."

Fifteen minutes later, four Vulcans were trying desperately to revive Lieutenant T'Syric from the comatose state they had found her in. With no help from the medical staff. No one even bothered to call them this time.

The Iron Duke fell into orbit around the desert world of Epsilon Delta Seven. The ship's communication officer contacted the science vessel, U.S.S Edmonton, with the information that the two Vulcan officers would be beaming over shortly. It would be up to them to deal with where to put them after that.

Captain Anderson looked up from the medical report that had been handed to him. "Sloppy of you isn't it, Doctor Travis? He wasn't supposed to die."

*******On board the U.S.S Excelsior...

Captain Hikaru Sulu did not miss sleeping in the narrow bunks that were provided to the junior officers, nor did he miss the cramped quarters he had been using for the past few days. He dropped his duffel bag in the center of the deck of his seemingly huge and newly renovated quarters. He looked around, ignoring the site of the large crate, and grinned. "She's good." He was referring to the fact that Am'ath had help redesign the quarters. He had been hesitant about making some of the changes but now that he saw them he was pleased he had kept his comments unspoken.

He poked his head into the sleeping quarters and grinned at the large bed. MacIsaac had made a comment about it but Sulu had admitted to nothing. As he was signing the requisition forms, MacIsaac asked if the rumors were true about the captain finally finding 'that special person' was how it was phrased. Sulu had shrugged and admitted nothing, except to say it was 'a captain's privilege'. That was the way they had decided to deal with it, neither to deny nor admit to the bonding. But officially, it was on the medical records only. Chris had insisted on that.

He sighed audibly. "Get a bigger bed and she's not here." He was talking to himself again. He picked up the duffel bag and headed into the sleep area to unpack. His personal effects had been put into storage while this was being done and that crate was sitting in the middle of the common area, waiting for him. He had duty; the rest would have to wait.

His trip to the bridge was brief as his quarters were now located close to a turbo-lift. He stepped out into the bridge and the sight of their destination growing on the view screen. He moved towards the center seat, Commander Burgh moved out of the chair.

"Morning, Captain. Sleep well?" He grinned knowing Sulu had been sleeping in the junior quarters.

"I will tonight." Sulu assured him. "And the next time we pull in for supplies, we are going to replace those beds with something more comfortable. No wonder our junior officers are grumpy."

Ian chuckled. "And here I thought it was back-to-back duty shifts making them cranky." He stood watching the screen for a few moments. "How is the new yeoman working out?"

"So far so good." He looked up at Ian; there was a sparkle in his eyes as if he knew something he shouldn't. "Why?"

Ian shook his head. "No reason. Just a big change from Rebecca Hart."

Sulu leaned back in the chair. "Ensign Tuvok will do fine." Sulu had met the new addition with the sudden recall of personnel. He had been secretly pleased at the fact that a Vulcan had been assigned the job. It would have been tricky trying to deal with a wide-eyed freshly graduated cadet than it would be to deal with a Vulcan. He was used to Vulcans. He was bonded to a Vulcan and that needed some special handling as well. And Sulu had found in Tuvok, all the qualities that Vulcans were known for, with a few surprising interests thrown in for good measure. Sulu had discovered that one of Tuvok's special qualities included an interest in hand-to-hand combat of any kind. They had already fallen into a schedule of practices and friendly competitions. Sulu was determined to remain in shape for Am'ath's return.

"Captain." Commander Rand moved down to stand beside Sulu. She dropped her voice slightly. "Ambassador Sarek is on channel for you. Secured and scrambled from his end."

Sulu nodded then stood. "I'll take it in the briefing room." He moved quickly into the other room. He sat down and tapped on the circuit then turned the screen to face him. "Ambassador Sarek."

"Captain Sulu. I am grateful that you have made it here in so short a time."

"It was difficult but not impossible. I was never told why the urgency or why you asked for me personally." It wasn't like any Vulcan to be this evasive unless there was a reason.

"I required your skills."

There was something in Sarek's voice that hinted at something. "You have a problem." Sulu was suddenly feeling uncomfortable again.

"It appears so." Sarek's image looked up slightly then back to the screen. "There is some dissention with the arrival of the Vulcan staff."

"What exactly is the problem, or do you know?"

"Yes, unfortunately. It is the Keep Earth Human League. And they have surrounded the Embassy."

"Threats?" Sulu then noticed the bruising on Sarek's face. He began to formulate a plan.

"I have been informed that they have erected a force shield to prevent beaming. They will allow the Excelsior to enter orbit in order to remove any alien species. And it was also stated that if this was not accomplished within the next twenty-four hours, deaths will occur."

Sulu nodded, his jaw clenched for a moment. "Any other demands?"

"None at the present time." Sarek was far from comfortable about the entire situation, especially being in a position where he could do nothing.

"They know you can contact us?"

"They are allowing it for the present."

"Who else is with you?"

"My staff."

Sulu nodded. "Have you been able to contact anyone else?"

"I was permitted to contact you. We have been restricted in our movements."

Sulu drew in a breath then let it out. What Sarek wasn't saying was what worried him and the bruise on Sarek's face spoke volumes about his treatment. "Sarek, I will do what I can, as soon as I can. Everyone is unharmed?"

"Nothing life threatening."

Sulu was aware that if he gave out too much information, communications might be cut off. He would have to be content with the information he had. "Sarek, I will attempt to contact you on this frequency in one hour."

"Very..."

The circuit was closed. Somewhere and by some one. And he knew it wasn't Sarek. He moved back onto the bridge and stood next to Commander Rand. "That frequency that was used, monitor it. Constantly. Acknowledge any message that comes through, record it and notify me at once."

"Aye, sir." Rand turned back to her board, intent on her assignment.

Sulu moved to the center seat and looked around the bridge. "Okay. We have a situation down there. The Vulcan Embassy has been surrounded and its occupants are safe for the present." He looked to Mr. Henley. "After we are in orbit, I want a continuous scan of the area. I want to know every movement that is made."

"Aye, sir." Mags began to adjust the controls on her board for the finite work.

Sulu sat down in the command chair. "Rand, when you can I want to talk to the Terran Ambassador that is assigned here."

"Right away, Captain." She played the board then turned to Sulu; she had a slight grin on her face. "Echo channel, Captain."

Sulu did not hesitated. "Captain Hikaru Sulu of the U.S.S Excelsior."

"Hikaru Sulu?" The male voice sounded surprised.

Sulu looked to the screen and then grinned. "Peter Kirk?"

Peter laughed. "Yes. Imagine that." He leaned back in the chair then sighed. "Too bad it's not under more pleasant conditions..."

"There will be time later." Sulu stated positively.

"No doubt." Peter sat forward slightly, his arms resting on the desktop. "You arrived and they massed into position. I just notified Starfleet that things have gone from bad to worse. They had been quiet until the Excelsior was detected entering the system." Peter looked to another monitor on his desk; he reached to it adjusting the angle slightly. "This channel is totally secure but I would rather talk to you in person."

"We can beam you up." Sulu could hardly believe this was Peter Kirk. All grown up, as the saying goes, and looking a lot like his Uncle Jim. The same eyes, and the same determination when the matter became serious. He had heard nothing but good things about this man.

"That would be better." Kirk looked over to the side. "I will inform my staff and then I'll beam up. Should be about five minutes, if that."

"Fine. I will met you in the transporter room."

******On the surface of Galen IV, Vulcan Embassy...

Later that afternoon, there seemed to be a rustle of activity throughout the guards. They seemed almost anxious as if waiting for something or someone. A guard that was stationed at the door suddenly touched the receiver barely visible in his ear; crossed the room and whispered something to Grant. He nodded and the guard returned to his post.

Sarek was kneeling by one of Sekar's assistants who had been clubbed needlessly by a guard. He had felt responsible for was happening to his staff, this was most illogical but unfortunately true. He wondered if this concern was from his long association with Humans or was it an influence from the one human he treasured most. He was grateful, once again that his very Human bond-mate, Amanda, had chose to remain at home. She would not have been able to tolerate any of this behaviour, nor would he have allowed her to be treated in this manner.

All of a sudden, the doors to the conference room burst open. All the Vulcans' heads snapped toward the sound to see a petite Human female command her way into the room. She stood very sure of herself, armed as the others were and demanded. "Grant!"

Grant hurried to her, a slight smile played at his lips for a second then it was gone. "Everything has been secured and the force-field has been activated. The U.S.S Excelsior is en-route to remove the vermin from our planet. Those recorded messages we have been sending are doing the trick. Command is getting edgy about the continued requests for help. The Excelsior was in pieces when it was ordered here." He grinned. "Plan is working beautifully."

It was clear to everyone, Vulcan and Human alike, that this woman was in charge. She strutted around the room, staring at the Vulcans laying on the floor and sitting against the wall as if looking at a smoldering cesspool. Her hatred for the Vulcans was almost tangible. She came to where Sarek was kneeling and stopped. "I know you. Stand up, pig." She demanded.

Sarek stood slowly and faced her stoically.

She grabbed his chin to examine the bruise that was forming there, courtesy of Grant. "So, you've already had a taste of our hospitality." She let go of his face and leaned towards him, sneering. "Sarek, isn't it? Keep in mind that what you have experienced is only a small taste of what is to come, especially if you disobey us or cause us any problems. And to show you that I mean business..." She whirled around and fired her phaser at T'Mara, felling her. She hadn't been vapourized, but she had a bad phaser burn on her left shoulder.

Sekar started towards her but was stopped by the butt of a near-by rifle to the back of his head. He dropped to his knees. A human would have been dead.

Sasev exclaimed. "He is a healer. Let him go to her."

The woman calmly faced Sasev, raised her phaser and pointed it at him and stated. "Don't tell me what to do, Vulcan." With that, she motioned to one of the guards to stun Sasev. He crumpled to the ground, his head hitting the floor with a thump.

Sarek stared in disbelief at the carnage around him. In all the eighty-five years he had spent among Humans and their emotional outbursts, he thought he had experienced it all. Nothing prepared him for the sheer brutality he was witnessing. Totally, without reason of any kind. Unnecessary as well, for no one on his staff would have presented any problems at all. They had been instructed on how to deal with situations such as this. It was not unheard of to restrain an individual and the possibility of being taken prisoner always existed. He regretted for a nanosecond his belief in pacifity. Now, the source of all this brutality was heading towards him.

"It appears that your people are not quite the pacifists you are reported to be. Now, why is that? Exposure to us humans? Perhaps someone should be made an example of. What do you think, Sarek?"

Sarek studied her for a moment. "I would be willing to discuss your terms logically and without violence. I ask only that you leave my staff alone."

The woman snorted in laughter. "I don't discuss terms with dogs, especially green-blooded ones. I think I'll use you to make an example of. Just so the rest of you know what to expect." She snapped her fingers then gestured to the two guards. "Bind him..." She made a quick check of the room. "... to the posts over there. We aren't planning on any flag ceremonies, are we 'Gentlebeings'?" The irony of her address was not lost and a few chuckles were heard. She took a few steps towards him as he was secured. "Every time your staff screws up, you will suffer the consequences." She turned to face the rest of the room; her voice was loud and clear, so all of them could hear her. "Is that clear?"

The two guards that had grabbed Sarek and hauled him over to the posts were tying his hands securely. They had removed his heavy robes and Sarek now felt the coolness of the room. He was left in only a thin shirt and pants, and relieved that less was not desired.

The woman sauntered over to him once this had been completed and grabbed his face. "You'd better hope your staff co-operates with us. If not, I hope pain is something you enjoy." She stared at him for a moment then slapped his face hard and walked back to speak with Grant.

******On board the U.S.S Excelsior, Command Briefing Room...

Captain Sulu sat in the chair across from Ambassador Kirk. He had listened to all the details and was now trying to digest the situation. He wasn't totally sure of the best way to deal with this. He stood and walked the length of the room then stopped and gazed out into the stars.

"I will never understand it." Kirk said in a low voice.

"Understand what?" Sulu turned to face him.

"Bigotry."

"Who does?"

"Obviously the people that practice it." He chuckled. "Practice it. Can't we think of a better term than that?" He sighed. "To rush in there might mean some of the Vulcans dying. I don't want that to happen. I don't want the KEHL to win either."

"They won't." Sulu stated. He looked to the door when it opened to admit Ensign Tuvok, some food and some tea. "Do they know that you know what is going on?"

Peter poured some tea then thanked the ensign for the food. "I'm not sure." He had given this some thought since he had received word from Sarek, just as the Vulcan Embassy was closed down by the KEHL. He had been talking directly to Sarek when this all began and had caught some of the commotion over the intercom.

Sulu checked the computer screen as he sat down to eat. "No real movement in quite some time. A total of fifty armed personnel are surrounding the building. Twenty-five inside. Enough fire power to destroy the building and a force shield." They had realized this would not be simple or quick in its resolution. He looked to Peter and stated sarcastically. "Think we can do it by suppertime?"

Peter grinned weakly. "What year?" Peter tossed the sandwich down on the plate. "I can't eat." He rested his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands. "You know, we study this stuff at the Academy and it all seems so easy to solve. But they never really tell you how long this goes on for or the fact that sometimes it's friends and family that die."

"This is your first assignment?" Sulu had managed to eat one sandwich and finish his tea. Duty was a good teacher for seeing to the necessities when the opportunity presented itself. Peter had his sympathy if that was the case. This was a big responsibility and a terrible situation for a novice to handle.

"Not really, but my first on my own like this and my first hostile take over. I usually assumed that it would be some type of foreign power that would be the enemy, not Humans."

"I understand what you mean." Sulu poured another cup then sat back; his calm manner concealed the turmoil he was feeling.

"Do we storm in there? What are the chances of success?" Peter was hoping the Starfleet officer had all the answers because he didn't.

"We can't. Too much fire power. Sarek and his staff would be killed. If I were them, I would have two weapons trained on each Vulcan." Sulu checked the screen again as he mentally ran through the possibilities and discounted most of them simply because there was a lot they did not know. "Are they willing to negotiate?"

"Possibly. I don't see why not." Peter felt there was a possible solution now. He pushed his plate away a little further; even the smell was making him feel sick.

"What are their demands?" Sulu had not received any official word from these terrorists. "Other than the removal of all aliens from the surface." He watched Peter. He needed a role to play; he looked as if he was feeling helpless. "Has anyone been hurt?"

Peter shook his head. "Not that I know of. But I know there will be if we don't handle this right. Why the Vulcans?" He looked to Sulu. He looked so calm, so relaxed. How did he do it? Peter stood and paced the length of the room.

"Some Humans feel that Vulcans are superior and they are offended by it. That Vulcans hold back information because their perception of Humans is that we are children, not yet ready for what they have to offer."

"You sound as if you understand this." Peter stopped and faced Sulu.

"I understand the differences. I don't understand the hatred."

Peter had been debating on playing the one card he had and he really felt that Captain Sulu would be one to allow him to play it. "We need a negotiator. I'd be willing." He did not see any hesitation in Sulu but there was no acceptance of the offer either. "They wouldn't trust an alien. I'm Human." He smiled then shrugged slightly. "And they know me." He was saving the best for last. "Besides which, I have never withdrawn my membership in the KEHL."

Sulu put down his cup slowly. He stood slowly. "Your what?" He whispered.

Peter hesitated when he saw the anger in Sulu's eyes. "No. Not like that." He moved closer to the officer. "No, you see when this happen the first time on Earth... I sort of infiltrated their ranks... that is how I was captured and stuff..." He grinned for a moment. "But the name I used was Peter Church." He watched Sulu. He was totally still. "See I never really went to anyone and said, take my name off the list. I received word about this just before it was to happen. I contacted Sarek and he contacted Command. I really felt as if they... Command, would not have listened to me. Not with me just getting this position about a month ago. You know, Kirk's nephew looking for trouble and stuff. I just sat back informed the ones I knew would believe me and then waited."

Sulu grinned then he started to chuckle. "You mean that..." He sat down with a sigh. "Then you are our ace-in-the-hole." He laughed quietly. "And Sarek knows?"

Peter nodded.

"Then let's contact them and informed them that you have convinced me to remove the aliens. But I want to talk to them in person first."

Peter nodded a few times. "You think like Uncle Jim."

"Let's hope I can pull it off like... Uncle Jim."

*******On board the science vessel orbiting Epsilon Delta 7...

Commander Sencus and Lieutenant Commander Am'ath had beamed over to the U.S.S Edmonton. As they stepped down from the platform Captain Ruth Gresham met them.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain." Sencus stated.

"Permission granted." She stepped forward and saluted the Vulcans. "Welcome aboard the Edmonton. I'll show you to your quarters. It is my understanding that the Iron Duke will be returning in a week to ferry you to the Excelsior?"

"That is correct." Sencus reached into his pocket and pulled out a computer slate. "I would appreciate your quick action concerning the incident that I have recorded on this slate."

Captain Gresham was taken aback for a moment. She accepted the slate and dropped it into her tunic pocket. She had not worked with too many Vulcans in the past and was unsure of his attitude. "Of course." She gestured towards the door. "Beam-down to ED7 in thirty minutes. Why don't you grab some food and change? The team that you are beaming down with should be ready by then. A copy of the latest progress report has been made available to you."

Sencus and Am'ath followed her as they were escorted to their quarters. A very different reception than they received from the Iron Duke. They were given quarters that were connecting, sharing the facilities and everything worked.

"Is this suitable?" Gresham asked, she wasn't certain what they would require. "The environmental adjustments have been made and the food processors have been set for a Vulcan diet."

Am'ath bowed her head. "Everything is quite acceptable, Captain." She moved into the quarters closest to her. She breathed in the warm dry air and decided that more than food, she required a shower. The one in her quarters on board the Iron Duke ceased to function three days ago.

Sencus bowed his head to the captain. "We will be prepared to beam down."

Captain Gresham nodded then headed off to her quarters. Her curiosity had the better of her at the moment about the report. She stepped into the dark quarters, tapped on the light then called the bridge. She slipped her tunic off then dropped the slate into the terminal. It was a written report, charging the Chief Medical Officer and a number of his staff with conduct unbecoming an officer in the performance of their duties.

She tapped the connection to the communication officer. "Get me Iron Duke. Captain Anderson."

"Yes, sir." The young male voice stated clearly.

She leaned back in the chair. This was a serious charge. She did not have to wait long and the image of the older captain popped onto her screen. "Captain Anderson. I wanted to discuss with you something that has been brought to my attention."

Anderson sighed audibly. "Is that the 'supposed' complaint against the medical staff?" He acted annoyed.

"As a matter of fact, yes." She felt surprised that he would know about it.

"You know when they boarded, they handed me a complaint about the security staff on the previous ship they were on." He reached for something out of range then looked down at something. "Here it is. Security division. The complaint was in the treatment of a crewmember that was in the brig for drunk and disorderly. They stated that the crewman was tossed into the brig, literally and then handcuffed to the bed. Was ignored when he complained of not feeling well and then later died." He tossed the slate reader onto the table. "Apparently they do this continuously. I wouldn't give it any concern and just let them know it is being handled." He sipped on his coffee. "I am just not looking forward to them returning. I have the 'pleasure' of taking them onto the Excelsior."

Captain Gresham nodded. "I don't envy you then, Captain." She wasn't sure whom to believe. "Well, I know what to do with this report then. How did your crewman die? The one in their 'latest' report?"

"We have not had a death of any of the Iron Duke's crew. Not unless it was in the line of duty." He smoothed his beard. "Is that all, Captain?"

"Yes it is." She smiled slightly. "Sorry to trouble you."

"No trouble at all, Captain. See you in a week. We are off to Starbase Four for provisions and then we'll be back."

"Very well. See you then. Edmonton out." She leaned back in her chair and wondered what would have possessed two Vulcans to formally accuse a medical officer and his staff of such serious charges. It didn't make sense. It wasn't... logical. Besides, Captain Anderson's record was impeccable. He was said to have had the best command in its class since the Enterprise. It wouldn't be like him to make it up. She had never met either of the Vulcans until today and they did seem a little 'stiff'.

******The surface of Epsilon Delta 7...

Commander Sencus and Mr. Am'ath beamed down on schedule. They were led to the site and helped down into the hole that had been dug. At least six meters down and only accessible by rope and pulley.

Am'ath slipped out of the harness. She smoothed the one-piece coverall that she wore and then walked over to the grouping of people. She made a quick survey of the area then began to examine the large artifact that had been found. It was quite solid and metallic. The exposed part seemed quite small compared to the possible size indicated by the scans. Time had not changed the basic tools that were used to excavate a site. Shovels, brushes of varying sizes and hands were still used. In addition, the more modern scanners and recording devices had only made it less of a hit-and-miss method of recovering artifacts.

One of the archeologists moved from the group to welcome Am'ath and Sencus. "Na'shaya, Commander Sencus. Lieutenant Commander Am'ath. I am Dell VanWagner. Most refer to me as either Dell or Van. I am the one that requested you Lieutenant Commander Am'ath."

"Am'ath will do." She was aware of how ranks often caused a sense of discomfort in civilians.

He smiled. "Okay, Am'ath." He tilted his head slightly. "We knew this planet had been used as a possible colony world, we have been investigating this whole area. I have four teams and the other three found exactly what we expected to. Some ruins, artifacts that show a variety of species have lived here, but what we found is not what we expected." He indicated that she follow him. "We did not even detect this until someone stumbled, and I do mean this literally, over skeletal remains and the species surprised us."

He ducked under a small overhang of fabric that shielded the work area from the winds and the humans from the sun. Am'ath followed. He lifted the skull from the table and offered it to her.

She accepted the skull and began classifying it against what information she held. "It appears Vulcanoid." She looked to the bones that had been positioned on the tabletop. She nodded. "From every indication, the heavier bone, the shaping of the ribcage and the shape of the skull I would assume this had been a Vulcanoid, if not Vulcan." She looked to the scientist. He was smiling. "I have only seconded what you have already determined. What is my purpose here?"

"Never thought you'd ask..." He indicated another drop cloth then pulled it aside as she went through on his invitation. He looked to Sencus who was staying close. "You too." He waited for Sencus to slip through. "If this is exactly what I believe this to be, this is the find of the century." He took a breath trying to calm himself. He had needed someone that was certain of this language, who had reliable knowledge of Vulcan, Ancient Vulcan and Romulan. He had waited six months for Am'ath to be available and be allowed to come here. No one else had the language as well as the security clearance to deal with this.

Dell indicated the crack in the smooth metallic 'wall'. "We can't open it. We don't know how."

Am'ath raised an eyebrow. "More than likely it is because it is encoded for Vulcanoid readings and strength. Surely there must have been a Vulcan that could have assisted you?" She had never really been certain why she had been requested. She indicated the panel. "May I?"

He was beside himself. "Of course!" He stepped back slightly.

Am'ath lifted the hand-sized panel at one corner, it swung open. Inside there were a series of writings. She could read them. She frowned. "This vessel..." She turned to meet Sencus' eyes. "... the vessel's name is 'Pakik fau-yet'." She saw the surprise momentarily in the other's eyes. "If this is correct, Dr. VanWagner, this is one of the lost vessel of the Sheik. The name translates as 'Lost Road'."

Dell grinned. He sighed then closed his eyes. "Oh God, I was right!" He whispered. He drew in a deep breath. "Can you open it?"

"Perhaps." She tapped in the coding and then placed her hand on the panel. The coding had been in the script, why did he not see it? She removed her hand then waited. There was a faint hum that only the Vulcans could hear but it was growing slightly. It was an audible hum. "It functions. But the door will not open." She ran her hand along the seam then stopped at the wall of dirt and sand. "The door is not fully exposed. If the design holds true, the door is required to pop out before it releases the seal."

Dell hollered out to his crew to get the door cleared as fast as they could. He felt his body shivering and was glad of the near-by shovel, he had something to do while he let this information sink in.

*******On board the U.S.S Iron Duke...

Arthur Lenard looked to the others that surrounded the table. "Ante up." He grinned; he was lousy at keeping a poker face some times especially when he was doing really, really well. Or really, really badly. Anything in between and everyone seemed to know what he was going to do.

Phillip Gitzel looked at the large man. He was either bluffing or he had a mitt-full. He looked at the pile of chips in front of Art then to his face. He'd take the chance. "Okay. See you and raise you four." This was one way to spend your paycheck fast but sometimes it paid off.

Sheryl Williams was next and she did not have much left, so if she lost she was out of the game and she was getting tired. Communications may not be physically exhausting but you had to be alert when you were on duty. She tossed the last of her chips into the center. "Anybody heard any more about that report the Vulcan Stenek tried to send?"

"Tried to? You mean you blocked it?" Gitzel was surprised. He had tried to think of ways to stop that message from going out but had not thought to simple ask that it not be sent.

"Sure. He stood there while I sent it and I sent it on a path that would return it here in six hours. No one would read it or be able to even trace it."

"Captain's been quiet." Art added. "Ever since that call from the Edmonton." He spread out the cards, grinned then gathered up his winnings. "Come to papa."

The others shook their heads and wondered why they bothered. They should just sign their pay allotments over to him every time they received it.

"Well I am off to bed, Gentlemen." Sheryl yawned again. She ran her fingers through her short red hair and sighed. "I will be so glad when we can arrange R and R. Ferrying those Vulcan officers put a crimp in our schedule. We were slated for a stop-over two days ago."

Phillip nodded. "When the Vulcans are back on board for the taxi-ride back... we can find some entertainment then I am sure."

Art laughed. "Sounds good to me."

******Galen IV Colony, the Vulcan Embassy...

Grant stood looking out the window, checking the shift change of his personnel. He was surprised that the Vulcan Ambassador had been awarded so much luxury. He had always assumed they had plainer tastes. He would have to remember to thank Sarek personally for the use of his room and the more than comfortable bed. Everything was going smoothly and even breakfast had been delicious. He had slept well and was just debating getting dressed when warm hands slid around his waist. Her arms held him tight and she kissed the back of his neck.

"I did not want you to get up and stay up." She smiled as she looked to him. "At least not this 'getting up'." Her nails gently scratched his stomach.

Grant held her hands. "I'll be up again in every other sense of the word if you don't stop." He pulled her around to stand in front of him, his arms wrapped around her. "I have missed you."

"Planning all of this takes time." She brushed his shoulder with her lips then tried to bite him. She laughed when he pulled his shoulder away. "You taste good." She looked up at him. "Can't help myself."

"It hurts." He ran his fingertips along her lips. He kissed her lightly. "Do it when it hurts good," he teased her. Pain was not something he noticed when they made love and it was something she enjoyed inflicting on him, occasionally. He lifted her easily onto the window's ledge then spread her legs and pushed himself in close to her.

She wrapped her legs around him. He wore only light sleep pants and she was not wearing any more that his oversized t-shirt. She pulled him closer with her legs. She ran her fingers over the extremely short hair on his head then pulled his head down to capture his mouth. She wanted him to make love to her again. Just to start the day off right.

There were times when it really did not take much to get him interested in giving in to these baser instincts of hers and today... well he would have been willing to do this all day. He carried her back over to the bed; her legs still wrapped tightly around him and their mouths still hungry for each other. He lifted one knee onto the bed then fell onto it, landing them on their sides so he wouldn't squash her.

She began this assault on him alternately kissing and nipping her way down his body. Her legs slowly unwrapped from him, as she seemed to slide down the length of his body. He was hard, muscular and tanned. Every part of him and she made sure than none of it had ever burned. She ran her tongue along the length then kissed the tip. She smiled at his moan then continued to tease him with her tongue. She used the tip of her tongue to trace the head then a line down and back up his hard penis.

"Oh God." He moaned as he rolled onto his back. He reached for her, pulling her up until her could devour her mouth. She did this to him every time. "You make me crazy." He whispered as he straddled her hips. He slipped the t-shirt off and tossed it away. "My turn." His hands caressed her body, running down her curves and then back up to hold a breast in each hand. He had big hands but she had bigger breasts and he loved watching her react to his touch. Her eyes closed, she wet her lips then she sighed.

He kissed her neck then worked his way down to one breast. He ran his tongue over the hard nipple then took it in his mouth. He sucked on her, his other hand teasing the other breast. Her hands caressed his back and her body relaxed when he did this. Her hips pressed into his stomach slightly. He moved his attentions over to the other breast and his hand down to the warmth between her legs.

She shivered under him and she moaned. She could suffer through this forever. He released the suction he had on her breast then ran his tongue along her already too-sensitive nipple.

He moved back onto his knees then lifted her onto his lap. He pulled her hips towards him, watching as he easily slipped into her. Her hands reached for him then pulled him down. She kissed him hard and passionately as the satisfying rhythm was found. She pulled him closer whispering for him to go deeper, but he couldn't. It wasn't physically possible.

He felt the familiar shiver of her body and then she arched her back. He pushed in as deep as he could as he felt his release. She rested her mouth against his neck and he felt her teeth begin to sink in.

He collapsed onto her then kissed her. He had no more energy or desire to move. She had finally released his neck and was kissing him gently. She finally lay still waiting for their breathing to return to normal.

He opened his eyes and looked at her. She was beautiful and she was his. He rolled over onto his back and she had moved fast enough and was holding on tight enough that she came with him. He laughed then brushed her shoulder length hair back. "You're nuts."

She smiled with satisfaction then nodded. She rested her head on his shoulder then sighed. She didn't want to move.

He caressed her back slowly. "We have things to do today."

"I know." She sighed. "Five more minutes?"

"For you, Lisa, anything." He smiled then kissed her. How had he been so lucky to find her? He wasn't going to question fate.

******On the surface of Epsilon Delta 7...

Am'ath stood in the center of the 'bridge' of this vessel. They had removed the skeletal remains. They had been able to identify all the occupants. She marveled at the ship's condition, its design and the fact that this vessel was centuries old.

These people began on Vulcan and ended this Journey far from here. She had been able to read the panels more easily than even Sencus. She was fluent in Vulcan, High Vulcan and Rihansu. She was unique. She thought of all the time that she spent with Rahl learning this language and its roots. She had learned a great deal about her people... and more.

She turned to face the person that had entered the bridge area. She bowed her head. "Commander."

Sencus had eaten and slept for a short time then returned to find her. They had been functioning on very little rest for the last five days. Am'ath had not rested at all nor had she eaten. He was becoming concerned for her physical condition. "You need rest."

"I was reading the logs from the computer." She moved to the station that she had been sitting at for most of the day. "Listening to their voices and the language. Amazing how it has changed. Even the Rihansu language as we know it was already creeping in." She ran her hand over the panel. "This was the station for communications."

"I am aware." He moved closer to her. There was a tone in her voice that he had not heard since she returned from Rihansu space. Emotion.

"The person that manned this station was H'yrden. He had a bond-mate and four children at this point in their travels. He was permitted to do so because there had been a high number of deaths. They had decided to land here to take on supplies. There was a malfunction and the ship dropped from the sky and buried itself in the soft surface. They died within the walls of this ship." She moved along the row of stations, stopping at the helm station. "There are no notations of someone ever leaving. I do not know whose remains were found. This was an uninhabited world. They had no help and were off course."

Sencus moved closer to her. There was something 'not right' with her behaviour over the last few days. There had been a slight change within her. "You are uncomfortable with this discovery."

"Not for the reasons you think, Sencus." He slipped into the helm position. Every circuit was functional. The sand held them here, nothing more. "They exhausted their fuel in their attempts to leave." She looked to Sencus. "Is the plan to excavate this vessel and return it to Vulcan?"

Sencus nodded. "There is a Vulcan team now on the way. I have stated that this is to remain within Dr. VanWagner's control. It is his discovery."

Am'ath ran her fingers over the controls. Some had not changed in all the centuries; just the mechanisms that made them work. "Did you have any ancestors that traveled in the Journey?"

"A few." He thought about it a moment. "I seem to recall a relative that was on the Pennon. It was one of the vessels that was lost early on in the Journey."

"I have discovered that I have a distant relative that also traveled. I was never told this. I had been informed that they had died an early death." She had been totally surprised by the information. "Our House was divided. Some left Vulcan; some traveled in this vessel. A few were in the vessels that succeeded." Histories of one's Family House were well known at an early age; memorized and passed on from generation to generation.

"Do you know the names of the relatives?" Perhaps this accounted for her mood and her unwavering attention to the records.

"Of the ones that survived, I only know of one name that I recognize. I was always told these people died under mysterious circumstances." She stood and looked around, for her, it would be the final time. "The name that I recognize is T'Rehu. She had reportedly seized power and became the only single Ruler of the Two Worlds." She recalled how many times Rahl had teased her about her resemblance to the statue now in her quarters. He had suggested that she adopt the House as hers and it would lessen the questioning. He would have laughed out loud at the irony, then most likely tease her at ruling him. "My direct birth line is from that portion of my House. Because of the dangers, they elected to leave some children behind. I would presume that those children became Purists."

"A logical reaction given the timeframe."

She drew in a breath. It seemed less amazing as she spoke it.

Sencus was surprised to say the least. "Captain Sulu will be interested in this discovery of yours."

She smiled. "Yes, he will be."

"The Iron Duke will be returning for us tomorrow. I would advise beaming up to enjoy a proper meal or two before our voyage to the Excelsior."

"It would be a logical plan." She started out of the dark vessel. "And a shower. No doubt mine will become non-functional once again."

As they stepped out into the brightness of the sun Dr. VanWagner came running up to them. "Am'ath. We were digging underneath the craft and discovered this interesting glass deposit. It must have been made by their tries at getting out of here." He looked to the vessel. "When we get the rest of this sand off the top of it, we'll be able to beam it up." He reached into his pocket for the chucks of glass he had found and handed one to Am'ath.

She turned it over in her hand. Shaped as a flame. Colours that swirled inside it made by the content of the sand and the energy blasts from the ship. "It is beautiful." She started to pass it back.

"No. You keep it." He grinned. "I have it listed and marked down as in your possession. It has been catalogued and scanned. Everything above board. The only thing it's missing is a name."

"A name?"

Dell nodded. "There is a whole cache of them. Must have been formed with each attempt." He made this stirring motion with his hand. "The pocket that formed would have caused the energy burst to spin. The sand would have melted from the heat and then swirled as it cooled. Not sure why the others would not have melted again but you learn not to question everything." He smiled. "The Vulcans will find all the answers to all the questions." He tapped her hand that held the glass. "But I want to give you first dibs at naming these."

"Why? You have discovered these, not I."

"But without you, we could not have opened this." He grinned. "Besides, I am lousy at thinking up names."

"The most logical would be 'Lost Road Flame'."

Dell nodded. "Lost Road Flame glass it is then." He drew in a breath and let it out quickly. "I am going to miss working with you. Ever thought of giving up Starfleet for a shovel and brush?"

Her head bowed slightly at the compliment. "I trust that my bond-mate would not approve. Nor would I wish to be apart from him."

Dell sighed. "Understandable. He is a lucky man."

"It is I that have experienced the... luck, Dr. VanWagner."

*******Galen IV Colony, Terran Embassy...

Ambassador Kirk and Captain Sulu waited for the KEHL member to arrive. It had been agreed upon that they would be escorted in, after being thoroughly searched, to meet with their leader.

Sulu looked to Peter. "Can you pull this off?"

Peter shrugged. He swallowed; he was beginning to feel the panic setting in. He had not even suspected that others knew about Peter Church, nor did he expect the leader to be someone he knew. Someone he had thought died somewhere along the line. Why, he wasn't sure. "At this point I can't back down." He took in a deep breath then let it out slowly. "God, I hope I don't blow this."

Sulu was about to answer when someone signaled.

Peter faced the door. "Come."

The door opened and the man indicated that they should precede him. He was armed and they had no doubts that he was also trained to use it. So they headed out.

The walk over to the Vulcan Embassy took about ten minutes. Ten very long and quiet minutes. Peter and Hikaru's comm-pins had been taken and then they had been searched quickly. Three more 'escorts' joined them once they were outside and each one successively taller. Peter was taller than Sulu and Sulu the shortest of the lot.

The Vulcan Embassy was a building that seemed to be born to this world. The colouring matched the surroundings, the small garden that was within the walls was perfection and held only native plants, finally even the tall windows in the reception area made you feel the appreciation for this world's beauty. In every sense a totally logical addition to this world.

They were led towards the reception desk.

"Welcome to the newly acquired KEHL Embassy." The imposing figure drew himself up out of the chair, aimed the phaser rifle at the two and stated only three words. "Strip or die."

Sulu began removing his uniform.

Peter's nervousness was getting to him and all he could think of was 'Can I choose death please?'. He sighed as he thought to himself then spoke softly to Sulu. "They never covered this in Ambassador school."

Sulu smiled. "Revise the curriculum when you get back." He looked to the guard and noted the slight smile on his lips. "Amazing what you think of under stress isn't it?"

The guard indicated for them to turn around once, then stated that they could get dressed. He grinned at their discomfort in their treatment. Sending them in naked was suggested but not well received, just laughed over. He then motioned for them to head towards the large double doors.

He indicated to one of the escorts. "Stay here."

He gestured politely for the two men to continue into the room. Sulu pushed one door, Peter, the other.

Sulu visually scanned the room. No one seemed injured to any great extent. A few bruises and discomfort... then his eyes fell on Sarek, he was about to say something but Sarek bowed his head. Sarek was letting him know he was uninjured. He bowed his head towards Sarek then continued towards the large window and the figure that stood in front of it. They were told to stop and stand still.

The figure turned and Peter swore.

"Peter. How you have grown." The comment was sarcastic.

Sulu looked to Peter. "You know her?" He was really beginning to doubt what side Peter Kirk was on.

"Yeah." He wondered if his luck could get any worse. "Captain Sulu, Lisa Tennet. Lisa Tennet, Captain Sulu." He smiled then chuckled. This was absurd there was no other word for it. Totally absurd. "Lisa was the one that introduced me to the KEHL."

She moved closer to Peter, drawing a fingernail along his jaw. "And a lover for a time." She tapped his nose. "Still cute too."

Peter could not control the blush that was warming his face. He closed his eyes and sighed then clenched his jaw.

Sulu had this sense of déjà vu that Peter was as well known as his uncle had been, among the female population. He knew that if they lived through this he would tease Peter about it.

Lisa cleared her throat. Her stance and tone of her voice changed. She was in control now. "Captain Sulu, are you prepared to remove the aliens from this world... or rather the non-humans?"

"They have the right of choice. If they want to leave, I will transport them to the nearest base. That has been my intention since the beginning." He had a line to walk and it was going to be hard. "I can not just beam someone up and whisk them off at your say-so."

Lisa considered his words. This man was not going to be easy to persuade without a great deal of careful planning. "I see." She walked away from them for a few steps then turned. "But you would under necessity?"

Sulu frowned. "Necessity?" He understood what she meant but wanted it stated clearly. All of her intentions had to be clear before he could act.

Lisa indicated the young aide. "Say, if she were to become injured." She gestured at one of the guards to hold this Vulcan. "Say, a broken wrist?" She nodded and the sickening crack was heard. But no cry of pain. She looked to Sarek; he had not moved a muscle over this.

Sulu understood her game. "I would need the shields to be dropped." He had studied the files on everyone assigned here, T'Para was on her first off-world assignment. This was not a good way to start out. He admired her courage and her control.

Lisa smiled. "Don't be stupid, Captain. Why would I lower the shields for merely a broken wrist." She stood in front of him then leaned a little closer. "Even you wouldn't do that... if the situation were reversed." He was calm and did not even react, she had to give him credit, but she wondered how much it would take for the officer to react.

Sulu met her eyes. "No I wouldn't."

She considered her options for a moment. She indicated the female again. "A broken arm?"

The crack was a little louder in this quiet room and there was a slight moan heard.

Sulu closed his eyes and breathed.

Peter did the same.

Lisa considered again her options. Looked out the window then down at the carpeting. She lifted her hand and tapped her finger against her lip, all the while watching Sarek. Time to play a card, she thought to herself. "A neck?"

Sasev moved faster than any of them had thought possible and the guard that was inflicting the torture lay on the ground unconscious. The other guards moved and trained their rifles on each prisoner. Three rifles aiming at Sasev.

Sulu had turned just in time to see Sasev become a target and the others move in from the other room, training their rifles on each of the others. Including himself.

"HOLD YOUR POSITIONS!" Lisa shouted. Her heart was racing and she could not believe what she had witnessed. She drew in a long breath to calm herself and to assess the situation. She had not expected the Vulcans or Starfleet to be this stubborn. She expected them to quietly back off!

The side door slammed open and three of her additional guards were holding a Klingon between them. A fighting Klingon and female at that.

"Look what we found..." The blonde stated with a grin. "She was hiding in the back storage room. Behind the stack of weapons that we beamed in." He laughed as she tried to struggle out of their grasp.

"I thought you'd left..." The words were out before Peter realized it. Everyone was staring at him now. "Shit!" He blew it. He reacted and he shouldn't have. He closed his eyes and prayed that no one would make the actual connection.

Lisa moved to stand in front of Peter. "You know her?"

Peter nodded. "She is a Klingon aide." He tried to make it matter-of-fact. "She was delivering a diplomatic pouch. She was supposed to have lifted off about an hour ago." He stared at Valdyr, wanted to ask her why she hadn't left. He caught himself and then looked down at the carpet.

Lisa looked around the room. This was getting out of hand. Too many people. Definitely too many aliens and too many surprises! She ran her fingertips across her forehead and sighed. "Tell me is there anyone else here that will be cropping up that we should know about?" Her voice got louder as she neared the end of her thought, and then she sighed. She looked directly at Peter. "Should have killed you when I had the chance."

Peter also agreed with her. "We all make mistakes."

Lisa gestured to one of the guards near the door. "Get something to tie these people up with. Then find me a channel to the ship." She wanted out of here and fast.

"Channel's open."

Lisa moved over to the desk. "Excelsior. This is the plan. In five minutes I will order the death of someone in this room." She gestured to the one that was guarding the injured Vulcan female. "I want a guarantee that you will remove all non-human filth from this planet."

"Commander Ian Burgh here. We will beam-up any and all personnel that wish to leave the surface at any time. We will not do this without prior knowledge and consent. Those are the orders I have to follow." He stated it clearly, to the point and without any emotion.

"Okay." She signaled the guard and the Vulcan female standing by the window was bathed in a blue phaser fire then vanished. "One down." She looked around. "Nine to go." She walked away from the desk but left the circuit on. She considered which of the aides would be next. She indicated what appeared to be the youngest male. "Your name. For the records."

"Sofek." His head bowed slightly.

"You want to die?" Lisa asked.

"What I want is irrelevant at the moment." Sofek looked to Sarek then bowed his head. "I come to serve."

Sarek bowed his head. "Your service honours us." He understood for a moment the Humans aversion to their code of honour as he grieved for the young assistant, T'mir. He also understood that sometimes to serve was to die.

Lisa watched this exchange. She was shocked. "His death will be an honoured service?"

"It is not something that is easily chosen. It is the alternative that is unwanted." Sarek explained calmly.

"The alternative?" Lisa frowned.

"Harming you." Sarek stated.

"You choose death over harming me?" She laughed. There was never going to be enough time in the universe for her to ever understand these Vulcans. They would bow and debate and quietly take over the universe... somehow. And she knew they had the power and the ability to and they had to be stopped. But this idiotic calm and placidity impressed so many Humans that it made her sick. So, she had to fight for her race. So the humans would not die out, breed anymore with the Vulcans or even start to act like them. She shivered with the anger that she felt.

******On the surface of Epsilon Delta 7...

Sencus watched as Am'ath and Dell had talked their way through the meal. Dell was most anxious for the Vulcan team to arrive and had received word that they were expected to beam-down in a few hours. Am'ath had not finished all of her meal, pushed away the tray and seemed disappointed when Dell excused himself to return to the surface. All her reactions were not what Sencus had expected from her.

"If you wish to remain I am certain that Captain Sulu would arrange it." He offered as an opening to the conversation that he wished to have with her.

"Why would I wish to remain?" She had felt restless and unwell. "I did not have a choice, I was assigned here for one week. My week is completed and I wish to return to the Excelsior." She sighed. She had felt an uneasiness from Hikaru through her bond-link and it concerned her. He was not strong enough to 'communicate' with her but this emotion was intense.

"I have noted an change in your behaviour. I wish only to inform you that if your preference was to remain..."

"Sencus." She interrupted. "I am aware that if I wished to remain my actions would include the sending of a request to Captain Sulu. I am also aware that Captain Sulu would most likely grant the extension." She stood. "I however do not wish to remain." She picked up her tray. "As to my change in behaviour... I do not believe it of any concern to you."

Sencus bowed his head. "As you wish." He watched her almost shove the tray into the recycler and then leave the mess. He considered all that she had learned from this place. The discomfort on board the Iron Duke, the relics that were discovered here and the connecting information concerning her family's House and the fact that she was, for all intent purposes, still newly bonded. He would leave her to herself. Perhaps what she needed was to be left to her own devices for a time. Perhaps he had been 'hovering', to use a Human term, and acting as a concerned parent to her. That was not his place. He would monitor her, from a distance and report to Doctor Chapel anything that he felt was of any importance.

He was, if noting else, curious as to how she would interact with the others when they arrived. If all went well, then he would account for her emotionalism to the discoveries here. If matters were not acceptable, then he would remain her 'shadow', without regard for her opinion on the matter.

******* Galen IV Colony, Vulcan Embassy...

The quiet of the night was almost deafening. Sulu had tried to sleep but couldn't. He was silently relieved, to some degree, that they had stopped some of the rationing because it slowed the need for the facilities. And that had become a fight in itself. He glanced over toward Sarek. Sarek's fatigue was beginning to show. At least they were allowing the others to sleep close together and unbound for a time. It had helped the other Vulcans because the temperature for them was cool. He had already given up his tunic to T'Mel.

He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. He missed Am'ath. He wasn't pleased that this is what she was returning to. No doubt by now the rescue had been worked out. He had every confidence in Commander Burgh. He was one of the best tactical officers and he was lucky to have him. He looked around the room; no one had bothered Sarek yet, which could be considered a blessing. Sarek was not doing well, with his arms fastened like that for this long they would be useless in an escape and it would take a great deal of time, comparatively, for one of them to free him and it would take two people to carry him out.

Sarek would be the first one to remind him that to leave him behind was much better than risking everyone's life just to save him. Yet Sarek would be the first to remain to free someone else. It had been almost an hour since the last 'walk-around' from the guards so another was due soon. The coffee they had brought in earlier smelled exceptionally good and caused his stomach to grumble.

No further contact had been made with the Excelsior that he knew of and he wondered how many of them would be in acceptable condition when they were freed. He adjusted his position then closed his eyes and tried to sleep, even a light sleep would help at this point.

Peter Kirk moved closer to Valdyr. She was angry with him. She wanted him to do something except sit here and act as a victim. He had explained to her that if it were only his life to worry about, there would be no problem. But there were others to consider. Other lives that they could not decide on. He moved a little closer to her as she was turned away from him and was pretending to sleep.

"Valdyr." He was relieved when she turned to face him. "I told Captain Sulu that I would do this his way. I don't want anyone else killed." He reached to her face and drew his fingertips down her face. "I had hoped that you had left in time."

"As I was heading to the vessel I saw the attackers beginning to move in. I could not leave. So I waited until I knew that there was some assistance called for. I listened on the frequencies that I knew the Federation used. I heard what was happening and wanted to stay close." Her hand reached to his lips. "Two of these animals paid with their lives before they found me." She stated proudly.

Peter grinned then shook his head slowly. "Never understand that part of your code of honour." He was about to take the chance of kissing her when he noticed the guard beginning his 'patrol'.

"You people are awfully quiet tonight. Losing your nerve?" Evans poked at one of the male Vulcans with the barrel of his rifle. He hated this duty. He wanted to see some action or at least do something except guard the ones that, in his opinion, should have been shot days ago. He continued on down the line and stopped at the feet of one couple. Bonded they called it. He thought it was sick the way they would almost kow-tow to each other and were far too polite. "Would you two be interested in some food?"

Sasev sat up. "Why do you offer food when there is no intention of giving us any?" His patience was wearing thin. He understood the need for calm, and to keep one's dissatisfaction of the situation in check, but not at the expense of a long drawn out slow death.

Evans grinned. "Hey, guys." He turned around to face the others. "This one wants to know why we are doing this?" He looked back to the Vulcan. "Because we think you should be dead. And annoying you, bothering you and inflicting pain is the next best thing to out and out killing you."

Sasev sighed. "At this point, I would prefer my death as well."

Evans lifted the rifle and pointed at the Vulcan's head. "It can be arranged."

The double doors banged open and Lisa walked in with Grant in tow. "Okay, who was it that took the water from the tray outside?" She looked around the room then her eyes fell on T'Mara, who was the female that had been shot earlier, sustaining only a phaser bur on her shoulder. "It was you." She shook her head and sighed. "I was really hoping that you had enough brains to understand."

Sasev cleared his throat. "She required it to clean the wound you have left her with."

Sulu stood, brushing off his pants needlessly. He watched.

"You don't learn do you?" She looked towards Sarek. She sighed as if she was about to do something she really did not want to. "If that is the way you people want it..."

Lisa headed directly for Sarek then stood in front of him. "It appears that your staff in not as well trained as you professed they would be."

Sarek lifted his head then attempted to wet his dry lips. "I do not recall any disciplinary difficulties." He started coughing, his throat and lips were dry and he had not had anything to eat or drink for the duration of the time he was here. "What was the offense?"

"It doesn't matter. There was one and you will be the one to suffer the consequences," she retorted then gestured for Grant to move closer. "Come here, Grant."

Grant moved closer.

"Sarek's staff is unco-operative. What do you think would be a suitable punishment, seeing as he is in charge." She looked to him. "It doesn't matter... I'll leave you to deal with it." She sighed again. "I am going to have something to eat. If you work up any type of appetite then you know where to find me." She smiled slightly, aware of what his appetite may entail. With that order handed out, she headed out of the conference room. "If I were you, I'd keep the others under fire. I don't trust any of them." She slammed the door closed behind her with some satisfaction at the sound it made.

Grant took a step closer. "Now... you are mine, Vulcan!" Grant hissed close to Sarek's ear. He asked one of the guards for his belt. The guard removed it with one motion then faced the rest of the crowd, ready to fire on anyone that interfered. Grant folded the leather belt and snapped it.

Sarek steeled himself for the abuse he was about to suffer. He was painfully aware that his clothing would present him with little protection. The fact that his body was almost numb with cold could only help. Sarek summoned all his disciplines to prepare himself for this and to shield his bond-mate from any of its affects.

Grant moved behind him. He lay the leather strapping over one shoulder on the Vulcan then drew it down slowly. He drew his hand back with the belt then slapped it against the silk and skin. He drew his hand back again pausing hopefully slow enough for the pain to begin to register before the next slap was heard.

Sulu moved, but the barrel of the phaser rifle was pressed against his head a little harder. His hands were already being held tight and he was reminded that everyone else could be killed rather than him. He resigned himself to witnessing this treatment. He vowed to himself that if he left here alive, he would see that each one was dealt with to the fullest extent of Federation Law.

Grant drew back for the fifteenth and last time. This time the slap was made louder by the blood that covered Sarek's back. Sarek was sagging heavily against his bonds when it was over. The entire room was hushed; no one had uttered an audible sound during the flogging.

"I hope there's another screw up as I rather enjoyed that, Vulcan." Grant hissed. "I'm sure we can get together and do this again sometime soon."

Grant dropped the blood stained belt on the floor then left to find Lisa.

*******On board the U.S.S Excelsior...

Commander Burgh looked to the group that was prepared to beam down. He had repeated the plans and insured that each person knew exactly what they were to do. He had listened in to things as long as they had left the circuit open. The bridge crew had heard the sound of the phaser and the announcement of the death of one of the Vulcans.

They had listened to the hours of unending racial slurs and comments that made a few crewmembers ask to be excused. Then came the accusations about the stolen water and the sound of the whipping. They all had assumed it was Sarek that had become the target.

Henley stood at that point. "We can't wait any longer, Commander."

"What do you have in mind, Mr. Henley." Burgh had been running through every plan in his head he could think of with disastrous results.

"Pick off the outside guards. One by one. Beam them aboard then take and assault force in." Henley looked at the faces that surrounded the briefing table.

"Well the first part I like." Commander Burgh sat forward slightly. He started to think of the other possibilities. "That would definitely improve the odds."

"Commander." Lieutenant Collins looked unsure of himself. In front of a console he was comfortable but here at this table, brainstorming was a new experience for him. "How about dividing up the assault team and have another person to sort of sneak in when the shield is taken down by the ship's phasers."

Henley grinned then looked at her sometimes-helm partner. "Sneak?"

Collins shrugged. "Bad choice of words but... the idea is there."

"What about if we go in through the less used or less protected areas?" Henley looked to Burgh. "We could short-circuit the shielding because we know the frequency. Once everyone was in position it would be a matter of getting in there and in position before we were spotted."

Burgh nodded. "It has possibilities."

And that was how the present plan had fell into place. To implement it would take precision timing and lots of luck. An hour had passed since they had left the briefing room to change and make all the preparations.

Ian could only imagine how frustrating it must be for an officer that was used to finding solutions and being in charge. Captain Sulu was not in the most ideal circumstances and Ian hoped that he was doing the right thing. He was really hoping that Sencus would have been back before they had to implement the rescue. He could have used the advice from a seasoned veteran, but he would never let Sencus know that was how he felt about him.

Ian had never seen full combat gear on a team, except in simulations and in practice drills. The chest shields the helmets and the heavier phaser-rifles gave even the most petite a look of strength.

"Okay, be careful and remember these people do have rights. No matter what you find."

The leader of this six-man group acknowledged the statement then ordered his group to the transporter room. Their orders were to find a way in and wait before they made a move. This was the group that would have to charge into the building without knowing what was waiting for them.

Burgh sighed. He had been feeling queasy all day and he did not like the fact that the situation had come to this. He gathered up his weapon belt and fastened it in place over his jumpsuit, just as the doors swished open. He looked up.

"Ready, Commander?" Lieutenant Mags Henley stood in the doorway wearing the camouflage jumpsuit as well. She was acting as his second. She would lead one half of the security team that was to capture and beam up as many of the outside terrorists as possible then move in behind the strike force if necessary. "Don't want to keep the Captain waiting?"

"You are enjoying this too much." He always had this feeling about her that she couldn't wait for tomorrows. Todays were enough. He silently wished she had not had the skills she did, then he could have put her into the strike force and she would be protected with the combat gear. This way there was more of a chance of her getting hurt.

"I want Captain Sulu back. I want Sarek and the other Vulcans safe." She stated firmly. "And I think we have waited too long already." She tilted her head slightly then stepped into the room and moved to Burgh's side. She tapped his shoulder. "Besides, I want him to be the one that performs our wedding."

Burgh laughed. "What makes you think I want to marry you?" He was teasing her and both of them knew it. The first thing he had done, at the beginning of this short hiatus, was to propose. Right now he was very pleased that she had said yes.

"It's the logical thing to do." She grinned then reached up and kissed him. "Commander, we are late."

"Well this time I can blame you." He turned her around then pointed to the door. "March, Mister."

"Aye, aye, sir." She smiled up at him then headed out. By the time they reached the transporter room, they had changed the way they acted with one another. A skill she had learned from Am'ath.

******On the surface of Galen IV...

One by one the tired and non-attentive outside guards were taken down. Only a few of them had to be stunned. No one had died yet, and that was how it was supposed to be. So far, the Excelsior security department had a lot to be pleased about.

Ensign Tuvok had just returned from the ship. He ran over to Mr. Henley and reported that all the outside personnel were in the brig. "Five were stunned and are recovering. Commander Burgh has been detained as a message from the Iron Duke was being received. There appears to be a problem on board and they will be delayed."

She frowned. "Do you know what?"

"I was privy to only that potion of the conversation before I was beamed down."

She nodded. So far, everything was going according to the plan they had laid out. She checked the time on her wrist then looked to Tuvok. "Come with me." She headed towards the back of the building, looking for a way in. She tapped on her comm-badge. "Henley. In position. Report."

Each person that was assigned to a position was paired with one of the team that was in combat gear. And they waited.

Inside the Vulcan Embassy...

Lisa Tennet entered the conference room eating some of the fruit that she had found in the kitchen. She had been making her rounds and everything was secure. She strutted around the room checking on everyone then stopped near Sarek. She smacked her lips and finished off the last of the peach.

Sarek had managed to straighten up enough to take the pressure off his shoulders and wrists. He could smell the food and it almost caused him to drool but he controlled the sensation enough that it was not obvious.

Lisa looked into the dark eyes and spoke softly. "There is more where that came from if that starship doesn't follow through with the removal of the non-human garbage. It's entirely up to them. Personally..." she spoke sarcastically. "...I would suggest that you convince the brave captain over there to honour our demands. After all, you are the one who will suffer... not him."

Sarek drew in a slow breath. The cuts in his back had stopped bleeding but it had caked and dried on his back. Each movement cause some degree of pain, he hoped not enough to reopen any of the wounds. "Then allow him to come over here and talk with me."

Lisa grinned. She was going to deny him but there would be some degree of satisfaction to see the Vulcan plead with the Human. "No, but I'll do you one better." She motioned to Evans who was still patrolling the room. "Untie him. Leave the bonds on his wrist..." she turned back to Sarek. "...we might need them again."

Sarek was untied. His arms dropped to his sides like lead weights. He could not even feel the existence of his limbs. He attempted to draw himself up and to take the first step but he was pushed in Sulu's direction instead. He fell heavily after stumbling two steps. He lifted his head. "I am undamaged, Captain." His voice was barely functional.

Lisa savoured the sight of the Vulcan Ambassador on his hands and knees crawling to the Starfleet officer and then collapsing in a heap.

"Rest assured, Captain, I have no intention of persuading you to bow to their demands." Sarek spoke softly. "I do require some degree of rest..." Sarek knew that all that was required was a healing trance, but he, like the others that were injured, were unable to risk it. This was not the time or the place to let down ones guard. He would simply have to marshal enough of his disciplines to control the pain and be satisfied with that.

Hikaru Sulu moved closer to Sarek, if nothing else he could offer to warm him as best as he could. He only hoped the rescue would not be too much longer.

******

Commander Burgh beamed down and moved into position. He and Collins would be going in through the right front window. He tapped on the comm-pin. "I am in position. Excelsior."

"Yes, Commander." Mr. Rand's voice was steady. She had been left in command.

"Begin countdown to short out the shields. On my mark, ten seconds."

"Aye, sir. All systems are in place. Countdown will be heard by everyone."

"Good." Ian drew in a breath and then readied himself. "Mark."

He listened to the whispered countdown as he and Collins moved into place. All the others were moving in closer preparing to cross the boundary that was marked out by the shielding. He was so close that he was sure the hairs on the back of his hand were standing up.

There was a faint snap in the air and then the signal that the shield was down. Burgh reached out his hand first, just to be sure then signaled for Collins to follow him.

All over the building a repeat of the take-over took place but without the clamor. This was done as quietly as possible. Windows were phasered out of existence; locked doors were phasered open at the locking mechanism only. Slowly, the number of guards diminished to just the few inside the room that was presumed to hold the captives.

Timing had been perfect. Burgh, Collins, Henley and Tuvok stood at the doors to the conference room. Burgh looked to the others then whispered. "Ready or not, here we go..."

******

Valdyr looked to her guard; he was watching this female tormenting Sarek. He was not being very attentive to his duty. She looked to Peter and the Starfleet officer then bowed her head fractionally. The captain saw it and returned it.

Everything seemed to happen at once.

Valdyr moaned and dropped down on one knee. The guard came flying over her shoulder.

Sulu reached for the rifle and drove it back into his guard's face.

Peter had less training. He screamed then backed himself into the guard then grabbed the rifle barrel and pulled it out of his hands. He aimed the rifle at both the guards. "Got 'em." He glanced at Sulu.

Sulu nodded once then was off to catch Lisa. He managed to tackle her close to the side door.

Sasev and Valdyr made short work of a few others as they made their way toward Sarek. Neck-pinches and a closed fist worked wonders as well as the rifles that, once they changed hands, were used to control any reactions. Within what seemed like seconds everyone's position was reversed and the captors were now the captives.

"Sarek, the controls for the shield." Sulu stated without looking in his direction.

"On the desk. Third from the right." Sarek stated.

Sulu backed up slightly, the rifle trained on Lisa. He turned off the shield. "Commander Burgh. Wide dispersion, stun force. Then beam the prisoners directly to the brig."

"Unnecessary, Captain. Already accomplished. We are on our way in."

Tuvok and Collins moved to the doors then opened them quickly. They moved into the room, dropping onto their stomachs to avoid any phasers aimed their way. Henley and Burgh ran in and aimed their rifles at the closest guards. The back ups moved in from behind and spread out over the room.

Burgh looked around the room to finally take in the activities of the room. "Thought you'd need some help, Captain." Every thing had been secured. He looked towards Sulu just as he dropped to his knees. He took a step towards him.

Peter turned as Sulu sighed. He watched as Sulu dropped to his knees, the rifle falling to the floor just before he did.

"Am'ath..." Sulu whispered as the darkness took him.

Lisa picked up the rifle, changed the setting without looking then fired, hitting most of her people closest to her. That was all Lisa managed to accomplish before Henley shot her. She went down in an unconscious heap.

Henley caught something in the corner of her eye and turned in time to see Burgh pitch forward. "Shit!" She tapped her comm-badge. "We need a medical team fast. Sulu and Burgh are both down." She was numb; she did not know whom to run to first!

*******On board the U.S.S Iron Duke...

The door-chime signaled and Am'ath touched the release. She had not expected the solid hand to slam into her face. She tried to remain standing but the cold metal that touched her neck brought a slow numbness to her body and sent her to her knees and into darkness.

Lieutenant Commander Lenard lifted her over his shoulder then headed down the hall with the unconscious Vulcan. He was surprised at how easy it had been.

Sencus stepped out of the lift; his eyes caught the handmade sign fastened to the wall covering the corridor designation... "LITTLE VULCAN" was marked on the green-tinted 'paper'. He sighed then looked to his companion, T'Syric. "This is constant, is it not?"

"For the most part. It seems to have escalated in the last thirty-four days." She had been grateful for his assistance when her bondmate died. She missed Shahk but with her death, there would have been no one that could testify to the conditions that the Vulcans faced here. "We have all been doing as you suggested and were most grateful for the functional tricorder Am'ath repaired. Any skill that will give us an upper hand is penalized."

"What I do not comprehend is that they are able to continue this without anyone's knowledge." Sencus touched the release on his door and they stepped in. "Captain Sulu will be able to help to a great extent." He looked to the time, he was correct, Am'ath was late in arriving. He had expected her to be here.

The door chime sounded.

"Come." Sencus turned to his visitor.

T'Syric stood as well. "Lieutenant Sha'ak."

Sencus bowed his head. "Sha'ak."

"Commander. I witnessed Mr. Lenard carrying an unconscious officer. It was the female that you travel with."

Sencus nodded. "Show me." He looked to T'Syric. "Gather everyone that is trustworthy here. It is time."

"I understand Commander."

The plan that she would be setting into motion was one that had been talked about for some time but there were no senior officers to implement it. Now there was, and this one would be believed by Command. They were only hours away from the Excelsior and the Vulcans on board were planning a mutiny.

******

Sencus ran down the corridor towards the quarters that had been indicated by Sha'ak. He tapped in the coding and within four tries the door opened.

Sencus stepped in just as Arthur Lenard removed the last of Am'ath's clothing. "Plans have changed, Mr. Lenard." Sencus ducked the tossed boot then reached to the large man's shoulder but he could not get a good enough grip. He was tossed against the bulkhead.

"Yes they have, Vulcan." Art laughed then picked up the dazed officer by his tunic and lifted him off the floor. "I get to kill you first."

Sencus reached into his tunic pocket and fired the phaser from there. He felt the tingle of the stun effect travel along his arm that was resting along Lenard's arm.

The security officer looked into Sencus' eyes as the stun took affect. "Shit." He muttered as his body went numb.

Sencus dropped to the floor with the Human then stepped free of him. He tripped then stumbled slightly as he regained his balance. He aimed the phaser still set for stun at the heap on the deck. He took a breath and shook his arm to rid the tingling effect he could still feel.

Sencus tapped the com-badge, set for a private frequency. "Implement Plan One." He stepped into the sleep area and covered Am'ath. He checked her pulse. She would have to return for her later. He then dragged Lenard out into the hall and then locked the door of the quarters with his code. He turned and was hit by a phaser at a stunning force.

Gitzel looked at the second body on the floor. "You don't think we do things without back-up, do you, Vulcan." He toed the alien's body then tapped his comm-pin. "Security. We have a pick-up just outside Lenard's quarters. Make sure he is secure."

"Aye, sir. On our way."

Gitzel crouched down beside Lenard just as he started to moan. "You are going to have one hell of a headache, my friend." He grinned as the officer started to sit up against the bulkhead. "Do you need the doc?"

Lenard stretched his neck slowly then rested his head against the surface that was holding him up. "Not here. I can make it to sickbay." He rubbed his eyes then squinted in Gitzel's direction. "I left her in there." He thumbed in the direction of his quarters.

"You weren't going to keep her to yourself were you?" He stood then offered his hand to Arthur, pulling him up then helping to steady him.

Art grinned. "No. I just wanted to be the first." He grinned slightly then moaned. His head felt as if someone had stuffed it way past its capacity from the inside.

Gitzel tapped the door release and nothing happened. "Well looks like we will both have to wait."

******On board U.S.S Excelsior, sickbay...

Doctor Christine Chapel had been preparing her sickbay for every eventuality as soon as the rescue plan was in place. She ran from the transporter room into sickbay just ahead of all the casualties.

She began pointing her teams to the bio-beds as they entered with the patients on the individual gurneys. She didn't like the look of any of her patients, especially Sarek. She set that team to carefully remove the remaining strips of fabric from his back and clean the wounds. Intravenous drips could wait for a bit as she turned her attentions to Commander Burgh.

She looked around the room to the readings on the bio-panels above the beds. Sarek was holding his own but the pain indicator was high. She would solve that in a moment. Captain Sulu was in pain, his injuries were not life threatening, but she wasn't sure why he wasn't awake.

She began to check over Ian Burgh. The scanner showed a chest burn. She had the assistants remove his uniform while she checked on Sarek. But he seemed to be 'holding his own' as the medical phrasing goes.

The Vulcan medications had been brought to her and she pressed the hypo against his neck that contained an antibiotic and then a stabilizer. She pulled down a blanket, then instructed the nurse to run the regenerator over his back then cover him and begin the standard IV.

She moved back to Burgh and began to get confusing readings. He wasn't stabilizing now, and the phaser burn to his chest was severe, but he still should be stabilizing by now. Then she saw it. It must have been the angle or he could have moved just as he was hit, there was severe damage to his heart. This had not been picked up in the initial scan. She began the procedures that would hopefully save his life.

"Damn", she whispered.

She called for the surgical team and then began to list off the additional items needed. She began to try to stabilize him as she shouted at everyone.

"Clear my sickbay!"

No one argued and Henley stood outside in the corridor staring at the doors that closed after the last of the 'intruders' came out. She felt all the life drain from her as she began to realize what this meant. She stumbled back until she made contact with the bulkhead behind her. She took a deep breath and began to pray that this nightmare was not going to end this way.

******On board the U.S.S Iron Duke...

The assembled Starfleet personnel were totally shocked at the turn of events. The ones that could walk were helping the ones that had been dragged in and unceremoniously dropped on the deck. They shouted at the fully armed Vulcans for answers and were ignored.

The newest member of the crew, Ensign Eric Whitter looked around the room. "Well, if anyone wants my opinion, I am not surprised at all by their actions. Considering how badly they are treated most of the time." He didn't move from the corner position he had claimed when he was first brought in. He had been on board the Iron Duke for only a few months and lately he had been considering a transfer or 'jumping ship', which ever was easier. It had made him sick the way the Vulcans were being treated, especially lately.

"Shut up, Whitter." One of the lieutenants spoke up. He had noticed as well how the crew had seemed to pick-up on the abuse of the Vulcans ever since they transported that group to Galen IV. That is where they were heading now. He looked around the cargo bay that they had been locked into. No one above the rank of lieutenant... yet. He worked in security and he had seen the log of complaints that would never see the light of day if Lenard had his way. He had to log the complaints from the Vulcans as they became a part of the ship's log, or at least that's how it was supposed to work. On the Iron Duke, however, things never happened according to regulations, especially when the Vulcans were involved. Lenard simply closed each complaint as if it had been dealt with to everyone's satisfaction. In reality of course, nothing had been done but who would know? He was somewhat guilty of the questionable treatment but nothing like what Lenard or the rest of the more senior crew did. But was he just as guilty by not doing anything about it?

Lieutenant Kevin Nash stood up and moved over to Ensign Whitter, he offered his hand to him. "Maybe it's time we start to let everyone know what been happening."

"Sounds good to me." Whitter tapped the decking beside him. "Have a seat. Name's Andrew."

They both looked up as another officer was dragged into the room. Two armed Vulcans stood on either side watching the room's occupants. The officer that was dropped was Lieutenant Commander Alisa Thompson, security and one of Lenard's strongest supporters.

They smiled at one another. The Vulcans were winning this time.

******On board the U.S.S. Excelsior...

Doctor Christine Chapel walked into her office and dropped into the chair. She stripped off the surgical gown and gathered it into a ball. She studied the dried red blood on it and sighed. She closed her eyes, dropped her head back and wondered why she had taken this job.

She tossed the bundle into the wastebasket. She'd recycle it later. She leaned on her desk then supported her head with one hand as she turned the computer screen slightly. She blinked to get the writing in focus. She was tired. She flipped through the readings from the bio-beds that held her remaining patients. All the readings were improving and it looked like it would be quiet in here for the next few hours.

She had even managed to deal with Lieutenant Commander Henley. Giving her the shocking news had not been easy. Henley was, like the rest of the senior officers, pushing the grief aside and it would be dealt with later.

Commander Ian Montgomery Burgh would be missed.

******

Janice Rand looked to her relief. "What do you mean the conversation stopped." She turned the command chair to face the communication officer. She hated sitting in this seat. Hikaru should be here. This assignment had felt bad from the beginning even before they left dry-dock. Hikaru had said as much over the lunch they had together.

"The Iron Duke's transmission just ended. Stopped. The officer was talking to me about arranging the rendez-vous and then he stopped talking, hollered at someone to get security and then... nothing." Rebecca Hart took the receiver out of her ear. She was just as confused as Commander Rand. "I can not get the connection back again."

Janice nodded then thought for a minute. "Get Chapel on the line." She had to know how Captain Sulu was doing. She might have been fourth in the chain of command, but she was not ready for this. She touched the tie-in when she was told Christine was waiting. "Doctor Chapel, how is Captain Sulu?"

"His injury has been dealt with, there was minimal damage to his arm and collar-bone area. Dermal regeneration will be finished when I am certain the area is free of infection. He should be awake. I am not sure why he isn't." Chapel sounded baffled.

Janice nodded as the doctor filled her in. "Can he be given any type of stimulate?"

Chapel nodded. "Yes, but I would rather know why he is not waking first." She recognized the concern on Rand's face. "Do you really need him there?"

Rand started to say yes but she hesitated. "No. I don't need him up here, I just need to get his opinion about something." She was really not ready for command of a vessel this size, especially under these circumstances and she knew it.

Chapel nodded. "I will check on him and get back to you."

"Fair enough." Janice closed the circuit then turned her chair to face Mr. Hart. "Keep trying to hail them or get some response. Go over the recording and see if you can try to figure out what is going on." She sat back in the chair as it returned slowly to face the main screen. She looked to Henley manning the helm. "What is our E.T.A for rendez-vous?"

"Two hours, ten minutes."

"Well at least we have a little bit of time."

******

Chapel stood and started out of her office but stopped suddenly at the sight of Hikaru Sulu leaning on the near-by bulkhead. "What are you doing up?"

Hikaru drew in a breath. He frowned. "Not sure." He managed a weak smile. "What is going on?" He tried to stand independent of the support; he was wavering slightly but managing it. "I remember being on the surface... vague about beaming up and now here."

Chapel stayed close waiting for him to either stand or fall over. "How about if you sit, then I will fill you in." She offered her arm for support.

"I can do it." He felt nauseous again. "Keep feeling sick."

"No reason for it." She walked with him to the nearest chair and was relieved when he sat down. She pulled over another chair and sat down facing him, her scanner in her hand before he could object. "You were all beamed up. The terrorists that survived are in the brig and under heavy guard. Sarek is recovering. T'Mara will be fine, her shoulder was repaired. Sasev suffered only a mild concussion and Sekar will have a sore neck where he was butt-ended with the phaser rifle, but they'll be fine. The others are resting in their assigned quarters." She sat back somewhat satisfied with the readings. "Henley has done an excellent job since beaming up from the surface. Tuvok has been assigned to the detention area as well as Rawlings, Baker and Mr. Naso."

Sulu nodded. "All good choices." He thought about it for a second, there was something missing. "When is the E.T.A for rendez-vous?"

"A little less than two hours, I think."

Sulu moved over to the desk and started to reach for the tie-in to the bridge but Chapel's hand stopped him.

Chapel swallowed before she said anything. "We lost one officer."

Sulu sighed. Immediately, he thought of every rookie that went down then prepared himself for the information. "Okay. Who?"

"Commander Burgh."

Sulu stared at her. "Burgh?" He was confirming that he heard correctly. He stood suddenly and looked around the room. He was holding his breath then suddenly let in out. He looked to Chapel. "Who's in command?"

"Commander Rand."

He started to look for his uniform. "I need to get up there." He stopped and grabbed onto the end of the bed. He swayed slightly then looked to Chapel. "I need my uniform." He started to strip off the sickbay coveralls.

Chapel didn't argue and started to hand him the pieces she had replicated earlier expecting that he would need them. "You have got to take it easy."

He looked to the time. "What delayed the rendez-vous?"

Chapel shook her head. "I don't know, Captain."

Sulu slammed his foot into one boot then the other and he had enough sense to straighten slowly. "Tell Rand I am on my way up."

"Aye, Captain." She watched him run out of here, his tunic half on and struggling with the other arm. She reached to the tie-in and let Janice know that he was on his way but he had to be watched. He was not in the best of conditions. "And make sure he eats." She added to the conversation.

Janice answered her with a chuckle and some relief in her voice.

*******

Captain Sulu stepped onto the bridge and immediately noted the strain on Rand's face. He moved to the command chair and sat down just after Rand vacated it. "Report, Commander."

"Iron Duke had sent a message earlier that they would be detained, no reason given. We contacted them at the agreed upon time and in the middle of the conversation, the frequency was closed. No reason given. And we can not raise them again."

"Keep trying."

Rand returned to her regular station. "Aye, sir."

******On board the U.S.S Iron Duke...

Commander Gitzel had not waited around for the Vulcan to wake up in the brig from the effects of being stunned. He really did not care if he ever woke up or not. Instead, he grabbed the nearest engineering tech and ordered him down to Lenard's quarters to open the door release.

He looked around as he was heading back up to Lenard's quarters and began to notice that there were fewer personnel than usual. He shrugged it off as just the scheduled change in shift, then ran down the corridor to be there when the door finally opened. As he turned the corner the tech was standing. "Did you do it?"

"Sure. Had to cut the damn thing out but I can put another one in later." He began to collect the tools and safety equipment. "Who ever entered the coding, forgot to enter it into the security file. I could not find any code to open this sucker and I went back seven years." He grinned. "Amazing what useless information we keep."

Gitzel wanted this guy to shut up and get back to his station but he knew if he said anything, it would be suspicious. "I know. Well the culprit was me and I would really appreciate it if you didn't say anything. Just mark it as a fault with the mechanism."

The tech shrugged. "No problem. I'll be back in about an hour to fix it."

"I'll let Art know. Thanks again." He patted the young guy on the shoulder then waited until he had turned the corner before he headed into the room. He was relieved to find her still unconscious. The shot Lenard had given her had not worn off yet.

*******

Captain Edward Anderson stood slowly. He closed the frequency to the Excelsior. He would worry about that later. He turned to face the bridge intruders. "Since when do you step onto my bridge?" He contained the concern he had for the fact that his three security officers were now in unconscious heaps. The Vulcans that stood with them were armed.

Lieutenant Commander Solua stepped forward. "I, Solua, as the highest ranking Vulcan officer of the vessel Iron Duke, hereby charge officers and crew of said vessel with conduct unbecoming to Starfleet Officers, namely the abusive treatment of Vulcan nationals. I also declare that I am taking command of this vessel until such time that we rendez-vous with the Excelsior."

Anderson cleared his throat. "Let me get this straight..." he grinned slightly, "... you are charging me with mistreatment of my officers? I don't think so." He looked around. "Any of you think I treat my fellow 'officers' incorrectly?"

There was a round of 'no, sir' and 'no, captain' along with a few chuckles.

Anderson spread his hands. "You have no abilities to take over this ship."

"Yes we do." Solua stood her ground. "All the lock-out codes have been changed. Command codes will not work nor will the destruct sequence." He motioned towards the library station. "You may check if you wish." He motioned for his officers to move into position. His weapon remained trained on the captain.

The lift doors opened and three more Vulcan officers stepped onto the bridge moving to stand beside the helm, navigation and communication positions. All were armed with a phaser.

Commander Brianna Olsen turned to face the captain. "Captain, we are totally locked out of every system." She was amazed at the intricate network of by-passes that had to be done for this not to be noticed. She felt a bit of embarrassment, as she was the computer expert on board.

"You can't get through them?" Captain Anderson had begun to feel a twinge of nervousness at the turn of events.

Brianna shook her head. "Not without setting off some of the traps." She had to admire the Vulcans' handy-work. All along the only thing that she wanted was to be on a vessel that had no aliens. They made her skin crawl. "Most of them are either chemical or environmental and would be harmful for humans and not Vulcans."

"Captain, I would much prefer to accomplish this without harming anyone." Lieutenant Commander Solua stated as she stepped down into the command well. Her phaser was pointed directly at the captain and the stun force was at the maximum setting. "You are to wait in the cargo bay with the rest of the crew."

Anderson grinned. "What rest of the crew?"

"We have sixty-four crew members in the cargo bay at the present time. The bridge crew is an additional twelve. The Vulcan members of the crew bring the total to ninety-eight. The final two are the two Vulcans that have died while under your command. Commander Sencus is being cared for in sickbay at the moment and remains unconscious. Lieutenant Commander Am'ath's where-abouts has not yet been determined."

Anderson grinned. "We will see who actually gets into trouble. Mutiny is not a highly regarded action that earns merit points." He knew he was in a position that either he would go quietly to the cargo bay or he would be stunned and brought to the cargo bay. He looked around. The twelve of them could easily overpower the others. He shrugged. "Okay have it your way..." he moved around the chair and started up the few steps, then turned, "... for now. When the Excelsior finds out about what you aliens did, you'll be the ones in the brig."

Solua bowed her head slightly. "As you wish, Captain." She looked to the three officers under her direction. "One at a time."

"That will take a long time, Vulcan." Anderson pointed out.

"I am not in a rush, Captain. I have time." She gave the command for the officer to be brought down. She tapped the comm-pin. "We are secured here. Additional escorts are required to the main turbo-lift."

"Acknowledged," came the equally calm voice.

Before the next officer was escorted down, Sencus had recovered and was patiently awaiting his release.

******On board the U.S.S Excelsior...

Captain Sulu had been pacing the length of the bridge. The silence was nerve-wracking and puzzling. They had tried contacting the Iron Duke every five minutes for the passed hour. Nothing.

He felt an aching in his shoulder but what bothered him more was this feeling that he was going to be sick and yet he knew he wasn't. He moved back to his position and was handed a cup of tea. "Thank you." He was only slightly surprised that it was Janice Rand handing it to him. "What do you think?"

"I have listened to that tape so many times that I have memorized every sound." She stood beside the chair and leaned towards him slightly. "That sound that I couldn't place, I finally did. It's the sound of bodies falling."

Sulu thought about it for a moment. "More than one. Are you sure?"

She nodded her head. "But there was no sound from a weapon." She tapped the pick-up on the arm of his chair. "These are made so that the sounds around the officer will not be picked-up. That's where the difficulty is."

Sulu placed the cup down on the small table in front of him. He rubbed his eyes tried to think of what could possibly be happening. This was turning into a really crazy mission. Chapel had given him some painkillers and now he was getting a headache and he shouldn't be. He rubbed the back of his neck then sighed.

Rand was watching him. He seemed edgy and that was not like him. "Something wrong, Captain?"

"I just get this feeling..." He frowned trying to search for the right words. "... as if I am getting sick or running a fever." He shook his head. "I can't seem to shake it."

"Captain." Rebecca Hart turned to face him. "I have the Iron Duke on channel."

"Main screen." Sulu straightened. "U.S.S. Excelsior, Captain Hikaru Sulu." The officer that came on the screen was not one he recognized. "To whom am I speaking?

"Lieutenant Commander Solua. I am temporarily in command of the Iron Duke." She paused for a moment. "We are increasing our speed to reach your location as soon as possible."

"Very well." Sulu leaned back in the chair. He noticed that the personnel that surrounded her were all Vulcan. He could not remember the Iron Duke as being manned by Vulcans. "You are not the officer listed as holding the captaincy. Is there a problem?"

"There has been. I do not believe the subject should be discussed on an open channel, Captain Sulu."

He shifted uneasily in the chair. He was really not feeling well. "We were scheduled to transfer two of my officer from your vessel."

"Yes. Commander Sencus and Lieutenant Commander Am'ath. We are in the process of locating them now." She realized that this officer was not going to handle this information well.

Sulu frowned. "What exactly do you mean, trying to locate them?"

"They are on board." She stopped talking then turned the chair slightly. "Captain, Commander Sencus has been located and will be on the bridge in a moment." She appeared somewhat relieved.

"And Mr. Am'ath?" Sulu stood slowly, something was definitely wrong.

Solua turned in the chair then stood. "Commander. Captain Sulu wishes to speak with you." She stepped out of the way and Sencus' image filled the screen as he sat down.

"Captain. I am most gratified that you have arrived. A security detail is required as there have been a great many problems. I am sending you a copy of the ship's log, in its entirety. It is to be sealed."

Sulu nodded. His hand went to the back of his head and he felt a great deal of discomfort. "Sencus. Where is Am'ath?" He took a deep breath.

"We are having security difficulties here. I know of her location but can not reach her." He did not have the personnel to deal with any of this. "Captain. Most of the Vulcans are undernourished, they are not an adequate force against the remaining personnel that are being charged."

"Charged, Sencus? What for?" Sulu reached to the chair behind him and sat down slowly.

Sencus looked to Solua. "You did not inform him?" Solua shook her head. She did not know if Sulu could be trusted. "Understandable. Captain Sulu, the majority of the personnel onboard this vessel are KEHL members. They have also taken a great deal of pleasure in mistreating Vulcans."

Sulu swallowed. "Oh God, not again..." He whispered. "Find her. Sencus. Something is not right."

"Captain." Henley turned to face him. "We can increase our speed and reach the ship in twenty minutes."

"Do so." He turned and looked to Hart. "Security details to the transporter room. Chapel is to be notified, as soon as Am'ath is located we will beam her directly to sickbay." He stood unsteady for a moment. "I will beam over..."

"Captain." Sencus interrupted him. "It may be more advisable for you to remain on board the Excelsior. Since we are uncertain as to her condition, you should not be separated should medical attention be required." There was no other way to deal with the matter than to state it plainly. "Commander Burgh could..."

"We lost Burgh." Sulu drew in a breath.

Sencus straightened. A great loss, he thought to himself. "I shall take command of the detail here, with your permission, Captain."

Sulu nodded. "Yes, of course."

******On board the U.S.S. Iron Duke, fourth level.

The attempt to move was made again. Her hands were still fastened tightly as were her legs. She took in a slow breath as she shook the cloudiness from her thoughts. Another breath and she began to feel her body.

"Finally awake?" Lenard lowered himself against her.

"Get off." Am'ath stated clearly. She began to realize exactly what his activities had been. She looked up her arm to where her wrist was fastened to the bed. "Release me." She turned her head away from him as he attempted to kiss her. "Do not."

"Too late, Vulcan." Lenard ran his lips along her jaw. He felt her shifting under him. He smiled as he positioned himself to enter her. "Your body is so warm." He shifted slightly so he could take her breast into his mouth. He sucked hard on her then bit into the soft mound. There had been no reaction before and he was hoping for one this time. Before, he had just been content with touching and tasting her skin but now he wanted to relieve himself of this aching hard-on. Now that she was awake.

He moved back to his knees then back on his heels. His hands stroked the length of her legs. His hands moved up the outside of her legs then up her body. His hands lifted her hips slightly then pushed into her.

Her only reaction was to close her eyes. She knew that no amount of discussion would change what he was about to do. She closed herself off from the sensations. Mastery of the Unavoidable, was the correct phrasing. This was definitely a matter that was unavoidable for the present, unless someone entered the quarters.

He held tightly onto her hips as he used her to gain some satisfaction. He pushed into her harder and faster as his need increased. This was the way to treat her kind anyway. He could not even imagine having sex only once every seven years. He had laughed himself silly the first time he heard that one.

His rhythm was increasing. His hands were digging into her flesh and she closed off the sensation of the pain. She tried to reach to find a reference point to determine how much time had past, but she could not find one nor could she concentrate.

He held tightly onto her hips as he rammed himself into her. "Close." He muttered then pushed into her harder. "So close." He felt the sudden warmth come from her body. He grinned, pleased with his supposed accomplishment. His body shivered then he rammed himself deep within her as he came. He cried out at the release. This had to be the ultimate, to have this much power over a Vulcan.

Lenard drew in a deep breath then sighed in total pleasure with himself. He sat back on his heels. He pulled out of her then began to get off the bed when he noticed that he was covered in green blood.

"Great! Stupid bitch!" He moaned then headed for his shower.

He stepped into the stall and turned on the water. He watched with a morbid curiosity at the mixing of the green blood and water as it was rinsed from him. He completed his shower then stepped out and dried himself off. He pulled out a pair of clean pants and slipped them on.

The shower shut off automatically. He headed straight through to his common room and poured himself a drink. He was draining the glass when the door chime sounded. "Great!" He headed for the door. "Gitzel, if that's you..."

The door opened and an equally burly security officer stepped into the room. Armed and mean looking. "Lenard? Commander Arthur Lenard?"

Lenard snorted. "Who wants to know?"

"You are under arrest, Commander." Murray Laursen had been the chief of security for the Excelsior since day one. He had never in all the years he had been in Starfleet had met such a disappointing group of officers as he had in the past few days. He held the phaser rifle at Lenard's head. "Move and you die." He stepped aside only slightly and a four-man team moved into the room. "I want him secured first."

Ensign Tuvok moved to the officer with the cuffs. "Hands in front, Commander."

"Commander Laursen." One of the officers came from the bedroom. "Medical beam-out is required. Lieutenant Commander Am'ath is critical." He motioned towards the bedroom. "She may not last too long."

Laursen nodded. "Carry on." He looked to Lenard. "You had better pray that she survives."

Lenard smiled. "Why, does she make you hard?"

Laursen shook his head. "There are growing them stupid these days." He looked to Tuvok. "I'll take him over. You can help Delta team with the ones in the cargo bay."

"Aye, sir." Tuvok left the quarters and headed down the corridor. Either his stomach or his temper was about to explode. He was glad to get out of there. He could smell the blood and he could only imagine what had happened. He knew one thing for certain, when his tour of duty was over he would be heading home and staying there. He had had enough of Starfleet for a lifetime.

******On board the U.S.S Excelsior...

Captain Sulu stood. "Henley you're with me. Rand you have the comm." He did not need to be told that Am'ath had been beamed aboard, he knew it. He stepped into the lift then doubled over with a groan.

Henley reached for him.

"Don't." Sulu waved her touch away. "You hang onto me we will both be like this." He groaned out. He took in a deep breath. "I'll be okay." Another deep breath and he could stand straight.

Henley called out to the computer interface then stated the destination. "Sickbay." She had not been 'feeling' Am'ath as much since her bonding with the captain. A part of her missed it.

Sulu leaned against the wall of the turbo-lift. Whatever this was, she was in a great deal of pain. After this mission was over, he would make a point of learning all the rest of the skills of the bond. The plan had been that they would take the first month of the hiatus to learn all they needed to. That 'month' was not even over yet.

"Okay, sir?" Henley was feeling the discomfort but nothing more. He had been right, if she had touched him she would have been drawn right in. From her observations and from what she had learned from Am'ath about bonded couples, Sulu was doing well.

Sulu nodded. The doors opened and he was the first one out the doors and running down the corridor.

Doctor Christine Chapel had ordered two of her orderlies to stay outside the surgical room to stop Captain Sulu from walking in. He had been stubborn about checking on any of his crew that had been injured but with Am'ath, Henley and his senior staff, he had a tendency to want to be right there beside them. Now that he was bonded, there were other factors involved and she was not sure how this was going to turn out.

She had never been able to get used to seeing the bright green blood and would always have to throw up after surgeries. It was something that she was prepared for, studied for, but it still seemed unnatural. And that was her reaction to it.

Am'ath had been haemorrhaging when she was beamed in, but Chapel was not sure of the exact cause. She had sealed all the bleeders. She had used the regenerator on the bruising and the bites. She had also been given anti-coagulants, antibiotics, two units of Vulcan plasma and she had been cleaned-up.

Chapel heard some of the commotion on the other side of the door. She had a few more minutes and then she would allow the captain in to see her. She had sent her assistant to get another unit of plasma and the intravenous solution. Am'ath's condition was not good but it was not life threatening at this point.

'What had happened on the Iron Duke?' She wondered. So many of the Vulcans that had beamed over were malnourished, underweight, a few of them had bruises and some would not even answer questions unless they came form another Vulcan. They eyed the Humans with suspicion and distrust. Perhaps she could ask Sekar to assist her with these new, abused Vulcan officers. She was sure he would help them and they would benefit from being looked after by another Vulcan. She did not have any on staff. She wondered if Sekar would be interested in a temporary position.

Am'ath moaned then opened her eyes, blinking a few times before she could focus.

Chapel shook her head. "You should still be asleep." She reached for an additional sedative. "Stop fighting it."

Am'ath dropped her hand on Chapel's. She shook her head. "No more." She moaned slightly.

"Then you close your eyes and let the medication work." She watched the readings change slightly. "Good. Keep it that way." She shook her head as she tried to figure out these aliens, yet once again. She resigned herself to the fact that she, like so many other humans, was drawn to them. Why? She wasn't sure but she knew that no living being deserved to be treated the way they had been and she was determined to get to the bottom of it.

She headed out of the room and right into the waiting Captain Sulu and Mags Henley. "In my office."

Christine sat down and waved the others to the other chairs. "Okay. Am'ath will recover. If I know her, she will be up and around tomorrow." She noticed how both officers relaxed. "I am not going to discuss the details of what I think happen or what happened to her. That is up to her to tell you and I will have the details in my report."

Sulu nodded.

Henley stood. "Can I just go in and see her. I won't stay long...I'm still on duty."

Chapel nodded. "Captain." She hesitated then touched the control that would close her door. "Hikaru. How much do you want to know about what happened?"

"Meaning?"

"Do you want the information I can share with you or do you want to wait and hear it from her?"

Sulu sighed. "I will wait and talk to her. If I have any questions, they will no doubt be answered in the report."

"There is a degree of confidentiality that applies to Vulcans, Captain, when it comes to their medical records. You may not find out all your answers there."

Sulu nodded then stood. "I'll talk to Am'ath first."

Christine felt comfortable with that. "The others are doing fine. I am going to ask Sekar to help me treat the Vulcans. They would feel more comfortable, I'm sure."

"Fine. Let me know." Sulu stood and headed into the other room. Henley was just coming out. "After your shift, sleep and that's an order."

Henley smiled. "Yes, Captain."

Sulu stepped into the warmer room and automatically opened his tunic. He moved closer to the bed, glanced at the few tubes that she was connected to and at the panel above the bed. She was pale. He reached and brushed a strand of hair off her face. He breathed out slowly, sighing that she was alive and had returned to him.

He closed his eyes and reached through the bond just to feel her. He felt totally drained and his groin ached, not from arousal, but more of a heavy throbbing sensation. He didn't want to think of why he was feeling this. What had happened over there? There was a part of him that did not want to know.

He was glad she had been put in the private room and he didn't even think to question the second bed in here.

Chapel came in quietly and stood beside him. "She'll be fine after a while. We've stopped the bleeding, and that was our biggest concern."

"I appreciate all your efforts, Chris," Sulu stated quietly. "I had a gut feeling that this mission was all wrong from the very onset of it." Sulu leaned heavily against the bed, his head hanging.

"Get some rest, Hikaru. That's an order." She smiled at the look she received from him. "I arranged for that bed to be left empty. Don't think I can persuade you to go to your quarters, can I?"

He shook his head. "Nope. This bed will do just fine." He smiled weakly at her then slipped his tunic off and dropped it into the near-by chair. "I would have slept standing up in here if I had to."

"Thought as much." Chris checked the readings on the panel before she headed back to her office. She was going to wish him a goodnight but he was already asleep. She pulled down a blanket and covered him.

"The rest of the news can wait."

********

The next few days became eye-openers for the crew of the Excelsior.

One of the nurses approached a bio-bed that held a male Vulcan who was very ill. The Vulcan's eyes snapped open at her approach and glared at her. "Leave me, qomi (human)," he snapped.

"I'm just checking your readings, nothing more," she said in a soothing manner.

"You will leave me alone! I do not require your services!" He was becoming visibly agitated now.

"It's ok, you're safe now. You're aboard the Excelsior and in our Sickbay..." she tried soothing him by reaching out to brush a lock of hair that had fallen in his eyes. A harmless and very human gesture.

"Kroy'kah, qomi" he shouted, pushing the offending arm away, sending her flying against an instrument tray. At the noise, Chapel and other staff came running out of offices and labs to render assistance. An angry Vulcan met them, his fists clenched in rage, standing over the prone nurse.

"Call Security," Chapel instructed.

"No!"

Chapel turned abruptly to be standing face to face with Sekar.

"Leave him. All of you. Now!" he commanded. The humans complied, not sure if they should, but following the authoritative ring in his voice.

Sekar went over to the standing Vulcan and spoke quietly to him. He visibly relaxed and slumped against the bed. Sekar turned to his "audience" and said, "You will leave us. We require solitude." He began to explain that the personnel aboard this vessel did not share the beliefs of those aboard the Iron Duke and they could be trusted.

The Vulcan looked at him, disbelieving most of what he said but willing to cease the violent reactions.

Sekar moved into Chapel's office to speak with her. "Offense was not intended." He offered as an opening explanation for his behaviour.

She looked up from the stack of reports she had been going through. "I wasn't offended." She offered him the chair. "My staff has never had to deal with violence from a Vulcan," she leaned back. "But it is becoming obvious that they have never been treated with anything else from some Humans. I have no problem with you or any of the other Vulcans tending to them but it has to be under some type of supervision." She regretted yet again that she had not spent more time on Vulcan studying. "There has been a lot of damage done, physically as well as mentally, and it will take time to heal. There are even a few of us Humans sickened by the way the others have acted."

"Sarek had impressed upon us that this vessel's personnel could be trusted."

Chris bowed her head slightly then smiled. "We had a good teacher." She thought of the senior staff that had served aboard the Enterprise with Spock. It was fascinating how much one individual could affect a lifetime. "When this is all over, maybe you could consider spending some time on board. We could really use your expertise." She had surprised herself at vocalizing the offer, but it was genuine.

********

Sulu opened his eyes and took a moment to orient himself. He smiled as he realized how comforting it was to have Am'ath this close. 'One could only imagine what could happen if we were both healthy'. He thought to himself. He turned onto his side to face Am'ath, still fast asleep and he had known that without looking. He was content watching her from his bed in her room.

Sekar came into the room, his head bowed slightly. "Captain Sulu. You are rested?" He glanced at the panel of readings, not surprised by the fact that Sulu had moved to stand beside him. Sekar performed a brief mind touch with Am'ath, then turned to Sulu and said, "Your bond is strong, but you do not have the skills to handle it. Why is that? Were you not instructed adequately?"

"We didn't have time. We were sent on the mission to pick *you* up," Sulu snapped. "Its been less than a month..." He was tired and didn't need Vulcan attitude right now. He moved around to the other side of Sekar. He reached to lightly stroke her face, not wishing to disturb her but not able to restrict the action.

"You should be trained in the shielding necessary to maintain yourself in a bond. I'm sure that her physical condition of late has affected you as well, has it not?"

"It has." Sulu had already had this conversation with himself. How he had been so sure about handling all of this and how this bond should not be affecting his command abilities. He had been right in some respects, but it was the physical discomforts that seemed to 'leak' through. "She is still in a great deal of pain."

"Then we must begin at once. I'm not sure if you realize this, but you can affect her. You can not spare her your emotions and physical conditions if they are not properly shielded." Sekar had seen the change in her readings from his touch. "It becomes a never ceasing circle and it will do more harm than good. There are many things that should be shared over a bond, pain is not one of them."

Sulu nodded. "Just not ready to leave her yet."

Sekar stepped back indicating the floor. "Here will suffice."

Sulu tilted his head slightly wondering if he was indulging a Human's need or a bond-mate's request. It didn't matter.

******

Chapel, who has been very busy with 23 Vulcans in her sickbay; was tending to a male Vulcan on a bio-bed. Most of these Vulcans were either undergoing hydration therapy or were injured in some way. This male, a Lieutenant Sotar, had a subluxed shoulder that hadn't been treated properly.

"How long have you had this shoulder injury?" Chapel asked as she ran the scanner over the shoulder again.

There was no answer from him; he even turned away from the doctor.

Chapel brought forward her knowledge of Vulcans from previous experiences and tried to speak in a way he would respect, she hoped. "I insist you answer my question." She was still ignored, but there was some non-verbal response from the form on the bed, he moved slightly.

"It is not logical to withhold medical information from a healer," Chapel stated firmly.

Slowly the figure on the bed turned toward her, eyes blazing. "What would you know of logic, Human? Leave me!"

"I will not. You will answer me. How long have you had this injury?"

"It is of no consequence. I do not require your services. I will heal myself." Sotar started to rise from the bed, still in obvious pain even in his weakened condition; he tried to control it.

"Where do you think you're going?" Chapel demanded.

"It does not matter. I will simply find a place in the corridor and rest there. I have done it before, I can do it again."

"Not on this ship, you don't." Chapel didn't know what he meant by that. What did he mean he would find a place in the corridor? This didn't make any sense at all. "Please explain this to me. Have you healed yourself in a corridor before?" She sounded absolutely incredulous.

"Am I to assume that you will not leave me alone until I tell you about it?" Sotar asked in a tired voice.

"Correct." Chapel said in a soft voice. "Now, start talking."

Sotar lay back down on the bed and closed his eyes resigned to this Human's interferences. He was silent for a while, then in a soft voice that Chapel could barely hear, said "I was injured in an away mission and was taken to sickbay aboard the Iron Duke. The care I received was, shall I say, negligent at best. I considered it advisable to leave before more damage could be inflicted on me. I..." he faltered, "...never made it to my quarters. I collapsed in the corridor...I'm not sure where I was exactly. My body insisted that I enter a healing trance and I had no choice but to comply. I was, of course, aware of my surroundings, but could not respond. I remember clearly hearing several pairs of footsteps passing me by, but none stopped. Finally Lieutenant Commander Solua found me and, with help, transferred me to her quarters where I recovered as best I could. So, you see, this shoulder injury has been an annoyance, but has not stopped me from performing my duties. I did report it, but was told to "tough it out" and return to full duty. Now that you have your information, leave me."

"No, I won't leave you alone, but I will arrange to give you and your fellow Vulcans full physicals." Chapel was shocked by this story. "This is the Excelsior and you will receive proper care while I am in charge even if you have plaid blood."

Sotar raised an eyebrow; this was a definite change from the Iron Duke.

******

Captain Sulu had reluctantly left Am'ath's room for a few hours to tend to ship's business. He had read through only half the necessary reports and it was making him sick. He had decided to head to the observation deck for awhile and count the stars. And that was where Doctor Chapel had found him.

"Captain." She hated to bother him but she had put this off as long as she could. She walked over to stand beside him, both admiring the view for a moment.

"Things quieting down in your neck of the woods?" He was resting his arms on the ledge as he watched the stars. They were travelling at sub-light for awhile. Time for everything to be sorted out. The Iron Duke had been manned with a skeleton crew and was following the Excelsior. As the Vulcan crewmembers were released from sickbay they were offered the choice of returning to the Iron Duke or remaining here. Most of them chose to return.

"Not bad. At least the shouting has stopped. Sekar has been indispensable. You know we need a Vulcan healer on staff." Chris watched the stars, in sickbay she did not get to see them too often.

"I'll talk to Starfleet about it." He turned then leaned against the ledge. He folded his arms across his chest. "So, what subject are you avoiding, Chris?"

She smiled at him as she looked at the decking. "Let's sit." She moved to the armchairs that were facing each other. She cleared her throat then leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees. "Its about Am'ath." She wondered how she was going to word this. "I finally isolated the cause of the bleeding."

Sulu leaned back. This was not going to be easy. He had read the reports about what Lenard had done. He was dealing with his own guilt over this.

"I can't be sure of the cause and I would hesitate to say it was from... the rape." There she said it, now for the harder part. "There is a very high probability that this would have happen without all the added stress." Why was this so hard? She had given this news before and it had never been this hard! She took a breath. "The haemorrhaging was the result of a miscarriage. Genetic scans indicate that..." the words stuck in her throat. She didn't have to say anymore, the look on Sulu's face said it all.

Sulu looked at her and felt his entire body go numb. He wasn't expecting that. He interlaced his fingers, rested his elbows on the arms of the chair. He was certain that he was breathing. He was certain that his heart was still beating but he couldn't feel either to be sure. He felt the tightness in his throat and then the tears pooling. He looked around the room, half hoping to find an answer... to what he wasn't sure.

He tried to use his voice but it wouldn't work. He wet his lips. He lifted one hand, resting his head against it. "Does sh..." It didn't work, he cleared his throat. "Does she know?" He frowned. "I mean was she aware of the fact?"

"I don't know. She might have suspected." Chris had to strain to hear him at first, she did not know whether to gather him up in a hug or just leave him alone. "Things have been so busy that I haven't had time to ask Sekar."

"Understandable." Sulu looked out to the stars. "I should have left her with Rahl. She would have been safer there."

Chris sat back. "You don't really believe that so you?"

Sulu shrugged. He stared out at the stars. He would contact Demora when he went on-shift. He would let her know that... that he and Am'ath were okay. After a long silence, "I will tell her." He spoke softly.

"Are you sure?"

Sulu nodded. He leaned back in the chair, his head dropped back slightly. "I was planning on going back to see her in a little bit. I'll tell her then." He clenched his hands into fists then bounced then on the arm of the chair. "She will say it is kaiidth."

"Are you okay?" Chris watched as he tried to deal with this.

"Not right now." He met her eyes for the first time as his hands rested on the arm; his voice was barely above a whisper. "But I will be."

******

Commander Laursen and Ensign Tuvok were assigned to interview the Mess Officer of the Iron Duke. They had read Chapel's report on the physical condition of the Vulcans. It had said, in part, that they were missing most of the trace elements needed to sustain Vulcan life, especially copper. The majority of the Iron Duke Vulcans had been placed on IV solutions that were vitamin and trace element supplements. The range of malnutrition extended from severe to mild, depending on the length of service aboard the Iron Duke. It was for this reason that they wished to interview the Mess Officer, a belligerent female, Lt. Emma Johnson.

She turned to Tuvok and snarled, "Get that bastard out of here!"

"I assure you, Lieutenant, that my parents were bonded to each other at the time of my conception," Tuvok answered dryly.

"Fuck off, Points. Don't talk to me." Lt. Johnson turned pointedly to her interrogator, Commander Laursen. "What the hell do *you* want?"

"I want to talk to you about the food the Vulcans' were served. Exactly what kind of Vulcan foods and vegetables did you have in stock for them?"

"Why do you want to know? What's it to you?" she snarled, as she folded her arms. She was not pleased that she was here at all.

Commander Laursen leaned toward her and said softly, "You know, things will go much better for you if you cooperate. It will look much better on my report than if I said you were a hard-ass and busted my balls with your attitude. Now, what's it going to be?" He looked directly at her, maintaining eye contact the entire time.

"Ok, what do you want to know?" She leaned back in her chair and made herself comfortable.

"Tell me what Vulcan food you had in stock and how it was served. That's all."

"Didn't have any." She looked down at her boots.

"What?" Commander Laursen said slowly.

"You heard me. Oh, we had rabbit food for them, but it was stuff we could eat as well. Y'know, lettuce, cabbage, that kind of stuff. Why should they be treated special?" Johnson whined. "I never was."

Tuvok stepped in, "Surely you know that Human food does not contain the necessary trace elements that we need...."

"What the fuck to I care what you need, Points!" Johnson interrupted, leaning forward slightly to make her point. "It's not as if your kind ever cared about what I needed."

Tuvok and Commander Laursen looked to each other in confusion. Where did that come from, they silently asked each other?

"Explain," Tuvok demanded before Commander Laursen could speak up.

"Is it always the same with your kind Points?" She sighed audibly. "Fuck 'em and leave 'em?" She had enough of these people, all of them.

"I don't understand," Tuvok stated calmly.

"No, you wouldn't. When I was on my first deep-space assignment, I had a Vulcan friend, a cute guy by the name of Solak. He and I were friends, then one day; I cornered him in the arboretum. He tried to play hard to get, but I got him anyway. Man, he was the best lover I've ever had. But that prick blindsided me the next day. He had the balls to say that our "relationship" could not continue in a sexual way. That bastard!" She slammed her heel down in frustration. "I was good enough to fuck the previous night, but not good enough to stay friends. He transferred off the ship." Her voice changed and became bitter. "I vowed from that moment on, that I would fuck them over as he did to me. That's why there are no Vulcan vegetables on board. I wouldn't have it."

Laursen shook his head slowly. "You know I've been kissed off by a few females in my day but I wouldn't go around starving them." At least she was one of the few that had a reason to dislike Vulcans. It was tangible, something he could understand, but the majority of them seem to just hate them. Pure and simple. No reasons. Just hate. He looked down at his report then back to her. "I'll get an escort to take you back to the cargo bay."

Tuvok had watched this female as she spoke. Her body tensed and her words were clipped and her voice was full of pain. "Lt. Johnson, while I do not condone your actions, I understand. I do not believe that Solak acted fairly either. You were due some type of explanation. I trust that at some point in the future you will lose this hostility. Perhaps even find in another, the friendship you had, in the beginning, with Solak."

Lt. Johnson listened if only to kill time while she waited. Her escorts arrived just as he finished. She swallowed then took a step closer to this officer. "Consider yourself privileged. It will be a cold day in Hell before I even talk to another one of your kind again."

Tuvok stepped back, he could feel her animosity and it shook him. He bowed his head slightly as she left.

Commander Laursen tossed the padd onto the near-by desktop. "Well, I have had enough of this for one day." He looked to Tuvok. "Ensign, let's grab some food. Some quiet time and let's try to sleep without too many nightmares tonight."

Tuvok agreed with the premise. He bowed his head. "A most appropriate suggestion, Commander."

******

Captain Sulu stood as the officers filed out of the room. He finished off the last of his coffee then added his cup to the collection in the center of the conference table. He was due in sickbay to see Am'ath and to get some sleep. The last three days had seemed to blend into one and he was sure that he was due for at least a two-day nap.

"Captain, do you have a moment." Sarek had stayed behind.

Sulu nodded. "What can I do for you, Ambassador?" He leaned on the edge of the table.

"Your actions during all of this have been exemplary."

Sulu stifled a yawn. "Just doing the job I was handed to the best of my abilities." He did not feel too successful at the moment. "How are you feeling?"

"Functional." He tilted his head slightly at Sulu's grin. "I am recovering." Sarek thought for a moment and recalled a saying he had heard once. "All I require is a hot meal, a good night's sleep and the love of a good woman."

Sulu laughed. "You have been hanging around humans too much, Sarek." He remembered hearing the saying before, where it came from, he had no idea. "Are your accommodations acceptable?"

"You are quite aware that they are." Sarek had watched this man during the briefing. "I am putting in a request that Starfleet grant this vessel additional recreation time. I have noted that some of the personnel that I have dealt with have been affected by all that has transpired."

Sulu nodded. "I have had fourteen requests for resignations. I will recommend that they be released. No questions asked."

"And yourself?"

Sulu grinned. "Right now I want to resign. When I am rested, I will probably want just a long vacation." He straightened then smoothed his tunic. "I am expected in sickbay. Is there anything else?"

"No, Captain." Sarek bowed his head then left the conference room.

Sulu headed out with the collection of record slates and headed towards sickbay. He would have his supper with Am'ath and then sleep. Tomorrow she would be released, then he could look forward to sharing his bed with her.

He walked through the doorway then headed directly to Am'ath's room. He waved to Chapel on the way through. He was pleased to see that Am'ath was awake and sitting up. "Well, My Vulcan, you are finally awake."

Am'ath smiled. "It would appear, My Human, that you require rest." She reached out to him, her hand slipped onto his, palms touching. "I have been given permission to rest in my quarters but I must return at seven hundred hours."

"How about in my quarters?" He teased.

Am'ath lifted an eyebrow. "It was not specified."

Sulu grinned. "We'll leave a note."

"Leave a note about what?" Chapel stepped into the room. She had been told by one of her attentive nurses that Captain Sulu had slipped into the room.

"That she will be in my quarters for the night."

Chapel was reading the file and checking it over. "Where will you be for the night?" She looked over to him then grinned. "She has to be back, on time and well rested."

"Yes Doctor Chapel." He smiled.

"I want to talk to you, Captain." She started towards the door, turning to Am'ath before the door slid open. "You can get dressed."

Am'ath bowed her head.

Chapel headed out to her office with Captain Sulu in tow. She closed the door then faced him. "Sleep. You both need it. If she is uncomfortable to any degree, I want to know about it. She has to eat. You have to eat. And I want her back in here before you go on shift..." She sighed. "Is all of that clear, Captain?"

"Crystal, Doctor." He started to head out then turned back. "Thank you."

"Thought it would be easier in private." She put the padd on her desk. "And you could both use a decent night's rest."

"Promise."

*******

Hikaru Sulu pulled her closer to him. They had eaten and were now cuddled under the warm covers on this, seemingly, huge bed. His lips brushed her hair. "I missed you."

"I have missed your company as well." During their meal she had informed him of the discoveries on the planet and the information concerning her family. He had asked her how she felt concerning the information and added his positive reaction to hers.

"We have to talk about something." He ran his fingers down her bare arm then slipped his hand into hers.

"Concerning?"

"What happened on the Iron Duke."

"We have discussed that."

"You're right. What I meant was, what happened as a result." He squeezed her hand. He combed back her hair with his other hand.

She sat up then turned to face him. "You are referring to the possibility that I had conceived?"

"You knew." He sighed. What did he want to say next? He wasn't sure.

"I did not wish to share the information until it was a viable reality." She had sensed his questions on the matter. "When I returned to the Excelsior, I was planning to have the conception verified." She caressed his face with her fingertips. "One should not question what one can not change." She had felt his overwhelming sadness. She understood it, in part. "Kaiidth. An acceptance of what is."

Hikaru wanted to ask her why she didn't feel the loss as he did, as he thought she should. "Sounds like a neat little package." He did not want to dwell on it either because she was right that it was something that could not be changed. He urged her down to lie with him again. He pulled up the covers, tucked them in and continued to play with her hair.

She looked up to him. "You are angry."

"Yes." He shifted slightly. He knew this was 'his' problem. "Accepting it seems to be dismissing it. As if it didn't matter." He did not know what to say next. Maybe there was not anything more to say. "It did matter."

"Hikaru, do you wish another child?" She was not adverse to the notion but it would take careful planning and she was not certain that he understood that fact.

"I honestly don't know." He wrapped his arms around her. "Not discovering Demora until she was ten has made me curious about younger children but our lifestyle is not ideal for rearing children."

"No it is not." She ran her palm down his arm, under the covers, then slipped her hand into his. "What purpose does your anger serve?"

"I'm not sure. I just can't dismiss it like you seem to be." He let his breathe out slowly. "I want there to be a reason for it. A purpose." He thought about it for a moment. "Ian died because he was shot. There is a reason. An end." He ran his hand through his hair totally frustrated at all of this. He moved from the bed suddenly, then began to pace. "It is just not fair."

She watched wishing she could really understand his emotion. "Not fair in what respect?" She was sitting, covers pulled around her.

"It's not fair that we didn't even have a chance to know... together. That the chance was gone before it was realized. That all the possibilities..." He drew in a deep breath. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream down the ship. He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. He really thought he had dealt with this.

Am'ath moved from the bed, she stood behind him and when her hand touched his arm, he jumped. She moved closer to him and wrapped her arms around his, her hands slipping into his. She brushed the back of his neck with her lips. She felt all of his tension. "I do not know how to assist you."

"You don't have to. It's my difficulty in dealing with this, not yours."

"We are bonded. I share this." She recalled his method of dealing with her anger. "I could arrange the replication of the pillows."

Hikaru frowned. He wasn't sure what she was referring to. "Pillows?" He turned to face her.

She met his eyes. "As you did for me."

Hikaru stared at her. She had said it as if that should have told him all he needed to know. Then seemingly out of no where came this mental impression and he grinned. "Our pillow fight."

"Yes."

He pulled her close and wrapped his arms around her. "I don't think that will work. Not this time." He felt a bit better even at the thought of it. "But it was a good idea. In a week, if this hasn't eased up, I'll take you up on the offer." He ran his thumb along her cheek. "Besides in our present condition, we may actually to serious damage with those pillows."

"As you wish." She shared through this touch the calm and satisfaction she felt at being 'home' and with him. Even the limited activity walking here and helping to prepare the meal and their shower had drained her and she wished only to sleep. "Come." She whispered as she guided him back into the bed.

Hikaru felt her body relax and he knew she had fallen asleep. He reached to the controls for the lights and turned them off. He had programmed in the 'wake-up' call earlier on and now all that was left to do was to fall asleep himself. He did not think that would take too long and he was right.

*******

Am'ath touched the control to open the double doors. They slid open and she stepped into the dimly lit area. Here she was certain she would find Mags. They had not had an opportunity to talk. She crossed the large storage bay and stood with Mags.

Mags caressed the smooth surface of the torpedo tubes that served as coffins. Her fingers ran across the nameplate, Commander Ian Burgh. She clenched her teeth and then clenched her hand. She sighed. "How are you feeling?"

"I will be returning to duty tomorrow." She moved closer to her friend. Over the years they had both had to deal with fellow crewmembers' deaths but none had been so involved in their lives.

"I grieve with thee." Am'ath stated as she moved closer. The connection between them at the moment was almost as strong as a bond.

"It was a stupid thing to happen." Mags stated then felt the first tear fall. She drew a sudden breath, she was going to finally be able to cry. She looked to Am'ath. "He proposed." She looked down at the ring that he had given her. Some traditions hadn't died out over the centuries. "As soon as you were back and the mission was over, we were going to ask Captain Sulu..." Her voice caught and her throat tightened. "Oh God, this hurts!"

Am'ath took her into her arms, disregarding the state her tunic would be in. She held Mags as the sobs became louder and more uncontrolled. Mags held onto her tightly. She shielded herself as best she could from the pain and sorrow that her t'hy'la felt. She knew she could do nothing but remain for the duration.

Mags felt her knees buckle and Am'ath held her tighter. When it happened again, Am'ath suggested sitting on the deck. She felt something being placed in her hand; it was a tissue. 'Damn Vulcan,' she thought to herself with a great deal of affection, 'she is prepared for everything.' She hadn't even thought to bring any, but then again she had been here everyday since it had happened and she had not felt like crying before.

Mags wiped her nose and dried some of her tears and had even managed it without leaving the comfort of Am'ath's arms. She was surprised and comforted by Am'ath's actions. The image of them here made her smile slightly. Here they were in a heap on the deck of the cargo-bay, Am'ath's arms around her and her, a bundle of human grief. How was Am'ath coping? Her crying had slowed and her strength was returning. She moved from Am'ath's arms and another tissue was handed to her. "You came prepared."

"I am learning that it is necessary for Humans to grieve in this manner." Am'ath smoothed Mags' hair back a few times.

"Athy, what do I do next?" She looked to the Vulcan not sure if she would get the answers she needed or not.

"You will continue." She produced another tissue from her pocket. "Ian would have requested this of you. It is nothing less that you are capable of." She had not considered the possibility that Mags would have desired something different until now. "Do you wish matters to change?"

"No." She smiled a bit. "Tell me. Athy, do Vulcans have all the answers?"

Am'ath had a sudden flash of her own loss and how difficult it was for Hikaru, even now. "No. We do not." She looked down at the decking for a moment, then back at Mags. There was a question in the human's eyes, one that Am'ath did not wish to answer. She knew that would only add to her grief.

Mags was about to ask the question when Am'ath stood and straightened her tunic. The picture of Vulcan deportment except for the large wet spot on her shoulder, Mags smiled slightly. "Sorry about that." She indicated Am'ath's shoulder after standing.

Am'ath shrugged. "It is of no consequence. I will obtain another." She removed the comm-pin, then her tunic and repositioned the pin on her sweater. The tunic was folded and placed over her arm. "It can be cleaned." She reached to Mags' face with the last tissue and wiped a tear.

"Thanks." Mags said.

Am'ath bowed her head. "It is a service that brings honour."

Mags shook her head. "Learn to say, 'you're welcome'. Or, 'no problem'. Or even, 'forget it'." She smiled knowing that none of them would sound right coming from the Vulcan.

"I will endeavour to try."

Mags bowed her head in Vulcan fashion then reached out and wrapped her arms around the Vulcan. "I love you."

"The feelings are mutual." Am'ath stated easily.

******

Earth had become visible on the long-range scanners. The unbelievable mission would be over soon. The senior crew of the Iron Duke had been restricted to the brig. The remaining crew had been confined to one section of the crew's quarters, the area was secured using force shields and round-the-clock armed guards. The Vulcans, with the exception of only a few, returned to the Iron Duke. Sencus was placed in temporary command. Captain Sulu was going to recommend that Sencus be offered command of the vessel he helped liberate. Sarek and his aides had traveled for a time with the Iron Duke as they began work on documenting the events on the fateful ship.

"Requested identification has been accepted. Co-ordinates will follow for docking. Iron Duke will be given another berth inside the station." Rand listened for any further information. "Command welcomes the Excelsior home."

Sulu nodded. "Standard reply. Inform Iron Duke to proceed ahead of us." He sat back in the command chair and watched as the planets grew larger then seemed to disappear from the screen's starboard side. He glanced at Henley and Am'ath as they maneuvered the ship easily through the designated path.

"Iron Duke passing on port side. She will be docking in thirty minutes." Henley stated as she studied her scanning panel. She adjusted the course slightly to give the smaller ship plenty of room. "I spoke to the nav officer. He was rated for a larger vessel but he had never been permitted on the bridge. He felt his skills would be less than adequate but an hour in the simulator renewed his confidence." She sat back relaxing a little. This was a straight in and computer guided orbit.

"I was surprised at the lack of confidence in the crew." Sulu stated. He was not looking forward to the next few weeks. They had already been informed that the crew was restricted to the ship until the prisoners were taken off. Then each crewmember would be questioned about what they knew of the events both on the Iron Duke and on Galen IV before being released from duty. Anyone that was involved would be detained for up to one month until the trial was over. "Then again I guess anyone would lose their confidence under those conditions."

Ensign Tuvok stepped down into the command well and handed a report to Captain Sulu. It was the orders to release the prisoners to Starfleet Security. Sulu looked it over. "I am not signing this until the transfer takes place. I don't want there to be one moment where there is any question about who is responsible for the officers." He handed the padd back. "I want you there, Ensign."

"Yes, Captain." Tuvok moved off to the side. He had never seen a command officer take so much of what appeared to be an impersonal series of events, so personally. He was aware of the relationship between Captain Sulu and Lieutenant Commander Am'ath and he had understood that portion of the concern. But there had been many nights that Captain Sulu was discovered wondering the vessel speaking to the crew of the Iron Duke, the officers that were responsible for this or alone in the observation lounge. He had meeting after meeting with Sencus, Sarek or Ambassador Kirk.

None of this had changed his mind concerning his own resignation. Even his hours of meditation could not stop his desire to leave. Captain Sulu had promised that he would authorize it even though it meant that he was losing a very fine officer. Tuvok had considered remaining on that premise alone then realized that it would not be enough.

*****

Peter Kirk stared out at the growing globe. He felt a warm touch on his shoulder and he reached to the hand that was snaking around his neck. "Haven't you had enough?" He grinned, he nipped the skin of her hand then kissed it.

"No. Piotyr I will never have enough of you." She pulled at his earlobe with her teeth then licked the spot underneath. Her body molded itself against him and her hands snaked into the robe he had pulled on only fifteen minutes ago. She looked out the observation port to the globe. "This is Earth?"

He nodded then pulled her hands out from under his robe and kissed them. "I can't wait to show you off." He grinned. He loved the view from the V.I.P. quarters they had been given and the first thing Valdyr commented on was the large bed. That was also the first place she tossed him onto. He pulled her to stand in front of him, then lifted her chin. "And after all the meetings and the trial," he kissed her. "then I will show you Earth."

"Chancellor Azetbur says I can all the time that is required. She will arrange for anything that is required." She cuddled close to Peter.

"Well I hope she will be sending first aid kits." He felt a slight sting where her hand touched his waist. "Careful. I don't heal as quickly as you seem to." He did not want to ask for any medical treatment while they were here so he cautioned Valdyr not to break anything in his body.

Valdyr lifted the robe out of the way and was checking the bruise at his waist. She grinned. "I will ask for the medical equipment necessary." She kissed the bruise. "And I will promise to contain my pleasure in you."

He laughed. "You couldn't do that under phaser fire." He held her tight for a moment, kissed her then suggested that they get dressed. "We can't show up on the bridge like this."

"If we must, we must." She shrugged and then headed off to get dressed.

Peter picked up the clothes that had been tossed around the room by her as she undressed him. He chuckled to himself as he noted, this time nothing was torn. He pulled on his pants then began to search for his shirt. "You know, I don't do this to your stuff..." he reached behind the couch for the shirt he had found. "Why do you do it mine?"

Valdyr stepped out of bathroom totally dressed. Hair was fastened up and she was putting the last of the fasteners in place. "Because then I get to watch you dress." She smiled then crossed her arms, leaned back against the frame and watched him.

Peter has sat down on the couch and pulled on his socks. He grinned, then motioned with a finger for her to come over to him. He kissed her cheek as she sat down beside him then moved in for a gentle attack on her mouth. He felt her nails gently scrape his back and he moaned.

"Attention all hands. Docking will be completed in ten minutes. Security teams to the brig and to level 6, Sections Charlie through Gamma." Lieutenant Commander Rand's voice was clear. "Ambassadors Sarek, Valdyr and Kirk are requested in Docking bay 4, level 8."

Peter had moved from the attack at the beginning of the message. "That's us." He stood and slipped on his shirt. Valdyr handed him his jacket. He kissed her quickly. "This will not be easy."

"No it will not." She reached to his arm then ran the back of her hand across his cheek. "We have been through worse."

Peter nodded.

******

Captain Sulu waited for the outer docking ring doors to open to the Station. He stepped through and was surprised that the only personnel there were the security detail.

"Captain Sulu." The senior officer stepped forward. "We are going to escort the prisoners six at a time to the transport platform then beam down to Command Security Division with them. A second team will follow." He had not been impressed by any of the antics of the officers charged and, after reading the brief report, decided that this deserved his personal attention. "There will be myself and a hand-picked team to beam down with the senior officers."

Sulu was impressed and relieved that Command was not taking this lightly. "My security section will be at your convenience and Commander Laursen is to be advised step by step."

Commander Laursen stepped forward and nodded once to his equal. "This is going to take some time."

Commander Fieldman nodded. "Corridors will remain clear of all personnel while the transfer is taking place. Security shielding has been put in place at any and all exits. No one can go in or out without my personal code."

Laursen nodded. He liked the arrangements. He turned to Sulu. "Captain, requesting permission to proceed with the transfer."

"Permission granted."

"Aye, sir." Laursen stated then turned and began barking orders, inwardly pleased that no one hesitated in carrying out his orders. His personnel knew how important this was. They should. He lectured them enough about it almost to the point that he was sick of hearing himself.

Sulu returned to the ship and then headed to the adjoining lounge to wait and watch with the others. Nothing was going to be left to chance.

******United Federation of Planets...

The room that was being used for the trial was huge. The officers that were on trial sat in a group to one side, the officials sat opposite them and the 'audience' was seated facing both. The legal representatives sat at a long desk that fronted the audience seating. A row of security personnel sat in front of the prisoners and the seating for any witnesses sat in front of the flags and the UFP standard. This would be an open court to any Starfleet personnel and to any relative of any of the individuals involved but still there was a screening process.

Captain Sulu stood in the doorway to the presently empty room, court was to convene in one hour and he was not looking forward to this at all. Today would be the fifth day of this trial and he had attended every one, as did most of his crew at one time or another. He had listen to the crewmembers' account of how the Iron Duke's senior officers would direct them in dealing with the Vulcans. Most of it in their eyes was harmless, until recently and some crew that knew about the death of Shahk, changed how they were behaving. They had also in some cases reported that they were 'disciplined' because of the changes.

The mess officer, Lt. Johnson, explained why there were no Vulcan vegetables on board and the reasoning for it was also examined. Dr. Chapel had testified that the Vulcans' were malnourished as a result of this action. Chapel had also reported as to the symptoms of the slow death of Lieutenant Shakh that resulted. She had steeled herself for this testimony and had done a great deal of research on the matter along with Sekar. The reaction of the court over this caused the presiding officer to call a fifteen-minute recess.

Dr. Travis took the stand, but his arrogance obliterated any sympathy he might have received. He seemed oblivious to the fact that the Vulcans deserved the same exact treatment that any other species. He sat calmly and seemed quite relaxed during the whole preceding.

'He honestly doesn't think he's done anything wrong!' Sarek thought while he stoically listened to the testimony. Sarek looked to his colleges to check their reactions. Even the Vulcans' were shocked at the actions of this crew although their reactions were more difficult to see unless you knew exactly what you were looking for.

Amanda had insisted on attending and was also in the audience as she was a family member of a victim, Sarek. Even though he was not abused aboard the Iron Duke, he was still victimized by KEHL. She had a difficult time dealing with the way her species had treated the Vulcans. She was not ashamed of the tears that fell nor would she leave as her aide had suggested numerous times. She accepted no other assistance than the handkerchief that mysteriously appeared in her aides' hand.

Today would be the hardest for him, Am'ath was scheduled to testify concerning her treatment aboard the Iron Duke. He wasn't sure if he was ready for it and he wondered how she would cope. They had spent the night curled up together and the early hours of the day meditating. They both had to be prepared.

Captain Sulu was startled by a touch on his shoulder. He turned to face the security officer he now knew by name. "Commander Fieldman."

"Called you twice sir, sorry I startled you." He was not surprised to find Captain Sulu here. "I have to ask you to leave. We are starting the security scan." Fieldman directed his team to begin as he remained with the officer.

"Guess I was going over what's happened so far." Sulu watched the team move in and begin scanning every inch of this room, looking for any weapon, recording device or anything else that would compromise the security this room required. "You and your people are doing an excellent job, Commander."

"Thank you sir, I'll pass it on." He grinned. "We don't get many compliments."

"No, I guess you don't." He looked down at his boots then back up to the officer. "I will se you later then."

Commander Fieldman watched the officer leaving wondering why he insisted on being here every day and for the full duration. He shrugged then moved on. He had given up on figuring out what makes the deep-space mission officers tick, but they were definitely different from the ones that he served under.

******

The room seemed silent when her name was called but there was the usual shuffling and the quiet whispers. Hikaru only heard her footfalls as she took the stand.

Sakketh stood. He was tall, dark hair and bearded. It was an interesting visual impression for a Vulcan officer to make. He was in military dress and held the rank of Fleet Captain. He was acting as Starfleet's representative, he was also assigned to Ambassador Sarek's office until this matter was settled.

"State your name, rank and serial number for the record.

"Am'ath. Lieutenant Commander. Serial number 23536785 Victor Charlie."

"You were present on board the Iron Duke for a twenty day period?"

"Yes."

"Was this a continuous stay?"

"After seven days Commander Sencus and myself were transferred to the U.S.S Edmonton and then to the surface of Epsilon Delta 7. We returned aboard the Iron Duke after a seven-day period. We were due to rendez-vous with the U.S.S Excelsior."

Sakketh considered the wording of the next question. "Pertaining to the first leg of your stay aboard the Iron Duke, describe the incidents that seemed different than aboard the Excelsior."

"When we boarded we were shown to quarters that were inadequate. The climate, gravitational and replication units did not function in either room. The sonic and fresh-water shower both failed in my quarters after the third day."

"Did you not report any of these repairs to the appropriate departments?"

"Yes."

"Was anything repaired?"

"Not while I remained onboard."

"The incident of the death of Lieutenant Shahk. Describe what you found."

"We were permitted to use only the mess on deck seven. I went there on the fourth day and found Lieutenant Shahk slumped over the table with a tray of food in front. I discovered that the body was cold and stiff indicating that death had occurred."

"Was anyone else with you at the time?"

"Commander Sencus had entered the mess just as I placed the call to sickbay and he supplied the name of the deceased."

"How long did it take for the medical team to arrive?"

"Sencus placed a second call after ten minutes had passed. The team arrived ten minutes after the second call."

"And the treatment of the deceased?"

"The medical team placed him on the gurney and proceeded to straighten his limbs. We followed the team to sickbay and were told that we were not to remain. The autopsy report would be sent to Commander Sencus within the hour."

"Did Doctor Travis say anything to you directly?"

"He inquired as to my racial purity."

"Did you answer him?"

"No."

Sakketh moved back behind the table for a moment then checked his notes. He straightened. "Commander Sencus has testified as to what followed. The second time you boarded the Iron Duke, had the situation changed?"

"The negative treatment of the Vulcans was much more pronounced."

"And you were treated very differently were you not?"

"Yes."

"Describe the treatment." Sakketh sat down. He would allot all the time required for this. This would be difficult for anyone, for a Vulcan doubly so.

Am'ath calmed herself for a moment and began to recall all the facts from her point of view. She glanced towards Hikaru and received a barely perceptible nod. "I was to meet with Commander Sencus and Lieutenant Commander Solua. The meeting was to discuss how to proceed with the complaints from the Iron Duke personnel. I was leaving my quarters when I was struck, then injected with a sedative."

"The identity of the attacker was known?"

"Commander Arthur Lenard." Am'ath waited until Captain Sakketh indicated for her to continue. She bowed her head slightly then continued. "I approximated it to be four hours later when I awoke. I discovered that my hands and feet had been tied to the corners of the bed and I was without clothing but was covered with a sheet. I was certain that I was within assigned quarters to some officer and I had assumed it to be Commander Lenard's."

"Your assumption was correct?"

"Yes."

Sakketh stood and faced the tribunal. "I require Commander Arthur Lenard to stand and be identified."

There was some shuffling and one of the prisoners stood. He seemed to be the 'poster perfect' image of what an officer should appear to be, without the handcuffs. He stood at attention and his eyes remained straight ahead. "Arthur Lenard. Rank, full Commander. Security Chief for the U.S.S Iron Duke." He spoke it clearly and with pride.

"This is the officer that attacked and drugged you, Lieutenant Commander Am'ath?"

"He is."

"Are you bonded?"

Am'ath felt her body tense. "It has no bearing on what is being discussed." She glanced once again at Hikaru. He had sensed her tension and leaned back in the chair. She relaxed as well. "It is a private matter."

Sarek asked. "Captain Sakketh. Is this information necessary."

"It is asked to clarify that she understands the basis for intimacy."

"I assure you, Captain Sakketh, I do know the difference. I do not need to be bonded to know this."

"The information may be required at a later time, Lieutenant Commander Am'ath. Continue." He sat down calmly then watched as Sarek looked down at his notes. He had to cover all the questions that had been asked by the tribunal and one officer had requested that information.

"As I became conscious I felt the sheet being drawn away. Commander Lenard inquired as to whether I was awake or not and then he attempted to kiss me. I turned my head and informed him that I wanted him to stop. He informed me that it was too late. He placed his mouth on my right breast, sucked then bit into the flesh."

"Was he dressed?"

"No." Am'ath looked down at her hands resting on her thighs, tightly curled as was required by regulations. She brought her head up then continued. "He knelt between my legs. Lifted my hips and inserted himself into my body." She heard a whispered comment and then a few snickers from the group of prisoners.

Admiral Nogura tapped the gavel a few times. "There is to be absolutely no conversing among the prisoners."

Am'ath glanced over at Hikaru for some strength to continue, and she found it. A short breath and she continued. "Once satiated, he withdrew. I noted that his penis and upper thighs had a surface coating of blood."

"His?"

"Mine." She had remembered the darkness taking her slowly at the time. "I was losing consciousness gradually. I heard the sound of the shower next. I recall movements in the quarters and then Commander Laursen informing me that I would be beamed to the Excelsior."

"Are those the words he used?"

"His words precisely were, 'Hang on, Mr. Am'ath, we are taking you home."

"What do you recall after?"

"Waking up in sickbay aboard the Excelsior."

"And what was your condition?"

"I was recovering from surgery."

"To correct what?"

"Internal bleeding."

"From having intercourse with Commander Lenard?" Sakketh glanced towards Commander Lenard once again, this man appeared to be pleased at even this discomfort that he was observing.

"I did not have intercourse with Commander Lenard, Captain Sakketh."

Sakketh bowed his head slightly. "From the violation that was caused by Commander Lenard."

"The explanation is in the medical records."

"I asked you the question, Lieutenant Commander Am'ath."

"In part."

"And the other...part?"

"An aborted pregnancy."

There was utter silence in the room for a time then a slight shuffling of feet. A single cough and then Sakketh stood.

"Is there anything that you wish to add to this statement?"

"No."

Sakketh looked to the panel. "Is anything more required of Lieutenant Commander Am'ath?"

Admiral Nogura looked to the others seated on either side of him, no one offered any comment. "No, Captain."

"Lieutenant Commander Am'ath, you may step down."

Am'ath stood, bowed her head to the tribunal and then to Captain Sakketh and walked quickly down the aisle that would take her out of this room. She nodded once to the security guard and then headed directly for the seating that was in front of the large window. She sat down and breathed for what seemed to be, the first time in a long time.

She knew he was near. His touch on her shoulders did not surprise her. She placed her hand on top of his. He squeezed her shoulders lightly. She moved her hand from his then stood and faced him, totally unsure of what to say or do.

Hikaru was surprised at how numb she looked. He was surprised more that he could see it in her face. He wanted to gather her up and tell her it was all over and everything would be all right. But he wasn't that sure either.

"I do not wish to be here."

Hikaru held out his hand to her.

It was all beginning to catch up with her. Everything. If she touched his hand she would not be able to control what was beginning. If she did not take his hand would he be offended? She clasped her hands behind her then took the few steps to be beside him. She looked up to him. "I can not."

Hikaru nodded once and walked with her towards the nearest beaming point. "The house or home?"

"Home."

******

The trial had expected to take almost four weeks, the actual length from beginning to end was only eighteen days. A few individuals from the collection of prisoners were dealt with separately, either because they did not actively take part in any of the negative behaviour or because it was determined that their participation was only in 'following the orders of their superiors'. It was not excused but in a few cases there was no incarceration. All members of this crew were dismissed from service to Starfleet, for only a few it had been stipulated that after undergoing the required counseling, should they wish it that they would be considered for service at a later date.

There had been a 'full house' for the decommissioning and sentencing of the officers involved. It was also decided that before the court was dismissed that the captain and the new crew of the Iron Duke be introduced.

Admiral Nogura stood at the front of the room. "No formalities today. These officers will have a very hard time to overcome some of the assumptions that will be made and I will begin right now to quash some of those." He paused and looked around the room. "No officer had been given a position or rank that was not deserved by their record. We have not planned this crew in any way shape or form that we do not already use. We have however honoured requests for assignment to this vessel and have checked the officer's credentials, carefully." He sipped on the glass of water that was near-by then cleared his throat. "It gives me great pleasure to introduce the command crew of the U.S.S. Iron Duke." He watched with pride as the officers stood and stepped forward taking their place in line. "Security Chief, Commander Marc Toland. Chief Medical Officer, Doctor... or rather, Healer Sekar. Communications Officer, Lieutenant Rebecca Hart. Chief Engineering Officer, Commander Erin Roberts. Chief Helm Officer, Lieutenant Commander Margaret Henley. Chief Navigation, Lieutenant Marc Collins. Chief Science Officer, Lieutenant Commander T'Syric. Second in command, Commander Solua and in command, Captain Sencus."

Admiral Nogura looked to the audience and joined in the applause that followed. He waited for a time then indicated that he had a bit more to add. "The other bit of information I would like to add is that the majority of the Vulcans that had been assigned to the Iron Duke have remained. As they become accustomed to the normal operations of a deep-space vessel some of the officers will move into key positions. Many internal changes have also taken place in Starfleet and hopefully it will prevent anything like this from happening again." He noticed a lot of relieved and tired faces. Some had become too familiar to him over the past three weeks, especially under these circumstances. "I won't keep you any longer. I just wanted everyone to know that in spite of this huge step backwards, we want to work towards something better. This command crew will be under a great deal of pressure but they will succeed. Again thank you for your time and your interest in the proceedings."

He collected what few notes he had and then headed off. The court security would take care of dismissing the roomful of participants. He was almost out of the door and a few steps away from his office when he heard his name called. He stopped and turned. "Captain Sulu?"

"Admiral Nogura, if I may, I have something personal that I wish to discuss with you. It will not take up too much of your time..." Sulu had spoken to Am'ath about this right after her day in court. They had decided that it was time for some people to know about their bond, that maybe by keeping this such a secret it would be doing more harm than good if the truth came out later.

Nogura studied the officer for a moment, then he nodded. "Sure. My office?" He led the way to the back entrance to the large office. He signaled his aide that he was back and that he wasn't to be disturbed. He then offered the choice between the more formal setting at his desk or the large armchairs. "We may be more comfortable here though..." he indicated the chairs.

Sulu nodded, not really caring either way. Sulu sat down. He wasn't sure how to start this but he knew he had to. "Admiral, because of what's happened and partly because of some of the questions asked during the trial, there is a bit of personal information that I feel I should share with you."

Nogura leaned back in the chair, part of the reason why he was so good at his job was that he could anticipate people and their actions but Captain Sulu had him stumped. "Which is?"

Sulu closed his hand into a fist and bounced it lightly on the arm once or twice. "There was a question asked of Lieutenant Commander Am'ath that she could not have answered even if someone had insisted on it. Mostly because of a personal promise."

Nogura frowned. The only other officer that could ever leave him in a total state of confusion had been Kirk, until now. He also had the feeling that when he found out what Sulu needed to tell him, he was going to feel stupid for not noticing it. "What question was that?"

"Whether or not she was bonded." Sulu sighed, that one came out easier than he thought.

"Captain, does Mr. Am'ath know you are here and talking about this...with me?"

"Yes, she does."

"Then I gather you have her permission as well?"

"Yes. She has also asked me to extend to you the offer that she will come to speak with you if you feel it is necessary."

Nogura nodded. He did not know what direction this conversation was heading and he didn't like that.

Sulu sighed then ran his fingers along his lips. He caught the look on Nogura's face and then smiled. "Its nothing awful, it's just hard for me to tell you, Admiral."

"Take your time, Hikaru." Then it hit him, this man was going to resign! Why did he not see this coming? Then how could he, he had been so caught up in this Iron Duke issue that he wasn't seeing what was in front of his face... but what would that have to do with Am'ath? But he said it wasn't awful? Then in the next second he had part of the answer.

"Quite some time ago I was married."

Nogura sighed. He wasn't leaving! "Congratulations, when?"

"Technically four days before the ending of the last mission. Otherwise, it was the night before the Select incident." Sulu was not explaining this the way he had planned. "Admiral, there was a notion at one point when Starfleet believed that a bonding was considered a form of 'alien influence on command personnel', is that still the case?"

Nogura did not answer right away. It was one of those areas that was still being dealt with, not only because of the incidents with the KEHL and the bigoted types but because it was getting to the point where Vulcan command officer's were becoming common place. "Does she feel she won't be chosen for command positions because of this bonding?"

Sulu almost laughed. "No, sir."

Nogura frowned shifted in his chair and considered the information he was being given and given badly. "Captain Sulu, so far you have told me that you've been married and I gather your concern is that Command was not informed. Don't worry about it as long as it gets put on your record and your immediate officers know about it... Command will be informed eventually." He paused for a breath. "Secondly, Vulcan bondings are becoming a little better understood since so many Vulcans have been entering the command stream. I don't see how a long standing bonding..."

"It's a new bonding, Admiral."

"Then I suppose there is a period of adjustment but I can't see that it would interfere with her attaining command status. If there is a problem from Sencus having his own command..."

"Its not Sencus she's bonded to."

"Then who?"

"Me, sir."

"You?" Nogura had felt something he hadn't felt in a long time... utter astonishment. He cleared his throat and then started to realize why it had been so difficult for him through all of this. "You and Am'ath?"

"Yes, sir." Sulu could see that this had taken him by surprise.

"I see." Nogura understood why he had been told. All the command personnel would be under close scrutiny for a while and the question of him spending time with a particular officer might come up. He smiled slightly as the list of questions began to fill his thoughts. All the ones you could ask and a few of the ones he couldn't ask. Some of the things were beginning to make sense. The time Sulu had asked to continue the search for her and he kept denying it. If he had known about their bonding, should it have changed his decision?

Nogura looked to Sulu. He smiled then when Sulu grinned back he heard himself wondering, can he read thoughts now? He sat up straighter, shocking himself at the ease that question came to mind. He understood now, really understood why Captain Sulu had come to him. It had taken him to think one of those 'silly misconceptions' to understand. "This will cause questions to surface, are you prepared for them?"

Sulu smiled. "Are we ever ready for the questions were are asked? Some of the questions I have been asked about normal patrols make me nervous. This won't be any different, Admiral just a little more personal."

Nogura nodded. "What has been the most dreaded question over the years?" He was curious and a number of his command personnel had a strong dislike for the public display they were subjected to at times.

Sulu did not have to think long about this. "How did it feel sending him/her or them on a landing party to die... that is the hardest one."

Nogura nodded. "So, enlighten me. How do we implement the changes in our records, does her name change?"

Sulu nodded. "It is now 'T'Am'ath 'cha Spock, House of Surak, aduna Hikaru'. The Earth term is the usual. 'T'Am'ath Sulu'."

"I guess we had better start educating ourselves. Why the letter in front of her name?"

"It denotes belonging, usually a betrothal or bonding."

Nogura nodded. "And will that change on board ship?"

Sulu shook his head. "Only a few of my personnel know and some suspect. We have been acknowledging the ones that ask directly but we don't offer the information. We both know that not everyone will accept it."

"You seem comfortable with it all." Nogura had noted that Sulu had relaxed a fair bit since coming in.

"Getting there. Quite an adjustment actually." Sulu didn't offer anymore but he was willing to answer any questions the Admiral presented him with. "I just wanted to let you know... under the circumstances and with all of the changes."

"I appreciated it, Hikaru." He waited for Sulu to indicate that this meeting was over and he did.

Sulu stood, straightened his tunic then offered his hand to Nogura. "Thank you, sir for taking the time."

"Anytime, you know that."

"Yes sir, and it's appreciated." He moved towards the door to the office. "Will we see you both at the send off for the Iron Duke?"

Sulu nodded. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."

******

Am'ath hesitated at the door then touched the signal. The door slid open and she stepped into total disarray. Storage crates, luggage and Mags leaning against the desk with a cup of coffee.

"Wondered where you were?" Mags sipped on the coffee. She put the cup down then sighed. "I think I might manage to get everything into this one case."

"Do you require assistance?"

"No. I finished most of it." She looked her friend. She had been quiet lately and since the trial had kept to herself. They had shared some time together and one night had even managed to make her laugh. She looked around the room. "Amazing how much we accumulate over time, isn't it?"

"Yes." She had found herself standing in the observation deck this morning wondering if this transfer would actually happen. It was illogical to even consider the matter.

"Captain Sulu talked with Nogura?"

"Yes. The bonding is a matter of record now."

"You don't sound happy about it." Mags lifted the last of the personal reading slates into the small case then handed it to Am'ath. Without a question, Am'ath placed the smaller case into the storage casing. "You don't like it that your bonding will be known?"

"It is fact." Am'ath continued to help in the final packing of the few items that remained. She reached into the pocket of her tunic and withdrew a small wrapped package then offered it to Mags.

Mags grinned. "Beware of Vulcans bearing gifts..." She met her eyes for only a second then accepted the package. "Thank you." She hesitated at opening it. Too final. She was looking forward to the transfer, she needed to start again, especially after Ian's death.

"Proceed." She felt the word almost catch in her throat. She watched as her 'sister's' fingers opened the wrapping then lift out the fine chain and the small IDIC medallion.

Mags held it in her palm and her fingertips brushed the surface. Smooth and rough. Round and triangular. The center and the edges. It takes all of it to come together to make the whole. In the center was a stone, half red and half green. "Diversity. We were always that." She felt the tear fall. She had of course promised herself she would not do this.

"It is not an end." She could feel her friend's emotions wash over her. The day she held her and shared her grief, the contact had renewed their bond.

"Then why does it feel like it is?" She smiled at the Vulcan.

"You must promise to watch and be careful on landings. I will not be there to protect you." She watched her friend's hands, not her face. "Your council will be missed."

"You have Hikaru." She smiled at Am'ath's raised eyebrow. Mags had never referred to him that way before. "Well, saying you have the captain sounds silly." She felt another tear.

"And who will council you?" Am'ath took a step towards Mags, she was most concerned for this Human's safety. They were fragile.

Mags grinned. "I'll call you." She sighed then looked down to the medallion. "This is beautiful."

"It can be fastened on your dress uniform. It is within regulation requirements." She reached to the chain then opened the clasp and placed it around Mags' neck. The clasp was fastened and she tucked it just under her back collar. The contact made Mags shiver.

Mags noticed something and reached for the Vulcan's right hand. She smiled. She was wearing the bonding ring. "You finally gave it to him?"

"It seemed appropriate."

Mags admired the thin band of green polished stone. It sat on the center finger of her left hand. "What is it made of?"

"Bloodstone." She had concealed just how difficult it was to obtain these. "It is claimed that it will remain wet for all time. It was said to have absorbed all the moisture from the blood that flowed on the sands in Ancient Times."

Mags grinned. "Bloodstones for wedding rings." She knew the strangeness was lost on Am'ath. She released her hand. "And what did Command say about it?"

"Captain Sulu did not say precisely. I have the impression that matters are settled."

The door chime sounded again. Mags looked to the time. "Shit. I am not finished." She touched the release. It was the crewman that would be taking her case down to the transporter to send to the Iron Duke. "Can you wait about five minutes." She turned looking around, she was almost finished. She grabbed Am'ath's arm and dragged her into the bedroom. "Check and make sure I haven't forgotten anything."

Am'ath nodded then obediently began the search, the closet, drawers, storage cabinets around the room as well as the storage under the bed. She left everything she checked opened to some degree. She moved to the common room. "There is nothing." She looked to Mags nodding and closing the casing.

"Okay my clothes are packed." She looked to the two duffel bags and nodded. She tapped in the coding to seal the case then stepped back. "Okay done." She looked to the crewman and then to Am'ath. "I hope."

"Neither vessel is leaving drydock immediately. There will be time to return." Am'ath pointed out.

"I suppose." Mags shrugged her shoulders a few times. Tension was setting in, this had happened when she left the Academy as well and when they had to leave their old quarters. She nodded to the crewman. "Okay that's it then."

He nodded then attached the antigrav unit, activated it then tossed the bags on top then pulled the storage cube into the corridor.

The door slid closed and it left only Mags and Am'ath here.

"Forgot how big this place is empty." Mags stated softly. She lifted the medallion that hung on the chain. "Thank you." She turned to get the gift she had found for Am'ath then swore. "I packed it." She covered her face with her hands and wondering if she would ever survive this, then started to laugh. "I will bring it to you tomorrow."

"Bring what to me?"

"Your gift. The one I just packed."

"Do not concern yourself." Am'ath recognized the signs in Mags that her neck was becoming stiff. She moved behind her and began to massage then shoulder and neck muscles that were usually affected. "Who will do this for you?"

Mags smiled as she dropped her head forward. "I don't know. I'll find someone."

"You must remember to sleep and do not spend too much time engaged in poker." She ran her hand up the back of Mags' neck then back down. She dropped her hands, clasping them at her back. "Do not 'harass' your nav officer. It was your position, remember how difficult it was for you in the beginning."

Mags nodded, grinned and wondered if Am'ath realized at all what she was sounding like. She turned just her head to look at Am'ath. "Vulcan. You're nuts."

Am'ath raised an eyebrow. "I have always known how much you are to me. I will miss thee." She held the eyes that led to the soul that had accepted her so long ago. "Thee are a part of me that I will treasure forever. I wish thee only success and pleasure in your new assignment."

Mags drew in a breath and nodded. She lifted her hand and then watched as Am'ath pressed her palm against hers. Their fingers curled around each other's hand and they shared all the joy and the sadness in the sister-bond. Mags' found the strength somehow to take a step closer to her and wrapped her arm around Am'ath. She released Am'ath's hand then wrapped her other arm around her friend.

Am'ath mirrored her actions and held tightly.

"It's got to be at least half our lifetimes..." She muttered closed to Am'ath's ear. "You behave, Vulcan. And don't forget, jumping in front of bombs and stuff is not healthy." She was determined to get through this without losing it. "And laugh occasionally. And your new nav officer is only Human, so be nice." She gave her one final squeeze then started to release her hold.

Am'ath reached into her pocket and pulled out a few tissues, handing one to Mags. The other one she used on her own tears. She suspected that her control would never be what it once was. "You will take care."

"Yes." She smiled. "Two minutes after I start down that corridor it won't hurt as much... but right now... all I can feel is how alone I am." She shook herself a little to break this mood. "You let me know when your shore leaves are. We can get together then. That is if Sulu will let you out of his sight on shore leaves." She teased.

"If he is aware that I will be spending time with you, no doubt that will be a difficulty." She smiled slightly.

"Humour. You're getting there." She sighed. "Walk with me to the transporter?"

"As you wish." She bowed her head slightly. She indicated that Mags should lead the way. She waited as Mags opened the door to the quarters then left it open. Am'ath reached up to the nameplate and slid it out then handed it to Mags. "You will require this?"

Mags smiled as she accepted it. "Do you know where your next assignment will be?"

"Command has not informed Captain Sulu as yet. He is still in need of an executive officer as well as a science officer."

"Anyone in mind?"

"He has not stated one."

They continued down the corridor towards the lift that would take them to the transporter room and from there Mags would begin her new assignment. They had begun this journey together the first day at the Academy and they knew it was not entirely over as of yet.

*****

There was a breeze that greeted him as he stepped off the platform and headed down the road. He had been here only a handful of times and had enjoyed every visit. He had always been amazed at the variety of styles that greeted him every place he visited here on Earth. He headed up the few steps to open the door that led into the foyer. He checked the listings of the residences and pressed the code in.

"Chekov here."

"It's Hikaru, got some time to talk?" He smiled knowing that at the other end Pavel was grinning as well.

"Sure! Come on up."

Captain Sulu placed his hand on the ident-panel, about a second later the door released its hold on the lock. Sulu walked down the hallway and arrived at the door just as it was opened.

"Vhat are you doing here?" He pulled his friend into a hug, tapped his back then ushered him in to sit down. "I vent down for one day of de trial. Caught the rest of it on the night recording, all the highlights." He decided to get this out of the way first. "Is Am'ath alright?"

Sulu nodded, he was used to the way Pavel reacted. "Pavel, pour me some of that awful vodka. I need to talk to you about something."

Pavel frowned. He sounded very serious. "Sure." He went over to the bar and poured out two drinks. He handed Hikaru one then lifted his glass to him. "Cheers."

"Cheers." Sulu waited for Chekov to drink the glass down. He suspected he would need it to handle the next question he had for Pavel. He sipped on his own.

Chekov sat down beside his friend on the couch. "Vell?"

"Are you on active duty?"

"No. Why?"

"Well..." Sulu drank the rest of the vodka down. "I was talking to the brass and because of my situation they are willing to give me carte blanche to pick my first officer..."

"And?" Chekov waited.

"And... I picked you." He slipped a slate from his tunic pocket and handed it to Chekov.

"Vhat is dis?"

"Orders, if you accept them."

Chekov looked to the slates and then back to Sulu. "You vant me as your first officer?"

Sulu nodded. "For a year. Command has you slated for a command of your own in a year, maybe a little longer... I thought maybe you could kill time on the Excelsior."

"I vould be honoured."

*******

Captain Sulu sat in the pilot's seat, the rest of the shuttle was empty and so was the Excelsior, for the most part. There was a skeleton crew but none of them would be in his quarters or on the bridge. He smoothly docked the shuttle and then shut down its systems. He moved to the back and then waited for the cycling of the airlock.

He stepped out onto the Excelsior's decking. He nodded to the ensign on duty and waved away the customary announcement. "As you were, Ensign. Officially, I am not even here, but if anyone needs me I will be on the bridge."

"Aye, sir." The young officer snapped to attention then watched as the captain turned to the right and headed down the corridor.

*******

The swoosh of the doors opening and the quiet beeping of the operating systems were the only sounds that greeted him. He wanted it that way. A custom that most captains honoured, a trip to the bridge before any other crew came aboard. He circled the bridge slowly admiring all the new additions and mentally checking all the circuits that were being used. He clasped his hands behind his back then looked to the blank main screen. If it was on he knew exactly what he would see, he had seen it at least a hundred times, but the webbing of steel and the stars just beyond it had held him fascinated forever it seemed.

He turned from it then took the steps that led down into the command well. He slipped into the helm position and remembered the first time he had sat at the Enterprise controls. And the last. He remembered his nervousness with the first time this vessel moved out of Earth's orbit under someone else's guidance.

He stood, smoothed his uniform tunic then stood in front of the command chair. He looked around then sat down. He relaxed into the chair and remembered all the officers that had died over the years, the mistakes that should have been avoided, the close calls and the new discoveries. A promise to himself that this mission would have one less death, one less close call and one more new discovery.

Hikaru thought about the second trial that had been conducted, the one that dealt with the KEHL members and what they did on Galen IV. All of the members had been sentence to correctional counseling and some were sentenced to imprisonment; Lisa Tennet, Michael Grant and the more senior members that had been rounded up. Sarek and the others had been the picture of Vulcan decorum all the way through. T'sai Amanda had been there each day to offer support to Sarek, and her control on her emotions was perfection.

Now it had become his assignment to get everyone home. A leasurely mission, according to the brass, but he had his doubts. Difficult missions had a way of finding him.

He turned in the chair suddenly at the sound of the turbo-lift doors. He didn't expect anyone else to be aboard. He smiled at the 'intruder' then stood. "What are you doing here?"

Am'ath bowed her head. "You were occupied with the meeting. I came to run the preliminary check on all the navigation systems, as is my responsibility." She stepped down into the well but did not move any closer to him. "As I was the senior officer on board, I was notified of your arrival."

He stepped down and moved to stand in front of her. He lifted one hand, his fingers brushed her cheek. He saw her eyes flicker towards the location of the recording devices that were placed around the bridge. "Command knows. You are my mate." He smiled at her. "A habit that isn't easy to break."

"No, it is not." She forced herself to relax, to begin to accept this as permissible. She closed her eyes as his lips brushed hers.

Hikaru smiled. He thought about what he would enjoy doing on this bridge, in actuality, a thought every captain had at one time or another. "Next time, we'll find a way to disable the recorders."

Her eyebrow raised as she opened her eyes, meeting his. "I have no doubt, T'hy'la, that you will find a way to attain whatever you wish."

His smiled broadened for a second. "I wanted you..."

"I had no doubt." She stated.

He drew in a breath as he stepped back from her. "When we are underway, I could schedule a work-out?"

"Acceptable. Inform me of the timing." Am'ath bowed her head then turned and headed for the lift.

The doors opened as she approached them and she stepped to the side. Her head bowed. "Commander Chekov." She slipped past him into the lift and disappeared.

Chekov had bowed his head then watched her for a moment. "She is always this quick?"

Sulu smiled. "Most times." He shook his head. "Why didn't you let them contact me. I wanted you to have a proper welcome aboard."

"You know I do not like all de fuss." He stepped down into the well of the bridge and looked around. "She's a beauty, Hikaru."

"Yes she is... and she's my wife."

Chekov grinned. He leaned towards Sulu. "You know dat is not vhat I vas talking about." He hesitated. "Keptain."

"I know, but it was worth the reaction." Sulu wrapped an arm around his friend. "Let me show you around."

*******

The Excelsior had been on route for two days now and Sarek had spent most of it staring out at the stars. Amanda had let him brood long enough and now she wanted some answers or things would never be the same.

"Sarek."

He turned to face her immediately and totally attentive. "Yes, my wife."

"We need to talk." She had learned over the years not to be indirect with her husband.

"What do you wish to discuss?" Sarek moved to the near-by table and poured out the tea that had been steeping. He handed her one cup and then filled a second for himself.

She accepted the cup then sipped on the hot tea. "Maybe it would be a more accurate statement if I said that I needed to listen to you talk."

He lifted an eyebrow. "Explain."

She sighed. "Sarek I have not had a full conversation with you since the trials started. You have been in meetings, meditating or attending the trials. I know you have eaten because you are still standing. I know you have slept because I have found you beside me in bed, twice." She had been willing to give him his space and the time he needed to deal with all that had happened, but she had a few questions of her own that needed to be answered.

Sarek looked into the cup, he swirled the cup slightly. He had hoped that with time, matters would be more comfortable to talk about. He knew she had questions, he was bonded to her. He had with purpose, deliberately shielded all of his reactions to the captivity, the abuse, as well as the discoveries of the crewmembers on the Iron Duke. He also knew there would be a time when this would have to be shared.

He lifted his eyes to meet hers, she had an overwhelming desire to 'fix' everything, but she knew she could not. She wanted to gather him in her arms and knew that was inappropriate. Words were the only thing they could share for the moment, maybe after a time he would be able to drop the shields, but he would never allow her to share that experience... He took a breath, "What do you wish to know?"

Amanda closed her eyes for a moment and felt her body relax. "As much as you want to share, but I would like to know everything." She was hesitant about moving closer to him until he indicated the couch. She moved quickly to sit on the couch, her cup still in her hand and she braced herself for the details.

Sarek sipped on the tea then placed the cup down. He clasped his hands behind his back and wondered where he should start. "They entered the Embassy, efficiently. Timing was perfect, just before the rest of the staff were to arrive. Armed. They displayed the usual Human bravado and shouted obscenities and herded us into the conference room, the only room that was totally secured. They kept us there. T'Nal was fired at and disappeared in a flash. One forgets how efficient weapons are until they are used incorrectly." He clenched his teeth. "There is never a time when they are used correctly." He hesitated. "They injured a few others then decided that I would carry the most leverage so I was chosen as the scapegoat. Whenever the others would be accused of some action or were imagined to have acted inappropriately it would be dealt with through me."

"That is when I felt you shut yourself away." She was relieved when he nodded, at least now she knew. "How awful it must have been for the others." She sipped on her tea and allowed him to continue.

"They even used my bed." He drew in a breath, it was not something he had ever thought would have bothered him, but it had. Maybe it was because Amanda was supposed to have joined him the following week. Another breath was drawn in, then let out slowly. "The hardest part of all of this was that there was no real purpose to the attack. Not one of us had harmed any of them personally. I can comprehend if we had. I have to. I negotiate with warring peoples all the time, but there is a concrete reason for their disagreements. Not always logical but concrete." He went silent for a time. "But to hate a people because they fear them. Fear that they will be obliterated... it is not logical."

Amanda put her cup down. She had heard enough and he had shared enough. Not all, but enough. She stood and moved to stand beside him. Her hand went to his face and she caressed his cheek. "Its over." She said soothingly.

Sarek closed his eyes at her touch. "That is the awful part. I don't think it is." He ran his fingertips across her lips then drew her into his arms. "There will always be some that hate for no logical purpose."

Amanda smiled. "True, but there will also be a great many more that love for no logical purpose."

Sarek met her eyes, then smiled.

*******

Hikaru Sulu hated this exercise. Mostly, because he was not very good at it, or that she was better. He closed his eyes, it helped, it wasn't logical but it helped. He was blindfolded anyway but when his eyes were open he expected to be able to see.

He lifted his chin, he heard her. To his right. He held his breath and tried harder to concentrate without projecting his intent. He stepped towards the sound and found nothing but air. He dropped his head back and stopped himself from sighing.

He jumped. She touched his hair! How did she do that? He wanted to laugh. He was trying with all of his abilities to do this and she was just walking circles around him. She was even good when she was blindfolded and he was the one 'attacking'. But this time he had insisted on both of them being blindfolded, he thought that would make things harder for her. But I didn't.

He couldn't take it any longer... he had to do something with this frustration! His hands went into fists and he growled.

[You are not concentrating.] She spoke through their bond.

[I am concentrating as much as I can.] He replied with a grin.

[Your thoughts are on other matters, my Husband.]

He smiled. [You are not suppose to be peeking...]

[You are screaming your intentions. I do not have to peek.]

He considered pulling off his blindfold and getting her that way, but that would be cheating.

[Yes, it would.]

"We have been at this for an hour now. Can you give me a break?" He was pleading with her now, half-heartedly but this was frustrating for him.

"I do not wish you to be unprepared. I do not wish to become kivan." She watched as the Human tried to deal with the reasoning for this. It was one that had not occurred to him. "I do this to protect your life." She took a step into him lifted the weapon and aimed it at his shoulders.

He heard the movement and his arm went up and connected with the pillow as it knocked him off his feet. He landed hard on the matting and rolled onto his knees then stood. She was right. There was a purpose to many of these 'games' of theirs. There always had been but it had been masked, in the beginning, by his desire to be with her and he had forgotten. He calmed his body's reactions to the sudden attack, faster now than he used to. He heard her movement and the whisper of the pillow as it came towards him again. He crouched then rolled, his foot reached out and connected with her leg.

"Yes!" He hollered. It was the first time in a week he had even come close to catching her at all. He slipped off the blindfold and then smiled at her. She lay on the matting, her head propped up and the blindfold in her hand. He reached over and held her chin. "Well I am doing better."

Her eyebrow raised. "You should be doing much better than you are."

Hikaru leaned forward and kissed her. "I promise to do much better the next time."

"You made that proclamation last time as well." She brushed back his hair then ran her fingertip along the outline of his ear.

Hikaru stood then offered his hand to her. He pulled her towards him then wrapped his arm around her. His lips touched the spot right below her ear and above the fabric of the bodysuit she wore. His other hand slid into hers and he wrapped his fingers around her hand. "We are docking at the Starbase to transfer Kirk and Valdyr; want to go dancing?"

"A most logical suggestion." She brushed her lips against his then kissed him. "I received a communique from Mags."

"M-m-m. What did she have to say?" He started dancing with her.

"She has become acquainted with an officer." She smiled slightly as Hikaru began to hum close to her ear. "One that transferred to the Iron Duke. Commander Kevin Riley."

Sulu stopped. "Kevin Riley? Engineering?"

"Yes. Also helm and navigation. You know of him?"

Sulu chuckled. "Oh yes. He and I go way back... Kevin." He could somehow imagine that they would get along. He kissed her lightly. "Come on, let's shower and then I will let you dock the ship and then we can go dancing."

"I always dock the ship."

"I know." He reached down for the pillow as he headed for the door.

"Then why do you offer me the duty when you know it is mine to begin with." She followed him towards the change area.

"Because I am the captain."

She lifted an eyebrow. "You use this as a reasoning for many situations."

Hikaru nodded. He followed her through the door. "It's fun too."

"But it is not logical."

"Nope."

Am'ath stopped at the cubicle that held her clothing. Hikaru continued towards his own. She did not expect to understand this Human yet, but she did expect to do so within his lifetime. "Possibly." She stated out loud to no one in particular.

*******

Captain Hikaru Sulu stood and looked to his first officer. "Commander Chekov, we have a date with the Commodore. Then we have shore leave." He almost bounded up the stairs where he waited for Chekov.

"Coming, Keptain." Chekov walked beside Sulu and they stepped into the lift. "Dis feels right you know."

Sulu nodded then grinned. "I know." He sighed contently. "I hope we get some quiet time now."

"You should not say anyting, Hikaru." Chekov may have been a science officer trained by Spock but he was still just a superstitious Russian down deep. "You vill have to buy me at least two drinks to make up for that."

Sulu ginned. "Only two?" He looked to the changing levels. "I hope the meeting doesn't go too long."

"I don't think it will. Your reports are all in order and there is only the two debarking. They will catch the transport to Galen IV. Peter grew up very similar to the Keptain, no?"

Sulu nodded. "He is carving his own niche as well in the Diplomatic Corps. And Valdyr is something else." He stepped forward as the lift doors opened.

"Sulu?" Chekov walked along side of him, falling into step easily. "Do you always let her take it in on manual?"

Sulu laughed. "Yes."

Chekov shook his head. "Knowing how to is one thing... but it is nerve wracking on those of us that have to watch."

Sulu stepped into the transporter room. He took his place on the platform then waited for Chekov. "I know. We take great pleasure in that." He looked to the young officer standing behind the console. "Anytime you are ready, Lieutenant."

"Does she know how to use this? She is young." Chekov muttered to Sulu. "They are getting younger, Hikaru."

"No, we are getting older."

Chekov lifted an eyebrow. "You might be but I am not."

"Energizing, Captain."

The two officers disappeared in a swirl of light.

Lieutenant Carlson looked around her board. Everything was normal and for another four hours duty would be very boring. "Another day, another credit." She sighed.

******

***The voyage of the Excelsior continues...***


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