Hikaru takes the long way to the brig, making sure the crew gets a glimpse of him. He's seen the captain do this and he's not immune to the effect. Someone's in charge, someone knows what to do, and even if it's a lie, people need to believe it.
He needs to believe it, but he's on the other side now; he knows how much of it is a lie. He's seen the dead for himself. He knows how close they came to outright war. He knows how close this ship came to being the first casualty of that war. A war they still might get drawn into. The thought lingers as he walks into the brig, past security, and comes to a stop before her cell.
The Romulan commander.
She looks at him and he looks back. He guesses this is when they take the measure of each other. Looking at her, he wouldn't say she was Romulan military, but he can't say she's anything else either. Not when he looks her in the eye.
This is the woman who'd ordered the captain's death. Possibly the one who'd shot Christine. On the surface, it's impossible to believe. She's sitting in the corner, one leg drawn up against her chest in the very picture of relaxation, but her eyes give it away. She stares at him with eyes that are cool and assessing. Sharp.
He fights the urge to shiver. Something about her gaze says she wouldn't miss it. He takes a step closer to the cell. "Commander."
She waits for a moment, thirty seconds maybe, and then stands. "Lieutenant Sulu."
Her voice isn't what he'd expected. Not that he actually expected anything, at least not that he's aware of, but the soft, slightly raspy voice isn't it. Nothing about her is what he expected. The ears most of all.
Hikaru catches himself staring and so does she.
"Yes," she says, visibly amused, "the stories are true." She turns her head in both directions, putting her ears and their delicate points on full display. "The Thaessu are our cousins."
"We're aware," he says, keeping his voice level.
"But it is quite another thing to see," she says. She doesn't show it, but he has a feeling she's enjoying his discomfort. It's frustrating. She's shorter than he'd expected, her appearance almost delicate. It's no indication of anything.
She looks like a young Vulcan woman, not a Romulan starship commander capable of nearly seizing the Federation's flagship. He starts mentally composing his report for the captain. Just as soon as he and Spock are conscious, they're going to want to hear it.
'Subject is a little over five feet tall, dark hair and eyes. Female. Identified by Starfleet Intelligence as Di'on Charvon, Commander of the IRW Honor Blade, newly promoted Fleet Commander and accompanied by two, as yet unlocated, Birds of Prey. Further information will be forthcoming'
Just as soon as he can get it out of her.
She sits down, crossing her legs. Her movement is easy, relaxed in its elegance, and frustrating as hell. He doesn't know a damn thing about the Romulan psychological make-up. Whether or not they need the same emotional control as Vulcans. If she's feeling anything but perfectly calm he can't see it.
A lot falls under that heading.
The Romulans have always been the subject of speculation. Starfleet had fought an entire war without ever seeing their faces.
He's not the person to be doing this, but that doesn't matter. Until they get to Starbase 21, he's the only person who can. He has to. Assuming, that is, he can get the upper hand back.
"You know," Hikaru says, looking at her, "you're the first person we've had in those cells." He doesn't mention the fact the captain nearly was. If Spock hadn't gone for the 'spacing him' option that is. Now's definitely not the time or place to be making that joke.
She nods. He has a feeling she doesn't need further explanation. Hell, she probably knows exactly what happened during the Nero incident. "Ask your questions, Lieutenant Sulu."
"All right." Hands in his pockets, he steps closer to the energy barrier. Enough that he can almost feel the energy vibrating against his skin. "Why?"
The commander tips her head, leaning it against the wall. She looks at the ceiling and the lights for a long moment, expression betraying nothing, until she has her answer. "There is a saying among your people."
Hikaru almost smiles. Her Standard is flawless, entirely without accent, but it's never that which gives them away. It's the little things. Like her comment. She knows a lot, but it only goes so far. "Actually, there are many sayings and many peoples." He nearly points out that Humanity is not a homogenous group, but realizes she probably knows more about Earth than he does Romulus and that stays his tongue.
Either way, she nods like a dutiful student and continues, "The expression to which I refer is 'a fool's errand', are you familiar with it?"
"Then allow me to present the fool." She gestures to herself.
Despite himself, Hikaru laughs. "Forgive me," he says, immediately. "I just have a hard time thinking anyone could call you a fool." Every Security officer on the ship would beg to differ. Christine sure as hell would. No one on the Enterprise will ever think this woman a fool.
Fact of the matter is, she came dangerously close to doing the job. Starfleet will be panicking over that for a while.
He's not prepared for the rueful way she smiles. It softens her. Warms her. She doesn't magically transform, but there's a glimpse of someone else in her eyes. A possible peek at the woman behind the commander.
"Until the fvillha cast me as one, I would never have believed it possible." She spreads her hands. "And yet, here I sit."
He frowns. He's not the right person for this. Can't be. What he knows of Romulus and its people wouldn't form a full sentence. He looks at her and realizes. Romulus isn't even the planet's real name. Not in their language. "I don't understand." Understatement of the century. He's tempted, just for a second, to ask her what the Romulans call themselves. What their word for their species is.
Hikaru watches her, waiting for an answer, and wonders if Nyota knows. If anyone outside the Romulans themselves even know.
He doubts it.
She looks at him, as if she can read his thoughts, and smiles again. The same sad, rueful smile. "Tell me, Lieutenant, what you think our mission was?"
He blinks. He's read Christine's report. Carried it on a PADD to the captain's office himself. The mentions of a device, of killing the captain and command staff, of a waiting Romulan fleet. He tries for a smile, the confident and smooth one he imagines Captain Kirk would wear. "Commander, you know I can't tell you that."
She laughs. It's a pleasant sound, one he likes enough to wish hearing again. Damn it. "Of course not," she says. "Very well, it doesn't matter. The mission is irrelevant. Despite my orders, this was always the result my fvillha envisioned. This mission was doomed to failure from the start."
"It must be mistake."
When she receives her orders, she does not believe them. This, she thinks, is eminently understandable.
Her orders ask the unthinkable.
"The orders are indeed foolhardy," Ael allows, as much empathy as her flint-eyed demeanour will ever allow. In truth, she is astonished to see that much and finds herself a little uncertain of what to say next. She hadn't known what response to anticipate when she'd made this visit, but language that borders on treasonous is not it.
She watches, silent, hands on her chair and her eyes on her venerated aunt. So many years gone since she curled up at this woman's side, listening to the stories of a life spent in space and dreaming of living the same. Now she can understand the hesitations in her words and the shadows in Ael's eyes when she'd spoken of her commands. The politics of the Empire snake their way beneath the honor of the military like the vines of her grandmother's garden. Carnivorous things that swarm anything venturing too close, capturing and throttling its victims.
Ael rises from her own chair and walks to the window. She stands there for a moment in silence, staring out at the evening. In the gathering dusk, the lights of the city begin to shine, a perfect illusion of peace. Here on ch'Rihan, they are as yet safe. The front line of the Kll'inghann conflict is many light years away, kept away from them by the Empire's warbirds and commanders such as Ael and Di'on herself. It will not last forever and the expression on Ael's face speaks to the knowledge she and her niece share.
This illusion will soon shatter into pieces more numerous than the stars.
"We are already fighting for our very lives," Ael breathes. "Now the fvillha wishes our very souls." She looks back. "I apologize, vadia-lya."
Her eyebrow raises. "I don't understand."
Ael smiles, sad. "Not yet, no and be thankful for it. This is a truth learned amidst the voles of the Senate. Each a thousand times more vicious than the one before." She moves closer. "We are kin to the Emperor, you and I. More than that, we are beloved of the Empire's citizens. We are heroes. Rh'iov both. They adore us for our conquests, our battles for the Empire, and we are threats for it."
It takes a moment for the pieces to arrange, her mind placing them into an image that is nearly laughable in it's impossibility. She is a niece of the Emperor, yes. Ael is related to him as well, albeit more distantly and from a different side. It is not impossible they might have claim to the throne, but nevertheless, she nearly laughs aloud. "The fvillha thinks — "
"That we might yet be named heirs?" Ael spreads her hands and smiles. "Why not? The Emperor is old and has no sons. No daughters. Any heir will be chosen from the children of his siblings or relatives farther afield. If he must so choose, then why not choose one that already has the heart of the populace? For a man like the fvillha with ambitions to lay claim to the throne you are a threat. I am old. My child-bearing years are behind me. If I am named, there is still chance to claim the throne from him. Yours, however, yours are not. If the Emperor names you as his daughter, his heir, the line of succession would be assured."
It's quite ludicrous, but she also can't argue. She thinks to tell Tal, imagines the amusement on her subcommander's face, but it's been many years since she was so stupid. He is loyal, but she has learned well to trust no loyalty that is not born of blood. Even that, at times, she has had occasion to doubt.
"I can barely believe it," she says, instead.
"Nor I, but I can believe it more than your orders." Ael returns to stand before her. Her hair, braided down her back, is as yet untouched by the silver of age. Her skin smooth and unlined. The weight of command has been kind. Burnishing away weakness and leaving iron beneath. "The Kll'inghann are beating down our door, screaming for the blood of our children, and the fvillha wishes war with the Federation?"
"There is no guarantee of war," she points out. "They are still vulnerable with the loss of Vulcan."
"Make no mistake," Ael cuts in, "our Vulcan cousins are not so weak as the fvillha's pretty words would say. Their answer would be reasoned and absolute; an assault on the Federation's flagship is an act of cowardice and of war. They could not brook such an insult. Not without appearing weak. They are pacifists, our cousins, but they are not fools. Weakness would invite attack from all sides and they will not risk it. There would be war."
The likes of which ch'Rihan would not survive. The war with the Khell'oann-Mhehorael was not going well. Distant from the homeworld as yet, but growing ever closer. Survival might yet be possible, but not without everything and anything the Empire has.
Hope is not something she deals in. Has not been something she could believe for many years. Hope is very nearly the only thing that the Empire had left.
"This is suicide," she says.
"Yes," Ael says. "He has ordered you to your death." She again shocks Di'on, but this time with a smile. "Don't give it to him."
She blinks, stunned by the implication. "You suggest treason."
"I suggest survival." Ael takes seat in her chair. The very act carries an imperious air. Ael i-Mhiessan t'Rllaillieu, legendary officer. A queen upon her throne. As an Empress she would be magnificent. "Do your duty, vadia-lya." She leans forward, dark eyes fierce and determined, "Do you understand?"
The answer slowly becomes clear. Dawning over her with a cold, terrible truth that sets her heart to pounding and her breath roaring in her ears.
She understands perfectly. She will claim his head.
He's never interrogated anyone before.
It's not the most inspiring thought to be having right now, but it's the truth. He's not an investigator. He should wait for the captain, but he can't. They don't have the luxury of time and he can't let anyone else do it either. It wasn't DeSalle that challenged this woman.
It was him.
This is his responsibility and he has to do this. The question of how is one he'll have to figure out as he goes. He's no stranger to aliens or alien customs. He grew up in San Francisco, aliens by the dozen had patronized his grandfather's shop. Vulcans the most, but Tellarites, Betazoids, and too many more to name. Some of them had taken a shine to a young Hikaru with his dozens of questions and curious smile. He knows how to congratulate a Bolian on their wedding, how to wish an Andorian good health and fierce battles, and he knows every Tellarite insult worth knowing.
Somewhere in there he even managed to learn a smattering of a dozen different languages, but Romulan isn't among them. This is the first time he's really had occasion to regret it.
She says something, breaking the silence between them, but the UT can't parse it out and he doesn't understand a word of it.
"I'm sorry," he says, surprised at his own embarrassment. "I don't know what that is."
She looks at him, surprised. "Your translation device is flawed."
Inwardly, he cringes and hopes Nyota isn't listening. "Nothing's perfect."
She nods. "One of your idioms." Uncrossing her legs, she regards him with a disinterested gaze. "Perhaps we should move the conversation to familiar ground. You will ask me of the Empire's intentions and I will tell you nothing. You will insist, posture and threaten perhaps, and still I will refuse. At some point, your medical staff will administer drugs designed to loosen my tongue and discover I am wholly impervious to them. Eventually, I will be transferred to Federation custody where the process will begin once again until the moment my release is negotiated."
He's supposed to despise this woman. She's a Romulan. A commander. Somewhere out there, the fleet is still hunting for her ship and her crew. She's personally responsible for the deaths of his shipmates and ordered the death of his captain. She's the embodiment of the enemy.
Then why does he feel anything but?
Something's missing. There's something he isn't seeing. Some secret in those eyes that would unlock everything.
"It doesn't have to be that way."
She smiles. "Yes, it does."
The planet is a lifeless rock. Useless, really. Any attempts at colonization will, first, require extensive terraforming. With hundreds of possible planets to choose from, the Federation has better and easier available. Standing beneath the weak light of a dying sun, she looks at the grey sky and wonders what lies beyond it. They are in Federation space, have been for days, and the novelty of that has not worn off. Dathe'anofv-sen is cloaked, hidden in orbit around a small moon, and their sister ships circle the system under cloaks of their own. Despite that knowledge, she is jittery and unsettled.
Nothing can be put to chance. Somewhere in the Demilitarized Zone, their fleet awaits.
She bites back a humorless laugh. Fleet. It is laughable to apply such a grandiose term to the ragtag band of ships the fvillha had provided. Nothing else could be spared, hence their current situation.
Such dependance on espionage is shaming and she can understand the Klingon distaste for such tactics. Skulking around in the shadows is not the inheritance her forebears had handed down. She doesn't wear it well and she hates that useless fool for sentencing her to this.
Tal's voice at her belt interrupts her contemplations. She smiles. Contemplations indeed. With that wry smile in place, she reaches for the communicator at her belt. "I thought my orders clear, Erei'riov."
"Apologies, Rh'iov," he says, though she can hear the unrepentant tone in his voice. Of her officers, Tal is the only she believes she might trust. She does not, she is not a fool, but she believes she could. She also believes his loyalty is not totally that of a subordinate. He has made no declarations or advancements, however, so her suspicions remain that. Suspicions. However, perhaps, those suspicions do cause her to grant him more lenience than she should. "However, it must be risked. N'ventnar reports the Hevam ship has entered the system."
Enterprise is here.
She smiles. It's forced, fake, but the officers around her don't know that. "Excellent," she replies with confidence she doesn't feel. She's read the intelligence reports on the Enterprise's young new commander.
He'll beam down himself. He won't be able to resist the trail they've laid out for him. Some small part of her that still believes in hope catches its breath and she lets it. There is a chance they might accomplish this without bloodshed. A chance that she might achieve her mission and her endgame without ending Federation lives.
She looks at the men behind her. A single misstep and she'll return to ch'Rihan wishing that they had killed her. She is not so eager as some; her goal is not to ascend to political power, but her intentions are irrelevant to the end result. She must make herself a hero to her people in order evade the trap that the fvillha has set before her. Nothing less than absolute success will suffice to see her live out the week. Failure is a guaranteed death sentence and, likely, her would-be killer stands within arm's reach at this moment. She can but hope that, whoever he is, he falls in the fast-approaching battle.
Would that the only blood to spill on this mission were theirs. She is not so lucky, but then as her aunt might say, luck was for fools and little children. Luck is best left to those without the will to see their destinies done.
Whatever Di'on is, she is not a woman given to such fanciful thinking. Already she allows herself to grow maudlin and such a state is a far greater threat than any knife's blade. She will seal her own fate, politics and the fvillha be damned.
She turns away from them, melting into the shadows of their little trap. "You know your places." She has never been one for rousing speeches. Pretty words bring little comfort under the rage of a Kll'inghann assault.
She prefers a more practical approach. One found in a disruptor's blast.
After her polite dismissal, he waits. He's not sure precisely what he's waiting for, but he waits nonetheless.
"Well then," he says, taking a deliberate step back, "I guess this conversation is at an end."
She nods, "Unfortunately, yes. For now, at least. I suspect your Starfleet Intelligence will have questions as well when I am transferred into their custody."
"You won't — " he stops. There's no point in pretending. No point, either, in feeling sorry for her. He has to remind himself who she was, what she did, and what she would have done. Sympathy doesn't have a place in this game and, no matter the stakes, that's precisely what this is. "I have a feeling you won't be any more cooperative with them than you've been with me."
Her grin is, possibly, genuine. "Less."
He can believe it. He wants to believe it. She's a Romulan military officer in Federation custody. It's her first priority to lie to him. Okay, her second priority. Her first priority is to escape, but lying along the way doesn't hurt anybody.
"You're going to have them dancing, aren't you?" He shifts his weight, leaning against the door. The frame cuts into his shoulder and the energy from the restraint field is singing against his skin. She mirrors his posture on the other side of the field. "I think I should feel sorry for them."
"You should, Lieutenant," she says. Her eyes stay even with his and her voice is light, but there's a ring of earnest truth to it the words. He has no reason to believe her, every reason in the world not to, but he still thinks she's telling the truth. If only for the reason the faintest hint of an accent slips into her voice. "Unlike you, I have no respect for them."
Her phrasing is off. It takes him a second to realize what she means. When he does, he's surprised and he doesn't bother trying to hide it. "You respect me?"
His surprise seems to surprise her. She walks away from him, paces the length of the small cell, before choosing to sit on the edge of the cot. It's set into the wall, little more than a block with a thin mattress.
"You don't have to explain."
"No, I do." She stretches one leg and then the other. She's still in her uniform. That will change just as soon as they transfer custody at the starbase. From there, it'll be 'Fleet-issued jumpsuits in attractive shades of hideous in an attempt at isolating her. Parsing her out from her identity in the hope of breaking ties and, in turn, breaking her.
He already knows how that will go.
"All right," he says, "you do."
She looks up and smiles at him. It's reserved, careful, but it's real and he knows that none of this is. He reminds himself that none of this is. They're slow-dancing around the truth, following the steps laid out by a hundred years of cold war silence. He can't and won't believe a word out of her mouth, even if he wants to.
And that's the worst part of all this. He really does want to. It wasn't so long ago she was leading an assault on this ship. If her own words in sickbay are to be believed, an assault that would've seen the command crew dead and the ship delivered into Romulan hands. She's the enemy and he's having a hard time seeing it.
How does the captain do this?
"Do you remember what you said?" She's standing in front of him again, but she's different. Alien and when did he forget that? He swallows, nervous, angry at himself and trying to remember this woman is, technically, the enemy and he can't forget it. Not even for a second. She makes it easier, her eyes gaze sharpening, as she clarifies. "On the bridge, when you addressed the ship and me."
He remembers. He remembers the way his mouth had gone so dry he couldn't swallow and his hands had shook until he'd balled them into fists. Knowing the entire crew was looking to him for support, their lives depending on every decision he made, and him not knowing what to do or say next.
Yes, he remembers. He'll never forget.
"I promised we'd find you," he says, mouth that dry again. "I promised we'd find you and there'd be no mercy when we did."
"And yet there was." She looks at him. "We mock you for your mercy, but still you offer it. You preserve the bodies of my dead men, you assure me they will be returned to their families to allow them a proper burial, and you hold me here without the slightest hint of mistreatment. Nevertheless, if the situation called for it, you would fight. Even kill me."
She's testing him, probably. He doesn't know. He thinks she is, but he's making this up as he goes. He just doesn't know.
Hikaru breathes out. "Yes. Yes, I would."
She smiles. "And that is why."
They're early, but no matter. The device is close enough to completion to appear genuine. She imagines their engineering teams devoting days and weeks to its dissection and analysis. The idea of so much time and power spent to something that's little more than a child's toy is amusing. Or, rather, it would be were there not more pressing matters.
At her side, her science officer is monitoring their life signs and their approach. She watches the readings, only too aware of the undercurrent running through the group. The anticipation sparks on her skin, rattling her, and she's speaking almost before she realizes what must be done.
"Don't kill them," she says, catching the attention of her men with the cool tone. She's not surprised by the astonished looks her words get her. It's a problem and she knows just how truly big it is. They aren't her men. Not a one of them has even a shred of the loyalty that Tal has always demonstrated.
Each one of them has a senator as sponsor. She could identify each and every one if she so chose. Some she has, some she knows also answer to Tal'Shiar, some don't interest her whatsoever.
All that truly matters is her distrust of them all. She can't, for a second, turn her back on any of them.
"Rh'iov," one ventures. "Might I ask why?"
She turns narrowed eyes on him. He doesn't take a step back, pity, but he tenses. They're wary of her. Good.
"Fool." She withholds emotion from her tone, preferring the cold, hard truth of pragmatism. "Do you know nothing? The captain of the Enterprise is a hero to his people. A legend barely out of boyhood. His science officer is a Vulcan and borne of Surak's line. Please, tell me I have not been saddled with simpletons who cannot imagine the prize they would make. If one ignores the strategic information we could gain from them; they, themselves, are almost worth more than their ship."
Allowing her disgust to creep into her expression, she turns on one boot to walk away. "Do not kill them. Anyone who does, faces the same from me." She cannot know for certain what they are thinking, but she is sure of one thing. If they think her weak, then they have but to test her resolve.
She might enjoy shooting one of them.
"There was a woman."
Hikaru looks back. "I'm sorry?"
"The woman in your sickbay," she gestures. "She was a member of the medical staff. I believe she was in command." For a moment, she hesitates and her expression wavers between that cool distance and a genuine sadness. "She intervened at the last."
"Christine," he says. "Christine Chapel. Nurse Chapel."
"Nurse Chapel," she repeats with the weight of ritual behind it. He doesn't know why, but he can't believe it's anything hostile. Something in her eyes. "Christine."
"She's going to be fine." The commander hasn't asked, but he has a feeling she might appreciate knowing.
"Good," she says and turns away. "I am glad."
He shouldn't ask that question. He shouldn't ask and she shouldn't answer.
"I have made you prisoners in my story." She looks back at him and, for a moment, he can hear the apology she can't give. The universal translator is an amazing piece of technology and he respects the work Uhura and every other linguist like her has put into it. It's almost a miracle, but it has it's limitations and this moment is one of them. There's a gap between her understanding and his.
There's something there in her words, in the somber way they fall from her lips, that the translator just can't touch.
"She is to be commended." She turns to face him, the moment slipping away beneath the cover of the motion. "Perhaps even honored. Her actions were extraordinary given her position."
"She will be." He can't be sure of that, but he knows the captain. Kirk's not the kind of captain to miss what Christine went through and, apparently, neither is the Romulan woman in front of him. "Who knows, you might even get to see it."
She laughs. "I might indeed. Perhaps my interrogators will trade the pleasure for some scrap of information."
The reference is chilling. He ducks his head, looking down. "I shouldn't feel bad about that."
"You should not," she agrees. She draws closer, a single step, and it's enough to make the field hum in warning. "Terrans do not treat prisoners as we Romulans do."
She's grim-faced when he looks up, but not regretful.
"I thought the Empire didn't take prisoners." Or allow themselves to be taken in return. He's studied the Earth-Romulan War. Everyone has. Every Starfleet cadet since the Kelvin has. Know thy enemy. He knows that not a single Romulan ever made into Starfleet custody. The records are filled with detonation after detonation; ships blowing their reactors to avoid capture, Romulan EVA suits rigged to destruct and take their wearers with them.
And yet she's here. Alive. Her superiors will demand a penance for that. There's no great secret to protect now, everyone knows the connection between the Romulan and Vulcan peoples, but she's the first Romulan in history to be captured.
That will demand some kind of penance. If they know anything about the Romulans, they know that much.
"We do what is needed," she replies. "As your own intelligence services can attest, there are only so many passive ways one might gain information. They sometimes fail."
He watches her bear up underneath his scrutiny, unaffected by it, and he wonders if they know a damn thing at all. Just how much of their information on the Romulan Empire and the people living in it is complete bull.
It's not something he wants to consider, but stopping is easier said than done.
"Which is what you're doing here." He's not making it a question. He can guess. "On the planet — " He still wishes he'd been just a little faster coming up that hill. Just a few seconds faster and he might have seen what the captain and the others had. He'd know what the hell he's asking about. "You had time. You could have killed the others before I got there. Before the Enterprise beamed them out. You didn't. It was a trap, wasn't it? It was never about that device. Is there even a real device?"
She smiles. "I can't answer that."
He nods. "I know."
She doesn't have to. He can see it in her eyes.
Because she's letting him.
He shakes his head. "I have no idea what's going on here."
Her smile becomes a laugh. "Do any of us? We follow our orders, Lieutenant. We do what is commanded. Whether we understand our presidents or our praetors is irrelevant. We are soldiers."
"I'm not a soldier."
She slaps a hand against the field. It sparks, alarms whine, and he stumbles back. She doesn't move. Not even when he can see her skin and the ever worsening damage. He stares at it for as long as it takes to realize she's looking at something else.
She's looking at his hip and the hand grabbing for a phaser he isn't even wearing. He stares at his fingers, surrounded by empty space, and then risks a look at her. The denial's on his lips, but he can't bring himself to voice it.
Not even when she smiles and asks, "Aren't you?"
The battle - if it can even be called that - is over quickly, but it does not go well. Her men stumble, act against her orders, and alert their targets to their presence too soon. She cannot even have the satisfaction of disciplining the man herself. He dies mere moments later.
Unintentional she is sure. Their stated respect of sentient life would not permit them such ruthlessness in battle.
Not even when their enemies kill without mercy. Even now, with her men circling them like hungry Thrai she can see the Hevam captain searching for a way out.
She imagines he might even try negotiation should this drag on long enough and, yet, she cannot scorn him. More of her men have fallen than his. His men move at the slightest gesture of his head or hand. Their steps are sure, immediate, following as though it were shouted across the battlefield and not the merest flick of a wrist.
When the Vulcan falls in an attempt to protect him, she is envious. Envious even as she gives the order to fall back.
Pity that this is where it would end.
"That wasn't fair."
She's sitting on the floor of her cell, cradling one hand in the other. He can't see it, but he imagines the burn is a bad one. A brief encounter with the field wouldn't do damage, but she hadn't been going for brief. It had been a sustained contact. Longer, even, than she'd probably intended.
It must hurt like hell, but she still smiles at him. "So little in life is."
He laughs. "Got me there." He tips his head back against the wall. "They're gone to get a medic, but — "
She grimaces. "It's all right, Lieutenant. They've a right to their hate and I would not expect them to treat the murderer of their friends."
"You're not a very good Romulan, are you?" The question doesn't quite come out the way it sounded in his head and he blushes. "I mean you aren't what I'd expected. You didn't act like this before. Not like a — " Hikaru bites the inside of his cheek and closes his eyes. Smooth. Real smooth.
It's almost a relief the captain is still unconscious and that Charvon's the only person to have heard that.
"Like a person?" she finishes.
He nods, feeling a little miserable. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that."
"Yes, you did." She inches forward on the floor. He gets a glimpse of her palm when she moves and cringes. Forget bad. He doesn't know she's just sitting on the floor, not curled up screaming. "It's fine, Lieutenant. You owe me no apologies. I bear the blood of your comrades. I ordered their deaths and I would have ordered more if not stopped. While I bear no satisfaction in it, it is the truth."
He's seen the footage of sickbay's security feeds. He's seen the bits and pieces that feature her. The soft rasp of her voice spitting out insults and scorn on his shipmates, his captain, then ordering their deaths without pause.
"Just doing your duty, huh?"
She has no comment to that. She sits there with her hand in her lap, looking at him with eyes that are older than them both. He adds that to what she'd said.
"This was supposed to be a suicide mission." He raises his eyebrows. "The praetor sent you to die, didn't he? Those were your orders." Maybe not on paper, but where it counted.
She smiles again. "As you say, Lieutenant, I am not a very good Romulan."
The cargo hold is dark, cold, and utterly empty. Perfect. She doesn't spare time for a satisfied smile. There will be a myriad of sensors and all of them screaming of unauthorized transport. There are tubes throughout the ship – Jeffries' tubes, they're called. She remembers the intelligence reports well – and they are easily found.
At the juncture of one, she splits her team. There are targets and objectives to be neutralized and not near enough people to do it. Too many men lost in the battle.
In the darkness above the Enterprise's sickbay, she smiles grimly. A point for the young captain and his crew.
She almost wishes many more would be added before this is through, but she can't. The mission sits bitter on her tongue, rage against the praetor burning through her veins, and she hates everything about it, but she will see it through.
Mnhei'sahe demands it. She will do her duty.
She sends the majority of her remaining people to deal with the remaining targets. She and Erein tr'Annwhi will deal with sickbay themselves.
They find the hatch after a few false starts, distracted by the running messages filling the air around them. They hear the report from Security when the two sent to deal with Communications are killed and when those sent to deal with the Medical personnel fall as well.
It's not long before they are the last. Crouched as they are over the hatch that will admit them to sickbay.
"We need to buy time," tr'Annwhi says. It's almost an order, but not quite. He's young, yes, but not a fool. He couches his arrogance in deference. As if she can't see the ambition lurking in his gaze. "Dathe'anofv-sen — "
She smiles and he quiets. She gestures at the hatch. A single uttered word dispatching him into the room below. What follows is a blur of disruptor blasts and screaming. She drops to the floor below, following lead. They are Medical personnel, not soldiers, but the fight they put up is valiant nonetheless.
If nothing else, they have gained her respect. Even as they kneel before her, facing their imminent demise, they are defiant. Afraid, yes, but defiant. She casts her gaze to the young captain, envious once more. She'd never, in a heartbeat, surrender Tal, but this crew. This crew.
She looks back at tr'Annwhi. He's at a console, fingers moving cautiously as he picks his way through their databases. She spares him barely a second's consideration before she focuses on their captives again. One has twitched closer. A woman.
"I would not," she says, her Standard perfect. "No one else need die today."
The girl is shaking, but holds her gaze. "I can think of one or two."
The laugh stutters out of her before she can stop it. "Hevam, you are an interesting lot."
"Commander, the only transmission sent in the last six hours indicated that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were wounded by Romulan assailants during an away mission. It appears that the final member of the away team did not see the device. No mention of it was made in the transmission, and so long as the remaining members of the away team are killed before they regain consciousness, Starfleet will remain unaware of its existence. With the crew distracted by the death of Kirk and his Vulcan, the ship will be vulnerable to attack by the Romulan fleet before it reaches Starbase 21."
She stops, surprised. Standard.
Automatic translation. The phrasing is slightly inaccurate and stilted, but still close. She gives the console and tr'Annwhi a considering look before allowing herself a moment's worry. She has heard of the Federation's vaunted universal translation device, but had not expected it to be integrated into the ship's systems.
She lets her gaze drift to the Starfleet personnel. Pity. There's no other option now. Not with tr'Annwhi watching her every move. That one was a problem. Well-connected, even more so than some of the others, and old families all at that.
She turns her back, closing her eyes for a moment. When she opens them again, she is what she must be.
The type who can order an execution with a disruptor's flick. She's spilled enough blood today and the idea of more turns her cold.
She does so anyway. They've heard, up to this point, nothing of worth, but they might. The translator will be a problem, one she'll need taken care of if she doesn't wish to execute the entire crew.
"Commander," he says, stepping away from the console.
It's strange to hear the alien tongue on tr'Annwhi's lips. Jarring against the motion of his mouth. She turns her head again as he moves toward the captives, following her command. Her gaze falls on the captain and the young woman lying on the floor just beyond.
Her hair is light, colouring fair, and she looks, oddly enough, like Jaeih, the hru'hfe of her grandmother's house. A woman who'd laughed at the solemn-faced Di'on and told the cook to make her sweetmeats.
The officer lies where she fell, the bright red of Terran blood trickling down her temple, caught in a desperate lunge by tr'Annwhi's disrupter blast. This is not Jaeih who died light years way in the assault of their house by another. The similarity is superficial, but she feels guilty just the same.
Perhaps, then, she can be forgiven the rush of relief when tr'Annwhi raises his disruptor and the woman springs to life.
Hikaru treats her himself. They sit together on the floor of her cell, the medical kit beside them, and security guards at the ready.
"I'm not exactly an expert," he warns, taking her hand. Her skin is warm. Not so much as a Vulcan's touch, but warmer than Human-norm. He lets himself drop his gaze, looking to where her fingers make contact with his skin.
She laughs. "You presume that I mind."
"No." Her voice is even, despite the fact that even his careful touch must hurt. "I'm already dead, Lieutenant. There isn't much you can do to worsen my fate."
"They'll kill you for this?"
"They'll try." There's laughter in her voice. A soft lilting thing at odds with the deadly serious subject. "The praetor who sent me underestimates my capabilities."
"To his detriment I'm guessing." He finishes his scan and looks at the readings; trying to remember what M'Benga had told him. Romulan physiology isn't so different from Vulcan. It should work. "Something tells me, he's going to regret giving you those orders."
"Orders," she says. She's almost coy in the way she watches him. It's charming and blinding all at the once. He's crossing a line here, but he can't help it. Something about all of this makes no sense at all "So much is said of the military's structure. They believe it to be a prison, but nothing so can ever bind us as orders can." She curls her fingers around his. "Or free us."
If she'd been successful. If she'd won and delivered them into Romulan hands.
"You nearly pulled it off, you know," he says. Feeling traitorous to admit it. "If not — "
"If not for your Christine," she says, "You would be the one behind an energy field and I would be an empress." She withdraws her hand, watching him reach for the dermal regenerator. "This is the better ending, I believe."
Security storms the room. Fighting breaking out anew. She takes refuge behind their captain's bed and watches them advance. From her perch, she can see tr'Annwhi fight. Watches him fire on the advancing officers.
She closes her eyes. In the eye of her mind she can see it; the future she's delivering to her people. Areinnye. Nothing less than. A war on two fronts. ch'Rihan would not just fall.
It would be obliterated.
Di'on feels the cold lance of fear. The realization that as good as the Enterprise officers are, for once, hers might be better.
Do your duty, Ael had said. She'd thought, then, that she'd understood her aunt's meaning. Now she sees her mistake and the warning her aunt had been trying to deliver.
It's not as pleasant as imagined, but when she fires, it's with a smile.