"It was your choice."
"It was the only choice possible. You would not have respected any other."
"It will be our secret."
Despite an instinct telling her not to do so, she turned back just as the turbolift doors were closing. "Spock," she began.
He halted the lift. "Commander?"
"I have heard that the Vulcans have a saying, 'There are always possibilities.' Or is that also a myth?"
"It is no myth. That philosophy dates to the time of Surak. As does the watchword of our people: 'Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.'"
"Then there is always another choice, outside of the respectable and the obvious." She kept her head high, looking for any sign of regret in his face, but found she could not read him. "I admire your certainty, Spock," she added tonelessly.
"And I yours."
Apparently Vulcans were capable of irony as well as lying. Inclining her head in a half bow, she turned, dismissing him. A young man in a red shirt--a security officer, probably--fell into step behind her as the turbolift doors whisked closed. The empty Enterprise corridor extended in front of her, revealing a series of closed doors. She realized that she would never again walk through the corridors of her ship--Tal's ship, now.
Several Starfleet crewmembers rounded a corner ahead and strode past her, trying to get a good look without staring. Her gown felt uncomfortably tight. She thought she heard a whistle as the crewmen entered the lift. Behind her, the young security officer cleared his throat. "Ah...Ma'am? This room ahead, on the left." Absently she stopped in front of the guest quarters.
The door opened automatically, and she looked about, surprised. Kirk obviously meant to treat her well, though he still held two of her officers hostage somewhere on the ship, and apparently intended to keep them there until the Enterprise reached a Starbase. She hoped the Federation's methods of interrogation were more stringent than reported, comparable to her own Empire's techniques. To die during torture would be more honorable than to walk through the doors of the Imperial Council to face trial. To hear Tal testify against her.
It would take time to reach a base. And Starfleet might not turn her over to her own people right away. She would study human customs, learn all that she could. Force herself to speak and think in Federation standard. Avoid Spock at all costs.
The security officer had been parading about the quarters, pointing things out to her. She had not been listening. He stopped at the computer terminal. Silently, she absorbed his explanation for accessing documents for leisure reading. The ship's manuals, she understood, were off-limits without the captain's permission.
Aloud she said, "Thank you. While I am on this ship, I wish to read some of your Earth literature. Will I be permitted access?"
"Just call it up on the computer and you'll have our full history at your disposal. Will there be anything else, Ma'am?"
"So it is to be 'Ma'am,' is it? Not 'Commander.'"
"I, ah...if you have any further needs, Ma'am..." A phrase from her own language rose unbidden in her mind, but she put it quickly aside. Best not to think in her language until she was returned, until her sentencing.
"No, you may leave." He did not move, and she hesitated. "Thank you." He backed off leisurely, looking wide-eyed at her; had she said something inappropriate? She watched him catch himself, drop his eyes, exit quickly.
It did not take long to figure out the workings of the food synthesizer. The alcohol was weak and sweet, nothing like her own favorite ale which she understood to be banned throughout the Federation, but a comfort nonetheless. The mechanism for retrieving a standard ship's uniform proved harder to operate, but after a few tries she held a Starfleet command-issue gold outfit. After a brief battle with the hidden openings she pulled it on, tossing aside the despicable gown which she had intended to use to seduce Spock, but which had instead bought him time to betray her. She pulled the heavy earrings from her ears, tossed them with the gown into a drawer. She had worn no shoes since shedding her own uniform on her flagship. Another quick battle with the laundry programmer provided a pair of boots and stockings.
She studied herself in the mirror over the drawers. The gold uniform suited her dark skin, but she took no pleasure in her appearance, nor the ability to charm which had betrayed her. Sitting heavily down on the bed, she considered the prior few hours. Not five hours ago, the galaxy was hers. And she had let it slip away--from herself, and from her people. Everything had fallen into place; though Spock's betrayal had been painful, it had not really been a surprise, and in some ways the realization that she would have to execute him came as a relief.
Spock's death would have allowed her to remain the only hero of the expedition, and neatly ended the problem of whether and how she should fit him into her life. With Spock at her side, she would have had Tal's jealous adoration to worry about, plus her own fears about maintaining her power. Spock would have made a formidable competitor.
And had. She had been certain her soldiers would find his accomplice--and the cloaking device--on her ship. It was not until she heard the transporter whine, while Spock ranted through his charade of the Right of Statement, that she realized what Kirk had done. She flung her arms around Spock, assuming that, like her own ship's transporter, the Federation mechanism would malfunction if two individuals entered a beam calibrated for one. She expected the circuit to stop, or to destroy both Spock and herself. She thought that at the very worst, if the transporter worked, she would have the pleasure of laughing in Kirk's face just before Tal destroyed Kirk's ship.
Which Tal had failed to do, because Kirk had outsmarted them all. James Kirk, the greatest strategist in the galaxy--whose service she had foolishly believed that Spock might desire to leave. How weak she must appear to them, how ridiculous.
No matter. She would not have to dwell among them long. Spock's belief that she desired to stay with him rather than destroy him would prevent the Federation from learning that their transporters were superior to those of the Romulans. And many among her own people would appreciate her pursuit of a Vulcan. But they were no longer 'her' people. "They call us 'Romulans.'" She was startled to hear her own voice, speaking aloud in Spock's human language. "'When in Rome...'" She needed a new name, a new identity. Something from human culture, something appropriate. What name for the woman in a world transformed by her own folly? A wry smile touched her lips.
She had been reading Roman mythology for about an hour when the door buzzed. "Enter," she called, surprising herself with her authoritative tone. In strode James T. Kirk, sans arched eyebrows and pointed ears. "Commander," he smiled, inclining his head.
"Captain." She had risen as he spoke, and he stole a long gaze at her in the uniform of his ship.
"You would make a striking Starfleet officer," he noted.
"I assume this is not merely a social visit." She intended no sarcasm, but he raised his eyebrow again.
"Actually, I thought you might like a tour of the ship. Shall we?" He offered his arm. After a moment's hesitation she took it, with a smile of glass.
He walked with her toward the turbolift where Spock had disappeared. "I'm afraid we have some business to attend to which will keep us in this quadrant for several days longer." His eyes clouded. "The administrators posted near the Neutral Zone tend to have a tough stance toward Romulans. Which is necessary; we need them to be prepared to fight. But I think the local administrator might treat you...unwell, and I'd prefer to turn you directly over to a starbase."
She nodded, though a dangerous smirk threatened to burst through her reserved expression--maybe he needed a reminder that she did not need his protection, nor his condescension. But Kirk flashed a too-charming smile, very like the one he had greeted her with on her flagship, and added, "Starfleet Command has given me no orders yet concerning you, so I thought we might work out a deal. Now, if you promise to stay on good behavior and obey our security restrictions, I'll give you the freedom of the ship and let you off at Starbase Seven when we've completed our tasks here."
Perhaps he was offering her a way out, something with which to bribe the Imperial Council, in exchange for her life. "You have been most generous with me, Captain. Of course, I shall obey your restrictions." Spock had said those very words to her, and in fact he had honored them: he had trespassed only in those areas to which she had allowed him access.
"All right, then. Most of the scientific and social departments of the ship are located in this portion of the saucer. Sickbay, the rec deck, the arboretum, library, mess hall, observation lounge, holodeck and most crew quarters are within a few decks below or above us. You're welcome to use any of the facilities within those decks, provided you don't interfere with anyone's work or get into anyone's way. For obvious reasons I'm going to have to order you away from the bridge, engineering, the transporter rooms, the research labs, and security. If anyone catches you trying to communicate with your officers in the brig, you'll be confined to quarters. I hope you won't take it personally, but I've assigned an ensign to keep an eye on you, to make sure trouble stays away from you and vice versa."
"I wish only to observe Federation culture," she agreed, "and to study your research and teaching techniques." She could easily put off one human ensign if she wished, but she had no desire to be shamed and mocked by her own officers. Let them stay locked away, hearing only rumors.
"Well, now that I've told you the bad news, let me show you some of the amenities of being a guest on my ship." He showed her how to make special requests of the food synthesizers, demonstrated some of the athletic facilities, led her through his beloved gardens. She was struck anew at what a fool she had been in her offer to Spock, who had claimed that Romulan food was a powerful recruiting inducement. If her own officers could see the benefits on Federation ships, some of them might have defected themselves, seeking facilities that the Empire reserved for commanders alone.
"You seem tired," he said, watching her among the flowers.
The concern in his voice sounded genuine, and she realized that her feet ached, her back felt stiff, her eyes were refusing to focus properly. She nodded. "Perhaps you are right. I will return to my quarters."
"I'll walk you."
"That won't be necessary. I'm sure you have important matters to attend."
Kirk lifted his chin to protest, but one of the officers from the bridge--Sulu?--paged him as they entered the corridor, so he handed her off to a security officer and strode away. She nodded a quick farewell and ducked into the cabin they had given her, ignoring the guard who assumed a post beside her door.
Once inside, she allowed herself the luxury of putting her hands over her face, as she had longed to do on the bridge when her vessel overshot the Enterprise and vanished from the screen. She walked quickly across the room and sat on the bed, calculating her choices.