Disclaimer: Paramount and Viacom own Trek. I just like to play with their toys...
(Historian's note: this takes place in the first season of the original series, before the episode "Balance of Terror")
(Author's Note: Forgive the use of the name Skon. No connection is implied to any well-known ancestors of any well-known Vulcans.)
Captain Valentina Romanov:
USS Achilles, Saladin Class Destroyer, near the Romulan Neutral Zone.
"Captain's log, stardate 1724.5. We have left our assigned patrol along the distended end of the neutral zone to answer a distress signal from a Vulcan scientist on Cappa 3. The Achilles is going in, ready to make what might be the first contact with the Romulans for close to a hundred years. It is not an opportunity I approach with enthusiasm. This crew has spent more than its share of time skirmishing with the Klingons. We know our role as a border patrol, and we have an understanding of sorts with the Klingons. They come over and we push them back. It has the comfort of routine. But this hint of Romulans... is unsettling."
Romanov switched off the recorder and looked over the broad, bird shoulders of her Skorr helmsman T'Char at the viewscreen. Cappa 3 was dark and dismal. Uninspiring to anyone, with the possible exception of a Vulcan scientist. Or a Romulan. She turned back to Skon, who was suddenly at her side. There were times, she reflected, when the grey flecks in the Vulcan's hair seemed to multiply if he was concerned. Today they seemed to have doubled. "Lifesigns, Commander?"
"One. Very faint, and masked by magnetic interference."
"Is it our Vulcan scientist?"
Skon paused over his hooded viewer. "The readings are... atypical for a Vulcan." Then he turned to her. "The lifesigns are very weak, however. I would recommend expediency."
She cocked an aristocratic eyebrow at him. "Can I assume you don't recommend transporting through the interference?"
Skon managed to somehow look just a bit more Vulcan at that. Whether it was annoyance that she was presuming what he would say, or surprise at the same thing, she wasn't sure. And he never let on. "Affirmative."
"Right," she muttered dismissively. She tapped the comm panel on her console. "Hanger bay, prep a shuttle for immediate departure." She stood and moved to the turbolift. "T'Char, you're with me. Commander Skon, you have the bridge."
Ten minutes later, the shuttlecraft Enola Gay settled carefully onto the surface of Cappa 3.
Captain Romanov led her team out onto the surface. "Whatever hit here sure did a job!" she shouted above a screaming wind. There was a smell that the wind could not carry off. Chemicals. Cordite. And something else Romanov couldn't immediately identify. She looked to T'Char with questioning eyes.
"Plasma." The Skorr was quiet. "Look over here." As Romanov followed his gaze, he indicated where a nearby mountain peak had been completely obliterated. "This happened recently. The plasma burns on the rock are fresh."
"How long ago?" She started to wonder about their safety now.
"Less than an hour." T'Char was glancing nervously at the swirling storm clouds above them.
She knew T'Char too well to think that he was frightened. "Lieutenant, we didn't pick up any ships or other lifeforms. But keep that beak of yours pointed at the sky anyway. I want to find this Vulcan and get back to the ship."
Leathery wings had brought T'Char two metres up into the turbulent air. "He's just ahead. Less than fifty metres." T'Char's sense of smell and natural hunting instinct was more useful than a tricorder on planets like this.
With T'Char fighting his way through surface winds, and Captain Romanov leading two security guards across the bleak landscape, it took only minutes to reach the Vulcan.
The remains of the mountaintop almost covered the figure that was sprawled half out of a small tent. Green blood soaked into the dirt. Too much green blood. "Help me, T'Char." Romanov was struggling to remove a jagged rock that lay across the Vulcan's back. T'Char lifted the rock up easily, as Romanov gently rolled the prone figure onto his back. Then she felt a quick intake of breath as she saw his face. It was a human face, bleeding unmistakable green Vulcan blood.
Captain Romanov watched as Doctor Tyler applied a hypospray to his patient's arm. There was a quick hiss, and puffy eyelids fluttered open. The Vulcan with the human features and 'atypical' life readings woke up gently. Then, as he realised he was in sickbay onboard a ship, he tried to jump. Without a word, he struggled quickly against the straps holding him down. Then he looked up into Romanov's face, and relaxed. "You're safe," she muttered. To her, his unguarded actions spoke volumes. He had been caught doing something he shouldn't. "I am Captain Valentina Romanov of the Starship Achilles. What is your name?"
"My name is..." there was a hesitation, which trailed off to a heavy silence. "Stoke. My name is Stoke. Captain, I must be taken to Vulcan without delay."
Romanov stopped him with a stern and practised Tsarina gaze. "First things first. Who attacked you?" From the corner of her eye, she saw Skon's intense gaze. There were too many questions.
Stoke seemed to glance very quickly at Skon. Then he looked at Romanov with unseeing eyes. "It was a ship. It appeared from nowhere... as if it had an invisibility screen. There was no communication, but I saw a large bird of prey painted on the underside. The ship dipped into a low orbit, and fired an enveloping energy field comprised purely of plasma."
Romanov looked at Skon and mouthed a single word. "Romulan."
Stoke saw her. "Probable, Captain. It would be in keeping with their ships during the Earth/Romulan war. But Captain, I have information that I must get back to Vulcan without delay."
Romanov shook her head. "Whatever you have can wait. If the Romulans have returned, we need to deal with it here and now."
"Can I speak privately with you?" Stoke sounded agitated for a Vulcan. "This is a matter of great importance to Vulcan, and the Federation."
"More important than a Romulan invasion?" Romanov started to move away. She knew that would encourage Stoke to talk.
"In private, Captain." Stoke was more stubborn than any Vulcan she'd ever met, despite the softening edge of his human features.
Romanov nodded to Skon, and the red shirts she had close by. They left as a group. Then she looked at Stoke with fire in her eyes. "This had better be good." The Imperial haughtiness of the old Tsars served her well now. The hours her father Nicholas had spent teaching her in the Siberian camp came back effortlessly.
"There was a custom among my people, almost a thousand years ago. A way of passing information that could not be compromised, or corrupted. For centuries, it was shunned. Distrusted by the ruling faction on Vulcan. Even today, it is not spoken of."
Romanov couldn't keep the scepticism out of her voice. "And what would that be? All she saw were his hands that came up, barely pausing to break the straps that had held him down. "What--"
Gentle pressure on her temples. A voice foreign yet familiar. "I am the Tsar of all the Russias."
"You are not." Her voice. Her will coming to her defence. There were things in her awareness that were new. That didn't belong. That had been there before. The stamp of familiarity. The Delta Quadrant. Tricobolt torpedoes. Conspiracies. The twenty-fourth century. Sloane. Thirty-one.
This was her story, and she knew that. It was all new, yet it was really old news. It was the future, and the past. But what did it have to do with...
A huge bird, with two talons outstretched, holding worlds in those talons. A message to brothers on Vulcan...
Valentina Romanov found herself on the deck, and she stood. Stoke was prostrate. Strapped down. "I don't know how you did that, or for that matter just what you did. And discounting for the moment fantasies about the future..." Her thoughts in fact were still glued to the future. The conspiracy, and Mister Sloane...
"Captain?" Stoke's voice was like a knife. A fist that hit her across the face was TODAY.
"What was that all about? What is it you have to tell the Federation?"
Stoke seemed to relax visibly. "It is now in you. A Vulcan will be able to retrieve it. No one else will ever find it."
Romanov looked at him with distrust... he had attacked her in a way she had never conceived of. "I'll contact the Vulcans. The Vulcan ambassador." Whether it was in angry response to an attack, or the need to convey Stoke and his secret to Vulcan, she couldn't say for sure.
In the darkened, quiet, and very private confines of Captain Romanov's cabin, Stoke heard her speaking in hushed tones. He knew that she was speaking directly to the Vulcans, rather than the Federation. That was not quite what he had wanted, but it couldn't be helped. While her voice hummed secretively in the background, he examined carefully what he had found in her mind. Encrypted secrets. The trip to the 23rd Century from the 24th was shadowed. Romanov would have no conscious knowledge of that. There was also some question as to when she had apparently turned on her shipload of Section 31 personnel and dispatched them with creative use of a transporter. The Guardian of Forever, and the so-called 'Guardian Nursery' in the Delta Quadrant. There was, of course, the genetic engineering in her past. The cloned Tsar Nicholas who had reconquered the Old Russian Empire as Earth's Eugenics Wars had ground to a halt. He had left an heir... and so, through the years and generations had begat Valentina Romanov. But that didn't float to the top of Romanov's concerns. What did float to the top was the Voyager Conspiracy. And Mister Sloane. There was an empty patch. Something hidden to Romanov that even Stoke could not decipher.
"The Vulcans have dispatched their ambassador to escort you home."
Stoke had to pull his mind away from the jumble of secrets he had copied from her mind. "Home?"
Romanov felt as if her brain had been washed inside and out. So when the odd Vulcan Stoke seemed half asleep, she summoned an annoyed tone. "Vulcan. That is home, isn't it?" She immediately regretted the angry tone. Stoke had a vulnerability. And a passion. She felt drawn to him as she had never felt drawn to anyone. As if he knew more about her than she knew. And as if she was ready to tell him anything. "You aren't like any Vulcan I've ever met."
"Obviously you've never met a Vulcan who spent his life in the Romulan Empire."
Romanov's gasp asked the question that she suddenly could not. That elicited a small grin from Stoke. "I suddenly feel as if I can tell you anything," he muttered slyly, as he moved one hand up to casually sift through her long, straight reddish-brown hair. "Can you keep a secret?"
Romanov felt him wash through her. His mind... his fingers... his out-of-place smile. It was the same as before, yet somehow... more. Where the last had been a brush. A touch. A caress. This was a melding. His body was hard and unyielding, yet somehow a gentle playground. "Yes," was all she could say.
"I have a bit of Romulan blood in me. And I also have a big story to tell your Federation." His fingers continued their gentle invasion of her defences and disciplines. "I have much I would like to share with you. But a degree of intimacy is involved."
Her body knew the answer, and made it clear, even as her mind was considering. Her hands tried in vain to pull his left hand from her hair, as her body wriggled in sudden need and hunger. "Fire." The word hissed out from between clenched teeth.
He raised one eyebrow. "Indeed." His left hand took a fistful of hair for a second; long enough to tense her body and bend her head back with a delicious scent of not quite fear. He found his mouth and teeth at her throat. Tasting. Teasing. Not quite threatening. Desire. That was it, and Stoke suddenly laughed. His hand left her hair. Her mind and body were his now. There would be no need to physically do anything. And yet, her desire was sufficient to stir the old, long-disguised and covered up instincts. He slowly moved his hands to her shoulders. There he searched for a fastening, or a zipper, or other such instrumentality. Then the beast in him tired of searching, and his fingers yanked at the flimsy material. It tore quickly and easily, and her naked back was shivering under his touch.
Romanov could no longer distinguish between the fingers in her mind and the fingers burning trails down her back. The cool air of her cabin was suddenly a sweltering jungle. Fingers parted her buttocks, and pulled her close to the animal... the man... the animal that had her. His hardness lay flat against her, pent up and hungry and eager to push into her. It was impossibly big, and its obvious desire equally unbelievable. She thought briefly of his words. 'Obviously you've never met a Vulcan who spent his life in the Romulan Empire', and she knew instinctively that he was not a Vulcan. He was a Romulan, regardless of his green Vulcan blood, and his rounded, decidedly human features. The desire suddenly went cold at the realization. She was, literally, sleeping with the enemy. She felt his mental fingers probing her mind, and they were as easy to sidestep and deceive as the awkward advances of a teenaged boy. Her mind stroked his mental probes, as her body took his member in and let him plumb her hungrily. Now that she understood him, the mental hold was gone. It wasn't really a power, she mused, as the Romulan/Human hybrid slammed into her. It was a parlor trick. It was learned, rather than inherent. The question of Stoke essentially settled in her mind, she allowed him to continue to plumb and split and twist and turn her around as she thought over the efficiency report that was due in a week.
Thirty minutes later, Romanov was zipping up a spare uniform and contemplating the sweating figure asleep in her bed. "Stoke!" He awoke with a start. She saw him look around quickly, like a startled animal, then settle down. "We both have big secrets, don't we?" She was using the thick, Russian Tsarina purr that worked on everyone. Humans and aliens alike.
Stoke brushed a lock of hair from his eyes. "It would seem to be in our best interests to maintain these secrets."
She smiled like a very hungry Cheshire cat. "Yes. But there may come a time when it ceases to be in my best interest. Do you understand that, my pretty little Romulan?"
He raised an eyebrow to counter her aggression. "Obviously."
A comm panel beeped with what seemed to be timidity. "Skon to Captain Romanov."
Romanov smiled once more, hoping to cloud Stoke's reasoning just a bit. "Go ahead, Commander."
"The Vulcan transport Tal Shaya has come alongside."
"Thank you." She saw that Stoke was genuinely uncomfortable. "Have their transport officer coordinate with ours to safely beam their party directly to my cabin. Then I want you to disable all internal sensors and comm channels in or out of here. I'll use a communicator for further contact."
That was what Romanov loved about Skon. Nothing but nothing fazed him. He asked no questions. Ever. "Excellent. Romanov out."
Less than a minute passed before the Vulcans appeared in her cabin. No. One was a human female. Romanov looked to the Ambassador for an explanation, but suddenly found, when she saw his face, that she couldn't speak.
Stoke looked first to the startled face of the human woman who had beamed in with the Vulcan. Then he looked to the Vulcan ambassador, and despite years of training to think like a Vulcan, he gasped. It was himself... almost.
Romanov found her voice first. "Ambassador. Welcome to the USS Achilles. My name is Captain Valentina Romanov." She was startled. More than she had ever been in years of space travel and undercover dealings for Section 31. The Vulcan ambassador, whom she had heard of but never met, could have been a father, or at least an older brother to Stoke. But even that didn't say it. It was as if Stoke were an earlier print of Ambassador Sarek, from perhaps ten years earlier, and someone had brushed away all of the distinctive Vulcan features to make Stoke. It was like seeing Sarek as a human. Except for that... "Forgive me, Ambassador, but..." her words trailed off.
Sarek saw the human Captain's eyes widen. "Captain, she who is my wife." He indicated Amanda, who was silent. Then he turned to Stoke. It was as if he were looking at himself from years ago. Yet his physical appearance was undoubtedly human. Without letting his gaze leave Stoke, he spoke to Romanov. "I am honoured to serve. May I speak with your guest--?" This is where Sarek hesitated, because he did not wish to offend Captain Romanov. The situation was tenuous in the extreme.
"Alone?" Romanov thought that Sarek seemed on edge. And that made her nervous.
Sarek cleared his throat. "Forgive me, Captain. Not alone. But without you in the room." There were times, Sarek thought, when you simply could not spare their frail egos.
Romanov turned the accent up to full. "Certainly, Ambassador. I am honoured to serve." She picked up a communicator and flipped it open. "Skon, release the seal on my cabin for me to exit. Then lock it again." She glanced at the ambassador's wife, who looked concerned for her husband. She gave the impression of someone who had stepped from a holiday into a nightmare. Romanov felt pity for the woman. Then she cocked an eyebrow at the ambassador. "Use the communicator when you need to speak with me." She pushed it towards him slightly and rose to leave. "Take care, Ambassador." She left without looking at Stoke.
Sarek regarded Stoke quickly. Ancient, banished emotions pounded away in the background, like the distant echo of long-silenced drums. "Please explain your existence." His eyes were locked on the impossibly familiar features. "And your appearance."
Stoke stood so quickly that Amanda jumped back. She saw the slight sheen of sweat that clung to Stoke's forehead like an animal. This... was he a son? A clone? If he was a son, shouldn't he look like Spock? Would she have to learn to love it?
Stoke could almost smell the revulsion from the human woman. "I am not a son, Madam. Nor a clone." Stoke knew from Romanov's 'files' that the Romulans would eventually trade in an infamous clone. But not yet. "I am a Romulan. With a share of human blood. The reason they thought I was a Vulcan is going to be rather a shock to the Federation. And perhaps a death-knell to the comfortable relationship Vulcan enjoys with Earth."
"And why is that?" It was Amanda, who could no longer be silent in the face this man.
"My wife--" Sarek did not want her involved.
Stoke's voice was silk. Honey, laced with venom. "Because, dear Lady, the Romulans and the Vulcans are brothers. Only separated by a thousand years. The humans will learn that the dreaded unseen Romulans who threatened Earth just a short time ago are related quite closely to the beings with whom they share their deepest intimacies." He leered at her.
Sarek knew that it was all possible. He wanted to hide Stoke away where he would never be seen. He also felt the rumblings of the past. The need to protect his mate. "You have not explained your appearance. You claim to be--"
Stoke smiled. "My father commands the greatest warship in the Empire. But he has a shame. A human woman that he found huddled in the bowels of a passenger liner that had strayed into Gamma Hydra." He looked at Amanda. "The Romulans claim that system. Did you know that? I wonder when Starfleet will learn that." Stoke thought about that with longing. "But I digress. My mother was a human. In this case," he indicated his eyebrows and ears, "the human genes were predominant. I look human. But the insides are all Vulcan. Well, Romulan. Well, same thing really. When the humans see just how close I am to you, they will start to question their choice of friends. And that, my Vulcan brother, is the beginning of the end."
Sarek knew that it was all highly improbable. He also knew that sometimes the improbable happened. What was required here was a tactical move. Stoke felt he had an advantage, and Sarek thought he should equalize matters. "Is this why you simulated an attack on Cappa 3?" He saw Stoke's eyebrows go up, and pressed his advantage home. "Captain Romanov informs me that they examined the impact crater from orbit while you were sedated. It was obvious that you detonated the 'plasma torpedo' yourself. You did this to gain sympathy?"
Stoke smiled, in spite of the turmoil in his mind. "Captain Romanov can be most sympathetic."
Sarek was compelled to raise his eyebrow. "Indeed. She is also a Starfleet officer, with an uncharacteristic respect for diplomatic sensibilities. She contacted the Vulcan High Council as soon as she came to believe that you were Vulcan. When she, in her words, saw the colour of your blood. Then she spoke with me, less than a day ago. I was on vacation with my wife when we were diverted here. And again, an hour ago, she told me everything she knew about you. Everything. The humans have shown already that they are untroubled by you." As Sarek watched Stoke lower his head, he thought briefly of the ability of Vulcans to lie when it was the logical thing to do. "You will not pose a threat to the Federation." And when the truth was the harshest of instruments to wield.
Epilogue Part One
Romanov was happy to have all of the guests off of her ship. She liked Sarek, though she thought his son was cuter than he was. But she worked better without telepaths on the opposing team. "Ambassador, I will not tell anyone. I promised that already. But I want to know where he is." Sarek could still be frustrating, even through a comm channel. But that just made him sexier. "I think I have a right to know."
Sarek was Sarek. Polite and maddening and as yielding as tritanium. "I will submit your request to the proper authorities. Forgive me, Captain. I have obligations. If you will excuse me."
Romanov knew when to quit. "Acknowledged, Ambassador. Mene sakkhet ur-seveh." She was rewarded with a raised eyebrow.
"Peace, and long life." Sarek closed the channel, and thought briefly of the roguish Captain Romanov. Then he turned to Amanda. "She is unique."
Amanda didn't care about Romanov. "Where is Stoke?"
"Why must you know?"
"Because he makes me nervous." Amanda didn't say that she saw her son in the eyes that were too familiar and too alien at the same time.
"Stoke is safe." Sarek was not satisfied with what had become of Stoke, but he had seen little alternative to the decision of his government. There was simply too much danger of his prediction coming true to loose him on the galaxy. "He is out of the way of history."
Epilogue Part Two
Stoke looked out of the porthole that would be the first and last that he ever saw of Vulcan. The view of the red planet from the confines.... they had refused to admit that it was exile... the confines of Vulcan Space Central was unsatisfying. It was a reminder of what he had tried to do, to bring chaos to the woman from Earth who had made his life chaos, and made his noble father an unhappy and lonely warrior. The secrets of the woman Romanov was now doomed to die with him in this cell, from which the Vulcans promised to care for him for the remainder of his natural life. And Stoke, he gathered, speaking of himself and too himself, because his was now the only voice.... Stoke would encourage no more fires. A tear welled up in his eye, and for a moment, blurred his view of Vulcan.