By Christina Moore
Kayleigh Archer took a nervous breath as she stepped off of the turbolift onto the bridge. She hadn’t been up here but once since coming aboard Columbia just a few weeks ago, and now the first officer wanted to speak to her in the conference room.
But about what? she kept asking herself.
Okay, that wasn’t really too hard to figure out. After all, she’d been held hostage by a Maquis terrorist not even an hour ago. The guy had threatened to break her neck. Certainly he wanted to speak to her about the incident, even though Captain Regan had already told her that the record clearly showed neither she, nor Wilson or Captain Bennington, had done anything wrong.
She frowned. Commander Silmar had been present for that meeting. He had concurred with the captain’s view of the incident. So what else could he have to say?
Archer paused just outside the sensor range of the door to the conference room. The Vulcan who had threatened her, Tahir, had been escorted to the bridge. No one who’d been on the bridge at the time they had communicated with the runabout was allowed to speak of the incident. Tahir had not yet been brought back to the brig—surely she wasn’t being asked up here to confront the guy. What purpose would that serve?
Drawing another deep breath, Kayleigh shored up her nerves and stepped within range of the door’s sensor, triggering it to open. Inside she stopped short, for she saw both Commander Silmar and Tahir sitting at the conference table. There were no guards anywhere in sight.
When in doubt, fall back on protocol, one of her academy instructors had said. So she decided to do just that.
Standing stiffly at attention, she said, “Ensign Archer reporting as requested, sir.”
“Please, Ensign, come and sit down,” Silmar said. “Tahir has something he would like to say to you.”
She started to take a step forward, then found herself stopping in midstride. Returning to her previous, stiff-backed stance, Archer said, “Begging the commander’s pardon, but anything the prisoner wishes to say to me, he can say to me while I stand here. Sir.”
Tahir stood slowly, and on reflex Archer took a step back, reaching for the sidearm she did not have. At the same time, the Vulcan man held his hands up in front of him in a placating manner.
“Please, Ensign Archer,” he began, “there is no need for you to be frightened. I have no wish to harm you.”
“Yeah, well you coulda fooled me, pal,” she snapped back, reaching for her commbadge. “Security to the briefing room!”
Silmar called out a second later, “Security, this is Commander Silmar. Belay that order.”
Bennington’s voice came over the intercom, and they all heard his hesitation even though he replied, “Yes, sir.”
The commander stood then. “Tahir, sit down. It would seem we have undertaken the wrong approach to making amends.”
Tahir looked at him and nodded. “Yes, Father,” he said, and returned to his seat.
Archer’s eyes went wide. “’Father’?” she repeated with incredulity. “This guy is your son?!”
Silmar placed his hands together behind his back and nodded slowly. “Yes, Ensign. Not only is Tahir my son, he is a special agent with the Federation Security Bureau. He was on assignment to infiltrate the Maquis, and this has been verified by myself and Captain Regan.”
Tahir turned his head to look at her. “I arranged for the escape of Rkasi Cen in order to get myself arrested with the members of my cell, so as to be able to come in and report to my superiors. My actions in the brig are regrettable, but they were necessary.”
Archer scoffed. “Necessary?” she countered, her tone snarky. “Explain to me, if you think you can, how the hell threatening to break my neck was necessary.”
A muscle twitched in Tahir’s jaw, something she’d never seen in a Vulcan. If he really was the commander’s son, he couldn’t be that old—probably not much older than she, which might explain that momentary emotional display. But then what the hell did she know? And really, what did she care?
“I had the misfortune of earning a reputation among the Maquis for being ruthless,” Tahir explained. “Such was also unfortunately necessary to legitimize the presence of a logical being seeking a place among terrorists. As such, I knew that those with me, Quinton Pohler in particular, would expect me to do something drastic in an attempt to free us. I truly regret having caused you to fear for your life.”
She stared at him for a long moment, into eyes of blue that he had clearly inherited from his mother, for the commander’s eyes were so dark brown they may as well have been black.
“So you’re…apologizing to me?” she said at last.
Tahir nodded. “Yes, Ensign. I am sorry to have frightened you. I regret that I was forced to do so, as I saw no other recourse.”
Archer felt herself relax—but only a little bit. “You couldn’t have just told us who you were in the brig?” she asked.
The hint of a smile appeared on his face, though he contained it rather quickly. “Hindsight has shown me that such would have been a more than acceptable alternative to my actions—after all, we were in custody, which was what my plan had been from the start; however, again I must cite the expectations of my former Maquis associates. I acted according to what I knew they would expect, not as I should have done.”
Archer smirked. “You’re obviously not as good a spy as you thought you were,” she said, feeling more of the tension leave her and her shoulders relaxing yet further.
“On the contrary—getting in was easy, Ensign. It was the getting out I had difficulty with.”
She looked down for a moment to clear her throat before she looked up again. “Is there anything else you require, Commander?”
Silmar shook his head. “No, Ensign. You are dismissed.”
Archer nodded, and after casting another glance at Tahir, she turned smartly and walked out of the conference room.
“Un-freaking-believable,” she muttered as she walked across the back level of the bridge toward the turbolift.
The giant hulk of a tactical officer they had turned to her at that moment, making her jump when he spoke to her. “You alright, Ensign?”
Archer took a breath to calm her jumpy nerves. “I think I’ll be alright, sir,” she said, feeling heat color her cheeks. “I just…wasn’t expecting that.”
The Orion nodded, then leaned down and whispered conspiratorially. “If it makes you feel any better, kid, neither were any of us.”
She grinned then, feeling the rest of the tension leak away as she nodded and started once more for the lift.
Ryan Bennington looked up as Kayleigh Archer returned to the security office and sat down across from him, in one of the visitors’ chairs on the other side of his desk. He blinked in surprise as she jumped up suddenly and began to pace.
“Everything alright, Ensign Archer?” he asked carefully.
She walked back and forth with her hands on her hips, shaking her head and muttering unintelligibly. Finally she stopped and looked at him, saying, “Permission to speak freely, sir?”
Bennington sat back, regarding her with curiosity. She was one of the many ensigns aboard ship that would have graduated this year—this month, even, as it was now June—had it not been for the war. She had been assigned to Columbia just before their engagement at Selva for her midshipman cruise, and she had proven herself right from the start to be a smart, tough little cookie. It was what had earned her an early commission to ensign before the war had ended.
But despite proving her mettle in battle, Ensign Archer had always been fairly reserved and quiet. She didn’t usually speak to superior officers unless spoken to first, so her current animation was something of a surprise.
“Granted,” he told her.
“You’re not going to freaking believe this!” she all but exploded, gesticulating wildly. “That freaking Vulcan who said he would kill me before you could shoot him is the son of our first officer.”
Bennington felt his eyes widen. “You’re shitting me,” he said, shock lacing his voice.
“Oh, no, sir,” Archer replied, beginning to pace again. “He’s Commander Silmar’s son. And there’s more: He’s FSB, apparently. A freaking spook that was assigned to infiltrate the Maquis, that’s why he was with them. He arranged to break some guy out so that he could come in without suspicion or some such nonsense, and he wrapped his hands around my freaking throat because that’s what his Maquis buddies expected him to do. You wanna know why I was just called up to the bridge? Because he wanted to apologize to me! That asshole threatened to kill me and he wanted to apologize for it!”
Concern immediately overrode his surprise at the news about Tahir, and Bennington rose from his chair, walking around the desk to take the young woman pacing agitatedly by the shoulders to hold her still. He looked into her eyes and found them wide, and he realized that she was nowhere near as fine as she was trying to convince herself she was.
“Kayleigh, I’m gonna sound like an idiot in about two seconds, but try to calm down, okay?”
Archer laughed mirthlessly. “Sorry, sir,” she said after a moment. “I guess I am a little worked up.”
“More than a little, I’d wager,” the Marine returned. “Maybe you need to go see one of the counselors, hmm?”
Archer shook her head. “Oh, no, I’ll be alright. It just sounds so stupid that somebody threatened to kill me and he was apologizing to me, basically saying he was only doing his job. Like that’s supposed to freaking make it okay!”
Bennington nodded. “It doesn’t make it okay,” he agreed, releasing her shoulders as he looked at her. “And I wasn’t making a suggestion, Ensign. I want you to talk to a counselor about what happened today. Given what I just saw, I think you need to deal with how his actions and the truth are making you feel.”
Clearly she didn’t want to, but he’d told her indirectly that he was making it an order. Truthfully, they were all going to have to speak to Anjali or one of the other counselors at some point—it was SOP after a hostage situation for all parties involved.
Of course, it was a good thing he’d had a few more years in than she, as experience made it far easier for him to conceal his own feelings on the matter. FSB agent and son of the first officer or not, if he ever had the opportunity, he’d throttle that Vulcan on principle alone.
Archer nodded silently as Commander Silmar’s voice came over the intercom. “Silmar to Bennington. Please report to Transporter Room Two.”
“Acknowledged, Commander,” Bennington replied to the summons, then looked at Archer. “Call up Lt. ch’Tharian for me, and fill him in on our prisoners and anything else he doesn’t already know.”
Archer nodded. “Yes, sir,” she said.
He studied her a moment longer and then nodded, heading for the door, turning back as he crossed the threshold to say, “And Archer—vent like that couple more times, and I’m pretty sure you will be alright.”
When Bennington stepped into the transporter room a few minutes later, he started, even though he had been half expecting to see Tahir given what Archer had told him. Regaining his composure quickly, he stepped up to Commander Silmar.
“Reporting as ordered, sir,” he said.
Silmar nodded. “Thank you for your prompt response, Mr. Bennington. Have you spoken to Ensign Archer recently?”
Bennington nodded. “Ensign Archer returned to the security office prior to your summons, sir. If she was not free to speak to me—”
“No, it is alright, Captain,” the first officer interrupted him. “Had she not spoken to you, eventually someone else would have, or certainly I would have.”
Tahir spoke up then. “I would like to offer you my apologies as well, Captain Bennington,” he said.
“You didn’t scare me, Vulcan.”
The other man inclined his head. “Be that as it may, as I explained to Ensign Archer, I was acting in accordance with the character I was portraying, and upon reflection I have come to realize that I should have revealed myself to you immediately instead of acting as I did.”
The control that Bennington prided himself on became strained, and it was only through sheer force of will that he didn’t do anything more than speak through clenched teeth.
“You’re damn right you should have,” he said, turning to face Tahir fully. “I just had to order one of my security officers into counseling because you’ve got her head so damn screwed up. If getting yourself arrested was the point, why the hell bother with the escape? Just because your Maquis friends expected it of you? That’s bullshit, man, even you have to know that.”
“That will do, Captain,” Silmar warned.
Tahir turned to him. “No, Father, it is alright. Captain Bennington is entitled to his anger. I should have thought things through more thoroughly and done what an FSB agent would have done, not what was expected of me by the Maquis.”
His father turned to him with one eyebrow raised. “Then this incident will serve as a learning experience for you. You will not make the same mistake again.”
Bennington tried not to roll his eyes as Tahir nodded. “Was there something in particular you required from me, Commander?” he asked Silmar.
“Yes, Mr. Bennington. Captain Regan has determined you and I shall fly the Denobulan freighter to Sanctuary while Columbia transports the Maquis prisoners to a penal facility.”
“How long will we be away, sir?” the Marine asked.
“I believe Columbia will retrieve us in approximately three days,” Silmar replied.
“If you are worried about hygiene or clothing, Captain, it is not necessary,” Tahir put in. “The freighter’s replicator systems are in working order, as well as the bathing facilities.”
“Will he be accompanying us, Commander?” Bennington went on, ignoring Tahir.
“Tahir will go with us to Sanctuary, from where he will depart our company in order to report to his superiors in the Federation Security Bureau,” Silmar replied. He then studied Bennington with a well-trained eye.
“Is there a problem, Captain?” he asked.
Bennington looked the commander square in the eye. “No, sir,” he lied smoothly, though he was fairly certain both Silmar and Tahir were well aware he was not pleased in the least that Tahir was going along.
“Then as soon as the last of Lt. Serri’s engineering teams beam aboard, we will get underway,” Silmar said, turning to speak to the transporter operator.
Mentally Bennington calculated how long it would take them to get to Sanctuary—just under two hours. He hoped that Tahir would depart their company immediately upon arrival, because he wanted to spend as little time with him as possible. Even the two hours of their flight time was two hours too much.
He groaned inwardly. This is going to be a long damn trip.
Not yet half an hour into the trip to Sanctuary, Bennington was ready to scream. Or pound his fist into something—preferably Tahir’s face. Certainly the younger man of whom he dreamed pounding into a pulp—not to mention the guy’s father (and his own superior officer)—would call his current state an emotional over-reaction.
But damn it, he couldn’t help it. The one problem he’d always had with Vulcans was how they always seemed so blasé about stuff that to most other species had really profound emotional impact. While part of him could understand that Tahir was playing a part—that he had to live up to the expectations of his character that the Maquis had—there was just no excuse for taking it as far as he did. No excuse for threatening to break the neck of Kayleigh Archer when he had no intention of actually doing so. It was the threat of deadly force that mattered, and the fact that he had apologized for it, claiming he was just playing a part, that almost made it worse than the act itself.
And yeah, there was a part of Ryan that was pissed at himself for being helpless to do anything about it. He’d been unable to do anything but stand there like a tree trunk while someone was threatening one of his officers, and he didn’t think he was ever going to forget the look in Archer’s eyes when Tahir wrapped his hands around her neck, how they’d gone wide with terror even though she had maintained that she was okay. Kayleigh Archer was a kid, a virtual innocent. She might have been through hell and back during the war but damn it, she didn’t deserve to have her life threatened so casually, for the person who had frightened her so deeply to blow it off with the excuse that he had been playing a part.
No. That just didn’t cut it.
Commander Silmar had directed him to take position as pilot of the freighter, and had taken the operations console for himself. Tahir was directly behind his father. And even though the younger Vulcan had not spoken to him since before they were transported aboard from Columbia, Bennington’s thoughts kept drifting back to Archer’s frenetic outburst in the security office, and to Tahir’s casual dismissal in the transporter room. His blood steadily bubbled to a boil, and suddenly he just couldn’t stand to be in the same room with the guy.
“Commander,” he said, turning to Silmar. “I’d like to take a trip to the engine room. Not that I’m questioning Darien’s work or anything, I just would like to get a look at the setup for myself. I’ve never seen this class of freighter up close before.”
Silmar looked at him and nodded. “Granted, Captain. A more thorough knowledge of this vessel would be beneficial in the unfortunate circumstance of a breakdown.”
Bennington nodded and after keying a few commands into his console, he stood and brushed past Tahir on his way out of the cramped cockpit.
As the Human man left, Tahir rose and claimed the seat he had vacated on his father’s left. At first he merely stared out the windows at that pinpoints of light streaking past, then turned to his father contemplatively.
“Father, am I correct in discerning that Captain Bennington is not pleased with my presence here?”
Silmar did not look up from the readout he was studying as he replied, “You are correct.”
Tahir thought he would say nothing more, and was just turning his chair to face forward again when his father turned in his own. He stayed as he was.
“In the three years I have known him,” the older Vulcan began, “I have determined that Captain Bennington possesses an unnaturally high degree of pride. He does not react well to any insult or threat, whether it is against himself or one of his subordinates—which in retrospect, indicates that he is well-suited to being a soldier.”
“Then he is angry with me—not only because I threatened Ensign Archer, but because he was powerless to stop me?” Tahir queried.
Silmar nodded. “In addition, my son, I suspect he feels—as Humans are wont to say—that you have ‘added insult to injury’ by apologizing to both himself and Ensign Archer.” He then looked away for a moment, then back at Tahir. “Then again, perhaps it is not the apology itself, but the manner in which you did so.”
Tahir frowned, quickly recovering and schooling his expression. “I do not understand,” he said.
“It is difficult for many species who allow emotions to influence their judgment to understand when we are sincere in our regret, Tahir,” Silmar told him. “Mr. Bennington and Ensign Archer may not believe you regret your actions because they do not feel your sincerity in your words.”
The younger man fought another frown. “How can anyone feel an emotion in words? That is illogical.”
Silmar nodded again. “Perhaps. However, another thing I have learned in my years with Starfleet is that emotional beings believe they can ‘feel’ the emotions behind words by listening to the tone, decibel, cadence, and inflection in the speech of another.”
Tahir contemplated that for a moment, then stood. “I will go and speak to him again. I do not wish our trip to be unpleasant.”
“As you wish,” Silmar said, then turned back to his console.
Tahir turned and walked out of the cockpit. He moved down the short corridor to the main part of the ship, but had to stop and think for a moment which direction the engine room lay in before the memory came to him and he turned left. He followed the curve of the ship’s corridor until he came to the open archway of the engine compartment, where he found Bennington bent over the compact warp drive generator.
“Mr. Bennington, may I speak with you a moment?” he asked.
“I’ve got nothing to say to you,” Bennington said without looking up from his study of the machinery.
Tahir restrained a frustrated sigh and placed his hands together behind his back as he took a number of deep, calming breaths. Not even during his time with the Maquis had he felt his discipline and control so challenged, yet ever since meeting this particular Human—or more to the point, since he had committed his erroneous act in Columbia’s brig this morning—he had continuously found himself hard-pressed to control his emotions. He made a mental note to ask his father what the first signs of pon farr were. Tahir knew he was still much too young for his first mating season, but he would certainly not be the first Vulcan to undergo it earlier than was usual.
“Then perhaps you will do me the courtesy of listening,” he said slowly, “as I wish to ensure that you understand I am sincere in my regret as to this morning’s incident.”
Bennington stood at looked at him disdainfully. “As if you really give a damn whether we believe you or not,” he said.
Tahir’s eyebrows winged up. “I simply wish to make clear to you that—”
Bennington stepped closer. “Allow me to make something clear to you, pal,” he broke in heatedly. “A real man, when he apologizes to someone, doesn’t cover up said apology with flimsy excuses. If you were really sorry for what you’d done to Kayleigh, you wouldn’t have been such an ass as to even attempt to excuse what you did.”
“I explained my reasons—”
The next thing Tahir knew, Bennington had pushed him across the corridor and up against the wall, placing a forearm across his throat and pressing hard enough that he had trouble drawing breath. Although younger by a number of years, he knew that he was stronger due to his Vulcan physiology and could easily have pushed Bennington away. But he made no move yet to free himself.
“A reason is not an excuse!” the Marine spat angrily. “There is no excuse for threatening the life of someone you have no intention of killing, for terrorizing a young girl so deeply that she may need several sessions of counseling to deal with it. You traumatized her enough that she could have nightmares. This could haunt her for weeks, years even, and for what? Huh? Because you weren’t ready to blow your cover in front of your Maquis friends? Because they expected you to break them out?”
With a snort of disgust, Bennington released him and stepped away. “You didn’t see what I saw in her eyes. She really thought she was going to die when you had your hands around her throat, and then you tell her it’s because you were playing a part? That’s fuckin’ pathetic, man—beyond pathetic. And Kayleigh Archer deserves better than that.”
“You are correct, Mr. Bennington,” Tahir said slowly as he straightened. “I…”
He allowed himself to sigh this time. “It would appear that in my quest to fully control my emotions, I have lost a great deal of my understanding of them and how they affect others. I did not consider the consequences of my actions before I undertook them and it appears that not doing so was quite the costly error.”
“Oh really, you think?”
Tahir looked at him for a long moment before saying, “I really am sorry.”
Then he turned and started back for the cockpit, stopping and turning back slowly when Bennington called his name. “Yes, Mr. Bennington?”
Bennington took a step closer. “Now that is an apology,” he said.
Tahir looked back at him, and seeing that Bennington was not being facetious, he offered him a small smile, and nodding, turned away again.