Thursday, May 15, 2014

"The Trouble with Women"

By Christina Moore
_____ 


“Commander, we have arrived at the rendezvous coordinates. Ensign Sylari is not here.”

Lt. Comm. Amaura Rafaeli glanced up from the security logs she was reading on a PADD and regarded the Gamma Shift pilot with a raised eyebrow. “It is possible her departure was delayed for one reason or another,” she said mildly. “She was attending a wedding, after all. Mr. Reensek, run continuous scans for the Emerald Isle. Let me know when the ensign arrives.”

The little man sitting at the Operations station nodded without looking back at her. “Will do,” he called over his shoulder as he entered commands into his console.

*****

Reensek turned around, appearing mildly alarmed. “Commander Rafaeli, it’s been an hour,” he said. “Still no sign of Sylari.”

Rafaeli set the PADD aside and stood. “It’s been an hour already?” she asked, and Reensek nodded. “It is unlike Sylari to not to notify us if she were going to be more than a few minutes late.”

“Which she rarely is, ma’am,” Reensek added. “Vulcans are pretty severe in their punctuality.”

“Indeed, Lieutenant,” she replied with a nod. Placing her hands on her hips, she glanced toward the viewscreen, which Reensek had activated when he’d begun his scans an hour ago. All she saw, of course, were the bright dots of distant stars.

“Engage long-range sensors and extend the search radius as far as they will let you. I’m going to make a call to Deep Space Nine and see if they have a record of her departure and flight plan,” the security chief said.

Reensek nodded and turned back to his console, quickly entering the commands as Rafaeli turned and walked back to the second officer’s chair, in which she had been sitting previously, to activate the console there and engage the communications system. It took several minutes due to the distance, but she was finally able to establish a commlink with Deep Space Nine, and she entered the commands to bring the visual up on the screen.

A Ferengi in Operations yellow with the rank pins of a lieutenant, junior grade appeared on the screen a moment later.

“This is Lt. Nog of Deep Space Nine, Ireland. How may I be of service to you?” he asked.

Rafaeli stood and moved to the center of the bridge, offered him a smile and replied with, “I am Lt. Commander Amaura Rafaeli, Mr. Nog, Ireland’s Chief of Security. Our conn officer was visiting the station for a wedding—a friend with whom she attended Starfleet Academy was to be wed in the Bajoran temple yesterday afternoon. She is an hour late for her return.”

Nog, the Human observed, appeared to draw himself up even taller, almost as if standing at relaxed attention, and his expression grew serious. “May I have her name please, and the name of the vessel she was traveling on?”

“Ensign Sylari,” Rafaeli said. “She is Vulcan, and was traveling in a Sovereign-class Captain’s yacht belonging to the Ireland. It is called the Emerald Isle.”

Nog nodded and moved back to the central table in the Ops center, entering commands into one of the stations. After a few moments he looked up and said, “According to our records, the Emerald Isle departed as scheduled seven hours ago. The ensign’s flight plan indicates a travel time of six hours and a direct route to your present coordinates—I will transmit the flight plan to you.”

“Appreciated, Lieutenant,” Rafaeli replied.

Nog stepped forward again after he had entered the commands to transmit into the console. “Commander, would you like me to send someone out to begin a search?”

“If I may,” spoke up Reensek, “Sanctuary is halfway between us and you. Perhaps they should begin the search?”

“Lt. Reensek is right,” Rafaeli conceded, “though I do appreciate the offer.”

“Is there anything else I can do for you then, Commander?” Nog asked.

The Brazilian smiled again, pleasantly surprised by a Ferengi who was so eager to help someone else. Must be the Starfleet training, she mused silently. “Actually, if you could transmit our request for assistance to Sanctuary on our behalf, I would appreciate it. It will give us time to conduct more scans, and I must alert our captain to the situation.”

Nog nodded. “I will be more than happy to help. Deep Space Nine out.”

After another nod, the screen went back to the starfield before them. Rafaeli stepped up next to Reensek. “Have you gotten anything on long-range sensors?”

Reensek entered a few more commands into his console, then shook his head. “’Fraid not, Commander,” he replied.

She looked over at the helm. “What about the flight plan?”

The younger woman sitting at the pilot’s station looked up. “I studied the flight plan as soon as we received it, ma’am. Lt. Nog was right—it shows an estimated travel time of six hours, and the route was direct. And having someone from Sanctuary help in the search was a good idea, since Ensign Sylari would have passed right through the Trivas system.”

Rafaeli tried and failed to suppress a frown. Her hands went to her hips as she thought over what little they knew—and how she was going to inform the captain.

Reensek’s console beeped. “Commander, Sanctuary says they’re sending someone out to search between there and DS9. Apparently a rogue meteor shower passed through the area about four hours ago, which is why they’re going to search that area first, to make sure Ensign Sylari didn’t run into any trouble because of it.”

Rafaeli sighed. “Thank you, Mr. Reensek—you have the bridge. I’m going to go do what every officer dreads doing.”

“What’s that?” said the ensign manning the helm.

Despite the situation, Rafaeli had to grin. “Wake the captain up in the middle of the night.”

*****

She had rung the door chime twice, and was nervously tapping her foot as she waited for the captain to answer. Rafaeli was just reaching over to ring it a third time when the door hissed open to reveal a bleary-eyed Jerome Callahan.

He rubbed a hand over his face and yawned as he said, “Commander, I don’t think I need to point out that it is after four in the morning… and I am not due on the bridge until seven. This had better be good—you interrupted a rather pleasant dream.”

She knew that he knew she’d never have come down here if it weren’t about something vitally important, and that his grumbling was just a matter of form. Playing along, she schooled her expression to one of regret—not that it took much effort, as she was sorry she’d had to wake him and be the bearer of such bad news. Clearing her throat, she said, “It is, Captain. Ensign Sylari is more than an hour overdue. Long-range sensors have found no sign of the Emerald Isle and DS9 reports that she left as scheduled just over seven hours ago. Her flight plan, as we estimated before she left, was for a six hour flight to our present location.”

Instantly Callahan was as alert as if his sleep had not been interrupted. “Have they begun a search?” he asked.

“Sanctuary was notified as she’d have passed through the Trivas System on her way here, and they are sending someone out to search between there and Deep Space Nine. Apparently there was a meteor shower passing through the area yesterday, which would have been about three hours into her flight.”

Callahan nodded. “Good. Have the helm set course for Sanctuary, following Sylari’s flight plan in reverse. And continue long-range scans for the Emerald Isle’s transponder signal. I’m going to get dressed and meet you on the bridge.”

Rafaeli nodded. “Yes, Captain,” she said, and made to turn away. She stopped herself partway and said, “Should I alert Commander Sulu?”

The captain grinned briefly. “Now Amaura, you know as well as I it is unwise to wake a sleeping dragon.”

She returned the grin. “I think I can handle it—after all, sir, I woke you and survived, didn’t I?”

He chuckled and nodded, then said, “Actually, probably better to send out an early wake-up call to the entire senior staff. If I’m not going to get the rest of my beauty sleep, neither is anyone else.”

Rafaeli grinned again as she nodded and turned away from the captain’s quarters, heading for the nearest turbolift as she instructed the computer to carry out the his order.

*****

“I’m glad you decided to take this freighter instead of a runabout, Mr. Alok,” said Ensign Zar. “I’m quite fascinated by it.”

Alok entered a few commands into the pilot’s console and then looked over at his travelling companion. “It is my ship for the present,” he said simply. “Why would I take any other?”

Indeed, the Millennium-class freighter had been all but gifted to the Intelligence officer, to be used at his discretion whenever one of his missions required he have his own transportation. Although he had gotten used to working with Starfleet and even wearing the uniform that went along with that, he personally rather liked the separation from orders and regulations that the freighter represented.

To him, if no one else.

The little alien next to him chuckled. “You sound just like a Vulcan,” he commented.

Alok raised an eyebrow, which elicited a further bout of mirthful chuckles from the Odenite. Zar shook his head as he laughed, then sighed and sobered as he glanced out the cockpit viewports.

“I know her, you know—Ensign Sylari, that is,” he said. “She’s an excellent pilot. Worked with her on the Ireland when I was a just a plain ol’ medical technician.”

Alok looked over again. “Are you not still a medical technician?” he asked.

Zar nodded. “I am, but on Sanctuary, I’m the senior medical technician. I’ve got more authority there—I’m in charge of all the nurses.”

“So you’re the department head of a unit within the medical department?” the clone piloting the ship asked.

The smaller man looked over and nodded. “Yes. Of course, Dr. Garcia is the head honcho of all the medical staff, but being senior MT means I’m the one who is ultimately held responsible if one of the other nurses breaks the rules. That’s the chain of command in the medical department. It’s all the nurses, then me, then the other two doctors, then Dr. Garcia.”

Alok merely nodded and turned his attention back to his board, setting the scanners to run another sweep. Normally he’d have had Zar performing the operations duties, but the Odenite, although fascinated by the freighter, was unfamiliar with its systems. He was sent along on this search in case the ensign for whom they were looking had suffered any sort of injury. Still, in order to make himself useful should they ever be made to work together again, Alok had instructed Zar to read the operations manuals for the freighter’s class.

Sometime later, Zar set down the PADD he’d been reading and said, “I think I might be able to operate the console now.”

Once again Alok turned to look at him. “Are you certain? You haven’t been reading long.”

Zar nodded. “I absorb information very quickly, Mr. Alok. It’s a species trait,” he said.

Alok appeared to contemplate that for a moment, then entered a sequence into the console before him. “You are now in charge of the operations functions. I will monitor form here if you need any assistance. Run another sensor sweep for the Emerald Isle’s transponder signal.”

“Yes, sir,” Zar acknowledged, running his four-fingered hands over the switches and touch pads of his co-pilot’s console. Alok noted that he was indeed keying in the proper commands, when suddenly the other man’s console beeped.

Zar pressed a few controls. “Sir, sensors have just picked up traces of a duranium/tritanium alloy at coordinates three-zero-one mark two-five,” he reported.

“The captain’s yacht of a Sovereign-class starship has a light single hull of that alloy,” Alok said. “Have you detected the vessel itself?”

The little Odenite shook his head. “No, what I have here is much smaller than a whole Sovereign captain’s yacht.”

“Very well,” Alok said, turning to his console. “Setting course for those coordinates—three-zero-one mark two-five.”

“Continuing scans of the location,” Zar reported. “According to this, the mass fits the configuration of a warp nacelle.”

“It would seem to indicate that Ensign Sylari encountered the meteor shower that flew through here last evening,” observed Alok. “If her vessel were damaged, why didn’t she transmit a distress signal?”

Zar looked over. “Perhaps her communications array was damaged, or maybe…”

Alok glanced over as Zar’s voice trailed off. “Maybe what, Ensign?”

Zar swallowed, blinking rapidly. “It…it’s possible the Emerald Isle was destroyed by the meteors.”

“Have you found any other masses that would indicate debris?” Alok asked matter-of-factly. When his companion shook his head, he went on. “Then it is illogical to assume the worst. According to the report from the Ireland and your own recollection, Ensign Sylari is an accomplished pilot. There are a number of small planetoids in this area upon which the shuttle could have landed.”

Zar took a couple of deep, calming breaths. “Of course. You’re right, of course. It’s just that… Sylari is a very beautiful, very intelligent young woman. Were she not Vulcan and thus incompatible with my species, I would have pursued a romantic attachment to her. She would be well worth it for any man. But because we are incompatible genetically, I was forced to settle for just being her friend. I still consider her my friend, you know, and I’m very worried about her.”

Alok looked at his readouts. “We’ll arrive at the coordinates in about ten minutes. Continue the long-range scans, including the planetoids if they’re within range,” he said, then did something he knew his brother would have done but was, for the most part, out of character for him. It was not in his nature to comfort others, but still he reached over and placed a hand on his companion’s small shoulder in a gesture meant to comfort.

“Don’t worry. We’ll find her,” he said.

Zar nodded, and turned his attention to the scans. When they arrived at the coordinates of the trace he had detected, he was able to confirm that not only had Sylari passed through this region (having detected a deteriorating ion trail) but that the trace alloy was indeed one of the Emerald Isle’s warp nacelles. Alok had him beam it into the main hold, then rose to go and examine it.

Just from the look of the nacelle—from the yacht’s port side—it had taken quite a beating. It appeared to have been sheared off right in the middle of the arm, and quite violently from the look of it. He opened up a tricorder and ran a scan, detecting traces of the usual interstellar dust and confirming that this nacelle did indeed belong to the Emerald Isle. He found he was feeling relief that there were no traces of a warp core explosion—if there had been, the Falcon’s scanners would have already detected it. This spoke favorably of the ensign’s probable survival.

Closing the tricorder, he quickly returned to the cockpit. “Mr. Alok, I’ve been studying the remnants of the ion trail, and up until this point,” Zar told him as he took his seat, pointing at the small display screen between their consoles, “it’s a straight shot from DS9. A few parsecs back toward Bajor from where we are now must be where Sylari encountered the meteor shower, because you can see where her flight pattern became rather erratic.”

Alok studied the schematic on the display, his eyes tracing the red line indicating the ion trail left by the yacht. He pointed to the line that veered sharply from their present location. “There are two large planetoids in this direction,” he said, then turned and began entering commands into his console. “I’m going to take us there to search for the rest of the yacht.”

“Do the planetoids have atmosphere?” Zar asked.

“Yes. Both, in fact, have an atmosphere not unlike that of Vulcan. Where they sizable enough for colonies, I’m fairly certain Vulcans would be quite comfortable on them.”

Zar only nodded and continued to run scans.

*****

Normally he was an exceptional multi-tasker—one of the few benefits to still being part Borg. Alexander Locksley could perform a minimum of three tasks at any given time, sometimes more, though when his brother “called” he was only in the midst of one, a standard sensor sweep.

A transmission on the subspace link they shared was usually no cause for alarm on his part. Even if he were capable of actually hearing Alok’s voice in his head, he’d probably not detect any trace of emotion—his clone was much like Vulcans in that he rarely, if ever, expressed emotion. Alok was a very matter-of-fact individual, and technically still so young as to be practically innocent, at least in emotional terms. The only emotion he’d ever seen his brother express was anger—he didn’t know yet what it was like to love a woman and he’d never known him to feel fear of any kind.

So the fact that the single word that came into his mind carried with it, without a doubt, a hint of something between mild fear and absolute terror had Alex freezing immediately, his hands hovering over his console in mid-motion.

-Alex.-

For a connection that was almost nothing more than a text message to the brain, Alex was certain he was “hearing” fear in that one word.

-Alok, what’s wrong?-

-I was dispatched on a search and rescue mission for Ensign Sylari, conn officer of the Ireland,- Alok replied. -We have found her.-

-Well, that’s a good thing, isn’t it?- Alex returned.

-There is…a problem. I need your help.-

Again, he was sure he sensed fear in his brother’s words, fear that was laced with a liberal dose of uncertainty, so Alex called over one of the crewmen working at the MSD to take over his console. Alok, for as long as he had known him (as a sentient individual, that is) had never once been uncertain of anything. As the petty officer was stepping into his place behind the operations console, Alex headed for the conference room for some privacy, so that he could give his brother his undivided attention.

He was unaware of being followed by Zuna, who’d appeared on the bridge as he was leaving it.

-What do you need from me?- he asked Alok as he stepped into the conference room.

-She’s hysterical,- Alok replied. -She’s not acting like a Vulcan at all, and my companion for this mission, who is a medical technician, believes she has suffered a head injury.-

-I take it she crashed or something?-

Alex barely acknowledged Zuna’s entrance into the conference room behind him. She must have guessed that he was in silent communication with his brother, for she joined him in standing at the windows in silence.

-Correct,- Alok was saying. -The ensign had flown Ireland’s captain’s yacht to Deep Space Nine to attend the wedding of an academy friend, and during her return she was caught in a rogue meteor shower, which caused her to crash-land on a planetoid several parsecs from Bajor.-

-Harsh. So what do you need my help with?-

-Dealing with her. She has clung to me ever since we found her. I don’t understand her attachment to me and I cannot perform my duties while she’s holding onto me in this manner.-

Alex forced himself to stifle a laugh, though he must have snorted, for Zuna spoke up at last, saying, “What is it?”

He turned to her. “Alok is having girl trouble,” he said, unable to suppress a grin.

Her expression became unreadable. “What do you mean, ‘girl trouble’?” the Orion doctor asked.

Alex explained what Alok had told him. Zuna pondered his words for a moment before saying, “What species is his companion?”

Alex asked the question, to which Alok answered, -Ensign Zar is an Odenite. What does that have to do with anything?-

After relaying this information, Zuna asked, “And you said he’s a MT?” Alex nodded. “Well, not having examined her myself I can’t confirm his diagnosis, but it does sound like the girl is suffering from some sort of head injury. I mean, I’m no shrink, but it sounds to me like she’s clinging to him for comfort because he’s familiar to her, more so than Zar is.”

“Must be the ears,” Alex muttered, then relayed Zuna’s observations to Alok. When next he heard from the other man, he sensed some measure of calm had returned to his brother, though he still detected a hint of the fear and uncertainty.

-But what do I do with her? Every time I’ve tried to leave her to do my job she got hysterical. Zar’s had to perform the scans of the yacht for me, and he’ll probably have to prepare the locator beacon at this rate.-

Alex shook his head, still fighting the urge to laugh at Alok’s perturbed state. -On the one hand, you gotta give the poor kid some slack. She’s been through quite an ordeal, what with the crash and all, and now she’s clinging to the only familiar thing she knows, which is you. You look like her and speak like her, and that must be what she’s attached herself to. On the other hand, you have a job to do, which includes getting her back to a proper medical facility, and the faster you do that, the faster she’ll be taken off your hands. Looks to me like you’re gonna have to knock her out.-

-You’re not seriously suggesting I hit her, are you?- Alok asked.

This time Alex did laugh, earning him a raised eyebrow and crossed arms from Zuna. -Of course not,- he said. -But you have a medic with you, which means you have a medical kit. Get a hold of that and then fill the hypospray with a sedative. Once you inject her with it, you and Ensign Zar will be able to do your respective jobs that much faster. You could also administer a nerve pinch.-

-Of course—I should have known that. It’s just that I was not expecting to have a hysterical female on my hands, and dealing with her strange attachment to me has been…unsettling,- Alok said after a moment.

-Welcome to my world, brother,- Alex mused with a sidelong glance at Zuna, who continued to eye him conspicuously with her arms crossed over her chest. With a sigh, he added, -Just be kind to her. Be gentle, until you’ve gotten her to fall asleep. Then do what you have to do there and she’ll be out of your hands soon enough.-

-Of course. Thanks for your advice, Alex. I hope I haven’t kept you from anything important.-

-Nah. Except for you, the morning’s been pretty quiet. Let me know how everything goes later, okay?-

-I will. Goodbye, Alex.-

-Later, bro.-

“So what did you tell him?” Zuna asked immediately.

Alex turned to her. “I just told him the easiest thing to do would be to give her a sedative or the nerve pinch. That way he can get his job done, Zar can get his done, and they can get back to Sanctuary that much faster,” he said, moving to head back to the bridge. “Then she’ll be out of his hands.”

“You were laughing at him,” Zuna observed. “Why?”

“Because he’s freaking out over a hysterical woman—come on Zuna, you have to agree that it’s at least mildly amusing to imagine Alok having a hysterical woman to deal with.”

She paused as they stepped back onto the bridge, then slowly began to smile. “While I feel sorry for the ensign who has apparently suffered a head injury, I have to admit that Alok having to deal with that would be something so see.”

*****

Alok approached the small crew cabin cautiously. “How is she?” he asked.

Zar looked back over his shoulder from where he knelt next to the bunk on which Sylari had been placed. “Resting comfortably,” he said as he placed his tricorder back in his medkit and stood. “The nerve pinch was a good idea.”

“It seemed my only option—you said with her head injury, a sedative could possibly complicate her condition,” Alok countered, frowning.

The little Odenite nodded. “Once she was immobile I was able to run a more detailed scan, which matches my earlier scan and our personal observations—except for some minor bruising and abrasions, the only major repercussion of the crash is the amnesia. Sylari really was very lucky, under the circumstances.”

Alok flicked his eyes toward the prone Vulcan, feeling…well, he wasn’t sure what he was feeling. Certainly it was an emotion he didn’t recognize.

Clearing his throat he asked, “She going to be all right? I mean, is she going to get her memory back?”

Zar shrugged. “Hard to say at this point. Dr. Garcia will certainly want to do some more extensive scans than I can do with a tricorder, see if there’s some medical treatment we can do for her. It’s possible the amnesia is temporary and will resolve on its own, or we may have to intervene medically. Being that she’s Vulcan, there may be something specific to her species that can be done. Or…”

“Or what?”

“Or no matter what we do, she won’t get her memory back at all. The damage could be permanent.”

Alok stared at Zar for a long moment, then glanced again at Sylari, his eyes taking in a pointed ear, sable-colored hair, sharply slanted eyebrows, and the fans of her long, dark lashes resting on cream-colored skin. His eyes then traveled to her full, pink lips, and he suddenly noticed that her face was devoid of make-up.

He also noticed that even with the scratches and bruises…she was beautiful.

Shaking himself mentally do dispel the disquieting thoughts now buzzing in his mind, Alok blinked and forced himself to look back at Zar. “I, uh, came back here to tell you that I increased our speed to the freighter’s maximum output, so we can get her to Sanctuary faster. We should be arriving in about ninety minutes.”

Zar sighed. “That’s good to hear. I think it would be best to get her to a doctor as quickly as possible.”

*****

“Crew cabin is around to the right,” Alok said brusquely as soon as the cylindrical door had parted enough to allow him through it, brushing roughly past the medical team waiting intently on the other side of the airlock. Two nurses rushed in, one of them pushing an anti-grav stretcher, while Dr. Garcia remained a moment to say, “Mr. Alok, Captain Natale would like to see you in Ops.”

Alok only nodded, clenching his jaw against the desire to frown. He wanted to get back to his quarters so he could meditate and get a certain Vulcan female out of his mind. He’d been distracted by thoughts of her—wondering why in her confused state she had focused on him, wondering what she was like when she was rational, and wondering if, when she was herself again…

…she would like him.

This wasn’t normal for him. Women were Alex’s specialty, not his. He didn’t get involved with women—relationships were a distraction, and a romantic partner could be used as a weapon against a man in his profession. Truth be told, he’d never understood how Alex had managed to juggle the few relationships he’d had in the time they’d been working together as “brothers,” how he’d been able to reconcile lying to his girlfriends about the work he did, how he’d been able to rationalize putting them in danger just by being involved with him.

He’d asked Alex only once, and his progenitor’s response had been, “Because there’s no greater reward than coming home to someone who loves you.”

Love. That was something else Alok just didn’t understand, and something Alex swore he would when it finally happened to him.

Shrugging and shaking his head, he stepped into the turbolift he’d come to and ordered it to take him to Ops.

In Ops, Gamma shift was preparing to trade over with Alpha shift, some of whom were already present. Kateran Drakomavitch, the Gamma Shift watch officer, smiled at him and waved, and he offered her a nod in return as he strode across the room to the captain’s office and rang the chime.

Come in.”

Alok stepped inside the office purposefully when the doors opened. “You wanted to see me, Captain?” he asked as he came to a stop in front of her desk.

The Orion nodded. “I did. Its standard procedure to debrief after a mission, after all—something I’m sure you are aware of.”

An expression Alex occasionally used passed through his mind then: Duh.

Clearing his throat, he said, “Of course I am. Sorry, Captain.”

Her brow drew together then. “You alright, Alok? You seem a little...rattled.”

“I’m not…” he started to say, and then decided against it. What was the point of trying to deny it anyway? She’d already seen the truth on his face, apparently. With a sigh, he moved and dropped into one of the visitors’ chairs. “Ensign Sylari became hysterical when we found her. She’d been knocked around some in the crash, but looked otherwise okay. But she was hysterical.”

“So you said already,” Natale commented.

“Vulcans aren’t supposed to get hysterical. They’re supposed to be calm and logical and rational.”

“And Ensign Sylari was anything but?” Natale raised an eyebrow. “Mr. Alok, according to Ensign Zar’s preliminary report, the young lady in question suffered a head trauma. Are Vulcans not allowed to be out of sorts when victims of head trauma?”

He started. “Of course they are,” he returned hotly. “I just wasn’t expecting it. And not only was she hysterical, she clung to me like…”

Pushing back to his feet, Alok began to pace. “She acted very frightened, and she clung to me like I was a lifeline—that’s the only way I can think of to describe it. I’ve never encountered such a hysterical reaction before. I didn’t know what to do, and that vocal calming thing Odenites are supposed to be so good at didn’t work at all—Zar tried. I had to nerve pinch her so I could do my job.”

“This can’t have been the first time you’ve ever had to deal with a hysterical female,” Natale said.

Alok looked back at her squarely. “Yes, it was. Usually my brother would handle any females we encountered. He has many more years’ experience with women than I do.”

“And you’re not used to working without him,” the captain added.

The clone frowned. “I’ve worked without him before,” he countered.

Now Natale smiled. “But as you said, you’ve never encountered a hysterical female on your own before, which must be true if your current state of agitation is any indication. Look, why don’t you sit down and take a few deep, relaxing breaths, huh?”

He stared at her for a moment longer, then did as she’d instructed. She waited for him to calm himself before she spoke again. “Now, why don’t we run through this from the beginning?”

Alok nodded. Then he began to recite all the actions he and Zar had taken in order to find Ensign Sylari.

“The Ireland will be passing us by before coming for Ensign Sylari so that they can pick up the yacht—by the way, Captain Callahan appreciates the fact that you left a locator beacon so he could find it a little easier,” Natale said when he had finished. “I hear he’s quite fond of it.”

“Why did he let her take his yacht, anyway? I found that rather odd,” Alok observed.

Natale chuckled. “You know, I had to ask that question myself. Captain Callahan told me he likes to do something nice for his officers once in a while—keeps ‘em happy when the CO is generous, he says. Besides that, the yacht is the fastest auxiliary vessel Ireland has, and Ensign Sylari was only given the day off to attend her friend’s wedding. As she is the best pilot he has, he wanted her back as fast as possible.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” Alok said absently, then rose to stand again. “Is there anything else you need from me, Captain? I think I’d like to get some sleep now.”

She shook her head. “No, I think that will be all. You can file your report later. Anything else I can do for you?”

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “I do appreciate you letting me vent, though. I don’t know why I got so worked up.”

Natale offered him a smile. “Think nothing of it; I’m glad I could help. Better get that rest, Alok, I’m sure you’ll feel a lot better.”

For the first time in hours, Alok felt himself smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

*****

He was just unzipping his uniform jacket in his quarters when the intercom sounded. “Medbay to Alok.”

“Alok here, go ahead,” he replied, pausing in the midst of shrugging the jacket off.

I’m sorry to bother you, Alok,” Dr. Garcia’s voice continued, “but our newest patient is awake and she’s hysterical again. Zar said you had a calming influence on her.”

Over the comm line he heard a loud crash. Turning around he walked back out the door, saying, “I’ll be right there.”

*****

When he entered Medbay a few minutes later, Alok had just enough time to see a blur throw itself at him before he staggered backwards out the door. Instinctively his arms wrapped around the object, which he knew instantly—by the smell of her hair—was Sylari.

“You have to help me! They’re trying to hurt me!” she whispered desperately in his ear.

“No, they’re trying to help you, Ensign,” he told her. “This is our medical facility—our hospital. You’re on Sanctuary. You know, the space station.”

She pulled back just slightly, and he noticed that she had dark brown eyes—he’d missed them when he’d first met her a few hours ago. “You…you mean the one that’s like Deep Space Nine?” she queried.

Alok tried to smile reassuringly as he nodded. “That’s right. This is the Infirmary—Dr. Garcia likes to call it Medbay.”

He turned so that they were standing sideways in front of the entrance. “See that woman over there? That’s Dr. Margherita Garcia. Her friends call her Maggie. She’s a very nice person, and a good doctor as well. She would never hurt you, Sylari, and she would never let anyone else hurt you, either.”

Hesitantly, Sylari turned her head to look. “She’s a doctor?” she asked.

“Yes. I promise she won’t hurt you. She just wants to make sure you’re okay. They want to find out why you’ve lost some of your memory, that’s all.”

Sylari looked at him again. “Will you stay with me? Please? I don’t want to be left alone, I don’t know these people.”

Technically, you don’t know me, either, he thought, once again offering her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “I’ll stay with you if it will help you feel better. So let’s go back in here and let Dr. Garcia have another look at you. Let’s make sure there’s nothing else wrong with you.”

Slowly, gently, he set her down, holding on until she was standing on her own feet and he was certain she wouldn’t fall. Sylari gripped his arm tightly with one hand, and with her other she twined their fingers together. Alok walked slowly into Medbay and over to a diagnostic bed in the triage area, taking a visual survey as he did so.

The place was a mess. Instrument carts had been turned over, their contents spilled on the floor. A couple of chairs had been knocked over, and he was not remiss to the staff giving them a wide berth as they walked by—two of the three nurses were sporting bruises, and one lay, apparently unconscious, on a biobed.

When they reached another bed, Alok gently pried her hand off his bicep, loosening her rather strong grip, and helped her up onto it. She kept his left hand clasped firmly in her right, and he resigned himself to standing there with her holding his hand in a death grip.

Dr. Garcia approached slowly, her medical tricorder in one hand, the scanning wand in the other. Sylari looked between him and the doctor with alarm, but she stayed still.

“Hello, Sylari. I’m very sorry if we scared you earlier, sweetie,” Garcia said softly. “We certainly didn’t mean to.”

“You’re really a doctor?”

Garcia smiled. “I am. You mind if I do a scan?”

Sylari looked at Alok, who nodded, and so Sylari looked at Dr. Garcia and jerked her head down once.

Dr. Garcia kept a smile on her face as she slowly moved the scanning wand from Sylari’s right temple to her left, and around the back of her head. She also moved it back and forth over the top of her head, and when she had stepped back in front of her she ran it down her torso and up again.

“She’s been here several minutes, Doctor,” Alok said slowly. “This can’t be the first scan you’ve run on her.”

She shot him a narrow-eyed look as she placed the wand back into the top of the tricorder, but her voice when she spoke was mild. “Of course not. We’ve been running scans every few minutes to make sure her vital signs are stable. She woke up just as Ensign Marrow was beginning another.”

As Marrow was the patient on the next bed, Alok asked, “What happened to him?”

“Our new friend did a nerve pinch on him. When Ensign Zar and I tried to approach her she got…very upset.”

Alok glanced around. “Oh, so that’s what this is?” he said. “I thought you’d decided to redecorate or something.”

Thankfully, Dr. Garcia didn’t appear to be in the mood to stay angry and she smiled even though his joke was lame. “All our scans show that she is, for all intents and purposes, perfectly healthy, except for a mild concussion.”

“What about the memory loss?”

“Yeah, why don’t I remember who I am?” Sylari asked, her voice still bearing a hint of her earlier alarm. “Why don’t I know why Alok means so much to me?”

Alok looked at her curiously, as this was the first time she’d been rational enough for conversation. Dr. Garcia asked, “Have you ever met before?”

He shook his head. “No. I admit she looks faintly familiar, but I’ve never met her before today.” He looked at Sylari then. “I’d remember if I had.

“What about her family?” he went on. “Does she have any listed in her service record?”

Dr. Garcia went to a wall display and keyed it on. “Give me a moment while I link up and download this data,” she said, pressing a few keys on the tricorder. Alok watched as the data flashed on the screen for a moment, scrolling by for about a minute as Sylari’s most recent scan correlated with previous data. Once that was finished, the doctor folded the tricorder and put it in her pocket, then tapped a few keys on the wall display’s control pad. A moment later, a picture of Sylari, her hair in a pretty yet serviceable up-do, appeared along with her personal information.

“Says here that her father is Commander Silmar of the U.S.S. Columbia, and that she has a twin brother named—”

“Tahir!” Alok said, surprised he had not made the connection before. He looked at Sylari with some wonder. “I met them back in early June, when they brought the freighter back here after Rkasi Cen was captured.”

Sylari’s eyes widened with wonder. “You’ve met my father and brother?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “You have your father’s eyes.”

Sylari smiled then, a wide, joy-filled expression he’d never imagined he would see on a Vulcan. She looked even more beautiful than she had the first time he’d thought it of her.

He was sobered a moment later when she asked, “What about my mother?”

Alok sighed. “I’m afraid she passed away, Sylari, almost nine years ago,” he told her, recalling the information from a conversation he’d had with Tahir, when he’d worked with him in examining the Denobulan freighter.

Sylari’s large brown eyes filled with tears, and she turned her head into his shoulder as she began to cry. Awkwardly Alok raised his hand to her head and stroked her hair to comfort her, while she sobbed quietly and the medical staff carefully picked up the instruments and other equipment she’d knocked around.

“I take it there’s nothing medical you can do for her?” he asked Dr. Garcia over Sylari’s head.

The Human shook her own head. “I’m afraid not. From what her scans show, there’s no physical reason for the amnesia—there’s no cerebral damage. Certainly she was jostled about, given Zar’s description of the crash site, but other than that...?”

She shrugged. “Since there are no physical injuries or malformations to the brain itself, I can only conclude that the cause of the amnesia is psychological.”

“Will her memory come back?”

“It’s possible, and I don’t think it unreasonable to say probable. The question is when and how. Since you’re acquainted with her family, perhaps you could try talking to one of them—maybe Tahir or Commander Silmar could help you,” Garcia suggested.

Alok nodded, then said to the weeping woman he held, “Ensign, I’m going to make a call to your father, okay? I’m fairly certain he’ll have some good advice—not to mention he’ll probably want to know that you’re okay.”

Sylari lifted her head and wiped at her tears with her free hand. “Can I stay with you? Please? I don’t know why I feel this way, I just know that the thought of you leaving scares me so much. And I don’t know how I know it, but I just know that I can trust you—I’m not wrong, am I?”

Her voice had risen in pitch with each word, until she was on the verge of wailing. Alok was once again not sure what to do, so he did what he thought Alex would do. Lifting his hand to gently cup her cheek, he brushed a tear away with his thumb as he told her firmly, “No, you’re not wrong. I promise you can trust me. We’re going to be friends now, and I always take care of my friends.”

Not, he mused, that he had very many. In fact, before today he could have counted the number of people he considered close friends on one hand, his brother and Zuna Sarrana among them. Sylari now made six, and no matter what happened from here on out, he meant what he’d said: she was his friend now, and he would take care of her.

Dr. Garcia gestured across the room to her workstation. “You can use my terminal if you want,” she said.

Alok looked at her and nodded. As Sylari was raising her free hand to wipe way her tears, he gently pried his hand free from her other one, saying, “I’m just going to go right over here, to see if I can make a call to your father. Since I’m not sure where he is, it might take me a little while to reach him.”

“You’re not going to leave me here, are you?” Sylari asked.

“No, I’m not going to leave you, I’m just going to be right over there,” he replied, pointing to Dr. Garcia’s workstation. “You’ll be able to see me the whole time. Now I need you to do something for me, okay? If Dr. Garcia or one of the nurses needs to run another scan while I’m busy, or if they need to give you medication, try not to…react the way you did before.”

Her eyes widened a fraction and Sylari nodded solemnly. “I won’t. You said they wouldn’t hurt me. I believe you.”

Alok smiled. “Okay. I’m just going to be right over here, and I’ll come back to you as soon as I can.”

Sylari nodded again, and so he stepped away and walked over to the doctor’s station, looking back as he sat down to reassure her that she could still see him. When he had taken the seat, he tapped his commbadge. “Alok to Ops.”

Bowman here, go ahead Alok.”

“Ensign Bowman, I need you to open a channel to the Columbia please, and patch it through to Dr. Garcia’s workstation in Medbay when you have it,” he told her.

They’re in the Beta Quadrant right now, Mr. Alok, so it’ll be a few minutes,” Bowman said. “In the meantime, I was just about to patch down a transmission from Captain Callahan to your quarters—he wants to speak to you. Shall I send it down to Dr. Garcia’s terminal while I establish the other signal?

“Of course, that will be fine,” Alok replied. “Thank you, Ensign.”

You’re welcome, sir. Transferring now.”

Alok tapped his commbadge to end his link with Bowman as the screen on Dr. Garcia’s terminal flickered from her screensaver to show him the face of Ireland’s captain, a blond man in his late 30s or early 40s. “Captain Callahan, I’m Alok. How may I help you?”

“I wanted to thank you personally for your help in finding my officer, Mr. Alok,” Callahan said.

“I was only doing what my captain asked of me, sir,” Alok began, but aware that Sylari was probably listening, he added, “but I am happy to have been of service.”

The Irishman on the screen nodded. “You may have been following orders, young man, but thank you just the same. Sylari is very well thought of around here and it would be felt very deeply were we to lose her.”

Her face flashed across Alok’s consciousness and he felt himself smile. “I can imagine, sir.”

“Looks to me like you’re in medical quarters,” Callahan commented.

Alok nodded. “I am, sir. There was a…complication with Sylari that required my presence.”

Callahan’s face grew immediately stern. “Dr. Vinazzo has reviewed the initial medical report sent to us by Dr. Garcia, and he told me Sylari was, amazingly, all but unhurt.”

“Yes, sir, she was very fortunate,” Alok said, “in that she did not suffer any physical injuries more serious than some scratches and bruises. However, even though Dr. Garcia has detected no cerebral damage, Ensign Sylari is suffering from retrograde amnesia. She knows her name only because that’s how we address her. She doesn’t remember who she is, her family.”

“She remembers nothing?” Callahan said, seemingly shocked by this news. “This is terrible news.”

“I wouldn’t say nothing, sir. She did know that Sanctuary is a space station like Deep Space Nine, but we’ve yet to determine how severe the amnesia actually is. I’m going to be speaking to her father in a few moments to see if he has any ideas as to the cause, and certainly our counselor will want to see her to see how much she does and does not remember.”

“You said Dr. Garcia found no physical damage to her brain?”

Alok nodded. “Of course I’m sure you and your doctor will want to speak with her more in depth, but—”

He was interrupted by the chirping of his commbadge and Ensign Bowman’s voice. “Bowman to Alok.”

He tapped his badge. “Go ahead, Ensign.”

I have Commander Silmar for you. Patching to your terminal now.”

“Thank you, Ensign,” he said, and tapped his badge again to disconnect. “Captain Callahan, would you like me to get Dr. Garcia for you?”

“If you would, please,” the other man said.

“Alright, I’m going to transfer your signal to another station so I can speak to Sylari’s father. Give me just a moment,” Alok said, then keyed in the necessary commands. He called out to Dr. Garcia and told her that Ireland’s captain wanted to speak to her and that he had sent the signal over to terminal two, then turned back to the screen before him and brought up the transmission from the Columbia. When Commander Silmar’s face appeared on the small screen, he wondered how he could ever have not guessed that he and Sylari were related. Of course, while Tahir had mentioned having a twin sister, he hadn’t actually said her name…

“Commander Silmar, thank you for getting back to me so quickly,” he said.

“Ensign Bowman said you wished to speak to me concerning my daughter,” Silmar replied. “As I have already heard from Captain Callahan concerning her disappearance and subsequent recovery, I presume you have further news to discuss?”

Alok nodded, and then launched into an explanation of the events that had occurred from the moment he and Zar had located the Emerald Isle up to his summons to Medbay.

“If your doctor would also like to examine her records, I’m fairly certain Dr. Garcia wouldn’t mind transmitting a copy,” he said at the end of his monologue. “Dr. Vinazzo of the Ireland is also going to be studying them, from what I’ve been told.”

Silmar was silent for a few moments. “Is my daughter still conscious? I would like to speak to her.”

“She is, give me just a moment,” Alok said, standing and walking over to where Sylari sat on the biobed.

“Your father would like to speak to you, if you’re up to it,” he told her.

“I… Do you think it will help me get some of my memory back?” she asked.

Alok shrugged. “I can’t say for sure. It might help to talk to him, it might do nothing. But I don’t suppose it can hurt.”

Sylari sighed, then nodded. Sliding off the edge of the bed, she walked slowly over to the terminal at which he had sat. She then turned and looked at him. “Alok?”

He hadn’t followed as he had assumed Commander Silmar wished for their conversation to be private. But given how desperately she seemed to dislike being separated from him, he ought have known better, and so he moved to stand behind her.

Sylari looked measurably relieved to have him near, for she looked up at him and smiled before turning to look at the man on the screen. “You’re my father,” she said.

Silmar nodded. “I am. You have a twin brother named Tahir.”

She nodded. “That’s what they told me,” she said slowly.

“But you do not recall your brother? You do not recall me?”

“I… I’m looking at you and you seem really familiar. I feel like I should know who you are. But I just don’t. I’m sorry. What does my brother look like?”

On the screen they watched as Silmar reached for something out of viewing range, and then the screen split and Tahir’s face appeared on the other half.

“I know that face!” she said excitedly. “I… Well, it’s like you, but he feels more familiar somehow.”

“You are twins,” Silmar said simply. “It is not uncommon for twins, especially those born to parents with psionic gifts, to share a very strong bond.”

“He told me something,” Sylari said, studying Tahir’s picture intently. “I just know it—I don’t know how, but I do. He told me something very important. Recently, I think, but I don’t know when.”

She banged her fists down on the console. “Why can’t I remember?!”

Alok knelt next to her, cautiously putting a hand on her shoulder. “Hey, it’s okay,” he said softly. “It’ll come back to you.”

She looked at him with tears in her eyes. “But what if it doesn’t? What If I never remember my own family?”

“Then you get to know them all over again.”

“He is correct, my daughter,” Silmar said, and they both looked back at the screen. “I would like to meet with you, but I regret that I cannot do so for two weeks.”

“Why not?” Sylari asked.

Columbia’s current location is the Beta Quadrant. At our present coordinates, it will take us two weeks to arrive.”

“Oh,” she said softly, her cheeks coloring to a greenish tinge. “Sorry.”

“There is no need for you to apologize. I must still speak to my captain, but I am certain she will accommodate my request to proceed to Sanctuary with all due haste. I believe a mind meld may provide us with some answers as to the exact extent of your condition.”

“Do you really think it will work?” Sylari asked.

“I cannot say for certain, but I believe a mind meld with a family member to be a prudent course of action.” He glanced at Alok then. “Until then, I will attempt to locate Tahir. Perhaps he will be able to reach her sooner. I also suggest a visit to her ship and her personal quarters aboard it. Seeing familiar people and surroundings may help with memory recall.”

“The Ireland is still a few hours away, sir, but I will take her there as soon as they arrive,” Alok told him.

Silmar nodded, then looked back at Sylari and raised his hand in the traditional Vulcan salute. “Until I see you again, my daughter, live long and prosper.”

Whether on instinct or because she was copying him, Sylari also raised her right hand and split the third and fourth fingers in a V. “Peace and long life to you…Father.”

“Hey, you remembered the Vulcan version of ‘goodbye,’” Alok said when the screen flashed back to Dr. Garcia’s screensaver.

Sylari turned to Alok, though she studied her hand a moment before lowering it. “How is it I knew just what to say to him, but I can’t remember anything else, like the fact that he’s my father? I don’t understand.”

Alok sighed, giving her shoulder a soft squeeze as he stood. “I don’t know. But the fact that you remember some things is a good sign, I think. It means your memory isn’t completely gone, just that some of it is blocked.”

“But why? If there’s no damage to my brain, why can’t I remember?” she said, her tone thick with frustration as she shoved to her feet.

Alok reached for her arm, and Sylari turned into him, wrapping her arms around him and laying her head on his chest. He felt his eyes widen and he stiffened, feeling awkward, then he just raised his arms and wrapped them around her.

“I don’t know why,” he said softly. “But I’ve no doubt you’ll be alright. Vulcans are a resilient species, and the brain is a resilient organ.”

“For someone who had never met me before, you sure seem to know how to make me feel better,” she said.

“I confess that I am, as my brother would say, winging it,” he found himself admitting, and when she stood back to look up at him, Alok smiled. “I do not have many friends, and only one of them is female. I’m not as close to her as my brother is. For that matter, I’m not really that close to any of them.”

Sylari smiled. “I’d say you’re doing a pretty good job for someone who’s winging it,” she said. “I feel better just being near you.”

“I…” he began, but closed his mouth, not sure what to say. He felt very awkward, standing in the middle of the triage center with his arms wrapped around a virtual stranger, and it felt very uncomfortable to listen to her compliment him on being such a good friend. But he also felt a surge of emotion that he was not sure how to classify at feeling the warmth of her in the circle of his arms, to hear the pleasure in her voice when she said she felt better just being near him. Truth be told, Alok wasn’t sure what to think, or how he felt about that.

He did know, however, that he liked this feeling, for he looked down at her and smiled. “I’m glad I could be of service,” he said.

After a moment, Sylari stood back. “So what are we going to do now?” she asked.

“Well, first we have to get clearance from Dr. Garcia for you to leave Medbay. Then maybe we’ll get you something to eat, if you’re hungry,” Alok said.

“Actually, I’m starving!” she said with a grin. “Will you eat with me?”

“Yes. It has been some time since my last meal,” he replied, turning to look for Dr. Garcia.

The doctor got up and approached them when she ended the conference call she’d been having with Dr. Vinazzo on the Ireland. “How are you feeling now, Ensign?” she asked Sylari.

“I’m feeling good, I think,” the younger woman replied. “I’m still really confused, and frustrated, and I feel like everything I need to know is like, right on the tip of my brain, but I just can’t get to it.”

Dr. Garcia offered her a sympathetic smile. “I’m sure that anyone in your situation would feel the same way.”

“And um… I’m really sorry that I went nuts earlier. I was just… I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t see Alok and I got scared.”

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Garcia said. “Given that we received a report of your initial reaction from Ensign Zar, I think we should have anticipated an adverse reaction to a change in environment. I should have asked Alok to stay with you a while.”

“Still, I want to apologize for overreacting. I should have known I wasn’t in any danger, but I reacted like I was because I thought I was at the time,” Sylari said, her voice clearly apologetic.

Garcia nodded. “I understand, and like I said, it’s okay.”

“Since she’s conscious and coherent, when do you think she can leave Medbay, Doctor?” Alok asked.

“Yeah, Alex wants to take me out to eat,” Sylari added with a grin.

He felt his cheeks color. “I just… I thought it a good idea for her to eat something, that’s all.”

Garcia looked between them, her eyes widening a fraction before she quickly schooled her expression and smiled benignly. “Actually, that probably is a good idea. I’d like to put a cortical monitor on you though,” she added, looking at Sylari. “Just as a precaution, to monitor your cerebral functions and possibly help us find a way to recover your memories faster.”

Sylari nodded and they waited for the doctor to retrieve the device from the supply shelves. When she returned, she reached up and brushed the hair on Sylari’s left side back over her shoulder, exposing her ear, and placed the small, blinking disk on the Vulcan’s neck just behind her jaw.

“All done,” she said with a pat on her shoulder. “Now, the monitor will alert us if something serious happens, but if you find yourself feeling dizzy, sick to your stomach, you get a headache, or if there are changes in your vision, you’re to come back here immediately. Understood?”

Sylari grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you’ll keep an eye on her, Mr. Alok?”

Alok nodded. “Yes, Dr. Garcia.”

“Alright then, off you go. No strenuous activity, either, okay? I don’t want her too stressed out,” the doctor added.

“Damn, there go my plans for a sparring match in a holosuite,” Alok said, his voice deadpan as he snapped his fingers.

Garcia laughed. “Alright, you smart aleck. Get out of here,” she said, waving them toward the door and then turning to check on Marrow.

Alok guided Sylari out onto the Promenade, leading her around to Nigella’s. Where Quark’s was on DS9, here on Sanctuary it was a posh restaurant with a bar, not a bar and gambling hall. Nadia Lawton, the owner and head chef, was the most incredible cook. She had gotten the run-down bar up and running in just about a week’s time, and had been open for business for the last two, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the bar staying open until 3 a.m. Alok took Sylari there, sitting at the bar as business was slow this early in the morning.

Nadia herself approached the two. “Good morning Mr. Alok, Ensign. Can I start you off with something to drink?”

Alok watched Sylari frown. “I’m not sure what I like,” she said slowly.

Nadia blinked as she looked at Alok, who explained quietly, “Ensign Sylari is suffering from what we hope is a temporary case of amnesia.”

Upon hearing that, Nadia reached across the bar and took Sylari’s hand in hers. “I’m very sorry to hear that love—but like Alok said, hopefully it’s temporary, right?” Sylari nodded. “Well, given the eyebrows and the ear that I see, I suspect you’re Vulcan, so I know what you can’t have. How about I get you a few samples of what I know Vulcans eat, and just bring you some water to drink, unless you think you might like to try some juice?”

“I…I think maybe juice sounds good,” Sylari said slowly.

“And samples sound good, Nadia. Thank you,” Alok added.

“Not a problem at all,” the chef said, turning and walking over to the replicator, from which she ordered two tall glasses of ice-cold orange juice. Carrying them over to the two visitors, she smiled and told them she would return in a few minutes with a few dishes the ensign might like.

“She’s not going to just order them from the replicator?” Sylari asked as she picked up the orange juice and took a sip. “Okay…I think I like orange juice.”

“It’s good for the vitamin C,” Alok said, pleased at the way her face lit up with pleasure when she took more of a mouthful. “And no, Nadia doesn’t serve food from a replicator. She cooks it herself. Well, her and a team of chefs.”

Sylari looked over with wide eyes. “Like, she touches the food with her hands and cooks it?”

Alok nodded. “Grows her own vegetables in a hydroponics bay here on the station, and owns a number of farms on nearby planets where she breeds animals for meat—and makes sure they’re killed humanely before they become food for humanoids. All the parts of the animal are used in one way or another, so nothing’s ever wasted.”

Sylari frowned. “I don’t think I like the idea of eating animal flesh, even if it is treated humanely,” she said.

Alok grinned. “You probably don’t. Most Vulcans are vegetarians—and Nadia knows that.”

“What about you? Aren’t you Vulcan, or part Vulcan?”

She gestured to his ear and Alok shook his head. “No. I’m actually a clone. The man I was created from is three parts Human and a quarter Romulan.”

“Well then, so are you, silly,” his companion chided. “What about the brother you mentioned? I didn’t think clones had siblings, unless you’re not the only one or something.”

“Clones do not have siblings as you understand the term, that is correct,” he said, taking a drink of his own juice. “There are no other clones of Alex—at least that we’re aware of—and he is my brother. After a rather…complicated…beginning to our relationship, that’s how we think of each other.”

Sylari smiled. “I think it’s nice that you have family,” she said, reaching for his hand.

“And what about you? Have you thought any more about your father and brother?” he asked her, slowly drawing his hand from hers.

She looked down at her glass of juice. “It’s like I told Dr. Garcia before. I feel like the answers are on the tip of my brain, but… I mean, I looked at their faces, and I felt like I should know who they are. They seemed so familiar, you know? Tahir especially, so maybe I’ve seen him more recently than I’ve seen my father. But I don’t feel the connection. I know that Vulcans suppress their emotions, but even then I should feel something. Shouldn’t I?”

“I wouldn’t get too upset over it,” Alok tried to reassure her. “As I said before, the fact that you know as much as you do is a good thing. You remember how to walk, talk, drink from a glass—you don’t have to re-learn the basics. You remembered how to perform a nerve pinch, you remembered what a mind meld is, you remembered you don’t eat meat, and you remember Vulcans suppress their emotions. You even remembered my face, though for the life of me I can’t think of how you would know it since we’ve never met before.”

“I can’t think of it, either,” Sylari replied with a sheepish smile, then looked over again. “If my memories are just blocked, then what blocked them and why?”

He thought about that for a moment. “It must be something that happened during your encounter with the meteor shower, or perhaps it was the crash itself.”

“But Dr. Garcia said she thinks the cause of my memory loss is psychological. What kind of psychological problems could a Vulcan possibly have?”

Alok shrugged, turning as Nadia appeared with a tray. She set a number of bowls before them, one of which he immediately recognized as plomeek soup.

After she had set the bowls in front of them, Nadia put the tray aside and began describing each of the dishes she had brought, none of which had meat in them. Sylari sampled each, and seemed to like the plomeek soup best. After being assured that the food was good, the chef left them to enjoy it.

*****

After the meal, when Sylari had gone to the restroom, Alok called up to Ops and asked for an update on the Ireland’s arrival. Ensign Bowman informed him that their ETA was just under an hour. Alok thanked her and signed off, then found himself stunned by how his heart seemed to drop at the news. After all, why should Sylari wait on Sanctuary for two weeks for her father to arrive, when the Ireland could just arrange a rendezvous and take her to meet him? He would lose her, and as Ireland was not in the 11th Fleet, he’d likely never see her again.

The thought of never seeing Sylari again did not sit well, and the fact that it bothered him so much frightened him even more. He’d known her just a few hours, more than half of which she had spent unconscious. Why did it matter so much if he never saw her again? Why did he care?

A stray thought passed through his mind, and Alok snorted derisively. No. No way, he thought. I don’t even know her.

“Alok, is something wrong?”

He started at Sylari’s voice, though when he turned his head to look at her, he could only smile. She was so beautiful…

“I am well,” he told her. “I was just…thinking.”

“About what?” she asked.

Not wanting to lie to her, he said, “The U.S.S. Ireland, the ship on which you serve as pilot, will be here in less than an hour. It occurred to me that it might be more expedient for them to take you to meet your father than for you to wait here for him.”

Her eyes widened. “Do you really think so? That they might take me away?”

Alok nodded. “It is possible,” he said. “And logically a good idea—if they can arrange a rendezvous—so that you get the help you need that much sooner.”

Sylari blinked. “But…but what about you?” she asked.

“What about me?”

“You’re the one person I seem to recognize in all my confusion, the only person I feel safe with right now,” she said pleadingly. “I don’t know why that is, but I can’t stand the thought of leaving without you.”

I can’t stand the thought of you leaving, he replied silently, and forced himself to admit what prior to today he’d never have thought possible: He had feelings for her. His logical side could not quite grasp how this could have happened to him so quickly, when he barely knew her—when, in truth, he didn’t know the real Sylari at all.

But the Sylari he did know had awakened a part of him he hadn’t even known existed. He was a man with wants and needs and desires, and she stirred them like no one ever had. He thought she was beautiful, and intelligent—despite her memory loss. While her strange attachment to him had yet to be explained, her fear of losing him only made him want to stay with her. He felt intensely protective of her, and knew that he wanted no harm to come to her, knew that it never would as long as he was with her. He wanted to get to know her, and while in the back of his mind he knew there was a possibility that her attitude toward him could change drastically when she got her memory back, he found that he was hoping even the calm, logical, emotion-suppressing Sylari would like him just as much as this one seemed to…

…even if she never showed it.

He sighed as he slid off his bar stool and stood before her. “I am sorry that scares you,” he made himself tell her, “but I’m afraid it’s a possibility you have to face.”

Sylari grabbed for his hands. “But I don’t want to face it! I don’t want to leave here if it means leaving you behind!”

Alok tamped down on the surge of emotion coursing through him. “Sylari, you might have to. There is also the possibility that when your memories return, you’ll want nothing to do with me.”

He hated having to say that—bile rose in his throat even as he was forcing the words past his lips—but he knew it had to be said.

“Well, then I’m not going back to my old self,” Sylari said.

“Do not be irrational, of course you will. You have to—it’s who you really are,” Alok countered.

Sylari shook her head vigorously, then looked up at him suddenly, her eyes widening. “You don’t want me to stay,” she said breathily. “You don’t want me.”

“That is not true,” he said in a fierce whisper. “I do want you to stay. I do want you. But we barely know each other and you’re not who you really are, and the fact is that whether it’s today or two weeks from now, you’re going to end up leaving me.”

“So you’re saying this is crazy, huh?”

Alok laughed. “Yes. Why don’t you and I just… enjoy the time we have together? However long it is.”

Sylari looked up at him and smiled, and it seized his heart to see that her eyes had once again begun to fill with tears. “You said something about holosuites earlier,” she said.

He laughed again. “We’re not allowed to spar—no strenuous activity, remember?”

“Who said anything about sparring?” she replied, though she smiled as she said it. “I was thinking more along the terms of a nice long walk on the beach, or a hike through the woods. Something not too strenuous, where you can tell me all about you. I want to get to know you.”

“And I will enjoy telling you everything that I can,” he said, and taking her by the hand, he led her toward the holosuites.

*****

“Now remember, Captain, you may know her, but she most likely isn’t going to know you,” Margherita Garcia said. “She didn’t even recognize her own family.”

“Persons suffering from retrograde amnesia must be treated as if it is the first time you’ve met them,” added Roijiana, Sanctuary’s senior counselor. “Bombarding the person with questions, acting like they should know you—that they should remember something—can be very overwhelming and has been known to complicate memory recall rather than aid it.”

Jerome Callahan nodded. “Thank you, Doctor, Counselor. I appreciate your concern, but I have actually been given the same lecture by your colleagues on my ship.”

“Of course, sir,” the purple-haired Roijiana said politely.

Alok and Sylari stepped out of the turbolift that arrived just then. The young Vulcan froze at the sight of Roijiana and Callahan.

Alok turned to her. “It’s alright,” he said. “That’s Roijiana, Sanctuary’s counselor, and Captain Callahan. He’s Ireland’s commanding officer.”

“My captain, right?”

He nodded, and after taking a deep breath, she started forward again. Alok stayed beside her as they approached the three officers.

“Hello, Ensign,” Callahan said. “It is good to see you well and whole.”

“Thank you,” Sylari replied.

“Would you care to come aboard Ireland? I can take you to your quarters. Perhaps something there may be helpful to you,” Callahan went on.

“I…” She glanced up at the tall man beside her, who nodded, and then back at the captain. “Can Alok come with us? I’m most comfortable when he’s with me.”

Callahan flicked a glance at Alok, who returned his gaze steadily, and nodded. “Of course, Ensign.”

He turned around and started back through the open airlock. Sylari reached for Alok’s hand and he allowed her to take it, feeling more comfortable with the gesture each time it happened. It felt…natural, and he liked the way her small hand fit so perfectly in his.

The pair passed Dr. Garcia and Counselor Roijiana as they followed behind Callahan, who led them through the airlock and onto the Sovereign-class starship he called home, pausing in the pristine hallway for the two of them to join him. He glanced for a second at their joined hands, then looked at Sylari.

“Your quarters are on deck two, Ensign. Shall we?”

Sylari nodded, and so Callahan turned and led them down the hall to a turbolift. About a minute later they were stepping out of it, and walking down another hallway. They stopped in front of cabin 2-06-P.

Callahan was about to reach over to the keypad to open the door, but the sensor over it had recognized Sylari through the computer’s facial recognition program, and opened automatically at her approach. She entered slowly, cautiously, looking around as though this were indeed the first time she had been here.

“Lights,” she called out, and the lights came on, illuminating the central living space.

“Take your time,” Alok said softly. “Don’t push yourself.”

“It all looks…vaguely familiar,” she said. “Kind of like my father and brother did—like I should know all this stuff but I don’t.”

She released his hand to approach a side table next to the couch, on which sat a small stone carving. She picked it up. “This…this is the IDIC symbol,” she said, turning to Alok.

He nodded. “It is.”

Sylari set the carving down. She turned and looked at a framed image on the wall across the room, one that had what looked like streaking stars running through it. The streaks were actually moving, as though it were the viewscreen of a starship at warp. She walked up to it in fascination. “This is pretty neat,” she said.

“Lt. Reensek gave that to you for Christmas,” Callahan said, “even though neither of you actually celebrate the holiday.”

She turned to him. “It’s a Human tradition,” she said, earning a nod from both men. “So why did Lt. Reensek give it to me?”

Callahan smiled. “He said he was getting into the spirit of the holiday, as many of the crew, including myself, do celebrate Christmas. He wanted to give a gift to a friend.”

“That was very kind of him. Did…did I give him a gift?”

“I believe so, though I don’t recall what it was.”

Sylari merely nodded, and walked around the room some more, stopping to look at various objects, including a pair of traditional Vulcan meditation lamps. There wasn’t much to look at, as her quarters were sparsely decorated. She stopped at last in front of the desk.

“Do you know if I record personal logs?” she asked Callahan.

He cocked his head to the side. “You know, I cannot say if you do, but we can certainly find out,” he said, walking over from where he’d been standing in the doorway to stand beside her at the desk. He keyed the monitor on, then ordered the computer to list and display any personal logs recorded by Ensign Sylari. The computer asked for her authorization code, but because she hadn’t even been sure she kept any logs, he used his override to open the files.

A long list of entries, sorted by date from the most recent backward, appeared on the screen. Sylari sat down in the chair slowly, and haltingly asked the computer to play back the most recent entry, dated for the day before yesterday.

“Ensign Hinsi Jana is getting married tomorrow. As she and I were roommates at Starfleet Academy and she still considers me a friend—though we have spoken only sporadically the last two years—she has asked me to attend. The ceremony is to be held in the Bajoran temple on Deep Space Nine, and though Ireland is some distance away, Captain Callahan has granted me a day’s leave to go. He has even offered to allow me to fly the Emerald Isle to Deep Space Nine, as it is the fastest auxiliary craft at our disposal.

“I find it somewhat…rude…of Jana to have extended this invitation at the last minute, though I remind myself that beings which lead with their emotions do not always think logically. My departure for even a day would pose an inconvenience to Captain Callahan, though he insists this is not true. I was for some time of a mind to decline Jana’s invitation, but upon consideration of the fact that I have not been witness to a Bajoran wedding ceremony, I have decided to go, as being there will provide an opportunity for cultural research.”

When the recording of a stoic, emotionless Sylari blinked off, the live one sat staring at the screen for several seconds in silence. “I know Vulcans suppress their emotions,” she began. “I remember that. But I never imagined I was so…cold. It almost doesn’t even seem like that was me, but I know it was because it was my face, my voice. I’ve just seen myself and heard myself, and it didn’t even feel like me.”

Before either of the men could speak, she called for the next log to play back. For several minutes she sat and played back one log after another, and Alok could tell she was growing more and more distressed by the inflectionless monotone of her own voice; the plain, unmoving expression of her own face. He wanted to go to her, to comfort her, but he didn’t want to push her or make her feel crowded.

The log that was dated for July 2nd, however, caught his attention when he heard Tahir’s name.

“It was pleasing to see my brother this evening, as it has been many months since last we met. Tahir and I arranged to meet for our evening meal in the Vulcan restaurant on Copernicus Station, during which we shared pleasant conversation. Afterward, he escorted me back to my quarters here on the Ireland.

“I was intrigued when, after we entered, Tahir began to tell me of a person he had met a month ago, a man by the name of Alok. I was puzzled by his recollection of an individual I have not met and mentioned this to Tahir, who told me that he believed I ought seek him out should the Ireland ever stop at Sanctuary. When I queried further as to why, my brother reached for my katra points and initiated a mind meld with me. I saw the face of the man he had been telling me about. I felt his feelings regarding this Alok, how Tahir believed he and I would be well suited to one another, as our temperaments are allegedly alike. My brother believes Alok would protect me and care for me should anything ever happen to him or Father.

“I cannot say at this moment how I feel about his assertion, though I admit that I find it both odd and comforting that my brother is looking out for me.”

The recording ended there, and Sylari turned to him, staring with wide-eyed wonder.

Alok chanced a smile. “Well, that answers the question of how you know who I am,” he said, “or at least how you knew my face.”

She blinked rapidly, and pushed to her feet. “I…do not know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything Sylari,” he reassured her.

Nodding, she took a couple of deep breaths, then turned to Callahan. “May I see another part of the ship now?”

Callahan nodded. “Of course. How about we go to the bridge?”

Sylari nodded, and Callahan moved to lead the way. As she and Alok made to follow, Alok leaned close and whispered, “Are you alright?”

“I think so,” she replied. “I just… I can’t quite grasp that my brother thought you and I were…”

“Me neither,” he admitted. “We worked together for a couple of days examining the freighter I was piloting when Ensign Zar and I found you—it was appropriated from a Maquis cell. I recall him mentioning he had a sister, and that she was his twin, but he never told me your name.”

“Perhaps he was attempting to make out your character,” Sylari suggested.

Alok shrugged. “I suppose so, but I would never have guessed he was determining whether or not I would be good enough for you.”

“I find it hard to imagine a Vulcan doing matchmaking of any kind, but then I have to remember that they do practice arranged marriages.”

“Hey,” he said with a smile as they caught up to Callahan at a turbolift. “You remembered something else about Vulcans.”

Sylari chuckled, and Alok knew in that moment that he both loved her laugh and would miss it when she was back to her old self.

A moment later the lift arrived, and the three stepped inside it; seconds later, it seemed, the doors opened to reveal the bridge, where they could see several officers working. Alok felt Sylari’s hand slip into his once more, and he gave it an affectionate, reassuring squeeze.

“Captain on the bridge,” announced a short woman of Asian descent who rose and turned as the lift opened.

All hands stopped and rose to stand at attention, their eyes going not to their captain but their pilot, who stood behind him.

Callahan stepped out of the lift, saying, “As you were, please.” He turned to Sylari and Alok. “It’s alright, Ensign. This is the bridge of our ship. You work here every day.”

Alok felt her grip on his hand tighten, though she nodded and took a hesitant step forward. He walked with her out of the lift, coming to a stop just out of range of the sensor. Sylari looked around and he followed her gaze—the crew were all doing their best not to stare, but their eyes kept straying, their heads kept turning, to the two of them.

“It…it’s a lot to take in,” she said slowly. “The bridge…it looks familiar, but almost as if it’s just because I’ve seen a picture of it.”

“That’s alright,” Callahan said. “I’m sure it will come back to you in time.”

“I’m the pilot, right?” she asked.

“And a damn good one,” spoke up a diminutive alien staring openly from the operations station.

“Reensek,” chided the Asian woman with a shake of her head.

He shrugged his small shoulders as if to say, “What?”

Sylari looked at him. “You’re Reensek—the one who gave me the picture of the moving stars?”

He hopped down from his chair and walked back to them, offering his hand with a smile on his face. “Right-o, Ensign. Lt. Reensek at your service.”

As her right hand was free, she reached out and took the smaller hand in hers, giving it a light shake.

“Glad to have you back on board,” he told her. “Wanna come down and see your station?”

Sylari blinked, looking between Alok and Captain Callahan. “You’re welcome to have a look, Ensign. Perhaps sitting in the chair will bring something back to you.”

Hesitantly Sylari nodded, and Reensek grinned. “Come on!” he said with a wave.

Sylari looked at Alok again, who nodded, and she started forward, letting go his hand. Reensek had reached the front of the bridge already and could be heard saying “Shoo!” to the crewman at the conn. The young Vulcan smiled apologetically at the other girl, an Andorian, as she passed her, then lowered herself into the chair slowly.

She raised her hands to the console hesitantly, and for a moment just let them rest there. Then suddenly her face lit up and she turned in the seat. “Alok, I remember this!” she said, her voice full of excitement. “Not just because it should feel familiar, but because I…”

Her eyes took on a faraway look then, and for a moment she was still. Then she blinked. “Yes…” she said softly, her gaze falling to the console. “I remember this. I remember this.”

“I’m very happy for you, Sylari,” Alok said, hoping that his voice didn’t sound as strained to anyone else as it did to him.

She looked at Reensek then, who was leaning on the arm of his console with his chin in his hand, just watching her. “You do that a lot,” she said. “You like to lean on your console.”

“I do!” he said excitedly. “You remember me!”

“Only a little,” Sylari replied. “I just…remembered seeing you do that before.”

“It’s alright. You’ll remember,” the little man assured her. “Let me tell you a story…”

As Reensek launched into an anecdotal tale of one of their missions, Callahan turned to Alok and spoke quietly. “Mr. Alok, it is my understanding that Commander Silmar has proposed a mind meld with his daughter in an effort to help her regain her memory,” he said.

Alok nodded and swallowed, forcefully tearing his eyes away from the scene before him. “Yes, Captain. I spoke to him myself,” he replied.

Callahan’s eyes flicked to subject of their conversation for a moment. “I know that Columbia is yet two weeks from Sanctuary, and as we have not any pressing matters to attend to at the moment, I’m planning to put in a request to Starfleet Command to allow Ireland to rendezvous with them.”

The clone nodded. “I imagined you would,” he said, feeling his heart drop like a stone.

“I shall also make a request to Captain Natale that she spare you for as long as it takes us to get there,” Callahan went on, surprising Alok so much that he looked at him with wide eyes.

“Really, sir?”

“Young man, I am not blind to the strength of her connection to you,” the captain said, both of them turning to look forward when Sylari laughed. “She is, as she said, most comfortable with you near. Your doctor and counselor, as well as my own, have advised me that keeping her comfortable is in her best interests until such time as her memory returns.”

“I’ve studied retrograde amnesia before, sir,” Alok said. “Their assessment is correct. It is believed that overwhelming the patient can hinder rather than help the recovery process, so whatever can be done to keep them comfortable is usually the best route taken.”

“And even though she had not previously met you, she seems to have taken her brother’s assessment of you to heart,” Callahan observed. “Sylari is a very bright young woman, and though captains are supposed to maintain some distance, I have come to care about her a great deal in the two years she has been a member of my crew. She feels safe with you, and if your remaining onboard helps her, then I’m certainly not going to tell you to leave.”

Alok looked into his eyes for a long moment, then nodded. “I very much appreciate that, Captain,” he said quietly. “I’ve come to care about her a great deal myself.”

“Yes,” Callahan mused. “I’d noticed.”

The moment was broken by a hearty laugh from Sylari. “You are so funny!” she said to Reensek.

“What can I say, I’m a funny guy,” Reensek said with a nonchalant lift of his shoulders. “I will say though, that I’m gonna miss that laugh of yours when you’re back to your old self. You’ve got a great laugh.”

I know exactly how you feel, thought Alok.

*****

As he walked back toward the lift that would take him back up Upper Pylon 2 to the Ireland, a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, Alok heard his brother’s voice in his head.

-Hey, bro. How’s it going?-

Alok slowed his stride and sighed. -It has been a trying morning.-

-That bad, huh?-

-Depends on your viewpoint, I suppose.-

-What happened?- Alex asked.

-You can’t tell Zuna about any of this,- Alok warned. -I haven’t even figured out what I’m going to do about it, so I would appreciate not having her to deal with on top of everything else.-

-Alright, you have my word.-

With another sigh, Alok spent the next few minutes of his walk detailing his morning with Sylari…including how he was beginning to feel about her.

-Wow,- was the first thing Alex managed in response.

-Is that all you have to say?-

-I’m sorry. I guess I’m just a little stunned. I tease you about women all the time.-

-I’m aware of that.-

-You don’t understand,- Alex said. -I tease you about women all the time, and you brush it off like it’s nothing. Like you’re not even interested in them.-

-Surely you didn’t think I was interested in men?-

-No, of course not. But I wasn’t sure you were interested in women, either. I guess I didn’t think you cared one way or the other.-

-Well, you always told me that I would know when the right one came along,- Alok reminded him.

-Yes, I did. So…you really like this chick, huh?-

-I do. But I don’t understand how I could have feelings this strong for someone I barely know, who virtually doesn’t exist,- the clone went on. -When Sylari gets her memories back, the woman I’m…the woman I’m falling for will all but cease to be.-

-Maybe she will, maybe she won’t,- Alex suggested. -Vulcans may suppress their emotions, brother, but they still have them. Maybe this is just the side of Sylari that hides under the surface of all that logic.-

-Okay. But what if…- Here he hesitated, not wanting to even think the words to himself, let alone his brother. -What if she doesn’t feel the same about me once she’s back to the way she was? What if how she feels about me now is just a side effect of the memory loss?-

-If it is, then she won’t have a clue what she’s missing,- Alex told him. -Literally and figuratively. And it’s her loss.-

Alok stepped into the lift he’d come to and ordered it to carry him up the pylon. -Alex, have you ever had this problem?-

-What, being afraid of rejection?-

-Yes.-

-Of course. All men go through it, and don’t let anyone tell you different. It’s not just a woman thing, bro. Hell, I’ve been through it several times,- his brother replied.

-I can barely stand to be going through it once,- Alok countered. -How do you get through it, especially if the girl rejects you?-

-Friends, and family. Work helps take your mind off of it, too, sometimes.-

The lift came to a stop at last, and when the doors parted he stepped through, then walked through the airlock to find Sylari waiting for him. Alok could not suppress a smile to see her looking so happy.

-I really hope it doesn’t come to that,- he said across the link as she took his hand. -If you could see her, Alex, you’d know what I mean.-

-I’ll bet. Look, I gotta go. Zuna and I are supposed to be eating lunch together and she’s giving me the evil eye. Fair warning, she’s going to want to know what we talked about.-

-You gave me your word.-

-I know I did. I just hope I can keep it. You know how she is.-

-Indeed I do. If she ends up making you spill your guts, at least try to keep my…distress…to a minimum. Not only will I never hear the end of it, but she’ll want to pull the big sister card on Sylari and she doesn’t need that right now.-

-I’ll make sure Zuna says nothing to Sylari, don’t worry. Later, bro.-

-Goodbye, Alex.-

“Alok!”

He blinked and turned to his companion. “Yes?”

They stopped walking and Sylari pressed the call button for the turbolift they’d come to. “I’ve been trying to get your attention for two whole minutes. Where were you just now?”

“I told you that I’m a clone. My brother was partially assimilated by the Borg several years ago, but the process was interrupted when a solar flare all but destroyed the cube he was on. He was later rescued by a Starfleet ship, but chose to keep some of the Borg technology, as it would be useful in his line of work.”

The lift door opened and they stepped inside. Sylari ordered the lift to deck two. “I don’t suppose you can tell me what that is, can you?”

“He did intelligence work,” Alok replied, keeping his face straight. What he’d said wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t entirely truthful, either. He didn’t like having to lie to Sylari, but neither could he tell her the entire truth without knowing how long the two would be associated.

“Alex thought being able to use nanite technology would come in handy,” he went on before she could ask questions. “As such, he still had nanoprobes in his bloodstream when a sample of his DNA was used to create me.”

“So you’re part Borg?” Sylari asked.

He nodded. “Less so than Alex is, actually. It’s part of my design. I’m physically superior, but was designed to be mentally and technologically inferior. My creators thought it would make me easier to control—except they didn’t count on me learning to think for myself.”

Alok realized that her hand had tightened in his. “You didn’t tell me this stuff earlier,” she said, referring to the hour they’d spent walking on a Risan beach in the holosuite.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, nor to demean your intelligence any, but you didn’t ask,” he replied.

She stared for a moment as the lift stopped on deck two before she started out. “Okay, point taken—but I still don’t like hearing what they did to you. It makes me mad to hear how you were treated like you hadn’t a mind of your own.” Pausing for what he assumed was a calming breath, she went on. “So where were you just now?”

He pointed to a spot just over his right eye. “Right here in my frontal lobe is a small but powerful cortical implant. I can connect to any computer with it, to download or upload information,” Alok explained. “The implant also contains a subspace transceiver. Alex and I can speak to each other with it no matter how far apart we are.”

“Like the Borg can talk to each other with the hive mind even though the Queen is all the way in the Delta Quadrant?”

“Yes.”

“Oh,” she said, and led him into her quarters in silence. When the door had closed behind them, Sylari asked, “So were you talking to him just now? Your brother?”

“I was. I apologize for ignoring you—usually it’s not a problem with multitasking, but this hasn’t been one of my usual days.”

Sylari’s face fell. “Oh,” she said again. “I’m sorry I’ve been such a problem.”

He dropped the duffel bag off of his shoulder and reached for her face, cupping both cheeks in his hands so that she looked up at him. “You haven’t been a problem, at least not in the way you mean. I’m perfectly happy being here with you.”

“Are you sure?”

Alok moved his hands to her shoulders and drew her to his chest, holding her gently. “Of course I am,” he said, meaning it wholeheartedly.

Sylari wrapped her arms around his waist and he felt her sigh. “Good, ‘cause I really like you.”

Alok froze even while he felt his heart speed up. “Sylari, as much as it pleases me to hear you say that, you do realize that…well, that there’s a chance your feelings will change when you get your memory back.”

She stood back. “I can’t believe that I could forget how I feel about you, that going all cold and logical again could change me that much.”

He shrugged, his hands falling to his sides. “I’m not saying it will. To be honest, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think even the doctors know. But there’s a chance just the same.”

“Do you want me to forget?”

“No, I don’t,” Alok said. “The chance that you might, though, has me more scared than anything has ever scared me before in all my six years.”

Her eyes widened. “You’re only six years old?”

He chuckled. “Six years, seven months, and three days, actually,” he said.

Sylari appeared to think about that for a moment. “Oh my! I just realized something—and remembered something!” she said, her sudden excitement causing her voice to rise in pitch like it had before.

“What is it?”

“We have the same birthday! Of course, I’m like, eighteen years older than you but still—January 29th, by Earth’s calendar.”

Alok raised his eyebrow. “Sylari, are you sure you didn’t just see that on a display, like when we were in Medbay earlier this morning?”

“I’m sure of it! And I haven’t asked the computer or looked at my service record or anything. Isn’t it great that we have the same birthday?!”

Her enthusiasm for this realization was infectious, and he laughed with her. “Anyway,” he said after a moment. “What were you saying before that I missed?”

She sobered at his words, though she kept a small smile on her face as she said, “I was saying that I think I did alright while you were gone, but I was anxious the whole time. I’ve spent so much time with you this morning it felt almost…wrong…that you weren’t around. That probably sounds stupid.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he countered. “You just got used to having me around. But not having me around is something else we’re going to have to think about, Sylari, first due to living arrangements. Guest quarters on this class of starship are mostly on deck three, one below where we are now. Are you going to be alright up here by yourself tonight?”

She nodded. “I think so, as long as I know exactly where you are.”

“Alright, when I get a cabin assignment I’ll make sure you know,” he said. “And another thing we have to start thinking about is when you get your memory back. You’re the senior conn officer of this ship, which means eventually we’re going to be separated.”

“But I don’t want to be separated!” Sylari protested, her chest beginning to rise and fall heavily as though she were on the verge of hyperventilation.

“My apologies,” he said when it appeared that his words were adding to her anxiety. “I do not mean to cause you any more stress than you’re already under.”

Alok ran a hand over his short blond hair and paced away from her. “I may be projecting my own stress onto you, which is not fair to you.” He turned back to face her. “This is all very new to me, Sylari. Having feelings for someone, romantic feelings… I’ve never done this before. I am only six years old. I am having a difficult time understanding how I could feel this way when we’ve only known each other a few hours, as well as having to accept that the woman I know isn’t the woman you are. I’m facing the very real possibility that your feelings for me could change when you get your memory back, and that scares me. I don’t want to lose you and I don’t want to get hurt. So I’m not just reminding you, I’m reminding myself of the fact that we’re eventually going to be parting ways. I’m preparing myself for the possibility that all this is going to go away in your mind like it never happened.”

She stared at him for a long moment, controlling her breathing until it was back to normal, then she stepped up to him and took his face in her hands. “No,” she said, her voice strong and determined. “I refuse to forget you. I refuse to forget that you make me feel safe and cared for. I don’t know if that’s some residual effect of the mind meld with my brother or if it’s something I’ve determined in the last few hours of getting to know you. Maybe it’s a combination of the two. All I know is that I refuse to forget. I don’t want what we have to go away.”

And with that, she stood on her toes and touched her lips to his.

*****

Alok sighed as he entered his guest quarters later that evening, more than ready to settle down for the night and get some sleep…but not entirely sure he’d be able to. He was tired, sure—he hadn’t slept in about 40 hours—but his mind was still running wild with the day’s events.

And whenever he had a moment to himself, he couldn’t help replaying the moment of his first kiss. He couldn’t help remembering how soft and pliant Sylari’s lips had been, how easily they had yielded to his. He couldn’t help remembering—was sure he couldn’t possibly forget—how perfectly their bodies fit together in that intimate embrace.

He was in the midst of stripping off his uniform for a shower when the intercom sounded.

“Bridge to Alok.”

Pausing as he was about to pull his boot off, he said, “Go ahead.”

Sir, we’re receiving a transmission from the U.S.S. Wolfsong—an Ensign Alexander Locksley is requesting to speak to you.”

He glanced at the chronometer on the wall—it was nearly 2200 hours. Why was Alex calling this late, and why hadn’t he just used their subspace link?

“Patch it through to my quarters,” he said, yanking one boot off and then the other before striding over to the desk and switching on the monitor.

Transferring now. Bridge out.

Alok was sitting in the chair at the desk when Alex’s face appeared onscreen. “What can I do for you Alex?” he asked tiredly.

“I just thought I would check in one more time and see how you’re doing,” his brother replied.

“You could have used the subspace link,” Alok pointed out.

Alex shrugged. “I figured you’d appreciate a face-to-face conversation this time,” he said. “And I wanted to see for myself how you’re dealing with everything.”

“What is looking at my face going to tell you that our link couldn’t?”

The older brother scoffed and shook his head. “Dude, you of all people should know the value of observing facial expression and listening to pitch and tone of voice. I was worried about you after you wigged out on me twice.”

Alok frowned. “Whatever are you talking about? You couldn’t have known how I was feeling over the link.”

Alex raised his eyebrows. “Bro, trust me—I knew. I don’t know how I knew, but I did.”

“The link does not convey emotion. It doesn’t even truly convey sound.”

“I’m aware of that,” Alex conceded. “I can’t explain it, but from the first time you said my name this morning, I knew you were stressed out. And given what you told me the second time we talked—”

“Alright, alright,” Alok said sourly. “As you can see, I’m fine.”

Alex raised an eyebrow. “Are you?”

“Yes,” he snapped, his tone exasperated. Onscreen his brother was giving him a knowing look, to which he growled faintly as he rubbed his hands over his face. “Alright, perhaps I am not a hundred percent.”

“That’s what I figured,” Alex said, though his tone was sympathetic and not mocking. “How did it go this afternoon?”

“Sylari and I had a talk. I pointed out that there was a chance her feelings for me would change when she got her memory back. I also reminded her that she is the conn officer of the Ireland and that after she has this mind meld with her father she’ll have to report back here for duty. I reminded her that we’re eventually going to be separated anyway after she told me she’d suffered from some anxiety while I was on Sanctuary gathering my things for this trip.”

“Harsh words.”

“True words,” Alok corrected, “although I hated saying every one of them. However, they had to be said.”

“How did Sylari take it?” Alex asked.

Alok leaned forward and braced his elbows on the edge of the desk, resting his head in his hands for a moment before sitting back again. “She claims she doesn’t want to be separated. And that she refuses to forget how she feels about me. And she said she doesn’t want what we have to go away.”

Alex was silent for a moment. “And you’re afraid that no matter what she says, she’s going to forget you anyway, or at the very least that her feelings for you are going to change.”

Looking his brother in the eye, Alok nodded. “Why does it have to be like this, Alex? What is the point? Why do we fall in love if even the possibility of getting hurt is so damn upsetting?”

“Because when you find the right person, it’s worth it.”

“And you know so much because…? Look at how many women you’ve dated in the last four years alone,” Alok pointed out.

Alex shook his head. “Doesn’t mean I’ve never been in love, man.”

“Then why don’t you give up your girl in every port and settle down with Zuna already?”

His brother’s shocked expression was enough to make Alok laugh. “How…how do you…?”

“I’m not blind, Alex, even though the two of you are.”

Alex scoffed again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that you’re in love with her and she’s in love with you, but you’re both too blind to notice how the other one feels and too damn pig-headed to look each other in the eye and admit it,” Alok replied succinctly. “Really, why I even bothered to come to you for advice is beyond me.”

Alex sputtered for several seconds, before at last clearing his throat and saying, “You know what? That’s a conversation for another day, one that’s a long way off. And we’re not talking about me anyway, we’re talking about you.”

Alok shot him a knowing look, but conceded the point with a nod. “As you wish, brother.”

“So what happened after this heart-to-heart you had with Sylari?”

“She kissed me.”

Alex’s eyes grew large. “Seriously?”

“Would I have said it if it weren’t true?”

“No, I know you wouldn’t,” Alex replied. “I’m just surprised. Again. This has turned out to be a hell of a day for you—your first love and your first kiss all in about what, twelve hours?”

Alok nodded. “Something like that, yes.”

He went on to describe the rest of the afternoon, from their tour of the Ireland, their departure from Sanctuary (Captain Callahan had allowed Sylari to perform the undocking procedures and to man the helm until the end of Alpha shift), and dinner in the mess hall. He appreciated that Captain Callahan had warned the crew about Sylari’s amnesia and had advised them to approach her with caution as she wouldn’t remember them. She had handled it well for a while, but eventually had gotten so overwhelmed by the attention that she’d asked him to take her to her quarters. There she had confessed once again that while the people and the ship were familiar to her, she just didn’t feel connected to them.

“It’s obviously been a trying day for her as well,” Alex remarked.

“It has. When I finally convinced her to get some rest, she fell asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.”

“And now I’m keeping you awake,” Alex said as Alok was stifling a yawn.

Alok waved his words off. “It’s okay, Alex. You were concerned about me, and I do appreciate that. What did Zuna say when you told her?”

Alex tried—and failed—to look innocent. “When I told her what? I gave you my word.”

“You also reminded me that I know how she is,” he pointed out. “Given that she was with you when I first contacted you this morning, and when you contacted me at lunchtime, I know you’ve spoken with her about my situation. You always did have a hard time keeping secrets from her.”

His brother grinned sheepishly. “Especially when she gives me The Look—you know the one I mean,” he said.

Alok grinned as well. “I do. But I also know I can resist her where you cannot—a sure sign you’re in love with her.”

“Whatever, Alok,” Alex said. “So yeah, I caved. But I tried to make it, you know, not as bad as you made it sound.”

“So I seemed less pathetic when you told my story to her than I was when I told it to you?”

“Something like that,” Alex said with a laugh. “Look, I’m really sorry to have kept you up. And I hope that things work out for you man, I really do. You could use a good woman to balance yourself out.”

“So could you, Alex,” Alok replied. “Better not wait too long, or Zuna will get snatched up by someone else and it will be too late for you.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” his brother said noncommittally. “Goodnight, Alok.”

The clone nodded. “Goodnight, Alex.”

*****

The week had gone by too fast.

Given that it would have taken Columbia two weeks to reach Sanctuary, when Ireland was granted permission to arrange a rendezvous from Command, both captains had figured the simplest thing to do would be to meet halfway. That was seven days ago—both ships would be arriving at the prearranged coordinates in just a few minutes’ time.

Though he believed he had succeeded in keeping his true feelings hidden from Sylari—he’d only ever smiled or laughed with her—the truth was that Alok, who had prior to meeting her prided himself on his ability to remain emotionally detached, was falling deeper and deeper into abject misery.

And this on top of falling in love for the first time.

On the one hand he was happy for Sylari. He was of the opinion that mind-melding with her father would allow her blocked memories to surface, and that she would truly be well and whole again. She’d had a good week, wherein the more she saw of the Ireland, the more time she spent on the ship, it had become more and more familiar to her. The people had become more and more familiar to her, though she still claimed she did not feel the connection she was sure even a “cold, logical Vulcan” must to his or her colleagues. She’d been allowed to sit at conn every day because she remembered what to do there, and that concession by Captain Callahan had helped her feel useful. She liked feeling like she was contributing instead of being a burden, which, on her bad days—when she’d expressed anger and frustration at not being able to remember everything—she’d felt for sure she was, and had to be reminded that she most certainly was not.

Like him, her anxiety at the possibility of losing their growing relationship frightened her. She didn’t want to lose him, and she reassured him every day that she was not going to forget. Still, he knew that beneath the surface she feared it as much as he. Alok told himself that the best thing he could do was to enjoy the time he had with her, to not waste a moment, and he made sure that when they were together he kept his attention focused on her, on the moment, rather than worrying about what might happen in the future. It wasn’t always easy, though, to look at her beautiful face, to see her eyes sparkle with laughter or her lips smiling with joy, and not think of the fact that very soon, he would see those expressions on her no more. That when the Ireland returned him to Sanctuary, she would not be staying with him.

Even while his heart was filling with love for her, it was breaking every day.

The night before the rendezvous, feeling deeply melancholy, Alok had ordered the computer to play songs that fit his mood. Whether he had not expressed his instructions clearly enough or because the computer had a twisted sense of humor (not that such was even possible, but he was in that kind of mood), sad love songs had been added to the playlist. In the middle of one particular song, he ordered the computer to pause and tell him about the song and the artist.

Richie, Lionel Brockman, born June 20, 1949, deceased—

“I don’t care when he died, it was three hundred years ago,” Alok snapped. “Tell me about the song.”

Song title is “Hello,” from the 1984 album Can’t Slow Down. Duration: five minutes, twenty-eight seconds.

“Thank you, that will do. Resume playback, from the beginning of the song.”

The computer chirped, and the first notes of piano chords began to play…

*****

Alok blinked, snapped out of his reverie by Lt. Reensek’s announcement that they had arrived at the prearranged coordinates, and that Columbia had arrived as well.

Sylari, who had been too nervous to take the helm for the last leg of the trip, squeezed his hand nervously as the Nebula-class ship on which her father served as first officer appeared on the viewsreen. She stared across the bridge intently as Callahan stood.

“All stop. Commander Sulu, you have the bridge. I am going to meet our guest in the transporter room,” he said, and started toward the two of them as Sulu—the small Asian woman they had met the first day—acknowledged.

When he reached them, Alok and Sylari turned with him and walked to the turbolift behind them, which they rode in silence down to deck eight. Again they were silent as they walked to the transporter room, where Callahan spoke with the operator and the three of them turned as one toward the transporter pad, where moments after Callahan said “Energize” two figures appeared. One was Silmar, the other Captain Lindze Regan, Columbia’s commanding officer.

“Captain Regan, I do not believe we have had the pleasure of meeting in person,” Callahan said cordially as he stepped forward to greet the new arrivals.

“Indeed we have not,” the other captain replied, stepping down from the platform. “Though I believe your grandfather was born on New Middle Earth, where I’m from.”

Callahan grinned. “You have done your homework, Captain. He was born in Osgiliath.”

He then turned to the man who had arrived with her. “Commander, welcome to the Ireland.”

Silmar nodded, sparing him but a glance. “Thank you, Captain Callahan,” he said, then stepped past the younger man, stopping an arm’s length away from where Alok stood with Sylari. His gaze took in her wary expression, her stiff posture, the way she almost stood behind the much taller Alok for protection. He then roamed his gaze over the tall clone.

Meeting his eyes, he said, “I would like to express my gratitude to you once again, Mr. Alok, for seeing to my daughter’s comfort so diligently.”

Alok cleared his throat as he glanced down at Sylari and back again. “It was my pleasure, sir.”

Silmar then turned to the two captains, his attention on Callahan. “Have you a location selected where the mind meld is to be performed?”

Callahan nodded. “Aye. Our counselor and our chief medical officer are waiting for us in the former’s office.”

Silmar nodded, and turned to Sylari. “Shall we go, my daughter?”

Sylari looked up at Alok, who nodded and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. They then turned and led the party out of the transporter room and down to a turbolift.

When the five arrived at the counselor’s office on deck seven and found the two officers waiting, with two chairs placed facing one another in the middle of the room, Sylari’s grip on his hand tightened. Alok leaned down, saying softly, “It’s going to be alright, Sylari.”

“Promise you won’t leave me?” she whispered, her eyes as she looked up at him pleading.

He pulled his hand from hers and cupped her face gently. “I will be right here the whole time,” he said. “Don’t be afraid—he’s your father, he’s not going to hurt you. Somewhere under all that logic, he loves you and just wants what’s best for you.”

Tilting her head forward, he placed what he believed to be the last kiss he would get to give her on her brow, then lowered his hands and gently prodded her toward where Silmar stood waiting by the two chairs. The Vulcan commander sent him a look he was not certain how to decipher as Sylari slowly lowered herself into one of the chairs, then he took the other.

As he raised his hands toward her face, Sylari swallowed heavily, her eyes widening slightly as his fingers touched her katra points.

“My mind to your mind,” Silmar said, beginning the familiar incantation. “My thoughts to your thoughts. Our minds, our thoughts, are one.”

A second later, both Vulcans closed their eyes. They would remain that way, their only movement breathing, for over an hour. Alok was anxious and restless the entire time, yet he found he could not move, could not take his eyes off the scene before him. Ireland’s doctor, counselor and captain joined Columbia’s captain in taking seats to wait out the duration, but he could not get his legs to take him from his place just inside the door.

At long last, though, Silmar opened his eyes, followed by Sylari opening hers. Alok could tell immediately that a change had taken place. Somehow…he just knew.

Silmar turned to where Callahan and Regan both sat on the visitors’ couch. “I believe that my daughter’s memory has been restored,” he said.

“That is good to hear,” Callahan said, standing. “How are you feeling, Ensign?”

“I am well, Captain,” she replied. “I only regret that such measures were necessary, and ask your pardon, as well as yours, Captain Regan, that you were both put out.”

“Nonsense, Sylari,” Regan said, the older woman standing as well, and Alok realized that she had more than a passing acquaintance with her. “No one was put out—we just wanted to make sure you got your memory back.”

Both Silmar and Sylari stood then, as did Dr. Vinazzo and the counselor. “Your sentiments are appreciated, Captain. As my father has told you, I believe that the mind meld has assisted me in achieving total recall.”

“That’s great news, but I hope you won’t mind if I do one more scan for the record,” spoke of Dr. Vinazzo, gesturing with the tricorder he held.

“Of course you may,” Sylari replied, and she stood still as he pulled out the scanning wand and moved it around her head.

When he was finished, he said, “Looks pretty much the same as before, although there is some increased activity in your mesiofrontal cortex as compared with your last scan.”

“The mesiofrontal cortex is where the blockage of my memories occurred,” she informed him.

Vinazzo’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Did the mind meld reveal what caused the blockage?” he asked.

For the first time since she and her father had come to, Sylari flicked her eyes toward Alok, but quickly returned her gaze to the doctor. “Dr. Garcia’s assessment of a week ago was correct—the cause was psychological. However, I would prefer not to discuss the details at this time.”

Vinazzo held up his hands. “Hey, none of my business if you don’t want to discuss it. That’s for Shrinker over there. My job’s just to make sure you’re okay physically, which you are.”

“Thank you, Dr. Vinazzo,” Sylari replied.

The doctor then dropped the tricorder into a pocket and turned to his captain. “Sir, now that it appears we’re finished here, I’d like to get back to Sickbay.”

Callahan nodded. “Of course, Doctor. As always, your services are most appreciated.”

Nodding and saying goodbye, Dr. Vinazzo turned and walked past Alok and out of the room.

The next person to speak was Ireland’s counselor, who said, “I would like to discuss what happened, Ensign, but I will give you a few days to get used to being back to yourself. I’ll check my appointment schedule and get back to you.”

“I appreciate that, Counselor.”

After that, the two captains, Silmar and the counselor looked from Sylari to Alok, who cleared his throat and said curtly, “Well, I’m glad you got your memory back, Ensign. As it appears my services are no longer required, I believe I will return to my quarters. Captains, Counselor.”

“Alok, please wait a moment,” Sylari said. “I would like to speak to you privately, if I may.”

He’d already turned to leave, feeling an overwhelming need to escape the room, but he turned back, waiting silently as the four officers quietly took their leave. Alok stiffened his posture, crossing his arms over his chest defensively as he waited for Sylari to speak.

When they were alone, she stepped up to him. “I can sense your anxiety, your hesitation,” she said. “Your fear.”

“Thank you for being so succinct in your observation, Ensign,” he said, unable to keep the sharpness out of his voice.

She surprised him by saying next, “I was afraid. That was the cause of my memory blockage.”

Alok blinked. “What were you afraid of?” he asked, his tone much softer.

“Death,” she replied. “I should have waited for the meteor shower to pass—it would only have been thirty minutes’ delay, which I could have transmitted a report of to the Ireland. However, the arrogance of youth prompted me to attempt passing through it when I had determined I could not go around it. It was a mistake that nearly cost me my life.

“When I realized my folly it was too late to escape. I concentrated my efforts into keeping the Emerald Isle intact—that is why I never initiated a distress signal—and I felt the first stirrings of fear. I began to fear I would not survive, that I would not see my father or my brother again. And I feared that I would never know if Tahir was right about you. I was thinking of you when I crashed, right before I lost consciousness. I believe that is why I felt so strong an attachment to you when first we met.”

He studied her face which, though it seemed not as unfeeling as it had in her personal logs, was still just this side of expressionless. It was almost as if she were delivering a shift report. He brushed the thought aside and asked, “Why are you telling me this?”

At this point, her countenance did soften. She didn’t smile, but Alok could see that her facial muscles had relaxed their stoic position. Also, he could see in her eyes a hint of…something. An emotion, perhaps—he wasn’t quite sure.

“Because you fear that you have become a non-entity, that the nature of our relationship has changed,” Sylari said softly.

“Hasn’t it?”

Sylari raised her hand, extending the first two fingers. “Only if you wish it to,” she said, her voice becoming even softer, her expression shifting yet again, this time to one that he recognized.

“My feelings and sentiments, though I may not express them, have not changed,” she said. “I recall all that you have done for me this past week. I recall all that you have said to me. I recall all that I have said to you—and I recall the way you have made me feel. You are my t’hy’la, for as long as you choose to remain so.”

Relief such as he had never known coursed through him, and realizing that her raised hand was part of some Vulcan rite, he raised his own hand, first two fingers extended, and she touched the tips of hers to his. Alok smiled hugely, then leaned forward and lightly rested his brow against hers.

“I’m yours until I’m dead or you find somebody better.”

For a long moment, they simply stood there, and then Sylari lifted her head and touched her lips to his. Overcome with emotion, Alok wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss, to which she responded as enthusiastically as she had the first time. When at last he stepped back, he looked into her eyes with wonder. “Why did you…?”

“I may not express my emotions in public, but I will, occasionally, express them in private—and only for you,” she replied.

He grinned. “I can’t tell you how relieved I am that you still feel…anything at all, let alone that you…”

His thought ended in mid-sentence, as he could no longer find the words to express the depth of his emotion. This…this was completely unexpected. Alok had truly believed she was going to either forget him or at the least disregard whatever feelings she had had for him. But he’d been wrong—wrong to have not had faith in her, to not have believed her when she had sworn she would not forget and that she did not want what they had to go away.

Now you will know better, came her voice inside his head, surprising him further that not only could he hear her, but that its tone carried a trace of amusement.

“How are you…?” he started to say, but she shook her head at him.

I will stop if you wish it, for the process has only just begun, said Sylari silently. But as we have declared our intent to one another, I have begun to bond my mind to yours—we will be linked by a connection far deeper than most species ever achieve.

He decided to attempt to respond in kind, and thought, Don’t we need a priest of some kind for that? Or your father maybe?

Alok realized then that the link was not only mental but emotional, for he felt her pleasure that he knew at least something about Vulcan mating rituals. It is possible that my father’s assistance may be required to complete the bond, for I am still young by Vulcan standards and my psionic gifts are not as strong as his.

She paused and looked at him questioningly. “Have I judged incorrectly that you wish to be mated with me?” she asked aloud.

Alok shook his head and smiled. “Oh no,” he said. “As incredible as it sounds, given that we barely know each other, I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know everything there is to know about you.”

“And I you,” Sylari replied, reaching for his face with both hands.

She recited the words her father had used before, and Alok felt her enter his mind. At first, his training against psionic attack had him throwing up shields, but he reminded himself that this was Sylari, that he loved her, and slowly he let the walls fall down. She was patient with him, waiting until he was comfortable, before she proceeded further, before she opened up her mind to join with his.

By exploring her memories, Alok learned what it was like to have an extended family. He learned what it was like to have parents, grandparents—or as Vulcans called them, foremothers and forefathers. By bonding with her, he was gaining more ties and relations than he’d ever believed he would have, more than he’d even thought possible. Hers was an ancient bloodline with ties to many noble Vulcan houses, and he felt a little shamed that he was bringing almost nothing to their union.

She quelled his shame when she said, You are bringing you. That is all that matters to me.

Alok felt himself smile at that. He felt her amusement at his wonder that, as she’d said, while Vulcans did not express emotions they certainly did feel them. He felt the love she still carried for her mother, whom she missed terribly, and for her father and brother, whom she knew tended to think of her as delicate and needing protection. He saw her father’s concern for her well-being when he’d learned of her accident and her last visit with Tahir, and her memory of the mind meld they had shared. Besides the fact that she had judged his face to be physically attractive
—which pleased him greatlyhe learned Tahir had shown her that he believed him to be an even-tempered, strong-willed, forthright individual who would dedicate himself to a mate as wholly as he did to his work, and it was for precisely this reason he thought that Alok and Sylari were well-suited to one another. 

It would appear he was not wrong, Alok said.

In his line of work, my brother must be a good judge of character. He has chosen well for me, Sylari replied.

Because she had opened herself up to him, had given so much of herself to him, Alok knew he could do no less, and he showed her his life as he had known it. He still carried memories of his life as an automaton, and he showed her what that had been like. He still recalled his first sentient thought, his first emotion. He recalled for her his desire to become his own man, his frustration at being controlled. She saw and felt his angry, violent first confrontation with Alex, and he felt her relief as she watched the memory of them coming to an understanding. She was as glad as he was when he learned that the Obsidian Order had been decimated, freeing him to be that which he should have been all along:

A free man, in charge of his own destiny.

Though many of his missions shocked her, she did not withdraw as he had feared she would. Instead she fed more of her love for him across the bond, and told him she was not afraid of who he had been, who he had been forced to become. He was his own man now, had chosen his own path. She accepted Alok as he was, flaws and dangerous past and all, and still she loved him.

He loved her even more for that.

It was a long time before she withdrew and their minds were separate again, though Alok realized that when he thought of it, he could still feel a lingering presence.

It will always be there—I will always be there. You have only to think of me, to seek me out with your mind, and you will know where I am. At least, when we are on the same ship. I do not believe I am gifted enough to transmit our bond over interstellar distances…at least, not yet.

“That… That’s something else,” Alok said aloud, his gaze searching hers. “How are we going to make this work if we’re assigned to two different places?”

“According to custom, now that we are bonded we are required to spend one Vulcan year on the home planet to solidify our union,” Sylari replied. “I do not believe it will be necessary to travel all the way to Vulcan, though I surmise the custom could serve as explanation for my need to return to Sanctuary with you.”

“Sylari, I can’t ask you to just give up your job for me. I know how much you enjoy being a pilot,” Alok argued, tapping his temple.

“And I cannot ask you to give up your position for me; thus we are at an impasse unless compromise can be reached,” she replied, then gave a hint of a smile. “Besides, I do not recall you asking me to. I have offered.”

“Are you sure about this?” he pressed. “I mean, Ireland is a Sovereign-class starship—serving aboard one is supposed to be an honor.”

“And it has been my honor to do so these past two years,” Sylari countered. “Yet I have found myself in a position that requires I make a choice: my job or my husband. I choose the latter, for there will be other opportunities to pilot a starship.”

Good heavens… I’m a husband now, Alok thought. Won’t Alex just flip when he hears I went and got myself married to a girl I’ve only known a week?

At least he will no longer be able to tease you mercilessly about your love life, Sylari replied.

Actually, this just might make him worse.

*****

The entered Sickbay together and found Captains Regan and Callahan, along with Silmar, Dr. Vinazzo, and Ireland’s counselor cloistered in Dr. Vinazzo’s office. The conversation ended abruptly at their appearance.

“Captain Callahan,” Sylari began. “I regret that I must inconvenience you further by requesting an immediate transfer to Sanctuary.”

“A transfer?” he queried.

She nodded. “That is correct—either that or a year’s leave of absence. Both situations require that you find a suitable replacement to fill my position. For the inconvenience, sir, I offer my apologies.”

“Do I even want to know what has precipitated this sudden decision?” Callahan asked, though his expression when he looked at Alok told everyone in the room that he already knew.

Captain Regan smiled. “It’s practically written on their faces, Jerome,” she said. “Sylari and Alok have bonded.”

“Is she even old enough to do that?” asked Dr. Vinazzo. “Can she even initiate a bond on her own?”

“My daughter is physically mature, Dr. Vinazzo, and at twenty-four has been of legal age according to Federation law for six years,” Silmar stated matter-of-factly. “While her psionic gifts still have many years yet to grow and strengthen, I assure you she is skilled enough, and quite capable, of initiating the mating bond. My only concern would be whether or not she has acted in haste.”

“You have seen my mind, Father,” Sylari said. “You are aware of my feelings on this matter.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Indeed,” he replied, “which is why I said ‘would be.’ Having shared your thoughts so recently, I am well aware of where you stand.”

The elder Vulcan looked at Alok. “It is customary among many species to offer congratulations when one’s child has married, and to welcome the new spouse into the family.”

Alok nodded. “Thank you, sir. I give you my word that my feelings for Sylari are genuine, and that she will be well looked after.”

“Indeed,” Silmar said again, “as it would be unwise to incur the wrath of so many individuals as care for Sylari, her brother least of all.”

Dr. Vinazzo, the counselor, and Captain Regan laughed. Captain Callahan shook his head and, stepping closer to his conn officer, asked her, “Ensign, are you certain this is what you want? It’s really quite sudden, and you’ve only just got your memory back. Perhaps you should wait a while before making such a major decision.”

Sylari gave him the ghost of a smile. “Captain, I very much appreciate your concern for my welfare. It is pleasing to know that you care for me as you do. However, having regained full use of all my mental faculties, I was able to conclude that—based on what I have learned of him these past seven days—Tahir’s assessment of Alok was correct. He and I are indeed well suited. As such, there is no logical reason to delay taking him as my bondmate.”

Callahan sighed heavily. “You Vulcans and your logic,” he said, though not unkindly. “If only the rest of us could find decision-making to be so easy.”

“Or the process of finding a spouse,” added Vinazzo. “I’ve been on the market for years, and Sylari finds hers in a week.”

“Indeed, Doctor,” said Callahan with a smile. He turned his attention once more to Sylari. “If you are certain this is what you want, Ensign, I will speak to Captain Natale about finding a place for you. It won’t likely be as prestigious a position as conn officer of a capital starship has been, but—”

“But I will be with my husband, as well a wife should be,” she finished for him. “At least for the first of our many years together.”

“Now who can argue with that?” Ireland’s captain said.

*****

As it so happened, Jerome Callahan’s conversation with Sanctuary’s commander yielded a different result than either he, Alok, or even Sylari expected. Though certainly Natale was as surprised as Callahan had been by the turn of events, she was perfectly happy to accept a skilled pilot onto her crew.

It was more, Sylari commented at dinner that evening, than she had had any right to expect for so sudden a request.

After assuring themselves that Sylari’s decision was her own, her father and Captain Regan returned to the Columbia and their assignment—a cargo run to one of the outlying systems in Cardassian space. Ireland would be ferrying the newlyweds back to Sanctuary before returning to their duties as part of the 5th Fleet.

Throughout the rest of the day, Alok could feel the stares of the Ireland crew. When the abrupt ending at his appearance of whispered conversations began to bother him, Sylari reminded him through their bond that they had no one to account to but themselves and their captains, and that he should not allow the stares and whispers to get to him. Shipboard scuttlebutt was simply part of the package when you for all intents and purposes married someone you’d known a week, and so she reminded him of his manner before he’d met her—that he’d been as uncaring of what people thought of him as Vulcans were.

Alok smiled, for neither she nor her brother were the first to compare his personality to that of a Vulcan. He responded with the suggestion that it was, perhaps, yet more evidence for the argument of their being “well suited to one another.” As soon as he learned to adjust to his new role as someone’s husband, he knew he really wouldn’t give a damn what anyone thought. The only two people whose opinions really mattered were Alex and Zuna, and for the life of him he wasn’t sure how to break it to them. He’d as likely as not get the same lecture from them as Callahan had subtly given Sylari—they’d only known each other a week, was this what he really wanted, etc., etc.

“Just tell them like it is,” Sylari had suggested. “He is your brother and she your friend—certainly they will support your decision.”

True, he’d thought, and Alex had certainly been supportive of his pursuing a relationship with Sylari. But Sylari didn’t know Zuna, how outrageously protective she was. If he was lucky, she’d only send a strongly worded message to Sylari about doing right by him. Worst case scenario had them facing each other down in a public forum, which would put him in a most uncomfortable position—choosing between them.

Not, he realized as soon as the thought crossed his mind, that there really was a choice. He would certainly side with Sylari if it ever became an issue, and if she knew him well at all, Zuna would know that. Alok just hoped that for once in her life she would think before she acted, because as strongly as she felt about him and his brother, he knew Zuna wouldn’t want to alienate his affection for her by doing something incredibly stupid, like exchanging words with Sylari she didn’t need to say.

He was still trying to think of what to say to his brother as he packed the few things he had brought on this trip into his duffel bag—he’d be spending the return trip with Sylari in her quarters. Of course, thinking of that had his thoughts switching course, in that he was now thinking of the fact that he would, for the first time, be sharing living space with someone of the opposite gender. Not only would they be sharing quarters, as husband and wife they’d be sharing a bed, which he was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time…

…because he’d never shared his bed with a woman before.

From their mind meld, he was aware that Sylari knew that. He was also aware of the fact that she had also never shared herself with anyone before. While neither of them were particularly ignorant of the “technical” aspects of lovemaking—obviously they knew what to do—they simply had no idea how to do it in a way that would please the other.

Do not be frightened, t’hy’la, Sylari said. We have many years in which to learn.

At that Alok smiled, and as he shoved the last item in his bag, he found himself marveling at being able to communicate with someone other than Alex in a way that no one else could hear. He also liked that the telepathic link with Sylari was different than the subspace link he shared with Alex, as the bond he now shared with her would allow him to feel what she was feeling, even when she wasn’t expressing it outwardly for others to see.

As he was walking to the turbolift, he found his thoughts drifting between how to tell Alex what had happened and the night ahead during which his impromptu marriage would be consummated—maybe. He was saved, in part, from having to decide which to dwell on more when Alex’ voice came into his head.

-Alok, how are you? Sorry I couldn’t speak to you before now, today was a little more busy than I’d thought it would be.-

-That’s alright, Alex. You have a job to do.-

-The mind meld was today, right? What happened?- Alex went on.

“Just tell them like it is,” Sylari had said.

Well, here goes nothing, he thought.

-I got married,- he said to his brother.

Several seconds went by without a response. -Alex?-

-I’m sorry, could you say that again?-

Suddenly he had an idea of what Alex had meant when he’d said he could “feel” his anxiety over the link, for he knew without a doubt that Alex was either flabbergasted or just plain stunned—or a combination thereof. Either that or he thought he was joking—but then he’d never been much of a jester. While he had certainly exchanged his share with the likes of Alex and Zuna, and the others he called his friends, for the most part humor was a concept that all but escaped his understanding.

-According to Vulcan custom, Sylari and I are married,- he said. -After the mind meld with her father, she asked to speak to me in private. When we were alone she confessed that she still felt the same about me, which I admit was a great relief.-

-Yeah, but married, Alok? Are you sure about that?-

-Yes. She created a bond with me, the kind that can’t be broken without causing physical and possibly mortal harm to each of us.-

Another silence, and then, -Good grief, man. Are you sure this is what you want? You’ve only known her a week.-

-Zuna I’d have expected this from, but not you. You’re the first person who told me I act just like a Vulcan,- Alok countered.

-You do, most of the time.-

-Precisely. Besides, Sylari made a perfectly logical argument in favor of our being bonded that I happen to agree with.-

-What did she say?- his brother asked.

-That our temperaments are indeed alike, something her brother had told her, and we’re well suited to each other. As such, there’s no reason to delay becoming bondmates. Captain Callahan replied that he wished all decision-making could be so easy.-

-He’s got a point,- Alex agreed. -Look, I’m sorry for coming down on you. I just wanted to be sure this was what you wanted, but I should have known better than to question you. You never make a decision without being sure.-

-Thank you, Alex.-

-What should I tell Zuna? She’s been chomping at the bit with wanting to know how you are.-

Alok sighed as the lift he had called for finally arrived. He stepped into it and ordered it up one level. -I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, he said. Tell her whatever you think is best.-

-You know that if I tell her you got married she’s going to lose it.-

-It’s not like she missed out on the wedding ceremony or anything. It was a Vulcan bonding.-

-Which, according to you, is essentially the same thing. You know that when she hears this, she’s going to want to have a talk with Sylari for sure.-

He stepped out of the lift when the doors opened and headed for Sylari’s quarters. -I know, and I’d very much appreciate it if you’d exercise some measure of control over her. I don’t want her upsetting Sylari.-

-I thought Vulcans didn’t get upset?- Alex prompted.

-She wouldn’t show it, but she’d feel it,- Alok countered. -And so would I. You have to remember that Sylari’s still very young for a Vulcan. She’s still learning the finer points of controlling and suppressing her emotions. I’ve no doubt that Zuna has the capability of hurting her feelings.-

-True. This is Zuna we’re talking about, Miss Speak-First-and-Think-Later,- Alex conceded. -Alright, I’ll have a talk with her about self-control. I hope that helps, and if I can keep her off of the subspace channels, it means you have a week to prepare yourselves. I assume you’re headed back to Sanctuary now?-

-We are. What do you mean we have a week to prepare ourselves?-

-Wolfsong is scheduled for a layover at Sanctuary next weekend. We’ll be there by the time you guys get back,- his brother replied.

-Thanks for the warning,- he said as he approached cabin 2-06-P, his thoughts shifting to what lay ahead for him and Sylari that night. -Time for me to go, brother.-

-Alright. And Alok—I really am happy for you. I hope this works out.-

Keying the door chime, Alok walked in when Sylari bade him enter, and he smiled at the sight of her in a traditional Vulcan robe, her hair unbound and flowing loosely.

-I’ve no doubt it will,- he replied. -Goodbye, Alex.-

-Later, Alok.-

Sylari approached him with her hand raised, first two fingers extended. Alok shrugged his duffel off his shoulder and raised his hand to meet hers, touching his brow to hers as their fingers met.

“Hello, t’hy’la,” he said, using the word she had said to him earlier in the day.

“Hello, ashayam,” she replied softly.

Alok felt her gentle prodding through the bond and grinned as he lowered his mental barriers, allowing her inside his mind. He felt the strength of the bond increase as their minds became one and turned his head so that he could kiss her. Once again Sylari responded in kind, though this time there was a sense of urgency, of need in their kiss.

Join with me, Alok, Sylari said silently as she leaned back and looked into his eyes.

Momentary confusion flowed across the bond from his end. We are joined, Sylari, he replied.

Alok felt mild amusement from her as she took a few steps back, then reached up and undid the clasp at her throat before opening the robe, lifting it off her shoulders, and allowing it to fall into a puddle on the floor—revealing a perfect, nude body underneath.

He didn’t need to be asked twice.

*****

Alok looked out the viewport of their quarters, from which he could see the lower docking pylons.

Tethered to one of them was the Wolfsong.

Over the last seven days he had become accustomed to living with Sylari. He was beginning to get used to her habits and she was getting used to his. He liked to shower before bed, she preferred to shower after waking each morning. She liked to spend an hour meditating after each duty shift (at Captain Callahan’s request, she had retained her post as conn officer for the remainder of their journey), an hour during which—he had quickly learned—she did not like to be disturbed unless it was vitally important. He didn’t meditate nearly as often, but when he did he was pretty much the same, so after the first time he had spoken to her and received a sharp reply, he didn’t do it again.

Sylari understood that while he may have been nearly as logical as a Vulcan, he was still an emotional being; thus, he was as likely as not to express his feelings, at least through facial expression. He found he could not help but smile at her whenever he looked at her, though he had, at her request, “toned it down” to a polite smile rather than a huge, toothy grin. She also tolerated his occasional desire to take her hand in public, attributing it to a primal need to declare her off-limits to other men and to show that he was her provider and protector.

Alok found that assessment rather amusing.

He also learned what few people in the galaxy would ever know for sure—that a married Vulcan could and would engage in sexual intercourse when not under the influence of pon farr, as they had been together every night (she assured him his attentions pleased her, even though he still felt rather inept). Sex, Sylari explained when asked, was a private matter to be kept between partners, and just because a Vulcan was not driven to copulate did not mean he or she would not be inclined to when they had a bondmate with whom they could do so regularly. It was only through continuous contact with other species that the mating drive had come to the attention of other cultures at all, though still considering it a private matter in their society, Vulcans had done their utmost to keep the details of the condition and its related ceremonies and rituals to themselves.

That was perfectly fine with him, as he had no intention whatsoever of discussing his sex life with anyone, or the fact that when Sylari experienced her first pon farr so would he. It was enough to get used to the fact that he was sexually active at all, and it was only when he had become so that he realized his age and relative immaturity in regard to such matters as love and sex were what had kept him from pursuing either. There was still a part of him that wondered how Tahir could have considered him a suitable mate for his sister given how old he really was, or how it was that Sylari could see him as a man when she was so much older (and more mature in so many ways) than he. She told him that it was his actions, his choices, that made him a man in her eyes, and that the emotional maturity he believed he lacked would come with time.

He had through an obvious source of distraction been able to put off thinking about what would happen when they returned to Sanctuary, at which time, he knew, Alex and Zuna (unless they were on duty) would be waiting for him. They would have all kinds of questions he was either unprepared or unwilling to answer, and that would not sit well with Zuna at all. Alex would respect his privacy, knowing that he would talk to him if and when he chose, but Zuna was the type to push buttons, to dig until she got what she wanted.

There was also the fact that there’d been no message from her in the intervening week, and he’d half expected Alex wouldn’t be able to keep her from sending one. Alok could only come to one conclusion at her silence—she was planning a confrontation. This thought more than anything had agitated him from the moment he’d woken that morning. Sylari had tried to calm him, but her attempts had been unsuccessful—she just didn’t know Zuna like he did. Although he knew that his mood was affecting hers, his bondmate was much better at concealing the agitation than he was, and through the bond he could tell that she was completing her last duty shift on the Ireland without incident.

Alok sighed and picked up his duffel bag, glancing around the now-empty quarters which would soon be occupied by the ship’s new conn officer. All of Sylari’s belongings had been packed and stored in the cargo bay over the last couple of days, and would be transported to his quarters on Sanctuary as soon as they were in transporter range.

Which was right about…now, as Sylari informed him telepathically, We have just settled at station keeping, as we will not be docking due to orders received just a few minutes ago. Would you like me to meet you in our quarters or in transporter room one?

The transporter room will be fine, he replied, sighing once more and exiting into the corridor. I am headed to the cargo bay to see to the transport of your things. I will see you soon.

Very well, t’hy’la, she replied.

Alok smiled at that. He liked how she used one of the few Vulcan words that translated to “beloved” nearly every time they spoke. It made him feel…loved.

After he arrived in the cargo bay and spoke to the attendant, making sure Sylari’s crates were transported to the right location, Alok made his way to transporter room one, where he found Sylari and every member of the Ireland’s senior staff awaiting him. An embarrassed flush crept up his neck as he stepped up next to his bride.

“You better take care of my girl,” said Reensek, scowling as best as he could—which wasn’t much, given that the bone structure of his face didn’t allow it. It didn’t matter, as Alok got the hint: the little alien had said as much to him at least once a day for the last week.

He nodded in response, and said, “You have my word, Lieutenant.”

Reensek harrumphed, then turned his attention to Sylari. “Who am I gonna lean on my console and stare at without you here?”

“Ensign Cole,” Sylari replied.

“He’s not as pretty as you are,” the little man said with a pout.

Then he shrugged. “Whelp, goodbye Ensign—maybe I’ll look you up next time we’re in the neighborhood,” he said, and with a wave, he turned and marched out of the transporter room.

“You’ll have to forgive Reensek,” said Ireland’s counselor. “He’s had something of a crush on you for the last two years.”

“Does not revealing that information constitute a violation of the counselor-patient privilege, Commander?” queried Sylari.

“Only if it’s not common knowledge, Ensign—you’re probably the only one who didn’t notice. Now you take care of yourself, okay? And you,” the counselor’s attention fell on Alok. “Take care of her.”

He nodded. “I will.”

One by one, each member of the senior staff said goodbye to Sylari, and each in their own way warned Alok to be good to her or to take care of her, giving subtle and not-so-subtle hints that there would be hell to pay if he failed to keep his promise. At last there were only Commander Naoki Sulu and Captain Callahan.

Sulu was apparently not as reluctant as the others had been to touch her, and she stepped forward to envelop Sylari in a warm, motherly embrace. “You be good, and take care of yourself,” she said, standing back with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. “Gosh, I can’t believe you’re married already. You’re so young. Anyway, I’m sorry to see you go, Ensign. We’re going to miss you around here.”

Sylari nodded. “I will miss you as well, Commander. Do not forget to take care of yourself and Captain Callahan in my absence.”

Sulu and Alok both laughed at the expression on Callahan’s face. “I was under the impression that Captain Callahan—that is, that I—was perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” he said, laughter in his tone.

The two women exchanged a knowing look and Sulu laughed again. Callahan shook his head and turned to Alok. “Doesn’t seem quite right that you should help bring her back to us only to take her away again,” he said. “Don’t know as I’ll ever forgive you for that.”

“You don’t have to worry, sir. Sylari is in good hands,” Alok assured him.

“She’d certainly better be, as I’d rather not think of what would become of you were she not and Tahir got wind of it. For a Vulcan, he’s really quite protective of her.”

And yet it was Tahir who first thought I would be good for her, Alok thought with no small amount of amusement. Not that he was dismissing Callahan’s statement by any means—from what little he knew of his brother-in-law, Tahir’s usual missions for the Federation Security Bureau closely matched those he once undertook for various interstellar governments; thus, he was a formidable and dangerous man for one so young, and not at all someone to be crossed lightly.

He smiled politely. “I will keep that in mind, Captain.”

“It is time to go, Alok,” Sylari reminded him quietly, and he looked down at her and nodded. The two of them turned and stepped up onto the transporter platform, and when he turned back, Alok saw that both Callahan and Sulu had raised their hands in the Vulcan salute.

Sylari raised her right hand, returning the gesture. “Peace and long life to you both,” she told them.

“Live long and prosper, Sylari of Vulcan,” replied Callahan.

A moment later he and Sulu lowered their hands, and when Sylari followed suit, Callahan turned to the transporter operator. “Energize,” he said, turning back in time for one last look before they dissolved in the sparkle of the transporter’s energy effect.

*****

The two rematerialized on the community transporter station on the Promenade, for which, Alok admitted to himself, he was glad—he’d told Alex they were scheduled to dock at lower pylon three. Now that the end had come, he was glad for an extra moment to shore himself up.

He looked down at Sylari and, upon seeing her raised eyebrow, cleared his throat. “Sorry,” he said aloud.

“I think you worry too much,” she said as they stepped off the platform. “If Dr. Sarrana cares for you as deeply as you believe, she will be happy for you.”

“It’s not that she won’t be happy for me, per se,” Alok replied slowly.

“Do you believe she will resent me for taking you away from her, as it were?”

He shook his head. “No. From what I’ve discerned, she’s in love with my brother.”

Sylari stopped. “Then what is it about her reaction that you fear?” she pressed.

Alok sighed. “Zuna is rather a lot like an older sister to me,” he said. “And a lot like the Tahir your Ireland crewmates and your father have tried to make me fear the wrath of—she’s very protective, of Alex and I both. As such, she tends to be a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ kind of person. Oh, she does it with the best of intentions, sure, but what she doesn’t realize until it’s too late is the fact that she should have kept her big mouth shut from the get-go.”

“And you believe she will attempt to confront me?”

“I don’t just believe she will, I know she will,” he said, though when she took his hand, he smiled at her and instantly felt better.

It pleases me that I am a comfort to you, Alok, she told him silently.

Giving her hand an affectionate squeeze, he smiled again and started toward Nigella’s.

-Alok, where are you?- Alex’s voice came into his head. -Zuna and I are waiting at lower pylon three, but the Ireland hasn’t docked.-

-Forgive me, Alex. I was just about to tell you that Sylari and I had to transport to the station. Ireland won’t be docking due to new orders,- Alok replied.

-Okay. Where should we meet you?-

-We will be at Nigella’s,- he said.

-Alright, see you there.-

At the restaurant, the late lunch crowd was still trickling in, though there wasn’t a long wait before they reached the hostess.

“Good afternoon, and welcome to Nigella’s,” said the woman known only as Guinan. “Just the two of you, Mr. Alok?”

He shook his head. “No, two others will be joining us. My brother and Dr. Sarrana.”

The El-Aurian nodded and checked her seating chart. “I have just the table for you on level three,” she said, and called over an Andorian server he recognized. Raya smiled and gestured for them to follow as she led them toward one of the two winding staircases. After they were seated she took their drink orders and left.

“Excuse me,” Sylari said a moment later, standing.

Alok looked up. “Where are you going?”

“Just to the ladies’ room. I will return shortly,” she said, and strode away from him.

Sylari had been gone hardly more than two minutes when he spotted Alex and Zuna entering the restaurant. He forced the sudden spike in his anxiety to settle down as they approached, both of them taking the stairs two at a time.

Alok stood as Alex walked up to the table and the two embraced. “It’s good to see you, brother,” Alexander Locksley said.

“It is good to see you as well,” Alok replied, and turned his attention to his brother’s companion. “And it is good to see you, Zuna.”

Zuna was looking around at the patrons on the third level. “So where is she?” the Orion asked without preamble.

“Zuna,” Alex admonished softly.

She shrugged as Alok said, “She went to the restroom, if you must know.”

His “sister” grinned. “Why don’t I go see what’s keeping her?” she said, and turned back toward the stairs.

Alex shot a hand out and snagged her by the arm. “Behave, Zuna. I mean it.”

Zuna smiled sweetly as she pulled her arm free of his grasp and walked away.

Alok kept his eyes on her for as long as he could, until she disappeared at the bottom of the stairs. He sat down slowly, his eyes straying to his brother’s as he said, “I hope she doesn’t do anything stupid.”

Alex sat across from him. “I promise you I stressed to her the importance of maintaining the peace, that you weren’t in a position to tolerate her usual antics.”

The clone nodded. “I appreciate your efforts, Alex. I know that Sylari can take care of herself but as you said before, this is Zuna we’re talking about.”

Alex chuckled and attempted to engage the younger man in small talk, succeeding only partially, as Alok’s eyes kept straying to the stairs. He couldn’t help it—surely Sylari should have finished taking care of her needs by now?

Just as he was about to suggest they go in search of the women, he felt distress from Sylari and surged to his feet.

“I’m going to kill her,” he growled, pushing past Alex, who followed quickly.

“Alok, what is it?” his brother asked as he followed him down the winding stairs and over toward the restrooms.

He said nothing as he ran into the ladies’ room to find Zuna and Sylari in what appeared to be a tense stand-off. At their entrance, the former had the grace to at least look guilty, though her expression changed instantly when she saw how livid Alok was. He shot her a dirty look as he pushed between them and gently took Sylari by the shoulders.

Ashayam, are you alright?”

“I am unharmed,” she replied. “I only called to you because I do not feel well and do not feel up to a confrontation at this time.”

“Don’t feel well? Do you need to see a doctor?” he asked, his voice full of concern, his mind searching hers for real the cause of her distress.

It is nothing, I assure you. Just an upset stomach. Perhaps I was more anxious of this meeting than I realized, Sylari assured him.

“She called to you how?” Zuna asked, though she was interrupted by Alex.

“Zuna, what did I tell you?” he all but thundered at her, and Alok could tell his brother was also angry. “I said not to confront her, and not only have you done so in violation of my express request, you’ve done so in violation of Alok’s as well.”

“Oh, come on,” she was saying. “It was just a sisterly chat. I had to make sure she understands that if she breaks his heart, I’ll break her neck.”

Alok whirled on her. “That was uncalled for,” he said angrily. “You are way out of line, and you’ve gone too far this time, Zuna.”

She was saved from further vents of fury by the entrance of Guinan, who looked at the four of them with a bare eyebrow raised. “Is there a problem here?” she asked calmly, though her tone suggested there had better not be.

Alok stifled a growl, and looked at Zuna with daggers in his eyes, his face and neck flushed with righteous anger. “And now you’ve caused me to be embarrassed in front of someone I have to see every day. Thank you, Zuna, so much.”

Placing a hand at the small of Sylari’s back, he guided her toward the door. “No ma’am, no problem,” he said, his voice tightly controlled. “My wife and I were just leaving.”

-Alex, I’d still very much like to see you, so you’re welcome to come to my—that is our—quarters later. But come alone.-

Without waiting for a response, he closed the link to his brother and escorted Sylari out of the restroom and then out of the restaurant.

“Are we not going to stay?” she asked as they passed the bar.

“No,” he said curtly, then allowed his regret to flow across the bond.

My apologies. I shouldn’t take my anger out on you. Are you sure you’re alright?

Do not worry, ashayam. I am well. As I said, I believe the upset was due to my own stress over the meeting. The further I get from Dr. Sarrana, the better I feel, she replied.

He scoffed, feeling like a jerk when it occurred to him that her stress over meeting Zuna might well have been triggered by his own, and after mentioning this he apologized to her again. “Some husband I’m turning out to be,” he muttered darkly as they walked through the Promenade and toward the habitat ring.

Sylari stopped walking and turned to face him, laying the flat of her palm lightly on his chest. “Do not say such a thing. You are proving yourself a remarkable husband.”

He laid his hand over hers. “No regrets?”

She shook her head. “I have none,” she replied, letting him feel how much she truly meant that, and how she was pleased to see him relax and smile.

But she surprised him when, after they started walking again, she said, “Though your anger is understandable, if not justified, you should not let the sun go down upon it.”

Alok looked down at her with his eyebrow raised. “There is no sun on a space station,” he said.

His bondmate raised an eyebrow in return. “I am aware of this, as I am sure you are aware I used the phrase only as a figure of speech. You show not allow the day to end while you are still angry, lest that anger become a festering wound in your soul.”

“Well if it does, Zuna’s the one that put it there,” he said with a snort.

“Be that as it may,” she countered, “it would please me if you would at least…think about it.”

After a long moment of silence, he nodded.

*****

Alex sighed as he pressed the chime for his brother’s quarters. He was still upset himself for the way Zuna had acted—it was not the kind of reception either Alok or Sylari deserved.

Come in,” came Alok’s voice, and the doors parted.

As he stepped inside, Alex noticed several crates stacked off to one side, one of which Alok was lifting as he entered. “Need some help with that?” he offered.

“No thank you, I’ve got it. Be with you in a moment,” Alok replied, turning around and carrying the crate into the bedroom. From inside he heard Sylari express her thanks, and then an admonishment that he should see to his guest. Alok acknowledged and returned a moment later.

“Thank you for coming alone,” he said. “Have a seat, brother.”

While Alok took a seat on the couch, Alex sat in the chair adjacent. “You asked me to come alone, so I did,” he said. “After you left, I walked Zuna back to the ship, where I told her in no uncertain terms she was to stay until I’d had a chance to talk to you.”

Alok scoffed. “Something tells me she was not pleased by that, when there are plenty of places on the Promenade she could visit, not to mention the fact that she outranks you,” he said, his earlier ire adding a snarky edge to his tone.

“Alok, I’m really sorry about what happened. I should have known that her niceness this past week was just a pretense. I should have known she’d confront Sylari no matter what she said. Her complete lack of respect for your wishes was definitely crossing the line.”

“Yes, it was,” Alok replied. “Look, can we not talk about Zuna right now? I’m trying to stay calm, because I don’t want to upset Sylari.”

“You are not upsetting me, my husband,” Sylari said as she entered the living area.

Alex watched as Alok stood and greeted her by raising one hand with his first two fingers extended. Curious, he asked, “What is that, what you’re doing?”

Sylari turned to him as they separated. “It is a traditional greeting between Vulcan spouses, Ensign.”

He stood and stepped up to the couple. “Call me Alex, please. Or Alexander, whichever you prefer. We’re family now, after all, aren’t we?”

She inclined her head. “Indeed,” she replied. “I regret that we have not been properly introduced. I am Sylari.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. I’ve heard a great deal about you the last two weeks,” Alex said, moving back toward his seat.

“And I you,” she replied, taking in the bare coffee table as she and Alok followed behind him. “Alok, why have you not offered our guest a refreshment?”

Alok looked at her with his eyebrow raised as he turned to sit down. “Alex knows where the replicator is.”

Alex was hard-pressed not to laugh at the reproachful look she sent his brother’s way. “It would appear that I have much more to teach you than first I thought,” she said mildly, then turned to Alex. “Would you care for something to drink, Alexander?”

“A glass of iced tea would be nice, thank you,” he replied politely, and after watching her walk away, he addressed his brother silently. -She didn’t ask what you wanted.-

-Sylari already knows what I like to drink.-

-And is apparently already aware of how much you lack in the social graces, not that I minded getting my own drink before. Looks like this isn’t a bachelor pad anymore, bro.-

-Indeed not,- Alok replied.

-Can I ask a personal question?-

Alok raised his eyebrow. -What is the question?-

Alex glanced at Sylari as she approached with a tray and three drinks, which she set down on the coffee table before handing him his iced tea. He thanked her as he said to Alok, -Have you guys…you know?-

-If you’re talking about sex, that’s none of your business.-

-I’m not asking to be nosy, brother,- Alex said as he took a drink of his tea. -I’m just a little curious because I know you’ve never been with a woman before.-

Sylari then asked if the two of them wanted anything else. Both men shook their heads, and so she sat beside Alok on the couch, picking up her own beverage as she did so. Alok glanced at her and took a drink from his own glass as he responded to Alex’ last statement.

-I have very much enjoyed being with her,- he said slowly, -and she has assured me that I have pleased her. I admit, however, to not always being sure if I’m doing things right.-

-Given the Vulcan propensity for being truthful, I doubt she’s lying to you to spare your feelings,- Alex told him. -Another little secret truth is that no man knows what he’s doing the first time around. Oh, sure, we like to brag and say we do but come on—if you’ve never done it before, you’re not going to know squat.-

“Are the two of you talking about sex?”

Completely unprepared to hear such a thing come out of the mouth of a Vulcan, Alex nearly sprayed the mouthful of tea he’d just taken across the coffee table. As it was he did swallow some of it into his lungs in order to escape embarrassing himself that way, and coughed to prevent choking.

“Are you alright, Alexander?” Sylari asked.

Alex coughed again and sat the glass down on the table. “I’m…fine, thank you. I just…wasn’t expecting that kind of question from you.”

A glance at his brother showed that Alok was just as stunned as he was. Sylari glanced between them and shook her head. “There is no need to be embarrassed. It is a perfectly logical question to ask given that I am well aware men discuss the subject with some regularity.”

“I didn’t tell him anything personal, t’hy’la, I promise you,” Alok told her.

She glanced at him again. “I did not think you would.” Taking another drink of her own beverage, she added, “I think perhaps you are both unaware of what goes on around you when you communicate in that manner, at least when the subject is…personal. I asked a question which neither of you answered, and observed that you were staring at one another intently. Thus, I concluded that you were having another of your silent conversations, and that the subject must have been engaging for you not to hear me.”

“My apologies,” Alex said. “Usually communicating over our link doesn’t distract us from what we’re doing.”

“So Alok has told me,” Sylari said. “But I have begun to wonder if perhaps adding a new person to your family dynamic has proved to be a different kind of distraction. If that is so, I offer my apologies.”

Alok sat forward and took her hand. “Sylari, you have nothing to apologize for,” he said.

Alex nodded. “He’s right. You couldn’t have known you’d be a distraction in that way, if that’s even the cause. We’ll just have to make sure we pay closer attention to what’s going on around us when we’re using the link, and it’ll become second nature again. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“What was your question?” his brother asked.

“Actually it was directed at Alexander, though I suspected you might respond also,” she said. “I asked him what transpired after we left the restaurant and what had become of Dr. Sarrana.”

Alex watched as a muscle twitched in Alok’s jaw, and knowing that his brother was still very angry, he spoke carefully. “I escorted her back to our ship and asked her to stay there until Alok had calmed enough that he might be willing to accept the apology she owed him, and you.”

Sylari turned and gave Alok a look. Seeing the curiosity on his brother’s face, Alok sighed and said, “Sylari was, believe it or not, advocating forgiveness herself while we were on our way home.”

Alex raised his eyebrows in wonder. “Really now?”

Alok scoffed. “Yes. My wife has advised me not to let the sun go down on my anger lest it become a ‘festering wound.’”

“It is good advice,” she said simply. “Having seen your memories of her, my husband, I am somewhat educated as to the predictability of Dr. Sarrana’s personality. Though I admit I was not as prepared for the force of it as I would have preferred to be, I am certain that she was only acting with your best interests in mind, at least as she saw it.”

“If she were acting in my best interests, Sylari, she would have respected my wishes and not confronted you at all.”

“Perhaps. But what you are apparently unaware of is the strength of her feelings for you.”

Alok and Alex exchanged a look. “What are you talking about?” Alok asked.

“As a telepath, I could feel the intensity of her emotions when confronted with them—after all, she was projecting her thoughts and feelings quite loudly, as some would say. Dr. Sarrana is not only extremely protective, but she loves you, Alok—just as much as she loves Alexander. In her mind, she could not possibly have chosen between the two of you, and so she was waiting to see which one of you would be ‘taken’ first, thereby making her decision that much easier,” Sylari explained. “Given the extraordinary circumstances of our meeting and the short duration of our courtship, she confronted me in order to determine whether or not I was worthy of the devotion she knew you would undoubtedly give. Like my brother, she believed that when you decided to give yourself to someone, you would dedicate yourself to her with unerring focus, and she wanted to make sure I deserved you.”

She paused and took a drink, then continued. “I believe she wanted to make sure I would be as devoted to you as you would be to me. She asked me if I truly cared about you or if our union was one of mere convenience. Dr. Sarrana knew that anyone with whom you became involved would have to have a great deal of patience, and an understanding of your unique nature. She is as aware as I that you possess the cynicism of an adult and the guilelessness of a child, and thus you must be handled with the utmost care.”

The two men continued to stare at one another, then Alex blinked and said, “And you figured all this out from just a couple minutes of being subjected to Hurricane Zuna?”

Sylari raised her eyebrow at the nickname, but said simply, “As I said, she was projecting. I am fairly certain any telepath within a thirty-foot radius would have heard and felt her. There was a Deltan man at the bar—perhaps it was he who alerted the hostess.”

“Either that or the fact that two men ran into the women’s restroom,” Alok said, setting his glass down and standing. He paced away as he said, “So glad that everyone around me is deciding what’s best for me without bothering to ask me what I want. ‘Handled with the utmost care’—I’m not a damn child, you know!”

Alex and Sylari both rose as well, though it was the latter who stepped toward him, saying, “No, you are not. But despite all you have seen and done, ashayam, you amazingly still possess the innocence of one. Your relative immaturity is a fact that you yourself have acknowledged—you were not even sure you would know if someone truly cared for you romantically or if you would even know whether or not you returned those feelings.”

She stepped closer to him, and apparently sensing her nearness, Alok turned to face her. “Although her methods are lacking in finesse, Dr. Sarrana truly believes she was looking out for you. One thing that she and I agree on is that we want to protect what is left of your innocence—so few grown men possess innocence that knowing it exists is a precious gift, one that should be preserved for as long as possible.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, and Alex almost hated to break the silence, but something she had said spoke to his own concerns, and he felt the urge to speak, so that those concerns could be allayed.

Clearing his throat he said, “May I ask you a question, Sylari?”

She turned to face him. “Ask your question, Alexander.”

“Is it common for a Vulcan to marry someone he or she has known only a week?”

“In fact, it is more common for Vulcans to marry someone they have met only once,” she replied. “My people still practice arranged marriages, in which parents will affiance their children at a very young age. They meet once, at that time, and then do not typically meet again until one or both of them enters their first mating season—although it is not required that they wait for that to happen. We are capable of marrying at any time once we reach legal age.”

“And you weren’t…promised…when you were a kid?”

She shook her head. “No. My parents were, but my brother and I were not. Although they had no regrets at being promised, my father and mother chose to allow Tahir and myself to seek our own mates. What a great many species who are led by emotion always fail to grasp is that Vulcans do not require many months or years to determine whether an individual is a suitable mate.”

“But what about love? What about emotional attachment?” Alex pressed. “Being married shouldn’t just be about compatibility. Those of us that lead with our emotions require an emotional attachment to our mates, and we need them to be emotionally attached to us as well.”

He glanced at Alok. “I know my brother. What you say about him is true, and I know him well enough to know that he never makes a decision he isn’t sure about. That mixture of cynicism and innocence you speak of simply doesn’t allow room for error in his mind. And I knew that when the right woman came along, he’d fall for her hard and fast. But I don’t know you like he does, and if you’ve mind-melded with him, then you probably know I am as protective of him as Zuna is—penance for my part in controlling him like he was a machine. I want, and need, to know that you really care about him.”

“Alex,” Alok started to say, but Sylari spoke up, silencing him.

“It is alright. Your brother is entitled to his concern, and I welcome the opportunity to set his mind at ease,” she looked up at her husband and said, then looked once again at his brother. “Alexander…brother… I may have gotten to know Alok when my memories were blocked, but when I recovered full use of my mental faculties, I did not need but a moment to evaluate that time with him, or to realize that the feelings I had developed for him remained. Despite his actual age and inexperience with women, I believed us to be compatible, and the fact that I had already fallen in love with him was enough for me to decide that I did not wish to be parted from him. Given those conclusions, I did not see any logical reason to delay bonding with him, though had he desired it, I would have waited.”

“I didn’t see any logical reason to wait, either,” Alok said. “I knew I loved her, so what was the point in waiting?”

After a moment’s regard, Alex smiled. “I always said you had a Vulcan’s way of thinking,” he said. “And if the two of you are sure, then I’m satisfied. You’ll hear no more questions about this from me.”

The relief on his brother’s face was palpable, and he realized that Alok had been worried he wouldn’t approve. What he’d just said had apparently put his mind at ease.

-Thank you, brother.-

-You are most welcome,- he replied, then stepped forward and leaned to kiss his new sister-in-law on the cheek. “Welcome to our crazy little family.”

*****

When Alok stepped out of the shower that night, he crossed his living room and into his bedroom fully expecting Sylari to be there waiting for him—she’d developed a routine of reading a novel in bed while he showered. But she wasn’t there, which puzzled him because she hadn’t been in the living room either.

“Computer, location of Ensign Sylari.”

Ensign Sylari is aboard the U.S.S. Wolfsong.

“What the…” he started to say, then adrenaline shot hot and fast through his veins. “Is there anyone near her?”

Affirmative. Dr. Zuna Sarrana is in close proximity.

Unbelievable, he thought, and began to hurriedly jerk his clothes on.

-Alex, where are you?- he asked his brother.

-Nigella’s. I’m having a drink with Grafydd
—he got promoted today. Want to join us?-

-No, I need you to meet me at Wolfsong’s airlock. Sylari is with Zuna.-

-Oh shit,- Alex replied. -I’ll be right there.-

Alok was still putting his shirt on as he hurried out the door and ran toward the nearest turbolift.

-I’ve tried contacting Zuna. She’s not responding,- his brother said then.

-I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but you don’t think she’d hurt Sylari, do you?- Alok asked.

-No, absolutely not. She’s probably just having another one of those ‘sisterly chats’ with her, although the fact that she once again didn’t listen to me is not a mark in her favor right now.-

-Alex, you know Zuna better than I do. I sure hope you’re right.-

His anxiety shot up during the ride across the cargo arm and as he rode the lift down, and the wait for Alex to arrive had him wishing he had the clearance to just walk onto the ship. It occurred to him that he actually could override the security protocols—he had the training—but he had never been one to use his skills for personal gain, and so he forced himself to wait for his brother.

Thankfully it wasn’t a long wait. Alex popped out of the lift almost before it had stopped and jogged over, keying his security code into the panel to open the ship’s airlock door. The two men hurried inside and ran to the nearest turbolift, which they rode up to deck three—Alex having already determined that’s where Zuna was. He explained to Alok that he had been given an access code to her quarters by the Orion herself, so when they reached her quarters they’d only have to wait long enough for him to enter it.

When the lift stopped they ran together down the corridor, and when they arrived at Zuna’s cabin he entered the code as quickly as possible. When the two men entered, the sight that greeted them was the last thing they had expected.

Sylari was just removing her hand from Zuna’s face, and the latter was saying, “Thank you for that. I understand now.”

“What the hell is going on here?” Alok asked.

Sylari stood. “There is no need for concern, my husband. I came here of my own accord.”

“But why?”

“Your sister needed to know that which was explained to your brother earlier this afternoon,” she replied.

Alok raised his eyebrow as he looked between the two women. “My sister?”

Sylari cocked her head to the side. “She is as a sister to you, is she not? That is how you have always thought of her, and in fact you used those words only this afternoon.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Zuna, care to pitch in here?” Alex prompted.

Wolfsong’s doctor stood slowly. “Look, she’s telling the truth. She came here on her own; she called down and asked me if I’d meet with her. I said sure, because I wanted to apologize and clear the air about what happened before. When she got here she said she’d explained things to you and that you had given your blessing, but that she had…how did you say it?”

“I had surmised that she would need to see the truth, not just hear it. I proposed a mind meld, and Zuna accepted,” the Vulcan woman finished for her.

Alok stepped closer. “What did you show her?”

“I have not shown her anything you would not want her to see, t’hy’la.”

“She showed me that she loves you,” Zuna said simply. “I know genuine love when I feel it, and hers is real. I’m really sorry about what happened before, about upsetting her, and you. I just… I needed to know that you weren’t making a mistake. You have such a sweet and innocent soul, Alok, and I didn’t want you to just throw it away or waste it on a passing fancy.”

He felt his expression darken. “I should think you know me well enough to know I’d never do that,” he said, then returned his gaze to his wife. “Why didn’t you consult me before coming here?”

“I did not think you would approve, and after considering the situation as I knew it, I believed it would be up to me to initiate a declaration of peace.”

“Sylari, while I appreciate your concerns, I would have forgiven Zuna in my own time, in my own way,” Alok pointed out.

Sylari stepped around Zuna’s coffee table and came toward him. Stopping in front of him, she looked up and said, “Zuna has been family to you far longer than I have been. It…disturbed me to have been the cause of discord between you.”

Alok glowered at Zuna over her head. “You were not the cause of the discord, I can assure you of that.”

“Look, I’m sorry, okay?!” Zuna cried. “I’m really sorry, but you know me! You know that I lead with my gut and not my brain most of the time, and that’s not always a good thing. I have a chronic and incurable case of Open Mouth, Insert Foot Syndrome. I just wanted to make sure she was going to take care of you the way you deserve.”

“Vulcans, more often than not, mate for life,” Alok pointed out, “something I’d have thought you would be well aware of.”

Zuna nodded. “Yeah, I know that, but when it comes to certain people, rational thought always flies out the nearest airlock. You and Alex are really important to me, and I had to know that you were in good hands. I know that you are now, and I realize that once again, I made a stupid mistake by acting on impulse without thinking things through.”

“And I did not want the Wolfsong to depart with the two of you still at odds,” Sylari added. “That is why I came.”

Alok and Alex exchanged a look, then Alok sighed and reached for his wife’s hand. “I appreciate that you wanted to help make things right. But it’s not always that easy for those of us that ‘lead with emotion’ to forgive even when we’ve received an apology. However, since you have gone to all this trouble, you have my word that I will make an effort to do so.”

He looked at Zuna. “I can’t guarantee you’ll be forgiven by the time you leave tomorrow,” he said. “But I’m a lot closer to considering it than I would have been had she not come here. You’ve got Sylari to thank for that.”

“I know I do,” Zuna said.

“The fact that she was willing to come here and face Hurricane Zuna on her own definitely raises my opinion of her,” Alex joked.

Zuna laughed nervously, and even Alok felt some amusement at the remark.

-Alex, while I am certainly relieved that it appears they’re going to get along, I still can’t quite believe that Sylari came down here on her own.-

-Me neither, kind of. The trouble with women though, brother, is that they’re unpredictable. Even the predictable ones, like Zuna…you never know what they’re gonna do, only that they’re gonna do something.-

-Great. Not that I’m complaining, but it makes me wonder what I’ve gotten myself into,- Alok mused as the four of them decided to have the drink that they were supposed to have had earlier.

Alex glanced at him while they sat and the two girls were getting the drinks. -Oh, I can answer that one for you easy,- he said.

-And the answer would be?-

-One word: trouble.-


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