Monday, January 25, 2021

"The Phantom Menace"

Cover image found on interweb. Story includes contributions by Derek O'Brien and
Kahless of Vulcan
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Starbase Echo 
Market Level 
Stardate 54808.10


“So, tell me something about yourself that nobody knows.” 

Jordan Kelley laughed as the man to his right took his hand, twining their fingers together as he posed the question. He no longer flinched or pulled away whenever Trevor Whitehorse displayed his affection for him in public—the rebuilding of their relationship had reached a point where he not only welcomed the Betazoid’s touch, but sometimes even initiated contact. 

They hadn’t slept together again since that first time three months ago. Each had agreed that, if their love for one another was strong enough to withstand the trials they’d already been put through, then surely it would hold up under their determination to take things more slowly. To get it right this time—with openness and honesty, getting to know one another on a deeper level than they had previously, knowing that when they shared a bed again, the timing would be perfect. To that end, Whitehorse had taken to asking Kelley random questions about such a wide variety of subjects that he had begun to look forward to the daily inquisition. 

Rebecca Woodson, Kelley’s oldest sister, laughed also as the trio strolled along Starbase Echo’s market. “I can answer that one,” she said. “One of our great uncles, some twenty or thirty generations back, was an actor.” 

“Really?” Whitehorse asked. “It’s funny you should have an actor in the family that far back—one of my adoptive father’s ancestors was an actor too, at around the same time.” 

He stopped suddenly in mid-stride, his gaze going sharply to the right. Kelley knew instantly that something—or rather, someone—had caught his companion’s attention. 

“Trevor?” he queried. “What is it? What do you hear?” 

Whitehorse didn’t answer, at least not verbally. Instead, Kelley and his sister were treated to a first-hand display of just how fast the Federation Marine could move as he shot away from them, pushing people aside in order to reach his target. A loud cry of indignation sounded seconds later, just before Kelley heard a distinctive, loud thud. 

“Becca, stay here,” Kelley warned his sister, then moved resolutely toward the commotion. The crowd of officers and civilians parted for him without protest, and he soon came upon his boyfriend pinning a red-skinned man to the deck, his knee in the man’s back as he held his wrists pushed up near his shoulder blades. 

Kelley snagged the sleeve of an ensign wearing a yellow undershirt, whom he knew to be one of Echo’s Security team. “My sister, Mrs. Rebecca Woodson, is over there by the cherry trees. I want you to escort her to my apartment—do not leave her until she is inside and has secured the door.” 

“At once, Commander,” the ensign replied, and darted off to carry out the order. 

Whitehorse was hauling his captive up off the floor, and other security officers—among them the station’s security chief, Command Master Chief Petty Officer Dilik Zram—were coming toward them. 

“What’s this all about?” the aging Bolian asked. 

“I was about to inquire about that myself, Chief,” Kelley supplied. “Trevor?” 

“This prick was thinking some very interesting things about Captain Natale,” Whitehorse replied as he gave the man a shake. “Wondering what she looks like, is her skin still orange, has she had her baby yet…” 

Kelley shared a glance with Zram. Synnove Natale was the commanding officer of Stabase Echo, and an Orion hybrid who had escaped being sold by her own father at the age of seventeen. It was well she had—Zaddo Natale had, over the last 20-plus years, become one of the most ruthless, brutal leaders in the entire Orion Syndicate. That he had only attempted to have his daughter kidnapped once in that time had not lessened her fear of taking an assignment so near to where he operated his criminal empire. Kelley knew that even though she had remained free, thanks in part to her friend and now husband, Brian Wallace, Zaddo had maintained contact, sending her messages and gifts over the years. It was his way of reminding her that he was still keeping an eye on her. 

The captain’s father had also once threatened to torture Brian Wallace to death and make Synnove watch, explaining the fear she had felt on the Human’s behalf for the last two decades. 

Zaddo Natale was a red Orion, and Kelley suspected the man held by Whitehorse was also—he could very well be one of Zaddo’s lackeys, here to scope out the security of the station on his master’s behalf. 

“Who are you?” Kelley demanded. “What do you want with my captain?” 

The man grimaced in pain, as his arms were still being pushed up behind his back. “My name is Savaj Natale. Synnove is my sister.” 

<> 

The face on the monitor was one she had not seen in just over twenty years, but it was one she recognized. 

“It’s true,” Synnove Natale said, lifting her eyes to glance around at the four men in the security office with her. “He is my brother.” 

Shock began to course through her and she wavered on her feet. Whitehorse and Daal, the latter her secondary bodyguard whenever Whitehorse himself was not on duty, took her by the arms and guided her to the chair behind Zram’s desk. Kelley hurried over to the small replicator tucked into a corner and ordered a glass of cool water for her. 

“I…I can hardly believe it,” said Natale as she took the glass with a shaking hand. “I haven’t seen him since I left home.” 

“How do you know it’s him?” Zram asked. 

“I recognize his face, of course,” she replied. “He’s older, naturally, and has a couple of scars that weren’t there before, but I could never forget that face. Savaj helped me get out of Zaddo’s compound the night I escaped.” 

She gulped down half the glass of water, then set it on the desk and looked up at them. “What is he doing here? What does he want?” 

“We don’t know,” Zram said. “Whitehorse heard something he was thinking and tackled him, we brought him here and threw him in a cell, then we called you.” 

Natale looked to Whitehorse. “What was he thinking?” 

Whitehorse repeated the thoughts he had overheard. Natale felt the blood drain from her face and her hands went immediately to her protruding belly—the baby she carried was overdue by two days, but the doctors had said there was nothing by which to be concerned at present. He would come when he was ready, though if the captain did not go into labor by the end of the week, they were set to induce her. 

“He knows,” she said, fear evident in her tone. “He knows—I told them he would know!” 

“Master Chief, call up to Ops. Tell Commander Hyasieth we need her to reach out to the Triumph and get an update on their status,” Kelley said then. “We need Captain Wallace back here as soon as possible.” 

“Aye, sir,” the security chief acknowledged, moving across the room as he tapped his commbadge. 

“I want to speak to him,” Natale said suddenly, struggling to push to her feet. Whitehorse and Daal aided her again. 

“Are you sure that’s wise, Captain?” Kelley asked. 

“Maybe, maybe not,” she replied. “But I doubt he’ll be as forthcoming with any of you as he’s likely to be with me. We’ll never learn why he’s here if I don’t talk to him.” 

“Brian’s not gonna like it,” Whitehorse suggested, eliciting an expression of surprise, as he rarely referred to her husband by his first name. 

“My husband isn’t here, Colonel, and even if he were, it would be my call,” Natale replied. “I am the captain of this starbase.” 

She turned resolutely on her heel and headed toward the holding cells. Whitehorse and Daal flanked her and Kelley moved to walk before her. “Gentlemen, I am hardly in need of being surrounded if he’s in a holding cell.” 

“Maybe, maybe not,” Kelley said over his shoulder, throwing her words back at her. “But you and I both know that a certain Scotsman would tear the three of us apart if we let you walk in there alone, even if he is in a holding cell.” 

“I concede the point, Commander,” the captain replied, though she grinned as she did so. “No need to piss him off anymore than he already will be.” 

Moments later, they’d entered one of several cell blocks on the station. Savaj was the only occupant in one of ten cells; he paced back and forth as they approached. 

He paused and turned to them as Kelley stepped slowly aside. “Wow. You look stunning, leh’mhin. Motherhood suits you well.” 

“Hello, Savaj,” Natale said, ignoring his comments. “It’s been a long time.” 

Savaj nodded. “It has, but I would know you anywhere. You’ve grown into such a beautiful creature—but that was to be expected, was it not? Your mother was an extraordinary beauty.” 

Natale frowned, concern flooding her as she took a step forward. “Was? Do you mean to say my mother is dead? Is that why you’re here?” 

His expression fell. “I cannot say if she is dead or alive. You’ll recall that our met’mat sold her around five years before your…departure…and I have not set eyes on her since.” 

She sighed; she hadn’t seen her mother since she was sold, either. It happened right after she and Savene had been caught stealing sweets from the pantry—right after she had learned that Savene and Savaj and the other children in the house were not merely servants, but her siblings. 

Natale then took another step toward the cell, unconsciously raising her hands to her belly as she did so. Savaj followed the action with his eyes and asked, “When is the blessed event?” 

“None of your business,” Whitehorse snapped. 

The captain held her hand up. “It’s all right, Colonel. My child is actually overdue. I’ll be induced in a few days if he does not come on his own.” 

“We Natale men are known for our stubbornness,” Savaj said with a grin. 

“If that is the only trait my son inherits from Zaddo, I’ll be grateful,” Natale said then. “Though I’d rather he inherit nothing from him, as does my husband.” 

“Yes, I had heard you were married as well. Human, is he not?” 

“You know he is, if you knew I was married and expecting a child, Savaj,” rejoined Natale. “Zaddo never did have trouble acquiring that kind of information.” 

She drew a breath and squared her shoulders. “What are you doing here? It’s been twenty-one years since I left. Did Zaddo send you?” 

“No, he sent someone else,” Savaj replied bluntly. “I came on my own, to warn you.” 

“Warn her?” Kelley asked. 

“Yes, warn her. She’s my sister and I care about her—” 

Whitehorse and Daal both snorted. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it, popping back into her life after twenty-plus years of absolutely no contact,” the former observed. 

Savaj kept his eyes on his Natale. “Who do you think has been sending you gifts and money all these years? It was on Met’mat’s orders, I admit, but I am the one who actually carried it out. It was I who suggested it!” 

“Did you also suggest he try to have me kidnapped when I was eighteen? Was it your idea for him to send me the video of Brian and I, where he threatened to make me watch as the man I love was tortured to death?!” 

Savaj’s expression sobered. “You and I both know he’d need no encouragement to do any of that.” 

Natale fought to settle herself. “So you came to warn me. Who did he send? Why did he send them? Is someone coming to kidnap me and the baby? To kill us, or kill my husband?” 

“As I understand it, he’s more interested in you and the child than in the Human,” Savaj said. 

Brian,” she said with a snarl. “His name is Brian. He is my husband, the father of my child, and he will not allow anyone to harm us.” 

“And where is Brian now, Synnove?” Savaj countered. “Out chasing a couple of ships carrying contraband in the Yridia sector, isn’t he?” 

Shock coursed through her again. “How do you know that?” she said breathlessly. 

“Zaddo never did have trouble acquiring that kind of information, remember?” he reminded her. “Besides, who do you think those ships your husband is after belong to? Oh, no doubt Met’mat would enjoy having your precious Brian tortured—he might even do it himself, for daring to touch something that belonged to him—” 

Anger immediately overrode her shock. “I do not belong to Zaddo!” Natale cried. 

Savaj shook his head. “In his mind you have always belonged to him, Synnove, surely you know that,” he told her. “He let you live the life you wanted not out of the goodness of his cold, dead heart, but because he was still building his empire. Other matters were more important than chasing down one insignificant escaped whore.” 

Whitehorse stepped past Natale and up to the forcefield that held her brother inside the cell. “You’d better watch your mouth, asshole, or you won’t have a tongue left in it.” 

“You don’t scare me, Betazoid. I’m the son of Zaddo Natale—nothing scares me but him.” 

“Then aren’t you afraid Daddy will be pissed when he finds out you came here to warn my captain that some unknown person is coming after her and her baby?” Kelley asked. 

“No. If he kills me, he kills me,” Savaj said with a nonchalant shrug. “I’ve always known that my father would send one of his assassins after me one day. I’m not his son so much as I am competition, you see. He cares next to nothing for his own children except what they are worth. What they can do for him to make him richer, more powerful.” 

He looked again to Natale. “That’s why I called you an insignificant whore a moment ago. I don’t think of you that way, but he does. That’s all any of us have ever been to him—property to be sold or ordered about at will. It was smart of you to join Starfleet, Synnove. Military service helped keep you safe—Met’mat has little regard for the Federation as a whole, but he hasn’t wanted to risk going toe-to-toe with Starfleet in order to get you back.” 

“And now he is willing to risk it?” she asked. 

“Now you are worth more to him, as you’ve proven you can produce offspring,” Savaj replied. “He’d prefer them to be full-blood Orions, of course, but the boy will still fetch a good price on the market.” 

Natale felt her anger begin to boil into rage. “So you’re telling me that Zaddo intends to steal my son and sell him into slavery while he turns me into a breeder to produce more slaves for him?” 

Savaj clasped his hands together before him. “That about sums it up.” 

“I’ve heard enough,” Whitehorse growled as he turned away from the holding cell. 

Kelley stepped forward. “Who is he sending?” 

“That I can’t tell you—not because I don’t want to, but because I honestly don’t know,” Savaj answered. “He hadn’t decided yet who to send when I made my own decision to come and warn Synnove of his plan. But whoever it is? They’re either on the way or already here.” 

“Captain, let’s go,” Whitehorse said then, taking her by the arm. 

Natale did not protest being led away. She was surrounded again as they exited the cell block, and were met again in Zram’s office by the master chief, who informed them that Commander Hyasieth had reported the Triumph already on a return vector. 

“Tell her to call them again. Brian needs to go maximum warp—I need my husband here now,” Natale said. 

She was grateful that the four men did not tell her what she already knew: even at maximum warp, it would take the Triumph four days to reach home. Brian had been so angry his was “the only ship available” to go after the pirates, given his son was so close to being born and there was every chance he would miss the birth whether natural or induced. He’d wanted to remain behind and send the ship with his XO in command, but that blasted Admiral Dodge had ordered him to oversee the capture of the two ships personally. 

When Brian heard that Zaddo had sent someone to kidnap them both… She almost shuddered to imagine his fury. 

“Don’t worry, Captain,” Kelley told her. “No one will come near you that you don’t already know.” 

Zram, whom Natale knew had something of a fatherly regard for her (he was, in fact, only four years younger than her own), scowled as he crossed his beefy arms over his chest. “What did that piece of targ shit have to say?” 

“Savaj said that my father intends to kidnap me, steal my son and sell him, and use me to breed more slaves,” Natale replied succinctly. 

The Bolian’s sky-blue skin darkened with anger. “Never gonna happen,” he snapped. 

“Indeed not, Master Chief,” Kelley replied. “Captain, as you are on leave, I strongly recommend you sequester yourself at home. We’ll have guards at your door and in the park around the clock.” 

Natale hated the idea of going on lockdown—it went against the grain for a trained security officer to hide away—but she did not protest. Were she not expecting a child she would have, but she was not the only one at risk now—and she would do whatever was necessary to keep her son safe. 

“Agreed, Commander,” she replied with a nod. “Right now there is nothing I need that the replicator in my apartment can’t provide, except for Brian.” 

“What if the captain goes into labor, though?” Daal asked. 

Kelley, Whitehorse, and Zram glanced at one another. “Site-to-site transport, if the doctor thinks it’s safe,” Kelley replied. “If not, a full squad for an armed escort.” 

“Or we could bring the doctor to her,” Zram suggested. 

“I’ll stay with you, until Captain Wallace returns,” added Whitehorse. “You know I’ll be able to tell if anyone approaching your apartment has any ill intent.” 

Natale sighed. “I wish it weren’t necessary, but I’ll agree to that as well. I’m sure it will make Brian feel better, in any case, seeing as he’s the one that recommended you.” 

Whitehorse smiled. “Precisely my point, ma’am—I’m no more willing to piss him off than you are. You know, he once threatened to ‘run me through’ with the family claymore if I didn’t do my job. I’d rather not find out if he was serious.” 

“Captain, what do you want me to do about the targ shit?” Zram asked then, gesturing toward the cell blocks. 

“Master Chief, like it or not, he is my brother,” she replied. “I’d appreciate it if you’d remember that and go easy on the insults. As for Savaj… Technically speaking, we have nothing on him to warrant our holding him any longer, but since he did come to warn me, I’d like to prolong his chances of living in return for the service. Any suggestions?” 

“Well, technically speaking, we can hold him for up to forty-eight Federation Standard hours on suspicion,” Zram pointed out. “Being the son of Zaddo Natale, you know he ain’t clean. Let me run a check on him, send out inquiries to the closest legal authorities.” 

Natale shook her head. “And in so doing, alert said legal authorities to his location should his being dirty lead to outstanding charges.” 

Zram shrugged. “Won’t be our fault if he gets released before they get back to me,” he said nonchalantly. 

The captain smiled. “Thanks, Zram,” she said, and lumbered her way toward the exit. There, she thought as Whitehorse and Daal moved to each side of her. He warned me, I’ve given him two days in lockup to keep him safe from Zaddo’s inevitable retaliation. Best I can do

<> 

Two days ago he had arrived, and for two days he had watched. Had waited for an opportunity to carry out his mission. 

She had not been seen in public the entirety of his residence. Rumor about the starbase was that she had born her half-breed whelp, but his foray into the medical database had proven that one false. 

No, something else was going on. The increased presence of armed security officers about the nature preserve they called Echo Park was evidence enough of that. And at one of the residences that surrounded the park there were no less than two heavily armed guards at all times. He suspected it was hers. 

They knew he was coming—someone had tipped them off. But who would have had the stones to betray Zaddo Natale? 

A vibration in his pocket made him jump. Cursing softly, the man pulled the communicator out of his pocket and flicked it on. “What?” he snapped. 

You will speak to me with more respect, Rathe, if you know what’s good for you.” 

Swallowing, Rathe Tyrel replied, “Forgive me, Ah’met-sur. I meant no disrespect, of course. It is an honor that you would contact me directly.” 

Zaddo Natale almost never spoke to his subordinates directly—he had lieutenants to do that for him, men almost as dangerous as he. 

Word has reached me that a former son of mine has warned the girl I intended to reacquire her,” Zaddo said next. “Why did I not hear of his betrayal from you?” 

“I did not know of it!” Rathe returned quickly. “I have spent all my time here trying to get close to your daughter, my lord.” 

Do not call her that!” Zaddo snapped. “No daughter of mine would have been so brazen as to disobey me as she did. My true daughters are obedient and know their place.” 

Rathe just barely stopped himself snorting out loud. The “true” daughters of his master knew their place, all right—on their knees in front of the lieutenants and other Syndicate leaders to whom they had been sold, either with a cock in their mouths or their asses in the air. Or on their backs, their legs spread wide as they were taken by whoever had paid for an hour to use them as they wished. 

“Of course, Ah’met-sur,” he demurred. 

What of the girl? Will you be able to get to her or not?” 

He didn’t want to answer that question honestly, but knew that prevaricating would be pointless—and dangerous to his continued existence. “I do not believe so, my lord. The security around her is now tighter than a virgin, and I suspect there’s also a telepath guarding her, reading the minds of anyone who approaches the house.” 

And that worthless hri’gun she calls a husband?” 

“Due to return in two days, Ah’met-sur.” 

Hmm…” He could imagine Zaddo rubbing his goateed chin in thought; he’d often seen him do it before. “Nevermind him. As delightful as exacting punishment for his using my property without payment would be, he really isn’t worth my time. Humans are so pathetically fragile, he’d probably expire before I’d done all I wished to do.” 

“No doubt he would, my lord,” Rathe agreed. 

Since you believe the original asset beyond your reach, I have other objectives for you—if you think you can actually follow through this time,” Zaddo said then. 

“I will do my best or die trying, Ah’met-sur,” his agent assured him. 

I know you will. Complete failure would be…disappointing, Rathe.” 

Rathe swallowed, knowing full well the implication in his master’s words. Those who disappointed Zaddo Natale did not live very long. 

The first of your new objectives is to see that the slis’jaka who warned her does not leave that station alive, as I have no more use for him. The second is to choose from among her puppets one or two young and nubile females who would fetch a fair price, and bring them here.” Zaddo chuckled menacingly. “That will draw her out of hiding.” 

A grin lifted the corners of his lips—taking two of the female subordinates on the starbase crew would be far easier than taking its captain. And on the way back to Yaraka, he could…try them out. 

“Your will be done, Ah’met-sur.” 

The commlink, no doubt hidden among other more legitimate transmissions so as to disguise its origin, was abruptly cut. Rathe shook his head and put the communicator back in his pocket. He took one last look across the park, scowled briefly at the armed guards he saw before Synnove Natale’s apartment, and headed for the nearest turbolift. There was a club on this base called Isha—the Orion word for “yes”. He’d heard its proprietor was a stunning green female, but had been so preoccupied with his initial task that he’d not made time to check the place out. 

Now that his objective had changed… Well, nightclubs were always good places to find nubile young females—and if he met the owner herself, even better. 

When he arrived, the music was loud and the bodies swaying. This was his kind of place! Stepping further inside, he scanned the crowd for possible assets, noting which of the females—and even some of the males and non-binaries—that would fit his master’s standards. If Isha’s owner was present, and as much of a looker as most Orion Animal Women were, then she would definitely be one of the two he acquired. 

There—behind the bar! Oh, she was extraordinary! Thin, but with curves in all the right places. Her smile lit the room brighter than the pulsating lights; oh, she would fetch an enormous amount of latinum at market, if Zaddo chose to sell her. The closer he drew to the bar, the more he found he could not take his eyes off of her. Not only was the female stunningly beautiful, but she actually seemed familiar to him. He could not imagine forgetting such a face—or body—and so found himself wondering if perhaps he had bedded some relative of hers. 

He was but feet from the bar when a figure suddenly flew past him. Vulcan, female, and not hard on the eyes, he thought with a smile. This person’s hurried run in the direction of the refreshers drew the attention of the girl at the bar, who followed with an expression of concern on her face. 

Perfect, Rathe thought as he, too, went towards the refresher facilities. He could corner the green female as she exited and coerce her into returning to his ship with him. Or he could corner them both and fulfill his master’s directive all at once. He headed toward the refreshers at an easy pace, a smile on his face as he imagined how pleased Zaddo would be with his prizes. 

Once he had them on his ship, he could figure out how to get rid of that slis’jaka Savaj… 

A small, dimly lit corridor branched off from the main room; Rathe followed the two women down it. They disappeared into one of three doors on the left wall, and he waited a full minute before following them inside. 

“…am quite well, Ms. Tyrel,” the Vulcan, who stood grasping the edge of a sink, said to the Orion. 

Tyrel? Rathe thought. No. Couldn’t be… 

“Sylari, how many times must I tell you to call me Maiandra? Or even Mai?” 

Maiandra? It can’t be! 

“At least once more, as always.” 

Rathe stepped forward, his movement catching the attention of the women. When she looked at him, there was no mistaking where the Orion had gotten those eyes, those lips… 

“Maiandra Tyrel, as I live and breathe… my chadoi!” 

“What?” Maiandra cried. 

“Sir, depart this chamber at once. The men’s refresher is the third door on this wall,” said the Vulcan, Sylari. 

“Oh, I’ll leave, all right,” Rathe said. “And you’ll both be going with me.” 

As he spoke, he drew from beneath his jacket a blaster pistol. Sylari moved a hand toward the Starfleet-issue commbadge pinned to the left breast of her tunic, marking her as either a member of the military or the dependent of one. Rathe leveled the blaster at her. 

“I wouldn’t do that, my dear girl,” he said. “Just come along, nice and quiet, and I won’t have to use this.” 

“Sir, I have no doubt that you are aware we cannot simply agree to go with you,” Sylari said matter-of-factly. 

“But you will, because you don’t want to see me take out my anger at your refusal on anyone else, do you?” Rathe said, offering her a menacing grin. 

“You can’t be him,” Maiandra broke in. “You can’t! Rokha told me you were dead—he said he… He said you were dead!” 

Rathe chuckled. “Your jih’mat was a strong boy for fifteen years, I’ll grant him that, chadoi, but not strong enough to kill me. Smart of him to run away to the Federation, like that ungrateful spawn of Zaddo’s—it kept me from finding out you were still alive for twenty long years. You have grown up to be a beautiful creature, my child. You look so much like your mother. Tell me, does this station’s captain also look like her?” 

“What are you talking about? You’re talking nonsense!” Maiandra cried. “Look, just leave, mister. Leave now and we won’t report this.” 

“Oh, but you would—or she would,” he replied, gesturing to Sylari with his weapon. “She’s either Starfleet or the property of someone who is.” 

Sylari raised an eyebrow in that irritating manner all Vulcans seemed to have. “Sir, I am nobody’s property. I am, however, a Starfleet officer. Now, I suggest you take your leave before either another patron of the club enters or Security is alerted to our disappearances.” 

Rathe grimaced. “I don’t think you understand, Vulcan. You’re going with me—quietly—or you’re going to die. I will then simply take two other lovely ladies from somewhere on this starbase back to Zaddo to make up for not being able to acquire that brat of his.” 

“You’d kill me—someone you claim is your daughter?” Maiandra challenged. 

“Believe me, I wouldn’t want to waste a prime specimen, my dear, but if you force me too, well…” 

He raised his blaster pistol higher, level with Sylari’s head. The Vulcan drew a breath. “Very well,” she said. “But if you insist we accompany you, sir, I must at least be allowed to inform my department that I will not be returning to my duties. If I do not, Security will be alerted.” 

“Why should you have to report in? You’re not in uniform,” Rathe countered. 

The eyebrow rose again. “Just because an officer is not in uniform does not mean they are not on duty. My charge made a specific request that I join him here at the club in civilian clothing rather than my uniform.” 

“Your charge, girl? Nevermind, we don’t have time for screwing around. You can make your report on the way out—now let’s go.” 

Maiandra turned to her. “Sylari, he works for Zaddo Natale. It…it’s best we do what he says.” 

Sylari regarded her, glanced at him, then looked back at Maiandra. At last she nodded, and the two moved toward him. Rathe moved to the side, keeping his blaster pointed at them until he was behind them. He counted himself very lucky indeed that they had not been interrupted, given how full the club was, and he hoped like hell that the good fortune continued. 

Outside the refresher chamber, he gestured for the ladies to go left, as at the other end of the corridor there was an exit. They walked toward it slowly. 

“Make your report, Vulcan, but don’t try any tricks. No funny Starfleet code to alert Security, got it?” Rathe warned. 



“My name, sir, is Sylari,” she retorted. “At least do me the courtesy of using it when you address me.” 

Rathe’s free hand shot forward and grabbed her by the hair, yanking backward hard as he pressed the muzzle of his blaster to her temple. Maiandra gasped, and fear entered her gaze. 

“I will call you whatever the frak I please, do you understand?” Rathe seethed. 

Sylari made no noise other than to say, “Violence is hardly conducive to eliciting my cooperation. I will obey your commands; all I ask in return is that you treat myself and Maiandra with a modicum of respect.” 

Rathe chuckled. “You’ve certainly got some nerve, I’ll give you that.” He pushed her forward then, and after straitening her tunic, she made a brief call via her commbadge, telling some unseen person called Foster that she was feeling unwell and desired to return to her apartment, so someone would have to take her place and report to Isha to see to the completion of her duty shift. Foster asked if she was okay; she assured him she was, but that she was taking the advice of a friend and going home to rest. 

“And Mr. Foster… Contact the nightclub Isha. The proprietor, Maiandra Tyrel, is escorting me home. She has stated her desire to return to her own quarters afterward.” 

I’ll take care of it for you, Lieutenant. Foster out.” 

As the three came to the end of the short corridor, Rathe slipped his blaster into the holster under his jacket. “Now ladies,” he said in a low voice, “don’t do anything stupid, like call out for help or try to alert a passing Security officer. You can be sure that though they might take me out, I will be certain to take the two of you and a few of them down with me…not to mention a few innocent bystanders. You wouldn’t want to be responsible for the injury or death of innocent people, now would you?” 

“Certainly not,” Sylari replied. 

Maiandra reached over and gripped her hand as they stepped out into the concourse full of people. He watched her draw a deep breath, so he stepped closer and laid a hand on her shoulder. She flinched, and he gripped her tighter. 

“Come now, chadoi, is that any way to react to the touch of your father?” 

“You are not my father,” she said, her voice tight. 

“Oh, but I am! I have no doubt of it, my dear girl—you really do look just like your mother in her youth,” Rathe rejoined. “She’s still rather a lovely creature, for her age. I still have my fun with her every so often, but she does serve me better by keeping the other girls in line.” 

He guided them away from the Market and toward a turbolift, which he ordered to the civilian shuttle hangar when they were inside it. In the hangar, Rathe directed the two women over to a Denobulan freighter he’d acquired some years back. It was a rickety old thing, but had never failed to get him where he needed to go. 

“Millennium Class 1300 model,” Sylari observed as they approached. “Freight, passenger, or scout configuration?” 

“Scout. You’ve a good eye, Sylari my dear,” Rathe told her. 

“I am a Starfleet officer, sir. As such, I am required to recognize various types of vessels,” Sylari replied. 

Ushering them up the boarding ramp, at the top he keyed in his security code on the pad next to the door. With one hand again on Maiandra’s shoulder, he pushed them ahead of him. “Turn right,” he ordered, and a second later they were before a crew cabin he’d converted to a holding cell for special pick-ups. Rathe opened the door and pushed them inside, and when they turned around to shoot icy stares at him, he laughed. 

“Oh, and before I forget,” he said, reaching forward to snatch Sylari’s commbadge. Grinning as he did so, he dropped it to the deck and stomped down hard, cracking the casing, then stomped on it again for good measure. “Can’t have your friends using that to track you, now can we? Do you have anything else on you, a weapon of any kind?” 

“No,” she replied. 

“I know Vulcans say they can’t lie, but I’m not certain I believe you,” Rathe countered. “Come closer—and don’t try anything funny. I’d hate to have to kill you.” 

Maiandra whimpered softly as Sylari stepped toward him. Rathe reached out and grabbed her arm, jerking her against his body. He pressed the muzzle of his blaster to her temple and began to grope her, starting with her breasts. Oh, they were nice—not too large, but more than a mouthful. He couldn’t wait to see them in the literal flesh. He checked along her back, her waist, and he leered at her as he grabbed first one ass cheek, then the other, before reaching to cup her between the legs. He began to grow hard just thinking about having some fun with her. 

“Maiandra, check her legs. I don’t trust this pretty friend of yours not to try something if I should move my weapon away from her head.” 

His daughter—man, how it blew his mind to think of having found her alive after all these years—did as she was instructed. Good girl, he thought with a smile. Nice and obedient. I might just see if I can sell her before I report to the boss. When she had finished, he reluctantly pushed Sylari back into the cabin. 

“Now, Sylari, search my daughter for a communicator or weapons,” he ordered her. “If I recall my son well, he’ll have taught his leh’mhin to be armed at all times.” 



Though she was clearly reluctant to comply, Sylari nevertheless did as she was told. No communicator was found, but Maiandra did have a wicked-looking knife concealed in her right boot. He pointed his blaster at the Vulcan’s face, lest she get any bright ideas about trying to use it. 

“Sir, I really must suggest that you release us—let us go now, and you will not suffer the consequences that will befall you should you continue this course,” Sylari said in a warning tone as she handed the knife over. 

“What consequences?” he challenged, slipping the blade into his belt. “They’ll have to find you first—and in the Borderlands, my dear, that will be very, very hard to do. You don’t really expect my son to mount a rescue?” 

She raised her eyebrow. “While I have no doubt that Lt. Commander Tyrel is a formidable gentleman who will seek to return his sister to safety, I refer to my husband.” 

“Oh, you’ve a husband, do you? Well, I pity the poor fool his loss, but you belong to Zaddo Natale now.” 

Laughing again, he keyed the door shut and locked it. He then headed for his own cabin, where he planned to celebrate completion of the first stage of his mission with the tasty piece awaiting him there. 

<> 

Inside the room where he had just left his prisoners, Sylari indulged in a rare sigh and shook her head. “I did warn him.” 

Maiandra looked to her. “Do you really think your husband will come for you?” 

“I know he will. Once he learns of my abduction, there will be none who can stop him,” Sylari said. She looked up at the taller Orion. “Alok possesses…a unique skill set. Not unlike Captain Natale’s guardian, come to think of it. Needless to say, he is a very dangerous man when crossed. That man who calls himself your father has just guaranteed his own death.” 

Maiandra moved to one of the two in-wall bunks and sat down, a shuddering breath escaping her as she dropped her head into her hands. Sylari regarded her for a moment, then said, “I must ask you, Maiandra… Is it possible he is your father?” 

Her companion groaned. “Oh, I don’t know… Maybe. I couldn’t tell you for sure as I don’t remember my father. Rokha ran away with me when I was five—it was more than twenty years ago now. I vaguely recall him getting into a fight with a big, scary man one night several months after we went into hiding. Then we were on the run again, and he told me our father was dead.” 

“Then how did you know he works for Zaddo Natale, before he told us just now? He could have only been using the name in an attempt to frighten us.” 

Maiandra sighed and looked up at her. “Because if he is my father, then there’s no doubt who he works for. Rokha didn’t want me coming out here—so close to the Borderlands—anymore, I suspect, than Captain Natale would have wanted to come. Why do you think she has a bodyguard? I learned years ago, when I was old enough to really understand why my brother ran away with me, that the reason was because our father worked for Zaddo, who was a very, very dangerous man. A man who could hurt us badly—me especially. I have long suspected that Zaddo was interested in purchasing me when I was of an age to start spreading my legs for money.” 

“Our captor did say we belong to Zaddo Natale now,” Sylari observed. 

“Sylari, we have to try and get out of here!” Maiandra declared. “I can guarantee you that we’re both to be sold as sex slaves. Slavery alone is already a hard life, but to be forced to whore yourself for money you will never see… Hell, I wouldn’t put it past that bastard who took us to try you out for his boss on the way back to the black hole he crawled out of.” 

“He can try,” Sylari said, then looked around the small cabin. 

Maiandra scoffed. “If you’re thinking you’ll just put him out of commission with that nerve pinch thing Vulcans are so fond of employing, you can forget it. He’ll bind your hands before he does anything to the rest of you. And if you put up a fight, he’ll just enjoy beating the hell out of you before he rapes you.” 

Sylari cast a raised eyebrow her direction. “At least we can be sure of one thing—in believing you are his daughter, he won’t attempt to abuse you sexually.” 

“No, he’ll just save me for Zaddo.” 

“Perhaps,” the Vulcan observed, then returned to examining their surroundings. There was no window, and no other exit but the door through which they’d entered. There were two smaller doors inside the room, one on each wall at the foot of the bunks; looking inside them showed one to lead to a sink and toilet, the other to a shower which could be switched between sonic and water. There were empty lockers by the head of each bunk, and those were adorned with thin, lumpy mattress pads and a single threadbare blanket. No pillow, no sheet. There seemed nothing about which could be used for a weapon. 

Their situation was dire, and it was not until that moment that Sylari felt the first hint of discomfort. 

Alok will come for me, she assured herself as she moved to sit on the opposite bunk. He will come

<> 

Starbase Echo 
Echo Park Residential Quarters, Unit A1 
Stardate 54811.07 


Trevor Whitehorse woke from a most pleasant dream of him and Jordan making love to the incessant buzzing of… Wait, where was he? This wasn’t his bedroom. 

No, dumbass, it’s the captain’s couch, he thought to himself as he sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. 

The repetitious buzzing continued. “Hey, Colonel, can you get that?” came a yell from Natale herself. “I’ll be out in just a couple of minutes.” 

A quick scan with his inherent senses told the Betazoid that she was in the bathroom. Whitehorse suppressed a groan and rose, stretched, then walked over to the desk to one side of the large living room—on which he could now see the communication alert light blinking—and sat behind it, switching the computer on. A moment later the ginger-haired face of Natale’s husband, Brian Wallace, appeared on the screen. 

He’s growing his beard out, he thought absently. Looks good on him

“Whitehorse, what the devil are you doing answering my wife’s private line?” 

“Following orders,” Whitehorse dead-panned. “Captain Natale asked me to answer for her. She’s in the bathroom, and will be out in a minute or so.” 

Wallace grunted in acknowledgement. “She still fuming about that git Zaddo once every hour?” he asked. 

Whitehorse chuckled. “It’s every two hours now, Captain.” 

When they had reached her apartment three days before, after leaving the security office, Captain Natale had begun pacing around the living room, grumbling about how she had wasted so much time, had thrown away so many years she could have been loving and loved by her husband, all based on a threat that Zaddo Natale had never intended to carry out. Despite how high a price he had demanded for her the night she’d run away, she was still not considered important enough to track down or fight Starfleet for. Her brother’s words had confirmed a long-held belief that she had meant absolutely nothing to her father beyond what he could get for her. 

Whitehorse knew—almost better than anyone, given his empathic abilities—how it burned in her gut that all it had taken to keep her under Zaddo’s thumb was a threat that had, in essence, meant nothing. He, and Wallace as well, had reasoned that, had she chosen to defy her father’s edict years ago, he might well have come after her and any children they’d had just as he was planning to now. 

Every time, she ended the argument with “And perhaps if he had, we could have rid ourselves of the bastard years ago.” 

Wallace sighed on the screen. “I know I’ve said it before, but I’m sure she’ll come ‘round in time.” 

“Yeah, as soon as that fucker is dead or in shackles on his way to Rura Penthe,” said Natale as she entered the living room, leaving no doubt that she knew who they had been talking about. 

Whitehorse immediately vacated her desk chair, giving her privacy as he left the room altogether and headed for the guest room where he should have been instead of having fallen asleep on the couch. A shower and a clean uniform, and perhaps a strong cup of raktajino, ought to clear the cobwebs from his brain. 

That and a quick chat with Jordan—that would wake him up. 

<> 

Starbase Echo 
Operations Center 
0800 Hours 


“Where is she?” 

The question—more a demand, given the tone of voice used—came quite unexpectedly to Commander Hyasieth Zael’Izani’s saurian hearing. She turned serenely, placing her hands behind her back, to regard Alok as he charged from the portside turbolift. 

She was surprised, for half a second, to find herself looking upon two of him, then recalled that he had a twin brother who served on the Wolfsong, one of the ships in the Eleventh Fleet. 

“Pray, be more specific, Mr. Alok,” the Vastran said in reply. “There are a few thousand beings on this starbase who fit that gender descriptor, myself included.” 

“Where is my wife? Where did you send her?” Alok demanded again. 

She looked between the identical faces, both with the barest hint of a crainial ridge on their brows, each man with ears that came to less of a point that their Romulan ancestor’s would have done, but which alone were enough to denote an genetic history that was not entirely Human. 

They also, despite wearing the same Federation duty uniform, wore different color divisional shirts: Alok wore the gray of Intelligence, and his brother the mustard yellow of Operations. 

Lt. Alexander Locksley spoke up then, saying—in a calmer voice than his brother’s—“Begging your pardon, Commander, but we can’t find Sylari. She was not in their quarters when Alok and I returned this morning and she’s not answering the comm.” 

“The computer said she wasn’t even on the station!” Alok all but yelled, and then, in a somewhat more mollified tone, added, “I cannot sense her presence. Please, I just need to know she’s okay. It is…unsettling to not feel her near.” 

At this, Hyasieth frowned. She turned to glance at Commander Kelley, who had approached as Locksley spoke. “She didn’t leave any kind of note or message, Alok?” the tactical officer asked. 

He shook his head. “No, nothing.” 

Just then the ensign who’d been assigned to the Communications console walked over. “Begging your pardon, sir, ma’am, but I’ve just received a rather urgent communication from Lt. Commander Tyrel of the Columbia. He says he cannot locate his sister—her name’s Maiandra Tyrel, and she owns a nightclub here on the station called Isha.” 

“Commander Kelley, this cannot be a coincidence,” Alok said. “Captain Natale’s brother is on the station—he works for their father. He—” 

“Is being followed by Security wherever he goes, Alok,” Kelley broke in. “We’ve had eyes on Savaj Natale since he was released from holding yesterday. The most questionable thing he’s done in the last half day or so was eat a bowl of gagh at Ro’qegh last night.” 

“I have to agree, however,” put in Hyasieth, “that the inability to locate either Lt. Sylari or Ms. Tyrel is…disturbing. If memory serves, the lieutenant was assigned as Sebastien Merko’s courier last evening.” 

“And who the heck is Sebastien Merko?” Locksley asked. 

“Son of Regulus VIII’s planetary governor,” Kelley replied. 

“Young Mr. Merko had expressed a desire to visit the station,” Hyasieth continued, “and the Isha nightclub in particular. However, Sebastien Merko specifically requested shuttle transportation because he planned to become inebriated and claims transporting in that condition makes him violently ill.” At the surprised expressions of the three men, she added, “It was specified in his transportation request.” 

Alexander Locksley snorted. “More like getting shit-faced gives him a hell of a hangover,” he muttered. 

Kelley turned to the ensign standing nearby. “Contact the Transportation office. Have them send up Lt. Sylari’s travel itinerary for Mr. Merko from last night.” 

“Aye, sir,” she replied, and quickly headed back to her station. 

Kelley then turned to Echo’s executive officer. “So, we know that Sylari brought Merko to the station so he could go to the nightclub owned by Maiandra Tyrel. Would it be within the scope of her duties to actually go there with him?” 

Hyasieth shook her head. “Not necessarily. I’m sure you’re aware, Commander, that couriers don’t always remain with their charges. As Mr. Merko would be transported from the planet to the station and then back again some hours later, she could easily have passed the time elsewhere, or by conducting other transports while she waited for the call to take him home. The boy is young, certainly, but old enough by Federation standards as to not require a chaperone.” 

“But she would have done,” said Alok. “Remained with him, that is. Knowing his plan to become inebriated, she would have felt duty-bound to see that he was returned safely to his point of origin herself.” 

“Okay,” said his brother, “so we know there’s a possibility she was at the nightclub last night with this Merko guy, keeping an eye on him. How can we find out for sure if she was there? How can we find out if Tyrel’s sister was working last night?” 

“Do you happen to know Lt. Commander Tyrel well enough to disregard the use of his rank, Lieutenant?” Hyasieth inquired. 

“Of course, Commander. He’s a friend of mine,” Locksley replied easily. 

“I believe I can help you.” 

The four turned to see Felicity Bowman standing just behind Hyasieth and Kelley. The latter offered her a brief smile before asking, “What can you help with, Felicity?” 

“If I may, sir,” she said, pointing to the pool table. 

Hyasieth shared a look with Kelley, then the two stepped aside. Bowman moved quickly up to the table and slid onto one of the stools there, speedily keying in commands to bring up a holographic representation of the starbase over the middle of the table. 

“What is it you are doing, Lieutenant?” Hyasieth asked. 

“Tracing Lt. Sylari’s commbadge,” the younger woman replied without looking at her. 

“You can do that?” Kelley asked. 

Bowman chuckled. “I wasn’t transferred to Sanctuary’s staff because I have a pretty face, Commander,” she replied. “You’ll recall, I am sure, Commander Grafydd’s excessive praise of my organizational skills as reason for his wanting to keep me around. It’s why Captain Natale made me Dockmaster here on Echo though I am but a mere JG. The truth of the matter is, I have an eidetic memory—it’s what makes me so good at organizing information and remembering where things are. However…” 

Her fingers flew rapidly over the keys. “I am, first and foremost, a computer specialist and engineer. The main computer automatically runs a continuous location trace of every commbadge registered in the system—it’s how we confirm locations, and I could tell you exactly where you were at 1500 hours yesterday, for example—but the information is purged every seventy-two hours.” 

The image of Echo suddenly shifted to show a picture of Lt. Sylari next to what appeared to be a list of locations. Hyasieth was impressed that Bowman had been able to pull up the information so quickly; she was also somewhat stunned that she hadn’t known the computer core ran a continuous location trace of every registered commbadge. Filing that away in her mind to be looked into at a later time, she leaned forward, bracing her hands on the edge of the table as she read through the last few bullet points on the list. 

“It says here—” began Locksley as he rounded the table and stood across from Bowman; he gestured to the last few points. “—that Sylari’s badge was recorded as being at Isha last night.” 

“So she was there,” said Alok. 

A single point at the bottom of the list began to flash. With another few taps of the keys on the table, Bowman brought it up to be the only thing showing: Lt. Sylari entered Shuttle Bay 1, 0021 hours. After that, her commbadge had stopped registering in the starbase’s system. 

Hyasieth frowned. “That’s strange… Why would she have taken Merko into the civilian hangar when she used one of our shuttles to pick him up?” 

“She didn’t, Commander,” said the Communications officer as she returned to the group. The ensign held up a PADD. “According to Transportation’s night shift report, Lt. Sylari contacted them at 0009 to inform them that she wasn’t feeling well and that someone would have to replace her. It also notes that she mentioned Isha’s proprietor would be escorting her home and then going on to her own quarters afterward.” 

“So they left the club together,” Lt. Locksley observed. “Definitely not a coincidence, since both of them are now missing.” 

“We must find my wife,” said Alok. “I need her to be safe.” 

Hyasieth once more shared a look with Kelley. “We have to tell the captain,” he said. 

“Captain Natale is on leave, Commander,” she reminded him. “And her child is overdue now by five days. I do not believe her capable of managing the stress—” 

“With respect, Commander, we cannot keep this from her,” Kelley interrupted. “Two women are missing—one of them a Starfleet officer under her command, one of them sister to a Starfleet officer in the fleet assigned to her starbase. Do you really think it wise not to make her aware of what is going on?” 

Hyasieth drew a breath. “Perhaps you are correct, Mr. Kelley. You are more familiar with Captain Natale’s mindset and moods than myself, after all. But I do not intend it should be only ourselves to meet with her. Mr. Alok and Lt. Locksley, you will accompany us. Ensign, contact the Columbia and have Mr. Tyrel report aboard the station—we will convene in Captain Natale’s apartment.” 

“And send a security team to Savaj Natale’s guest quarters—if he’s not there, track him down,” added Kelley. “Whether he’s involved in the disappearances or not, he may still have something useful to tell us.” 

“At once, Commander,” the ensign replied, and hurried off to do as instructed. 

“Come, gentlemen,” Hyasieth said to the men. She started toward the port turbolift, but turned back briefly to say, “Lt. Bowman, you have the watch.” 

Bowman swallowed—she’d never been left in charge before—but nodded solemnly. Hyasieth, Kelley, Alok, and his brother then made for the lift together. 

<> 

Echo Park Residential Quarters, Unit A1 


To say she was surprised to see the number of people at her door would have been an understatement; nor had Synnove Natale had ever had so many people in her apartment at once. They hadn’t called ahead to say they were coming, which was unusual for any of her officers, though agreed with Whitehorse as soon as he sensed their approach that it must be something dire to even bring them down. 

Her bodyguard smiled briefly at Kelley as the tactical officer filed in behind the station’s XO, but otherwise maintained his usual emotionless expression. Natale directed everyone to sit and be comfortable, as she was in an armchair with her feet propped up on an ottoman and not feeling comfortable enough to move. Kelley took the open space next to Whitehorse on the sofa and Hyasieth the armchair across from her. The other three men remained standing. 

“What’s happened?” she asked, her gaze on her exec. “It’s serious if you’re coming to me and bringing guests along.” 

“Sylari is missing,” said Alok immediately. 

The large-built green Orion next to him, who wore an angry scowl, added “So’s my sister.” 

Natale flicked her eyes to his rank pins. “You’ll have to forgive my ignorance, Commander, but who are you and who is your sister?” 

He straightened slightly. “Lt. Commander Rokha Tyrel, tactical officer of the U.S.S. Columbia, Captain. My sister is Maiandra Tyrel, the owner of Echo’s Isha nightclub.” 

“Right—you’re one of Captain Regan’s officers,” she said with a nod; she had recognized his face but could not recall where she had met him. “Now I recall hearing about her and the club.” 

Her gaze them moved to Kelley, before falling again on Hyasieth. The Vastran sat primly, as she always did, but Natale detected tension in her posture. “Commander?” 

Hyasieth filled her in on what little they knew. The ache in Natale’s back and stomach seemed to worsen with her growing concern. “You’re right,” she said as she slid her feet to the floor and sat up straighter. “If they left the nightclub together, then they likely disappeared together. I trust Bowman’s skills, and if her search says Sylari didn’t make it to her quarters, then she didn’t.” 

“I need to find her,” said Alok. “Captain, we must begin a search.” 

“Agreed, Mr. Alok, but where to begin is the question.” 

Grozit,” muttered Whitehorse suddenly as he shot to his feet and moved toward the door. 

“Colonel, what is it?” Natale asked, attempting and failing to stand. “Jordan, will you help me, please?” 

Kelley moved to her right side, and Alok’s brother moved to her left though no one had asked for his assistance; the two men helped her stand as Whitehorse was admitting Zram into the apartment. Both of them wore grave expressions. 

“What is it, Master Chief?” Natale asked her security chief. 

“Captain, on Commander Kelley’s orders I went to your brother’s guest quarters to bring him here, to see if he might at least have an idea who is behind the disappearances of the two women,” Zram said slowly. 

Natale scoffed softly. “Let me guess: Savaj slipped your surveillance team’s watchful eyes and has left the station?” 

Zram shared a look with Whitehorse, then Kelley and Hyasieth. “No, ma’am. I regret to inform you that your brother is dead.” 

Shock coursed through her, and for a moment she tuned them all out, though at the same time her brain registered Kelley asking what had happened. She registered the Bolian replying that someone had jammed a knife into her brother’s skull through the underside of his jaw. She heard this as her heart squeezed in her chest—there had been some mistrust, given the years since they had last seen one another, but she had still cared about him. Savaj was the brother who had helped her escape a life of sexual slavery, and she would always love him for his aid in achieving freedom. 

“I know who did it,” Natale said, silencing the others’ discussion on how the killer had managed to get past the surveillance team. She looked around at them, her eyes stinging with unshed tears, and said again, “I know who did it.” 

Hyasieth’s expression as she regarded her was one of deep concern. “Captain, are you certain? How do you know?” 

Natale looked to Kelley. “You’ve read the reports on my father, Jordan. The method of Savaj’s execution—and I have no doubt that’s what it was—should be familiar.” 

Kelley frowned for a moment, as though he were thinking hard, then his eyes widened. “Shit,” he said. “I do recognize it. One of Zaddo’s chief hit men uses that knife through the chin method. Some slimy fucker called Rathe—” 

“Tyrel,” said Columbia’s tactical officer. His expression changed from anger to shock. “But he’s supposed to be dead. I… I killed him when I was fifteen.” 

All eyes turned to him. “Commander, admitting to murder will result in a court martial,” Hyasieth warned. 

“It wasn’t murder, Commander, it was self defense,” Tyrel shot back, suddenly angry again. “Defense of my life and that of my then five-year-old sister, who’s freedom my father paid for just so he could sell her virginity for whatever price he wanted.” 

“Sounds like my father,” Natale muttered. 

Tyrel turned to her. “Who do you think he hoped to sell her to? I’d run away with Mai because I didn’t want that life for her. She was too innocent, too sweet. I just couldn’t let him do it. But my father found us. We got into a fight that I ended by hitting him in the head with a brick I’d pulled from the wall of the hovel Mai and I were forced to live in. I took my sister and ran again, this time by bartering passage to the Federation. I cleaned up my act for her, joined Starfleet so I could provide a better life for her.” 

“In any case,” spoke up Alok’s brother, whose name Natale could not remember at the moment, “it looks like not only did you not kill your dad, but he’s continued to work for Captain Natale’s dad, and he’s now taken my sister and yours.” 

“And he’s killed my brother,” Natale added. “Most likely all on Zaddo’s orders. Savaj betrayed him by coming here to warn me of his plan to have me kidnapped—he told us that day we met that Father would kill him, or send one of his assassins after him. Most likely, Rathe was sent here for me, and when that failed because of Savaj’s warning, he ordered him to kill my brother. He ordered his own son’s execution.” 

“What about the women?” Whitehorse queried. “Are they just a bonus or something?” 

Natale laughed bitterly. “More than likely, the purpose of taking them was to draw me out of hiding.” 

“You’re not going anywhere in your condition,” Kelley said. “And even were you not pregnant, you still wouldn’t be going. Brian would never allow you to put yourself in danger like that, not even for your own people.” 

“Brian isn’t here to stop me, remember?” she countered. “Because he was forced to go out and chase after fucking contraband my father sent out as a diversion. But don’t worry, Commander, you are right about one thing: I won’t be going anywhere in my condition.” 

Whitehorse’s brow drew together, then he cursed softly and tapped his commbadge. “Whitehorse to Medical—send a team up to the captain’s quarters at once. Her water’s broken.” 

Hyasieth stood as the call was acknowledged. “Gentlemen, out,” she ordered. “I’ll see to the captain until the doctor arrives.” 

“Commander, what about—” 

She waved a hand sharply through the air as she stepped around the ottoman and took the place of Alok’s brother on Natale’s left. “Return to Ops and await me in the conference room. I will join you for planning a rescue operation as soon as the doctor is here to tend to the captain.” 

The men departed, with Whitehorse saying he would join the security team outside the apartment. Natale allowed her XO to guide her into the bedroom, acknowledging silently that she’d probably been in labor all morning had had been stupidly ignoring the signs, hoping the labor was false. 

“Brian should be here,” she moaned as a contraction more painful than anything she’d felt so far gripped her. “He’s supposed to be here. It’s our first baby.” 

“I will see to it that the Triumph is contacted immediately,” Hyasieth assured her. “Perhaps Lt. Bowman can link a subspace signal to a portable holo-projector.” 

“It’s not the same!” Natale cried as the other woman helped settle her into bed and began to remove her lower garments. “I want my husband—I NEED MY HUSBAND!” 

“Yes, you do. But as I cannot bring him here physically, I will see to it that we do the next best thing,” the XO said. 

Natale’s response was a long, wordless cry of pain. 

<> 

Hyasieth learned upon her arrival in the conference room that Lt. Commander Tyrel had already been in contact with his captain. Lindze Regan, knowing the futility of ordering him to return to the ship, had granted him leave to join the rescue operation. Her chief engineer, whom the Vastran learned was romantically involved with Maiandra Tyrel, soon joined them in the conference room. 

“I had to come,” Darien Serri said to Tyrel. “You know how much Mai means to me.” 

Tyrel nodded. “Almost as much as she means to me. I’m actually glad you’re going with us—a telepath on this trip should prove useful.” 

“Captain Shivan’s granted me leave from the Wolfsong as well,” added Alex Locksley. “Alok and I aren’t telepaths, but our remaining implants allow us to communicate with each other in a similar fashion, not to mention we’re both able to access computer systems faster than a normal person.” 

“You’ll all want to go in civilian dress, of course,” observed Kelley. “The question is, how will you get to the Borderlands? You certainly can’t take a shuttle or a runabout.” 

Alok cursed, something he rarely did. “And the Falcon is docked for repairs after mine and Alex’s last mission.” 

“Though I loathe the idea of sending anyone into a dangerous situation, I agree that a civilian transport would be best,” offered Hyasieth. She then looked to Kelley. “Commander, access the station’s database for docked civilian vessels. Surely there must be one among them that would be willing to assist.” 

Kelley immediately went to the wall monitor and switched it on, keying in commands rapidly. A few tense minutes passed before he cried out “Yes!” 

Hyasieth noted a triumphant smile on his face as he turned to them. On the screen, she saw a funny looking ship that sort of resembled a… she wasn’t sure what, but definitely some kind of animal. 

“The M.V. Lyriq—it’s a cargo and transport ship, but her captain’s a registered bounty hunter,” Kelley reported. “Bringing in Zaddo Natale, dead or alive, would make her year.” 

Lyriq’s engineer is also a Federation Marine,” added Alok. “I have it on good authority that his suspension two years ago was but a cover, to make him look like an embittered outcast so he could get into places official operatives cannot.” 

“So what the frell are we waiting for?” Tyrel demanded. “Let’s go talk to this chick and get our asses out there.” 

Serri had stepped closer to the screen; he turned to his friend and said, “Jodhaa Ra’kir is a red Orion, Tyrel.” 

“I don’t give a shit if she’s a Denebian slime devil, Darien, as long as she’s willing to help me get my sister back,” Tyrel shot back. 

“Let’s get moving,” said Alok then. “The longer we wait, the more time those scum have to do harm to my wife.” 

“Good luck, gentlemen,” Hyasieth told them. 

<> 

Knife’s Edge 
Rathe Tyrel’s ship 


The opening of the door immediately brought Sylari to consciousness. She sat up and looked toward it as Maiandra was rousing; stepping through the narrow hatch was a thin Andorian female dressed in ragged clothes, carrying a tray with two bowls on it. 

She also bore a thick metal collar with a blinking light on it. Sylari held no doubts as to what that collar was designed to do. 

“I… I’ve brought you some food.” 

She set the tray on the small table at the rear of the cabin and immediately backed away toward the door. 

“Thank you,” Sylari said in a soft voice. “Where is our captor?” 

“My master is in the cockpit. He bade me bring you something to eat, and now I have done.” 

Maiandra stood and reached out to her as she turned back toward the closed hatch. The Andorian shrank back in fear and the Orion immediately withdrew her hand. 

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” she said. “I just… Please, can you help us?” 

When she looked up, Sylari noted utter defeat in her gaze. It was likely she had been a slave of Rathe Tyrel’s for some years. 

“I cannot help you. P-please do not ask me again,” said the girl. “I-I cannot. He will k-kill me i-if I—” 

Sylari stood slowly. “Do not trouble yourself, we will not ask again,” she said with a meaningful look at Maiandra. “We have no wish to frighten you any more than your master already does. However, I would be pleased to know your name.” 

“I am C-Cori. Coriandel Toh’kerron,” said the visitor, who began to cry. “No one’s asked me my name in years. Years! My master rarely uses it, as I usually only perform one function for him.” 

Maiandra’s look of disgust and Coriandel’s ragged clothing gave Sylari an idea just what that function was. “How long have you…been in his service?” 

“I… I don’t know. I lost count a while back,” Coriandel said. “I know it’s been some years since my present master purchased me. I… I was taken from my family more than twenty years ago, I do know that. A Romulan kidnapped me as I was walking home from school one day. I was… fourteen, I think?” 

“I am so sorry,” Maiandra said then, tears now streaking down her face. “I cannot imagine the horror you’ve gone through.” 

Coriandel lifted her haunted gaze. “You should start. The same fate awaits you, or worse. The master means to sell you to his own master, if he can. Lord Zaddo has a fondness for your kind. He’s been trying for a hybrid child. Rumor has it he had one, once, but she was lucky. She got away.” 

Sylari and Maiandra looked to one another, each of them fully aware to whom the girl referred. 

“You must eat,” said Coriandel then. “My master will be angry if you do not. You won’t like him when he’s angry.” 

With that, she turned away from them and keyed the door open again, stepping through and closing it without looking back. 

Maiandra sighed heavily, then went to the table on which the tray sat. “Looks like oatmeal. Or gruel. Grits, maybe. I have no idea what it is.” 

Sylari moved to stand beside her, then bent to inhale. She immediately wished she had not, and bolted the few feet to the commode, emptying what little was in her stomach. 

“Sylari, are you all right?” Maiandra asked. “And don’t tell me you’re fine, I know you’re not. You were vomiting at the club last night, too. At least, I think it was last night—no telling what frakking time it is.” 

Sylari flushed, washed her hands, and rinsed her mouth out before she responded. Turning around, she said, “There is nothing ‘wrong’ with me. I am well, at least as well as can be expected for one who will bear a child in seven months and twelve days.” 

“You’re pregnant? Does Alok know?” 

Sylari shook her head. “I have not yet had the chance to inform him—he has been away on an intelligence-gathering mission with his brother. They were due to return in the morning—by now, Alok knows I have been abducted.” 

“And Rokha and Darien likely know I have, as well,” Maiandra said. 

Syalri returned to the table and sat down, careful not to breathe through her nose. “We must eat, no matter what it is. We cannot be certain when or if we will be supplied with sustenance again. I do not believe our captor would poison the food, not if is his intention is to sell us for profit.” 

Maiandra sat slowly on the second stool at the table. She took a bowl and a spoon, stirred the oatmeal-like substance in the bowl, and said slowly, “We have to hope that Rathe doesn’t conduct a medical exam. From what I have heard from my brother about the Syndicate’s practices, it’s highly likely he’d force you to take something to cause a miscarriage. The baby’s not far along enough to be born early and sold off, so he’ll make you lose it.” 

Sylari was silent for a moment as she contemplated those words. In all likelihood, Maiandra was right. Few who dealt in the slave trade would want the additional responsibility of paying for medical care beyond the most basic. She was worth more, in essence, without the child she carried. But then, being already pregnant was proof that she was capable of breeding, so perhaps there might be someone willing to pay the higher price… 

She shook herself mentally for allowing her thoughts to delve into the morose. They would be rescued before Rathe Tyrel could force a miscarriage on her, she was certain of it. She and Alok would be reunited, and she would see the joy in his eyes, feel it through their bond, when she told him he was to be a father. 

It was, perhaps, not logical to set her mind so, but to Sylari, any other outcome was simply unacceptable. 

<> 

The four-man rescue squad met with Jodhaa Ra’kir and Lucas Peck, her engineer, in the civilian hangar bay. On hearing the name Zaddo Natale, Ra’kir did not hesitate to accept the job of transporting the rescuers into the Borderlands. Her engineer reminded her that the Lyriq had no weapons, to which she replied they would not need them. 

“We’re going in to pull two people out of Zaddo’s compound, not up against a squadron of his raiders,” she pointed out. “We can get these Fleeters in, cool our heels at the landing yard, and haul ass out when they’re done before anyone even knows we were there.” 

“Right,” Peck replied, drawing out the word. “As if you’ll really sit in your bunk twiddling your thumbs while they go up against the man responsible for the deaths of four of your closest friends.” 

Rokha Tyrel watched her expression harden right before she curtly ordered the Human to get his “scrawny ass back to the engine room”. 

“Your wish is my command, Boss,” Peck replied, before turning and heading up the ramp. Tyrel and the others watched him go, then looked to Ra’kir. 

“Passenger cabins are in the aft lower deck. You can stow your gear there. We’re off as soon as I can get clearance from Ops.” 

Giving no time for a response, she turned on her heel and moved up the ramp. Tyrel found his gaze inexplicably drawn to her ass, which he watched sway with each step she took. 

“See something you like?” Darien asked. 

Tyrel scowled. “Frak you, Darien,” he muttered, then followed in Ra’kir’s footsteps. The four of them found the small passenger cabins easily enough, and all took rooms on the lower level. Peck’s cabin, they quickly discovered, was the farthest back, as it was closest to the engine room. 

They encountered the Human again as he was stepping back into the corridor; Tyrel had stated his intention to find the galley, hoping there was something strong to drink there. “Hey, what’s with that shit you were talking about before?” 

“I’d like to know about that myself,” added Locksley. 

Peck sighed. “I can’t tell you. It’s not my place—hell, I shouldn’t even have brought it up. I just worry about her motivation for doing this. It’s personal for her.” 

Locksley snorted. “The hell you think it is for us? The women we’re going to save are our family, pal.” 

“And the EC crew was hers,” Peck replied. 

He then explained to them the easiest way of getting to and from the galley on the mid-deck and returned to the engine room. Tyrel led the others to the galley, but Jodhaa wasn’t there. He sat with them for a few minutes discussing how they were going to access Zaddo Natale’s compound—his own father had taken the girls, but if Captain Natale was right and they’d been taken to draw her out, Zaddo’s was surely where he’d take them. 

He almost couldn’t believe that Rathe was still alive, but then he’d always been a slick bastard. He’d probably only pretended to be dead, and had gotten up as soon as he and Maiandra had fled the scene. He could only wonder why Rathe hadn’t come after them all this time. Had he thought them as dead as they’d mistakenly believed he was? 

It was decided that Darien and Alex would breach the compound’s computer systems to deactivate security and locate Sylari and Maiandra, while he and Alok attempted to get in through a servants’ entrance. They would take out as many of Zaddo’s minions as got in the way. 

“I don’t know…” said Darien with hesitation. “Are you certain we’ll have to kill everyone we run into?” 

“You really don’t know who Zaddo Natale is, do you?” 

The four men looked to see Jodhaa standing at the forward galley entrance, her arms crossed under her bosom. Tyrel noticed Darien flinching, and wondered if his Betazoid senses were picking up something from her that they couldn’t see or feel. 

“That man sent an assassin after my old boss and me, and our crew, just because we had caught some low-life who maybe knew something damaging about him,” she went on. “Four people who took me in and made me family were brutally murdered without a second thought, and Beks and I barely escaped with our own lives. She thinks I don’t know it, but she’s still hunting that fucker down, because although we buried him, he managed to survive too. That was someone who worked for Zaddo Natale, so yes, you will likely have to kill every one of his cronies that you meet. Because once they realize you’re not supposed to be there, they will not hesitate to try and kill you.” 

“Also, heavy stun is not going to be effective on anyone jacked up on stims, and most of Zaddo’s guys likely are,” added Tyrel. “My dad used to like doling out stims as a reward for good work. I was addicted myself, until I ran away with Mai.” 

“Well, if it really was your father who took her, then we can be sure he won’t abuse her, at least not… well, he won’t try anything sick with her,” Serri said. 

“No, but it won’t stop him beating her up if she convinces Alok’s mate to try anything stupid. And I wouldn’t put it past Mai to do something stupid—you know how she fought for her life when that scumbag Flavan tried to rape her.” 

“Yeah,” Darien said quietly. “I know.” 

“If he or Zaddo attempts to sexually molest my wife, I will kill them with my bare hands,” said Alok then, in a tone which left no one—not even Jodhaa, Tyrel saw—in doubt of the sincerity of his intent. 

Alex clapped a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Nothing’s going to happen to Sylari—or Maiandra. Your wife is a smart woman. She may keep her eyes open for an opportunity to escape, but if she doesn’t see one, she won’t take the chance. And she knows we’ll come for her.” 

“I wanted to let you know that we’re cleared for departure in another ten minutes. I’ll be up in the cockpit if you need anything,” Jodhaa said then. “Do me a favor and don’t eat Lucas and I out of house and home.” 

She turned then on her heel and headed out. Almost before he knew what he was doing, Tyrel rose and followed her. She paused and turned back to him in the narrow corridor that led to crew quarters and the bridge. “Something else I can do for you?” she asked as she raised her hands to her hips. 

For a red, she was actually worth looking at, Tyrel mused—and that was saying something, as he’d grown up being taught to hate red-skinned Orions, even the females. 

“Is it just you and the Human on this boat?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest. 

Jodhaa nodded. “Yeah, for now. We had one other crewmate, but she…she had to take time off. We’re looking for one or two other hands to join us.” 

She eyed him questioningly. “You looking to skip out of Starfleet and join the private sector?” 

“Not at the moment,” he replied. “I was just curious. You and Peck a thing?” 

Jodhaa barked out a laugh as she turned around and started for the cockpit again. Tyrel followed as she said, “Not that it’s any of your business, but no, we’re not. Might have thought about it a while after we first met, but I think Lucas is still hung up on the memory of his fiancée. She was a Marine, like him, but was captured and executed by the Cardassians during the war. So while we’re close, Lucas and I are just good friends—he’s like a brother to me now.” 

Up in the cockpit, she took the front seat on the right and began flipping switches and pushing buttons. He assumed she was doing pre-flight checks, as he’d never been on one of these old tubs. “Where did you get this old rust bucket, anyway? What class is it?” 

Jodhaa turned a sharp gaze in his direction as he was lowering himself into the co-pilot’s seat. “Hey, let’s get one thing straight, pal: you do not insult my ship. Remember that I’m doing you a favor, and I can still kick you and your friends off my boat in the next eight minutes.” 

Tyrel held his hands up, palms out. “No insult intended, damn. I was just curious—it is an old ship, after all. That much I can tell.” 

She turned back to her work. “Lyriq is a Va’leh-class mid-bulk transport. Andorian designed and manufactured about fifty or so years ago.” 

On the instrument panel before Tyrel, a green light began to flash, and a buzzing noise sounded. “Press that button, that’s the comm system,” Jodhaa said, standing from her seat. 

He did as she asked while she stepped closer. “Starbase Echo Operations to M.V. Lyriq, come in please.” 

Lyriq here, Captain Ra’kir speaking. Go ahead, Echo,” Jodhaa replied. 

This is Commander Jordan Kelley—could you please get one of our officers on the line?” said the caller, whose voice Tyrel had already identified. “I’ve got some useful information for the team—for you as well, actually.” 

“One of your men is with me now, Commander,” Jodhaa said, glancing at Tyrel as she spoke. 

“Lt. Commander Tyrel here, Commander Kelley. What have you got for us?” he asked. 

We had Lt. Bowman do a check on which vessels departed from the civilian hangar at around the time Lt. Sylari’s commbadge stopped registering on our system,” Kelley said. “A Denobulan freighter named Knife’s Edge left the station at 0100 this morning. Sylari’s commbadge stopped registering at 0021, and Savaj Natale’s TOD was confirmed by our medical officer as being 0050.” 

Tyrel snorted. “Figures that fucker would want to get the hell out of the area as soon as he’d committed murder, but not kidnapping,” he said. 

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Jodhaa said, her hands going to her hips again. “Nobody mentioned a murder to me, only two kidnapped women you wanted to try and rescue. So not only do we have a dead guy, but a dead Natale? That means he’s one of Zaddo’s for sure.” 

That is correct, Ms. Ra’kir, but Savaj knew the risk he was taking when he came to Starbase Echo to warn his sister, my captain, that her father had decided it was time to reacquire her.” 

Jodhaa snorted. “You mean he’d decided to have her kidnapped,” she observed, then blew out a breath. “So… Assuming the lackey that took the girls also killed his boss’s son, probably on Zaddo’s orders, what was he doing in the half hour between the time the commbadge stopped registering and when he killed Savaj?” 

“He probably had a slave on his ship. Probably wanted to celebrate the success of the kidnapping with a little wham-bam before he put that knife to Savaj,” said Tyrel with disgust clear in his tone. “So we know what ship to look for, Commander. How is that of any help to us? He’s already got at least eight hours’ head start.” 

Our long-range sensors were able to pick up the ship’s ion trail and estimate its trajectory, which I’m having transmitted to Lyriq’s nav computer now,” Kelley replied. “Not to mention, the Millennium-class’s top speed is warp seven—they can go warp eight, but can’t hold it long.” 

“The Va’leh can max at warp nine for six hours,” put in Jodhaa. “We won’t be able to overtake them with their head start, but even if the Knife’s Edge is running at warp eight, we can get real close before we have to power down.” 

You’re cleared for launch as soon as we’re done talking, Tyrel. Good luck. Kelley out.” 

Jodhaa moved immediately back to the pilot’s seat. After she pressed several controls, she told him she had set a course based on the information Bowman had found, then she surprised him by pulling an antique Starfleet communicator from a pocket and flipping it open. 

“Lucas, time to kick the tires and light the fires, my friend.” 

Roger that, Boss—everything’s solid on my end. Let’s do this,” came the reply. 

“Roger that. Jodhaa out.” 

Tyrel watched her slip the communicator back into her pocket. “Where the hell did you get that old thing?” 

“The communicator?” she queried as she took the controls again; he felt the ship lift off the hangar bay deck. “Got ‘em at a surplus sale some years back. One of my old crew fixed ‘em up good as new; Lucas and I have been using them for about two years now.” 

Tyrel harrumphed, then stood. “I’d better go fill the other guys in on the update,” he said. Jodhaa’s only reply was to say “Yup,” as she was concentrating on flying the ship out the hangar bay doors. He moved toward the hatch, turning back to glance at her, admitting to himself—albeit reluctantly—that she rather intrigued him. Maiandra would like her—his sister hadn’t grown up with the same prejudices he had. 

He then shook his head, dismissed any thoughts about Jodhaa Ra’kir, and headed for the galley to fill the others in. 

<> 

Brian Wallace transported into his bedroom on the starbase amidst a scream from his wife. As soon as he was fully materialized, he ran to sit beside her on the edge of the bed. 

“Brian!” she cried, her voice raspy from the scream, and likely exhaustion—she’d been in labor for 30 hours now. God, how beautiful she looked, even covered with cold, sticky sweat. 

Wallace clasped her hand in his. “I’m here, mo ghaol. I’m here now.” 

“You made it,” Synnove said breathily. “You made it! Our boy… our baby boy…” 

“Captain Wallace.” The voice of the doctor, who was situated between his wife’s legs, had him turning his head. He didn’t even know who it was, hadn’t registered the nurse standing nearby, either. 

A Vulcan female regarded him with one eyebrow raised. “What is it?” he asked her. 

“Would you care to assist, Captain?” she replied. 

Wallace frowned, glancing down at Synnove and then back again. “Assist? Assist how?” 

“Your child is crowning. I merely thought you would appreciate the symbolism of yours being the first hands to touch him.” 

He looked to Synnove again. A soft, tired smile had turned up the corners of her lips. “Please, Brian. It will mean so much…” 

Wallace bent to touch his lips to her brow. “Of course, I will,” he said, then released her hand and moved to where the doctor now pointed. His son’s head was indeed coming out of the birth canal, which meant that—thankfully—the rest of him would soon follow. Synnove’s pain in bringing him into the world would end. 

As he sat where and how he was instructed, he felt tears prick his eyes. His child—the life he had created with the woman he loved more than any other—and his would be the first hands to touch him, hold him, once he was free of the womb. Yes, there was symbolism and sentiment in that, and he made a mental note to thank the doctor later for thinking of letting him do this. 

Once she had sterilized his hands, she gave him more directions. Synnove was told to push, and he took the baby’s head in his hands as the doctor then told her to stop pushing. 

“I know you are in pain, Captain Natale, but we must clear his airway so that he may breathe freely,” the doctor said at Synnove’s protest. 

She used a small instrument, held over the baby’s face, to draw out mucus and phlegm from his nose and mouth. “Oh, mo ghaol,” he said, tears of indescribable happiness slipping down his face. “He’s got yer hair color, and me curls!” 

“He has hair?” she asked. 

“Aye, a head full o‘ it!” 

“And his skin? What color is he?” 

“Orange, jus’ like ‘is mam, but paler than ye,” Wallace replied. 

“The pigmentation of your child’s skin is likely to change, Captain, over the first months of his life. It may darken, or get paler,” said the doctor. “Now push again, we need to get those shoulders out.” 

It took only three more pushes, and then the son they had waited twenty years for was at last born—and if the high-pitched wail he loosed was any indication, the boy was not best pleased to be out of the warmth and comfort of his mother’s womb. Wallace held him up so that Synnove could see him. 

“He’s beautiful!” she cried. 

“Aye, mo ghaol, tha’ he is,” Wallace agreed, then on the doctor’s suggestion set about cleaning him up. 

Moments later, he carried the wrapped bundle to the head of the bed, where the nurse had kindly propped her captain up on pillows. Sitting on the edge, he laid the boy gently into his mother’s arms. “’Ere be yer son, m’lady,” he said softly. 

Synnove was crying as she touched her lips to the baby’s forehead. “Oh, Brian… We did it. We have a son.” 

“I mi’ ‘ave given ye me seed, love, bu’ ye did all the work o’ bringin’ ‘im out to us,” Wallace told her. 

“I’m sorry about the bed,” Synnove said then. 

Wallace chuckled. “It’s no matter. It’s just a mattress—easily replaced.” 

They sat staring down at their beautiful son in silence for some minutes, until the doctor softly announced that the afterbirth had passed, and that they would be departing soon. 

“By the way, Captains, have you chosen a name for your son? I should like to know what to enter into the official record,” she added. 

“He’s named for me grandda and me brot’er,” said Wallace. “Gideon Callum Wallace.” 

Synnove looked up at him then. “Brian, I’ve been thinking… I want to give him my brother’s name, too.” 

Wallace’s brow drew together. “Why?” 

“For three simple reasons: One, he helped me escape being sold into slavery. Two, had he not done that, you and I would never have met. And three, he basically gave his life to warn me that Zaddo had decided to kidnap me and our son. I want to honor his sacrifice, because he helped me gain a much better life than my father ever gave me.” 

Wallace looked into her eyes, at the pleading expression there, and found he could not disagree. After all, she was right—had her brother not taken the risk of getting her out of their father’s compound, they would not be where they were right then: together, with the fruit of their love cradled between them. 

“All right, mo ghaol,” he said with a nod, then looked to the doctor. “You may enter into the record the name Gideon Callum Savaj Wallace.” 

Wallace was surprised when the Vulcan doctor offered a small smile with the incline of her head. “Very well, Captain. And congratulations.” 

<> 

Yaraka, a planet in the Borderlands 
3 days later 


Alok was up like a shot the moment Alex had knocked on his cabin door, yelling through it that they had arrived. Not that he had slept much the three days it had taken them to get there—he could only think of Sylari. Could only worry for her, with anger burning in his gut that anyone had dared take her. If she was harmed—if Zaddo Natale or any one of his cronies had touched her—he’d kill them all… 

…and not lose a second of sleep over that

He and Alex met with Tyrel and the others in the cargo bay. It did not surprise him that Peck was waiting with them. 

“I’m going with you,” the man said as he and Alex approached. 

“You should stay, shouldn’t you?” suggested Darien Serri. “Keep the engines ready for a quick take-off?” 

“Maybe you should stay with Jodhaa instead, Darien,” said Tyrel. 

Serri frowned. “I thought you said it would be good to have a telepath with you?” 

“I did, but you didn’t seem too keen on the idea of having to kill, and we may have to do a lot of that,” Tyrel replied. 

“Tyrel’s got a point,” said Alex. “Alok and I have had to use lethal force in our work in the past. Tyrel’s…well, he’s a pissed off big brother. And Lucas is a Marine.” 

“Was a Marine,” Peck corrected him. 

They all turned to him. “Now is not the time to prevaricate, Colonel Peck,” said Alok. “We’re already aware of the nature of your arrangement with the Federation Security Bureau.” 

Peck scowled. “And just what is it that you think you know?” 

Alok, of course, was nonplussed by his sudden anger. “Your directive was to gather intelligence on the activities of anyone associated with Zaddo Natale, while maintaining the guise of being an embittered former Marine. Most of the work Lyriq has done in the last eighteen months, keeping the ship in this region of space in order to foster opportunities for you to carry out your classified orders, has been fed through the combined FSB and Military Intelligence task force that has been working to bring about the downfall of Zaddo Natale for over a year. I know this because I am a member of that task force. Captain Natale’s assignment to Starbase Echo was intended to draw him out, and it seems at last that effort was successful, at least in part.” 

“Is it true?” 

The men turned at the sound of Jodhaa’s voice. She stood on the catwalk above them, toward the fore of the ship. When no one spoke, she moved to a flight of stairs that led down to the floor of the cargo bay, striding toward them purposefully and coming to a stop before her engineer. 

“Is it true, what he said?” she demanded. “All the jobs we’ve done out here have been so you could spy on Zaddo Natale?” 

If looks could kill, Alok knew he would have died from the glare Peck shot him then, before the other man drew a breath and said, “Not all of them.” 

“Were you ever gonna tell me that you were still working for the Marines or the Federation Security Bureau? Were you ever even kicked out of the service? Was anything you ever told me about yourself true?” 

Peck stepped closer to her, until they were toe-to-toe. “Let me make one thing perfectly clear to you, Captain,” he said angrily as he looked down at her scowling face. “I may have withheld information for the sake of your plausible deniability—and for your personal fucking safety, I might add—but I have never lied to you. But if you must know, yes, I was suspended. Not because of anything I had done wrong, but because Marine Command and the FSB wanted to create a believable cover to get someone out here who wouldn’t be easily recognized by Zaddo Natale’s spy network. They lied to me, made me question my own integrity, just so they could have another burnable asset that wouldn’t arouse suspicion. Only I didn’t know that I’d been hand-picked for this little op of theirs until after that first run to Orias last year.” 

“You could have said no,” Jodhaa said after a long pause. 

“And let you continue to live in fear of that bastard? After what he did to your family—what he’s done to countless other families?” Peck snorted and shook his head, taking a step back. “The only reason I agreed, after what they did to me, was to bring peace to someone I care about. Guess I shouldn’t have bothered.” 

He turned to the others. “I thought you guys came here to save two women from rape and torture?” 

Alok nodded, a small part of him regretting having exposed Peck’s secondary activities to Jodhaa. After all, it wasn’t as though there were not things he kept from Sylari for the same reasons Peck had given. 

It was decided that Serri would go after all—once inside Zaddo’s compound, he’d be able to search for the minds of Maiandra and Sylari and discover if they’d been injured. He and Alex—the brothers were splitting up so the two teams could communicate—were to go to a tech café down the block from Zaddo’s compound, which was located in a busy sector of a bustling city. They would carry all the weapons the men were taking with them, concealed in a musical instrument case. If Alok’s team got through the servants’ entrance without incident, Darien would use short-range personal transporters to deliver weapons to them. 

False slave collars had been fashioned for Alok, Tyrel, and Peck. From a distance, no one would be able to tell they weren’t the real thing—which were, in essence, shock collars designed to punish the wearer with an electrical charge when a button was pressed on a control pad by the slave’s owner. They had a wide range, and were designed so that the charge was as mild as a bee sting or as deadly as a lightning strike. Tyrel had mentioned seeing them in action when he was younger, saying many of the slave owners got their sick kicks from torturing their slaves by lowering and increasing the voltage whenever they’d committed an infraction. 

Rathe had nearly half a day’s head start, but Jodhaa’s little ship had managed to close that gap to less than five hours. Still, three days’ travel had been more than time enough for either one of the women to be beaten or tortured or sexually assaulted multiple times. None of them wanted to think about that, but had to consider it. 

The only possible snag to their plan that anyone could think of was a guard or other person at the servants’ entrance not accepting the fake collars. Most of the people who worked in such a place, at least as far as Tyrel could recall, only looked for the blinking light on the collar to show that it was active—they didn’t pay attention to faces. But they might notice clothing, he’d said, so they had used the Lyriq’s replicator to fashion clothes that wouldn’t stand out. 

—We’re approaching the servants’ entrance now.— Alok reported to Alex. 

—Good luck, brother. I’ve just hit the first firewall on Zaddo’s security system. He’s got major fail-safes in place.— 

—We expected as much, did we not?— Alok rejoined. —I’ll let you know if we don’t get in.— 

—Either that or the alarms screaming down the street will. Darien and I will be there as soon as we can, either way.— 

—I will see you shortly.— 

Alok disconnected the link to his brother and adjusted his posture. Though he had not needed Tyrel’s instruction on how he ought to behave, having witnessed slaves going about their routines in the course of his intelligence work, he nonetheless had listened well, and now took on the slumped posture of a man whose spirit was broken. Peck and Tyrel were doing the same. 

Remarkably, the armed guards on either side of the entrance barely glanced at them. Either the men were really not paying attention, or were so sure that no one would dare attempt to breach their notorious boss’s lair that they only saw what they expected to see. Truthfully, he’d been no small amount of concerned that Rokha Tyrel’s size alone would raise questions, but they were waved through as though they’d been approaching the door every day for years. 

—We’re in.— Alok sent to Alex. 

—Fantastic. Can’t talk, this security system is being a total bitch. I’m gonna have to try a different approach. Darien will send the phasers in a second.— Alex replied. 

Moments later—using the transceiver in his brain as a locator—the personal transporters that Alok had secured from his collection of spy gear (as Alex called it) deposited three hand phasers into Alok’s hands. Peck’s weapon of choice was a Beretta DDR, something he’d kept on hand from his days as an active Marine. 

The three concealed their weapons in the waistbands of their plain trousers as they headed further into the compound. So far, so good. 

<> 

They had been shown, by Coriandel and two armed guards, to a room where several other women of various race lounged about. Sylari noted that three of the six women were red Orion females, one was Bajoran, one Boslic, and one an older green Orion female. The green female stood and approached them, her eyes darting from Maiandra to Coriandel and back again. 

“Master Rathe says these two are to be made ready for Lord Zaddo within the hour,” Coriandel said. 

“Where are we?” Maiandra asked. Sylari noted nervousness in her voice; it had been present ever since the Knife’s Edge had set down on the planet. 

“If you mean the planet, child, you’re on Yaraka,” said the green female. “The name of the city is Beresh, and this compound belongs to Lord Zaddo Natale. This particular chamber is the room shared by the concubines of Master Rathe Tyrel.” 

“Does your master always bring his entire collection of enslaved females when he travels?” queried Sylari. 

Three of the other women laughed. The green offered a smile as she said, “This is not all of us, my dear—Master Rathe has several more girls at his own compound. Also, Cedra and Jiarnis over there—” She pointed to the Bajoran and the Boslic females. “—belong to two of Master Rathe’s subordinates.” 

Her eyes fell once again on Maiandra. “What is your name, child?” she asked. 

Maiandra scoffed. “Does it even matter what my name is? I belong to Zaddo Natale now, according to the bastard who kidnapped me.” 

The other green woman stepped closer to her. “You…remind me of someone,” she said softly. “Someone I lost a long time ago… someone very precious to me.” 

“Rathe Tyrel claims that Maiandra is his daughter,” Sylari said then. 

There were audible gasps from more than one of the other slaves. Sylari raised her eyebrow as the older woman suddenly threw her arms around Maiandra and embraced her tightly. 

“Maiandra! My baby girl!” She stood back, tears falling from her eyes as she held Maiandra by the shoulders. “I can hardly believe it is you!” 

Maiandra knocked the woman’s hands off of her and stepped back. “Who the hell are you? How do you know me?” 

“Maiandra… Oh, I can hardly expect you would remember me, chadoi—Rokha ran away with you so very long ago,” said the woman. “But I’m your met’chan—I’m your mother.” 

“My mother? That’s about as impossible as my kidnapper being my father,” Maiandra snapped. 

A couple of the other slave girls had come closer. “I don’t know, you do look an awful lot like a younger version of Arwe,” said the Bajoran—Cedra, Sylari recalled. “To me, at least.” 

“Not just you,” said one of the red females. “She really does look like I’d always imagined Arwe looked at my age.” 

Maiandra studied the woman more closely now, her brow furrowed. She then shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t remember my mother at all.” 

“It’s quite all right,” said Arwe, though Sylari was not remiss to the fleeting expression of sorrow that had come and gone from her eyes. “You really were so very young when you were taken… Only a little girl of five years. I was glad that you were free.” 

Something their captor had said the first night came back to Sylari then, compelling her to ask, “Were you ever the property of Zaddo Natale?” 

Arwe’s expression hardened. “I was. Why do you ask me that, Vulcan?” 

“My name is Sylari. And I ask because Rathe Tyrel intimated not only that you were the mother of Maiandra, but also my captain, Synnove Natale.” 

Arwe paled visibly, and stumbled as she took a step backward. Cedra caught her by the arm and helped her to sit in one of the nearby chairs. 

“My…my Synnove lives? Do you mean that, child? She is—you said she is your captain?” 

Sylari nodded. “She is Captain Synnove Natale of the Federation Starbase Echo. I am Lt. Sylari, one of Starbase Echo’s transportation officers.” 

One of the red females groaned. “What the hell was he thinking, kidnapping a Starfleet officer? Now we’re gonna have the Federation all over us!” 

“But wouldn’t that be a good thing?” Maiandra asked. “If the Federation were to send a large rescue party here for Lt. Sylari and I—my brother’s a Starfleet officer, too—we could all be freed!” 

All the younger slave girls, save for Coriandel, laughed. “You don’t get it, honey,” said another of the red females. “We may be nothing but whores to our masters, but we are their property, and no Orion I’ve ever met likes to lose property.” 

“She’s right,” said Cedra. “If the Federation shows up here, slaves like us will be hauled away through the network of underground tunnels that are all over this city. They’ll take us off planet and hide us until whoever comes gives up trying to find you.” 

Sylari glanced at Maiandra. She found herself almost tempted to smirk. Almost. 

“You do not know my husband,” she said. “Or my brother. Neither would give up searching for me.” 

The women shook their heads. “I didn’t know Vulcans knew how to fantasize,” Jiarnis muttered. 

“Come,” said Arwe, gesturing toward them. “We must get you ready. Regardless if anyone is coming for you or not, I have orders to see that you are made ready for presentation to Lord Zaddo. Enough time has already been wasted.” 

For the first few minutes, they went through garments hardly fit to be called clothing, and Arwe selected what she claimed were the most flattering for each of them. After donning the flimsy material, they were then sat on stools before two vanities, where their hair was combed and styled by Coriandel and Arwe and makeup was applied to their faces. 

“Tell me, Sylari, about my daughter,” said Arwe in a soft voice as she finished with the cosmetics and picked up a tube of what turned out to be scented lotion, and began applying it to her right arm. Thankfully, the scent was not an unpleasant one. She could continue to keep her condition to herself and Maiandra. 

“Which one?” Sylari replied. “Apparently, you have two of them—though I must say, you do not seem to be of an age to have birthed my captain.” 

Arwe chuckled. “I was only fifteen when my Synnove was born,” she said. “Such a big deal was made of her—the first successful hybrid Orion child born in… oh, I don’t know how long. Green females and red males are not really compatible, you see. Something to do with being the one of each ethnic group to produce the pheromones green females are so famous for.” 

“Red males produce them also?” Sylari asked. 

“They do, yes. And affect females the same way our pheromones affect males.” 

“Captain Natale is a wise and capable leader,” began Sylari after a moment’s thought, “who easily engenders the respect and loyalty of those under her command. There are several of the crew, most of them men, who are exceedingly protective of her. Though I daresay none of them compares to her husband in that regard.” 

“My Synnove is married? Her husband is freely chosen, of her own will?” 

Arwe now worked on her left arm, rubbing in more of the lotion, as Sylari replied, “Yes. As I understand it, Captain Natale has known Captain Wallace since her second year at Starfleet Academy. He saved her from an attempted kidnapping.” 

The hands on her arm paused momentarily. “But she is still free. I am glad of this.” 

“Do you really think you’re my mother, and hers?” Maiandra asked then. “I mean, that would make Captain Natale and I sisters.” 

Arwe looked at her. Studied her. “I am sure of it,” she said at last. “The more I look at you, child, the more I see her, though your skin and hers are different colors.” 

“How did she manage to do that?” Sylari asked. “I am not presuming we can do so the same way, but I am curious. The security in this compound seems…excessive.” 

Coriandel snorted and Arwe smiled. “I cannot be certain, but I believe one of her siblings aided her—Savaj, most likely. He was the closest to her of all Zaddo’s children, the only one to show her any genuine affection. I wasn’t there when it happened—I’d been sold to Rathe years before, because I never conceived another child for him. You can imagine Zaddo’s fury when less than a year after culling me from his herd, I conceived Maiandra.” 

“So there’s only… what, eleven or twelve years between us?” Maiandra wondered. 

“About that, yes.” 

“I imagine Zaddo Natale felt some vindication when, only months after she escaped, Rokha ran away from our father with me.” 

“No doubt he did,” agreed Arwe with a nod. 

She fell silent when the door lock beeped and the door was unceremoniously thrown open. The slave girls, including Arwe and Coriandel, all immediately went to their knees with heads bowed. 

“Stand up, you two,” said Rathe Tyrel. When Sylari and Maiandra obeyed, he leered at the former and crossed the room. Lifting his hand, he traced a finger along her jaw line. 

“We had our fun, little Vulcan, but now you really do belong to Zaddo. Time to meet your master.” 

He gestured to the guards who had followed him inside; they came over with a set of manacles each, and placed them on Sylari’s and Maiandra’s wrists. The two were then ushered out, and along several winding corridors. Sylari found herself wishing for Lt. Bowman’s eidetic memory—try as she might, she knew she would not be able to recall all the turns they had made in order. 

Her mind drifted to the three days in space. Maiandra had been correct in her supposition that Rathe would “try her out”—and that he would bind her hands before he did. Not long after the Andorian slave had brought them food, she’d returned and cuffed Sylari, sobbing quietly as she did so, and escorted her to her master’s filthy cabin, where poor Coriandel had then been ordered to lock her bound hands to a chain hanging from the ceiling. The frightened, crying woman had then placed shackles around her ankles—she was locked in place, and could do nothing while Rathe Tyrel cut away each piece of her clothing. 

Bile had risen in her throat at the look that entered his eyes then, and it was all she could do not to vomit when he touched her—and never before had she wanted to scream in fear as when he had disrobed himself. Sylari knew what was coming, that she would be violated, and so did her best to disassociate her conscious mind from what was happening to her. 

When Rathe had spent himself some minutes after, Coriandel—who had cowered in a corner—asked in a timid voice, “Should I take her back to her cabin for you, Master?” 

Rathe had backhanded her, knocking her across the floor. He then looked Sylari up and down and said, “No. I’ll want her again in an hour or so. And I like to look at her.” 

Sylari did not see Maiandra again until the day they landed. When he wasn’t asleep or checking the instrumentation in the cockpit, Rathe was either assaulting her, or forcing her to listen—for she could not bear to watch—as he had sex with Coriandel. 

As a Vulcan, she had been raised to abhor violence unless its use was necessary to defend her own life or that of another person. But after three days of being chained and shackled, of not being able to stop the abuse and violation of her body, Sylari found herself wishing not only for violence, but the brutal and painful death of the man who had done it all to her. Alok or Tahir would have no qualms about ending his life. 

They would come for her. Alok would come, or her brother. Or both. She would be taken away from this forsaken place and would gladly have her memories purged. 

Reality was sharply brought back into focus when they were ushered into a large chamber that, if Sylari was not mistaken, was meant to be a throne room. Indeed, at the far end, on a dais two feet from the floor, was an ornate wing-backed wooden chair. 

In it sat a bald, red-skinned Orion with a black goatee. He wore a brown leather vest over his broad torso, black trousers, and black boots with a wicked spike on the toe. They reminded her of the boots Klingons typically wore, and it crossed her mind that it was probably where he’d gotten them. Dagger handles stuck out from the tops of each boot, and there was one more at his waist. Over his vest was a weapon harness, in which she noted a pistol-like weapon and extra batteries on each side. 

Rathe, who had walked between them, bowed at the waist, then clamped a hand on each of their shoulders and forced them to their knees. 

“My Lord Zaddo,” began Rathe, “here are your prizes.” 

Zaddo Natale looked the two women over, stroking his goatee as he surveyed his new property. “Very well done, Tyrel—you’ve acquired two extraordinary assets. Did you test the merchandise?” 

“Oh yes, my lord,” Rathe replied. “The Vulcan, at any rate. She’s tight—probably only ever had one cock in all her life, if any.” 

“And why not the green female? She’s stunning—you cannot tell me you weren’t tempted by her,” said Zaddo. 

“I believe she is my daughter, my lord.” 

Zaddo’s eyes widened. Slowly, he uncrossed his legs and stood, strode down the dais steps, and came to a stop before Maiandra. He reached down and cupped her chin, tilting her head up and forcing her gaze to his. “Oh yes,” he said. “I can see Arwe in this face.” 

To Sylari’s horror, Zaddo began to unfasten his trousers with one hand as the other moved from Maiandra’s chin to fist in her hair. 

Tears poured from Maiandra’s eyes. “N-no! Please, no!” 

With his free hand, Zaddo slapped her—hard enough to split her lip. Maiandra cried out in pain, and Sylari’s heart squeezed in her chest. 

Zaddo yanked on Maiandra’s hair and she cried out again. “I will do whatever the hell I want—you belong to me.” 

Sylari turned her gaze away, tears of anger—at the horrific treatment, at her own inability to stop it from happening—sliding down her face as Zaddo made good on his word. She then began to fear that Rathe would take advantage of the opportunity to force himself on her one more time, but he did not—he merely stood beside her, his hand clasped firmly on her shoulder, and watched as his employer raped his daughter. Not even the screams that were eventually muffled by Zaddo’s large hand over Maiandra’s mouth had any effect on him. 

Uncounted minutes later, the red Orion finished his brutal assault and stood. Maiandra curled herself into a ball and sobbed as he refastened his trousers and said, in a smug, self-satisfied tone, “You should be grateful, my dear; you’ve pleased me. You’ll live better belonging to me than you ever possibly could owned by someone else.” 

He looked then to Rathe and said, “You’re not upset are you, Rathe? She is your offspring, after all.” 

From the corner of her eye, Sylari watched a smile form on Rathe’s lips. “I believe as you do, Ah’met-sur, that offspring are as much property as any other object. The girl belongs to you, and as such is yours to do with as you please.” 

Sylari’s stomach churned when he chuckled and added, “Besides which, I rather like to hear them scream.” 

“The screams are delightful,” agreed Zaddo. “But speaking of their being my property, I believe it is time to make that official.” 

He flicked a hand toward one of the guards, who wordlessly disappeared, returning some minutes later with two objects that were exact replicas of the collars worn by Rathe’s slaves. 

Zaddo took one collar and fastened it around Sylari’s neck; the click of the device locking together sounded unbearably loud, though it was hardly more than a soft snick. He then reached down and yanked Maiandra to her knees before fastening the second collar around her. 

“I will tell you this only once,” he said as he pulled a small device from a pocket of his vest. “Do not be foolish enough to try and remove your collar—the electrical discharge that will result from any attempt to take away that which marks you as mine is…unpleasant, or so I’ve been told. Obedience to my commands is not negotiable—you will do as you are told when you are told to do it, or you will be punished. Need I demonstrate?” 

The last he said as he stood before Sylari; the device he held had a light on it that first was red, and after he pressed a couple of the buttons below it, the light turned green. She was not so naïve as to not know what that meant. 

“You do not,” she replied. 

He grabbed her chin, squeezing it painfully. “I do not what?” 

Sylari swallowed. “You do not need to demonstrate…my lord.” 

Zaddo chuckled as he released her. “Very good. You see? You are learning already. Continue to be obedient, Vulcan, and the rest of your life need not be unpleasant.” 

After linking Maiandra’s collar to the device in his hand, Zaddo then waved dismissively toward the door. “Take this mewling quim back to her mother for now; take the other one as well. Let Arwe educate them both on how a proper whore behaves in my presence.” 

Rathe bowed his head. “As you wish, my lord,” he said, before grabbing them both by the arm and forcibly leading them toward the throne room’s exit. 

<> 

“How have they not been detected yet?” 

“Darien, lower your damn voice,” replied Alex Locksley. His own voice sounded odd, almost a whisper. Darien looked down to see that the tubules left over from his aborted assimilation were still inserted into the computer terminal. They’d chosen a station in the corner where no one would be able to see what he was doing unless they were right on top of them. 

“I’m sorry,” the Betazoid said, his tone now just above a whisper. “I’m just… I’m antsy as hell, sitting here doing nothing while Deities-know-what is being done to the woman I love.” 

“How do you think my brother feels?” 

“At least he’s doing something about it,” Darien muttered. 

“We will be too, don’t worry. In fact, I think I’ve just about got it,” Alex told him. 

Darien looked over again. “I’m amazed at your being able to even connect with Zaddo’s system from this far away,” he said. 

“You can thank the Borg, or the FSB agent that convinced me to keep the implants,” Alex replied as he retracted the tubules from the café’s old terminal and inserted them into what looked like a small PADD. 

“You know, you never told me what you were going to do with that,” Darien observed. 

“I’m going to use it to unlock the doors of Zaddo’s compound. Shutting down the entire security system would be pointless without a whole platoon to go in phaser rifles blasting,” Alex explained. “With this, all I have to do is point it at a door—any door—and I’ll be able to open it. I’ve got all of Zaddo’s security codes on here.” 

“I bet the FSB would love to get their hands on that when we’re done with it.” 

“I’m planning on turning it over to my brother-in-law as soon as we get back to Echo,” Alex said then. “Of course, if we don’t manage to take Zaddo with us in chains, he’ll likely have the entire system overhauled before Tahir and his pals at the Bureau can do anything with it.” 

Moments later he was finished with the download, and the two set off. When they reached the compound’s block, Alex led Darien around the side toward what he knew was the delivery entrance—the front gate was too visible by passers-by, and with the instrument case and other items, they couldn’t go in the same way the others had. He pressed a control on the PADD device to set the cameras to loop the last few minutes they’d recorded. On reaching the delivery gate, he didn’t give the guards much time to react, stepping right up between them and stunning one with a phaser while he shot his assimilation tubules into the neck of the other. The red brute wouldn’t actually be assimilated, of course, but the nanoprobes he released into his bloodstream would keep him paralyzed for several hours. 

He and Darien grabbed them as they fell and pulled them off to the side, behind the bushes that had obscured their own approach. Alex then pushed another control on the PADD, and the door swung open. 

—We’re in.— he sent to his brother. 

—Good. We’ve not found Sylari or Maiandra yet, and Tyrel is growing frustrated, as am I. Can Serri sense them at all?— 

Alex posed the question to his companion as the door was shutting behind them. Darien closed his eyes; knowing Betazoids as he did, Alex knew he would pick up Maiandra’s thoughts first. They were lovers—had been for nearly a year—and as such, her mind would be the most familiar of anyone in the compound. 

Darien staggered against the wall suddenly, his chest heaving, his eyes wide with shock—and fury, if that expression was any indication. “Imzadi…” 

“What is it? What did you sense?” 

“They’ve been violated,” Darien growled in response. “Both of them.” 

Alex felt anger surge through him, though as pissed as he was, he knew it would be nothing compared to Alok’s fury when he told him. 

—Alok, Darien’s picked up something. It…it’s not good news.— 

—Do not tell me my wife is dead, Alex. Do not— — 

—She’s alive. They’re both alive, I gather, but…they’ve been hurt.— 

He couldn’t transmit the words Darien had used, but knew his brother would understand. Alex was not at all surprised by the next sentence to flash into his mind: —I will slaughter them.— 

Oh shit, he thought as the link was abruptly cut. The chance of secrecy was now gone. 

“Come on,” Alex said to Darien, starting forward with his phaser at the ready. “We’ve got to try and find the girls, and fast. Alok is half a second from going ballistic.” 

Half a second was probably giving his brother too much credit for restraint. In fact, almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, an alarm sounded throughout the building. 

“Fuck,” he muttered, and took off at a run. 

He and Darien remained safe for only a minute more, and then they were firing their weapons at guards that seemed to appear from nowhere. Alex hoped like hell that Darien had set his to kill, because they didn’t need anyone getting back up again to box them in. 

Several corridors, turns, and a few dozen dropped bodies later, Alex nearly lost his head as he started around a corner that led to a set of red double doors at the end of a hall. Catching his breath, he went low and fired as he went around the corner again, this time taking out two of the four guards; Darien took out the other two, then they jogged toward the doors and he used his new toy to open them. 

“Cover me,” he told his partner, then flung one door open as he went low again. 

Behind him, Darien suddenly cried out in pain. Alex looked toward the large, ornate desk across the room that dominated the space. Behind the chair was a bald red male with a goatee that he suspected just might be the big man himself. 

He dodged the two knives thrown at him and rolled behind a large stone planter. Darien, he saw then, had fallen, another knife in his shoulder. Alex, as much as he’d have loved to just vaporize the son of a bitch, knew that they had to get answers first. He reset his phaser to heavy stun, waited out the barrage of blaster bolts that flew in his direction, then ducked out and fired, hitting the Orion square in the chest. He flew backward, surprise etched in his features as he hit the wall and slid down it. 

“Darien, you all right, man?” Alex asked as he turned toward the Betazoid, before he pulled him inside and secured the doors. 

“This hurts like hell,” Darien replied as he reached toward the knife in his shoulder. 

“Don’t pull it out yet, I’ll look to see if there’s any kind of med kit in here. Looks like we’re in Zaddo’s office—this room is probably soundproofed and fortified, and I’ve secured the door. Unless they use a bomb, no one’s getting in without my say so.” 

“You sure there’s no other way in?” 

Alex looked around. “Only if they come through that window, at least as far as I can see,” he said. “Keep your phaser trained on it and your eyes peeled, just in case. I’m gonna check out our friend over there.” 

“You didn’t kill the fucker?” Darien cried angrily. Alex shook his head as he crossed the room. “Why not?!” 

“Because he can tell us where Sylari and Maiandra are.” 

On rounding the desk, Alex saw that the Orion was stirring—telling him that he had likely ingested one or more stims, since the heavy stun setting hadn’t knocked him out cold. He quickly divested him of his remaining weapons, hauled his heavy ass up off the floor, and dropped him into the desk chair. He then cocked a hip up on the edge of the desk as the man moaned, searched for a weapon and found none, then looked up with a murderous glare. 

“You must have a death wish, boy,” the prisoner said. 

“Zaddo Natale, I presume?” Alex said. 

“It’s him, all right,” snapped Darien, who groaned as he pushed himself up onto his knees and leveled his phaser at Zaddo’s head. “Let me kill him, Alex. I’ve already looked into his mind—he raped Maiandra. I’m not gonna let him get away with that.” 

Zaddo laughed as he regarded him. “I’ve already gotten away with it, you pathetic fool! Oh, I fucked Rathe’s little bitch hard, and her mewling while I—” 

Alex didn’t let him finish the sentence, throwing a hard right cross to shut him up before Darien killed him. “One more word of that filth, and I might just let my friend over there vaporize your sorry ass.” 

He sat back on the edge of the desk as Zaddo fumed. “You know, Zaddo, you’ve got a real knack for pissing people off. I mean, there’s your daughter, the Starfleet captain. Her husband, another Starfleet captain—by the way, whose insane idea was it to piss off a Scotsman? You’re seriously lucky he’s not here, ‘cause you’d probably be dead already for threatening his family. Now let’s see, who else have you crossed? Oh yeah, there’s my pal Darien over there, who’s in love with Maiandra Tyrel. Maiandra’s brother, the Incredible Hulk—there’s a green guy you don’t want to see angry.” 

Alex then stood, leaned over, and pressed the business end of his phaser against Zaddo’s chin. “And then there is my brother, who probably will kill you for letting your lackey Rathe kidnap his wife.” 

Zaddo flipped an arm up to knock the phaser away and surged up from the chair. Alex decked him again, then swung out his left arm and hit him with the assimilation tubules, feeding paralyzing nanoprobes into his bloodstream. 

“Ah-ah-ah, Zaddo my boy, you’re not getting away. Not this time,” he said as Zaddo fell back into the chair limp as a boned fish, though still fully conscious. “See, this is where it all ends. You’re going down, your empire is going down—and all because you were seriously fucking stupid enough to threaten to kidnap your own daughter. I mean really, after twenty-odd years, why not just give up on the idea? If you’d left her alone, if you’d not told that piece of shit Rathe Tyrel to take two of her people—at least, I’m assuming that’s what you did, because according to his son he’s not capable of thinking for himself—then it would have been several more months before the FSB moved against you, and you could have fortified yourself elsewhere while they wasted their time trying to get into this place.” 

Understanding flashed across Zaddo’s eyes. “Oh yeah,” Alex said. “The Federation Security Bureau has been working on a plan to bring you down for well over a year, pal—a pretty damn good one, if I do say so myself. Except they weren’t ready to set it in motion. Not yet. But you still fell for the bait, man—hook, line, and sinker.” 

He grinned in Zaddo’s face. “That’s right, you pathetic fuck—Captain Natale being assigned to Starbase Echo was all part of the plan. And you just couldn’t resist, could you?” 

—Alex, we have Sylari and Maiandra. Rathe Tyrel is dead. We need to leave. Now. Tyrel says that reinforcements from Rathe’s hole will be here any minute.— 

—We have Zaddo Natale. Darien wants to kill him, but I think we should take him with us.— 

—As much as I agree with Darien, I happen to agree with you more. Humiliation at being captured would be a worse punishment than death to the likes of him.— 

—Indeed it would. Can you get to Zaddo’s office?— 

—Negative; we’re holed up where the women were kept. There are too many of Zaddo’s soldiers between us and you for us to take the risk of moving through the compound with the women.— 

—Good point. Can the mini transporters that we used to send your weapons to you get you all the way to the Lyriq?— 

—I don’t think so, but they can be used as transponders for Lyriq to lock onto us, though with their transporter’s capacity, we couldn’t all go at once. Peck says it can only take three at a time.— 

—Fine. Contact Jodhaa and send the women first. I’ve still got one of the units here, it’ll be good enough for you to pick up the three of us. But hurry, I don’t want the office door broken down before you rescue me.— 

—Already working on it, brother. See you soon.— 

<> 

“What the hell happened out there?” cried a red-skinned woman Sylari assumed was Jodhaa Ra’kir the moment she, Maiandra, and Coriandel materialized on the small transporter pad. 

“There will be time to discuss that later,” Sylari replied as she and the other two moved off the pad. “Go back to the cockpit and ready your vessel for take-off. We will need to depart as soon as the others are onboard. I can operate the transporter.” 

Jodhaa nodded. “Good idea,” she said, then turned away and hurried out of what appeared to be the vessel’s common area. 

Sylari ushered the others to a chair even as she took over operation of the transporter controls. The man called Lucas Peck, Cedra, and Jiarnis were the next to appear. The Human pulled out a communicator and flipped it open even as he ran toward the back end of the room. 

“Jodhaa, I’m onboard. Heading for the engine room.” 

Roger that, Lucas,” came the woman’s voice. “And I’m glad you’re safe.” 

Alok, and Maiandra’s brother, appeared on the transporter next. Alok then took over the controls to get a fix on the remaining transponder, and when moments later he had brought Alex, Darien, and an immobile Zaddo Natale onboard, Rokha Tyrel ran to the entry Jodhaa had gone through and yelled, “Jodhaa, get us the hell out of here!” 

“Alok, we need to get Darien’s shoulder patched up,” Alex said then. “And these women should be examined.” 

“Wait!” cried Cedra. “You have to get these collars off of us! If we get too far from the transmitters we’re linked to, they’ll kill us!” 

The ship lurched as it lifted off. Alok and Alex approached Sylari and Maiandra first; using their Borg tubules, they sent in nanoprobes to deactivate the collars they wore. The brothers then turned to the other three women and went to work on Coriandel and Cedra, and when he had finished with the latter, Alex turned to Jiarnis next and took care of hers. 

“Thank you,” the Boslic said as hers was removed and tossed aside. “I have been wearing that thing for five years.” 

“I’ve worn mine for more than half my life,” remarked Coriandel. “I—I thought I would never—never see the day…” 

The Andorian began to sob. Instantly, Cedra and Jiarnis wrapped their arms around her. “It’s okay, Cori,” said Jiarnis. “We’re free now.” 

“Come on, Mai,” said the elder Tyrel to his sister, who was standing with her arms wound tightly around Darien Serri’s waist, her head on his uninjured shoulder. “There’s a small Medbay on the lower deck—let’s get you all checked out.” 

Maiandra lifted her head. “Darien first. We have to get the knife out of his shoulder.” 

“What should I do with the trash?” Alex asked, kicking Zaddo’s leg as he spoke. 

“Kill him,” said Maiandra angrily. “No, wait—force him to suck a dick and then rape him. Then kill the bastard.” 

Tyrel’s eyes went as wide as dinner plates. He turned and charged toward the unmoving Zaddo and lifted him up off the floor where he’d been unceremoniously dropped. The younger Orion then threw him clear across the galley; Zaddo crashed into the counter and fell to the floor. Tyrel then stormed around the dining table and lifted Zaddo again, holding him up by the throat with one hand as he threw punches to his face. The other men watched, let him spend his rage for a minute or two, and then Alok and Alex ran over to put an end to the beating. 

Let me kill this son of a bitch!” he roared as he struggled to free himself from their grasp. 

“I should like to see him dead as well,” said Alok in the deadly calm tone that Sylari had some time ago come to recognize meant he was barely keeping his own fury in check. “I should like to torture him for days—weeks, even, as he has done to others. But that would not be justice.” 

I don’t want justice, I want vengeance! I want him to pay for what he did to my sister!” 

“Nobody wants that more than I do, Rokha,” said Maiandra, her words softly spoken. Sylari noted she sounded as though she were exhausted. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Alok is right. As much as just the sight of him makes me want to throw up—as much as I want to kill him myself—we can’t do that.” 

Alok and Alex turned with her brother still held tightly between them, so that they could face one another. Maiandra moved away from Darien’s side, though she kept hold of his hand as she stepped forward. “Rokha, do you remember what Captain Regan said the night Solonius Flavan attacked me to frame you for murder? ‘We’re supposed to be above such brutality, no matter how justified it may seem.’ Yes, Zaddo raped me, and I… I have to live with that memory the rest of my life. But that man has hurt so many other people besides me. And they deserve justice just as much as I do.” 

Darien pulled her gently back to him, wrapping his uninjured arm around her shoulders. “Imzadi, you are a much more decent person than any of us.” 

Moments later, a loud boom sounded and the ship shook. Jodhaa’s voice then came over a loudspeaker. “Hold onto your butts, people, we’ve got company!” 

Rokha Tyrel drew a breath and inclined his head. Alok and Alex released him, the latter saying, “Zaddo should stay paralyzed for another couple of hours, at least. Tyrel, think you can drag his ass down to one of the empty cabins without too much damage, while Alok and I see to Darien and the girls?” 

As he spoke, the ship shook with another barrage of weapons fire and evasive tactics from its pilot. Tyrel snorted even as he held out his hands to steady himself. “Think any of us can get to the lower deck without breaking something? Fuck, I wish this boat had weapons.” 

“Maybe Jodhaa will finally see about getting some installed after this,” Darien observed. 

When the ship lurched suddenly to port, Sylari said, “I believe any medical examination for the ladies of our party can wait until we are certain of escape.” 

Alex nodded. “She’s right. I suggest everyone buckle down and sit tight.” 

“What about Darien?” Maiandra asked. “We need to get this knife out of him before it causes anymore damage, and he’s lost a lot of blood.” 

Alok and Alex shared a look, then the latter said, “Sit down, Darien. Tyrel, hold him steady while I pull out the knife. Alok, ready some nanoprobes to repair the wound.” 

“Wait, guys, I don’t know if this is such a good idea,” Darien protested even as he appeared to wobble where he stood. “I don’t think I want Borg bugs in my body—no offense.” 

Tyrel had crossed the galley again and took Darien by his uninjured arm, then guided him to a chair. “Sit,” he said, even as he pushed him down into it. 

“The nanoprobes aren’t going to assimilate you, Darien,” Alex said as he took the knife’s grip in hand. “You already know Alok and I aren’t true Borg. They’ll just keep you from bleeding out and start repairing the hole until you can be seen by a real doctor.” 

“My brother’s suggestion for treating your injury is logical, Commander Serri,” offered Sylari. 

The Betazoid sighed and nodded, and ground his jaw together; Alex pulled the knife out and Alok shot nanoprobes into him at the exact same moment. He cried out through gritted teeth, and then it was over. Maiandra was examining the hole in his shirt and watching as the nanoprobes did their work; she couldn’t see them, but she could the results of their efforts as it was being done. 

In the next moment, she fell into her lover’s lap as the vessel made another steep lurching motion. “Start praying for a miracle, everybody,” came Jodhaa’s voice. “One more hit and Lyriq’s shields will be—wait a minute. No way! Guys, you’re not gonna believe this—a Starfleet ship just dropped out of warp and is mopping the stars with these raiders!” 

Tyrel ran over to the replicator and switched on the small monitor above it, pressing a number of buttons until an exterior sensor view appeared. The group of rescuers and rescued gathered together to watch as a Defiant-class starship fired its weapons at four small starfighter-like craft. 

“I think that’s the Triumph,” Tyrel observed. 

“I thought you said Captain Natale had gone into labor before you left?” Maiandra said to her brother. “Wouldn’t her husband’s ship have gone straight to Starbase Echo instead of following you? Shouldn’t they should still be a day away from here?” 

“It is highly likely that they did so, Ms. Tyrel, stopping at Starbase Echo only long enough to deliver their captain,” suggested Alok. “I surmise that either Captain Natale or Commander Kelley diverted the Triumph to the Borderlands as backup to our rescue operation, given the fact that Lyriq has no offensive weaponry. Given you are correct, and their timely arrival is earlier than it ought have been, I further suggest that they pushed their engines beyond design parameters.” 

The battle between the Starfleet vessel and the raiders was quickly ended. In the next moments, Jodhaa reported that Commander Aielle Tam had suggested they make their getaway as quickly as possible before more raiders or even larger vessels were launched. 

When it was determined that they were not being followed, much to the surprise of all, Tam called again and asked for a report on any injuries. On hearing that there was a knife wound to treat as well as five women who were victims of assault, she sent Triumph’s entire medical staff—one doctor and two nurses—over via transporter. 

Sylari was the last to undergo an examination, and though he had expressed his desire to be with her, she had dismissed Alok from Lyriq’s small medical chamber. Alex watched with growing concern as his brother paced the waiting area like a caged animal. 

“Did… Has she said anything to you?” he asked slowly. “About what happened?” 

“She has not,” Alok replied curtly. “And she has drawn up mental shields I cannot penetrate. She’s hiding something from me.” 

“Alok, something tells me it’s less about hiding anything from you and more about hiding it from herself,” Alex suggested. “I mean, I don’t want to even imagine what she went through. It’ll just piss me the fuck off and I’ll want to go down to the room we threw Zaddo in and beat the life out of him. And she’s not even my wife!” 

He slipped off the stool he’d perched on and stepped into his brother’s path, forcing him to halt his pacing and look at him. “If what Maiandra confessed to is any indication, Sylari went through hell—maybe even worse than Mai because Rathe had her for three days and Zaddo only had them a few hours. Vulcans eschew violence as it reminds them too much of their own savage capabilities, and yet you saw what she did to Rathe Tyrel.” 

Alok nodded slowly. When they had found the room where Sylari and Maiandra were being held, they could hear a heated argument on the other side of the door. Rokha had gleefully kicked the door in, just in time to witness Rathe Tyrel jamming a knife through the chin of a green Orion female. 

Maiandra had screamed as the woman fell, and from behind him, Sylari reached for another knife sticking out of one of his boots and thrust it violently into his back. Rathe’s eyes had widened in shock; the knife in his own hand fell to land on top of the green female he’d just murdered. Sylari then twisted her knife and yanked it upward, the expression in her eyes one of cold, tranquil fury as she watched him slowly drop to the ground. Alex had known he was dead before he hit the floor. 

Afterward, they had barricaded themselves inside the room as more of Zaddo’s men filled the corridor beyond. Sylari had wiped the blood that coated her hand on Rathe’s own shirt, and as their exit strategy was being planned, she had calmly asked the other women if they wished to leave with them. Cedra, Jiarnis, and Coriandel had immediately said yes, though the three red females had elected to stay, to see if they could free the slaves from Zaddo’s own harem and make their escape. 

“Sylari once told me she had never taken a life,” Alok said. “She said she never wanted the burden of ending a life on her conscience.” 

“That is true, my husband. But I killed Rathe Tyrel because he deserved death.” 

Alok and Alex both snapped their heads up, not having heard the door to the exam room open. She stepped up to her husband and Alex stepped aside, with the intention of speaking to Triumph’s doctor. 

“In the days of my captivity,” Sylari began, “I was abused, though you have by now surmised as much. I do not intend to share with you the details, ashayam, as I have no desire to place such a burden upon your mind.” 

“Sylari, you are my wife—we are bonded for the rest of our lives,” Alok countered. “Is it not my duty to share in all your burdens no matter their difficulty, or the pain they will inflict?” 

“You are correct,” she conceded. “However, as I fully intend to purge the memories from my own consciousness, there is no need to…” 

She paused, drawing a breath and closing her eyes. Half a minute later she softly expelled the air. “You may think me weak, husband, for choosing not to remember, when my people are known throughout the galaxy for their ability to suppress their emotions.” 

Sylari looked up to him again, and in the depths of her eyes he saw the most raw, open wounds to a soul that he had ever seen. “I do not want these memories,” she whispered. “I do not want to be haunted by the sounds he made, or the sensation of his hands and mouth on my body, and most of all by the sickening feeling of him inside a place where only you should have ever touched me. Perhaps it is the weakness of my youth, but I know that I cannot live with these memories. They will break me.” 

Alok felt an all-consuming rage at the description of abuse that he suspected barely scratched the surface of what had been done to her. He also felt his young, cloned heart break for the anguish he heard in her soft voice, and silently praised her for the strength it had taken for her even to share that much. He then reached for Sylari and she folded herself into his arms. I do not think you are weak, my beloved, he told her through their mental link. I believe it takes the greatest strength to acknowledge that which you cannot endure

<> 

During the three-day journey back to Starbase Echo, there was a lot of communications traffic between the starbase and the Va’leh-class Lyriq. Counselors were made available to all five of the recovered women, and though Sylari remained adamant about purging her memories of the abuse, Alok and Alex were relieved that she had not refused to talk about it at all. Alok still wished she would share her pain with him, but acknowledged that he could not be the one to determine in what manner she found peace. His father-in-law, to whom they both spoke over subspace, had advised him that the best thing he could do for Sylari was to assure her that he would listen if she should ever change her mind. 

Alok had replied that he did not need the reminder. 

Lucas Peck also made numerous subspace calls. After learning the identity of their Andorian passenger—that she was the long-ago abducted sister of his best friend—the first person he had called was her brother. Alvashaki “Shaki” Toh’kerron, a fellow Federation Marine, had been stunned to learn his sister was alive, declared he was taking immediate leave from active duty, and would be at Starbase Echo to bring her home again to Andoria before the month’s end. Jodhaa, who knew Shaki, had then offered to ferry her all the way to the icy moon of her birth free of charge—“a favor for a friend”, she called it. Coriandel—Cori, she insisted everyone call her—could not help bursting into random bouts of happy tears at the prospect of reuniting with her family after so many years apart. 

All three of the women who had spent years in captivity were determined by Triumph’s Dr. Madhu to be malnourished and underweight. She prescribed a daily vitamin regimen for each of them and advised them to eat several small meals a day until their stomachs could handle a greater intake of food. They were all of them only too happy to make use of Lyriq’s replicator and fresh food stores. 

Maiandra still had not made up her mind whether to speak to Captain Natale even as Lyriq was setting down in the civilian hangar. She wanted to tell her what she’d learned, to experience what it was like to have a sister. At the same time, she was afraid to even bring it up for fear that the captain would declare Rathe, Zaddo, and Arwe all liars. Rokha and Darien had both believed her, had expressed their confidence that Natale would believe her too, but had both agreed that it was up to her to tell or not to tell. 

A full day before Lyriq and Triumph even entered the Regulus system, word had gotten out that not only had Zaddo Natale’s infamously secure compound been breached, but that the crime lord himself had been captured in the covert action. The size of the infiltration team varied by news outlet, though it seemed a tacit agreement between them all that the number could not possibly be less than twenty. The mere five men who had actually managed the feat no government agency had heretofore been able to undertake all wore smirks of satisfaction with every broadcast they watched, even the usually stoic Alok. Trevor Whitehorse remarked with bittersweet fondness that the capture of Zaddo Natale was the kind of media sensation story his sister would have loved. 

Because every docking port and shuttle hangar on Starbase Echo was being watched by the media and curious civilians, the prisoner was transported to Echo’s brig as soon as they were in range of the station. Zaddo said nothing to no one the entire trip from Yaraka, nor did he speak after their arrival. He was secreted away in much the same manner days later to stand trial in a classified location known only to a select few, and it was said that even in court he refused to speak. 

There were few that believed he would remain silent forever. His famous daughter the Starfleet captain was even said to have expressed her belief that Zaddo was already plotting his escape and revenge against them, though she—like many others—felt it would be some time indeed before he found a way to escape from the even more notorious Klingon prison, Rura Penthe. 

Of course, Synnove Natale confessed in private conversation to her husband that she truly believed it was not a matter of if he would escape, but when

<> 

Starbase Echo 
Stardate 54825.8 


Maiandra was only a little surprised to run into Sylari coming out of Echo Medical when she went for what was to be her final examination before going back to work. She needed to work, she needed her routine, she needed normal. She needed those things in her life now far more than she had needed them on the Columbia after she’d been attacked by Solonius Flavan. 

The Vulcan was alone, leading Maiandra to wonder where Alok was. She knew that he had hardly left her friend’s side since their return, as Darien had not left hers, having requested to take some leave to not only recover from his own injury, but to look after her. 

“Hey there,” she said softly. “I’m sure you’re tired of people asking, but how are you feeling?” 

Sylari raised an eyebrow. “I am well.” 

Maiandra wasn’t entirely sure she believed her, but didn’t press the issue. She knew that Sylari had spoken of seeking out a Vulcan healer to purge her memories, if it could not be done by conventional means. She sometimes gave thought to doing the same, because who would want to remember what they had been through? 

“I trust you are no worse for the wear, as my brother by marriage would say?” Sylari asked then. 

“I’m not sleeping as great as I used to, but otherwise I’m good,” Maiandra replied. “I’m here for the final exam before going back to work.” 

“As was I.” 

Maiandra stepped closer, lowered her voice as she asked, “Sylari, are you still… He didn’t hurt your baby, did he?” 

She prayed the answer was no. Sylari had already lost enough to that bastard Rathe Tyrel (Maiandra absolutely refused to refer to him as her father, even in the quiet of her own mind). She shouldn’t have to suffer the loss of her first child as well. 

Sylari’s eyes were the only feature to betray any emotion, and even that was fleeting. “It pleases me to inform you that he did not,” she said at last. “I could have lost… He could have done, from what the doctors have told me. I was, as they expressed their sentiments, ‘extraordinarily lucky’ in that regard.” 

Relief flooded through her, and if they had been closer friends than they were, Maiandra would have hugged her. “Deities be praised,” she said, espousing a phrase Darien often used when something went right. “Have you told Alok about the baby yet?” 

“It was my intention to reveal our child’s conception this evening. I… look forward to being able to deliver news that will bring my husband much joy.” 

Maiandra offered a smile. “I’m sure he’ll be over the moon, Sylari. And I’m happy for you, too. So happy that … that you’re both doing well.” 

Sylari inclined her head. “Thank you, Mai.” She drew what seemed a steadying breath, and for the briefest moments, the Orion was sure she saw relief in her expression. Sylari was happy, too, that her baby had survived. 

They said their farewells then, and the two parted ways. Maiandra turned around when suddenly Sylari called her name. 

“Yes?” 

“Have you told the captain yet?” she asked. “That you share a mother, I mean.” 

Maiandra shook her head. “No, not yet. Still not even sure if I should. I mean, what does it matter?” 

Sylari returned to stand before her. “It matters because she is your sister. She is your family. Captain Natale is an honorable person, as are you. In this instance, I believe, you can be certain that the word ‘family’ actually means something.” 

With that, she turned and walked away again. Maiandra considered her words all through the exam, which was thankfully brief. She considered them as she roamed aimlessly along the Market afterward, and found herself in a turbolift headed for the Park level almost before she realized what she was doing. 

When Captain Wallace opened the door to his and Captain Natale’s apartment, she almost bolted, but swallowed and said, “Hello, Captain. My name is Maiandra Tyrel. Is this a bad time, sir?” 

Wallace’s smile was warm and welcoming. “Not at all. Please, come in,” he said as he stood aside for her. “Synnove will be glad of the company.” 

“I had heard you have a son,” Maiandra said. “Congratulations.” 

His grin was infectious. “Och, m’ wee lad is the handsomest boy e’er were seen!” Wallace replied. “’e’s wit ‘is mam now, getting’ a feedin’.” 

Maiandra blinked. “Oh, I’m sorry. I can come back later.” 

“Do nae be silly, I told ye Synnove would be glad of a visitor.” 

Just then, they heard his wife’s voice from the bedroom. “Brian, who is it?” 

Without reply, Wallace led Maiandra over to the bedroom, opened the door, then stepped inside and said, “You have a visitor, mo ghaol.” 

Synnove Natale was just taking her son from her breast; she covered herself before lifting the 13-day-old infant to her shoulder to pat his back softly. 

“Maiandra, right?” she said as her husband silently departed and left them alone. “I remember you now, from the Columbia.” 

“Yes, we gave you a ride a couple of times,” Maiandra replied. “Captain, I want to thank you, for—” 

Natale waved off her words. “None of that. I had very little to do with it, anyway. Alok, his brother, your brother, Lt. Commander Serri, and the crew of the Lyriq deserve all the credit.” 

“Maybe, but you didn’t hesitate to let Alok come for us.” 

The Orion snorted softly just as her baby burped. “Oh, that was a good one, little man. Bet your tummy feels better now.” 

To Maiandra, she said, “In the time I have known him, I’ve come to understand that Alok is… not a man to be crossed. He has two basic modes: Stoic as a Vulcan, his standard personality—which is probably why he and Sylari are so well matched—and brutal assassin. The moment he discovered his bondmate was missing, the switch from the former to the latter was flipped, and would not be turned back until she was safely returned to him. That type of man is the absolute most caring and dedicated to his spouse, and the absolute most deadly if she ever comes to harm. Had Sylari not…” 

Here she paused, and Maiandra knew then that she had been fully briefed on every detail. “Had she not, Alok certainly would have,” Natale finished. She looked directly into her eyes then. “As I know you and Rokha and Darien wanted to do.” 

She didn’t need to specify what, or to whom. 

“I wouldn’t have blamed you, you know,” the captain went on as she smoothly transitioned her son from her shoulder to the crook of her arm. “And I don’t think I would have cared if he was dead, except for how the ending of his life would have affected whoever actually did it. In that, I’m glad he’s still alive, because none of you has to carry the burden of being a killer.” 

Natale then gestured to a chair that sat beside the bed, and Maiandra moved to it gratefully. “I’m also really proud of you, Maiandra, for your willingness to forego vengeance in favor of justice. That took strength not many would have after what you’d been through.” 

“I have enough on my mind to cause nightmares,” Maiandra confessed. “Though truth be told, I don’t think killing Zaddo would have caused Rokha to lose any sleep. I am glad, however, that Darien—as angry as he was on my part—doesn’t have a cold-blooded murder on his conscience. It would haunt him, as much as…” 

Now she paused, swallowing past the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat. 

“As much as your memories haunt you, and as much as what Sylari did and was done to her haunts her,” Natale finished for her. 

Maiandra nodded as felt her eyes welling up with tears. “I understand why she wants her memory erased, though I think more for what happened before she pulled that knife from Rathe’s boot,” she said slowly. “Though certainly what she did with it affects her, I think being hung from a ceiling and raped multiple times for three days affects her more. I hated being just a couple of walls away from her, knowing what that bastard was doing to her, and unable to do anything to help.” 

“Just as much as I’m sure Sylari hated being forced to listen to what Zaddo was doing to you, while your own father actually watched and did nothing.” 

The tears spilled over, and Maiandra furiously wiped them away. “I don’t want to remember what happened to me either. I was…so scared. So sick. He hurt me—he enjoyed forcing me, he enjoyed my fear—and the thing that called himself my father just stood there and watched. How could he do it?” 

Natale sighed softly. “Because despite acknowledging you were his flesh and blood, Rathe saw you the same way my father saw me and my siblings: as nothing but property to be exploited. It is sick, and it is twisted, and I am so glad to finally be free of him.” 

Maiandra sniffled, and thought that this was as good an opening as she was going to get. “Um, speaking of siblings… I was told that you and I are sisters.” 

Natale stared at her for a full minute without saying a word. Hurriedly, Maiandra explained what Rathe, Arwe, and Zaddo had all said to her. 

“Brian!” Natale called out then, just loud enough to get her husband’s attention. The baby in her arms grew fussy as she moved to swing her legs over the side of the bed; Captain Wallace ran into the room at that moment. 

“What’s the matter?” he asked, looking between them with concern. 

“Take Gideon,” she said. “I need to get dressed.” 

“Whatever for? Dr. Grayson said you were to take it easy,” he rejoined. 

Natale’s gaze fell on Maiandra. “This woman says she’s my sister. I want proof.” 

Maiandra stood hurriedly. “I’m sorry! I knew I shouldn’t have said anything.” 

As soon as she was on her feet, Wallace stepped over and took the baby from his wife. Natale then stepped up to Maiandra and said, “Don’t be sorry, because I’m not angry. I just need to know if it’s true—as much, I think, as you do. That’s why you came to see me, isn’t it?” 

Silently, Maiandra nodded. Natale moved as quickly as a woman who’d recently given birth could move around the bed and to the wardrobe, from which she plucked a blouse and trousers. She dressed herself carefully, and by the time she was ready, so, apparently, was her husband. When the two ladies stepped into the living room, he was waiting by the door with Gideon cradled in a sling. 

“Brian, where are you going?” she asked him. 

“I’m going with you to Medical,” he replied. “No, do nae argue with me. This is something important, and I will be there to hear the truth with you, whatever it may be.” 

Though Captains Natale and Wallace were greeted and congratulated many times over as they made their way through the Market soon after, no one tried to halt their progress. For that, Maiandra was grateful. Now that the question that had been burning in the back of her mind was about to be answered, she didn’t think she could stand any delays. 

Dr. Jiraz greeted them warmly, though the Denobulan expressed concern that there might be something wrong with the baby. Natale and Wallace both assured him that little Gideon was fine, then explained why they had come. Jiraz looked between the two women for some moments, visually comparing them, Maiandra thought, before saying, 

“Now you mention it, I do see some similarities. I could certainly do a microcellular scan, but I think a blood test would be best.” 

He quickly prepared two hyposprays, drew a sample from each of them, and then placed the hypos into one of the many machines that gave him answers to medical mysteries. It wasn’t long before he turned on the stool he’d sat on and faced them. 

“I’ve just compared your samples, Captain, and what Miss Tyrel says is true. You share fifty percent of your DNA along the matrilineal line.” 

“We had the same mother,” clarified Natale. 

“That is correct,” Jiraz replied with a nod. 

“I have a sister,” said Maiandra, a mixture of relief, awe, and joy bubbling up in her chest. “Is it okay that I’m actually happy about this? I have a sister!” 

Natale smiled. “Perfectly okay, Maiandra—I’m actually happy about it too. For the first time in my life, I have a sister I think I can actually be sisters with.” 

“I believe it safe to say, then, that congratulations are in order,” said the doctor with a wide smile. 

“Deities be praised, I have a sister!” Maiandra said, impulsively throwing her arms around Natale’s neck. 

The older woman returned the embrace, laughing softly before she pulled back and said, “You’ve a brother-in-law too.” 

“And a wee nephew,” supplied Wallace with a smile. “Welcome to the family.”


=/\=

6 comments:

  1. At last, the notorious Zaddo Natale shows his abominable face... ultimately to his own detriment, though his capture comes at such cost.

    From the opening, which leaves the spacedock at warp speed, you keep the momentum going on this, Christina. I am instinctively hesitatnt at having telepaths like Whitehorse around... but now, I'm glad he was there to confront Savaj, even if he did turn out to be Synnove's ally, eventually paying for his loyalty to her.

    And with her so close to giving birth, and her beloved Brian light years away in the Triumph on a distracting mission! When it rains, it pours...

    Zaddo's lackey Rathe Tyrel was a twisted, evil little sod, though obviously not a patch on his lord and master, and I felt so, sorry for Maiandra and Sylari. I am so glad that they did survive, albeit not unharmed. But they did manage to rescue more of Zaddo's longer-serving slaves - including Maiandra's mother! There was some small glimmer of silver in this dark cloud...

    You have a great rescue team there, with a diverse set of skills. With their prime objective taken down, what will they do with themselves now after all this time?

    As for the final capture of Zaddo Natale: have we heard the last of him? Keep watching this space, methinks...

    An excellent, gripping, ofttimes emotionally harrowing story, Christina, my compliments.

    And welcome to the outside, Gideon Callum Savaj Wallace!

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind words (and the advice after you did the beta read). This story sure is pretty action-packed, that is true. I made it chock full of surprises, danger, and emotion.

      As for Whitehorse, he definitely fulfilled his purpose on the station. Telepaths aren't bad people (most of them), and now that he is anchored, Trevor has a lot more control over any accidental hearing of other people's thoughts. And yeah, poor Savaj was just trying to do the right thing, and it got him killed.

      Rathe Tyrel and Zaddo Natale are definitely sick, evil individuals. They did a number on Maiandra and Sylari for sure, and loads of others before them. I was happy to also have a few of Rathe's other slaves rescued as well, but sadly Captain Natsle and Maiandra's mother wasn't one of them. Rathe killed her right as the rescue team was busting into the room.

      Yeah, the guys on the rescue squad were a diverse bunch, and now that Zaddo Natale has been knocked out of the criminal game, the governments of the good people will have to deal with all the bad guys trying to cash in on his absence. Zaddo not being around is both good and bad. And no, we probably haven't seen the last of him.

      So glad you enjoyed this one. And yes, welcome to the galaxy little Gideon!

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  2. Good story. Welcome to the Galaxy, Gideon Callum Savaj Wallace. You're not Sreen Hrelle's new friend. :)

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    1. Thank you, Jack. And Sreen could be his friend, she is about 5 at this point. But she might think he's a living doll.

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  3. Wow! This story is amazing! I love how it grows step by step, but with twists and turns and surprises along the way. I also liked how the characters unfold as they encounter the events which confront them, deepening our understanding of what makes them tick.

    I thought Rathe Tyrel was a devilishly vile character who deserved far worse than he got, but then, he would need a hundred lives (and deaths) to get what he deserved.

    While I hope this is the last we will hear of Zaddo Natale outside a prison cell, I suspect there's more to come with him.

    I did enjoy the ray of sunshine to come out of this: the two sisters discovering their connection. That was a very nice way to end the story.

    Again, great story!

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    1. I was not sure you'd come by for this one given my warning about the R rating, but then you've gone dark yourself in the past with your stories.

      I'm so very, very chuffed every time you come by, and even more so when I read that you have enjoyed what I wrote. This story would really be hard for anyone to really enjoy, given what I put those two poor girls through. But I had laid the groundwork for Zaddo Natale being a very bad dude through a number of the Sanctuary stories, and decided it was time he got knocked off his pedestal as a Syndicate princeling. Honestly not sure at present how I could bring him back, but it's open-ended in case I come up with something.

      And oh yes, he and his kit man Rathe were some seriously vile creatures.

      And after all that darkness, I couldn't close the story without a little light. Again, so very happy that you think so highly of my work. Thank you!

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