auswitcheroo151: AU Sato and Mayweather (Default)
[personal profile] auswitcheroo151
Some of the Betazoid customs were shown on TNG and mentioned on Memory Alpha. And Kerr Castle does exist...their spiraling staircases run counterclockwise so any (right-handed) invader would be hindered in using their swords in combat, while the (left-handed) defender had no problem.

T'Pol runs into trouble during the First Contact dinner on the Betazoid consular ship. Is there more going on than she and Malcolm are aware of? And how will that affect the rest of the diplomatic mission?

Vulcan: T'Sai is a formal address, equivalent to "Lady". "O-Hakausu" is literally "Honorable Healer. 

Hoshi wondered what Zefram Cochrane's first thought when the first Vulcan stepped out of his ship and greeted him with "Live long and prosper." And what had Captain Chrosky said when he found his ship surrounded by Andorian warships at their First Contact? The now somewhat-infamous “Open fire on my ship, and we'll take you to Hell with us.” Cochrane's and Chrosky's words were immortalized in the annals of galactic history.

Unfortunately, her first thought of the Betazoids was,They're a lot shorter than they look on the screen. She didn't say it aloud, but greeted Saphia Daro with a smile. The top of Saphia's head was even with Hoshi's shoulder, even with the three-inch heels. She had changed into a plum-colored dress, with tightly fitted sleeves and gathered at her waist. Next to her was the man Hoshi assumed was Doctor Keivan Adai.

"Captain. It's an honor and a pleasure to meet you at last," Saphia greeted. She took both of Hoshi's hands within her own and squeezed them tightly. Hoshi felt a definite stirring at the back of her mind, a joyous tickle that made her grin despite the seriousness of the situation. Then she dropped Hoshi's hand, glanced over and smiled at Jon.

"Diplomat Archer. On behalf of the High Families of Betazed, I formally extend my goodwill and hospitality to the people of your world."

Jon accepted her hand, bent over it and murmured, "You are generous, Diplomat Daro."

Her black eyes sparkled with mirth. "What did I say about referring to me like I'm an old woman? Saphia is fine. May I call you Jonathan?"

He grinned and replied, "Of course, Saphia."

"The Archer charm strikes again," Trip muttered under his breath, but his grin was as wide as Jon's.

"Trip, hush," Hoshi admonished him. "He's an official representative from Earth."

"Yeah, but I've never seen him charm a woman this fast before.”

Saphia pretended not to hear Trip's remarks. Instead, she gestured to the men flanking either side of her, “May I introduce Doctor Keivan Adai and Major Garas Tam."

Hoshi bowed her head to Keivan and Garas. The Major's athletic build reminded her of Travis. Adai stood slightly taller than Malcolm, with graying dark hair and a ready smile.

She nodded at both of them. "Pleased to meet you, gentlemen."

"The honor is ours, Captain," Garas rumbled. He sketched a salute to her, then snapped back to attention. "Forgive the security detachment; I would much rather be safe than sorry."

She raised an eyebrow; obviously not all Betazoids were as open as Saphia was. In fact, Saphia only rolled her eyes at Garas's words. Hoshi nodded in approval and reassured him, "That's quite all right, Major Tam. If our positions were reversed, we might have done the same. My Armory officer, Lieutenant Commander Charles Tucker the Third-" Hoshi inclined her head at Trip, "-would have made the same precautions."

Garas's eyes lit up at Trip's smile. "I look forward to discussing security procedures with you, Lieutenant Commander. Perhaps we can find some issues in common."

"Of course," Trip replied, with a nod.

Hoshi introduced the rest of the diplomatic party. Keivan gave Malcolm a deep bow of respect, then turned to T'Pol. T'Pol stood stiffly with her hands clasped tightly behind her back. Suddenly, a look of surprise crossed her face, then her posture relaxed considerably.

"In the name of Farias and Ylenna, I vow to do no injury or insult to one's mind or body," Keivan told her as his dark eyes regarded her intently, "and if I do break this vow, may misfortune be my lot."

"I am grateful, Doctor Adai," T'Pol answered with a bow of her head.

Keivan smiled, then glanced at Malcolm. "It is part of the Pledge of Healing that every Betazoid physician and counselor makes upon our commissioning. I take it quite seriously, T'Sai T'Pol and O-Hakausu Reed. You both have nothing to fear from me."

"We Human doctors-and Vulcan Healers- have a similar pledge, with very similar wording," Malcolm said. "It appears the concept is universal."

"Yes." Keivan gave him a look of amusement, then glanced at Hoshi. "You are quite correct, Captain. Saphia and I come from the same area on Betazed, hence our similar accents. In fact, Doctor Reed could have been mistaken as our countryman, if one isn't well versed in the differences between your people and mine."

"Really?" Hoshi looked intrigued, while Malcolm only shrugged good-naturedly.

Saphia clapped her hands again to regain everyone's attention. "It seems that we have much in common to speak about. This way, please. Dinner awaits, and I understand our culinary staff has put together some of our most tasteful delicacies for your crew." She guided Hoshi out of the shuttle bay with a gentle hand on her upper back, with the rest of the First Contact party following closely.


Dinner was just as elaborate as Saphia promised. It consisted of several main courses, with sorbets to cleanse the palate in between. Each course was punctuated with a ring of a brass gong, and a short invocation to the gods for the generous bounty. T'Pol caught Hoshi's strained expression each time the gong rang; after the second or third time, it was more of an annoyance than anything else.

One of Saphia's attendants seemed to pick up on the women's thoughts. She bent close to Hoshi and whispered loud enough for her and T'Pol to hear.

"The mistress insists on some of the older traditions, which have outlived their usefulness over the centuries, but as a daughter of the Sixth House, Saphia feels obligated to follow them."

"My family has a few of those," Hoshi commented, "but luckily, they're invoked on rare occasions."

"As do mine," T'Pol added, "though tradition is important to both of our people."

She smiled and replied, "I can tell you are an honorable people, Lady T'Pol. Please excuse my fellows if any of us make you uncomfortable..."

T'Pol shook her head. "You have welcomed us warmly, Lady Thelia, but it will take me some time to relax my guard in your people's presence. Vulcans are not as...open in the sharing of thoughts."

"Vulcans treasure their mental privacy. I understand that. Not all Betazoids are as free with their thoughts as Lady Saphia." Thelia inclined her head to point out Keivan. "Doctor Adai is one of those. He deals with all kinds of illnesses; his control amazes me, for I know I wouldn't be able to handle what he does on a daily basis. It would drive me insane."

T'Pol's eyes widened slightly. "His control is superb, yes. Envy is an emotion, but-"

"If Vulcans ascribe to emotions, you would be quite, ah, green." Thelia smiled to soften her words. "Yes, Captain Sato, we assign the color green to that particular emotion as well. I suppose there was plenty in common between our people. As a rule, we don't control our emotions like the Vulcans do, but we try to temper the more uncomfortable ones."

"I see." T'Pol drew her attention to Trip Tucker, who sat two seats away from them. He was deep in conversation with Major Garas Tam, Saphia's security advisor. Her sharp hearing picked up part of the conversation between them. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but Trip's distinctive Southern accent was difficult to miss, even during a lively dinner party.

"You know, your ship reminds me of a castle I was in once," Trip was saying. He nodded at the cream-colored walls, the deep blue carpets of the hallways, and the occasional piece of tapestry on the walls. The artwork was a pleasant diversion from the curving corridors, winding on themselves like the rings of a conch shell, with short connecting passageways in between. Not only was it aesthetically pleasing, but it served as an effective security measure in itself.

“Indeed? In what way?” Garas asked.

"The family who owned it made all their stairways curve from right to left, in the opposite direction of the usual."

"Ah, that is unusual. Wouldn't that hinder their effectiveness at defense? The limited space would hinder their use of weapons, like swords or maces," Garas pointed out.

"It would, but most of the members of Clan Kerr were left-handed. It gave them an advantage while hobbling their enemy, who used their right hands."

Garas nodded in understanding. "Quite ingenious. I should mention it to our shipbuilders. Our basic defense training dictates the use of both hands, though of course, we are all partial to one or the other."

"I noticed you've got knives on either side of your belt, Major. Wicked lookin' too."

"Family heirlooms, Lieutenant Commander. Passed from eldest son to eldest son...we value our traditions."

"So do we. Some time, I oughta show you the Bowie knives my great-grandpappy gave me-"

T'Pol shifted her attention to Malcolm. Doctor Adai was pointing out the physiological similarities and differences between his people and Humans. As usual, Malcolm calmed down considerably when he talked about one of his specialties.

"I was not exaggerating when I said before that you might be mistaken for a Betazoid, but there is one major difference that would set you apart, Doctor Reed." Keivan inclined his head. "Your eyes. Almost all Betazoids have black irises; yours is blue and gray. I suppose your captain could also be mistaken, just on physical qualities."

"Perhaps." Malcolm's tone was noncommittal, "but we are so much more than our physical phenotype."

To T'Pol surprise, Keivan glanced over his shoulder at her with a look of mixed sympathy and concern in his dark eyes. T'Pol only nodded slightly; Keivan nodded back and refocused his attention on the differences between the Human and Betazoid physiology.

She felt other eyes on her and she turned her head in that direction, covering the movement by reaching for her glass of water. A tight knot of Saphia's consular staff sat at the opposite end of the table, far away from the Enterprise crew. Even though none of them were looking in her direction, she felt their stares.

Saphia sensed it and smoothly extended her hand to Jon. "Let me introduce some members of the Third House of Betazed. They are integral members of my staff. They keep me from becoming too scatterbrained."

"I'm eager to meet them," Jon said, as he took her hand. They got up and approached the ones from the Third House. T'Pol saw them stiffen at the diplomats' approach, but the eldest rose from his seat and inclined his head at them.

"I am Danis Iyaru, of the Third House," he said with an exotic accent that sounded both harsh and melodic at the same time. "We are pleased to meet you and your crew, Diplomat Archer."

"And I'm happy to meet you as well, Master Iyaru," Jon answered smoothly. "Thank you for organizing this wonderful dinner."

Danis's smile didn't reach his eyes. "You are quite welcome. Madame Daro is correct; if it were not for our efforts, this would not be as enjoyable. We're grateful for the opportunity to present this example of our hospitality."

Every word was correct, but the dark undertone belied them. Saphia raised her eyebrows at the implication. T'Pol felt the mental equivalent of a slap on the back of the head and winced. To his credit, Danis didn't even flinch.

Jon glanced between Danis and Saphia, then his eyes met T'Pol's. He nodded slightly in acknowledgment; even he felt the tension between the two. T'Pol inclined her head in silent agreement.

"As are we. I'm looking forward to meeting the other members of your House when we visit Betazed," he said.

"The members of the Third House eagerly await your visit," Danis replied formally. "Thank you, Diplomat Archer."

Another ring of the gong announced the dessert course. Danis had already turned to address the person sitting next to him. Jon glanced at Saphia, who only gave him a good-natured shrug as they returned to their own seats. T'Pol frowned at Danis and made a mental note to watch this one.

The kitchen staff wheeled in the dessert carts with the precision of MACO soldiers. T'Pol surveyed the vast array of fruit and pastries as they were carried in by Saphia's stewards. An arrangement of saya fruit caught her eye; T'Pol nodded her thanks as she selected it. Captain Sato's eyes widened in delight as a dark-brown confection swimming in a sticky-sweet lake of liquid sugar was placed in front of her.

"Please indulge yourself, Captain. It is rare that I can entertain on this scale and it gives me great pleasure to see my guests well-taken care of," Saphia said with a smile.

"Thank you, Lady Saphia. I must admit, you've thoroughly spoiled us with the meal. Please give my thanks to your culinary staff." She tried a small spoonful of the dessert and both Jon and Trip chuckled at the expression of pure bliss on her face.

"You look like you're in heaven, Cap'n," Trip joked. "Don't blame you, though."

"I just might ask for the recipe to this one," Hoshi joked back.

T'Pol didn't smile, but she felt the humor between the captain and her armory officer. She saw Saphia's indulgent expression realized this was the key to Diplomat Daro's personality. She genuinely wishes her friends to be happy. Saphia does not allow herself this indulgence very often, for her profession precludes that.

Saphia replied, You are quite observant, Lieutenant. Family is important to me, even if I've just met the members. Of course, I include you in this group.

She sat there and tried to analyze her conflicting emotions. You hardly know me, Diplomat Daro. I am not like Captain Sato or the rest of her Human crew.

Neither am I, came the tart reply, but it is my job to seek those common things, and rejoice in them, as well as what makes us all unique.

T'Pol nearly smiled. Ah. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations.

I do love that saying. Vulcan wisdom is both deep and pertinent at the same time. Will you be willing to discuss some of Surak's tenets with me at a later date?

She shook her head in utter amazement. Saphia was more than the carefree, emotional person she seemed. In fact, T'Pol suspected there was more to her than met the eye. It would be easy to dismiss her as frivolous; T'Pol resolved not to make that mistake. Of course, Diplomat Daro.

Please call me Saphia. I may be old enough to be your mother, dear, and as you can already tell, I don't stand on formality with family.

“Saphia,” T'Pol murmured. “I will remember that.”

As the hours crept by, T'Pol listened to the conversations around her. The emotional leakage from the Betazoids was thankfully muted in deference to her comfort. She spotted both Malcolm and Keivan's occasional glances in her direction. She only nodded to indicate that she was all right. Both doctors turned their attention back to whatever conversations they were in.

Danis and his kin seemed to relax enough to socialize a little. One of the younger members asked T'Pol, "Is is true that Vulcans and Betazoids share the mind protocols, but in different ways?"

She raised her eyebrows. "I suppose it depends on the definition of 'different'. We also believe that the mind--and its thoughts--are sacred."

"How so?" The young man paused as he realized he might have made some offense. "Forgive me. I am Keth Iyaru and I plan to study xenopsychology."

Danis chuckled and shook his head. "He is a unique young man in our House.T'Sai."

She nodded in agreement. "I see. Please, ask your questions, Master Iyaru. I will try to answer as best as I can."

T'Pol patiently answered questions about Vulcan mind protocols and mysticism. Her reticence eased when she saw how similar the Vulcan and Betazoid beliefs were in certain areas. For the first time, she managed to relax enough to enjoy the discussions.

A pleasant warmth seeped into her muscles, relaxing her even further. She could easily detect the nuances of every individual mind: the reddish-gold glow of Hoshi Sato, the forest-green of Jonathan Archer, the quicksilver gray and blue of Malcolm Reed. Trip Tucker was an unusual mix of rainbow, with a dark undertone to it. It was so unlike what T'Pol expected of him that she was nearly jolted out of her trance.

Here was another who was more than he seemed. An inner prompting persuaded her to take a closer “look” at Trip's mind. Warm and cordial on the surface, cool and hidden far beneath. It was different from the darker hue that underlined Malcolm's. To T'Pol's eye, the two levels seemed to function independently from each other, but thin tendrils of color joined them at odd intervals.

Trip Tucker was definitely an enigma. This was nothing she had seen or experienced before. Was he even aware of what lay below his consciousness? She doubted it...

“Would you like some more water, T'Sai T'Pol?”

She blinked at Lady Thelia's cheerfully solicitous tone. At her nod, Thelia refilled her glass and she drained it to the last drop. Thelia filled it a second time. “Are you well?”

“It is warm in this room,” T'Pol replied.

Thelia gave her a knowing nod of sympathy and said, “Too many minds in one place; I know how you feel. I think even Doctor Adai's feeling the strain. Don't worry, as much as Madame Daro loves to entertain, she's sensitive to her guests' comfort.”

“Of that I am grateful---” Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. To her surprise, she noticed that Captain Sato-Hoshi—had reached for Malcolm's hand under the table. To his credit, he didn't make any visible reaction, but T'Pol felt his shock, then embarrassed pleasure. Hoshi hadn't seemed to notice what she had just done.

Thelia didn't quite smirk, but she murmured, “Your captain and the doctor...are they a couple? They seem to be...in tune with each other.”

T'Pol was about to retort, but stopped herself in time. In Surak's name, what is happening to me? I must be affected by the Betazoids' emotions, despite their strict control, and mine. “Captain Sato and Doctor Reed are friends, but they are not romantically involved.”

“Ah, a pity, then. They seem quite suited to each other,” Thelia murmured again. “I can see the electricity crackle between them.”

“What?”

“Their emotions complement each other. We have a word for soulmates---”

The gong rang three times to signify the end of the dinner. T'Pol blinked and breathed a sigh of relief. Something significant had just happened, but it floated just out of reach. She shook her head and checked her mental shields. She needed to double her meditation time when they returned to Enterprise---

“My dear, you are fatigued,” Saphia said in a low voice. “The strain shows on your face. Come, I'll escort your group back to the airlock and your ship.”

“I am much obliged to you, Diplomat.” T'Pol barely noticed as Saphia addressed her diplomatic party, then issued an invitation for Enterprise to accompany them back to Betazed. She sighed in relief as both Jon and Hoshi accepted, and it signaled the end of the dinner. T'Pol felt a strong mental anchor; she grabbed onto it like a lifeline and held on for dear life.

She heard Malcolm's nearly inaudible whisper. “Lean on me, T'Pol. It is nearly over.”

“I am...tired,” she whispered. “I require rest and meditation.”

“Lieutenant Commander Tucker is on your other side. We'll make sure you'll get to your quarters without embarrassing yourself in front of the Betazoids or the captain.”

“Thank you, Malcolm.” To her utter horror, her eyes burned with unshed tears. She had to get away from the Betazoids and regain her own mental and emotional equilibrium.

Another disturbing thought occurred to her...if she reacted this way during a formal dinner, how would it have affected Kov, with his own Healer-level Empathy? And she could feel the strain that Malcolm was under, although he was doing better at hiding his own discomfort.

Saphia exchanged final words with Hoshi and Jon at the airlock, then they were back on Enterprise. T'Pol felt the uncomfortable press of minds dissipate and she heaved a sigh of relief. She was able to think and function rationally once more.

“Are you all right, T'Pol? I noticed you weren't looking well during the dinner,” Jon said.

She managed to keep her gaze steady as she met his concerned expression. “Maintaining my mental shields takes effort, Jonathan. It proved more difficult than I had first anticipated. I must rest and meditate.”

Hoshi put a hand on her shoulder and said, “I'm sorry, T'Pol. I had no idea meeting the Betazoids would be such a strain on you.”

“You are not to blame, Captain. I must advise that both I and Kov limit our interactions with the Betazoids until we can adjust our mental disciplines accordingly.”

Hoshi glanced at Malcolm, who reluctantly nodded. “Very well. Make sure Kov's warned...I don't want to endanger both of you.”

“Consider it done, Cap'n,” Trip spoke up.

“Everyone, get some rest. We'll reconvene in the morning.” Hoshi smiled at them, then said, “I'm going to get a status report from the Bridge, then I'm off to bed myself. Good night, everyone.”

Malcolm and Trip walked T'Pol to her quarters. She said very little as Trip teased Malcolm about what he'd seen during the dinner. For his part, Malcolm refused to rise to the bait, though T'Pol thought she saw him blush a little.

It had been an interesting First Contact, for all involved, she mused. She hoped it would go well, despite such an auspicious beginning.

Strange things are happening to some of the Enterprise crew. Trip finds out more about Major Tam, the Betazoid Security chief. T'Pol has difficulty meditating. Malcolm re-experiences a frightening experience from his past, but how will it affect his present? And what does Hoshi have to do with it?

Part of this chapter skates closer to an "R" rating. You've been warned.

"Sanok's goal was to elude his pursuers without causing lasting physical harm. Like Surak, he did not believe in unnecessary loss of life. The harm was not physical, but mental. He played with his enemy like a aioru with its prey, and when his forces escaped, the enemy was left without their quarry, and looking like fools in front of each other."

"Yeah, Sanok basically used his advance scouts as an effective smokescreen, here and here, rolled up his flanks here so the enemy thought they were retreatin', but the scouts pummeled them from behind and forced them to split their forces-"

"And thus they were at a disadvantage. That in itself is a great achievement." Garas Tam chuckled and sat back in his seat. His broad grin and the eager sparkle in his dark eyes made him look years younger. The simulation of Sanok's Great Tactic came to its conclusion on the table screen: Sanok escaped with relatively minimal losses to his people.

"Sanok was a wily old fox," Trip agreed as he tapped the screen and it went black. "He eventually helped Surak negotiate a treaty with some of his enemies."

Garas nodded soberly. "But, like Surak, he lost his life in attempting to preserve it."

Trip glanced at him; there was something that Trip was curious about, but he wasn't sure how to ask. "Uh Garas, can I ask you a somewhat personal question?"

"Yes, Trip?" Garas still addressed the other Enterprise officers formally, by rank or function. Trip, on the other hand, had given the major permission to use his nickname.

He hesitated, shrugged, then asked, "As I understand it, Betazoids are highly telepathic and empathic. How can your security force handle operations that might involve a loss of life?"

Garas winced. "That is a valid concern. The answer is rather straightforward. Not all Betazoids are strongly gifted in the thought-sensing. In fact, such a lack is an advantage in my profession." He shrugged. "I cannot 'feel' others like Saphia can, or Keivan. We cherish life above all things, but when there is no other choice...that lack can be quite a blessing."

Trip shook his head and said, "I can see that. So if you wanna go into Betazoid security-"

"Either your telepathic skills are below average, or you are able to shield to the point where death does not bother you. And by the Four Deities, I hope that I never reach that point."

Trip had the feeling that Garas didn't make that admission easily and he felt honored that Garas trusted him enough to do it in his presence. That's another reason why I can't see Malcolm as a security officer. He wouldn't be able to separate himself, and if he did, he'd lose a good part of what he is.

"How do other Betazoids see you then?"

Garas's smile became ironic. "A necessary evil. Some of my people understand the reason for it; others judge us and avoid us whenever possible."

"At least until the lasers start flyin'. Then they yell for you guys at the top of their lungs."

He shrugged. "Betazed has been peaceful for over two centuries. We are doing something right."

The dry remark made Trip chuckle. "Obviously, your methods work."

"Obviously."

Trip stretched and rolled his shoulders to get the kinks out of it. "Now you have some more strategies in your toolbox in case you need 'em"

"For that, I am in your debt." Garas frowned as he tapped on the table with his stylus. Trip saw that as a nervous habit that Garas wasn't even aware of. "Have you received the security protocols for Captain Sato's visit?"

"Yeah, and I've briefed my Security people. I think we've got a good plan. Gotta admit though, we've got less experience with dealin' with non-empathic threats that you do."

"Not surprising, Trip, considering Humans as a whole isn't a telepathic species. Diplomat Archer told me the talent varies with each individual."

Trip nodded. He couldn't help but think of Musica, the energy lifeform that had attached herself to Travis, or the strange group-meld on Vulcan. "That's true. I've had all the Starfleet tests, and I'm smack in the lower normal range."

"So, we do have something in common." Garas nodded at Trip. "Thank you for your hospitality, but I should be getting back to my ship-"

"It's gettin' late. Lemme escort you to the transporter room."

After Garas beamed over to his ship, Trip made his way to his quarters. His discussion with Garas revealed much about his personality and his very nature.We're damn lucky we're on the same side.

He thought about stopping by T'Pol's quarters just to see if she had recovered from the Betazoid dinner. Then he glanced at the ship's chronometer and changed his mind. She was either meditating or asleep, and he didn't want to interrupt her in doing either.

Trip sighed, shook his head, and bypassed her quarters on his way to his own.

In fact, T'Pol was not asleep. She sat in deep meditation, ruminating on Surak's words in his First Treatise: The Trickster, the Fool, is an archetype throughout universal history. Its very existence seems to run counter to the rigors of logic, but the Fool runs on a logic uniquely its own. That logic eludes the logician.

Even Surak admitted that those who employ trickery had their own twisted logic that made perfect sense to them, even if it didn't to others. That "illogical logic" was as contradictory as a Zen koan, but the implications both intrigued and frightened her. What if an individual's motives couldn't be rationally analyzed so easily?

That prospect made Vulcans uneasy and T'Pol definitely felt uneasy. Especially when the image of a sandy-haired, blue-eyed Armory officer kept intruding into her thoughts. Ever since that First Contact dinner, she found that it took more of an effort to focus on her duties.

I should talk to Malcolm. And to Kov. She sighed and unfolded herself from her lotus position on the floor. Her eyes saw the glowing numbers of the chronometer. Of course, Malcolm would be asleep, and she loathed to disturb his rest. Kov would be in Sickbay...

She hesitated. Kov would understand; he was a Healer, and he was Vulcan. Yet he was also a former member of the V'tosh Katur, whose beliefs were radically different from her own. T'Pol knew she couldn't avoid him forever, especially since they were the only two Vulcans on the ship. The prospect of discussing such a personal topic with him made her cringe inwardly.

It must be done, but I will wait until morning, when my mind is rested and I can think clearly and logically. T'Pol shook her head as Trip Tucker's image floated on the surface of her mind again. Yes, that was the more logical approach.

So she got ready for bed and blew out her meditation candle.

It had started out so innocuously. Doctor T'Rel asked him to analyze a batch of samples taken from an unknown source. He peered through the electron microscope, lost within the intricate atoms of that odd protein. He made notes on his PADD, then turned his attention back to the slide.

Dizziness struck him like a sledgehammer and drove him to his knees. He grabbed at the edge of the table, but missed it completely, and ended up sprawled on the floor of the lab. Sensations assaulted him from all sides, clawed into his brain, overwhelmed his perceptions...he was a doctor, but not Human, and he saw the world through decidedly non-Human eyes. It was if someone had stripped him from his own body and stuffed him into another, with all its own thoughts and idiosyncrasies.

He gazed down at the unfamiliar face on the biobed, a brown-skinned male with distinct ridges on his forehead. The man's physiology was so different from what he was familiar; this Klingon needed the medical skills of one of his own people. Anything he might attempt might do more harm than good.

Then an unexpected voice broke into the memory of his first breakdown. Or was it his dream? Or nightmare? He wasn't sure anymore.

"You can help him. I've got confidence in you, Malcolm."

He glanced over his shoulder to see a pair of dark brown eyes, warm and encouraging. The tension melted from his mind and his soul, even as a part of his mind screamed, What is she doing here? This isn't possible! I haven't even met her; won't for years yet...he was himself again, not that alien doctor, and the fear paralyzed him.

The many different past and present times swirled all around him and he was powerless to stop it.

Either she didn't hear his mental panic, or she ignored it. She reached for him, her arms winding around him; he could smell jasmine in her hair and on her skin. Then her mouth captured his in a searing kiss, hard and demanding. He could feel his resistance fading, in the wave of smothered desire, and he no longer cared that she belonged to another.

If he really cared, he would be there for her. He is a damn bloody fool. He doesn't deserve her...and if he tries to reclaim her, I will rip him from limb to limb! Another memory, yet not-memory, surfaced: in the ship's gym, fighting him in hand-to-hand, seeing the abominable smirk on the other man's face...

He pushed that away and finally succumbed to the madness, and he didn't care.

Hoshi sat bolt upright in her bunk, her breaths coming in ragged gasps, her heart hammering in her ears. Hoshi pried her fingers out of the tight fists and scrubbed her face with her palms. After several moments, she managed to calm her breathing and slow her heartbeat, but her skin was still flushed with reaction. She pressed two shaking fingers to her lips.

I haven't had anything that intense in...a long time, she thought, and never about him. Why him? And why now? Hoshi felt a surge of guilt, although she'd technically done nothing wrong. She loved Matt Hayes, but he wasn't here, and her thoughts turned traitor on her again as a voice in her mind whispered, Admit it, there has been a spark between you and him since you first met on Vulcan. Really, would it be so bad to explore that connection?

She stiffened. Get the hell out of my mind! There was no answer, and she didn't expect one. She doubted this was a coincidence, right after meeting the Betazoids. Saphia and Keivan had both claimed none of their people would invade the minds of others. That may have been the case, but mere proximity could trigger some sort of response in those susceptible.

There was so much she didn't know about her chief medical officer...but that was no excuse for what she'd...

"Reed to Sato." Malcolm's words trembled, the normal crisp accent ragged. It confirmed her suspicions and her worst fears. She swallowed hard as she tapped the comm button.

"Sato here. Malcolm, are you all right?"

"I...believe so, Captain. I'm sorry if I woke you."

"I was asleep, but a strange dream jolted me awake just before you paged me."

There was a long pause. "What sort of dream?"

She hesitated to tell him. How would he react? Malcolm was so proper, so respectful...she knew he would be horrified, so she only replied, "I don't remember, but I think...it wasn't unpleasant."

Another long pause, then he admitted, "I woke up with the sudden urge to make sure you were all right. I can't define it, but..." His voice trailed off.

"Do you think it's some sort of effect from being around strong telepaths like the Betazoids?"

"Perhaps. I should consult with Doctor Adai in the morning. If this can happen to us, it may affect T'Pol and Kov, and anyone else who's sensitive to such influence. T'Pol was right to worry about her mental shields; Keivan might be able to help to prevent any more incidents."

Hoshi took another deep breath and nodded. "That sounds prudent. Let me know what Doctor Adai says."
"I shall. Good night, Captain."

"Sleep well, Malcolm."

She lay there in her darkened quarters for a long time, and didn't go back to sleep. Her alarm rang at 0530 like usual. Quickly, she grabbed a clean uniform, headed into the bathroom, and endured the coldest shower she'd ever had in her life. The dream faded from memory, and she was glad of it. Some things were better left forgotten.

Exactly ten minutes later, the lift deposited her onto the Bridge. Travis announced, "Captain on the Bridge." He gave her a questioning look, but she only shook her head as she claimed the center seat from him. She looked over at the helm station and was surprised to see T'Pol sitting there. It wasn't even the Vulcan's duty shift. Why was she here?

"Lieutenant, you're on shift early," Hoshi commented, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible. She through T'Pol looked a little...green around the gills. Perhaps, she too, had trouble sleeping. Hoshi made a mental note to alert her about Malcolm's suspicions.

"I require a minimum amount of sleep to function normally, Captain, and I prefer to be at my station during the ship's approach."

"Ah." Hoshi managed a slight smile.

Travis interrupted, "We've got visual of Betazed."

"Put it on screen." It changed to a placid, blue-green planet dotted with white fair-weather clouds. Its similarity to Earth gave Hoshi a pang of homesickness. Betazed was a beautiful jewel floating in the blackness of space.

"Wow," Travis breathed in total agreement.

Jon glanced over his shoulder and said, "Minister Baniti Lev is hailing us, Captain."

Hoshi raised her eyebrows, but answered, "Put me through, Jon."

A pleasant contralto chimed on the speakers."Captain Sato, on behalf of the Noble Houses of Betazed, I welcome you."

Hoshi traded glances with Jon; Minister Lev's tone was warm but guarded, which was expected, but they both heard an odd timbre underneath it. Jon's brows knit together in confusion as he tilted his head to listen better.

She nodded at his unspoken request: Keep her talking, and replied, "We are grateful for your hospitality, Minister Lev."

"I'm looking forward to meeting you in person. Diplomat Daro has waxed poetic about you and your crew."

Hoshi bit back a smile. "Oh? 'Waxed poetic'?"

Lev chuckled and added, "She doesn't do that with many people she meets, so I'm very curious. We await your arrival in our great capital of Rixx, Captain. Please do not hesitate to inform me if there is anything I can do to expedite your arrival."

"You're most kind."

"You are our guest and the rules of hospitality are sacred. I will see you soon. Lev, out."

"Thank you, Minister Lev. Enterprise, out." At her gesture, Jon cut the connection. "Jon?"

"Minister Lev's nervous. Whatever it is, I doubt she's told Saphia, though I bet Saphia already suspects something's wrong."

She frowned. "Don't tell me you're starting to read minds too?"

Jon shook his head. "No, but Minister Lev is pretty bad at lying through her teeth. Saphia said honesty is bred within Betazoid society." He nodded at his board and added, "We've received her information."

Hoshi said nothing, but she agreed with his assessment of the situation. She hoped Keivan would be able to help them, or they were all walking into a den of lions.

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October 2012

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