More tantalizing hints to Malcolm's background in this AU.
“I assure you, Diplomat Archer, we are following every possible lead in our search,” Minister Lev said. The dignified, gray-haired Betazoid clasped her hands in her lap. “I have Colonel Yebrin and Major Garas on this, and they won't stop until they find who's responsible.”
Jon nodded gravely in response. “I appreciate your assistance in this matter, Minister. With both Captain Sato and Commander Mayweather incapacitated, I've taken charge of the diplomatic party. Whoever it is is sabotaging our efforts at any agreements between our people.”
Lev's eyes flashed with anger. “I assure you, my people hold the mind codes as sacred as their very lives. Please do not judge us based on the actions of a group of miscreants.”
“I didn't mean to imply that, Minister. I believe the majority of your people are trustworthy, but whoever is doing this is a threat not only to Enterprise, but to Betazed and to others as well. If there's anything that you think might help---”
She raised a hand and interrupted him. “Betazed has also negotiated trade treaties with the Akrarians. In fact, Diplomat Daro was returning from such a meeting when your ship met hers. The last envoy before her visited the Akrarian homeworld two years ago.”
“That's about the same time frame that the Madagascar was there. That was the ship that Captain Sato and Lieutenant Commander Tucker were on. Sato wasn't the commanding officer at the time, but she was Captain Forrest's first officer.”
Lev narrowed her eyes in thought, then she murmured “That cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps a member of that delegation had met Captain Sato or Lieutenant Commander Tucker. But wait---wouldn't have either of them mentioned it if they had previously met a Betazoid?”
“Could one of them have seen either Sato or Tucker from afar?”
“Possibly. The Akrarians are known to be overly secretive in their dealings with other species. They wouldn't have revealed the existence of either negotiating party to the other.” Lev rose from her desk and crossed to a terminal in her office. “I have an idea, Diplomat Archer, if you would allow me.”
She tapped keys and brought up a list written in Betazoid script. “Here are the members of the original Betazoid mission to Akraria. Many of these people are off-world on other diplomatic endeavors, but these two—Sinya Beldani and Grei Pennatu---are here in Rixx.”
“Can they be questioned?”
“Certainly. If I order their presence, they cannot refuse.” Lev closed her eyes briefly and fell silent. Jon had seen other Vulcans do the same, like Soval and V'Lar, when they sent mental communications. After several moments, Lev opened her eyes again. “Sinya is in a meeting, but she will be here in about a half hour. Grei will be here in fifteen minutes. Major Tam?”
Garas stuck his head in the door. “We have the room already prepared, Madame Minister.”
Lev's mouth quirked up in a smile as she teased, “You have been reading my mind, Garas.”
He shrugged good-naturedly and flashed Jon a look of fond humor. “I'm in Security, Madame. That's my job.
Diplomat Grei Pennatu was a lot younger than Jon had expected for a fully ranked negotiator. His longish black hair and expressive eyes made him look more than a rakish pirate than anything else. He stepped into the room with an easy smile and a nod at Minister Lev. Then he turned to Jon and bowed his head.
“Diplomat Archer. I've heard so much about you.” Pennatu's smile widened a fraction, but Jon saw the wariness under that smile. “It's a honor to meet you.”
Jon inclined his head in reply and gestured to the seat across the table from him. “Thank you, Diplomat Pennatu. I'm sure you heard about our situation.”
“Indeed.” Pennatu sat in the offered chair and meticulously arranged his robes to perfection. “If I can help in any way, I will. May I ask how Captain Sato is doing?”
“She is better.”
“That's good to hear. We Betazoids live by a strict code of ethics. To break that code is unthinkable.”
Jon's mouth twitched in grim humor. “So I keep hearing. Like I told Minister Lev, I believe most Betazoids are trustworthy and would never use their empathic abilities to harm another.”
“Yet a Betazoid has, and you suspect me of collusion with whoever it is.” At Jon's surprised expression, Pennatu only shrugged. “When Minister Lev summoned me, I assumed Security would want to interview anyone who was capable of it.”
Jon sat in the other seat and leaned forward to address Pennatu. “Can you think of anyone who could have done such a thing?”
“Someone who has an obvious grudge against your captain, or who is determined not to see any friendship between our people and yours.” He shook his head. “Unfortunately, there are those who do not believe in extending the hand of friendship to other races, even among the Betazoids. That is such a shame.”
“Yes. I've seen those kinds of people.” After more talk about the current situation, Jon turned his attention to other diplomatic missions on other planets: Vega, Alpha Centauri, Rigel, Andoria, Denobula. Pennatu eagerly related his own experiences and was more than willing to impart advice on how to best “handle” certain races. Jon sat back in his seat and schooled his face to perfect attention, being careful to make his own interjections now and then. He was good at assessing a person's personality by listening to them talk. Pennatu was overly confident, nearly arrogant in his own skills and knowledge.
Another thing he had earned from Soval: an overconfident subject tended to let certain information slip without realizing it.
Jon tapped one slender finger against his cheek as if in deep thought, then asked, “Is it true what they say about the Akrarians? That they're secretive to the point of nearly being paranoid?”
Pennatu chuckled and rolled his eyes. “Oh, yes. They'd meet with Vulcans, then turn around and make offers to the Andorians behind the Vulcans' backs. Duplicitous in many ways, but if you know how to talk with them, you can convince them to accept your terms.”
"You managed to get 'special concessions' from the Akrarians when you were last there.”
He smirked. “As I said, you need to know how to talk with them, understand your view. Once you achieve that, it makes negotiating with them so much easier.”
“Something we all learn in the Diplomatic Corps.”
“A pity that Earth wasn't as successful in their first meetings. Then again, they didn't have you in the negotiations.”
Jon nearly laughed. “Flattery, Grei.”
“Is it working?” He smiled, but it looked more like a sneer. “If you need some advice on how to talk to the Akrarians--”
“It seems like you and they share the same view on the universe.”
“In some ways, yes.”
Jon got to his feet as if he was about to draw the interview to a close. “ You definitely secured a rich contract: first choice among the Akrarian trading posts along their borders. That wasn't the only one, was it?”
Pennatu frowned at his words. “I don't understand what you mean, Diplomat Archer.”
“You made your own agreement with the Akrarians. They raid civilian shipping, then they split the take four ways among you, the Orion Syndicate and the Nausicaans. It's made you a very rich man."
Pennatu's smarmy smile vanished. His tone was soft steel as he said, "You have no jurisdiction here, Archer---"
Jon raised a hand to forestall his indignant remark. "Perhaps not officially, at least not yet. Commander Mayweather, Enterprise's first officer, is also a Boomer. News travels fast on their close-knit network. I'm sure once they find out that one of their own has been injured, and that an influential Betazoid is partly behind the Akrarian attacks on the shipping routes, they'll think twice about trading here. What would that do to your profit margin, I wonder?"
Garas handed Jon a Betazoid-style electronic tablet. He brought up information on the screen, then slid it in front of Pennatu. "Two years ago, the Madagascar was sent to stop the Akrarians' raids on Earth Cargo Ships, about the same time you were there to negotiate for Betazed. You convinced them to attack Captain Forrest's ship, but it wasn't successful."
Pennatu waved a hand. "This is all conjecture, Archer. I've never met Admiral Forrest or Captain Sato.”
Jon leaned down until his face was on the same level as Pennatu's. He softened his tone as he changed the subject completely. "Tell me about the rogue telepaths you have under your influence, Grei."
The Betazoid's face grew white at the sudden switch in topic. Jon knew he'd struck a chord. "What?"
"The ones you planted on Diplomat Daro's ship. The ones you hid among the visitors to the park and triggered the attack on Captain Sato and Lieutenant Commander Tucker." That information wasn't confirmed, but both he and Garas had pieced together the evidence so far, and Jon simply extrapolated from there. He had no hard evidence, but Pennatu didn't know that, and his gambit threw Pennatu off balance.
His mouth worked several times before he was able to answer. Pennatu had suddenly realized just how formidable Jonathan Archer was. Jon had allowed him to become overconfident, to believe he was no longer under suspicion, then Jon had lowered the boom. Pennatu flushed crimson, then turned pale just as quickly.
“I know nothing of any 'rogue telepaths', Archer. No Betazoid would invade another sentient mind without permission! It's unheard of!"
Jon smirked. "That's what you claim, but obviously, that's a myth, isn't it? There is a limited number of races who are able to manipulate minds as easily as breathing'."
"Betazoid, definitely," Garas said, "Aenar and-"
"Vulcan," Jon concluded flatly. "If we're dealing with a dangerous and unhinged mind, they could help us. Your secrets wouldn't stay secrets, would they? We already have a possible source of information: the pilots that were following Travis and induced a panic attack in Major Bienar."
Garas shrugged and added, "Diplomat Archer would be kinder to them. There would be nothing to prevent me from using...more stringent means."
Pennatu paled. "You wouldn't dare, Tam."
"I swore an oath to protect Saphia by any means possible. Archer and Sato are bound by the niceties of diplomacy, but I am not."
“You are sworn to protect every Betazoid on this planet. If I reveal sensitive information, that would put my life in danger and that is unacceptable.”
“I'm sworn to protect every honorable Betazed, and you have proven yourself dishonorable.”
Pennatu shook his head in a panic. “You don't understand what these people are capable of! They can find anyone in an instant, they can twist your mind to suit their needs! No one is safe from them!”
Jon leaned forward again. “Who are' they', Grei? Tell me a name!”
“They don't work alone! They are---” He jerked in his chair, his dark eyes wide with terror. Jon was at his side at his instant. It took Garas mere minutes to summon a medic, but it was already too late.
“He's dead,” the medic said. “I am sorry, Diplomat Archer.”
“What killed him?” Minister Lev demanded.
The medic looked up at her with a frightened expression. “A part of his brain was burned out.”
"This is dangerous, T'Pol," Kov said bluntly. "I will assist you with this."
She didn't quite sigh, but she answered, "If my suspicions are correct, I must do this alone."
"The bloody hell you will," Malcolm added shortly. "You weren't the only one involved in that previous affair. I also have an obligation."
"I refuse to put you in any more danger, Malcolm."
He huffed loudly and crossed his arms. "I've been 'in danger' for damn near twenty years. What's a major telepathic probe among friends?"
T'Pol nearly smiled, despite herself. "Then you know how involved it is. High Priestess T'Lya would not have subtly approved of this action, had she believed it useless."
Hoshi stood up, drawing their attention. "T'Pol, I could order you not to do this, but I know you'd do it anyway. At least let us safeguard you. I've had firsthand experience with this psychopath, and so has Trip, but he's resting. I know how that other mind 'feels'. I can help you."
Malcolm shook his head. "No, Hoshi."
"She has a point, Malcolm," Keivan said quietly. "Both you and she have been mind-touched. You can assist T'Pol in her search, then allow me, Saphia and Kov to act as your 'grounds' to reality. The three of us can pull you out of the probe at the first sign of distress."
Saphia gazed at T'Pol and added, "I know that it is difficult to trust, but will you trust those as close as family?"
Her words seemed to resonate within T'Pol. After a moment, she nodded in agreement. "Very well, we shall attempt the probe as Doctor Adai has suggested. Captain, Doctor Reed, sit in the circle, and do whatever preparations necessary for meditation. Doctor Adai, Doctor Kov, Diplomat Daro, let us begin.
Hoshi sat directly across from T'Pol, with Malcolm next to her. She closed her eyes and began to slow her breathing and heartbeat, just like meditation before her martial arts workouts. Hoshi was aware of Malcolm's presence and T'Pol's, then she felt Keivan and Kov enter the link, with Kov not far behind. By unspoken agreement, Saphia extended a mental "hand" to her, a lifeline to the outside world. Kov anchored T'Pol, while Keivan did the same to Malcolm. Hoshi no longer felt like she was floating in a warm sea; instead she seemed to feel every caress of wind on her skin and every thought.
We are joined, we are one. Remember what had been forgotten, search for that elusive shadow and bring it out to the light. Hoshi brought her mind back to the gathering at Lake El'nar, the smell of flowers and the taste of uttaberries, as she basked in the company of old and new friends. Now she noticed Kov's panic at the prospect of being "hunted" and Trip's dry amusement at the prospect. Saphia's humor at teasing Jon and embarrassing Malcolm by relating her wedding day. Again, Hoshi felt her blood burn in her face as she tried not to show her own embarrassment in front of her chief medical officer.
And now, she felt the waves of darkness roll in from across the lake, as if a storm was moving in to blot out the warmth. Hoshi felt the Enemy touch her mind, press against her, smother her...
It can't hurt you, love. Step back and see it with objective eyes. Malcolm's reassuring mental presence dispelled the suffocating feeling. Hoshi forced herself to examine the presence, as it was a separate part of her. Deep within the dark currents were powerful streams of consciousness, more than one...Hoshi tried to count the elusive strands, but they kept shifting.
Three, T'Pol clarified. Hoshi could feel the her effort in maintaining her emotional control. Three powerful minds working in concert. Fascinating. That is how they are able to affect more than one person with such mental power.
Two of the three are Betazoid, Keivan added. One is unfamiliar to me. Joint telepathic links are not uncommon, but the signature is strange.
T'Pol "ventured" into the swirling eddies, with Kov anchoring her. Hoshi's perceptions changed from Lake El'nar to an icy planet, with snow swirling all around her and biting into her exposed skin. She raised her head at the lone figure who stood several meters away. He was wrapped in multiple layers of waterproof fabric, his features hidden within a deep hood. He raised his eyes and Hoshi could feel the dark amusement between them. Then he spoke.
"Hello, T'Pol. I see you've brought friends. Captain Sato, of the Enterprise. And is that Doctor Reed with you? I'm surprised to see you, Malcolm. I suppose they've released you from that Vulcan version of an asylum?"
"You have a talent for overstatement, Menos. As you can sense for yourself, I'm a lot stronger now." Malcolm's tone was just as cool. "Strong enough to deal with anything you throw at me."
"Perhaps, perhaps not. I know of other ways to make your life complicated now." Menos turned his attention to Hoshi, and the lascivious leer made her skin crawl. "There are many things you don't know about him, my dear, and if you knew...you would be very afraid."
T'Pol interrupted, "Enough, Menos. We will find you and put an end to your terror once and for all."
He laughed and inclined his head. "I invite you to try, T'Pol. I have powerful friends now, among the Betazoids. You, of all people, know my cause is right.” Menos glanced at Hoshi once more and thought directly at her. I look forward to getting to you better, once we do meet.
A blast of icy wind hit Menos and he staggered sideways a couple of steps. He recovered and looked over at Malcolm with an evil smirk. “Ah, you have some objection to that idea, Malcolm?”
His words were as frigid as the biting wind. “If you touch her, I will kill you. Make no mistake.”
“And what about your worthless Oath, Doctor Reed? Do no harm, and all that? I know your mind; you aren't able to kill me, even for love. Or is it lust? Tell me about your dreams, Malcolm, the ones about you and her---”
Malcolm's single word was enough to melt pure duranium. “Enough.”
Menos laughed again and looked at T'Pol once more. “What is the Human phrase? 'Catch me...if you can.'"
He raised a hand in farewell, then Hoshi felt herself falling through a dark cavern. She opened her mouth to scream, but found herself sitting on the floor across from T'Pol. The Vulcan looked almost as stunned as she felt; obviously she hadn't expected to meet this Menos, whoever he was.
"Who is this man?" Saphia asked. She leaned heavily against Keivan, who appeared sick to his stomach. "His mind...impossibly dark, impossibly evil."
"A previous agent of the V'Shar, the Vulcan Security Ministry," T'Pol replied with a barely perceptible tremor in her voice. "He was a colleague of mine...he went rogue. He is very dangerous. We must tell Trip and Jonathan, then alert First Minister V'Lar."
Hoshi shuddered and tried to shake off the urge to scrub her skin raw under hot water. She looked up to see Malcolm next to her, his hand upon hers. She couldn't help but hear Menos's words over and over in her mind: Tell me about your dreams, Malcolm, the ones about you and her---
“What did he do to you, Malcolm?” she whispered.
“It's...a long story. Suffice it to say that when I said that I would kill him, if he harmed you...I meant it.”
"He wants us to find him."
"Indeed," Kov said hoarsely. "Do we know where he is?"
Saphia gazed at T'Pol and answered, "Yes. He's on Betazed, and I know exactly where he is."
Travis and Phlox haven't been forgotten...they discover a crucial piece of information while on Enterprise
The poem mentioned in this chapter is one of mine, written years ago. I thought it fit the spirit of the scene. Hoshi's thoughts are all in turmoil after what she found out in the last chapter. Whom do you think Jon is referring to during his conversation with Saphia?
Travis shook his head and replied, "Just a few more minutes until this scan's complete, Phlox. Then I'll rest."
"You said that five minutes ago." Phlox put a fatherly hand on his shoulder. "You can't help anyone if you collapse on the Bridge."
"Almost done. " He tapped a button and suddenly he grinned widely. The pain disappeared from his face and he appeared close to his normal optimistic self. “Aha! I've found it!”
The Denobulan gave Travis one of his trademark grins, deepened his voice and said, "And, pray tell, Detective Mayweather, what wondrous deduction have you discovered this time?"
Travis rolled his eyes as they heard muted snickers around the Bridge. The crew were desperately trying to hide their smiles, especially considering the situation on Betazed. He cleared his throat and announced, "Fistrium, my dear Phlox. Enough natural fistrium in the Loneel Mountains to confound our sensors. With some recalibration of our sensor array, we should be able to get through the barrier. I would assume that our dastardly fiends use the fistrium to mask their own movements. We will catch them, make no mistake!"
Lieutenant Harrigan was laughing so hard that she was bent almost double over the status table at the back of the Bridge. Lieutenant Trace sat back in his chair with a silly grin, while Crewmen Bailey and Pazewski howled with mirth. Phlox chuckled himself at the dreadful imitation of a British accent and the theatrical exaggeration.
Perhaps it is good that Doctor Reed or any of the English contingent is on the Bridge at the moment. I believe Commander Mayweather might be in for a stern talking-to, as Reed might say.
Travis raised his eyebrows at the crew and mouthed, “Sorry, Phlox. For them.” Phlox only nodded; not only was Mayweather the first and science officer, but he was also Enterprise's unofficial morale officer. A dose of silliness at the most unexpected of times diffused tension. Phlox appreciated the effort.
Travis winced again, and continued in his regular tone. "If I had to guess, it's some sort of sensor baffle. I'm not reading the power spikes that we'd get if there was some sort of cloaking device, like the one we saw at Beta Polaris."
Phlox became serious as well as he tapped the screen. He said with a thoughtful expression, "Localized then. A sensor baffle has a limited battery power, so they must have found a way to extend the power usage and its effectiveness. I'd be interested in examining one of those devices."
"You might get that chance, Phlox." Travis carefully turned his head to address the relief comm officer. "Ensign Murdo, relay our sensor readings to Captain Sato. Tell her we'll continue to monitor."
Ensign Murdo nodded. "Aye, sir."
Phlox patted Travis's shoulder. "And now, off to Sickbay and Lieutenant Cutler, before I escort you there myself. Or would you rather I ask Lieutenant Trace to do it?"
Travis laughed tiredly. "Okay, okay. No need to call the cavalry. I'm going. Geez, you should've been a doctor, Phlox."
As Travis disappeared into the lift, Phlox shook his head and muttered,"He's been picking up some of Lieutenant Commander Tucker's bad habits."
Hoshi tried not to let her impatience get the better of her, but it was difficult. Jon Archer glanced at her with a concerned expression; she managed to plaster a fake smile on her face and turn her attention back to Saphia. She kept up her formal facade as Saphia and Minister Lev introduced her to the heads of the First, Second and Third Houses. She lost herself in the intricacies of cultural exchange, as she practiced her limited knowledge of the language. Most of the people she met were cordial to her and Jon, but Hoshi saw veiled glances between members of certain Houses. She kept tabs of who didn't care for whom, and who were obvious allies.
“The third House has always been...what is your colorful term? Ah, 'the underdogs'? Minister Lev said. “The Second and Third are closely linked by blood and trade, while the Fifth and Sixth can be nearly considered like one family.”
“I see.” Hoshi said. “Now that I have the opportunity to experience more of your culture, Minister, I'm impressed at how generous your people are.”
Lev chuckled sadly and replied “When we work together for a common goal, we can achieve great things. It's my hope that we can all consider each other allies."
“I know we can.”
Saphia took Hoshi and Jon to the Great Archive in Rixx. The diplomat pointed out the so-called "Sacred Chalice of Rixx" on display at the entrance of the Sixth House. It was virtually identical to the "Sacred Chalice of Dronia" under the protection of Saphia's Fifth House, except for a tiny line of glittering rubies around the rim. The one from Rixx had diamonds and sapphires.
The history of the Noble Houses were complicated, and had more twists and turns than a Tellarite soap opera. Hoshi thought she had the gist of it: the original Matriarch came from the First House, who had five other husbands, and each husband's clan became a major House. There were other minor ones, which were absorbed into the six main ones.
"So each one guards a 'sacred chalice' and a 'mystical item' from that long ago time?" Hoshi asked. It sounded like a tale out of King Arthur.
"Pretty much. Our Matriarch Ghelena had quite a collection," Saphia said dryly. She indicated the Third House's item, an elegantly made, velvet scribe's case. "Ghelena's third husband was a poet and a writer, and that's his."
Jon nodded. "Master Iyaru--the organizer of your welcome party--he's from the Third House, isn't he?"
Saphia smiled was tinged with regret. "Yes, a very smart man. Unfortunately, he has iha'lei'bei."
Hoshi translated the Betazoid expression in her head. "A chip on his shoulder?"
"A rather accurate way to put it, Hoshi. The Second and Third Houses are as important as mine or Keivan's...but they believe they are...keh'lu."
It was Jon's turn to translate. "Underdogs, like Minister Lev described it?"
"Something like that. My house and Keivan's are generally more outgoing, thus the majority of us in diplomacy, government and the like."
"Saphia, you are from the Fifth House and Keivan's from the...Sixth? There isn't much rivalry between your Houses?" Jon asked.
Saphia snorted in good-natured humor. "Don't be fooled. When Keivan proposed to me, the effect was rather like a male from the House of Duras wishing to wed a female from the House of Mogh. Scandalous in the extreme. Luckily, we've risen over those kind of petty feuds, while others haven't."
"House of Duras? House of Mogh?"
"Don't tell me you haven't met the Klingons yet? Oh, Jonathan, the stories I could tell of them! Well. Forewarned is forearmed and all that. I'll send you all the pertinent information, and Hoshi, you can share it with Trip. In a nutshell, they're a warrior race, like the Andorians, except they're a lot more hardheaded-"
Hoshi drew on all her training to pay attention to Saphia's lecture. The Betazoids had insisted on keeping as "normal" a facade as possible, to prevent widespread fear and panic. The prospect of a group of Betazoids using their talents to aid rogue Vulcan agents was not something Minister Lev wanted to be spread among the general populace. Minister Lev had asked Saphia, Jon and Hoshi to continue with the First Contact tour as planned, while Major Garas, Trip, Keivan, Malcolm and T'Pol worked on a plan to capture Menos and his fellow telepaths.
Although she understood Lev's concerns, Hoshi resented being used as a high-profile decoy. Menos had already proved he could manipulate minds from a distance. It didn't matter if she was here with Jon and Saphia; if Menos wanted to find her, he would have little problem. Hoshi shivered as she remembered Jon's report about Diplomat Pennatu. The man had a part of his brain burned out, just as he was about to tell all. How damn convenient.
Garas Tam thought the same thing, so he doubled the protective guard. After consulting with Trip, he borrowed a security squad from Enterprise, then tripled it.
Sighing, Hoshi turned her gaze away from the pair of plain-clothed Betazoid guards. A piece of artwork caught her eye and she pointed at a calligraphy scroll hanging on a nearby wall. "Is that part of your family's heritage as well?"
"Indeed it is. As Keivan said, family is very important to us." Saphia reached over and laid a reverent hand on the wall next to the scroll. "This is a priceless work made by my great-great-great grandmother, Marirah Daro. Her maternal grandfather was an honored Third House poet."
Jon read the plaque describing the scroll. "Marirah was an artisan, a dancer, and a bit of a historian?"
<"Yes. She wanted to preserve our writing, in the face of people who claimed we no longer needed it, since we share thoughts directly from mind-to-mind. Marirah successfully founded a museum devoted to the ancient Betazoid arts, including calligraphy."
Hoshi nodded, her resentment forgotten. "I was wondering why I hadn't seen many samples of your writing."
"It's somewhat of a lost art, this style, but I've heard it's making a comeback." Saphia glanced sideways at her and added, "I can send you a copy of this and other examples, so you can translate them. This particular one is a love poem from Marirah to her imzadi, Tyrus. Listen:
"Cast aside fear, cast aside division,
We are both separate and one.
Your thoughts and my thoughts,
joined yet apart. Freedom is
still valuable to me and it is
I will not deprive you of it.
For being bound is freeing,
and being free is binding.
I will be with you from universe to universe,
from life to life, and beyond."
Hoshi smiled. "I can see how being entwined with someone can be intimidating. Being stuck with the wrong person for life can be a lonely prospect."
Saphia gave her an odd look, but only replied, "That's the concept of imzadi, Hoshi. The only one in the universe who is meant for you, and you for him. It doesn't mean that you both have to agree on everything or follow each other blindly. Mariarah and Tyrus, Keivan and I, we complement each other."
"Like T'hy'la in Vulcan, or koishii or koishibo in Japanese."
"Exactly." Saphia flashed Jon a significant look. "When I ask about your marital status, it's only partly in jest. I personally believe there is a soulmate for each person. You just have to find him or her."
Jon chuckled and shook his head. "I'm not in a rush; my position takes me to many places. If it happens, it happens. I know you want everyone to be happy, Saphia, but these kind of things can't be hurried."
"Like Soval trying to play matchmaker for five years straight? Or Jhamel proposing a 'diplomatic arrangement' on Andoria? Or Navaar wanting an 'addendum' to a trade agreement for the Orion Syndicate?"
He blushed at the mention of Navaar's name, and Hoshi made a mental reminder to grill Trip about the details later.
"Well...yes. The best things happen when you don't try to plan it, or force the matter. Don't worry, Saphia. I've confidence that the universe has plans in store for all of us."
"Indeed, Jon. Has anyone told you about how wise you are?"
He chuckled. "Wise? Hardly. Just practical."
“So you also remember that you began to tell us who this lucky woman is, but we were rudely interrupted?”
“I haven't forgotten, Saphia. Perhaps you'll meet her someday.”
“Don't tell me...she doesn't even know? Jonathan, what's stopping you from telling her?”
“Oh, she knows. I think.”
“You're prevaricating. What is her name?”
“All in good time, Saphia.”
Hoshi gently traced the swirling calligraphy, similar to Vulcan, but a unique script all its own. Imzadi, soulmate. She'd already heard the term several times during this First Contact. Now she knew what it really meant. She prided herself on interpreting the unspoken, as well as the unspoken, but when it came to her own heart...
She felt like she was on a runaway train, and it was heading directly off a cliff. What had happened between T'Pol, Malcolm and Menos?
“I suppose they've released you from that Vulcan version of an asylum?”
“There are many things you don't know about him, my dear, and if you knew...you would be very afraid.”
“I know your mind; you aren't able to kill me, even for love. Or is it lust? Tell me about your dreams, Malcolm, the ones about you and her---”
She shivered and tried to focus on the Betazoid scroll, but her mind refused to let go of the words. He was her CMO, for God's sake. She was his commanding officer. Even if there was no conflict of interest in being on the same ship, it was just...wrong. Were her feelings genuine, or were they merely being manipulated and twisted to suit Menos's insane plans? She didn't trust herself at this point.
The heart is irrational, illogical. The heart can act the fool, and blind the clearest eyes. Will you allow it to lead to your downfall, Hoshi?
She looked up, then glanced over her shoulder. At the end of the corridor was a group of Betazoids in the green and gold raiment of the Third House. A little girl played with a toddler, while their parents explained their House's history to a pair of bored-looking teenagers. An elegantly-dressed older woman sat several meters away, her hands serenely in her lap. That woman met Hoshi's gaze, the black eyes meeting brown ones.
Her mouth lifted in a slight smirk. Humans. So gullible, so pliable. The Vulcans were fools to allow your kind to advance so far into space. They should have interfered instead of encouraged. Now you are a threat to this sector, and Betazoids deal with threats effectively.
Hoshi narrowed her eyes and murmured, "Most honorable Betazoids can do it without the assistance of psychopathic Vulcans. You're signing away your existence."
Not signing away, my dear. Enhancing it, with those who are worthy. Your Imzadi and the two Vulcans in your crew would do nicely. Come to me. Come to Irani. I can take you to him and you can be together forever. Isn't that what you want?
She inclined her head. "Irani? Is that your name?"
Irani Iyaru, mother of twelve, grandmother of nineteen, great-grandmother of twenty. My little great-grandaughters are here. You won't harm their Nana in front of their innocent eyes, will you, Hoshi? I'm just like your Oba-san. I only want to see you happy, my dear.
Hoshi gritted her teeth and tried to resist the siren call. What kind of person was Menos, who had swayed an honorable elder to his cause? Her disgust deepened and she channeled all of it into her thoughts, effectively canceling the hypnotic effect.
She felt a tug on the hem of her sleeve and looked down to see the toddler clinging to her legs, smiling up at her. The little boy's dark eyes appeared to have a slight blueish color to them-
Suddenly, she felt an abrupt wave of dizziness and sat down abruptly in front of the toddler, who promptly sat in her lap. A flurry of activity caught her attention; Saphia sat next to Irani on the bench, a supporting hand on the older woman's shoulder. Irani's relatives crowded around her, a literal shield around their matriarch.
"Hoshi? You all right?" Jon knelt next to her. His green eyes mirrored his discomfort. "Saphia traced the attack to the source. Betazoid Security's closing on them."
"Them? More than one?"
"One of them manipulating Irani's thoughts, the other boosting the first one's abilities. T'Pol told me that V'Shar agents work in pairs. If Menos was indeed a V'Shar agent, he'd utilize their tactics. You distracted them long enough for Saphia to locate them and for Garas to call for reinforcements."
The toddler in her lap whimpered and clung to her. She wrapped her arms around the boy and held him close, murmuring soothing words to him. His mother crossed over and knelt on the floor next to Hoshi, managing a smile at Jon.
"I am Veli Iyaru. Thank you for helping us locate the ones who mentally violated my great-grandmother. She is shaken, but she is strong. We will take care of her." Veli looked up, her face absolutely still, eyes remote and distant. She nodded once, slowly, then said, "It is all right. They will not harm anyone else, ever."
Hoshi shivered as the discomfort left Veli's face and the smiling, doting mother was back. "We are grateful to you, Captain Sato. Know that you are welcome under our roof and that you will always be under the protection of our branch of the Third House."
She bowed her head and opened her arms to her son, who reluctantly let go of Hoshi and went to her. Both mother and son walked down the hall to rejoin their family, who had already closed ranks around their matriarch.
Jon put a hand on Hoshi's arm and said in a low tone, "That's just eerie. The Betazoids just accept things the way they do. I've been on many worlds, but this really creeps me out. Even the Vulcans aren't so casual about something like this. I thought they could feel other's pain, but I guess if their family's threatened, they can tolerate it."
"Yes," Hoshi said softly, "but every culture is different, and the Betazoids are unique in their own."
"I'm reading one anomalous life sign, dead ahead five hundred meters," Malcolm whispered. "Not Vulcan, Human or Betazoid."
"If he's got that sensor baffle Phlox and Travis told us about, it wouldn't register at all," Trip said. "He wouldn't know what hit him. T'Pol?"
She closed her eyes and concentrated for a long minute. "He has his mental defenses set on 'watch', but he is distracted. Give me one moment." Slowly, she "crept" up to that barrier and surveyed it from all sides. It was strong, but not as strong as she had felt from Menos. Carefully, she withdrew her presence. "He is Betazoid, but not as strong as Doctor Adai or Diplomat Daro. His name is Aeri Khendris, and he will not go quietly."
Trip nodded and looked sideways at a young Betazoid sergeant. The man's dark eyes were almost indistinguishable from the gloom. "Sergeant Belar? You ready?"
Belar nodded at three of his fellow soldiers. "Yes, sir. Haras, Prolen, Jita, let us begin." The four of them together wove a barrier between themselves and their target. They finished...just as that target suddenly realized he wasn't alone.
"Now!" T'Pol whispered harshly.
What happened next seemed to go in slow motion. Trip led the charge as the first mental assault came over her. She "read" everything in that one moment...how the Betazoid had met Menos, how he had twisted the mind disciplines of two worlds to achieve his goals, how much was at stake to prevent Earth from ever gaining an alliance with Betazed.
Sergeant Balar cried out and fell to his knees as he clapped his hands to his temple. Khendris's rage and terror slammed into the Betazoid contingent, nearly overwhelming the protective barrier. The projective empathy was unlike anything T'Pol had ever experienced before. She ruthlessly clamped her own shields around her mind and extended her thoughts to Malcolm.
We must end this now, before Khendris destroys all our minds. Help me!
Malcolm's reaction was immediate and instinctive. T'Pol withdrew into herself, and with Malcolm grounding her in the here and now, struck out with a coldly calculated spike of righteous anger. She felt a strange sense of satisfaction as her foe's cry went unheard by normal ears. That cry was abruptly cut off almost as soon as it was begun, and the emotional resonance rocked her to the core.
"We need a doctor!" Trip shouted. "Malcolm!"
Malcolm clapped T'Pol on the shoulder as he barreled past. Her own knees threatened to buckle and only Trip's reflexes saved her from an ungraceful collapse. Trip caught her, wrapped his arms around her and drew her shaking body close to him.
"It's okay," he soothed. "It's okay, T'Pol, you got him. He won't hurt anyone again."
Eventually, the shuddering eased and she was able to think rationally again. "Two of them, Khendris and a woman named Obra. They were focused on a person in Rixx-"
"Not directly. I believe they were trying to project their joint efforts onto a fellow Betazoid to do the work for them."
Trip's mouth twisted in anger and disgust. "God Almighty. Is nothing sacred to these guys? Obviously not. Menos has no qualms about decency, so the ones working for him don't either." He looked up at Sergeant Belar. "You okay, Sergeant?"
"Your intervention was timely, Lady T'Pol. We are most grateful." Belar's face was pale, but he added, "I will inform Diplomat Daro and Major Tam."
Another man interrupted, "Lieutenant Commander Tucker? Lieutenant T'Pol?"
"We're here, General Thero." Trip helped T'Pol to her feet as the supreme commander of all Betazoid Security approached them. "I take it this Khendris is no longer a threat."
"Not anymore," Thero replied quietly. "Doctor Reed says a portion of his brain was burned out."
Trip stared at him. "Burned out? You mean 'fried'? Just like that diplomat Jon was questionin'?”
"It is a safety precaution, should he be captured," T'Pol explained hoarsely. "If Khendris couldn't do it himself, then his partner would do it for him. It is standard for V'Shar covert agents."
"We gotta find those other Betazoid and Vulcan pairs." Trip nodded at Malcolm, who was just finishing his examination of Khendris's body. "Let's get going. Hoshi and Jon are going to need our help.