It is the sound of my son's cry that jerks me awake. No vivid nightmares, no black dreams. How refreshing. I sit up in the darkness and stretch my arms over my head, feeling the tension of the past many days leave my body. I feel…rested.
Oren's persistent wail chases the last of the sleep from my bones. I stand and cross to his makeshift crib, tucked away in the alcove of the room. I pick up the screaming infant, hold him close to my chest, and rock him back and forth. His cry is neither wet, nor hungry. A bad dream, perhaps? I sigh.
"Have the nightmares found you, too?" I whisper to him, gently rubbing his back. The infant's cries gradually subside and he snuggles closer to me. How lucky he is to forget such terrors so quickly. I hold him for a while, waiting for him to fall back asleep, but Oren has other plans.
Now wide awake, he reaches up and grabs a lock of my hair, then promptly stuffs it in his mouth. Despite the dim light, I can see him smiling broadly up at me, his brilliant eyes shining playfully. It is obvious he isn't going to let me go back to bed.
"I guess we've both slept long enough," I coo, touching his nose with my finger. The infant giggles, a warm, bubbly, beautiful sound.
"Lights," I say, and the fluorescents overhead flicker on, bathing the room in soft white light. I return to my bed and sit on the mattress's edge. How long did I sleep, I wonder? At least a few hours. Surely by now it must be morning on the starship Enterprise.
No sooner has the thought passed through my mind then the screen atop my desk flickers to life, displaying the face of a young human in command gold. I stand, Oren still in my arms, and approach the computer.
"Attention all hands, this is a mission update," the young officer says. His accent is so thick that the translator has difficulty rendering his words. I twist the screen to face me and turn up the volume, curious about the nature of the report.
"The Enterprise will be making a short detour to the Vulcan colony of Natala, to assist them with a local life form that has been giving them trouble. We will not deviate far from our present course and should be back underway in a matter of hours. Details may—"
I flip off the screen, unimpressed by the mundane report. The effort to decipher the computer's poor translation does not seem worth it for the information I would glean. I'm not sure what I was hoping for, but I didn't find it. I return all my attention to my son, content just to play with him and watch him smile.
Half an hour passes and the report is nearly gone from my mind when the ship's alert goes off. I learned from the first time the Enterprise went on red alert that an infant and a wailing siren do not mix—Oren's scream rivaled the volume of the shrill klaxons—and requested of the captain that it be disabled in my quarters. The alert was merely a routine drill to keep the crew on their toes, but even if it had been a real emergency, such a keening sound was unnecessary for a refugee mother and her newborn. The warning light alone would suffice. Now, the amber beacon fills my room with a sickly light, pulsing to a bell I can't hear.
There is something familiar about this light. I remember it. My mind flashes back to the night of my rescue, when I had first been rushed through the Enterprise's halls. In my state of exhaustion, wracked by pain and weakened by dehydration, I did not retain much of what happened that night, and the few memories I have are a blur. One thing, however, is a constant among my foggy recollections—the amber light. Not a call to battle stations, but a medical alert.
An unpleasant feeling worms its way into my brain, a nagging sense of foreboding. Medical alert, local fauna, Vulcan colony. This feeling is a long shot, but I know it won't let me be until I prove to myself it's as ludicrous as it sounds.
I set Oren back in his crib with a mumbled promise to only be a minute. I then queue up the young officer's mission update on the desk screen. It picks up where I left off.
"—may be accessed in the mission log." His image freezes onscreen as I pause the replay and search for the log he referred to. I find it without too much trouble and quickly scroll through the detailed report. It lists the shore party the captain has picked out—himself; his first officer, Spock; Doctor McCoy; and a handful of assorted science personnel—as well as a brief summary of the trouble Natala is experiencing. The more I read, the more I realize that my unlikely fears have been proven.
And, I think, they will turn to the logical solution to this problem. The wrong solution. I jump out of the desk chair. I hate to leave Oren while he's awake, remembering my own horrid fear of being left alone, but lives are at stake. I dart out into the hallway, following the flashing amber lights to sickbay.
The "local life form" the officer referred to is not local to the Natala system at all. It isn't even local to Federation space. The Rihannsu called it ssidhwavr, or "tiny death". The ssidhwavr were discovered on a resource planet in the early years of the Imperium's expansion. It is a small bug, no bigger than a grain of wheat, and about the same color, too. Their venom mimics the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, a reaction found in most humanoid races. But to treat the bite like anaphylaxis rather than a virulent toxin is a death sentence. A handful of established Rihanssu colonies were lost before the doctors realized this.
The epinephrine used to treat such reactions interacts negatively with the venom, speeding up the effects rather than slowing them down, and killing the victim in minutes. An antivenin is needed to save the victim, and a sedative is administered to keep the patient stable until said antivenin arrives.
But the Enterprise doctors don't know that.
I burst through the doors into sickbay. The wide open space I know is a hive of frenzied activity. At the back of the room, I can see a pale, shaking form lying on a bio bed, eyes closed. His face is hardly visible, but I can make out features through the controlled chaos of the swarming medical team. Spock. The monitor above the Vulcan's head registers his rapid, irregular heartbeat and accelerated but shallow breathing. I am not too late.
McCoy stands over Spock, hastily slipping a capsule into a hypo. I can't make out the label, but I would bet my life it's epinephrine.
"Doctor!" I must shout over the intense voices of the medical personnel to be heard. He looks over his shoulder at me.
"Mandana?" I've caught him off guard. His face registers confusion, but not for long. He turns back to his work, hardly a second wasted on me. "This isn't a good time!"
I push my way through the nurses and grab his arm before he can press the hypo to Spock's neck. "You can't give him that!"
He shakes my hand off and glares fiercely at me. If looks could kill, I'd be a pile of ash on the floor. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Doctor, you have to listen to me," I say in a rush. "This isn't an allergic reaction, it's the venom from the bite. I've seen it hundreds of times before. If you give him the epinephrine, he will die. A sedative will buy you time to synthesize the antivenin."
Doctor McCoy's face doesn't change as he moves to brush me aside again. He doesn't believe me. Desperate, I say the only thing I can think of to get him trust me.
"Soporaline worked fine for me," I say, praying to the Elements he'll remember what I told him in this sickbay only six hours prior. There is a tense moment of indecision on McCoy's part. The pause lasts for only two beats of Spock's racing heart, but it feels so much longer.
"Nurse, get me 125 cc's of soporaline," he barks at last, focus returning to the patient lying on the table. Nurse Chapel looks stricken.
"Just do it!" McCoy growls, setting the hypo of epinephrine on a tray beside the biobed. A few seconds later the hypo of soporaline is in his hand. The doctor hesitates for a fraction of a second and looks at me from the corner of his eye, perhaps realizing what he is about to do. Then he presses the hypo to Spock's neck; the Vulcan twitches as the sedative is released. Instantly, all eyes turn to the board above Spock's head. It seems that lifetimes pass before his heart rate begins to drop. I release the breath I didn't realized I'd been holding, fell the tense muscles in my body relax, and look up at the doctor.
It worked. He is clearly stunned that my solution saved the life of his commanding officer. I wonder, then, if he is so surprised, why he followed my advice in the first place? The reason doesn't matter. He trusted me, and Spock will live another day because of it. That is, if they hurry and synthesize the antivenin.
McCoy is already on it, shouting more instructions into a com beside the Vulcan's bed.
"—have that antivenin up here in ten minutes."
My work is done. No doubt the Enterprise has a state-of-the-art chemistry lab, and will have the antitoxin up in time to save the Vulcan's life. I nod to McCoy, though I doubt he sees me through the swarm of nurses and techs and other doctors, and slip out the sickbay doors unnoticed.
I am halfway down the corridor when I hear someone call my name. I turn, and see Nurse Chapel hurrying my way.
She stops a few steps away from me, and her smile is genuine.
"Thank you," she says. "I don't know how you knew that, but—"
"I saw many cases like it on ch'Rihan. A common sight in an emergency room," I reply. Chapel looks surprised, much like McCoy did when I told him a few hours ago.
"You're a doctor?" she asks. I nod, and she continues.
"Well, that explains...that," she says, nodding back at the sickbay doors. "I've got to get back, but thank you again, so much, for saving Spock's life. Really."
I recognize the intensity in her eyes, the sincere gratitude written all over her face. She loves him. My heart aches with this realization. Will I ever reach a point where I am not reminded of my late husband everywhere I go? Chapel has already left, hastening back to a post she probably wasn't supposed to leave.
And I move on back to my own room.
Weeks passed, and I saw no more signs of Nero. He never sought me out at the complex anymore, nor had there been any further unannounced intrusions in to my apartment. I found I enjoyed working night shift at the medical complex, and opted to stick with my current schedule. Life went on. Seasons changed, and the rains finally came to Mhiessan, making my nightly commute to work cold and miserable. I loved the water, but the chill reminded me of frigid space and stark starship walls. The weather was uncomfortable to start with, but when the rain turned to sleet, it became wholly unpleasant.
I traveled to and from the medical complex on the yhfi-ss'ue, the predominant form of public transportation in ch'Rihan's cities. An automated system of five tubes mounted on rails carried commuters to and from the city center, operating at all hours of the day. I would have preferred a hired flitter, but they didn't run late at night or early in the morning, when my work schedule demanded them. The yhfi-ss'ue got me where I needed to go; I could handle a small bit of unpleasantness.
It was an unremarkable night—cold, wet, and windy—when I approached the station. Said station was no more than a slab of cement supported by metal struts at its four corners, set alongside the track. There were benches beneath the roof where Rihanssu waiting for transport could sit, shielded, for the most part, from the weather. Normally, there were many empty benches, as the day workers had taken an earlier tube and were now warm at home. But on this night as I approached the station, I could see most—if not all—of the benches were occupied. Rihanha huddled together under the station roof in an attempt to stay warm and dry in light of Mhiessan's current inclement weather.
I sighed, and my breath condensed into a cloud before my face. The rain would turn to snow soon, I had no doubt. The thought of the season's first snowfall would have excited me, normally—it had been ages since this city had seen snow—had I not been standing out in it. Other after-dark commuters, nightly regulars I often chatted with as we waited for the yhfi-ss'ue to pull in, began to arrive. Realizing there was no more space beneath the cement canopy, they clustered together just outside the station and cursed whatever unfortunate event had left the small terminal so packed, all hoping a tube would show up soon and whisk the crowd away. I steeled myself against the cold and hoped right along with them.
"There's an empty seat over here, miss," a voice informed me from beneath the station's roof. I looked up through the downpour and suppressed a groan. Of course Nero would be here, at this station, offering me the only empty seat beneath the shelter. And here I was, thinking optimistically (for once) that he'd given up on me. I gave him a scathing look.
"If you don't stop following me—"
"Relax," he said, "I'm not following you. The evening train's just late. I already thanked you, remember?"
I continued to eye him distrustfully.
"Hey, if you want to freeze to death out there, be my guest. Might be a while though. There's ice on the tracks. Every tube'll run late tonight."
This man infuriated me, and I stubbornly set my jaw and crossed my arm's over my chest in a vain effort to keep out the cold. I had my mind set on not taking the seat he offered. But as time passed, the sleet turned to snow, the wind picked up speed, and still the tube did not come. Finally, I'd had enough. I swallowed my pride and sat down next to Nero. The bench was so packed our legs touched; I did my best not to notice.
I expected a victorious smirk or comment from Nero, but the miner said nothing. In fact, he ignored me completely. That was fine by me.
More time passed; the people under the roof grew restless, many of them using personal readers to call home or work and inform their families or employers that they were going to be late. I debated whether or not to call the medical complex with Nero sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with me.
Then I realized how paranoid and stupid I was being. Sure, it'd been unnerving how he'd pursued me, but since that night in my apartment, I hadn't seen any sign of him, and that incident had been over a month ago. He was acting completely normal now. If it weren't for him leaping into my couchroom—
"Is it common for you to risk imprisonment just to say 'thank you'?" I asked him. Nero turned to me, looking mildly surprised that I'd initiated conversation.
"It's not every day you're brought back to life. I couldn't just let that go."
"So you decided to stalk me."
He snorted. "It was your physical therapy plan. I just dropped by the front desk and asked for you whenever I showed up."
"You knew where I lived. You had to have followed me home at some point."
"One of the nurses at the desk gave me your address."
"What?!" I whirled around to look at him, fixing him with an intense look. "They just gave it away!? To you?"
"Yeah, I didn't even have to ask. She just outright gave it to me," he met my stare. "I got the feeling she didn't like you very much."
My mood turned black at this enlightening piece of information. I hadn't imagined one of the nurses would sink so low as giving out my address to strangers. Or overly thankful patients. "Do you remember who it was?" I asked, running through a list of people at the complex who hated me most. Nero just shrugged and looked towards the yhfi-ss'ue track.
"They all look the same, if you ask me. Dark hair, dark eyes, white uniform. Probably couldn't pick her out in a line-up."
"Well, then. It seems you aren't entirely guilty," I said, deciding there was nothing I could do about the mysterious narc. "There's still the matter of you jumping into my apartment, though. Speaking of which, how did you even get up there? It's not like you brought a ladder."
Nero grinned. "Not at all. There's a drainpipe beside your window."
"You climbed up that?" I asked, picturing the thin pipe in my mind's eye and wondering whether to be scared of his ability, or impressed.
"Wasn't a problem. The Narada—my ship—has very little in the way of catwalks. Often times, to reach a trouble spot, you've got to forge your own path. I've had plenty of practice."
"As your former surgeon, I feel I should scold you for putting your body through so much before it was ready. That's what the physical therapy plan was for."
Nero looked sheepish. "In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest move, but again, you were impossible to get ahold of."
"I'm flattered you would put yourself at risk just to say 'thank you'," I said dryly. Nero laughed out loud.
"And I'm glad you aren't reading too far into that anymore," he answered. "Shall we start over?"
He held out his hand, a form of greeting we naturally suspicious Rihanssu shared with the Federation. Given our distrustful nature and our politician's tendencies to murder their fellow legislators, the gesture was meant to show that, quite literally, we had nothing up our sleeves. I smiled just slightly and took his offered hand.
"Mandana t'Verraet," I told him, shaking it firmly. "Jolan tru, Oren tr'Keras."
"Jolan tru, Mandana," he returned the greeting and dropped my hand. "But please, call me Nero. Oren was my father. And my grandfather."
"Something wrong with the name?" I asked. He shook his head.
"Nah. I just like to fool myself into thinking if I change my name, I'll do something original with my life. My father and his dad might as well have been clones, working with rock their whole lives," he explained. I raised an eyebrow.
"And how's that working out for you?"
"Well, as you saw, it's going splendidly. Not only do I work with rock, but I work with rock in space." His voice dripped with sarcasm. I smiled.
"It's a temporary arrangement," I told him. He laughed again.
"That's what I said when I got the job. And now here I am, years later, not simply a miner on a ship, but first officer of said ship."
I blinked in surprise. "First officer? But…you're, er…"
He looked at me from the corner of his eye. "So young?" I nodded. "Yeah. I guess rock is just in my blood. I'm a natural. As I said, this name-change is purely for my own psychological well-being. It has no basis in reality."
The sound of a train rumbling on its tracks nearly drowned out his last words. Both Nero and I looked up as the yhfi-ss'ue glided into the station. A cheer rose up from the nearly-frozen crowd of Rihnha. The snow was no longer blizzarding, as the wind had died down long ago, but it was coming down hard and the temperature continued to drop. Nero stood.
"And that's my train. Good night, Mandana," he bowed to me again, not nearly as low as the time in my apartment, but still ludicrously formal for the setting. And I said so.
"Get going," I said to him, my tone light. "You look ridiculous."
His smile was infectious. "Yes, ma'am," Nero replied as he straightened out of the position and hurried off to catch his train.
"I could have you court-martialed for this, Bones!" I shout at my medical officer as I pace the conference room. McCoy watches me from his seat at the table, jaw clenched.
"I took her advice, and Spock is alive because of it. Is that a crime?" he asks. I whirl around and slap my palms down on the table's surface.
"You didn't know it would work. You didn't know if Mandana was actually who she said she was. Maybe she's not a doctor at all! She could have killed Spock, McCoy!"
"But she didn't, and if it weren't for her, Spock would be dead," he says, voice calm as ever. "So would hundreds of Vulcans on Natala. She's not her husband, Jim."
I stand there, staring hard at nothing, collecting my thoughts. "It was an awful big coincidence, those bugs were. How convenient it was to have a Romulan doctor onboard when a problem cropped up that only a Romulan doctor could solve."
McCoy eyes me suspiciously. "And your point is…?"
Dessel's call a few hours prior leaps to the forefront of my mind. I figure McCoy has every right to know about its content. "Before our course change to Natala, I received a call from Admiral Dessel. Thirteen days ago a cloaked vessel was detected crossing the Neutral Zone. According to the patrol vessel that caught the slip up, the ship's trajectory would have put it very close to where we found Mandana."
My medical offer narrows his eyes. "You're suggesting she's a spy." He does a poor job at keeping his disdain out of his voice. "How can you say that? You saw her, Jim. You listened to her. Romulans are good infiltrators, but they aren't that good. Need I remind you how we found her? Half dead and heavily pregnant?"
I sigh. "I didn't believe it when I first heard it either, Bones, but now…this business with the bugs…doesn't that seem a bit too convenient to you?"
"If there are Romulans at work anywhere in here, Jim, Mandana isn't a part of it," McCoy answers matter-of-factly. "If anything, I think she's a godsend. We've been hurting with an understaffed sick bay for a while, and that Vulcan specialist we were promised still hasn't arrived. Mandana has knowledge of their unique physiology that I can't match."
"She's a Romulan, not a Vulcan, McCoy. And you can't be entirely sure she is a real doctor, if all you've got to go on is her knowledge of sedatives."
"Then test her! My point is, I trust her," he explains. "If she says she's a doctor, after what she pulled in sick bay, I believe her. And I certainly don't see her fitting the profile of a Tal Shiar agent."
"The Tal Shiar do not always use agents that are aware of what they're doing. We've seen them use brainwashing before. It is entirely possible this whole thing is a trap."
"She knew knew things—things no Romulan could possibly have known—about Nero. We never released his image, or specs on his ship, or anything else other than his criminal record."
"And we have no idea what Nero did before escaping the Klingon prison planet. We don't even know how long he was there for. Maybe he went home first, who knows."
"Well," McCoy says, leaning back and crossing his arms. "If she doesn't know Nero, explain Oren."
"We have no way of proving if he actually is Nero's son—"
And here McCoy leans forward, smiling. "Ah, but we do. When the Ambassador was marooned on Delta Vega, Nero left behind supplies. Spock's death would have ruined his whole plan. Among the supplies left behind was a jacket, bearing a command insignia for an officer in the Romulan Mining Guild. It undoubtedly belonged to him. And of course, clothing is a gold mine for DNA. All the stuff left on Delta Vega was kept as evidence, even though it wasn't entirely necessary, bless you meticulous Starfleet types. It may be difficult, but not impossible, to prove Oren is indeed Nero's son, and Mandana is who she says she is."
"Even if you managed to pull that off, it wouldn't mean there isn't a connection between her and the Tal Shiar," I say. McCoy opens his mouth to protest again, but I start talking before he has the chance. "Good grief, Bones, it's not like we're going to imprison her. We'll just send her back across the Neutral Zone, safe and sound. What would you rather we do? Keep her on the Enterprise?" I ask him.
"It would be nice to have someone onboard who knows their way around a Vulcan's circulatory system, yes," McCoy answers. I stare at him in disbelief.
"Are you serious? Even if you proved Mandana is who she says she is, it'd be foolish to keep her on Enterprise."
"If Starfleet believes her to be an agent, then the Enterprise would be the perfect place to keep her. We'd have a much easier time keeping track of Mandana without letting her know we were on to her. And in the meantime, she'd be an asset."
There is no derailing Bones. I switch tactics. "Maybe she wants to go home. Even in the future, the Federation and the Empire aren't exactly best buds. If I were her, I'd prefer to go back home rather than settle down among my enemies."
"Would you, though?" McCoy asks. "It'd be like one of us being thrown back in time to the end of the Eugenics War. Earth doesn't sound too appealing, and I doubt Romulus does to Mandana, either. We can offer her asylum; doesn't mean she has to take it. It'd just be nice to give her the option."
I sigh. It's still hard for me to believe that Mandana is a Romulan agent. I'm not sure about her staying aboard my ship, but I can see his point about a past home not being…home. It couldn't hurt to give her the option of sanctuary.
"I see your point, Bones, and I tend to agree with you. But I've got my superiors to answer to. I'll be sure to bring up the topic when we meet with the representative later, " I assure McCoy, careful to make no other promises. "Until then, whatever medical advice Mandana gives you, please don't take it. Dismissed."
This update should have been out months ago. I sincerely apologize to all my readers for the months of waiting. Ya'll feel free to kidnap me and torture me as you see fit; Elements know I deserve it. School and work are piling up. I'll try to have the next update to you by Christmas. /optimist author is an optimist
Also, it is incredibly evident that I am winging it with all the medical jargon, and I would like to make a special apology to all those people well versed in the art of medicine out there wondering where I'm pulling my information from. This is my first time writing a character in the medical field and I'm trying my best, but I'm clearly failing in the technical department. ^^:
And in other almost-related news…HOLY SHIT NEW STAR TREK TRAILER AAAAAAAH.