A/N: Ah, end-of-term exams. What fun. Pardon me while I smash my head into the nearby wall. Don't worry, it's solid concrete under the wallpaper, it can take it...

Also, Skyrim. Damn it. Like my spare time wasn't precious enough...

Disclaimer: The opinions of an arrogant Betazoid (medical professional or other) are not necessarily the opinions of the author. Smug telepath bastards...

Day 3

Betazed, Beta Velonna

Planetary Civilian Authority, Chief Magistrate's Offices, Mortuary

"What kind of monster could do something like this?"

The Betazoid in the somewhat ostentatious uniform raised his eyebrow in an almost Vulcan fashion. "That would be the problem, wouldn't it? We have no idea."

Trip leaned forward, mildly nauseated. He'd seen dead people before, the last year alone filling his quota for it, but this...

Someone had systematically broken every bone in the victim's body. Skull, jaw, arm-bones, clavicles, ribs, hips, leg-bones, toes, fingers...at some point it went beyond vicious and entered territory that was just plain twisted. "And you're saying you have no leads whatsoever? None?"

Magistrate Croilus squirmed slightly. "None. It's...getting bad. The first victim was about two months ago, in the xeno quarters. A local girl, working as waitress in a bar primarily tending to xenos... We thought it was just some lover's spat. However, our finest telepaths and psychometrists have done everything they can, but...nothing. It's as if the killer is shielded against extrasensory perception in the first place. Not to mention strong enough to do this."

Trip nodded. "So it's pretty obviously not a local. No offense, but I'm pretty sure you guys are no tougher on average than us humans."

"None taken. Unfortunately, that's where our leads stop. Finger prints have proven useless, our standard methods...I hate to admit it, but we've grown complacent. When all you usually need to find a killer is to read the sub-conscious memories of any nearby witnesses, deductive skills tend to go on the back-burner. Which is why I'm allowing outsiders such as yourself to consult."

"So you don't know any alien species that could have done this?"

The magistrate sat down, heavily. "None. The only ones physically strong enough that I can think of would be male Orions, but..."

"But they're seven feet tall and bright green. Yeah, not exactly subtle enough to get away with something like this. You mentioned telepathic shielding?"

Croilus put his hands on his face and rubbed his cheek bones, a typical sign of tension headaches. "And that's another thing. There are only two species we know of that have such features. Vulcans and Betazoid. But...Betazoid rarely kill. The psychic backlash is quite painful. This kind of killing, though? Out of the question. The very act would drive any one of us catatonic. As for Vulcans...well, I think you understand why we struck them from our list of suspects."

Trip frowned. "Actually, that's...well, don't let anyone know I told you this, but there are times when a Vulcan can become aggressive and violent."

The magistrate snorted. "Oh, please. Don't tell me you've heard those ridiculous rumors about their sexual cycle."

Trip stepped away from the mortuary bench, rubbing the back of his neck. "Not what I'm thinking of. And if it was, this wouldn't be the result. But even the kind of circumstances I'm thinking of aren't this bad, and they don't get this strong. So you're right about crossing them off the list."

There was an awkward moment of sorts, and then Croilus sighed. "I suppose I might as well say it outright; we're stuck. One reason I contacted you and then agreed to your request is because I wanted a fresh perspective. Apparently that wasn't enough."

Trip poked the inside of his cheek with his tongue, then nodded. "I can understand your frustration. Something like this..." He paused. "Anyway, I'll grab my wayward crewmen on the way out, and I can send a little discrete call to some people I know about any leads or similar cases off-world, just in case. How's that sound?"

"Most adequate, captain."

As the humans left the building, Croilus went back to studying the files. He'd shared them with Captain Tucker as well, seeing as there was little reason to suspect he'd misuse them. Humans had made quite the name for themselves in the past ten or so cycles since the Betazoid had first heard of them, and though they seemed optimistic to the point of foolhardiness regarding their odds in the very hostile universe, they also seemed trustworthy.

Maybe someday their two systems would be true allies. If only they weren't so deeply in bed with the Vulcans. Distasteful bunch, those. Granted, he mainly felt so because of old prejudice instilled in him as a boy. Vulcans were one of the few species who could not be easily read, and this scared many of his people, who were used to at least being able to sense emotions. In his own case he'd started to question those beliefs after speaking to an older intelligence agent who had served as close quarter combat trainer at the magistrate academy. The man had once been forced to power through a Vulcan's mental shields, and had almost died in the attempt, mainly because of the emotional backlash that had welled out.

So. Vulcans. Logical and coldly unemotional, at least on the surface. Which was odd considering how deeply involved they had gotten with humans, who were barefacedly emotional and often irrational.

He supposed it was true what they said; opposites attract.


USS Heronas. In standard orbit.

"...my sunny Valentine..." Crewman Kelly Danvers hummed softly to herself as she crawled down the Jeffries tube, toolkit firmly affixed to her waist. The jumpsuits everyone had worn up until about four months ago would have been less liable to snag on anything, but they also lacked such useful things as...well...belts. While the new uniforms were only slightly more complex with their tucked-in slacks and tight jackets, the belts had been a godsend.

Also, the thicker piping on the shoulders denoting specialty. She liked that detail. Before, you had to get up close to see if someone was red Engineering or pale blue Science, or even the bright gold of Command. Now you could tell from a distance.

She paused by a conduit junction, pulled out a small device, switched it on and held it up to the junction long enough to get a reading. Huh. Off by .056 percent. Acceptable, but not perfect. Perfect was pretty, as her dad used to say.

Taking out another small tool she switched to a song she knew her father would disapprove of her knowing. "...oh, I knew a guy in Kalamazoo, he had legs up to here and said I love you, but me I'm a rambling, gambli-"

There was a sharp crunching snap, and the quiet singing ceased forever.

Then came several more snaps and thumps, which continued for some time.


Offices of Herelus Castor (MD)

"...if you agree, her convalescence can be shortened for some time. She may even return to light duties tomorrow."

Trip frowned. "I thought you said the technique was new and experimental. Has anyone ever used it on a Vulcan?"

Doctor Castor's cheek twitched slightly in irritation. "Well, yes it is, and no, they haven't. But really, it's highly efficient. I guarantee it."

The frown deepened. "No. Absolutely not. I will not jeopardize the health and sanity of my – of my first officer. Not a chance."

Castor sighed, as if he'd made up his mind about something. "...I can't believe I'm doing this. Breaking doctor-patient confidentiality is so gauche. And unethical. And illegal. But in this case, considering the bond..."

He explained, and Trip found his firm doubt and resolution begin to waver in this onslaught of facts and reason. He was starting to understand just why the Vulcans detested these people. At least the Vulcans knew being right was its own reward, whereas the Betazoid, being openly emotional, reveled in it. All the logic, none of the manners...and through it all that smug, self-righteous smirking satisfaction at always being right...

But then, it was easy to always be right when you already knew what people were thinking.

T'Pol had considered the offer of the treatment for half a day before finally accepting. Usually, such a decision would be mulled over for less time, a single hour of meditation would generally suffice. This time, however...

It frightened her. She disliked admitting to such an emotional response, but it was the truth. The thought of shutting down all emotional barriers, to truly let loose everything she had spend a lifetime to master...it was most disconcerting. Not least considering the two times her emotions had been allowed free reign had been so disturbing. Her Trellium-D poisoning aboard the Seleya, for one, in which her paranoia and resentments had been given total freedom for a brief time. Or her infection that had caused a faux-Pon Farr that had almost shamed her before the entire crew of the Enterprise, not to mention how she had apparently been caught heading towards Engineering. More than four males in her vicinity in such a far gone state, and none of them had been interesting enough.

The fact that she had somehow known he was there at the time was something she still wondered why she had missed. In hindsight it was a blatant sign of a mating bond slowly being formed. Her later actions had only solidified it.

...or had she known? Subconsciously? Perhaps. Matters of emotions were murky and indecipherable, irrational and disturbing.

Which, with a little luck, would be less so following this experiment of doctor Castor. Frightening though it was, the thought of being able to truly know what her subconscious was keeping from her was very enticing.

Almost agreeable.

As long as Trip doesn't know.


Sol, Earth. Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco Bay.

"All rise." The admiral's aide raised his hand to his mouth and blew the antiquated high-pitched whistle as Fleet Admiral Vicente entered through the office door. The assembled admiralty rose dutifully, murmuring greetings, and then seated themselves along with their immediate superior.

Vicente, a huge, West-African man with an accent brought on from years at Oxford, gave them all a brief, humorless smile and then brought out a padd from the stack at his seat. "Right. Now that's over with, let's get down to business."

A few scattered chuckles were heard at this, the fleet admiral was never one for overly long formalities or socializing. Admiral Wycomb opened.

"First things first, the Romulan front. A UEC freighter convoy was struck by a carrier group day before yesterday, four ships destroyed, two managed to get away. All in all, ninety-seven civilian crew and officers lost. The Nimitz reports harrying a group of Birds-of-Prey in the Taring system, two confirmed kills and only three crew member casualties on our side."

Grim smiles spread at this news. The Nimitz was an old-school Intrepid-class, if an old clunker like that had survived an ambush and taken out two gunships on its own that meant the new shields were more than worth the effort installing them had brought.

"In other news, the Coridan sector officially declared their sector blockaded against all non-sanctioned traffic last week, which is a pretty sure sign the Rommies have gotten to them somehow. We suspect minor terrorist attacks have been carried out against civilian targets, hospitals, mercantile centers, residential areas, things like that. We can't confirm, since...well, they officially declared their sector blockaded against all non-sanctioned traffic, and that means us."

Vicente nodded. "So noted. Even so, that's a fairly quiet week so far. Home front?"

Admiral Lacroix cleared his throat. "Yes, ah, four items of interest. First, UEC reports that the new, ah, 'exchange officers' have worked out quite well on the, uh, 'training facilities' at Lake Eerie. A full report on various suggestions given by them has been sent to the Daystrom Institute and Emory Industrial via the usual way. We expect to see a full review next week. In the meantime the general recommendation is that the 'exchange officers' be drafted into Starfleet after being sent through a brief citizenship program."

He looked at the bullet points again. "Second, we have another petition from the Tellarite Commerce Authority to grant them lone trading rights with new human colonies, which is the dumbest thing I ever heard. Granted, the secondary petition sent along with it, ah, has a few interesting points we perhaps should peruse privately later."

This was code for 'your eyes only', and several of the admiralty assembled peered at their padds and made notes.

Lacroix almost sighed. The cloak and dagger routine was really going too far. Even here, at the heart of Starfleet they spoke in code and riddles and subtleties, for fear that the Romulans were hiding in the potted plants. Then he picked up a small device, activated it, and put the padd down. "Right. Now that's over with, item three point one on the list. If you'll break your personal code keys and insert them into the randomizers?"

There was the sound of several small plastic sheaths being cracked, insertion of encryption code keys and then manual flipping of switches on the clunky-looking security consoles. He waited calmly until all were done.

"Right. Item three point one is a holographic image taken by a security camera on Sandhurst Street on Nova Belarus on the colony Haven. The camera was mostly melted to slag in the nuclear detonation that followed three hours later, but a single footage sequence was recovered. Let me warn you that even for seasoned pros like us, the imagery is...gruesome."

He wasn't being overly sensitive, either. Even Vicente grimaced at the jerky stop-motion sequence in the viewer, as more than a dozen armed, battlesuited aliens arrived on old-fashioned gravity boots, and proceeded to systematically butcher the small population of the colony.

"If I may, you'll note that the Romulans arrived solely to personally kill the local colonists, and it appears the nuclear blast that followed was merely done to wipe out any possible evidence of their physical presence there. Analysts suggest the massacre was performed due to the scattershot structure of the town's infrastructure, a nuke or two probably wouldn't have killed everyone fast enough for comfort...so they came down in person to make sure they got even the children and livestock."

He pointed his little pointer at the image, a red dot appearing on every other admiral's screen in response. "Note the obvious command structure. The Romulans appear to consist of two clearly delineated groups, several large, armored, bare-faced sentients in black body armor who carry out most of the actual killing, and the smaller commanding officers who wear face-concealing helmets. Fl-Int suggests this may be gender dichotomy of some sort, one gender being the commanding one, the other being the brute force. Another theory is that the bigger ones are not Romulans but some kind of sub-species or mercenary muscle."

Admiral Black frowned. "They're ugly is what they are. Looks like a horror movie monster."

Lacroix nodded. "Current code name for these new players is Remans. Say again, Remans. They will be referred to in recorded files, notes and media as Orloks, Schrecks or Kinskis. Interchangeable at whim."

Black chuckled. "Romulans and Remans. All very Roman."

"Well, Fl-Int suggests the Romulans have a much different name for themselves, something something raptor wings or some such pretentious drivel. Much predatory symbolism in their culture. But other than that, their society is very close to something akin to the Roman Empire during the post-Republic days. More cut-throat, though."

There were a few odd looks at this. Most admirals had no clue what a Romulan even looked like, seeing as Section 31 and the commander-in-chief had all agreed to deep classify the true appearance of the enemy until such a time as the reveal could be done without permanently harming the already weakened Coalition. Fortunately, only about ten Starfleet officers and United Earth politicians knew in the first place. Which meant whenever he deliberately let slip little details like these, well...

"Moving on to three point two; the Vulcan purge of undesirable elements have yielded a total of three hundred non-Vulcan spies scattered in government and administration, from janitors up to actual high council aides. Four were placed deep within the Science Review Board merely to discount theories of various kinds. I believe the Daystrom Institute can now re-send their reports of the Enterprise files regarding time travel theories and not get it thrown back in their faces."

He refrained from mentioning just how these spies had managed to infiltrate so deeply. "And that's all for the eyes only section of this briefing, further information will be provided for those in the need-to-know."

He switched the device off and continued on the briefing point that had been playing to any listening devices while the privacy field was deployed, as if he had been spending point three on some ridiculous detailing of providing every starship with automated cooking appliances to remove the need for chefs, the protein resequencers would be far cheaper in the operational costs as well as make longer journeys viable, but...it would still be, ah, recycled matter.

Crap, that is.

"...and on to my final point, fourth on the agenda, the revision and possible alteration of current fraternization rules in light of the new five-year mission project for non-frontline vessels..."


Betazoid, Offices of Herelus Castor MD).

The treatment was simple. A hypodermic spray at the base of her neck, followed by a mild sedative that would wear off in a few minutes, giving the doctor time to distance himself. She had refrained from a straitjacket for several reasons, one being that it would only worsen the paranoia she was sure to experience.

At first it was an almost pleasurable experience. Accompanied by minor visual hallucinations of discoloration of her surroundings as neural pathways shut down, she felt herself first relax, and an almost euphoric state of mind followed.

It didn't last.

As emotions long-buried, long-controlled welled up she found herself reliving every minor grudge, every minor sense of spite, dislike, aggression. Some darker than others. Most of them were petty, selfish, foolish impulses, generally ridiculous, but others, well...some were old. None were conscious ones, as such. All were things that would appear and vanish as quick as a...a thought.

...I killed him. I am tainted. His blood is on my hands. They have to help me, I cannot function, I am shamed, tainted, I cannot...

...how can he cavort with that imbecilic creature, she's merely using him for personal gratification...

...if the Captain doesn't stop rambling about gazelles soon I'll bludgeon him to death with his own appendages...

...for someone specializing in xenobiology for security purposes, the lieutenant seems entirely unaware of Vulcan hearing. If he mentions my gluteus maximus again, I'll...

...how dare he look at her that way...

...they're always whispering, gossiping, I hear them all and I wish they'd stop...

...I can smell him. He is in Engineering. He is Mine. If they would just get out of my way...

...she touched him. She touched him. I will kill her. No, I will make her wish she was dead...

...is he saying...

...in the showers, my hands around his throat, squeezing...

It is not to be. I am unstable. Our bond is a liability to us both. He is alien, I am...

...emotional.

Elizabeth.

She convulsed, then emptied the contents of her stomach onto the floor. Nausea was roiling through her like a Fire Plains storm, emotions overwhelming her conscious control, though she desperately attempted to regain it in some way. This was not...something had to be wrong. The doctor had not told her of this.

kill

kill

run

kill

run

kill

The door opened, and a shape entered. Her focus returned, and her eyes narrowed. Prey. No, an obstacle. The door was open, and...

Her nostrils flared as a familiar scent entered her world. It was Him. No. No, no, no, no, no. He had to get away, she was dangerous, she would...the fool, she had to teach him a lesson, teach him not to treat her like a porcelain doll, teach him to-

His hands were cool against her skin, and without thought she leaned into them. All impulses to kill, to commit violence faded. His fingers in her hair were soft, yet callused, rough, yet smooth. His skin so much gentler to the touch than those of home.

"Easy, now...easy...there you are. Come on, focus on my voice. Focus on my thoughts. Can you hear them? Can you-"

-hear me?-

-...yyyeeessss...-

-Whoa. That's a new one. Wow. You weren't kidding when you said Vulcan emotions could be intense.-

-...ssshhuuut uuuuppp...-

"Whoa!"

-Easy, don't...hey, hey, no grabbing. That's not what...get your hands out of my pants, darling, and focus. No, not on that. That's for later. Focus. Focus. Listen to my thoughts. Give me yours.

His insistence was beginning to bother her. What was wrong with mating? Why didn't he want to?

...who was Tiels'a?

...and she was inside him, inside his mind, and he was in hers, and it was nothing like the other times, not the selfish, petty child of Tolaris, not the arrogant cool aloofness of T'Pau, just warmth and comfort and deep, deep...

...oh.

She opened her eyes. "...you do care for me."

Trip gave her a lopsided, sad little smile. "'Course I do. I've been trying to tell you that the whole time."

She continued to stare into those pale, un-Vulcan eyes for what felt like forever, and then...

She frowned. "Why are you here?"

He had the courtesy to blush. "Ah, yeah, about that..."

"You lied."

The doctor had the good grace to look embarrassed. Not very much so, though. "Yes. I apologize."

"Why?" She was composing herself. For some odd reason it was easy to do so, even though she should be rampaging through the offices even now.

Doctor Castor sighed. "Because it was the last barrier to overcome. Your fear of hurting your bondmate, that is. Throughout the treatment one thing has appeared over and over from you, thoughts broadcast outwardly that scream of a petrifying fear of brutalizing him, even killing him. I dare say the reason you never truly allowed him to get close again was because deep down you feared a repeat of your experience with Trellium-D somehow, that your control would falter and that you would hurt him."

She blinked, but didn't say anything. She merely turned her glare over to Trip, who rubbed the back of his neck and looked appropriately contrite.

"...yeah. What he said. Look, uh, I know you, T'Pol. Not all of you, not yet, though I'd sure like to. But I do know one thing for sure; you hate violence and hurting others. And I also know that...well, let's just say I doubt you'd really hurt me."

She stared at him, then turned her eyes downwards. "...you can't know that."

She said it quietly, almost too quietly for a human to hear, but even so he was right next to her in a heartbeat, turning her face up to meet his eyes. "Yeah. I can."

He turned to look at Castor, who nodded and left the room, giving them privacy. She raised an eyebrow at this.

"He might be able to read our minds, but I still want the semblance of privacy for this. Look, T'Pol. We're...messed up. Both of us. I have things I can't tell you, you have things you won't tell me, you're afraid you'll, I dunno, from the dreams you sent me I kinda think you thought you'd turn into a zombie T'Pol who'd eat my brains or something-"

She frowned faintly in disgust at this simile, but he continued unabated.

"-and I was holding back because I thought you didn't really love me back." He sighed. "It's all really..."

She raised the other brow. "...'messed up'?"

"...yeah."

There was the faintest twitch to the corner of her mouth. "Agreed."

Part of Tripwas so nervous he felt like he was sixteen and standing at the front door of his prom date again, adjusting his bad tux and rehearsing what to say. The other part of him was...exuberant, as Phlox would've put it. He couldn't grin as widely as the Denobulan, but he sure wanted to. But instead he took a deep breath and said something he'd wanted to say for years.

"Remember when I told you the bond wasn't that big a deal?"

"Yes."

"Well, what I meant was that the bond itself didn't really matter, because I was already in love with you."

She blinked. There was a faint hint of olive to her cheeks, but other than that he might as well have told her the weather outside was pleasant. Through the link, however, the bond that had been sporadic and odd and painful...

He sat down, heavily, on the chair the doctor had vacated. "Whoa. You...okay, ow. Settle down a bit."

She inclined her head faintly, and he could feel the torrent of emotion abate slightly. "My apologies. It seems the bond in its repaired state is...somewhat too overwhelming for a human."

He grimaced. "It's not totally fixed yet. The doc told me that we'll have to work on it ourselves from now on, but that it won't get any worse. And if, after all, for whatever reason, we decide to sever it..."

Her slightly deepened frown told him everything about how she felt about that idea even before the wave of disapproval that slipped through the bond, and he continued undeterred. "...if, I said if, you never know what might happen, if that comes to pass it can be done without killing either of us, or causing any great injury. He put in this thinly veiled comment about how Vulcans ought to learn that last trick from them. Personally I kind of agree with you guys. It wouldn't be worth it."

She inclined her head, though she obviously still found the idea of severing the bond to be...distasteful. To say the least. "I see. So..."

He nodded, finishing her unspoken sentence. "...where does that leave us?"

"Yes."

He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly. "I dunno. I'm just happy you're not gonna turn into a walking broccoli because of my screw-up."

"...broccoli is a vegetable." There was a hint of confusion to her statement.

"I know."

"I am not a vegetable." Oh, that was a downright blatant hint of disapproval and faint sense of indignation.

He grinned. "Nope. Though you'd be the prettiest one if you were. You're already green, see."

She glared at him. "I don't find-"

"Relax, T'Pol. It was a joke. See, vegetative state, vegetable, it's an old Earth simile."

"I see. You were mocking me." Her face was becoming a bland mask of Vulcan-ness again, and he wanted to grab her up and kiss her. Only...

"...only a little bit. Mostly I'm happy you're you again. Oh, and I think you might need to brush your teeth."

Her cheeks colored a deep green as she seemed to only now remember that she had thrown up not too long ago, and she rushed out of the room without a single word.

Trip leaned back in the seat and grinned. Yep. This was going to be a lot of fun.

Again.


"...Jesus. Jesus, oh God, I never..."

"What is it?" Crewman Pauling poked his head up the Jeffries tube. "You sound like-"

Crewman Farrell shoved past him and rushed to the nearest waste basket, vomiting noisily. Pauling frowned, then went to look for himself just what was so bad. And found the remains of what had once been Kelly Danvers, neatly folded in half and shoved inside the tube. He paled, and backed up a step before slamming the comms on the wall.

"Bridge here."

He thanked the heavens it was Nessler on the other end. Any other voice would have been wrong right now. "We – we found Kelly. She's dead. I...I think she's been murdered."

There was no response, only silence for half a heartbeat, then suddenly the Intruder Alert klaxons went off, and bulkheads and doors began to close. Inside the tube, the hatch behind the body closed.

The shadow behind it crawled back into the depths of the ship, having finished here.

For now.