If I'd been surprised by the Federation's willingness to grant me some freedom of movement, I was astonished by Ambassador Tilendi's ready agreement to the proposal.
"You probably will want to see something of this world," she said. "Out of simple curiosity, if for no other reason."
"I can't imagine that the authorities will let me see or do anything very interesting."
"Perhaps not. But all information is of value in some way." Unconsciously, she looked towards the side table that held her closed diary. Its interference generator, which had so efficiently prevented any of that valuable commodity from falling into the hands of our enemies, was inactive now. The device's scans had been confirmed by the Romulan embassy's technicians: the apartment was not under visual or audio surveillance.
"Understood. I'll try to be observant."
"As you always are."
Except once, when it mattered the most. But that book was closed now. "Lidiya, has there been any news?" I didn't have to elaborate on the question.
"In fact, the news is good; that is why I wanted to speak with you in person today. Fleet Intelligence has learned that Al-Diraj is scheduled to break Martian orbit at fourteen hundred hours on Thursday. That would be--let me see--two days from now, I believe. On the twenty-fourth day of the month of December. Clever timing on Starfleet's part, I must say. That day marks the beginning of a winter holiday period, so many people will be off duty."
"And the ship's destination?"
"Levana Prime, with ninety-seven percent certainty. As I've said, your hypothesis was correct."
I concentrated on keeping both my face and my stomach under control. "Then Adjuvant will intercept--"
"Just as we planned."
Just as you planned, I thought, but without bitterness. The logistics of the scheme were no longer of any importance. All that counted now was Adjuvant's success. "Then we should know the mission's outcome by--when? Friday? Saturday? This wretched Terran calendar! What other ten-fingered species would organize its temporal measurements so illogically? The system is very confusing."
"Yes, their method of timekeeping is unique. Adjuvant will be back in Romulan space by Saturday morning, local time, at the latest. Devor won't break comm silence before then, of course, and his message will have to be recoded and transmitted from the homeworld via diplomatic packet. But--" She stopped suddenly, as if she had just remembered something.
"But it is always possible that the news may reach you more quickly. Is there anything else we need to discuss just now? I must speak to Elydex about your legal representation and some other things while she is still here, and I'm due at the Romulan embassy for a staff meeting. This business with the Klingons has complicated matters, and my people need to be briefed before the Klingon ambassador arrives." She made a face. "I may not be able to see you for a few days. Ambassador K'trel will demand my undivided attention while he delivers his speeches and threats against the Federation. It's a pity that Kaslim Dro isn't around; they'd be a match for one another." We stood, and she embraced me. "But I'll stay in touch, and you can reach me at the embassy at any time."
"I'll be fine, Lidiya," I said, just as I had to Elydex.
"Call me if you need me. I wish you could be moved to the embassy. But the Federation won't let you set foot there, for then you would be on Romulan soil and out of its control." She smiled at me. "Don't worry. All will be well."
"Goodbye, Lidiya. Take care."
"Goodbye, Aerlyn. And please remember to collect the parcel that's waiting for you. It's taking up precious room in my ship's cargo bay."
* * *
In fact, I had forgotten all about the parcel. As soon as Tilendi was gone, I spoke to the transporter technician, who politely agreed to communicate with the ambassador's ship. A few minutes later, a hexagonal cargo container materialized on the apartment's transporter pad. I activated the antigravs and guided it to the middle of the living room. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, feeling absurdly like a child opening a nameday gift, I unsealed the security locks, pushed the cover aside, and nearly cried out in surprise. Someone--probably Tal--had gone to my quarters on Eidolon and removed the contents of the closet, desk, and shelves. With the exception of my weapons, all my personal effects were intact--everything from books to mementos to clothing, including dress and duty uniforms. A separate compartment held a reader and a text chip engraved with a diplomatic security code: Tilendi had apparently forwarded a message from my family, just as she'd promised.
Inside a small jewel-cache were my rank insignia and combat decorations. I lifted them out and placed them against the scarlet and black tunic of one of my dress uniforms. By rights, I was no longer entitled to display those symbols of honor; if I were at home, they would already have been taken from me. I returned the medals and ribbons carefully, regretfully, to their places in the jewel-cache, and carried it and the folded uniforms to the bedroom closet. But I had no scruples about exchanging my Starfleet-issue jumpsuit for dark red Romulan duty fatigues. On a starship you sometimes forget who you are. I was beginning to be afraid that the same thing might be true on this planet. The change of clothing would help me--and my captors--remember who I was, and where I truly belonged.
My books and memorabilia found a place on the empty shelves that flanked the fireplace. The few drawings and paintings I'd taken with me on the ship should have been mounted on the wall, but as I had no means of accomplishing that I propped them on the mantelpiece. Three framed orthochromes went to the bedside table--my parents in the garden of their house in Nedali City; my brother and sister on the beach behind my sister's villa on Acthariet Two; and Tal, Tecla, Devor, and myself, all proudly attired in our new graduates' uniforms, our arms around one another, standing in front of the white marble columns of the Space Command Academy. I didn't permit myself to dwell on the fact that these people were even now preparing to risk their honor and their lives in my behalf. All will be well ... I would have to make myself believe that that was true, or else go mad with guilt and fear.
* * *
When I had put everything away I carried the message chip and the reader to a table by the bedroom window. The snowstorm had finally stopped, and a thin ray of wintry sunlight glinted on the reader's red screen. My hand shook as I inserted the chip, which bore the elaborate seal of my father's university.
"My dearest child--" That simple salutation brought a feeling of relief so profound that I actually had to look away for a moment. I had been sure that my father wouldn't repudiate me outright, but on some deep level I had feared that he would address me by name and title, thereby expressing a desire to distance himself and our family from my actions. The endearment he'd used conveyed much more than familial affection: it told me that he was prepared to stand by me, whatever the consequences. Through the stinging blur of tears, I read his brief words:
Lidiya has assured me that you are unharmed, and that the Federation officials continue to comply with the provisions of the Altair accord. Torryn and I are doing everything we can to secure your speedy and safe return. Satheil and Darius are of course on active duty and so cannot be in touch with you directly, though they send their love, as I do. Your friend Jascha Tal has also asked to be remembered. The Senate resumes its sitting tomorrow, and I shall be there, of course. All will be well, daughter. Walk in honor.
I looked out at the ice-covered trees, their leafless branches glittering now in the cold sun, and pictured my father at home in his library. The doors and shutters would be open to the heavy, still humidity of the southern countryside; he would have disabled the room's thermal equilibrators as soon as the winter rains had stopped, and then unsealed every window to admit the warm air and birdsong of early spring. He had probably composed that carefully worded message while drinking a glass of my uncle's claret and gazing out at the silver-blue meadows that rolled down towards the river ...
Closing my eyes against the sudden longing, I drew a deep breath. Homesickness was an occupational hazard for soldiers, and I'd learned to come to terms with it. Now, surrounded by reminders of all that I'd left behind and all that I still stood to lose, I was experiencing a different kind of heartache--
Suddenly I remembered how the Terran commander Sun Tzu had argued for the bloodless defeat of an enemy: by isolating and demoralizing one's opponent, one might frustrate his plans and dissolve his alliances. Why make the Federation's job easier by permitting myself to give in to the emotions that were now threatening to undo me? A seamless façade ... I slid the message chip carefully into its holder, then snapped off the reader and headed for the bathroom to wash my face.
* * *
Now that I was once again in possession of my own toiletries, it occurred to me that I should try to improve my appearance somewhat. The judicious application of brush, comb, and cosmetics produced a satisfactory result, but something was still not quite right ... Impulsively, I began to plait and twist my hair into a chignon. When I was finished, Fleet Commander Aerlyn Tayva gazed back at me from the mirror. I gave her a brief, ironic salute: no human observer would have understood that female Romulan soldiers, following a centuries-old military tradition, bound up their long hair before going into battle.
* * *
Tilendi's aide, Legate Nanclus, appeared on the transporter pad later that afternoon. With him was an elderly Andorian woman dressed in white tunic and trousers and carrying a medic's bag.
"Good day, Commander." Nanclus's voice and face, as always, revealed nothing of what he might be thinking or feeling: a born diplomat, Tilendi had called him, and she was right. I'd known him for many years and was rather fond of him; his wife Caltha was my sister Torryn's closest friend. "I trust you are well."
"Very well, thank you, Legate."
"This is Dr. Therial, chief of exobiology at the Ottawa Civic Hospital."
"Hello, Commander," said the Andorian, tilting her antenna stalks towards me. "I've come to fit you with your intradermal locator. Are you familiar with the device?"
"Yes, though I've usually been the one supervising the fittings."
She smiled absently and motioned me to sit down next to her on the sofa. "Are you wearing a language implant, contraceptive, or datapatch now?" She calibrated her scanner and began to examine me.
"Any history of rejection or allergic reaction?"
"Nothing more than the usual nausea and vertigo, and then only from language implants."
"Good." She put the scanner away and withdrew from her bag an airhypo tipped with a bionode that enclosed a tiny wire coil. "The insertion site may sting a little. I'll leave you an analgesic cream in case you need it. Are you left- or right-handed?"
She held the airhypo against the inside of my left elbow for an instant. "There. The signal will be directed to transponders at Federation Security headquarters and the Romulan embassy, as requested. Let me know if you develop a skin irritation or any other problems." She patted my arm with a cool blue hand, nodded to Nanclus, and instructed the security desk to begin transport almost before I had time to stand up and say goodbye to her.
I looked at Nanclus. "The doctor seemed to be in a hurry."
"She's a very busy, very respected practitioner, or so I'm told. The Federation apparently wants you to have the best attention." He looked around the living room, his eyes wide. "My word, Aerlyn. This is altogether the most remarkable prison cell I've ever seen."
I laughed. "It must be, if it's enough to make you look surprised. It's good to see you again, Sel."
"And you, my dear. Caltha sends you her love."
"How is she?"
"She's well. She'll be joining me on Remus before my next rotation, and this time the children will be with her. Did you know that the twins are walking now ..." Like any proud husband and father, he was eager to talk about his wife and children, and we spent an agreeable half-hour exchanging family news and gossip and speculation about every topic except the one that was at the front of both our minds. Only when he was ready to depart did he speak to me in tones of utter seriousness, with no trace of his famous diplomacy.
"Be careful, Aerlyn. Be on your guard at all times. You can't trust these people."
"And who should know that better than I?"
"Kirk and Starfleet will pay for what they have done to you and to Romulus, never doubt it. I only hope that I will be able to have some part in exacting the payment."
I didn't want to hear talk like that; if yet another friend were to put his life at risk in the cause of vengeance against the Federation, the burden of guilt would become too heavy for me to bear. "There's no room for recklessness here, Sel. Rash judgment is what got me into this situation in the first place."
He shook his head and walked over to the window. "Don't worry. Our immediate objective is to bring you home safely and to see to it that the Senate dismisses the charges against you. We may not have an opportunity to collect the payment I spoke of for some years. But the time will come when Kirk will know firsthand the reach of Romulan justice." He stood looking down at the snow-covered grounds, bright white now in the afternoon sun. "And I promise you that his prison cell will bear no resemblance to yours."
* * *
Tilendi must have been successful in her attempt to meet with Elydex, for a steady stream of messages from both of them scrolled into my terminal that evening. As I'd predicted, Tilendi had named her nephew Venn as Elydex's co-counsel, and had arranged for him to meet with us after the holiday. Elydex acknowledged Venn's appointment and forwarded multiple copies of all boundary maps, nonaggression treaties, and letters of agreement entered into by the Empire and the Federation over the last century, along with endless case citations and extracts from learned treatises. Venn would be greeted by a mountain of work when he arrived on Earth, and he would fall on it as if it were a sumptuous meal. I breathed a heartfelt sigh of gratitude that Fate had not seen fit to make me a lawyer.
By the time the stream of messages ended, my mailbox was full. I was busy clearing it and preparing hard copies of some of the documents when the comm chimed. I answered quickly, glad for an excuse to put aside the paperwork, gladder still to see Uhura's face.
"Hello, Nyota. Were you able to get some sleep?"
"Oh, yes, eventually. Christine was out shopping with some friends yesterday, so I had the place to myself. I was just wondering whether you'd had dinner yet."
"As a matter of fact, I haven't. Would you like to come here? Or shall I go to you this time?"
She looked bemused. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, I now have a locator implant in my arm, and I've been told that I may travel where I please so long as your masters and mine approve of my destination."
"Are you serious?" She grinned at me.
"Never more so."
"Well, come on over, honey! What're you waiting for? I'll tell Chris to set the table for three."
"Give me an hour. I need to get authorization from the ambassador and from Counselor Elydex, and I may not be able to reach them immediately. Oh, and I will have to transport with a security guard. Is there a platform nearby?"
"There's a public transporter in the lobby of Chris's apartment building. I'll send you the coordinates. We'll meet you in an hour unless we hear from you, okay?"
I looked down at the duty fatigues I was wearing. "I should probably change my clothes. Some of my things have arrived, so I could make myself more presentable."
"No, come as you are. This'll be casual. I'm wearing jeans and a T-shirt."
I wasn't entirely certain what those were, and thought it impolite to ask. "All right, if you're sure."
"Sure as can be. See you in an hour."
* * *
While I waited for the travel authorizations to arrive, I opened the glass doors of the liquor cabinet and studied the labels on the bottles. The wines didn't really look like wines--instead of the rich, jewel-like blues and golds of Romulan vintages, these were a drab dark red, nearly the same shade as my fatigues, and an anemic-looking straw color. Still, Uhura had seemed reasonably impressed by them when she'd found McCoy's bottle of Scotch, so I chose one of each color to take with me. Perhaps I wouldn't have to drink them; with any luck, she might still have some of that Kenyan ale.
* * *
Little more than an hour later, I stood in Christine Chapel's kitchen, obediently drawing a wooden spoon through a simmering pot of fragrant red sauce called napolitano, which Chapel assured me was intended to be poured over a wide, shallow bowl of boiled linguini. I was willing to take her method and her ingredients on faith, for the aroma of the sauce was beginning to make my mouth water. I'd already overcome my aversion to the wine I'd procured from my own liquor cabinet; as soon as it was decanted its bouquet had proclaimed its character and desirability.
At first I had been slightly uneasy about dining with Chapel. Although Uhura was a known quantity--as was McCoy, to a certain extent--I'd had no experience of socializing with other Starfleet officers, or indeed with other humans. But Chapel had welcomed me to her home with courtesy, inquiring kindly after my health, and though her manner was somewhat reserved she seemed to be comfortable in my presence.
As might have been expected, the talk turned eventually from the usual generalities of food and wine and weather to an analysis of the possible outcomes of the inquiry into the Enterprise incident. Uhura, careful as always not to use my name when anyone else was present, questioned me tactfully about my perspective on events, and I replied equally cautiously. I was sure that both women were consciously refraining from treading on any delicate political ground. Grateful for their discretion, I tried to follow suit.
Soon after we had finished our coffee I began preparing to leave, not wishing to overstay my welcome. It seemed to me that, all in all, the evening had been a successful one. Chapel must have felt the same, for as we stood waiting for the security guards to escort me to the lobby she asked suddenly: "Commander, are you busy this coming Friday?"
"Why, no, Lieutenant. But isn't Friday a holiday for you?" I turned to Uhura. "Didn't you say you were meeting your sister at Guernsey Spaceport?"
Uhura nodded. "But her connections have been changed, so now I won't be seeing her until the twenty-sixth. And Christine's brother can't make it home this year, so we thought we'd organize an impromptu Christmas party. Just the three of us, if you're free. And if you'd like to come."
My expression must have appeared ambiguous to them, for Uhura touched my hand. "It's okay, really. We just thought we'd ask."
"No, please don't misunderstand. I was just ... surprised. Your invitation is most kind, and I accept with thanks. What may I bring?"
Chapel smiled. "Well, if you have any more of that Amarone--"
"Amarone--oh, the red wine! Yes, of course, there are at least three more bottles of it. It will be my pleasure."
"And, Commander," said Uhura, "for this party we thought we'd dress up a bit. If you need to borrow anything--"
I thought of the clothes I'd unpacked. "Thank you, Lieutenant, but I believe I have something appropriate to wear."
"See you at eight o'clock on Friday, then, okay?"
The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them: "Okay. See you."
Uhura's response was perfect: first the startled surprise of one confronted with total incongruity, then uninhibited, delighted laughter. She answered in colloquial Romulan, using the popular catchphrase of greeting and parting as if we were the oldest of friends: "Jolan tru, Khisan! See you!"
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© 1996, 1999 Kathleen Dailey. All rights reserved.