S’oren left the small cabin which had been her home during the trek from Earth to the edge of the Neutral Zone. She walked to the bridge running a hand along the smooth seamless wall of the passage. Second doubts had formed the topography of her inner landscape. But that was her secret.
Did her grandfather ever doubt? Or was he one of those rare people that could charge fearlessly into the breach without a care for his own ass? Was the Kirk blood in her so diluted that she no longer possessed that inbred recklessness so many people assumed she had to have? Or did she have that core of grit and only needed to be tested?
For certain she would be tested in the coming months. Pass and she would be returned to her life within the confines of the Federation. Failure would equal death. That was the cold cold truth of it. Life or death. Why had she agreed to do this? It was insane.
The doors slid open revealing the bridge with all of its lights, sounds and the click and churn of well-trained officers going about their individual tasks making the whole perform better than a sum of its parts. Spock stood with his back to the door and his hands clasped behind him looking out of the view screen at the large expanse of universe in front of them.
Pavel Chekov sat in the captain’s chair of the U.S.S. Maori looking at the same black carpet filled with white stars that held Spock’s attention.
“The Neutral Zone,” Spock said without turning to look at her.
Chekov tilted his head around to look at her. “We have reached the objective location,” he said. “There are no Romulan patrol ships on our sensors. The sooner we are away from this area, the better chance we stand of remaining undetected. When you are ready, we are go for insertion.”
She stood next to Spock. Her body tall and her neck long. Taller than most human women – shorter than most Vulcan women. She assumed a standing position that mimicked his. “I’m ready.” Confidence she didn’t feel came through her words. This was the Kirk in her. Maybe that was the secret of her grandfather. People followed him into the breach willingly and repeatedly. What he did – crazy, foolish, wild, or reckless – he did it boldly.
“Mr. Mulvey?” Chekov asked turning his gaze to the tactical officer.
Mulvey’s fingers tapped across the console in front of him before he nodded. “All systems are nominal,” Mulvey said. “The target coordinates are laid in and the torpedo is go on your mark sir.”
Chekov nodded and rose. “Mr. Mulvey. Dr. Elbrun. You’re with us.”
The Betazoid doctor rose from her chair and followed them onto the turbo lift. Few people that knew of her mission. Chekov, Dr. Elbrun and Lieutenant Mulvey knew the basics out of necessity. The basics being she was a Starfleet Intelligence officer being inserted into the Neutral Zone. But of them only Spock and Captain Uhura of Starfleet Intelligence knew all of the details. Chekov might have been like family, but he wasn’t on the list of people that needed to know the details. Truthfully, S’oren suspected that not even she had full knowledge of the mission. She was a small cog. The Federation was a big machine.
In the turbo lift, they split into two groups. Chekov and Mulvey continued to the weapons bay while S’oren was accompanied to sickbay by Spock and Dr. Elbrun.
Dr. Elbrun led her to an examination bed where two medical assistants had laid out the web of sensors which would be attached to her skin. Without being asked to, she stripped down to her skin and let the team do their job. Dr. Elbrun ran the beeping and blinking tricorder in a pattern around her bare skin as the sensors were pressed into place.
“And?” Spock asked.
“Everything checks out fine,” Dr. Elbrun said. “You’re medically sound and fit to perform your mission.”
S’oren had a mental hiccup of fear and worried the doctor had sensed it. One of the assistants held open the body of the black jumpsuit which made up the base layer of protection she required during her voyage into the Neutral Zone. She slipped her feet in one at a time then stood allowing the assistant to pull the garment up her body.
“Admiral,” Dr. Elbrun said. “How long do you need to perform the meld?”
“A few moments,” Spock said. “The ensign and I have melded before.”
“Then you can spare the ensign and I a few moments to speak in private,” Dr. Elbrun said.
“Is there something wrong?” Spock asked without concern.
“No,” Dr. Elbrun said. “I only wish to speak to my patient privately.”
“I’m good,” S’oren said. “Really. I’m just fine. You just said I was medically sound and fit to perform my mission.” With a slight push of pressure on a sensor imbedded in the fabric of her sleeve her jumpsuit molded around her body like a second skin.
“Admiral,” Dr. Elbrun said with a nod of dismissal. “Just a few moments please.”
“Time is of the essence doctor,” Spock said. “Please be brief.” He left the medical bay taking the assistants with him.
“I’m fine,” she told Dr. Elbrun. Betazoids. Nothing but trouble. She moved her arms and stretched her limbs until the skin of the black jumpsuit she wore melted seamlessly against her body.
Dr. Elbrun nodded. “You are physically and mentally fit. You have a healthy amount of fear and apprehension locked up tight behind your Vulcan reserve.”
“Who is Surak and what is it you want so badly to tell him?” Dr. Elbrun asked.
S’oren sighed. “That is really nothing. I don’t know why I thought of him and honestly I don’t appreciate the intrusion into my inner thoughts.”
“I don’t think it’s nothing. I’ve read your personnel file. I know who Surak is. I was just being polite asking. As for intruding on your inner thoughts, I have to practically block them from bombarding me. You are far less easy than you would like anyone to believe about going on this mission. Now. How about a bit of honesty. Is there an issue with Surak that should be resolved before I clear you to go on this mission? Because I will, despite the assuredly overreaching consequences, flag you as unfit. I don’t know what your role is, but I know that Starfleet Intelligence would rather back off and regroup rather than send in an agent that could comprise a whole lot of other agents already in play. So… Surak?”
“Fine. Surak is my husband. Sort of. In that Vulcan way of doing things he’s my husband. The funny thing is, I haven’t thought of him for…” she paused and thought. “A very long time. But for some reason he popped into my head not long ago and I haven’t been able to get him out.”
“You’re betrothed to him,” Dr. Elbrun said.
“I am,” she said. “I guess.”
“Do you want to speak to him? Send him a message? You might be surprised at how effective saying goodbye might be.”
“I…” S’oren shrugged. “I don’t know anything about him. He’s a stranger to me. What could I possibly have to say?”
“Goodbye? Don’t wait for me? Wish me luck?”
“He’s Vulcan,” S’oren said. “They don’t believe in luck.”
“He’s also part Betazoid,” Dr. Elbrun said. “His father.”
“How do you know that?”
“Your file,” Dr. Elbrun said. “Would you like to contact him?”
“Yes,” she said. She did have something to say to Surak.
Dr. Elbrun led her to an office. “You’ll have privacy here.”
“I really don’t think I have time for this,” she said.
“You’re about to risk life and limb for Starfleet. The least they can do is let you make contact with your betrothed. Just don’t take too long.”
“I have no idea where to find him. The Federation is a vast place.”
“Start at home. Work your way out. You can’t spend hours tracking him down, but you can give it a few minutes.”
She sat at Dr. Elbrun’s desk as the doctor activated her comm. “Open a channel to Vulcan,” she told the communications officer. “Priority Theta.” Medical emergency. S’oren was an intelligence officer, but she was trained in communications. A theta message would slip seamlessly past the usual checks. Sneaky.
“Go ahead doctor,” the communications officer responded.
Dr. Elbrun left her alone.
The screen flickered and a uniformed Vulcan communications officer appeared. “I urgently need to contact a Vulcan by the name of Surak,” she said. “He’s from Tat’sahr province.”
The Vulcan stared at her for a moment then responded. “There are three thousand two hundred and seven Surak’s registered as residing in Tat’sahr province. Please be more specific.”
“He’s a half Vulcan half Betazoid lyre player and his mother is T’Pol…”
“I am connecting you,” the Vulcan said. The screen switched to a Vulcan IDIC symbol and she waited. The temptation to cut the communication almost overcame her, but then the screen switched and before her sat a man lit only by the light from the screen shirtless with tousled black hair and the shadow of a beard on his cheeks.
“Yes,” he said groggily. “I’m Surak.”
He looked distinctly un-Vulcan – she’d never seen a Vulcan that could be described as disheveled before. The solid black irises were familiar. She’d found the man she was looking for.
“Oh,” she said. “I’m so sorry. Were you sleeping?”
“As it is the middle of the night,” he said. “Yes. I was sleeping. Who are you and why are you contacting me with a medical emergency from Starfleet? Do you by any chance have me confused with Surak the virologist of the Vulcan Science Academy?”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’m S’oren Marcus. Ummm… well this is rather embarrassing and I am so sorry to have caught you in the middle of the night…”
He raised a silencing hand. “Stop talking. What do you want?”
“You?” Surak’s head tipped slightly to the side as he studied her.
“Me!” She tried to smile brightly and felt rather clownish. “S’oren. You’re wife.” Nothing seemed to help remove that look on his face. “Could you say something…? Maybe…? Anything…? I’m sorry…”
“Why are you sorry? What do you want?”
“Uhhh…” The smile dropped away from her face. “Do you know who I am?”
“Of course I know who you are,” he said. “Why are you contacting me with a medical emergency in the middle of the night? You scared the hell out of me. I thought something was really wrong with someone I cared about.”
“How about you stop apologizing for waking me up and just get to the point so I can get back to sleep?”
“I’m…” She had no idea what to say to the disheveled stranger she was legally connected too and had irritated by intruding on his life. “I’m done with school. I have my first assignment.”
“I know. I was going to come to your Starfleet graduation, and then I was told you had already accepted your first assignment and wouldn’t be going through with the ceremony.”
“You were going to come to my graduation?”
“You’re done with Starfleet. Your mother is finally prepared to let you go. It was time for us to move into our life together. It would have been a good moment for us to begin to make plans for the future.”
“Just like that.” She snapped her fingers. “My mother is finally prepared to let me go. My mother let me go the second I was separated from her body. You really don’t know anything about me do you?” She knew she sounded crazy and in a way just wanted him to end the transmission so she didn’t have to continue on with the awkward conversation.
“S’oren,” he said running that hand through his hair again. What kind of Vulcan looked disheveled? “It’s the middle of the night. I had a concert last night at the Trill embassy which went much later than I would have liked it to. I’m exhausted and quite honestly a little shocked to be getting woken up by a medical emergency that isn’t actually a medical emergency…” he paused and stared at her. “You’re not unwell or dying right?”
“No. I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Good. How about you tell me what it is you are contacting me about?”
“I’m going on a mission,” she said. “I may not be back for a very long time. I just wanted to tell you that I don’t expect you to wait for me.”
“Are you calling for kal-if-fee?” he asked raising an eyebrow.
“No!” She practically shouted. “No, no, no. Even if I was, I assure you there is no one that would want to fight you for me. I’m just telling you that I’m going to be gone for a long time and that I don’t expect you to wait around for me.”
“Are you asking me to release you from our bond?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “I’m telling you that I’d understand if you wanted to be released. I’m going to be gone. I don’t know when or even if I’m going to come back. You don’t have to wait around for me and you don’t have to feel guilty about moving on.” What did she really want from the black eyed man that lived on the periphery of her life? Probably more than she’d ever get from him. She wanted him to beg her not to go. To make an impassioned plea to fly to him at warp speed. Or something like that. S’oren had never been on the receiving end of a big romantic gesture. She kind of wanted to be just once. But that didn’t look like it was going to happen.
“You’re frightened,” he said. “You’re worried you won’t be able to perform your mission if you leave any loose ends untied.”
“What makes you say that? I’m not frightened.”
“You’re frightened,” he said. “It’s so very obvious to me.”
“Because you’re half-Betazoid?”
“Yes. Partially. More than that. We have a bond. I can sense how afraid you are. What is happening really? You didn’t contact me to tell me to get on with my life without you. You want something from me that you truly think only I can give you. What is it?”
“I don’t want anything from you.” He gave her the answer she needed more than the one she wanted. “I just don’t think it’s very fair to make you wait. You know it’s hard to be kept waiting. What’s even worse is to be kept waiting and not know if the person you’re waiting for is ever planning on showing up.” S’oren didn’t know who had control of her mouth, but she just wanted whomever it was to stop making her sound like an idiot.
“Honesty is very important in relationships S’oren. I’d rather we didn’t start out with you lying to me. I can tell you’re frightened. It’s in your eyes and in your voice. You contacted me for a reason. You know it is right for you to turn to me. Tell me what’s the matter S’oren, and I’ll do whatever I can to fix it.”
“My fear is well controlled,” she said. The conversation wasn’t going how she’d anticipated it would. Not that she’d had many expectations. “This is all happening very suddenly. I just wanted you to know that I would be gone and I might not come back. You deserved to hear it from me and not my mother.”
“You’re lying to me. I can tell. You’re not very Vulcan are you?” He smiled ever so slightly which took S’oren aback.
“Neither are you,” she said. “Vulcan’s don’t smile.”
“I think you have a great deal to learn about Vulcan’s,” he said. “You’ve spent your life with humans and you have a lot of human misconceptions. I think you are in for a surprise or two for what life with me is going to be like. Keep in mind, I’m like you. I’m not exactly Vulcan. I’m also Betazoid and that part of me if telling me that you are afraid and you don’t want to do whatever it is they are telling you to do. You want me to tell you not to do what you’re about to do. You want to know that if you refuse that I’ll support you.”
“I don’t think I want to do this,” she said. “The mission they’re sending me on. I’m frightened. You’re right. I’m very frightened and I just don’t know if I can do it. I know you don’t know me, but no one really does know me. I don’t have any friends. Well I have Melinda, but she has a boyfriend. Do you have a lot of friends?”
“I have a few,” he said. “Some of them are pretty important. S’oren if you don’t want to do this thing you’re supposed to do, then don’t.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “It’s all planned. People are in place. Everything is in motion. I can’t disappoint so many people.”
“S’oren,” Surak said leaning into the screen. “You do not have to do this if you do not want to do it. Just tell your handler no. They can’t force you. Come to Vulcan. We’ll consummate our bond and then no one can ask you to leave Vulcan for at least a year. Not even Starfleet would dare challenge Vulcan marriage customs. Come and be with me S’oren. I know people. I can protect you.”
S’oren wiped at her eyes not caring if Surak witnessed such an obvious display of emotion. “I don’t want this. I just want a quiet life. I wanted to be a diplomat or a linguist, not a spy.”
A quick flash of movement across the screen caught her eye and for a moment she wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Then her eyes focused.
“Who are you?” a Trill woman who had stuck her face between a Surak and the screen asked. “And why are you contacting us in the middle of the night?”
The woman’s intrusion happened so quickly S’oren wasn’t sure what she was looking at for a brief moment. Then the truth hit her like a cudgel. Surak was attempting to move the intruding woman out of the way as he spoke in harsh and rapid words to her. S’oren tried to find her voice, but couldn’t.
“S’oren,” Surak said. “Ignore her. She’s no one. You’re what matters to me. You’re my wife and you have been in my heart since our betrothal. Whatever you need, I’ll give to you. Just tell me.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” the Trill woman demanded. “Who is she?”
“I’m nobody,” S’oren said. “I’m so sorry Surak. I won’t bother you again. Computer end transmission.”
S’oren considered putting her fist through the console, but instead channeled her anger and embarrassment into action. She was ready. She didn’t know what had come over her during her talk with Surak, but it wasn’t her. She was a highly trained member of Starfleet Intelligence and she had a mission to perform to the best of her capabilities.
With a brisk flick to her hair and a quick step, she exited the office and headed out of the medical bay with the doctor following.
“Your conversation did not go as anticipated,” Dr. Elbrun said.
“As I had no expectations, then your conclusion would erroneous,” she said.
“You’re angry,” Dr. Elbrun said.
“I would appreciate it if you would mind your own business,” she said continuing her stride unbroken.
“I’m not going to send an agent into the field that I believe is emotionally compromised and unable to keep perspective,” Dr. Elbrun said.
S’oren stopped shortly without bothering to turn to the doctor. “If you must know, it was my intention to release Surak from his bond. The conversation did not end as I hoped it might. I didn’t have to bother releasing him from his bond, as he already had replaced me with a Trill. If you must know, I am not angry so much as my ego is bruised. What woman wants to learn that not only is she not irreplaceable, but that she has already been replaced?”
“No woman wants this,” Dr. Elbrun said placing a sympathetic hand on S’oren’s shoulder. “You are very young. There will be other men. Are you certain you can go through with your mission?”
“My head is clear and I have no ties left to sever. Now if you don’t mind, I am ready to complete my mission.” She continued her march to the launch bay where the capsule that would take her into the Neutral Zone and to her rendezvous point awaited.
Spock, Chekov and Mulvey were alone in the torpedo bay when S’oren entered. Mulvey ran a tricorder over the slick black torpedo shell that looked eerily like a coffin. S’oren knew on an intellectual level that every precaution had been taken and that she would not be the first living being to be placed into a torpedo and shot on a carefully plotted trajectory through space. The facts didn’t change the feeling of absolute dread that facing the torpedo produced in her. It wouldn’t be her first time in a torpedo, but the previous journeys she’d taken had been under controlled conditions with teams of Starfleet personnel on hand ready to intervene if anything went awry.
The circumstances were not even remotely similar. She would be getting into the torpedo and would be shot on a trajectory landing her well inside the bounds of the Neutral Zone. From there a cargo ship of such little note and importance as to be invisible, but manned by a crew of intelligence operatives would pick her up like so much space debris. From there she would be taken to a Romulan outpost where she would simply blend in and move deeper into the Romulan Empire and closer to her objective.
“S’oren,” Spock said. “It is time.”
She looked up into the face of her mother’s husband and felt the twinge of regret. Spock had made more attempts at creating a bond between them than she had ever given him credit for. He had taken the time to teach her to control her emotions, to understand what it meant to be Vulcan and to find peace with who she was.
“No,” she said. “I’ve changed my mind about the meld.”
“As is your right,” Spock said. “If you believe you can perform the mission without going under deep cover, then that is your prerogative.”
“I can do it,” she said. “I need to have my wits about me.”
“Very well then.” Spock dipped his head imperceptibly. “Mr. Mulvey?”
“We are good to go Admiral,” Mulvey said. “Time to suit up.”
Mulvey and Dr. Elbrun helped her into the middle and outer suit that would add an extra level protection beyond what the habitat controls built into the torpedo would provide during the time she would spend in stasis. Her greatest fear wasn’t bouncing into a star or flicking off a comet, but rather becoming lost. Space was enormous and one little two-meter long box was a spec of sand on a beach. The engineers that had designed the capsule had informed her during the technical briefing that, under even extreme circumstances, the torpedo would protect her and keep her in suspended animation for a minimum of twenty-thousand years. That terrified her.
As the engineers extolled the virtues of the virtually impenetrable shields and the pure perfection of the life support system, the only thing S’oren had been able to imagine was waking up in some far off future having left all she knew behind thousands of years earlier. She’d rather die in a whisper than live out her life eternally sleeping. “Like Sleeping Beauty,” she whispered.
“What was that?” Dr. Elbrun asked as she adjusted the controls on S’oren’s suit.
“Nothing,” she said.
“You are like Sleeping Beauty,” Dr. Elbrun said quietly. “You are certainly very beautiful S’oren whether you realize or not. Surak will perhaps realize the error of his ways by the time you return.”
“It doesn’t really matter does it?” she asked the doctor looking into the solid black irises of her eyes.
“It does,” Dr. Elbrun said. “If nothing else, when he comes begging you to take him back, you’ll have the pleasure of telling him to take a hike.”
S’oren nearly smiled in spite of herself. Dr. Elbrun returned the small grin spoke to Spock. “We’re ready,” she said.
Mulvey handed over her bulky black helmet as Spock gave her final instructions.
“Keep to your cover,” Spock said. “This mission is not about gathering intelligence so much as it is about establishing your cover. You know the protocols. When you are ready for extraction, make contact with your handler. I will be there when you’re brought out to debrief you.”
Her helmet sealed with a sucking intake of air. Captain Chekov offered her a hand as she stepped into the padded interior of the torpedo. She laid down and just let Spock, Mulvey, Dr. Elbrun and Captain Chekov complete the final checks. Before the lid came down and her body went to sleep, Spock raised his hand with fingers spread into a V. “Live long and prosper, S’oren Marcus.”
She returned the salute then gave Mulvey thumbs up in response to his raised thumb. The lid came down. Sleep was instant and total. With a shot of propulsion, she was launched into the darkness of space.