DISCLAIMER: The Star Trek characters are the property of Paramount Studios, Inc. The story contents are the creation and property of Kiristen ke Alaya and is copyright (c) 1999 by Kiristeen ke Alaya.. And although I should have done this sooner, I would like to give credit where credit is due. Sonni Cooper wrote the pro-novel 'Black Fire', from which I shamelessly borrow Spock's assumed identity for their undercover operation. I borrowed Uhura's identity from my mother who used that as her belly dancing name as a pun on both the spelling of her own name, and the word naughty. We all know where Bones comes from of course. Jessalyn Chapel is the creation of Cheree Cargill. This story is Rated R.



Stolen Treasures

Kiristeen ke Alaya



Prologue

Captain Kirk watched Starbase 22 grow larger on the view screen, as the Enterprise approached. He still had mixed feelings about their mission in sector 568. While the overall mission had been a success and Starfleet Command was ecstatic with the outcome, he had some trepidation about the Onwheyon. Admittedly he could be biased because of what Spock and Dr. Chapel had gone through due to the machinations of the Onwheyon Commanding Officer.

By the time that matter had been settled, the Universal Translators from both sides finally managed to better translate each language and further communication errors had been avoided. They'd spent the better part of two months in further in-depth studies of the Onwheyon, before he sent in a report.

Starfleet Command had responded to his report of first contact enthusiastically, sending an official invitation for an exchange of ambassadors. The Onwheyon had answered just as eagerly, electing to send a contingent to the Federation on board the Enterprise instead of sending their own ship.

He hadn't been happy with Command when they'd agreed to the proposal and pulled the Enterprise out of that sector to ferry them back. He hated transport duty. He was relieved that it was finally over, as an Ambassadorial ship would be taking the guests on from Starbase 22. He did have to admit, that despite his unease with his passengers, the trip had been uneventful, until they'd discovered a nearly microscopic Quantum Singularity.

They 'discovered' it, by dint of skimming the edge of its gravity well, which had played havoc with onboard systems as well as their structural integrity. They'd had to hang in space for almost a week while they charted the exact course of the phenomenon, and Scotty and his team affected emergency repairs. Kirk had to chuckle at the memory of Scotty running around his beloved engineering like he had to be everywhere at once. He was beginning to think Scotty was only happy during an emergency that required his brand of specialized skills.

. To Scotty's muttered disgust, it would still be necessary to lay over at the Starbase for a few days of repair. Some of the damage had been too severe to repair outside of a ship yard. In spite of his dismay at the damage to his beloved ship, he was not adverse to spending the time needed at the Starbase. It would afford him and his crew some sorely needed shore leave.

And thinking of shore leave, Kirk couldn't help casting a quick glance at his Vulcan first officer. It had been a long time since Spock had been able to truly surprise him, to truly catch him completely unaware. He'd managed to do it this trip though.

He had known of the Christine Chapel's love for Spock for years before she became a doctor, and had silently sympathized with her for a long time. He too had been in the position of being the one who wanted someone who didn't return the affection. It was a difficult position to be in. But she'd fared better. Somewhere along the line, the object of her affection had done an about face. He'd suddenly quit running and let Dr. Chapel catch him.

After the sheer number of years he'd avoided her in anything other than a professional setting, Kirk had begun to see it as a habit much too strong to break. Vulcans were creatures of habit, and Spock's break from a habit of such long standing had surprised him more than his actual involvement with the doctor.

"The Starbase is hailing us, sir."

"On screen."

"Aye, sir."

"We are ready to tractor you into slot 3, Enterprise, and welcome."

"Thank you, Starbase," Kirk responded. "Sulu, shut down engines and allow Starbase to take over."

"Aye, sir," Sulu responded as his deft fingers flew over the board in front of him. "Starbase now has us in their tractor beam and are pulling us in."

* * *

Christine Chapel strolled along Starbase 22's main promenade. The shore leave they'd been given because of required repairs was just what she needed. The ship's stores simply didn't carry some of the luxury items that for sometime she'd wanted to get her hands on. She'd already purchased most of it and had it beamed back to her quarters.

She had only one major objective left. She had placed a call to her sister on Earth and was waiting for that call to go through. She continued window shopping as she waited, wondering just how long it was going to take. She'd place it nearly 3 hours ago and had yet to be paged. Completing a circuit of yet another offshoot of the main promenade, she saw a corner shop that drew her immediate interest. Above the entry, the name of the shop was hand written in elegant calligraphy. "Old Fashioned Formal Fashions." A long flowing gown of antique white caught her attention. She could just see herself....

"Beautiful, aren't they?"

Christine jumped. Lost in her daydream, she hadn't heard the woman approach. "Yes." She smiled dreamily. "They are."

The woman looked back to the shop window. "They're all sewn by hand, you know."

"Oh!" Christine breathed in awe. "No, I didn't know that. That's incredible!"

"Yes, I agree." She smiled. "I purchased my own gown here 10 years ago. No two are exactly alike."

Christine returned her attention back to the elegant display and sighed.

"You thinking about getting yours here?"

"How do you know I'm even getting married?" Christine asked in surprise.

"It's the look." She smiled. "So, are you?"

"No," Christine responded quietly. "It wouldn't be appropriate to the setting."

"Dr. Chapel, please go to communications console three."

Christine smiled broadly. "Gotta go. That's for me."

* * *

Spock walked out of Engineering, satisfied that the repairs were proceeding on schedule. Scotty was due for shore leave also, but had refused, citing the condition of his 'wee bairns' as his reason for staying on board. He didn't want to leave the repairs completely in strangers' hands. Maybe he'd go down to the base on the last day, if it would be possible to arrange that. Spock had assured him it was, as other crew members would be gratified to be moved up on the rotation list.

Spock understood the Chief Engineer's desire to remain on board while repairs were being affected in his department, although didn't agree with his emotional reasoning. The fact that repairs were needed on the main computer was one of the reasons he was still on board. Although he trusted the starbase personnel to effect repairs adequately, he did want to be on hand to confirm to review his station and make sure everything worked to his satisfaction. He was also still on board for a personal reason. He had placed a call to his father and was waiting for the connection to complete.

* * *

"Yes, Jessalyn, I assure you it's true." Christine laughed. She had confided her unrequited love of Spock to her sister many years ago and of her subsequent decision to move on with her life, when she'd fully acknowledged that nothing would ever happen because of it.

"But..." Jessalyn stammered. "It's been so long. What changed?"

Christine smiled again, fully understanding her sister's confusion. "Now that's a long story. I'll tell it to you sometime we're not using a fortune in credits."

"So, have the two of you set a date?"

"No." Christine shook her head. "There are certain ... conditions ... that must be met before a time can be arranged." Christine hedged. Spock didn't even know for sure when that would happen. If he'd been full Vulcan, it would have come and gone already. "But, we are 'officially' betrothed."

"Does that mean what I think it means?"

Christine started in surprise. "I didn't know you knew much about Vulcans."

Her sister shrugged. "Some. There isn't really much available in the database, but years ago when you first told me about him, I found out all I could. So, does it?"

"Yes."

* * *

Spock strode into his quarters, his work for the day was finished, and he needed to get ready to meet Christine on the starbase. He cast a fleeting glance at his computer, wondering if his father would respond before he had to leave. It used to be his normal habit to wear his uniform wherever he went, but had taken to changing when his duty shift ended shortly after bonding with Christine. It seemed to help them relax, as if making it easier to separate personal time from professional time.

"Uhura to Mr. Spock."

Spock crossed to the intercom and punched the button lightly. "Spock here."

"You have an incoming subspace message from Vulcan, coded personal." Spock could hear the question in Uhura's voice. He ignored it, though understood its source. He didn't get personal messages and he'd gotten two in the last 6 months.

"Pipe it to my quarters, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

Spock seated himself at his computer console while he waited for the message to be redirected. If, of course didn't take long.

"Incoming message," intoned the computer.

He immediately reached out and opened the connection. On the screen his father raised his hand in the traditional greeting as Spock did the same. "Live long and prosper, my son."

"Peace and long life, Father," Spock replied, lowering his hand. "I have a favor to ask about a personal matter."

Sarek's eyebrow raised and lowered just as quickly. The last time his son had asked a favor had been to ask a rather uncomfortable question, and he wondered what this would be about.

"I would request that you make the arrangements for my formal Bonding."

Sarek's brow shot back up, the question plain on his face, although he would not ask.

Spock knew immediately what his father was wondering and hastened to disabuse him of the notion. "No definitive date, I just need the appropriate requests made. I have chosen a mate, and would do this myself, but I am unable to return to Vulcan at this time."

Sarek relaxed marginally. He was gratified that his son had finally chosen for himself and that it was not part of what Spock wanted him to do.

"Christine Chapel." Spock replied, watching his father's reaction closely. He seemed to be thinking.

"Isn't she the nurse on the Enterprise when I was wounded on the journey to Babel?"

"Yes, Father. However, she is a doctor now."

"There might be some objection from T'Pau. I will, of course, do what I can."

Spock hesitated a moment before deciding it might help his father to know. "Although my choice had already been made, the Casta'afar was invoked by a different female." Spock struggled to maintain his own control, as he watched a shocked expression pass over his father's face. He'd never seen anything throw him before.

Regaining composure swiftly, Sarek answered levelly. "In that case she will not be able to object."

"I would prefer it, if that incident were only mentioned if it is necessary, since, as a human, she does not intend to hold me to the letter of the ritual anyway."

"That is ... pleasing to hear. I will not mention it unless T'Pau presents difficulties."

"I appreciate your help and your discretion in this matter."

Spock's brow rose once again in surprise. It wasn't often his father surprised him, and he done so several times during this short conversation.

Sarek ignored his son's reaction. "Your mother will be pleased. She has been ... worried about you."

"Please convey my well wishes to her."

"Certainly. Live long and prosper, my son."

Spock responded appropriately and then disconnected. Leaning back in his chair he wondered, however illogical, if parents ever truly saw their children as adults.

* * *

Christine closed the link to her sister with a sigh. It had been good to talk to her again. The last time had not been in the best of circumstances. Now it was time for the best part of the day so far. She turned, but before she could react properly she felt a cool touch against her neck and heard the hissing of a hypo spray. What the... she thought, as blackness quickly claimed her.

* * *

Spock stepped down from the transport padd and nodding to the operator strode out onto the causeway. He knew the location of La Petite Café. Before leaving the Enterprise he had looked up its location from the guides available in the ship's data banks. Yesterday, Christine had told him, rumor had it they had the best vegetable ratatatouie in the sector and had suggested it as a meeting place. It did not take long to find it.

Pausing at the front entrance, Spock scanned the interior. She had not yet arrived. He seated himself in a corner booth with a view of the entrance and prepared to wait, hoping it would be too long. Earlier, the captain had questioned him on his plans for shore leave and had laughed when Spock informed him of meeting Christine after she was finished with her shopping.

He'd offered a bet that she'd be late. Bowing to Kirk's greater expertise in regard to women, human women in particular, he had declined the bet. It was now obvious that had been a wise decision. He'd found Christine to be quite punctual. That she was late for this particular meeting he felt confirmed the captain's assessment of the effect of shopping. He would have to remember that in the future.

An Andorian waitress approached his booth. "What can I get for you today?" she requested pleasantly.

"Terran mineral water," he requested.

"Anything to eat?"

"Not at this time." Spock shook his head. "Someone will be joining me shortly. We will order then."

"Okay," she replied turning away.

He watched the flow of pedestrians in and out of the small café. It seemed to do quite a brisk amount of business. Either they were as good as had been reputed or were simply one of the better places here. The waitress returned shortly with his water and left him to his own devices afterward. Thirty minutes later, Christine had still not arrived. Irritation flared momentarily.

He rose and paid for the water, before heading for the information center. Once there, he requested that Dr. Chapel be paged. Ten minutes later she had not responded. Sighing thoughtfully he activated his wrist communicator. "Spock to Enterprise."

"Enterprise here," Uhura's voice replied.

"One to transport."

"Aye, sir."

Only moments later he felt the transport beam take him. As soon as it released him he stepped down and crossed to the transport controls. "Lieutenant., who was the last person to use the transporter?"

The young man deftly touched a few controls and finding what he sought looked back up at his XO. "You were, sir. When you transported down 45 minutes ago."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Spock turned and strode out to the Enterprise corridor. It was empty. He walked to the nearest comunit. "Spock to Dr. Chapel." He waited a few moments but received no reply. He was about to try another tactic when Uhura rounded the corner.

"Hello, Mr. Spock."

"Lieutenant," he nodded.

"Weren't you supposed to still be on the Starbase?"

"Yes," he replied evenly, none of his irritation showing. "I have been unable to locate Dr. Chapel."

"I thought you were meeting her someplace specific." Uhura stepped forward in surprise.

"She did not show up."

"That's odd." Uhura frowned. "She's not usually late."

"Indeed."

* * *

Consciousness returned slowly to Christine. She groaned softly as her eyes fluttered open. She shook her head in an attempt to clear it and immediately regretted it. The room swam alarmingly. She closed her eyes and lay absolutely still until the wave of dizziness calmed and she could open her eyes without churning an already upset stomach.

She sat slowly reaching up to hold her head with both hands. She knew it wouldn't do any good, but her head felt like it was going to float up and off her body, and it was better than doing nothing. Lowering her hands back into her lap, she carefully looked around her surroundings. She was in a cell of some sort. It was dark enough that she could barely make out the shapes around her. The only light source was dim and emanated from outside her cell.

There wasn't much inside. The small cot she was sitting on was the largest piece in the room. Next to the opening was a tiny table with a single, wooden, straight backed chair, and in the opposite corner was a bare necessity. It sat in the open. No walls secluded it from view. So much for privacy, she thought despairingly.

She stood, pushing herself up off the cot slowly and cautiously. With shallow breathing and convulsive swallowing she settled an irate stomach and took a small tentative step forward. Her legs trembled, but stayed beneath her. So far so good. Somewhat heartened by her success, she continued forward until she was inches from the opening. Standing that close, she could hear a slight buzz, and could feel the power radiating across the only apparent avenue of escape. Force field.

Making her way to the chair, she gently lowered herself into it. Just that short exploration had exhausted her minute amount of energy. Folding her head into her hands, she wondered what had been in that hypospray to have such long lasting side effects. She sat that way, unmoving, for several minutes. At long last the dizziness and nausea began to pass.

Testing her new physical equilibrium she raised her head and took another look around. "Hello?" she yelled and waited for several heartbeats. "Hello?" she yelled again, louder this time. Still she received no answer. Apparently she was alone. Something was wrong, missing, but she couldn't quite place it. Why couldn't she think clearly?

What she should do now, temporarily escaped her. Escape! That was it. She needed to find a way to escape. With the still nagging sense that something more than was obvious was very, very wrong, she rose and made her way around the small cell, exploring inch by inch in minute detail. As she explored her eyes adjusted to the gloom and she found she could see with greater detail.

The walls appeared to be metal. The paint over them was old, dingy and peeling. Whoever maintained this place, certainly didn't care to keep up the ascetics. She hoped that indifference extended to other aspects of her confinement. It would bode well for her eventual escape. She didn't know exactly what she was looking for, but figured she'd know it when she found it, so she continued her inspection.

What seemed like hours later, she was back where she started, the force field covered opening. Sighing in momentary defeat, she realized the only way out was through this entrance. When she heard a scraping sound coming out of the darkness, she snapped her head to the left, wincing as she waited for the dizziness to return. To her relieved surprise, it didn't.

She still couldn't see what had made the sound, but as she continued watching, a humanoid male stepped close enough that she could see him in the dim light. He was carrying a covered tray and stopped directly in front of her.

"Move away from the force field and sit cross legged on the cot," he snapped with a short stab of his free hand.

She obey for the moment, figuring that resistance before she knew more would be useless. As soon as she folded her legs beneath her, he reached to a spot on the wall she couldn't see. She watched the tell tale signs that the field had been deactivated. She briefly pondered if she could get up quickly enough to take the man by surprise. With a purely internal sigh, she decided that from her current position he would be all too ready for her if she made the attempt.

He never took his eyes off her as he crossed the short distance to the table and set the tray down. She wasn't sure she liked the look in his eyes. Without another word, he backed out and immediately reactivated the field.

Christine leapt of the cot as the strange man faded into the surrounding darkness. "Hey!" she called out. "What am I doing here?" He didn't answer and soon she heard the same scraping noise she had earlier. Muttering angrily to herself she stomped over to the table and the covered tray waiting there. Lifting the lid, she sat. The scent of the steaming food wafted up to tease her nostrils. Her stomach growled in response. She certainly hadn't expected this quality of food. She began eating.

She was about half way done a sudden wave of dizziness passed over her. She dropped her fork and grabbed the table edges for support. For a moment she seriously thought she was going to pass out again. Slowly, the worst of it passed and she relaxed against the back of her chair. Staring at the tantalizing food in front of her, she realized it was drugged. She couldn't finish eating it obviously. But her mind refused to rest. What were they drugging her with and why? She was locked in this cage, with no way out. What was the use of keeping her drugged?

Sighing, unable to come up with any reasonable explanation, she pushed the tray away in irritation and made her way back to the cot. She would have to sleep this off. It messed up her ability to think, and she hated that!

* * *

Spock strode into his quarters and activated his computer as soon as it was in reach. Captain Kirk had ordered him off duty for 10 hours. Since the security department on Starbase 22 had been unable to find Christine, he had been on the bridge for nearly 2 days, catching about 2 hours sleep each night

He could continue his search here, as this console had the same access as the one at his station, but he still believed he could be more effective on the Bridge, where messages between the Enterprise and the starbase could be passed more quickly. A valuable crew member was missing, and as First Officer, it was his duty to facilitate the rescue. Personal concerns were secondary to this duty, sleep being one of those 'concerns'. Spock silenced the voice inside that informed him, that contrary to what he tried to tell himself, personal concerns were indeed affecting his decisions.

"Computer, status of search regarding the two missing ships departed from Starbase 22."

"Search is still in progress. No matches have been found." He would be unable to do anything until this search was completed, so he leaned back in his chair. His hands automatically steepled in front of him as he lost himself in thought. He needed to figure out why he was so driven. He always did his best, that was a given. This time, however, it was different. The truth was, he was having difficulty sleeping. That had never happened to him before, and it ... disturbed him.

Since their betrothal bonding 6 months ago, she had been a constant presence in his mind, even moreso than when they shared only the Imzadi bond. It was something he had become accustomed to with surprising ease. He couldn't sense her now. A flutter of panic interfered with his train of thought. He suppressed it. She wasn't dead. He would have known that instantly. Where there was life, there were options. The only conclusion he could come to was that she had been drugged, and that state of circumstances was being continued. Why? That was one of many things he could find no answers for, so he tucked it away for consideration at a later time.

Eight ships had left the Starbase between the time he'd last seen her and the security search had failed to find her. Four of those ships had been Starfleet vessels, all of which had been hailed. They had instituted their own searches and she had proven not to be aboard any of them. Of course, he had not considered them to be of paramount importance, as she would have been aboard those willingly. Since he knew that would not be the case, he had dismissed them even before the searches had proven his belief.

Starbase personnel had searched the ships still docked and had found no trace of her there either. Which meant she had to be on one of the remaining departed ships. All four of them were civilian vessels. Two had responded immediately when hailed. They were headed for Earth and had informed them they had no unregistered passengers on board, willing or unwilling. As soon as the connection had been terminated, Captain Kirk had made arrangements with Starfleet Command to double check those ships when they reached their destination.

The remaining two ships had both left only moments after the last reported use of Christine's credit chit, which had been to call her sister on Earth. They had hailed them as well, but neither had responded. Neither were on their logged flight paths either, which triggered deep suspicions inside him. They were the logical choices to begin their search.

One was captained by a human male, the other by a Tellarite female. Neither the Enterprise nor the starbase were having any success at tracking them. They had both covered their trails well. He had already placed a call to Christine's sister, in order to determine if she had seen anything unusual during her conversation with Christine. He was still waiting for a response from her.

The Starbase personnel were still questioning everyone who saw her that day. So far they'd had no luck finding anything out of the ordinary. He had been present for some of the questioning, and the only one that stood out in his mind, was a conversation with a dark haired human woman. Mrs. Warren hadn't been able to add anything significant about Christine's disappearance, but rather had added to Spock's confusion regarding his chosen mate.

Mrs. Warren had evidently spoken with Christine during the moments before she'd been paged to receive her call, about the dresses she sold in her shop. Christine had not purchased any of them, but rather had just stood viewing them for some time through the shop's window. He could find no logical reason for her actions. When Mrs. Warren had discovered, courtesy of Commander Wilken, that Spock was the person Christine was to marry, she'd said 'so that was what she meant.'

To Spock's purely internal frustration she had refused to explain her comment, saying only that if, when, he found the young woman, and if he still wanted to more, he should talk to her about it. At the point the odd woman had leaned forward and whispered to him. "It's a time all young girls dream of at one point or another."

Realizing his thoughts had not gotten him closer to solving any of the current mysteries upending his orderly life, he rose. Suppressing an illogical urge to check on the search status once again, Spock walked over to his bed and sat down cross legged, and began his nightly meditation. He did manage a light one, but nothing deep enough to attain true calm.

Much later, he ended his meditation with the intention of finally getting some sleep. That would be a much better pursuit than chasing his thoughts in circles.

* * *

The intercom whistle sounded and Spock rose. He refused to acknowledge his relief that it prevented more time spent unsuccessfully trying to sleep.

"Spock here."

"Spock. We were just informed, the two Earth bound ships arrived and were searched. They didn't find any traces."

"Understood," Spock replied, successfully keeping the flare of disappointment out of his voice an off his face, despite the fact that he was quite alone.

"Commander Wilken, however, said they had new information. I was just planning on transporting over, I thought you..."

"I'm on my way." Spock rose knowing, belatedly, that his friend would read his interruption and abrupt disconnection, all too accurately. Thankful that he also would make no comment on it, he headed out the door. The two men met in transporter room 2. A small part of Spock's mind wondered why this, of the number of transporters on board seemed to get used the most. They stepped onto the pads silently, but Spock did notice Kirk's worried look. He attempted to alleviate some of that worry. Turning to him, he cocked on eyebrow at him, purposely keeping his expression neutral. Watching, he waited his Captain's inevitable command.

"Energize." Kirk said, turning to face the operator.

The beam deposited them on the starbase and they walked silently toward Cmdr. Wilken's office, until just before they arrived.

"We will find her," Kirk promised, not breaking his stride.

"Indeed."

Kirk heard the steel hard determination behind that one word, and suddenly realized it was true. Even if Starfleet couldn't find her, his friend would. One way or another he wouldn't quite searching until she was found. Kirk desperately hoped that by the time they did find her, she was still alive. He was beginning to suspect that this whole situation was affecting his friend on a much more profound level then any of them realized.

Spock had, of course, mind melded with him when duty asked it, and Kirk remembered how intimate that felt. Even so, he didn't think he could fully appreciate the manner in which his two officers were joined. To be always aware of another living soul within the privacy of ones mind and to know that person was as equally aware of you, was ... well, it was mind boggling.

That moment they reached the door to Cmdr. Wilken's office.

Commander Wilken bade them sit down when they joined him in his private office. When they had done so, he jumped right into the issue at hand. "Another woman has been abducted. This time it was a brunette." He sighed deeply and continued, knowing that neither of the men sitting in front of him were going to appreciate that this had been withheld. "If the pattern continues, the next will be a red head."

"Pattern?" Spock leaned forward. "This has happened before?"

"Yes," he sighed in frustration. "It has happened twice before, four years ago, and again two years ago. All the women were human."

Kirk stood, his anger propelling him to his feet. He did manage, barely, to keep his tone low and even. "And you didn't think was significant before now?"

Commander Wilken sat straighter in his chair. "No, I did not. Until the second disappearance there was no way to determine whether this was the work of the same individuals, or whether it was random. Until that was known, I saw no reason to alarm anyone."

"Have any of the women previously abducted been found?" Spock asked in a deceptively quiet voice.

Wilken returned his attention to the Vulcan. The grapevine had worked overtime since the Enterprise arrival, and he'd known within 2 hours that the Vulcan first officer was engaged to one of the ship's doctors. Despite the fact that everyone said Vulcans didn't have emotions, he still felt a deep sympathy. No matter what was said, it couldn't be easy on him. "No," he said simply.

Kirk sat abruptly. That wasn't good. Spock hadn't moved. That wasn't good either. He knew full well, there was an internal struggle going on. He was relieved when Spock spoke with quiet determination.

"I want access to all information regarding these abductions."

"Yes, certainly," Wilken agreed readily. He knew that whatever else he may or may not be, Cmdr. Spock was generally considered one of the finest minds in Starfleet. He could only be an asset to an investigation that had ground to a halt long ago.

"I will search through what information you can give me and compare it to that from the neighboring starbases."

Wilken shot him a startled look. "We hadn't thought of that."

"Really?" Spock asked drily.

He couldn't possibly have heard sarcasm, could he? Wilken shifted uncomfortably under the Vulcan's inscrutable gaze. That lifted eyebrow conveyed so little and so much at the same time.

Spock and Kirk rose simultaneously. "Thank you for seeing us," Kirk nodded, as Spock turned and left. He followed closely behind. He kept his opinions to himself. The last thing Spock needed was to hear him rant and rave about Starfleet bureaucracy.

As they walked out of the transporter room, Spock stopped a moment and turned to Kirk. "I will return to my quarters. I need to begin my research."

"Alright, Spock." Kirk sighed as Spock turned away. There was so much he wanted to say, but was sure Spock was not ready to hear it. "But, don't forget you need to sleep, also."

Spock stopped, but did not turn around. "I will not ... forget."

* * *

Christine ate slowly, reluctantly. She had tried not cooperating, but it hadn't gotten her anywhere. Her left eye was still swollen shut and her mouth was still painful where it had scabbed over from the split the guard had made with his fist, that first day when she had refused to eat.

For the last several meals, a guard had stood over her while she ate. It turned her stomach thinking about it. He always stood mere inches from her, ever ready to knock her from her chair if she so much as hinted at not finishing. It galled her to cooperate, knowing this was the way they kept her unable to fully function. She felt the extra wave of dizziness as the drugged food found its way into her system, and held her once again completely under its sway.

It never completely cleared, but just before a meal, she could almost feel like herself again. That first day, she'd almost made it long enough to clear her mind. She figured that was part of the reason she couldn't sense Spock at all. It made her feel very alone, very empty, and very very scared.

After that first horrific day, she had lost track of time. As far as she knew, she could have been her only a couple of days, or a full week. She just didn't know. Wait, the meals, that was the way to tell. She forced her tired mixed-up brain to concentrate. She'd refused the first two meals. Then that night, she'd regretted it. The beating she'd received had been terrifying. She carefully counted the forced meals, the meals of having that man hovering over her. Six? Yes, six of them. That would be 3 days? Three days since regaining consciousness, however, she had no way of knowing how long she'd been out before that.

Christine winced as she bit down wrong on her food. Unfortunately, whatever else the drug may do, it did absolutely nothing to disguise the pain she was in. Movement from behind her, startled her and her heart thudded in her throat. She forced herself to continue eating, ignoring the pain. Finally she was done.

The guard behind her reached forward for the tray, purposely brushing against her shoulder as he did so. Christine leapt up and away from him, and regretted it instantly. Her head swam and her stomach roiled. She struggled not to give in to the nausea threatening to overwhelm her. He laughed and left her there shaking. It brought back unpleasant memories.

The morning after they'd left her bruised and crying had been the first time a guard had stood watch while she ate. She didn't dare not eat then, but after the guard had left she purposely brought it back up. Their response had not been long in coming. That beating had made the first appear tame. Christine didn't know whether it was because she was already bruised, or whether it was because she'd realized the futility of resistance, or if it had actually been more severe. All she did know was that it had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and from then on she'd stopped being uncooperative.

The scraping she'd come to dread sounded from the darkness once again and she barely prevented herself from running to the relative safety of her cot. She'd be damned if she ran cowering from them! Waiting silently, she watched. It was the same man who had so recently been standing behind her. This time he was carrying an unconscious woman. From the sounds after he passed from her field of vision, he put her in the cell next to hers.

Christine watched him warily as he faded back into the darkness. She did not relax until she knew he'd left. Then allowed herself to near the force field. "Hello?" she called, hoping to waken the other woman. No answer. After trying for several minutes she gave up. She would simply have to wait until whatever they'd given her wore off a bit more.

* * *

Morning came early for Spock, and found him already bending over the computer console in his quarters. He'd put off going to bed until exhaustion forced him there. Still he had been able to shut down enough to sleep for 93 minutes. He kept trying to find new paths to follow in the ongoing search. There had to be something they were overlooking. Some small clue to give them a lead to Christine's whereabouts. No one was perfect. At every crime scene was some evidence that would eventually lead to the criminals. This one however seemed as close to perfect as was possible. Nothing had surfaced.

When he did sleep, he dreamed. He didn't do it often and these were disturbing. He always woke from them needing to meditate. He could recall nothing from them, however, and that was even more disturbing. Somehow he knew they related to Christine, and something told him there was something in them that just might give him some answers. He didn't tell anyone about them, there was nothing to tell. If he could even remember one fragment to justify his suspicions, then maybe there would be a reason to share them. As it was, his logic told him to dismiss them as unimportant. Nonetheless, it was impossible to sleep after awakening from them, so after a mere 2.54 hours of sleep, he rose and began his morning routine. The first thing he'd done this morning was use his newly granted access to the restricted material regarding the disappearances to send off requests for information to all four starbases in the adjacent sectors, regarding any cases they may have matching the modus operand of the cases here, and continue his own research. The reports Cmdr Wilken had given him, while as sparse on hard information as this new investigation was turning out to be, they were concise and to the point.

At intervals of 2 years, beginning 4 years ago, four human women would disappear, apparently without a trace. The perpetrators always followed the same pattern. Logical, Spock thought sourly. Why deviate from a successful format? First a blonde, then a brunette, followed by a red head and an ebony haired woman, all in the space of 6 days. They were always taken in the same order and this was the third time it had happened at Starbase 22.

He minutely inspected every byte of available data, searching for any clues that might have been previously missed as to who the perpetrators were and why these women were being taken. Unfortunately he still could not find the solid evidence he needed.

"Uhura to Spock."

"Spock here," he replied, actually grateful for the reason to break off his search.

"There is an incoming subspace message for you from Earth, Sir. It is coded for your eyes only."

"Pipe it down here, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir."

Spock closed his eyes briefly gathering his resources for what was sure to be an emotional interview. The only person who would be calling from Earth would be Christine's sister and he hoped that she had been informed before this of her sister's disappearance. Vulcan controls firmly in place, he activated the viewer. The woman who appeared bore a striking resemblance to Christine and was at the same time her exact opposite. Where Christine was fair, her sister was dark.

Though her eyes were blood shot and dark circles were evident beneath them, the evidence pointed to her having been informed already. While he could sympathize with her, he felt her grief was premature. He would not grieve until such time as he felt her death. "Jessalyn Chapel, I presume."

"Yes," she responded with respectable reserve. "I understand you needed to speak with me regarding my subspace call with Chris."

"Yes, while I would normally not pry about a private conversation between the two of you, that call was the last time anyone saw her. I need to know anything you can tell me that might give us a clue as to what happened."

Jessalyn closed her eyes against the tears that threatened. She opened them when she'd managed to push them aside. "There was nothing strange about the call at all. She just called to inform me of her betrothal, and we talked about 'girl things'." She didn't specify, she was sure this Vulcan would not be interested in the specifics of their conversation.

Spock's expression did not change, as he thanked her for her assistance. He reached out, intending to cut the connection, but she stopped him.

"You'll keep me informed?"

"Yes," Spock nodded. He hadn't been intending to, but decided it would not pose any difficulties to post update packets to Earth.

"Thank you." Jess paused. The threatened tears of earlier, fell now. "You'll find her, right?"

Spock wasn't quite sure how to reassure her. "I will do my best."

Jessalyn smiled then, and nodded, obviously satisfied with that answer.

Spock's brow shot up. He was startled by her swift demeanor change, and in her seeming confidence in him, someone she didn't know.

Jessalyn knew that look. Christine had described it to her often enough. She laughed. It felt good to laugh. "Christine has told me a lot about you. If you're working on this, she'll be found. I have absolutely no doubt about that. Good hunting." Jess reached out and cut the connection before Spock could finish his move to do so.

He leaned back, somewhat troubled by her rock solid confidence in him. Is that truly how Christine saw him? They had learned so much about one another since that day in the turbolift, but even absent, she continued to surprise him. His determination to find her grew. He had failed her in the past, but in this he would succeed.

* * *

The next morning both Kirk and Spock found themselves, once again, in Cmdr. Wilken's office. They now had a fresh crime scene to go over. This time, maybe they could find some answers.

"Just as we'd suspected, they took a red-haired woman. Unfortunately, they chose not to take our ringer." Wilken sighed. "Having implanted a subcutaneous transponder, we could have traced where they took her."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Spock was intrigued. "That is relatively new technology. Are you sure it would have functioned properly, in any case?"

"Yes," Wilken's replied. "It has been extensively field tested, and is 100% accurate to a distance of 2 light years. As the distance increases beyond that, its efficiency decreases proportionately. We plan on setting up two different ringers next time. Both of them will be implanted."

"For the sake of all the women," Kirk interjected. "I hope the women you select will tempt them next time."

"Yes. Spock, you've been with the security teams most of the morning, did you manage to find anything?"

"No," Spock answered shortly. "As of the time I came here, we had not found anything. I assume the team will have their findings report available as soon as they've finished."

The intercom sounded, interrupting the three men. "Wilken here."

"The Chief of Security is here with the results of this morning's search, sir."

"Send him in."

A moment later, the door to his office slid open and a large male walked in. His deep bass voice rumbled when he spoke. "I'm sorry, sir. We've discovered nothing new. It's as if these women just vanished."

"That's impossible!"

The Chief turned to regard Kirk. "I am aware of that, sir," he stated calmly. "However, we can find absolutely no evidence to support our knowledge."

The man standing over him was easily 6'6", and as such towered over him. He resisted the urge to stand. "Then obviously you've overlooked something," Kirk snapped.

"Your own First Officer was with us for most of the investigation this morning. If you think we're not doing our jobs, maybe you should talk to him first!"

Kirk's response died in his throat, Spock's touch on his arm made sure of that. The surprise at it alone, was enough.

"Captain. They are doing everything in their power to see this through."

He already regretted his angry words. Picking fights wasn't going to get this solved. He sighed and opened his mouth to apologize, but the chief spoke first.

"I understand, sir. It is always difficult to lose a crew member, especially when they are obviously a friend as well." He straightened to his full height a turned back to his commanding officer. "Everything we found about the newest victim, one Celia Hampstead, is contained in the report, sir."

"Very well," Wilken sighed. "Dismissed."

Glad to be away from all the brass, he left quickly. He still had an investigation to complete, and he couldn't do it mollycoddling anyone.

Wilken slid the data chip into the console and displayed the report for all three of them to view. It didn't take long to read. As his Chief of Security, Lt. Cmdr. Williams had said, other than personal information on the newest victim, they hadn't found anything new.

Spock studied everything. He wanted anything that might tie the women together. Was there something about them that these people wanted? Was there some common thread between them? So far all that was apparent was the fact of their humanity. All had been born of Earth and on Earth. Other than that, no one thing was common to all the women. Some of them had been married, others single, still others were about to be married.

They varied in age from 16 to 45. They were not of similar body types or blood types, nor did their race seem to be an issue, as the women had come from a variety of human races. He was at a loss to ascertain just what their criteria was for selecting these women.

The lack of evidence and the length of time they'd been successful argued for a well thought out, sophisticated operation, which in turn suggested these women were not chosen randomly, but rather were selected specifically. If he, or anyone else, could discover what that criteria was, they would all be closer to solving this mystery. He suppressed his frustration at the lack of progress. He didn't allow it to surface enough to show, but it was present nonetheless, deep below the surface, because he couldn't quite suppers the thought that he was failing her.

The door slid open behind them. "Cmdr. Wilken?"

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Starfleet Command is waiting on subspace to speak with Captain Kirk."

The three men exchanged a glance before Wilken spoke. "You can use my office."

"Thank you, Commander."

Both Wilken and Spock rose and left. As the door shut behind them Wilken turned to Spock. "How long before repairs are completed on the Enterprise?"

"If they continue on schedule, 3.45 hours."

"Not long then," Wilken murmured, almost to himself.

Spock cast an uneasy glance back at the closed door. As illogical as it seemed, Wilken's words had the sound of prophecy.

* * *

"Sir, I was hoping that as soon as the repairs had been completed, we could be assigned to this disappearance fiasco. It has been going on for four years, at least," Kirk commented.

"Permission denied. A starship is simply too important to waste on an internal matter. The personnel on Starbase 22 are responsible for handling this affair."

"Sir, This is obviously more than a simple missing person, or even a kidnapping. It is..."

"Captain, you have your orders. Tomorrow at 1100 hours, you will ship out to the Neutral Zone and once there, relieve the USS Yorktown."

"Yes, sir!" Kirk retorted, holding to the sunnyside of insubordination by only the merest thread.

After the connection ended, Kirk stormed out of Wilken's office, heartily wishing there was a door to slam. It would have been eminently satisfying. "Spock, you're with me," he announced as he whipped past the waiting men.

Spock followed, wondering just how bad the news had been. The Captain was angry about what had been said behind closed doors, and, in Spock's opinion, that did not bode well.

Wilkens watched the two men leave and shook his head. It was as he had suspected. They would not be allowed to remain. He had been asking for assistance with this for such a long time, he'd given up hope of actually getting it.

Captain Kirk remained silent until he had at least some of his temper under control. It took him half way back to the starbase transport pads, for him to calm down enough to trust his voice. "As soon as we get on board begin preparations for departure. We have been assigned to the Neutral Zone, again. The Yorktown is already there, we're her relief." He stopped just before entering the transport area. "If there is anything you need to retrieve before we leave, best get it done now."

Spock's lips tightened momentarily before he spoke. "I believe there might just be a delay in the last repairs to engineering." At Kirk's incredulous glance, he merely raised an eyebrow. It wouldn't be the first time they'd pulled something like this, and it probably would be the last.

Suddenly Kirk grinned. "Yes, I believe I can recall Scotty saying something to that affect earlier this morning. When I get back on board, I will talk to him about how long he thinks the repairs will actually take."

Spock watched long enough for Kirk's form to dematerialize, then turned back. This delay would only give them a short amount of time. He would make the most of it.

* * *

Spock woke with a gasp and lay perfectly still, slowing the too fast beating of his heart. Fragments from his dream flashed in front of his eyes. A picture of being alone in a cell, of being in pain. Someone else was there too, but he can't see them. He knew they needed help, but he couldn't help them. For some reason, he couldn't think quite clearly.

He pushed the dream images aside and sat up. He didn't need to check the chronometer to know he once again slept less than he needed to, only 2.54 hours to be precise. If his inability to sleep kept up, it was going to start affecting his work performance and that could not be allowed. He might not require as much sleep as humans and could go for long periods of sleep deprivation, but certainly not indefinitely. For the first time in his life, he considered asking Dr. McCoy for a sleep aid. This incident was pushing him to his limits and proving to him, beyond all logical ability to deny, just how deep his attachment to Christine went. The fact that his Vulcan disciplines were not sufficient to allow him to sleep the necessary amount of time, by itself was significant. He sighed and rose from his bed, maintaining a sense of normality by sticking rigidly to his normal morning routine, just as he had done every morning since being assigned to the Enterprise.

His routine rarely varied. Even when he was assigned to a non-'day' shift, it was still the same, it merely occurred at a different time of day. Now, oddly, it worked better than his disciplines at keeping his sense of calm unemotionalism.

Emerging from his bedroom, finished, he went straight to his computer console. The light indicated waiting messages. Irritation swelled a moment before he closed his eyes and once again regained control. Logically, they had been ordered not to disturb him, in case he had actually been sleeping.

He had been unable to keep his current sleep affliction from either Dr. McCoy or Captain Kirk. Sometimes it seemed as though they could see all the way down to his soul. Despite what blocks or walls he might put up, they always knew. For years they had been the only people he had ever allowed that close, now there was one more. He also suspected that for the last couple of days McCoy had been having the computer keep a closer track of his sleeping habits.

While it was Dr. McCoy's right as CMO to check up on any member of the crew he became concerned about physically or mentally, it ... ruffled his sense of privacy to know he was being monitored so closely, and it disturbed his calm once again.

He sighed. More and more often lately, he'd been having to suppress his emotions after the fact, instead of controlling them before. He knew that was not a good sign. If her disappearance was affecting him this much, he had no prior experience to know just how he would react if she... No, thinking along those lines was illogical. Those thoughts would not serve to find her. It must be a side effect of his lack of proper rest, that he was having these troubles, and irrational thoughts.

The messages contained the information he had requested from the nearest starbases. He opened the first one immediately and began studying. Forty-five minutes later, he had his pattern, although he was no closer to determining why these women were the ones taken. The only difference from one starbase to the other was the time frame. It did however set up a pattern on which order each starbase was hit in.

Illogical that, he thought. That should have been one thing they did vary. Perhaps it would be their downfall. As soon as he finished comparing the differing reports, he made one of his own and sent it off coded eyes only to the commanders on each starbase, including Cmdr. Wilken, regarding the pattern he now saw and which starbase would be next, only 6 months from now.

Normally he would be on duty in 94.6 minutes, however, the captain had come to his quarters last night to inform him that he had the next 24 hours off, in order to expedite any last measures he could take. He had been grateful for the reprieve. He was going to use this time to, once again go over the starbase in minute detail.

He seriously doubted their 'engine trouble' would gain them much time. He suspected 24 hours at best. With that in mind, he posted a message to his console that would be activated should anyone try to contact him. He needed to go to the starbase.

* * *

Three hours later, Spock had not found what he was looking for. Perhaps it simply wasn't there. Too much time had gone by for any traces to be left in any case, he reflected logically. Then wondered why that hadn't occurred to him before now.

He found himself drawn to the last spot Christine had spoken to anyone on the starbase. It was the one action she'd made that day that he did not understand and that perhaps more than anything was what kept him looking at the display. The clothing there was ascetically pleasing and obviously formalwear, but in all the functions he'd attended during his career, he'd never seen the women wear anything remotely like these dresses.

A soft sigh beside him drew his attention. He turned to see Uhura looking at the same display with soft eyes. "May I ask you a question, Lieutenant?"

"Certainly, Mr. Spock."

"To what kind of event would you wear one of these dresses?"

Uhura glanced up at him in startlement. "Haven't you ever been to a human wedding?"

"No."

"Those are wedding dresses."

"Christine and I are planning a Vulcan ceremony, why would she be interested in this type of clothing?"

"I don't understand." Uhura frowned. "What makes you think she is?"

Spock quickly explained the conversation with Mrs. Warren. His words sent Uhura back in time, back to when Christine had first come on board, shortly after she had herself. They had become friends quickly, clicking like Uhura hadn't with anyone since she'd been a teenager. It was then they'd both confided their dream weddings. Uhura's had been a romantic elopement. Christine on the other hand, had wanted it all.

They'd talked about it several times during her first year on board, but it hadn't come up since Chris had fallen for Spock. Uhura gazed a him a moment, trying to come up with a way to explain it that he might actually understand.

* * *

Christine's days, as much as she could remember of them were the same day after day. The only difference being when each new woman was brought in, and she now watched with the fear that had become part of her hourly existence as yet another woman was brought in. She was, including herself, the fourth one so far. She wondered just how many they were going to snatch.

She knew too exactly what was going to happen to this one. It was the same every time. She would do as Christine had done and the other two after her had done. Then she'd find out it wouldn't work, that she was just as trapped as the rest of them. At first Christine had tried warning them, but she couldn't quite get the idea across. It was like there was a short circuit between her brain and her mouth and she couldn't seem to get the words to come out right.

After the first time, she'd given up trying. It was simply too confusing for the others and too frustrating for her. It all ended the same anyway. They all ended up cooperating, just as she had. There really wasn't any other choice, not with such difficulty in moving and communicating. Combine that with the continued threat of renewed physical abuse, and they had a very effective too in keeping them in line.

Just yesterday, one of the guards had added a rather striking bruise along her jaw to the ones already yellowing on the rest of her face, when she'd lost the battle to keep down the now nauseating food. Whether the food had gone down in quality or they'd upped the dosage, she didn't know, but the effect was that she had to fight to keep each meal down.

She jumped when that same guard passed through the light. She hadn't heard the door this time. Her body trembled violently. She willed it to stop, but the shaking continued. She'd never been more afraid in her life. She'd faced many dangers during her tenure in Starfleet, including some rather spectacular near scrapes with death, but none of them had made her feel so out of control. She could barely move back to the cot. He always went to the newest woman first. Something tickled the back of her mind. Why? If she could just think clearly, she knew she could figure it out.

She gave up. It was a lost cause at the moment. Until she could find some way to be free of the fog, she would have to wait for her answers. She gasped. He was now standing there waiting for her to move. He had the food tray, and he wouldn't leave until he'd left it. He never talked anymore, just stared at her.

Finally she made her body follow her commands. Sitting cross legged as was required, she waited until he'd left the area completely before going over to the table. Now the battle would begin again and this time she would win. The food would stay down.

* * *

Spock looked at Uhura closely as she finished speaking. Whether she knew it or not, she'd given him a lot to think about. He'd taken a few things for granted. He hadn't meant to, nor had Christine said anything, but maybe he needed to look a little closer at what Christine abandoned in her desire to please him. He couldn't give up who he was, his culture, for her, nor would he, even if it were possible.

He shouldn't allow her to give up so much of hers. She had already done more of that than he had suspected. He turned back to Uhura, as something occurred to him. "You shouldn't be here." He reached out and lightly touched her black hair to emphasize his point.

"Yes, I should," she answered him quietly. Her knowing eyes meeting his.

He raised an eyebrow in surprise. "I was not informed."

"I know." She looked down at her hands as she answered. Neither spoke further as both realized that she had violated her orders to remain silent. She'd only thought it fair he know and had told him in such a way to do so without actually saying it.

They turned to head back to the Enterprise when Chief Williams came jogging up. "The last one disappeared about 20 minutes ago."

"Was it...one of the ringers?"

Williams slumped. "No."

* * *

Christine woke to the telltale vibration of a ship in warp. Once much time had been spent on any ship, the feeling was hard not to recognize. Lying still, waiting for some semblance of order to come to her chaotic thoughts, she tried to figure out how long they'd been traveling.

She knew it would be significant, but at the moment the reason escaped her. This was the fourth? No, the fifth day she'd felt the ship in warp. Where could they be going? Each day they continued she knew they were headed farther and farther from any hope of rescue, and each day her hope sagged just a little more. Why hadn't they found her yet? It shouldn't be that difficult to find someone in this day and age. Unless ... unless they weren't looking for her.

No! Christine silenced the taunting inner voice, that had been growing ever louder in the past couple of days. Why would they be? The voice renewed. You're not some legendary, heroic Starship Captain, or some important dignitary. Why would there be some all out search for a doctor of no particular account?

She was just so tired all the time now. She couldn't fight the feeling of hopelessness that seemed to creep up on her when she least expected it. Today, she was finding it difficult to even manage thinking of a legitimate reason to get out of bed. Why should she? There certainly wasn't anything worth the effort.

Tears slid out of the corners of her eyes and she dashed them away angrily. Crying wasn't going to do any good. What was wrong with her? She didn't normally feel sorry for herself like this. It had to be the tension here. Whenever she was awake, she could feel it pulsating. None of them ever talked anymore and the silence was getting to her. Yeah, that was it. She'd never felt so lonely in her life. Even breakfast had been delivered and eaten in silence. It was unnerving.

She turned over to face the wall and the tears fell again. She missed him so much!

THAT sound! Suddenly full of the energy she couldn't find before, she leapt off the cot and waited. What were they doing here now? They never came between meals and she'd thought they'd stopped bringing in new women. There hadn't been a new one in ... in, well, in several days.

She watched as four guards strolled into the dim light. That was definitely different. The change in routine threw her. That was the only thing that kept her reasonably calm was the unchanging routine. Only one stopped at her cell. He deactivated the field confining her to the small room and imperiously waved her out into the open area beyond. She had to force herself to move forward.

Once out, she noticed the other three were out too. They were all pulled roughly into a line. One guard walked in front, one at either side of them, and one behind. It seemed they were taking no chance. Though what kind of trouble they could expect from four drugged and scared women was, at the moment, beyond her.

It took only a few minutes to reach their destination. They filed through a new set of doors and she sighed in relief as she finally realized where they were. Several shower nozzles lined one wall. She actually smiled. This would be a small piece of heaven. She hadn't been out of her cell since the day she'd arrived and her skin felt like it crawled.

She reached up to undo the fastenings, but it was then she realized the guards hadn't left. She faltered and cast a startled look to the guard nearest her. He just smiled and didn't move. She didn't either. Her eyes widened as she watched one of his hands tightened into a fist, flexing it twice.

It was signal enough. It was amazing how few words were needed to convey so much meaning. She reached up trembling fingers to finish the work they started moments ago. She could not stop the violent trembling fear that coursed through her, though she tried not to show any of it. She wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Anger flashed through her, overcoming most of the fear she had felt for so long. How dare they invade her privacy like this? Assuming her best Vulcan impression, she smoothed her face into an unreadable mask and sternly told her body to stop shaking. It worked, mostly.

The women around her didn't move until she moved forward to activate one of the shower heads. It was water! she thought in astonishment. That seemed to free the others and they began to follow her lead, but were unable to carry it off with the same stoic acceptance as she was projecting. The young black-haired girl on her right was openly crying. Christine's heart went out to her. She couldn't have been older than her early 20's. If this was hard on her, how much more so for the barely grown girl.

Christine washed herself quickly and efficiently, wanting to get out from under the lewd stares of the four guards as fast as was possible. She hesitated only briefly before washing those areas that needed it the most and heard an ominous chuckle from the other side of the room as she did so. Rinsed and feeling clean for the first time in forever, she stepped out of the shower and went to retrieve her clothing. It wasn't there! She grabbed the towel that had replaced them and wrapped it around herself, forcing herself to act like it didn't matter, that she didn't now feel more vulnerable. The journey back to their cells seemed longer by miles, although they traveled the same path.

Again they placed the newest first. Christine noticed what appeared to be fresh clothing on the girl's cot. The guards urged them on and closed them behind the force fields one by one. When Christine was allowed to enter hers, she walked clear to her cot and stood with her back to them, waiting for the buzz of the field being reactivated. She waited.

The towel was tugged from behind. She jumped. The towel came away in the guard's hand.

She spun around, attempting to cover herself at the same time. "No!" she whispered fiercely and backed up as far as she could. He smiled and advanced. His intent was plain, as he held the towel out to his side and dropped it to the floor. "No, please," Christine pleaded.

He reached out and grabbed her pulling her off balance. They ended up on the floor, with him on top. He had both her hands pinned beneath one of his, above her head. He grinned down at her. "The last person who said no to me, regretted it," he said as he reached with his free hand to fondle the weapon now lying beside them. The other guards still standing in the entry laughed.

She saw his movement. His implied threat had been perceived and understood it all too well. To resist was to court more pain, if not death. But more than that, courting that death was to completely give up hope of rescue, to give up on Spock. Had she reached that point? Was she ready to die rather than face this humiliation? No, she decided. He would find her. She had to live through this. She could live through this.

He laughed at her lack of response and she saw his eyes filled with the joy of his power and his lust. She clenched her teeth over her lower lip to prevent another plea to be left alone, when he reached out and roughly fondled one of her exposed breasts. She felt blood trickle down her cheek. She rejoiced in it. It gave her something other than him to concentrate on. Disappointment in her lack of struggle showed on his face. She saw it and knew he wanted to hurt her.

Some small rational part of her mind, hiding behind her terror, kept repeating advice on how to survive this relatively intact. All the literature said to relax as much as possible, to be tense would make it hurt worse. RELAX!? her thoughts reverberated hysterically. HOW!? Every fiber of her being was yelling at her to fight, to run.

In desperation she tried to go back inside herself, to disassociate herself from what was happening. She almost succeeded until he reached for the fastening to his pants. She managed to make no vocal protest, but inside her mind her terror screamed!

* * *

The turbolift moved swiftly to its destination. Spock had just left Uhura with an another stack of data chips. She had volunteered to assist in his research the night they had returned to the Enterprise. He had to admit, she was a valuable asset. She had noticed small things he would never have thought significant.

He strode onto the Bridge with 1 minute left before his duty shift began. They had reached the Neutral Zone and relieved the USS Yorktown 3 mornings ago. In the week following their forced departure from Starbase 22, no word had reached them about the progress of the search.

McCoy was still after him to get more sleep. He could feel the doctor's scrutiny from the captain's side as he took a step toward his station. The Bridged swayed alarmingly. He gasped. Raw horrifying images and intense emotion swept over him.

Captain Kirk, chatting with McCoy, swivelled in his chair to greet his First Officer and watched with astonishment as Spock fell to his knees. Both men leapt toward the Vulcan.

"What's wrong?" Jim Kirk demanded.

Spock looked up, horror mirrored in his dark, normally passive eyes. "Christine," he managed in a strangled whisper. "Rape."

Kirk and McCoy sucked in their breath savagely. McCoy reached for his medkit and swiftly prepared a hypo, and before he could form a protest he pressed it to Spock's arm.

Kirk's eyes flew to McCoy.

"He doesn't need to experience it, too. He'll be better able to help her if he doesn't."

Kirk nodded once. He saw the wisdom, but did wonder if Spock would agree.

McCoy stepped away from Spock and crossed to the captain's chair. "Medteam to the bridge. Bring a stretcher," he ordered, closing the connection after.

Kirk stayed at Spock's side waiting for McCoy's return and the med team's arrival. Noticing all eyes on the downed First Officer, he stood. "Back to work everyone. The shows over!" Angry at himself, the unknown perpetrators, and at life in general, he strode back to his command chair. Setting an example by leaving Spock in McCoy's capable hands, it took every ounce of his willpower to do so.

* * *

Less than 30 minutes later Kirk strode into Sickbay to find McCoy still at Spock's bedside. He stopped on the opposite side as McCoy and looked up at the readings he was studying so intently.

"The sedative you gave him isn't enough, is it?"

"No. He's still sensing it."

Kirk turned horrified eyes to McCoy. "Bones! That's worse than being conscious for it! At least awake he can manage some control."

McCoy turned his own anguished eyes to Jim. "I know. Lt. Akia, bring me 10 cc's of psylipsilenon."

"What's that?"

"A telepathic inhibitor. Specifically, it blocks the neurotransmitter involved with telepathy."

Lt. Akia, head nurse of the Enterprise, walked in and handed DR McCoy a hypo. "Is there anything else, Doctor?"

McCoy's eyes flickered to her only briefly. "No. I'll call if I need you."

She left to complete other tasks, but threw a glance over her shoulder at the three men and sighed. She couldn't even begin to imagine...

Reaching forward McCoy injected Spock, carefully monitoring his response. "Hopefully, it will allow him to rest." The two men watched their friend for any sign he was responding. After a moment, it seemed to take effect as Spock relaxed into a sedated sleep. Both sighed in relief.

"I just wish it was going to be that easy for her," Kirk murmured sadly.

"Dammit, Jim! What are we gonna do about this? We're out here at the edge of nowhere, when we should be elsewhere finding her."

"I don't know, Bones," Kirk replied eyes still on the prone form of Spock. "I just don't know. We don't even know where to begin to find her, for crying out loud!"

McCoy sighed again, sorry for his outburst. Jim couldn't do anything about it, anymore than he could, not at the moment anyway. "I have the feeling that when he wakes up, whether he'll show it, or even admit it, we're going to have one pissed off Vulcan on our hands."

* * *

The first guard was growing bored. "You done yet, Krell?"

"Yep," he replied standing and covering himself back up. "You were right." He grinned at the three waiting for him. "I'm hungry. Let's get something to eat." The four men left, leaving Christine lying on the cold floor.

She curled into a fetal position, not making a sound. It's over. It's over, kept repeating in her mind, but that insidious dark part of her mind that continually taunted her spoke again. For now. Christine cringed as she realized that this time, the voice was right. Until she was out of here, it wouldn't be truly over.

Please, please, hurry up and find me,* she pleaded silently. When she could hear no more sounds outside her cell, she let go and gave herself to crying.

* * *

Three hours later, McCoy was back at Spock's bedside. He would wake up soon and he wanted to be there when he did. He watched as the bioreadings above the bed began to rise. Still he jumped as Spock's hand shot out and grabbed his arm. He winced under the painfully tight grip.

"Why?" Spock asked hoarsely.

"Spock, there was no reason for you to suffer through it, too."

Spock's eyes opened then and gazed steadily at McCoy. "I might have been able to ease her through it."

"How?" McCoy asked practically. "You said yourself, that you haven't been able to sense her. It took this ... horrific event for her to pierce the veil around her. Even if it was possible at all, you would have had to concentrate your full mind to it and considering the state you were in..." McCoy's voice trailed off.

"Time, you didn't give me time to control my reaction to the suddenness of it all."

"Time!" McCoy asked incredulously. "Do you really think that even you could have set aside what was happening to her? I certainly don't think so."

"I ... don't know. Now I'll never know. I should have been allowed to try."

"Spock, if I hadn't done what I did, you wouldn't be as able to help her when we do find her."

"What do you mean by that?" Spock sat slowly and released McCoy's arm.

"Knowing that it happened, and going through it, are two very different things, Spock."

"That is quite obvious, Doctor. What is your point?"

McCoy blew out an exasperated breath. Spock was a very intelligent man, but he could dense at times. "Whatever you may be experiencing right now, I have no doubt can be controlled with that logic of yours, but I can almost guarantee that whatever it is, it isn't a tenth of what you'd be going through if I hadn't sedated you and blocked your telepathy."

Spock raised a startled eyebrow. "You what?"

Now it was McCoy's turn to be shocked. He had assumed Spock would have figured that out. He'd touched him, after all, and he wouldn't have gotten the impressions he normally gets. McCoy shook his head, Spock must be more shaken than he previously thought.

Spock's thoughts tried to race, he controlled them. He was slowly coming to the realization that the doctor might be right, considering he hadn't even noticed his dulled perceptions.

McCoy watched Spock as his thoughts actually showed in his eyes, along with nearly hidden anguish. He couldn't even begin to imagine what this must be doing to him, if it actually showed.

* * *

Kirk sighed as a shocked, hurt expression spread across Chekov's face. His remark was uncalled for, and he regretted it immediately. "I'm sorry. That is as far from true as it is possible to get."

Chekov smiled back at him. They all knew the stress everyone was under. "That's alright, Sair. How is Mr. Spock?"

"I don't know, Chekov," Kirk replied quietly as he turned and left the Bridge. Kirk was furious at himself. These people were under his command, and as such they were his responsibility. First Dr. Chapel, then Spock, and now he, himself, had hurt Chekov. His frustration built, and he lashed out, striking the turbolift wall. It felt good to release his tension, but now his hand hurt like hell. Looking down at it, he realized with a rueful grimace that he'd probably broken it.

Kirk walked in on them just as Spock was sliding off the bed. He inspected him. If he didn't look too close, he looked all right, but Kirk could see the effect of too many sleepless nights and the shock of what had happened while he was on the Bridge. He knew his own frustration had to show.

"I sent off the subspace message, eyes only, to Starbase 22. It'll be at least 24 hours before they receive it, though.

Spock nodded, obviously deep in thought.

"How can they make us do this ... nothing patrol that anyone could handle, when we'd be better off doing something, anything toward finding those women?" McCoy demanded furiously.

"My hunch is that they think we're too personally involved."

McCoy snorted in disgust.

Spock turned his gaze to Kirk, knowing what Jim had meant was that Starfleet thought he was too personally involved. Evidently they didn't think much of his ability to separate his professional from his private life. If he wasn't Vulcan, he might entertain the idea of being insulted. But since he was, he didn't bother. He had too much on his mind as it was. Any more was just too much.

* * *

"Good morning Spock." McCoy exclaimed with forced cheer as he entered Sickbay.

Spock sighed at the doctor's jovial demeanor. He had kept him in Sickbay over night, over his protests. In his opinion there had been no reason for it, and he had work he needed to get done. "Good morning, Doctor."

"I'm going to release you today."

Spock sat up, relieved that the doctor was finally being reasonable.

"On two conditions." He reached out toward Spock's arm with a hypo, but Spock caught his arm before it connected.

"What is that?"

"Psylipsilenon," McCoy answered reluctantly. "It's a--"

"I know what it is, Doctor, and the answer is no."

"No?"

"That is what I said, Doctor. I will not take it."

"Well, then you won't be going anywhere. You'll stay right here where I can keep an eye on you."

"Doctor, that will not be necessary. I am perfectly--"

"No, Spock. No amount of argument will talk me out of it. We... she needs you running at full capacity, not hampered by telepathic trauma."

Sighing with resignation Spock nodded. "Very well, Doctor."

"You'll need them twice a day. Come back at 0900 for your next injection."

"Doctor, just how long do you plan on doing this?"

"As long as it's necessary."

"It cannot continue indefinitely."

"I know, Spock, but for now, it is necessary."

Spock stood and bent to retrieve his shirt from the chair beside the bed. Then he turned and looked back to McCoy, suspicion lacing his voice. "What's the second condition?"

McCoy had wondered how long it would take him to ask. "You are to take a sedative right before going to bed."

Spock's eyebrow shot up into his hairline. "Doctor I assure you--"

"Also not arguable, Spock."

"I got several hours here in Sickbay. I do not need one tonight."

"Okay, Spock." McCoy raised a finger and shook it at him. "But if you don't get at least 4 hours sleep tonight, tomorrow I will insist, if I have to track you down to your quarters and administer it myself."

Spock's lip twitched. He could see Dr. McCoy doing just that. "Very well, Doctor. I agree." He dressed as quickly as Vulcan dignity would allow and left before the good Doctor could think of any other conditions to add to his release.

Uhura caught him just before he entered his quarters. "I've found something, Mr. Spock."

"Indeed. Come in." Spock stepped through the doors and waved her in. Indicating with a nod she should seat herself at the computer console, he stood beside her. "What have you discovered?"

"That there is something linking at least some of the women. I haven't checked them all, but when I heard you were being released from Sickbay, I figured you'd want to know what I had so far."

"You are correct, Lieutenant. Please continue."

"At least 6 of the women have nonhuman backgrounds from telepathic races. All of them so far are from far enough back that it doesn't show physically. In fact most of them are far enough back that they probably don't even know about it. It's a starting point anyway."

"Indeed," Spock conceded. "Is Christine included in those 6?"

"No." Uhura looked up at him startled.

"Include her."

"What?"

"Her great grandmother was Betazoid. Due to a politically volatile situation, it was hidden. She did not know until recently."

Uhura absorbed that new information, a smile forming. "Well, that makes my hypothesis even more plausible. I'll keep looking."

* * *

Christine sat motionless on her cot when the guard carrying her breakfast tray deactivated the force field. Her eyes followed his every move, from entrance to exit. As soon as the field was reactivated, she hurried across to sit at the small table. She was going to give no excuse for him to come back in. She began eating mechanically and she vaguely heard him laugh as he walked away.

As that taunting sound faded away, the door closing behind the vulgar man, Christine's anger flared up. She had to get out of here! She stared down at her nearly untouched meal, her indignation growing. She was a doctor and a Starfleet officer! She hadn't spent years in training and years out in the field to give up like some puppy that had been hit one too many times!

Before she fully registered what she was going to do, she'd dropped her spoon and hooked her hand under the tray flinging it across the table and into the barrier preventing her exit. To her astonishment, it shorted out! For an incredible moment Christine was frozen in shock. Must be older technology, she thought with a slightly hysterical laugh. Suddenly it dawned on her, she could leave!

She stood quickly and darted out into the outer corridor. Running along the outsides of the cells she palmed off all the fields. Older technology indeed, she thought. No codes required, no palm print identification. Made it seem ridiculously easy. "Come on!" she yelled, when no one came out. "Let's go!" Still no one left the confines of their cells. Shaking her head in frustration, she moved toward the exit. She knew she didn't have much time, so didn't waste any more of it trying to persuade them to come with her. She could always send help when she got away. The outer door opened at her approach, and she inched into that corridor, keeping eyes and ears open for any movement or sound.

A few feet down the corridor she heard a sound from behind her and broke into a frightened run. Dashing around the corner, she stopped at the sight of a porthole. How could she have forgotten she was on a ship? It didn't seem possible to forget such an important detail. It was those damn drugs. She'd gotten so used to them, she could no longer tell just how muddled her thinking was. That wasn't a good sign. It made it all the more imperative she get out now. She feared if this continued much longer she wouldn't be able think for herself anymore.

Now, she had to figure out how to get off this ship. Trembling, worried that she might be discovered standing out in the open, she concentrated on possible ways off a ship. Transporters? No, she shook her head. There was nowhere to transport to. Shuttles! She thought with sudden elation. Ships had shuttles. If she could just find the shuttle bay, maybe she could get away that way.

Something niggled in the back of her mind. What could possibly be dangerous about a shuttle, she thought to herself, shoving the unrealized idea back down. What would keep her from getting away in one? Nothing! That's what. Now, where would she find the shuttle bay? Christine began moving rapidly, trying to find a way to the lower decks. That was where she'd start her search.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Christine found the door to the shuttle bay. Stepping through as she activated the door sensor, she desperately hoped no one was present. That would make it almost impossible. As the door closed behind her, a yellow light began flashing to her right. She jumped and her hand flew to her chest. For a moment, she had difficulty breathing. Forcing herself to move forward, she wondered if the yellow alert was caused by the discovery of her escape or by something else. If it was something else, her chances just rose significantly. If it was her escape, she was out of options and out of time.

She darted the rest of the way into the shuttle bay praying to find no one else there. It was dark and quiet and seemed empty. Allowing herself a small smile she wove her way around crates and barrels marked in a language she couldn't read. There, in the center of the bay, one shuttle sat silently waiting. She stopped and crouched behind the last row of containers, listening for any sound at all.

She couldn't hear anything at all. She crept forward, quietly and quickly, making it to the shuttle with an ease that continued to surprise her. She made her way inside and efficiently activated it. Damn, she thought. She had forgotten to open the bay doors and then there would be the force field to deal with.

Fear shot through her at the length of time she was taking. They were bound to find her soon. On a ship this size, there just weren't that many places to search. She ran out of the shuttle and frantically searched the still dark bay for the control panel she needed. She was beyond stealth. Stealth would take too much time, time she somehow knew she didn't have. It took her ten long agonizing minutes to find it.

She breathed a sigh of heartfelt relief when she discovered it was basically the same as the ones she trained on so long ago. She keyed the sequence to open the bay doors. For the first time in her life, she was thankful for the cross training all starship personnel received during the biannual emergency drills. Doing what she needed to by letting herself slide into 'drill mode', she finished quickly. She set a 20 second time delay for the bay depressurization and subsequent deactivation of the force field, running for the shuttle as she toggled the last command key. After sliding into her seat and shutting herself in, she waited the last few seconds impatiently. As soon as the field deactivated, she flew the shuttle free from the confines of the bay. A thrill shot through her. She was going to make it. That nagging doubt returned. What could possibly stop her now, she argued with herself. Her heart jumped into her throat as she was thrown forward onto the console when the shuttles forward momentum stopped. Tractor beam, she thought as a quiet despair stole over her.

* * *

The following week crawled by for most of the Bridge crew. Everyone waited for word from Starbase 22 on the results of their search so far and for how the new information had been figured into the equation. Tempers were growing short. The boredom of an uneventful border patrol, compounded by a restless need to help find their missing crew mate was taking its toll on all of them.

Kirk stood and paced once around the bridge, ostensibly to check up on each station. However, what he really needed was some good old fashioned action. He hated waiting. Obviously someone at Command had decided to take their bloody time, because it wouldn't take this long to get a message to them. Returning to his chair still agitated, he sat back down. Irritation rose that they were being kept waiting, and that he was so bored.

He sighed. It hadn't been his most brilliant idea to take beta shift. He'd thought a change of pace would help ease his tension. He'd been wrong. Now, not only was he waiting, he was waiting without having either of his friends to wait with!

Spock had long since finished his shift and had returned to his quarters to further his search. The new information would already be 2 days old, as they were so far from the source of the news, but it was the only new source he had available to him. As with the official Federation updates, no ships matching the appropriate registry could be located. They simply had not docked at any official ports of call. He had not expected them to. He would not have.

Logically they would head for "unofficial" ports, where a ship's registry was not looked into too closely. They could also have simply changed their registry and identifier beacons. It wasn't easy, nor was it legal, but it was possible, and in this case highly probable.

Of course the simplest course would have been to change ships at some point. If they'd done that, Spock didn't see any way of finding out where they had gone, especially as so much time had already passed. He felt anger flare at Starfleet Command's bureaucratic decision to send them out here. He did not let it continue. Anger was not logical, not even now. It would not help any of the women. Instead, he concentrated on putting together the pieces they had figured out so far.

The last week had proven that all of the missing women did indeed have a distant connection to telepathic races, and that in all cases the only 'proof' of it was by physically searching through their past. Most of them had probably been unaware of the connection. Then there was the disappearing ship that still, apparently, could stay close enough to snatch women. He figured they had to have some kind of cloaking technology. Starbase 22 had already confirmed in their last response packet that they had not scanned for any cloaked ships.

Add to that the fact, there had been no ransom demands for any of the women, and what he knew of Christine's ordeal, and he came up with an obviously sophisticated, successful black market syndicate, dealing in smuggling women with a latent potential for knowing exactly what someone would want. It wasn't a pleasant picture that was forming, unfortunately, it fit all the facts so far. All that was left was to find some clue as to where.

* * *

Christine surveyed her new accommodations again. She'd been here for 3 days. Her physical surroundings were better than those on that ship. They were actually better than those she had on board the Enterprise, but it was still a prison and the Enterprise had several things she needed that she couldn't get here, her freedom for one, Spock for another. She closed her eyes, locking off that train of thought.

It wouldn't do any good to pine about things she couldn't have right now. Instead she needed to concentrate on finding a way out of this mess. When she'd first arrived, she'd been instructed as to her 'duties' here. She shuddered when she thought about exactly what she'd been told. Fortunately she had yet to be 'sent for', but she didn't expect that to last much longer. She had to find a way out first.

She rose and paced the room yet again, trying to find some way out of it. There was none, save the main door, and it was well locked. Unfortunately, neither her Starfleet training, nor her medical training had included picking mechanical locks. She laughed sourly as she thought about actually recommending it as a course to be offered at the Academy. She moved slowly. She was still sore from her recapture after her near escape in the shuttlecraft.

She still couldn't believe that she'd been so messed up that she wouldn't have even thought of a stupid tractor beam! What had followed that mistake on her part, she still didn't want to think about and pushed the memories back down. She had the uncomfortable feeling, that when this was over and she allowed it all to sink in, she was in for one hell of a nervous breakdown. Right now she was too busy being a Starfleet Officer to think of anything else. Both sets of training demanded she put everything on hold until this crisis was over and now that she wasn't being drugged nearly senseless, that training took over, and she experienced everything with a numbness that scared her just a little.

She reached up and touched the implant site and winced. The uneven lump felt strange to the touch, and even after three days it was still tender. She wondered if maybe it was getting infected, or if her body was trying to reject the foreign object. Maybe if she were lucky it was something that would require that they remove it. The electronic setup around this place was keyed to the implants of all who had them. If they strayed too far and crossed the marked barriers, the implants were designed to emit low level electrical impulses that tended to temporarily short circuit the human nervous system, in addition to setting off an alarm.

Despite her system being free of the debilitating drugs, she still couldn't sense Spock and she couldn't figure out why. Spock had told her that while distance played a part in how strong the sense of one another would be, no amount of distance would diminish it completely. The loneliness of that wore on her as much as anything else here.

She fingered the necklace in her pocket. Although the clasp had been broken, no one had bothered to take it from her. That was another mystery she didn't understand.

She jumped up from the window seat as the door handle moved, sounding extraordinarily loud in the long silent room. No! she thought. Not yet! Spock! Hurry and find me. She thought with every once of will power she possessed, but she despaired of ever getting out of here. Forcing the depressing thoughts away, she took a resolute breath and told herself to calm down. She just had to keep her eyes open. Eventually there would be a way.

The door opened. It was Emma. "It's time to go to the bathing chamber."

A bath! Christine almost laughed her relief.

* * *

Spock entered his quarters following his shift and exhaustion descended upon him. He held it at bay while on duty, rarely letting it even register. However, in the solitude of his quarters, with no duties to perform, no one to keep control in front of, his sleeplessness caught up with him. He hadn't
been meeting Dr. McCoy's required 4 hours of sleep and had ordered him take a sedative twice in the past week. Even that only induced sleep for 4.8 hours.

He had lived alone inside his mind most of his life, but the short time he'd been bonded to her had changed that, and now he couldn't become accustomed to being without her presence there. The twice daily injections of the Psylipsilenon to prevent him from experiencing Christine's ... trauma, were wearing on him. He was beginning to actually worry about his own health. He should not be reacting this way. He could see his mental condition deteriorating. So far he'd managed to keep it from anyone else and the caused him considerable surprise. Perhaps they felt it was 'normal' for what was going on. It wasn't, and he knew better. He should inform Dr. McCoy, but couldn't quite bring himself to do that.

It wasn't logical. It was quite probable, he could discover what was wrong and do something about it. Still he delayed. They only had two weeks left of this patrol duty and there was a Vulcan healer at Starbase 22. He would see him when they returned. In the meantime, he was not going to take the inhibitor any longer, in that he was resolute. There had to be a way to convince McCoy that he would be better off without it. He knew he could deal with what she was feeling better than he could this ... emptiness.

Glancing only once at the console where he had spent most of his off duty time since this began, he continued on to his bedroom. He wanted to avoid the sedative he knew the doctor was going to prescribe tonight, so for the first time in his adult life, he willingly lay down with the intention of napping. He was vaguely surprised when less than 5 minutes later sleep stole over him.

* * *

He awoke exactly 5.4 hours later to a rather insistent chiming at his door. Instantly putting aside his startlement at the length of time he'd slept, he rose, gratified that he hadn't undressed, and answered the door. "Come." Uhura? The last time she was here... "What have you discovered?"

Grinning at him widely, she stepped toward the console. "One of the ships we're looking for is the Flying Unicorn, right?"

"Yes."

"Look at this." Her grin grew wider showing her pearly white teeth as she handed him a computer chip.

He stepped forward, taking the chip from her fingers and placing it in the appropriate slot in one swift, smooth motion. He frowned as he realized it was the cover of a 'rag' magazine that was well known for inventing stories to improve its circulation. On the cover, there was an obviously doctored picture of a pleasure yacht, with a caption below it referring to a well known philanthropist paying secret visits to a well known depraved criminal 'hangout'.

"Lt. Uhura, this is not a reliable source of information."

"I know, Mr. Spock, but it isn't the story they're trying to sell, that caught my attention when I saw the cover." Pointing to an out of focus ship in the background, she continued. "Here, look more closely at that ship. It isn't part of 'the story', but they didn't bother to edit it out."

"Computer, enhance lower left quadrant of the displayed picture."

"Working."

Spock watched as that portion of picture enlarged and came into better focus. The words painted on the side of the hull fairly jumped out at him. F LYING UNICORN RT434. He didn't smile, but couldn't stop the slight dancing of his eyes as he looked up at Uhura. "Where was this photo taken?"

Here, Uhura frowned. "Norvanda 4."

"I have to take this to the captain," Spock said as he popped the chip out of the slot. He made it all the way to the door, stopped, turned a faced Uhura. "Thank you, Lieutenant," and was gone before she could reply.

Uhura stared after him, surprised at his visible excitement. Ah well, she thought to herself. What had Christine said after that incredibly public kiss? "The cause is sufficient". She turned out the lights as she left Spock's quarters, feeling very euphoric.

* * *

James Kirk stared at the image shown on his computer console, a broad smile lighting his features. Spock had come to his quarters after letting him know that a solid lead had been discovered.

"I'll send this off the Starbase 22 immediately."

"Naturally."

"Bones will want to know about this. After I send the report, I'll tell him."

"I have an appointment in Sickbay shortly. I will inform the doctor of this new development."

"This is just the break we needed," Kirk said as he headed for the door.

"Indeed."

"I didn't realize that you ... uh ... read this type of magazine."

"I don't, Captain. Apparently, Uhura was speaking with Ensign Holliday and noticed the ship when he pulled it up on a screen."

Kirk laughed. "I will have to commend her on her sharp eyes. It's amazing that she caught it at all."

"Agreed," Spock answered as both men headed out into the corridor.

The two men headed in opposite directions, Kirk to the Bridge, and Spock to Sickbay. He had to find a way to convince McCoy that further injections were not necessary. Now that they had a lead, it was just possible that his ability to sense her might help them.

Spock strode confidently through the Sickbay door. Just as he'd suspected, McCoy was waiting for him. He had yet to leave it to anyone else. "Doctor," Spock raised his hand to stall McCoy as he came forward with the hypo. "May I speak with you privately?"

McCoy's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Yes, we can talk in the consultation room." McCoy led the way and turned back to him as soon as the door closed behind them. "What can I do for you?"

"We've gotten a lead on one of the suspect ships. In fact we know where it was as of 3 days ago."

"YES!" McCoy shouted, grinning hugely. "It's about time, they showed their bloody hides somewhere!"

"Indeed," Spock replied his eyebrow raising at McCoy's exuberance.

"Now, that wasn't what you wanted privacy for, so what's going on inside that head of yours?"

"I want you to discontinue the Psylipsilenon."

McCoy raised his own skeptical eyebrow, but listened as Spock cited his logical reasoning as to why McCoy shouldn't give him any more injections. "I don't know if that would be such a good idea, Spock. If you're honest, you'll admit that you're not functioning at your normal peak efficiency. If..."

He should have realized that logical reasoning wouldn't say Dr. McCoy, not when he thought he was right, and not where it concerned the health of one of the people under his care. He was going to have to do this the difficult way. He took a deep breath, he was not comfortable speaking of his other reasons. Reasons that were not logical, but were every bit as valid.

"Doctor, you cannot begin to imagine the ... intimacy of a bonding. I simply cannot..." Spock hesitated, hunting for the right words to convey what he meant. "I am not ... balanced, without her presence anymore." As he said the words, both eyebrows shot to his hairline. He suddenly knew they were true. That was the word Christine's Betazoid relative had used to describe their responsibility to each other.

McCoy watched the surprised expression flicker briefly before disappearing. "What?" he asked. "What did you just figure out?"

Spock lifted his head to look directly at McCoy. "This emptiness, this lack of balance, I believe it is part of the reason I am unable to sleep. Since I cannot achieve balance, true meditation has been impossible."

Now McCoy was really worried. Not being able to meditate would certainly explain his insomnia. He knew that meditation was the method Spock, all Vulcans, used to sort through events they didn't understand. "Are you telling me, that in addition to not sleeping, you haven't been able to meditate since this began?"

Spock hadn't intended to let McCoy know that, but in his surprised understanding, finally, of what the problem was, he hadn't monitored his words carefully enough. "Correct, Doctor." He'd come this far, he may as well explain the rest. If he left it this way, McCoy would never authorize the discontinuation he needed. "When a bond is broken, it has severe side effects unless a mind healer is sought." McCoy started to protest, but Spock waved him to silence. "I did not put it together before now, because as you no doubt were about to point out, the bond has not been broken per se. It has, however, been ... silenced. It seems to have similar, if less intense, side effects."

McCoy watched him silently a few moments, gather his thoughts. "I agree that I can't truly imagine what it feels like to be bonded, but I bet I can come close enough to make a few fairly accurate conjectures. I figure it probably took you some getting used to in the first place."

"Yes," Spock nodded, and surprised himself by explaining further. "Not nearly as much as I expected, however.

McCoy hid his surprise. That more than anything else, told him one hell of lot of the depth of what Spock must actually care for Christine. As if I didn't already know that! Spock wouldn't have been as driven as he had been, if there wasn't something awfully profound going on behind that cool Vulcan demeanor. "Alright Spock, we'll try it. BUT, if I see that your mental condition starts to worsen, I'm putting your right back on it, and nothing you can say will alter it."

Spock, very uncomfortable with this direct discussion of his troubles in control, reluctantly agreed.

McCoy didn't mention how glad he was that Spock had managed to sleep earlier. It prevented the need for the sedative, and he hated making Spock take that, even more than he'd hated giving him the inhibitor.

"I want you to stop by in the morning."

"Very well, Doctor," Spock said, as he rose and left.

McCoy watched him leave, hoping he was doing the right thing. Unfortunately he just didn't know a lot about the medical aspects of Vulcan bonding. That was a situation he intended to rectify immediately.

* * *

Spock strode down the corridor toward his quarters with a curious lift in his mood. When he thought about the fact that the inhibitor would wear off soon, a curious sensation filled him. He couldn't describe it, but didn't want to fully suppress it either. He found himself wondering if his sense of her would return, or whether they would still be blocked from her end. He would find out soon enough, no logic in dwelling on it now.

As he closed on his quarters he did wonder what Starfleet Command was going to do with the new information. The new evidence definitely solidified the theory that the people on board the Flying Unicorn were those guilty. Not only were they way off their logged flight path, but they'd shown up at a known port for criminals of varying caliber. He passed through his doors and straight to his console. With renewed energy, he accessed available data on Norvanda 4.

What he discovered did nothing to aid his peace of mind. Starfleet had long known it was a den for smugglers, but due to the fact that the entire planet was privately owned, they had been unable to do anything about it. Those that sought sanctuary there were the lowest of the low, those best at what they did. All manner of illegal operations were conducted through that world, ranging from the smuggling of drugs and technology to commerce in prostitution and slavery. He leaned back and steepled his hands in front of him, struggling to control a wide range of emotions running through him.

How could she survive THAT? A new sensation tickled the base of his skull. All other thoughts stopped and he brought all of his considerable mental resources to bear on that single sensation. The feeling slowly increased, until he recognized just the faintest trace of ... her! It was very faint, but it was there. Spock eagerly reached out with his mind, wanting to strengthen the tenuous contact.

The extra contact was not made. He could not tell what factors, precisely, prevented it. It could have been the residual effects of the inhibitor still within him, or the drugs in her, or simply the distance between them. However, a peace settled over him that he hadn't felt since that day in the turbo lift.

* * *

Christine shot up off her bed. Spock? YES! She could feel him. She closed her eyes and tried to control her excitement. ~Can you hear me?~ She listen quietly inside her mind, simply basking in his renewed presence within her mind. It was barely there, but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was really him. They must be really far apart. Where was she anyway?

The door opened behind her and she nearly jumped out of her skin. She spun around to see Emma entering her room.

"It is time, come with me."

Just as despair started to descend, she stopped it in its tracks. Shielding her mind as Spock had taught her, she started forward. Now she could handle anything, because now she knew she would be found. She knew HE would find her.

* * *

Spock felt a sudden surge through the bond. He sat forward suddenly. Had she sensed him as well? Just as quickly as the surge began his sense of her dropped almost completely off. She'd blocked him. Why? He feared he knew the answer to that and knew it was going to be a long night.

He reached forward and activated the console. He needed to keep busy, and now was as good a time as any to begin the crew evaluations. If his suspicions were correct, Christine would not unblock the link between them for quite some time.

* * *

Spock awoke the next morning to the sound of Kirk paging him.

"Spock to the Conference Room."

"On my way." He rose and dressed quickly, all the while savoring the faint presence of Christine in the back of his mind, like a like a whiff of perfume too faint to fully identify. He was faintly astonished to realize that he'd slept 9.3 hours. He couldn't remember the last time he'd slept that long, uninjured.

Six point seven minutes later found him striding into the conference room. Captain Kirk was there waiting for him, already seated in his usual spot. He was smiling impishly.

That smile stopped him in his tracks. "I take it we've had some good news?"

"Yes," Kirk drawled. "It seems someone higher up than Nogura has decided to take matters into their own hands. Nogura's orders sending us to the Neutral Zone have been rescinded and we have been reassigned. We've set course toward Norvanda 4 and will rendevous with the Herada approximately 10 light years away from the world in question. Three officers will proceed to Norvanda 4 on the Herada to complete some undercover reconnaissance."

Spock breathed in deeply, here was finally the chance to actually make some real progress. "How long until we rendevous with the Herada?"

"Twenty-two hours."

"I have a lot to do then," Spock replied and turned on his heel.

"That's an awfully big assumption."

Spock stopped and turned his head to look over his shoulder at Captain Kirk, one brow raised, his expression so nearly that of the Spock of old that Kirk grinned. He stood, crossing to Spock. He reached out, a data chip in his hand. "Here are the specifications on the Herada. You'll need to choose two others to accompany you."

Spock retrieved the chip from Kirk's hand, nodded once and walked silently out of the conference room.

Kirk watched his friend leave with a great deal of satisfaction. It had been worth every string pulled and every favor called in to accomplish this. He even now owed a few, which didn't bother him one bit. He just hoped this wasn't a wild goose chase.

* * *

He first had to select the other members of the reconnaissance party. He would take McCoy, of course. Despite their frequent disagreements, McCoy was the most qualified doctor he knew and was more than willing to have him at his back in any crisis situation. He suspected the good doctor just might try a medical override if he wasn't allowed along.

He spent a moment debating whether the third member should be a member of security, but ultimately decided against the idea. Security was too obvious, even when they were out of uniform. That's when he thought of Uhura. She was an excellent officer and was an excellent choice for this particular mission. Not only was she imminently capable of holding up her end of the recon, he also had to consider the fact that Christine and the other women just might need a female presence on the rescue party.

What exactly would their cover be? That would depend on the ship, he thought as he strode through his doors and then inserted the chip. It was a small craft, easily handled by a crew of three, but could crew up to ten comfortably and was warp 3 capable. He scanned through the rest of the schematics, satisfied. For its size it was an impressive ship, its amenities and armaments far exceeding that commiserate with its size.

Obviously the owners of this ship would be successful at what they did. He reached up absently and tugged at one earlobe, wondering if the hole there had closed. It was time to resurrect one Romulan Pirate. Undoubtedly, the ship's stores would have an appropriate earring.

* * *

Spock and his team spent the next several hours in a flurry of activity. Once the cover of an independent band of pirates had been agreed upon and the ship's design and capabilities had been studied enough to give them all a working knowledge of just what the little ship was capable of, each of them had to come up with a plausible background. Spock, of course, didn't have much to devise in that area, as he'd decided to revive the old persona of "Captain Black Fire".

Uhura and McCoy wasted no time inventing theirs. It wasn't difficult since both of them, to their mutual surprise and delight, had grown up reading tales of piracy in depths of space. Uhura even admitted she used to love the ancient tales of privateers in the times of wooden sailing ships. Spock
listened to their banter with slightly amused tolerance. Although he had never read the stories they reminisced about, he could tell they were highly romanticized versions of the real thing.

Then they had needed to procure the appropriate clothing. They had agreed that once they stepped foot onboard the Herada, they would all be in character and remain so, until such time as they returned to the Enterprise. That would make it less likely the would slip up at an inconvenient time. To that effect he had ceased shaving. He intended to wear a beard for the duration of this mission. From McCoy's description of the mirror universe, he gathered it gave him a rakish appearance. He would use that to his advantage. While the other two finalized their personas, he left and changed into Captain Black Fire's trademark outfit.

Unfortunately the ship's store did not have a replica of the earring he'd worn previously, but after a touch of research he'd discovered that the tradition was to wear a gold hoop. Placing it in his ear, he was gratified to find that the hole had not closed. It had grown smaller however, creating a touch of discomfort as he pushed the ring through. Noting the rendevous was in less than an hour, he quickly finished changing his appearance and met the other two.

Uhura gasped and a slow grin lit her dark features. "Most becoming, Mr. Spock," she teased.

McCoy laughed and tilted his head to the side, inspecting Spock's overall appearance. He shook his head. Something wasn't quite right. He clasped behind his hands behind his back as he tried to figure out just what was out of place.

Spock's eyebrow raised at McCoy's continued perusal. "Is there a problem, Doctor?"

McCoy's eyes narrowed. "Not wrong, really," he trailed off. "I've got it!" McCoy turned on his heel and left, leaving Spock and Uhura staring after him in curiosity.

Spock glanced at Uhura questioningly.

"Got me." Uhura shrugged. "I have no idea what he's thinking. I'll just go change." Spock nodded to her as she too left.

While Spock waited for the others to return, he finalized the falsified logs that would be entered into the records of the Herada to simulate the life the three of them had spent on board. Less than 20 minutes later Uhura returned first.

Spock rose as she entered. Her chosen outfit causing a twitch to one side of his mouth. Evidently she too had listened to descriptions given of the mirror universe, as her clothing was strongly reminiscent of the one McCoy described the alternate Uhura as having worn. "Appropriate, Lieutenant."

"Thank you." She grinned. Before she could say anything further, the door opened revealing McCoy dressed outrageously in skintight black pantaloons and a blood red, frilly silk tunic. It was held to his waist with a black silk sash. He strode into the room and stopped directly in front of Spock.

"Take off that ridiculous hoop, Spock." McCoy grinned.

Betraying no reaction to McCoy's 'order', Spock complied, curious as to what the doctor had in mind.

McCoy held out his hand. Nestled in his palm was the black pearl earring that Spock had given him as a memento when Spock had retired Captain Black Fire the first time.

"You kept it," Spock said in surprise.

"You bet I did. I wasn't about to let something like that slip into obscurity."

Spock reached out and took it from him, placing it back where it had resided so long ago. Now, irrationally, the ensemble felt complete.

"It is just a loan, Spock." McCoy grinned. "I'm gonna want it back."

"Certainly, Doctor."

"Well, Captain Black Fire," McCoy drawled. "What's next?"

"What names have you chosen?"

"Denautee," Uhura replied, grinning at the play on words.

McCoy grinned mischievously. "I'm finally gonna get you to call me by my nickname, Spock."

"How so, Doctor?"

"I've chosen the name Bones." Spock had to admit, he'd chosen a name he would not fail to respond to. "Indeed, Doctor, so it appears," he responded, not rising to the bait. "Now, I've decided that we will not be carrying a cargo. Norvanda 4, among other things, is known for its diverse ... recreational facilities. We will be going under the guise of wanting R & R."

"Sounds good to me," Uhura said. "Saves us the trouble of trying to come up with a cargo that would not only interest someone there, but wouldn't be significantly harmful."

"Agreed, Lieutenant."

"Kirk to Spock."

"Spock here."

"The Herada has hailed us. We will be in transporter range in 5 minutes."

"Understood. We're on our way to transporter room 2. Spock out."

* *

The trio walked into the transporter room just in time to catch Captain Kirk accepting a hail from the Herada.

"Yes, Captain. As soon as you've beamed them over and they're ready to head out on their own, you can beam us aboard the Enterprise. I must say I'm looking forward to it. I've heard a lot about her, but I've never been aboard."

Kirk smiled. He was proud of his ship. "They've just arrived. They'll be over shortly. Kirk out." He couldn't help a small chuckle as he took in their appearance, noting the familiarity of Uhura's outfit. Turning to Spock, he sucked in his cheeks in a vain attempt to stifle his amusement. It wasn't often Spock was out of uniform at all, let alone dressed in such ... exotic clothing. "Are all of you ready?" he asked blandly.

"Yes, sir," Spock replied for them all, as the three of them made their way to their individual pads, a couple of small travel bags beside each of them.

"You know, Spock," McCoy said thoughtfully as he positioned himself. "You become the epitome of an evil pirate far too easily."

"Indeed, Doctor. The same might be said of you."

Kirk enjoyed the by-play a moment before interrupting them. "Good luck. Bring them back safely." Three pairs of eyes met his and seemingly nodded as one. The hope that the end of this trip would see the return of the women was understood and felt by all.

Without further word, Kirk turned to Kyle, who was manning the transporters. "Energize."

He complied and Kirk watched as three of his officers and close friends disappeared to complete a potentially dangerous mission, one which the might conceivably not return. He left the transporter room in a foul mood. He hated being left behind!

* * *

The next three hours was spent gaining hands-on experience for the ship. Some of its controls and technology were in advance of those on board the Enterprise. Most of them, however, were the next logical progression from them, so Spock had no difficulty adjusting to them. Some of them, he would be gratified to see the Enterprise gain in the near future. Perhaps at their next set of repairs.

* * *

After the Herada's crew transported over to the Enterprise, they settled in for the long flight. Having decided warping into Norvanda 4 at top speed would not be conducive to the appearance they wanted to present, they compromised between necessity and desire and set their speed at warp 2.

At that speed and the necessarily roundabout way the would have to travel to prevent any possible connection between them and the Enterprise, it would take 3 days to reach their destination, during which they all tried not to get on each others nerve's. Finally being able to actively do something toward finding Christine was exhilarating, but the length of time it was taking to get there was wearing on their enthusiasm. By the time they were within hailing distance of Norvanda 4, even Spock was quite grateful the voyage was over.

Gaining permission to slide into a parking orbit was ridiculously simple. No information was asked of them at all, though he was sure checks were being run on the Herada's registry even now.

"We're sending through your beam down coordinates now."

"Thank you," Spock responded after reading the coordinates at his station.

"Will you be needing an assistance with unloading cargo?"

"As if..." McCoy muttered under his breath.

"No, we're here to..." Spock hesitated a bare second. "...have fun."

"Very good then. I hope you enjoy your stay."

"Spock, the Flying Unicorn is still here," Uhura said, looking up from the sensors.

"Yes!" McCoy exclaimed, jumping up out of his seat. "Sorry," he replied sheepishly.

"That's okay," Uhura said at the same time as Spock answered quietly. "Understandable."

Anticipatory silence descended between them as the made their way to the small transporter room, a miniature version of the one on the Enterprise, and it reigned until Spock looked up from the transporter controls. "Both of you watch your currency carefully. This place is bound to be fraught with pickpockets."

* * *

Materializing on the surface was an experience never to be forgotten. The varied sounds and smells of the open market were nearly deafening. Every few feet hawkers called out the advantages of buying their wares above those of their competitors. Within just a few blocks, they saw every type of item imaginable, and some they couldn't figure out what use they could possibly be. Some of those they weren't sure they wanted to know what they were used for.

Every third or fourth stall sold some type of food and even that varied to every type of cuisine possible. Human foods of nearly every ethnicity could be found just a few steps apart. There was also foods common to Rigellians, Romulans, Klingons, and many they couldn't recognize. To the amazement of all three would-be pirates, there were even a couple of stalls that sold Vulcan foods.

Four blocks later they entered the area they wanted, yet despised the most. This was where sentient beings were auctioned off like cattle. Spock stopped, suppressing his strong distaste for what he saw around him and motioned for the others to stop as well. "We need to split up here, we'll cover more ground that way." He looked at each of them to check for confirmation before continuing. "We'll meet back here in three hours and compare our findings. If you find any of them, do what you have to free them."

"Even if it means buying them?" Uhura asked.

"Yes," Spock replied with just the smallest amount of his distaste showing.

* * *

Spock watched a moment as they -- Bones and Denautee -- headed out on their own, then turned and headed a third direction. It would be easiest if the women had not yet been sold to anyone. Spock knew, however, that the likelihood of that was not high. The probability that none of them had been sold were 27.54 to 1 against. But they might actually be able to find one of them, which would assist in discovering where the others had ended up.

Two hours of searching later Spock had almost given up hope. Searching through the filth in which the captives were kept, nude and scared, repulsed him. He could not understand how anyone could treat other living beings in this manner, let alone other sentient beings.

Sighing deeply, he continued on. He wasn't even half way finished with his assigned section of this ... meat market. Twenty minutes later, a brunette in one of the pens caught his eye. He moved closer to get a better look. His movement toward the pen startled her and she looked his way, before quickly looking away.

Yes, he thought. She was one of the women taken at the same time as Christine. Now, he had to get her free. Surveying the bars and wire of the pen, he realized quickly there was only one way he was going to get her out of there. Despite is unease of doing so, he was going to have to purchase the young woman. He made his way back to the bidding block for this holding pen and steeled himself for what was to come.

Once there, he had to wait until she came up onto the block. Each time someone came up, he had to control the guilt he felt at not being able to help them all. It is not logical to feel guilt about something you cannot control, he told himself. Unfortunately it didn't help much as they brought yet another person up on the block to be sold like so much meat.

Then at last, she was dragged up on the podium, and Spock knew that for at least two people, this ordeal would soon be over.

* * *

Judging by the past bidding he'd witnessed, this young woman would sell for at least 2,000 denalls. Looking at her objectively, she was younger and in better condition than those before her.

The bidding began. It started higher than he expected, 1,000 denalls, and rose quickly. As soon as the auctioneer called out a higher bid someone accepted it. Spock bided his time. He would join in the bidding when it slowed. No sense his bids on the female adding to the already fervent interest in her.

It took 10 minutes and the bid rising 3,000 before most of the bidders dropped out. Only two remained when Spock indicated his bid of 3,250. All eyes turned to him. One of the bidders in particular glared at him, when he accepted the next bid of 3,300. He merely raised an eyebrow and again out bid the man. The third bidder dropped out.

The man again frowned again. The bidding went back and forth, each outbidding the other as soon as the auctioneer offered the next bid. As the price neared 4,700, Spock began to worry that the 5,000 denalls he'd brought might not be enough. His opponent bid 4,750, and Spock in an attempt to bluff him out of the competition jumped the bid up to 4,900.

Arranging his features in what he hoped was a predatory smile, he met the man's eyes, as if daring him to outbid him. With a frown and one last glare the man stomped off. Spock felt relief at his opponent's withdrawal. He hadn't been sure he would give up. Striding up to the bookkeepers table as arrogantly as he was capable of, he pulled out his currency and counted 100 denalls and dropped the rest onto the wooden table. The man watched him as he did so.

To those watching, he waited impatiently for the clerk to finish counting the money. It was difficult for him to forgo everything he believed in to portray such visible emotion, but it was necessary for the role he had adopted. Captain Black Fire didn't like waiting for anyone or anything.

"Who do I put down on the ownership papers?" the clerk asked without looking up.

"Captain Black Fire."

The clerk's eyes jerked back up to Spock's, open shock registering in his wide eyes. He looked back down and quickly finished writing out the title.

Spock was somewhat gratified that he still had such a reputation. It would definitely work to their advantage.

At long last, the clerk looked toward one of the guards standing next to him. "It's all here. Bring the female." The guard turned and disappeared from sight, returning moments later with the brunette in tow. Her hands and feet had been shackled and she now wore a collar around her neck, to which a leading chain had been attached.

Spock swallowed his disgust at the proceedings and accepted the leading chain and the ownership papers. "I want some clothing on this female," he demanded, hesitated, then forced himself to continue. "I do not want to display my property for all to see!"

The guard nodded once and hurriedly returned to the shed. It was again only moments before he returned with a shift for her. He tossed it to her. The woman grabbed in and quickly put in on. Spock temporarily released the leading chain to allow her to do so.

When she raised her eyes and met his very briefly, he saw gratitude reflected there. It shocked him. What had the poor girl been through to be grateful to the male who'd purchased her for, as far as she knew, any use he saw fit? It made him all that much more concerned for Christine's mental state.

She blocked him most of the time now. Although he could still sense her, he wasn't receiving anything about her emotional state. Vowing that she would not have to suffer whatever she was going through much longer, he returned his attention back to the here and now. "The keys," he stated.

They were handed over with amazing alacrity. He took them and stalked off without another word to them. The young woman had no choice but to follow him, as he still held onto the chain. She was shocked to her toes when, as soon as they were out of earshot, he whispered to her. "You will be out of these chains as soon as we're away from prying eyes."

* * *

He was going to be late meeting the others. There was only 3 minutes left until the designated time and it would take the two of them at least 15 minutes to get to the rendevous coordinates from here. It could not be helped, however, as the circumstances had been out of his control. None of them had truly expected to have any success the very first day they arrived.

Exactly 16.3 minutes later reached the spot and found two very worried officers waiting for them.

"S ... Captain, what took you so long?"

Uhura cast a nervous glance at McCoy for his near slip. It wasn't until then that the two of them noticed the woman being led by Spock, both shocked speechless, by the scene. Uhura recovered first. She almost walked over to comfort the woman, but reminded herself sternly about just how out of character that would be. "That's Susan Hendricks, isn't it?" she asked quietly instead.

"Yes," Spock replied shortly. "Let's go."

As they began their trek back to the transport area, they all began to notice odd looks and hear whispered words, too quiet to make out what was said. None too soon for any of them, they reached transport coordinates and Spock opened a communication with their ship's computer. Seconds later they materialized on board the Herada.

Despite the questions humming in McCoy's mind, he jumped down from the transport platform and immediately whipped out his medical scanner. Waving it over Miss Hendricks, he watched the readout on his tricorder. He tried to smile reassuringly to the young woman, but she wouldn't look up at him.

Spock retrieved the key from a pocket and began unlocking the various shackles and chains binding her. "You are now aboard a Federation vessel. We've been sent to investigate the disappearance of several women from Starbase 22."

Susan's eyes jerked upward at his words. She wanted to believe them so much. Desperately afraid to contradict him, but having to know for sure, she whispered hopefully, "You look like pirates or rogues or something."

Uhura stepped forward. "That's just so we could get down there."

"I want as much information as you two do, but it's going to have to wait until we get her to Sickbay and I can get her fully checked out. Uhura, if you would do the honors and escort our friend?"

Uhura nodded, guessing at once why McCoy had suggested she be the one to help her.

* * *

McCoy stepped out into the corridor, where he'd made Spock and Uhura wait. The size of the sickbay on this small ship did not permit private rooms, so he'd compromised by kicking everyone else out. They both turned to face him as soon as he stepped through the doors.

"Physically, she's fine now, a little malnourished and she'll be sore for a day or two, but nothing major that I couldn't fix. Mentally, on the other hand, she been very abused and she'll need a gentle hand to recover. We'll need to be especially easy on her if we want to get any information out of her. She's in a pretty fragile state right now. Her behavior up till now has been a front, probably one she developed to keep from being beaten, judging by the contusions I had to help heal." McCoy had to struggle to control his anger before he could continue speaking.

"Now that she's beginning to believe she's safe, reaction is setting in. Don't be surprised if she doesn't make much sense for a while. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if she became hysterical."

Spock turned to Uhura. "It might be best if Dr. McCoy and I stand back and you ask her questions."

"That's what I was thinking. She might respond better to a woman and we'd get more of what we need out of her. The last thing we, or she, needs is for us to push her too hard."

McCoy handed Uhura a hypo. "This is a mild sedative. It won't put her to sleep, but it will help calm her down if she becomes too stressed out. I've already set it at the proper dosage."

"Where will you be, Doctor?"

"I'm going to get the four of us something to eat."

* * *

Fifteen minutes later, McCoy walked back through the door to Sickbay. The sight that met his eyes broke his heart. Uhura was up on the biobed with Susan. She had pulled the young woman into her arms and was rocking her gently. Susan clung to the Bantu woman and was crying softly, her face buried in Uhura's shoulder.

Spock turned to him and the anger he saw briefly reflected in those eyes shocked him to his very core. He almost dropped the large tray he held when a sudden shiver raced across his spine. Spock strode over to him and retrieved it, before their meals ended up on the floor. Watching Spock, carry the tray to the counter, with a tense gait being the only still apparent reaction, McCoy wondered just what he'd missed. Turning once again to gaze at Susan, he wondered what she could possibly have said to actually anger a Vulcan.

He followed Spock over and was about to question him, when behind him he heard Susan begin to whisper fiercely to Uhura. "One of them wouldn't have been so bad, but it was always all four of them."

McCoy didn't hear much else after that; he saw red. Now he understood why Spock could have been driven to display even the small amount of anger he had. McCoy had to turn away to hide his own anger from the crying woman. She certainly didn't need to see it. Then Uhura's gentle voice brought him back.

"Susan, I know you're hurting, but we need to ask you a few questions."

They watched as Susan pulled herself from Uhura's tender arms, wiped her eyes, and tried to sit up straight. She couldn't quite bring herself to look anyone in the eyes though, but rather stared down at her hands now clasped in her lap. "Go ahead," she said softly.

"Do you know anything about the other women from Starbase 22?"

"I ... I don't know where ... they were from, but there were ... three other women with me."

Uhura reached out her hand and laid it across Susan's clasped hands before continuing. "Do you know what happened to them?"

"One of them, the blonde one, she had more guts than I'll ever have," Susan whispered, awe filling her voice.

"What do you mean?" Uhura urged quietly. "What did she do?"

"Even after ... after..." Susan glanced up to Uhura's face, who nodded, showing her understanding of what the young woman was referring to. "Well, she tried to escape. She was gone a long time. I think ... she almost made it. She tried to get us to go with her, but we were all too afraid of them."

Susan lapsed into silence, new tears streaking down her face. Just as Uhura was about to respond, she continued. "None of us could see the others, but when she got back, they punished her. I couldn't see what they did, but I could hear it, and her screams."

A gasp from across the room, jerked her head around, and the twin looks of pain she saw sparked an idea. "You knew her, the blonde one," she said, turning back to speak to Uhura. "That's why you're here."

Uhura nodded.

Susan turned her head towards the men staying on the far side of the room. She appreciated that. Looking from one to the other, she figured something else out. She slid off the bed and made it half way across the room before her fear made her stop. "You would be proud of her," she said, looking directly into the Vulcan's eyes. "She did what she had to do to survive and took every opportunity that presented itself to escape, no matter the consequences to herself."

His sharp intake of breath was the only reaction to her words, but she hadn't expected that much of a reaction. It told her a lot. "The others and I were taken down to the pens on the planet, but a man came on board before then and took the blonde woman away. We never saw her after that."

Spock didn't know whether it would spook Miss Hendricks, but he had to ask. "Would you recognize that man if you saw him again?"

She jumped at his quiet question, but forced herself not to look away or run back to the safety of the other woman's arms. She had absolutely nothing to fear from a Vulcan, she told herself firmly. "Yes," she replied shakily. "I believe so."

* * *

Once again Spock sat at a computer console. They had long since finished eating lunch, and Miss Hendricks had been able to give a credible description of the human who'd taken Christine. Based on that, Spock had pulled up a list of matching photographs, hoping that he might be in the database. Most Federation citizens were. Of course, if he hadn't been a citizen, the chance of him being there would have gone down.

The list had been 2,000 photos long. However, after viewing three, she had recalled more detail, which narrowed the list. Each picture she saw seemed to call forth more that she could identify as being his characteristics and conversely those that they could rule out, each detail narrowing the list further. When finally, with a list of less than ten, she had pointed him out.

"That's him."

Spock's eyes had narrowed as he studied the picture. He was vaguely familiar. Though Spock could not quite place where he'd seen him, he knew he'd seen him at least once before. The gaunt features depicted a man in his late 50's, very pale of skin, as if he rarely, if ever, spent time in the sun.

He had then left Sickbay to pursue his investigation away from the woman who undoubtedly found their presence discomforting. He noted that McCoy had followed silently behind him and took up a position standing directly behind him when he sat down.

Temporarily dismissing the sense of familiarity, Spock pulled up the records attached to the photo. The gasp from behind him was a satisfactory reaction to his own suppressed surprise. For a Vice-Admiral of Starfleet Command, retired, to allow this to happen, let alone actively participate was inconceivable. It betrayed the heart of everything Starfleet and the Federation stood for.

"I don't believe it," McCoy muttered. "How could he?"

"I do not know, Bones. However, it appears that he did."

Despite the overall seriousness of their situation, McCoy couldn't help a twitch of his lips every time Spock called him by the nickname Jim had given him. He'd never expected it to ever pass the Vulcan's lips, and he was getting a kick out of it.

"I'll go inform Denautee of what you've found," he said quietly.

Spock only nodded as he continued to read the retired admiral's dossier. As he studied the review of the man's career, he understood less and less about why he would seemingly make such a drastic change in his ethical outlook. His career had stood for defending the rights of all Federation members as well as for his scientific research in the areas of medical advancement. He was a well respected figure in both academic and military circles as being a man of valor and distinction.

Of course no reference was made about Norvanda 4 in connection with him. It did however mention that he disappeared quite suddenly, only 3 months after his retirement. Christine's alleged captor, being who he was, dashed hopes of an easy time finding him. If it had been a known criminal, it would have been much easier to trace his whereabouts. As it was, assuming he was still here, it was probably under an assumed identity, much the same as they were.

Before turning to discovering what that identity might be, he accessed the auction records for the last several days. Surprisingly, they were readily available to the public. It didn't take him long to find the names of the two men Miss Hendricks had remembered as having purchased the two other women with her. They were both listed as having residences just outside of the town they'd just visited, Jariveen.

Now was the time for some judicious hacking into Norvanda 4's main computer banks, hopefully there would be something there that might lead them to where Christine was. Spock rarely applied his vast computer skills to this type of endeavor, but was sure his expertise would be up to the task, nonetheless.

As he worked he heard the others come and go, but did not acknowledge them. He was too involved in avoiding the security traps laid for the unwary.

Three hours passed during which he hacked past and dodged security measures, one after the other. He came to the conclusion that the people who had set up the system were quite paranoid. Justifiably so, he supposed, considering their line of work. Success! He'd found what he was looking for. A man matching his description had purchased a dwelling 3 years ago, in the province of Wintkar.

Now they had destinations. Only time would tell, if they were the correct ones. Spock rose in search of McCoy and Uhura. They had more work to do.

* * *

After careful planning, the three officers transported down just as the sun set to three different locations. Going after the three women simultaneously had necessitated leaving Susan Hendricks alone aboard the Herada, but they wanted to avoid any alerts that might hamper future efforts if they were to try one at a time. She had assured them that she would be fine with that situation, that in fact, being alone sounded almost heavenly. She would also be able to transport them back up should they be unable to return to the prearranged coordinates for automatic beam out.

Spock once again found himself alone. He had chosen to be the one to go after Christine. The other two were going after Mrs. Hawthorne and Miss Tanner. The beam down point was a mere half mile from the entrance to what he hoped was Admiral Krandon's property. It was of course listed under a different name, one Martin Smythe.

Fortune was not with him tonight. As he approached the outer wall, the sound of hooves alerted him to a rider, but too late to hide, without seeming suspicious. He turned as the rider approached, and only the fact that he was Vulcan kept him from groaning. It was none other then Vice-Admiral Krandon. He now regretted that he hadn't brought his cloak with him. He could have hidden his features and made a future attempt.

The Admiral was smiling broadly when he pulled his ebony mount to halt beside Spock. "Well, it's not often I get visitors way out here in the boondocks. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

Spock, nothing if not adaptable, switched tactics. "I have a business proposition for you."

"Oh. That sounds quite intriguing. Before I invite you into my home, I'd like to know who I would be doing business with."

Spock set his features in what he hoped was a convincing grin. If ever he'd felt like smiling, now was not one of those times. "Captain Black Fire, at your service." Watching closely, Spock observed just the slightest widening of the human's eyes. He is a man usually in control, Spock thought to himself.

"Well," he murmured. "I had heard rumors that you were here. It is well known that Captain Black Fire keeps his features hidden, so I wasn't sure whether or not to believe them. Add to that the fact that he hasn't been seen for many years."

"And now?" Spock asked coolly, maintaining eye contact.

"I have to admit I'm not surprised to find the infamous Captain is a Romulan."

Spock did not comment on his mistake, it was an impression he wished to foster. Instead he shifted the focus of the conversation. "And you are known as Mr. Martin Smythe." He placed just the slightest emphasis on known and hoped he would pick up on the subtle barb.

He knew he'd succeeded in his innuendo as the man's eyes narrowed. "Yes, quite. Please, come into my home."

* * *

Inside the palatial home was comfortably warm, a fact that surprised Spock. Most humans didn't care for temperatures that warm. Krandon ushered him into a sitting room to the left of the front hall, pausing only long enough to ring an antique metal bell before following him in. Spock had kept an eye on all the security measures coming in and had come to the conclusion that a 'raid style rescue' was out of the question. Experienced espionage agents would have had difficulty getting in. He estimated his chances at just getting in undetected, were about 134.54 to 1. He couldn't accurately estimate their chance of getting out, too much of that depended on Christine's, currently, unknown condition.

"May I get you something to drink? Some wine perhaps, or some ale?"

Spock started to refuse automatically, then thought better of it, considering who he was supposed to be. "An ale would be nice. It has been ... forever since I've had a decent Romulan ale."

Spock unconsciously counted the minutes spent on inanities. He wanted to get right to the point. However, past experience had taught him that when dealing with people like this any hint of impatience always worked against you. It wasn't for another 48 minutes that the admiral raised the issue.

"So," he drawled easily, setting his once again empty glass on the low table in front of him. "Exactly what kind of business do you propose?"

Spock slowly reached forward and set his still half full glass on the same table, before speaking of his purpose. "I am given to understand that you recently made a unique purchase."

"Not so unique here."

"No," Spock agreed, not expanding further on his comment. Several quiet moments passed while he waited patiently. He went so far as to retrieve his drink from the table and take a cautious swallow of the fiery liquid. He would never understand what the captain and Dr. McCoy found so enjoyable about it. He knew the human's curiosity was growing by the way he shifted in his seat.

"I am possibly interested in ... acquiring this unique item," he said at last, leaning nonchalantly back in his chair. He watched Krandon and noticed the interest in his eyes and wondered why.

"I don't know if I'm ready to relieve myself of this item. While it's true she's been something of a disappointment to me, I'm not sure I want to give up quite yet," he answered neutrally. "And of course there's the investment I have in her, in terms of money, time, and sweat."

"I would, of course, be willing to ... compensate you for those things," Spock replied encouragingly, all the while stifling a very strong, irrational impulse to reach out and strangle the outworlder with his bare hands. Even more important to him than it being against almost everything he, as a Vulcan, believed in, was it would destroy his carefully created illusion of casual interest.

"Yes, but if I can manage to tame her, the benefits would be..." He paused theatrically. "...tremendous."

* * *

McCoy and Uhura made it to the beam out coordinates at the same time, both tired, dirty and triumphant. The grinned at each other, flush with the excitement of victory. They both reached for their wrist communicators at the same time. Uhura laughed and waved at McCoy to go ahead and signal the computer for beam out. Moments later four very disheveled and relieved humans transported up to the Herada.

Susan was in the transporter room to meet them. Having had time to herself, she came to the idea that if they'd found any of the women had be retrieved, they might feel better if they saw her there, waiting for them. She was now in a decently whole condition and was walking around free. That if nothing else might help their frames of mind.

She rushed up to meet them as they stepped down from the platform.

The two women gasped upon recognizing her. "It's true then?" the older of the two asked in a whisper.

She grinned widely, and nodded. "Yes, it's true. We're going home.

* * *

"So, do we have an agreement?"

"Yes, I believe so. 10,000 denalls should adequately cover my expenses."

"With your permission, I will contact my ship and arrange for them to transport the money down."

"Certainly." Krandon rose and moved to the antique roll top desk across the room. Pulling open the top drawer, he tapped in a code Spock could not see. "The security screen will now allow your communication and a transport of limited size," he said with a knowing smile.

Spock raised an ironic brow in acknowledgment of the man's caution. Fools did not long survive in a climate such as he lived in. "Black Fire to Herada."

"Acknowledged Captain, Denautee here."

"I need you to transport the sum of 10,000 denalls to these coordinates."

"Yes, sir. Transport will begin in 10 minutes."

"Understood, Black Fire out."

Precisely 10 minutes later, the money materialized on the table, between Spock and Krandon. Krandon's eyes lit up, but he reached out calmly enough and counted it slowly. "Well," he grinned. "It's all here. Shall we go up and retrieve your merchandise?" He rose and crossed once again to the roll top, securing the security field.

"Yes," As much as he wanted to, Spock did not correct his terminology. As far as Krandon was concerned, that's all she was. He followed as Krandon led him into the entry hall and up a flight of stairs.

"I feel I should warn you, she's a stubborn one. She's tried to escape a couple of times despite the implant. Near as I can figure it, she thought she'd found a way around it."

"Implant?"

"Yes," Krandon shrugged dissuasively. "It's designed to prevent escape. It's wired to the security system."

"What exactly does it do?" Spock asked, although he feared he already knew.

"If the wearer crosses the preset boundaries, it sends electrical impulses along their nerve endings. It causes a certain amount of pain, just enough that their escape would not be successful."

Spock really didn't like this man.

Krandon threw open the door and strode into the room, allowing it to crash against the wall. Spock was right behind him. He noticed the woman on the bed, whom he assumed to be Christine, didn't move at all. She was curled into a fetal position and facing away from the door.

Krandon crossed the short distance to her bed. "SLAVE! Attend!"

Christine didn't move. Spock was concerned. Even this close, he didn't sense much from her. Her mind was strongly blocked. The only thing he knew for certain was that she was still alive.

Krandon raised his hand and Spock was next him instantly, catching his downward strike in his steel grip. "She is now my ... property. You will not strike her."

"Very well." Krandon relaxed his arm, then pulled back gently.

Spock released him, but watched his actions carefully. He reached one hand into his pocket pulling out an odd looking device.

"What is that?"

"It's for removing the implant," he replied absently as he reached out and rolled Christine onto her back.

It took all of Spock's training and control, not to gasp at her appearance. She had lost a considerable amount of weight and he could see the stark outline of the bones in her face. What affected him most however were the many bruises in various states of color, marring her skin.

"There. The implant is removed. You can safely remove her from the premises."

Spock moved forward as Krandon continued speaking. "I have to admit that I'm disappointed in her. She was supposed to be special, but as far as I could tell she was very ... ordinary."

Spock let Krandon's droning fade to the background as he leaned down and slipped his arms beneath Christine. Her head turned at his touch and her eyes flickered open. She stared at Spock, with eyes not quite seeing.

"Spock?" she whispered disbelievingly.

Spock flinched and wondered if Krandon had heard her.

"What?"

Spock stood and turned to face the human.

"Son of a..." Krandon darted for the door. "Guar--"

Spock was on him in a flash and his hand expertly sought the nerves in his neck. Immediately after he turned back to Christine, not even bothering to catch the falling man. He deserved a few bruises of his own.

Knowing he didn't have much time, Spock couldn't waste time on niceties. He scooped the barely conscious woman up and strode out of the room, stepping over the unconscious man.

* * *

He'd made it out of the house without any troubles, the staff already knew of the transaction that had taken place in the downstairs sitting room. Not a one of them was going to stop the powerful male who virtually radiated an aura of danger. The manservant even opened the door, easing their escape to the grounds. However, there was three quarters of a mile to go before they reached the outer gates.

If Christine had been mobile, it would have been no problem. As it was, he was half way to freedom when the spot right between his shoulder blades began to itch. He kept expecting retaliation at any moment. It was a discomforting sensation.

About 20 yards from the gate Spock began to think they were going to get away scot free, when alarms blared. His startlement was such that he actually jumped and nearly dropped Christine in the process. Rushing forward he reached the gate only to discover it had been locked with chain and padlock. He laid Christine on the ground a swiftly searched for something with which to break the lock.

He didn't dare do it with his bare hands, as he was fairly certain it was electrified. It felt much too long before he found a stick sturdy enough, although he knew it took less the a minute. As he raced back to the chain, he heard what sounded like dogs barking in the distance. They didn't have much time now. It wouldn't take long for the animals to reach them, and he had little doubt they were well trained to kill.

Jamming the stout stick in the loop of chain, he twisted it around repeatedly tightening the loose chain around it until it would not twist any further. Putting all of his weight and considerable muscle behind his actions, he pulled the chain tighter, hoping the chain would break before the stick.

He was straining, his arms shaking from the effort when to his surprise the lock itself broke. Forcing one side of the gate to swing open, he then dropped the stick and twisted back toward Christine. He could now see the dogs as well as hear them. They had little time left. He hauled Christine off the ground and up over his shoulder. It was less comfortable for her, but he would be better able to run that way. He had to get out from under the security field before he could contact the Herada for emergency beam out.

At a dead run he passed through the gates and continued down the driveway.

"Black Fire to Herada."

No response. He must still be under the field. Hoping it did not extend much further he continued to run, the dogs less than 100 yards behind them now.

"Herada come in." The dogs continued to gain on them, and Spock knew they were running out of time. He was fast, but they were faster. "Black Fire to Herada. Come in, please."

"Herada here."

"Emergency beam out now!" Spock ordered and slid to a halt a second later, twisting as he did so to keep a better eye on the speeding animals. The lead dog reached them and lunged. Spock raised an arm to block the attack.

Christine chose that moment to waken from her daze. Knowing only that she was slung over a man's shoulder, she began to struggle violently. She balled her fists and struck at the only target she had, the small of Spock's back.

Spock felt himself falling backward. The sudden violence of Christine's attack combined with the dog's teeth connecting with his arm was more than he could combat. As he fell he tried to twist to prevent himself from landing on Christine as well as keep her safe from teeth and claws. As a result they ended up in a tangled mess.

His arm felt like fire as the dog's teeth ripped through it, and he felt claws begin to penetrate his side as he felt the first tingle of transport begin. Just before the scene in front of him faded from view, he felt claws rip through his flesh.

The ceiling of the transport pad materialized above him, the dog no longer a threat. "Get us out of here. Warp 3," Spock managed to say, shuddered once and lost consciousness. Christine scrambled away to a corner and tucked her knees under her chin.

McCoy could only spare her a glance as he bounded up onto the platform and what he saw there horrified him. Her eyes were distanced, unfocused. It was eerie see her, with that look. Unfortunately Spock needed his attention now. Whipping out his medkit as he moved, Susan met him there, applying direct pressure to as much of both wounds as she could. She didn't know much about medicine, but that much she could do to assist the man who'd pulled her out of hell.

Uhura raced from the transporter room. She had the feeling that Spock had trouble following close at his heels.

McCoy pulled out a coagulator and applied it first to the worst of the two wounds. When the bleeding on it slowed enough he moved to the other, his first concern to get the bleeding stopped.

"Where's that damn dog?"

"I transported him to the cargo bay, Doctor," Susan told him quietly, as she moved over to the stricken Christine.

"Okay, I've got the bleeding stopped. Let's get them both to Sickbay."

* * *

He'd just finished sealing the wounds on Spock's arm and was almost done with the ones on his side when Spock regained consciousness.

"Where is she?" he asked, struggling to sit up.

"She's on the other bed," McCoy answered, pushing him firmly back down. "You'll just have to wait until I'm done here, 'cuz you're not going anywhere until I am."

Spock sighed, but complied. "How is she?"

McCoy hesitated before answering, and Spock turned his head to look him in the eye. "She's not good, Spock. Whatever else he did to her, he broke her spirit."

Spock closed his eyes. He'd figured as much when she'd panicked just before their beam out, and for one irrational moment asked himself why he couldn't have gotten to her sooner. "Doctor, that is sufficient. It will now heal on its own."

"Good, because I'm done."

Spock immediately went to her side, preceded by Dr. McCoy.

McCoy immediately began scans and trembled with growing rage as he catalogued her injuries. "Multiple contusions and lacerations, mild concussion, her right cheek bone is fractured, minor internal injuries..." His voice trailed off unable to continue the recitation and began the work of repairing the damage in silence.

Spock was an able nurse, handing him each instrument as he asked for it, and filling hypos as each was needed. "Maybe you should change careers," McCoy joked, trying to lighten the mood.

Spock merely looked at him, before returning to his silent assistance.

Not even an eyebrow, McCoy thought, not a good sign.
* * *

McCoy had sedated Christine once he'd finished repair as much of her injuries as he could. Spock stood beside her bed gazing down at her, gratified that she was finally back with them. He knew she would need time to mentally recover from what she'd been through, but now that she was here, he knew time was on their side.

"Spock," McCoy said, bringing a chair with him. "I figured you might want to sit."

Spock nodded as McCoy set the chair beside him, but did not sit.

McCoy sighed. "She's going to be out for at least another 4 hours. Why don't you try to get some sleep. I won't even try to get you to go to your cabin. You can use the other bed right here."

"I will consider it, Doctor."

McCoy gave up for now. With one quick glance at the bioreadings above Christine, he turned and left the room. He did notice that Spock at least sat down.

Spock reached out and almost picked up Christine's hand, but pulled his hand back at the last moment. He didn't know how her unconscious mind would react to the contact. Watching her sleep, he was forcibly reminded of the time Christine had stood by while he was unconscious.

She hadn't been afraid to reach out. In fact she had held his hand, comfortably, giving of herself as easily as she always did. How she could have fallen in love with a Vulcan was beyond his understanding. Fully half of what Vulcans believed and practiced was the opposite of what she was.

But that didn't confuse him half as much as what he felt for her. They'd spent many years serving on the same ship, much of which he'd spent knowing of her feelings for him, and avoiding her as a result. Most of the time he'd believed he was doing it out of respect for her, and a wish to bring as little pain to a talented officer, but looking back on it now, he wondered how much of it was to save himself from what she represented.

He hadn't believed he could ever return even a tenth of what she felt for him. When she'd touched him that first time and confessed her love, he'd felt it wash over him. Its intensity then overwhelmed him, and if the truth be told, scared him.

Looking at her now, he wondered if had he realized back then exactly how it would be between them if it would have brought him to her sooner, or whether he'd have left entirely. He wasn't entirely certain. However, things being as they were he wouldn't go back and change anything, even if it were possible.

Shaking himself out of his illogical thoughts, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. The day had been a long grueling one and he obviously needed to rest. Why else would he let his mind wander to such useless conjecture?

* * *

Christine startled awake, but didn't move. It had taken her a long time to learn that trick. Something wasn't right. Something was missing. She searched inside herself and listened carefully. It slowly dawned on her. She wasn't in her room, and for the first time in days she wasn't in pain.

He must have hurt her pretty badly last time, if he'd brought her to a clinic. Taking a deep breath she rejoiced in the ability to do so without hurting. The sound of movement behind her froze her breath in mid exhale, and she wrapped her mind even tighter, retreating back inside herself. Sometimes if he thought she was still asleep he would wait just a little longer.

* * *

Spock heard her deep inhale through the fog of his light doze. He rose slowly to stand next to her. "Christine?" he said, his words barely audible.

Spock? How many times had she heard his voice in her dreams, only to wake up to her unbearable reality? She didn't move. If she really was still asleep, she didn't want to waken, not yet.

"Christine, you're safe now."

McCoy froze in the doorway as he heard Spock's whispered words. Holding his breath, he waited for Christine's response. Her initial reaction would tell him a lot about just how much help she would need in her recovery.

There it was again, his wonderful velvety voice whispering words of sanity and safety. It seemed so real this time. She dared to open her eyes. She hadn't lost her touch. She'd been right about being in a clinic. Taking one more deep breath, hoping that this time the dream wouldn't shatter, she slowly turned to the seductive voice behind her.

All the air in her lungs whooshed out at once. There he was standing right beside her. It was him, in the flesh. Her eyes widened in shock. "Spock?"

"Yes, we're on our way back to rendevous with the Enterprise."

"I can't believe it's true. I ... I'd given up ... hope." Christine shut her eyes against the rush of memories. "It was so ... awful, that hope was breaking me. I had to ... give it up to ... survive."

The pain that coursed through Spock at her desperate, guilt ridden words, was such that it took everything within him to maintain a calm facade. "I understand Christine," he said and reached out, laying his hand atop one of hers.

She shuddered violently as revulsion coursed through her. She hated herself in that instant, for feeling such at the touch of the man she loved and for the look of hurt that crossed his face so quickly she almost missed it. But most of all, she hated herself for letting all of this happen in the first place. She should have done more to prevent it.

Christine's revulsion shot through him, making his skin crawl, as the physical contact cracked open the link between them. He snatched his hand back as if to keep it from being burned. He wanted nothing more than to pull her broken spirit into his, to twine his mind with hers and ease her suffering, but he no longer saw how that was possible. If she couldn't even let him touch her hand, anything more was certainly impossible.

"I'm sorry," the two voices whispered at the same time and broke Dr. McCoy's heart. He kicked himself, for not having warned Spock of this possibility. He should have thought to tell him.

"I'll retrieve Uhura, if you wish." Spock offered. "Perhaps you would be more comfortable with her presence."

"Thank you, Spock. I think I would." Christine curled in on herself, ashamed for him to have to look at her at all.

"I'll go then." Spock started to turn, then looked over his shoulder at her. "But I will be available if you want to talk." He then finished his turn and walked out without further word. McCoy cast him a sympathetic look, but he did not respond to it. He was too deep in thought.

He'd heard the human saying that love hurt, and he'd always passed it off as simply a human aphorism. Now he understood it all to well, and wondered briefly when he'd actually fallen in love with her, and why.

* * *

Christine flipped the connection off, and flopped down with nervous sigh. She'd been back on board the Enterprise for two months. During that time she'd spoken with a psychologist more times than she cared to recall. While she knew talking about what had happened and what she was still feeling was the only way to recover enough to move on with her life, sometimes she was just so sick of it all, she just wished to forget it ever happened.

What she was going to do instead was take matters into her own hands. Her psychologist had advised against it when she'd suggested it to her, but then Christine didn't think she fully understood just how badly she missed being able to touch Spock without it sending her right back to her captivity. And she had absolutely no way to understand how much like a severed limb, the missing easy link between them felt.

She'd just taken the first step. If anyone was going to be able to help her through this, it was Spock, and he'd said he'd be right here. She waited pensively, hoping she could do this. Spock had been as patient as a, well as a Vulcan, but she wanted to move beyond it.

She jumped when her door chimed. She rose and palmed open the door, then stepped back allowing Spock to enter. She waited a heartbeat past the door closing before blurting out with, "Hold me." She held her breath wondering what his reaction would be.

Spock was startled by her request. Just yesterday during their joint therapy session, the psychologist had warned him that it would be some time before Christine would be comfortable around him, but he stepped forward almost timidly and pulled her gently into his arms.

He felt her stiffen and experienced her fear and started to release her.

"No, please. If you can bear it, help me to work through this."

Spock closed his eyes at the tremble in her voice. "I can bear anything to help you," he said, his voice cracking. He held her loosely, trying not to confine her in any way. Her heart beat against his chest much faster than was normal and her breathing quickened to short gasps.

They stood there for long moments, silently holding on. Slowly, minute by minute, Christine's heart slowed and her breathing softened. The fear was still there, but it was diminished now.

Christine sighed in relief. She had wanted to be here for so long, and she finally could be. It wasn't the last hurdle, by far, but it was a step in the right direction. He felt her satisfaction, mingle with the remaining touch of fear, and was gratified by it. "Christine, when you are ready, I believe I can help you in another way. If you can share with me what has happened, I can help you ... balance."

Christine felt an immediate rush of shame well up within her, and she pulled away.

Spock felt it too, and let her pull back, but kept his hands lightly resting on her shoulders. "T'hy'la, you have no need to feel shame. It was not your fault. You couldn't have done anything to prevent it," Spock implored her, meeting her eyes directly, willing her to believe him. To believe that no matter what happened, he would be there for her, that what he felt toward her would never change.

Tears welled in Christine's eyes, as he allowed for one brief moment, all that he felt to shine through his eyes. She gasped at the implication. Shoving aside a sudden burst of fear, she nodded. "Now, before I lose my nerve."

Spock hadn't expected that. He wasn't sure if she was ready for this. He was torn between wanting to take it slow, and not wanting her to feel rejected if he said they should wait at least 24 hours after surpassing this first milestone. Seeing the determination in her blue eyes, Spock reached his hand up and very slowly placed his fingers on her contact points.

More gently than he'd ever done in his life, he gradually opened the link. Her nearly overwhelming fear flowed into him, he accepted it and sent back calm acceptance. He kept the meld at that light superficial level for long moments while she relaxed, then and only then moving to the next level.

As the two became one, the carefully placed blocks Christine had placed to help her survive and to keep full knowledge from Spock crumbled away and he found himself living through what she had. This time it was an experience shared. They both trembled from the raw emotions the memories evoked. Spock strove to temper the depth of his own reaction to them and through it all allowed her to see his warmth and gentleness. Sharing her pain and her helplessness, easing her humiliation time and again, Spock controlled the flow of memories, keeping them from overwhelming either of them.

Through it all, he helped her remember that not everyone strikes out at those around them, and when finally they reached the moment she had been unable to prevent herself from rejecting him, he allowed the love he could only fully acknowledge in the privacy of their minds, to wash over the peak of her self-loathing and cleanse it away.

* * *

Christine stood in the sweltering heat of Vulcan's full summer sun, grateful that the ceremonial clothing, though many layers thick, was gauzy and light weight. Many times she had despair of ever reaching this point. Over the past two years, she and Spock had met and surmounted the many hurdles cast in their path. It had been a full year following her abduction before Christine could allow Spock to do more than merely hold her.

At one point she'd so feared she never would be able to that she'd gone to him and told him she couldn't marry him. She'd told him it wasn't fair to him. The day would come when he would need that aspect, and if she couldn't provide it, he needed to look elsewhere before it was too late.

She smiled at the memory of his reaction. She could do that now. She could also hear his words as if he had said them yesterday. They were seared on her soul for all eternity.

"I cannot do that, Christine. You are my T'hy'la. That is more than just a word. It's meaning is far deeper than the literal, and beyond that we are bound in ways that even I do not fully understand. I could no more go to anyone else, than I could survive walking out of an airlock. I chose my path when I asked you to bond with me. I will not change that now. Our Katra are joined by more than just the betrothal bonding, and more than the Imzadi bond of your ancestors. The two together have created a joining of souls that is deeper than either of them could alone. One day, Christine, you will be healed and I have no doubt whatsoever that whatever comes, we will survive it together."

"Christine, are you all right?" Amanda asked. "It is almost time."

"What? Oh, yes, I'm fine. A little nervous."

"That is understandable, dear. When I came here, to this place to meet Sarek, I was scared half out of my mind."

Christine turned to Spock's mother in amazement. "Why?"

Amanda smiled. "Well, I didn't have the advantage of having seen what this time can do to Vulcans before hand. I didn't know quite what to expect going into it. Oh, don't get me wrong, Sarek had warned me. But hearing about it, and seeing it are two very different things."

Christine's eyes widened. She could just imagine being in her position. She remembered what a shock it had been to everyone who knew about it, the sudden changes his first Pon Farr had made in Spock.

Amanda's attention was drawn away from her and her mind returned to other fond memories. She had to do something not to dwell on the waiting. After they'd been able to fully resume their relationship, they'd started actively talking about how they would proceed. They'd even talked about a blended ceremony of all three cultures, but when they'd began researching the Betazoid rituals, all it had taken was one look at each other and they'd decided against it.

She'd caught a very brief thought from Spock of horror at trying to persuade T'Pau to go through with such things. He'd suppressed it very quickly, but not quickly enough to prevent her from sensing it and falling into a fit of giggles. He'd sat patiently waiting for it to pass with that eyebrow of his raised till it touched his bangs.

Just this morning, Spock had told her that when they returned to the ship, there would be a surprise waiting for her. He then placed a wrapped package, complete with ribbons and bows, on the center of his table. She'd moved toward it, but he'd caught her away from it, looking at her with an amused quirk of his lips. Not until they returned, he'd told her, as he'd led her out of his quarters.

If she wasn't so focused on the moment at hand, she knew the curiosity would be killing her.

"It's time." Amanda's voice brought her back to the here and now.

She took a deep breath and started forward, those in front and behind her moving at the same measured pace. And then she was there, at Spock's family place of Koon-ut-kali-fee. She went through the ceremony in something of a daze, her whole attention centered on Spock. The very air she breathed seemed to be that which he exhaled.

She moved when she was supposed to and knelt when she was told to, but the only thing real to her was Spock's thoughts and his very physical presence by her side. Then T'Pau touched both of their contact points. She felt bared to her soul and felt Spock similarly affected. They now knelt before the assembled people far more naked to each other than if they had devoid of clothing.

The fire they'd both been controlling up to that point nearly consuming them, they shuddered as one as T'Pau withdrew, leaving them the privacy of their fully awakened desires.

"Thy bonding is complete," T'Pau said as the rose from their knees. She then turned to Christine. "Thee art a brave soul, Christine of Earth. I am honored to welcome thee into our clan."

Spock's outright astonishment at the elder Vulcan's words told her as nothing else could, that she was the one being honored. "I am honored beyond mere words by your acceptance, T'Pau of Vulcan."

The hand held chimes rang out once again and the litter bearers returned to T'Pau and carried her out of the stone arena. Spock and Christine followed behind, leading the long line of witnesses.

They all stopped at a cottage less than 200 yards outside the stone arches. Spock led Christine inside and they stood quietly as the rest of the procession continued onward until the chimes could no longer be heard.

Spock stepped toward her and pulled her against him fully, the passion burning his soul, grabbed hold of her and robbed her of breath. Spock shook with the effort of retaining some semblance of control. "I will ... be as ... gentle as ... possible, but--"

Christine silenced his worries by crushing herself to him and kissing him with all the pent up hunger and desire reverberating between them, and let it consumed them both utterly. The fire within became a living entity that burned and danced freely uniting the newly Bonded couple in ancient rhythms. One became the other as they merged souls, minds and bodies. It was impossible to tell where one left off and the other began.

Far into the night the two lay side by side, sated and weary. She had no idea how much time had passed, only that she'd never experienced anything so intense and animalistic in her life. The first couple of times, she'd simply been swept along. The demanding lust filling them both, hadn't allowed for finesse or refinement, but after the aching need grew less intense, the night had become an incredibly sensual experience of endless bliss.

Not a single word had passed between them, none had been possible. Even now they didn't speak, for neither had the energy. As exhaustion overtook desire, sleep finally claimed them both.

* * *

The bright sun shining through the window woke Spock. He looked down at the woman still sound asleep in his arms. A smile touched his lips as he began to caressed the hand she rested on his chest with only two fingers of his right hand. She trembled slightly in her sleep, as he'd known she would.

Christine rose through the fog of sleep, the touch on her hand rousing her from the land of dreams. It was more than a caress, it was a siren song. It called to her soul, and she could do naught but answer. "Spock," she smiled sleepily, her eyes fluttering open.

"Good morning, my wife."

Christine thrilled as the words left his lips. They felt so right. "Yes, it is, my husband."

He leaned forward and kissed her lightly. "We must go."

"Why?" she asked startled. She'd thought all the ritual was done.

"There is still that surprise waiting on board the Enterprise."

"Oh, that!"

"Yes, that. They will be waiting for us."

"Who?"

"They will."

Christine's jaw dropped in surprise. "Just what have you got planned?" she asked trying to ferret out what he was hiding. She was astonished as he gently but firmly walled off that part of him that held the information she wanted. All she could tell was that he knew she was going to like it.

"I said it was a surprise." Amused tolerance at her attempts lightly laced his voice, as he rose and dressed. "Are you going to get dressed, or shall I follow another ancient, no longer followed custom and carry you back home as you are now?"

Although she was certain he hadn't meant it, Christine scrambled out from under the covers and dressed herself quickly. With all the other 'no longer followed' customs that had been invoked to bring them to this moment in time, she wasn't taking any chances.

Christine was surprised when Spock pulled out a communicator and signaled the Enterprise for beam up. She had thought they would stop by his parents before leaving, but she walked over to stand beside him. As they rematerialized in the transporter room, she got yet another surprise. Amanda and Uhura were there to meet them. Uhura came forward grinning ear to ear.

"Congratulations!" she said as she enveloped Christine in a bear hug.

"Thank you Nyota." Christine smiled, and then nodded to Spock's mother. "Amanda."

"Feel free to call me, Mother," Amanda grinned. Then both women hooked an arm through Christine's and towed her along with them.

She looked over her shoulder helplessly at Spock, but he simply made shooing motions with his hands, so she gave in gracefully and allowed the two to take her out of the room. Once in the corridor though, her curiosity reawakened. "So what's this all about."

"It's a surprise," she heard from both sides. She sighed in exasperation. She knew when she was out numbered.

No one said another word until after they reached her quarters. She led the way in and then stopped short as she saw the package Spock had left in his quarters, now sitting squarely in the middle of her table. She looked first at Nyota, then to Amanda.

"Well, go ahead, dear, open it. You're supposed to, you know."

That was all the encouragement she needed and she stepped forward and began removing first the ribbons and then the wrapping with care. After she pulled the lid off the large flat box, she froze. With trembling fingers she reached out and picked up the plain gold band that lay nestled on the white tissue paper. It was a man's ring.

She looked up at the two women watching her closely, with tear-filled eyes. Curling her pinkie through the ring, she reverently lifted open the tissue paper to reveal the antique white material that lay beneath it. "Oooh," she breathed, awestruck and reached out to lightly trace over the lace covered satin.

"Are you going to put it on, Chris, or do you want us to leave you alone with it?" Uhura teased.

"What?" Christine looked up at her grinning friend.

"Shall we help you into it?" Uhura repeated.

"Yes, oh wait." She turned to Amanda. "A.. Mother, was this Spock's idea?"

"Yes, actually it was. When he told me about it, I was simply thrilled. I always did want a daughter to plan a wedding for."

* * *

Spock sighed as Kirk helped him into the cummerbund.

"You can't be nervous, can you?" McCoy joked.

"No, Doctor, I am not nervous." Spock held up a rather odd shaped length of material. "I would however, like to know where this is supposed to go."

McCoy laughed until he wheezed. "Haven't you ever seen a bow tie before."

"Of course I have, Doctor, after they were on someone," he replied looking back to the black length that from McCoy's comments he gathered was an untied bow tie. "I will require assistance in this as well, as I have no clue as to how to tie it properly."

Kirk bit his lip in an effort not to join in Bones' laughter. "That's all right, Spock. I can help you with that. I imagine you didn't exactly grow up attending black tie affairs."

"That is correct, Jim."

"I can assist in that effort," Sarek said as he stepped forward. "In the past, there have been occasions that I have worn them."

"I was unaware that you had ever done so," Spock replied as he released the tie to his father.

"Yes, well, there are many things about the past that were never shared."

"Something that can be rectified in the future."

"Indeed," Sarek said, tying the bow into place easily.

"If you gentlemen will excuse me, there is something I need to attend to."

"Certainly Jim."

"Then I will meet you in the chapel in 10 minutes."

* * *

"Christine, you look beautiful," Uhura sighed.

"Who picked out the dress?"

"According to Spock, you did."

"What?"

"He contacted someone on Starbase 22 and evidently she said she knew exactly which one you wanted and would set is aside for when it was needed."

Christine wondered briefly who could have known how badly she'd wanted the dress she'd been staring at that fateful day on the Starbase.

"I know what would go perfectly with this," Christine said suddenly and lifted the skirts and rushed into her bedroom. She returned with a double strand of pearls. "They were originally my great-great-grandmother's. They've been passed down from mother to daughter on their wedding day since then. I got them when Mom... Oh I wish she could be here."

"She's with you in spirit, daughter."

Christine reached out and grasped the older woman's hand in gratitude.

"Well," Uhura said cheerfully. "That takes care of something old."

"And her dress is something new," Amanda said easily.

"Now all we need is something borrowed and something blue," Christine joined in.

"I've got the something blue," Uhura said, and pulled out the blue garter belt from behind her back.

Christine pulled up her skirts to allow her friend to help her on with it.

"And I have the something borrowed. As chance would have it, it matches your family necklace to perfection." Amanda turned and retrieved a small box from the computer table. Opening it, she pulled out two exquisite pearl drop earrings. "They belonged to my grandmother."

The door chime sounded, interrupting them. Christine started to answer, but Uhura clamped a hand over her mouth. "Who is it?" she asked.

"Captain Kirk."

The three women looked at each other and shrugged. Uhura removed her hand, looking at Christine questioningly.

She nodded.

Kirk stepped through after Uhura palmed open the door. "Wow! You are breathtaking!"

"Thank you, Captain." Christine blushed, lightly. It wasn't often she was complemented by her commanding officer. In fact she couldn't remember a single time.

"Tis only the truth." Kirk smiled charmingly and bowed in her direction. "Lady Amanda, I need your assistance."

"What can I do for you, Captain?"

"As you know, I will be performing the ceremony, and I find myself at something of a loss. Could you please help me with Spock's name?" Amanda started to reply, but Kirk added, "Something I can actually pronounce."

Amanda laughed lightly. "Even I cannot pronounce all of Spock's name, but I believe I have a shortened version that will do nicely for this particular ceremony, as it is human in origin. Spock Christopher Cha'Sarek."

Kirk grinned widely. "Just what I was looking for. Thank you." He turned on his heel and left them to finishing.

"I didn't know that," Christine said.

Amanda turned to her, a little sheepishly. "Well, he doesn't often admit to it. I will probably be hearing about revealing it for some time, but I gave him that name because it's a time honored tradition in my family for at least one child of each generation to bear the name Christopher. I couldn't let this one pass without honoring that."

Christine laughed. "I think it's very appropriate, considering. Oh! I don't have anyone to give me away. Do you know who Spock chose as his best man?"

"I believe Dr. McCoy has that honor." Nyota said.

"Well, that let's that out."

"I know it's not exactly in keeping with tradition, Christine, but I would be honored to fill that role," Amanda offered.

* * *

Before Christine knew it she standing at the front of a chapel full of people and she and Spock were repeating the vows she dreamed of saying as a young girl.

"Who gives this woman in marriage?"

Amanda rose gracefully from her seat next to Sarek. "I do." She felt Sarek's surprise.

~An interesting development, T'hy'la.~

~Yes, isn't it,~ Amanda's mind voice laughed.

Kirk nodded in acknowledgment before continuing. "Do you Christine Elizabeth Chapel take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I do."

"Do you Spock Christopher Cha'Sarek..."

Spock cast a startled glance at his Captain. How had... Ah, his mother.

"...from this day forward, until death do you part?"

"I do."

"If there are any assembled here who object to this union, let him speak now or forever hold his peace." Kirk paused the obligatory heartbeat before continuing. "Then, by the power vested in me by Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets, I now pronounce you husband and wife, and what God has joined together, let no man put asunder. You may kiss the bride."

To Christine's utter amazement, Spock reached out and cupped her face in his hands. He leaned forward and kissed her fully. ~For your dream, T'hy'la.~ Spock murmured in her mind, before releasing her lips.

Tears misted her eyes as they turned to face the assembled people. "I am honored to introduce..." Kirk hesitated briefly over the fact that he didn't quite know how to do so. "...our newest wedded couple."

THE END