Each one of them ignored the unwritten rule not to touch Vulcans. In panic or fury, they did worse than touch Saavik, they grabbed where her skin was exposed, snatching at her hands and her face, over and over jerking and pulling at her. One or two unexpected contacts and her mental shields would have kept her safe, but she was bombarded from all sides by a crazed mob. Their overwhelming thoughts flooded her, cracking the dam set around her mind and rupturing it wide open.
Please! Oh god, please I’m begging you! Don’t let me die, don’t let me die.
Look at me! Why aren’t you doing something! You’re supposed to do something, do it! You’re all alike, you cold, Vulcan--!
She tried wrenching her chin out of the man’s grip, tried pulling her hands away from the others, but every grasp clutched in more panic, in more fury, as others joined in. She reigned in her Vulcan strength with the people it might hurt.
The heavy reek of fear's cold sweat and rage's acrid stink burned its way through her sensitive nostrils into her head. Their rapid pulses on her skin thrummed like engines going wildly to overload until it drove out the sound of her own heart in her ears. Her mind, which already ached with assault, began to pound.
Don’t leave! You got to help me! I don’t want to die!
You’re not getting away! If I have to, I’ll pound you to the floor before you ever--!
Her shields weakened more and she put aside any concerns of using her full strength as she tried to save her mind, but it was too late. Her mental barriers crashed under the mob's assault, and her sense of identity clutched itself, barely holding on under the flood, just like the desperate fingers grabbing her as if she were a life preserver.
I am Saavik, my mind is my own. I am an individual and separate from these other minds...
A Yuvarion seized her collar, the tendrils from its arm flailing into her hair and against her scalp. Its fear released an odor, just like the Dsxyhtae on her right, all made more potent because they stayed trapped in a ship's enclosed environment. Neither could stop it anymore than the humans could stop sweating, anymore than she could help a Vulcan woman's recoiling from the stenches.
She didn’t know the alien words now pouring into her head, but the emotions were the same.
Fear, panic, begging!
You're just going to stand there! You people think you’re so superior and we’re so beneath you! You’re an unfeeling--
I am Saavik...
Help us, please help us! We’re going to die, you got to save us, please! don’t let them kill--
Why aren’t you doing something?! You’re supposed to protect us, you heartless--
I cannot help you if you will not release me...
Of course you don’t care, stuck up, conceited---
Rage, anger! Desperation!
Her survival instinct, born and forged under Hellguard’s hammer, bucked in a seizure under the assault. In another few seconds, it would blast back through the touches and sear into the invading minds. Her brain kept trying to protect itself and now struggled to keep her own sense of preservation from hurting the others.
I am an individ--
... release me, you must release me... I am...
Lauren Warfield battled her way through, and hammered at the vise grips locked on her shipmate. “Saavik,” she repeated, “Are you ok? Let go of her, dammit! Can’t you see what you’re doing? Let go of her!”
She pried off each frantic finger, broke the grip of each angry fist until she had enough room to shove in between them and wrap her arms around the Vulcan’s waist. Then she bulldozed through the packed crowd, using Saavik’s back as the wedge to force their path. The chaos screaming in Saavik’s head faded, and although her mind still reeled from the beating, that virile instinct to protect herself pulled in her hands and tucked her equally exposed head against Warfield’s shoulder.
Her now overly sensitive senses floundered under Lauren’s presence, but that was still so much better than all the others plundering her mind. She held on, her identity swirling as she picked out who she was and who was Warfield.
Her uniform protected her back, and with the combination of the tactical officer’s enraged drive to get them through and her shouts to the pair of Security officers to keep everyone else away, they plowed through the crammed bodies around them to the compartment wall.
“Saavik, you all right? How much damage did they do? These idiots! Who doesn’t know not to do that to a Vulcan? Dammit, am I too close?”
Warfield didn’t say idiots, she used the same expletive some in the crowd had shouted into Saavik’s head. Lauren stopped cursing, and put a couple steps of empty space between them while she stared with anxious eyes.
“Come on, Saavik, talk to me.”
Warfield began fading from Saavik’s mind too as her mental shields rose, still shaky, and then solidified.
My mind is... my own.
What a blessing to hear only her own thoughts again... what an asset to have Vulcan telepathy be through touch, to have that extra barrier when she needed things kept at bay.
“Savage! Answer me!”
Saavik pushed away from the wall and stood fully on her feet. “You use that name to instigate me.”
Since she herself had unintentionally created it, mangling her own name when intoxicated and ill from the sesquiterpene constituents in a planet's local plant life. Lauren got her back to the ship that day.*
Since she showed barely any of the drain taxing her, relief flooded Warfield’s face. She gave a small smile. “It usually works. Do you need a beam out, I’ll call the ship.”
“No.” Strength came back to Saavik's voice and stance. “That is unnecessary.”
She looked over to where, only a meter away, the crowd that had torn at her now rushed the few Security officers holding them back from her and Warfield. The small Security team, along with others in the mob, shouted for everyone to calm down, repeating reassurances that they had more than enough lifeboats and shuttles to get everyone off the failing cruise ship.
All their calls for order drowned in the din.
Saavik's nervous system still thrummed from shock and her mind rang with echoes from the crowd's panic and rage with the same words and threats that they gave out loud.
Warfield pressed a small tube into her hand: a nasal inhibitor, a relief from that other onslaught. "Here, I grabbed this for you." She pulled her communicator. "Are you sure you don't need to go to Sickbay? Your head -- Oh--"
She had seen the crowd.
Saavik ran to the Security officers' aid before they fell under the push. She corralled a few of the worst people as Lauren Warfield grabbed a few more, and Saavik made sure she had hold of them so they could not grab hold of her. She remembered a few argumentative Tellarites during one of her first training cruises and what had worked on them.
"Quiet." She put all of her authority in her voice, but never raised her volume during the whole time she spoke. They saw her mouth moving. If they wanted to hear her, they had to be quiet. "This ship is no longer under attack. We have captured the privateers and have them secured. The damage sustained here requires we evacuate your ship.”
“What is she saying?”
“Shut up so we can hear her!”
She continued, steady, trying to imbue some of that steadiness into the crowd. Their physical nearness and their overly emotional state pressed into her again, and her head began aching from the renewed attack. She channeled the pain away.
“We have a line of shuttles waiting to dock for each full one that is departing. These are in addition to the ship's lifeboats and transporters. You will all be evacuated safely.”
“Look!” someone yelled.
A Starfleet ship moved past the large viewport, and a wave of relief swept through the people watching it. That sense of security fragmented as a man, his jowls red, shouted, "That little ship! Five ships attack us and that's what Starfleet sends to defend us? How are we all going to evacuate into that! Where are the big cruisers! Where's something like Enterprise!"
Saavik’s mind perfectly recalled every word from Spock's letter saying he refused all further contact with her.** She pushed this pain down too before it crippled her.
Warfield found a shipping crate that rose her petite height to a level head and shoulders above most of the crowd. "That’s just one of our ships! Starfleet sent four of its best that specialize in this type of defense. We have plenty of room for everyone, and we’re more than a match for anyone out there!"
She neglected to mention only two of the four had defended the cruise ship, since it was the privateers' diversion from their main target: a colony world mining alloys and dilithium, a prize worth plenty on the frontier's black market. Their diversion almost worked except Captain Hunter had seen through it and split her fleet to defend both targets.
Another wave spread through the crowd, this time wordless but larger in feeling. Not at Warfield's words, which had done some small good, but at the sight of the USS Aerfen sweeping by. Smaller than the Enterprise, it still took away the crowd's fear and gave back its security, dramatically filling the viewport with its unique phoenix eagle emblazoned all along the ship's lines. Aerfen was Hunter's flagship in her border patrol squadron, and made as strong an impression as its captain always did.
Fortunately, for the crowd's sake, the scorch marks from the last battle blended with the black tipped feathers painted on the ship, matching the one Hunter wore symbolizing the friendship given to her by the alien, sentient phoenix eagles.
The man who had made the earlier criticism stared at the Aerfen, mopping his face free of the sweat that sprang out now that safety was in sight. His redness disappeared, and his wide eyes latched onto the sight outside. His face held the same expression as the woman next to him who had trembled until the Starfleet ships came into view. Another human threw an arm around the other's shoulders. Saavik didn't know if they knew each other or if this was a survivors connection.
"That's a fantastic sight, isn't it?" He clapped the other's back. "I guess sometimes a big ship needs a smaller one to save it. The universe has a sense of irony."
A part of Saavik's mind whispered, If so, that sense of irony is definitely Romulan. Since she, conceived then abandoned by the Empire, served on the only Starfleet vessel painted like a bird of prey.
With the immediate threat of a panicked stampede dimmed, Warfield hurriedly took advantage of the second of -- not calm, but lesser panic. "We will divide you between the lifeboats and the shuttles--"
A second part of Saavik's mind heard what Warfield's ears could not: all the full shuttles disembarked from the cruise ship for the Aerfen but one. A third part of her mind gauged the crowd as a fourth recalled:
Sometimes we can't make order out of chaos, Hunter had said. Our job is to keep it from getting worse. The people in that cruise ship just sat helpless in the middle of a battle. They'll come off that in different ways.
Warfield and the others had this area under control, but that remaining shuttle must launch or risk the civilians on board... and spread panic back into the remaining people on the ship. Saavik gave a tiny lift of her head in signal, and Lauren let her know she caught it by working a little nod into what she was saying.
Another press of bodies, more frantic hands trying to grab her, but Saavik slithered through, protecting herself, murmuring what were meant to be calming words and signaling for a human officer to come replace her. Other people who had kept their heads helped by pointing out that the sooner they let Starfleet do its job, the sooner they were out of here. And the lines were moving....
....except for one. Saavik’s ears sifted through all the noise of people and docking shuttles, until she picked up the argument around the last full one that hadn't launched with the others.
She recognized the voice right away. He had shouted loud enough in her mind, calling her and every Vulcan some of the worst insults she had ever heard in her experience, which was saying something.
He was saying something. Next to him, a woman, blonde and pale with a bruise growing on her right cheek just under the eye, clutched a boy of the same coloring and recoiled from the man’s shouts even though he aimed them at someone else.
"We're not getting on that shuttle, and it's not leaving until you find our daughter! She took off when they pushed us out of our compartment, and she's got to be around here somewhere. Find her!"
He shouted down at Chief Malcolm Jakobs who stared back up the few extra inches into the man's face. Jakobs’ body was barrel shaped, and looked even more overweight next to the broad leanness of the other man. His ordinary features gave off the same subdued patience that his flat accented words did in the face of the other's handsome fury.
"Sir, every one of our teams has people searching this ship for your daughter, and we got people checking everybody coming off the lifeboats, transporters, and shuttles. We're going to find her, you can count on that. But I got a kid myself, so I know you going on ahead isn't going to keep you from worrying. So let's send your boy and your wife on this shuttle while I take you with me and we do our own search. OK?"
Reasonable, Saavik thought. Not only did it do the best for this family, it sent out the full shuttle so they could board the waiting crowd into an empty one.
She was still too far away to assist, and a few taller heads suddenly blocked her view, but her sharp hearing picked up the unbelievable response.
"Are you deaf! I told you, nobody is going anywhere -- not us, not you, not that shuttle! -- until you bring out my daughter from wherever you have her!"
He accuses us of hiding his child?
The people blocking her shifted to let her through, and she saw Jakobs visibly reign in his temper. That said three things. One, he was not subdued, despite how he was talking; two, he was fast running out of patience for someone who wasn’t so much an anxious parent as someone determined to make trouble, and three, despite what physical appearances might convey, Jakobs was the better man.
Saavik already knew the latter.
The chief stepped closer to the father and dropped his voice. Even so, the fact she could hear him meant the people right around him also heard what was happening. They waited quietly to board and kept their talking low for the most part, either because they believed the Starfleet officers would handle things or because they wanted to hear the argument.
"Sir, you're worried about your daughter, and that's only right. You should be. But what about this little boy right here, huh? You got to think of him too. Let's not waste any more time keeping your family here. You and I will get them boarded and then we'll look until we find your girl or hear from one of our ships saying she just walked off a shuttle. I promise you, one father to another, you don't got to worry that she's getting left behind."
Saavik reached them as the next unthinkable thing happened. The mother almost dropped the boy in her hurry to set the child down and take her husband's arm.
"I'm not leaving, not until he does. See, Darryl, I told them I'm staying. I wouldn't leave, you know that--"
"Will you shut up!" he hollered, and then back to Jakobs. "Where's my kid! I know you got her or that you at least know where she ran off to!"
Jakobs’ glare landed on Saavik and his mouth thinned. He moved on the balls of his feet in what might have been shifting his balance if he hadn’t made two subtle gestures with his body right after it. She got his message.
Hunter captained a diverse crew that had to count on understanding each other, despite different languages and physical forms. Everyone in the squadron memorized a standard body language for just these situations.
Problem. Unknown cause.
The situation grew too volatile, and they couldn't risk any more time or further endanger the other civilians. Without breaking stride, Saavik maneuvered herself to cut the woman and child off from the father, and when she saw Jakobs nod slightly, she knew he agreed with her tactic.
Saavik swept mother and son with her motion towards the shuttle. The boy's grabbing her hand made her stop.
No thought came with the slamming emotions; this slight contact from one child, unlike the earlier assault, wouldn’t have let thought through. But the emotions didn’t need thoughts to be understood. They were base and ugly, haunting the edges of Saavik's mental shielding with a wordless language all their own. They sprang from a deep level that existed in all animal life, regardless of sentience. Saavik translated it when many others could not since she had used it when she was a child herself.
Terror, the sort that warned of unbearable pain because it had already endured it before; it screamed to run away, to keep the predator from attacking. It threatened the soul as well as the physical life and its victims knew they were helpless to stop the threat.
It was aimed not at Saavik, but at the boy's father.
Saavik's head swiveled in his direction, and then came the remembered screams from the boy’s mind: his, his mother's and sister's--
-- and Saavik’s, pulled from her memory.
She moved the child one step behind her.
The father suddenly noticed. “What are you doing? You can’t just take my son!”
He was right. She especially could not make that decision against a family based on hysteria. The boy's reaction might be a jumble of their screaming during the recent attack, now confused with his father’s shouting and pushing the child to his limits.
And she couldn't project her memories of Romulans on to someone else.
She wouldn't discount the boy's fear -- something was behind it.
Emotions stem from causes, her tutor T’San had taught her. You must learn to see the reason why the emotion is created, if the cause demands an action or decision on your part, such as fear telling you that you are endangered. Recognize it, learn from it so you will not need the emotion to inform you. Apply thought to it or you may cause yourself or others harm. What might appear to be a danger might, in reality, be of no threat. One who causes feelings of friendship might actually be your enemy, as you will discover if you view the situation clearly. It is the way all sentient species step upwards from instinct.
Before she brought a judgment against the father, she must have more information. Meanwhile, she could be cautious, see to the boy’s safety, and do the primary job they needed to do.
“I am not taking him, as you word it, however I also cannot allow any further endangerment to this child and the others here in the shuttle bay. This shuttle must launch immediately.”
Her communicator signaled with a different chime than usual at the same time Jakobs’ did. It was the priority alarm, so both she and the Chief moved the communicators close to their ears for privacy. The angered father tried shoving his way to his son, but Jakobs became an immovable wall, and the man was hit by matching hard stares from both Saavik and Jakobs. He stopped.
Lynne Hoskins, the Aerfen’s chief communications officer, spoke through the communicator. “We found the missing girl. She says she deliberately slipped away from her parents, and is refusing to return to her father. She is asking about her brother. She said she tried to take him with her and she’s begging us to get him as fast as possible.”
More evidence, and more could be gathered on her ship in the course of the regular evacuation and follow-up. That helped her make the decision necessary now for the sake of everyone here.
The boy’s small hand still gripped hers as she faced the father.
“Sir, your daughter has been found on the Aerfen.”
That little hand grabbed on more tightly and wide eyes flew to her face. Saavik spared a second to answer what she best interpreted he was asking her. “She is safe and asks for you.” She spoke to the mother. “We have one more seat in addition to the one I am giving this child. If you wish to reconsider, you may board as well or take the next transport with your husband. Regardless of your choice, this shuttle and your youngest child are leaving now.”
“You're not taking him! And I want my daughter brought back here!” the man shouted and tried to push past Malcolm Jakobs who once more was suddenly in the way.
Saavik addressed him again. “Unfortunately, sir, I cannot allow your son to remain here, if for no other reason than his exhibiting signs of shock. It is necessary to have a medical attendant travel with him. You can speak with Chief Jakobs regarding how you will be reunited with your family on the Aerfen.”
“Just a damn minute!” The father lunged to grab hold of the boy, but Saavik had already swept the child up into her arms and carried him away. She ignored the man’s shouts and his pulling at her, and marched to the medical team near the shuttle where they worked on minor injuries before people boarded. She only stopped when she reached one of the nurses kneeling next to an open medical kit.
“Nurse Barasa, this child requires accompaniment to the Aerfen."
If the boy was separated, he might calm down and they could identify if his father was the source of a larger problem or if the child suffered from post trauma after the pirate attack. A medical exam, which he would be given even if they didn't suspect something, would show any abuse. And the family, plus everyone else on the shuttle, would be safely off the failing cruiser.
The nurse stared at her for a beat, but she must have heard what had happened with the father. Either that or Jakobs now signaled from behind Saavik.
“I’d like nothing better than to go with the young gentleman.” Teresa Barasa Quezado smiled at the boy, and her smooth South American accent somehow added to the warmth in her words. "My last shuttle trip, I was all by myself. This will be a lot more fun."
The boy looked back at his mother, torn between her and escaping his father's shouting with the friendly nurse.
The nurse and Saavik exchanged glances. Barasa continued in the same tone with the child, "I bet your mother wants to come along too."
The woman swung anxious looks from them to her husband, and the fear on her face grew. Saavik was about to make the decision for her, especially with the shifting crowd beginning to shout again and a shuttle that must be launched, but the man suddenly grabbed his wife and dragged her with him.
“We’re all going! And you call ahead so our daughter knows we’re coming! You had better have her waiting for us as soon as this shuttle docks!”
The boy practically leapt into the nurse's waiting arms, and Saavik wanted to move in between him and his father. So did Jakobs from the way he looked, but they both knew they didn’t have enough proof to deny the man access to his family.
But they had enough to warrant further investigation, and the man was under scrutiny which kept his family safe if he was guilty.
Even to a Vulcan, Nurse Barasa’s smile was false as she led them into the shuttle, but the man’s insulting behavior alone gave him no grounds for a real one. “Of course, sir. Your daughter will be ready to join you as soon as all of you are done your medical scans. Sorry, sir, you can say you don’t need them, but it’s standard procedure after an attack like this. Your wife has that injury to her eye, and I saw bruises on your son’s arm. It’s a shame how much the pirates tossed this ship around. You and your wife take the two empty seats. My new little friend here,” she gave a real smile to the boy, and he lost some of his scared look, “will strap in with me in the emergency jump seat. I can start his exam on our way over.”
Scans would detect even old injuries, Saavik reminded herself. They had always detected Hellguard’s abuse on her body.
The shuttle’s hatch and the airlock doors had barely closed when her communicator signaled another emergency. Hoskins came through as a shout.
“Officer requires immediate assistance! Repeat, officer needs backup! Lieutenant Warfield is under attack! Those personnel that can be spared from the civilian evacuation proceed immediately to her location!”
“Make a hole!” Malcolm Jakobs shouted to the crowd in the corridor.
His pounding footsteps had already told Saavik that he had come with her to Warfield’s aide, but the crush of people parted in front of them in response, so no time was wasted shoving their way through.
Now they could see the tall Nehwour that easily held a struggling Lauren Warfield’s throat in his massive right fist. Her feet dangled in the air, and her blood was wet and red on his fingers. Nehwour skin was as coarse as a Terran shark's, and Lauren's neck cut against it as she fought to free herself. Her body suddenly drooped as the tactical officer stopped the pointless flailing that was only hurting her worse. She pulled at his squeezing fingers, and he must have opened them slightly because she drew in a huge, ragged breath.
A pair of Security officers aimed armed phasers and shouted for the Nehwour to let Warfield go. It only made the alien stare at them.
"You have to listen," he said, a hitched note barely audible in his deep, smooth voice.
"You have to listen!" one of the Security pair shouted. "Put Lieutenant Warfield down!" He paused a second for the big room's Universal Translator to work. His partner yelled for the crowd to quiet so the computer mikes didn't get anyone else, but the people were already in a barely contained hysteria and his shouts didn't help. "You hear me? Put her down or we'll fire!"
Worse than the Nehwour’s odd note in his otherwise baritone, silky sound was the Security man’s knuckles going white around the phaser rifle. The Starfleet crew was at the end of a long, tense stretch and it started showing.
But his training forced discipline over his anger and fear, and the strained lines eased into controlled readiness.
Warfield couldn't get at the huge Nehwour's strike zones, although Saavik couldn’t tell if that was the reason why the alien held the human away from him. The Nehwour thick neck, as wide as the head, didn't have as large a rotation as some other humanoid species, and he might just be keeping Warfield in sight.
Saavik used the distraction of the Security team, and the milling bodies streaming towards the shuttle bays, to come up behind the Nehwour where he couldn't turn to see her. She leapt from four paces away and landed on his back, immediately scrambling to grab hold. With her legs wrapped around his left arm and her one hand grabbing his black tunic at the shoulder, she swung upside down and then came from underneath his right underarm and pressed the nerve cluster there. She heard Warfield drop to the ground and knew the tactic to make him open his hand had worked.
But now he had her.
As if she was nothing more than lint, his left hand reached back and plucked her off. He pulled her around where he could see her by keeping a firm hold on her uniform jacket. By sheer coincidence, his fingers covered the jacket’s closures and squeezed the material into a tight harness around her body so she couldn’t free herself. Her phaser bit into her body from its shoulder holster underneath her jacket where she had put it so it couldn’t be grabbed by anyone in the crowd.
He shook her like an adult sehlat teaching an errant Vulcan child that she had done something wrong, but with a lot more force because his distress left his strength unchecked. Her head snapped back and forth on her neck, making her teeth sink into her tongue and cheek. Blood flowed into her mouth, and she clamped her jaw tight to avoid more damage.
“I won’t go in the transporter! I won’t!”
From the height advantage of being held above his head, Saavik saw down the corridor into the scores of pushing bodies headed past them to the shuttle bays. An elderly woman had collapsed from stress and exhaustion against a wall, and pleaded with people to help her get out with the rest of them. One man reached out for her from the center of the press, but the wrought nerves in everyone around him made them stampede, and their tide forced him away from the old woman. She buried her face in her hands and cried, entreaties for help mixed in with panicked tears.***
The woman was blocked from the rest of the Starfleet party’s sight by the crowd, and Saavik didn’t get a chance to tell them because the Nehwour shook her again.
Warfield struggled to her feet, but it was Jakobs who gave the next warning as he took a phaser out and aimed it too. “Put her down!”
“You have to let me on a shuttle! Or a lifeboat! Anything!” Unfortunately, the natural deep sound native to the Nehwour made him sound more threatening than scared. His dark gray color couldn’t pale from fright and it couldn’t tighten in stress from its rounded lines. Saavik might have misjudged him as well if she hadn’t worked with a couple Nehwour before being assigned to the Aerfen. She saw the tiny sign in the way his air slits, behind either side of his lipless mouth, gave the slightest flutter. If he was angry, those air slits would flap wide open for longer periods of time to feed his equivalent of adrenaline. Fear caused the little, tight squeezes that broke up his regular breathing pattern.
“Transporter psychosis?” she asked.
His slate eyes were so flat and glassy, they often reminded others of something dead, and they couldn’t reflect emotion. But they landed on Saavik and stayed there. “Don’t call it that! You make me sound crazy. I’m just not going into one. You have to put me in a shuttle!”
“Look, we hear what you’re saying,” Jakobs answered, but the Nehwour didn’t stop looking at Saavik. “But we can’t put you in a shuttle because of your size. We need every space possible to get everyone of so we can’t give you two or more seats. You can help us out by seeing that we’re doing our best--”
His soothing words got cut off.
“No transporter,” the Nehwour said. “Put me in an aisle, on the floor, I don’t care.”
Warfield had a hand on her sore neck, the red abrasions startling against her skin, but she managed to speak. “It’s not just that, it’s the weight. Every ship, including the lifeboats, are balanced for weight. You have to believe us, we can’t afford--”
“No transporter! I don’t care that you think I’m big!”
Saavik could see herself in his glassy eyes as she calculated his weight. Most likely, the same amount as the entire family she had just put on board the previous shuttle. Even in the vacuum of space, a ship had to worry about weight because of the false environment it created within its hull. Aerfen and the rest of its squadron planned to store its heavy items on the cruise ship once it was evacuated; that was on top of the extra space all starships kept for emergencies. In the meantime, with all the rescued people coming on board, some of the crew’s personal items were being stored--
Saavik tried to crane her head over her shoulder. “Weightless.”
Warfield was opening a com channel, although Saavik didn’t know if it was because of what she had said or if Lauren had thought of it too.
“What are you talking about?” the Nehwour demanded.
“We can change the artificial gravity in the shuttles and lifeboats so passengers will undergo what is referred to as weightless conditions. It will allow for additional leeway in the amount we can carry.”
“So I can get on a shuttle? That’s what you’re saying. Right?”
She stared back at him with the same, unblinking lock of eyes on eyes. “Why should we reward a person who has attacked two officers sent to rescue him? What will prevent our lives being threatened by others in this crowd once they see the tactic has worked for you? Especially as you require extra space regardless of the weight issue.”
His tongue snaked out to clean his eyes almost too fast for her to see, and his air slits were now so pinched, only the center bit of each one opened to let in a morsel of breath; he would be starved for air soon if they couldn’t settle this. Nature wasn’t always kind to its creations.
To which Vulcans could attest.
But it showed Saavik he was starting to see what he had done.
“Please,” he whispered. “I can’t go into a transporter... I can’t.” Something about his torment made him keep her in his fist.
But at least she could talk with him, which was a freedom Warfield hadn’t had. All her training stated that the more the two of them talked, the more likely he’d see her as a person, not just as a tool or object for him to use -- or threaten.
She hadn’t forgotten the collapsed woman in the corridor, who still had not received help. She was also very aware of Warfield whispering to the Starfleet team to fire on the count of three. Once the big alien was down, they could force their way through the crowd to the woman that desperately needed them, and it would be a fight with panic ruling so many in the crowd.
Then, in thinking over the one fallen human and the one large Nehwour who was bringing a punishment down on himself instead of the reward he wanted, Saavik’s mind added them together and calculated a solution.
“My intention is not to cause you mental distress.” And it wasn’t, but she had to consider what affect this was going to have on all the others they were evacuating. “Perhaps you could aid us in return. A human woman, elderly, requires assistance in the corridor behind you.”
He turned sharply around, almost hitting Warfield, Jakobs, and the two Security officers with Saavik’s legs which swung out as she spun with him. With all his height, he saw the woman where she still lay collapsed on the floor, crushed to the wall by the jam of people who only saw the way out and only heard their own inner dialogue about getting free of the failing cruise ship.
The big Nehwour said nothing, and just started pushing against the stream. Some people shouted at him, but he suffered from the same tunnel vision that they did, and their comments didn’t penetrate his single minded purpose of helping Saavik so he could get on a shuttle. His eyes stayed on the fallen woman, and he even forgot the Vulcan was in his hand. When people refused to make way for him, complaining he ruined their chances of evacuating faster, he idly swatted at them so he could get through -- with the hand that still held her, making her plunge into them like a cruiser on a collision course. Most ducked just in time, but others fell against whoever stood next to them. The Nehwour registered none of it, and Saavik started to call out to the crowd to make way when she and her... host broke through and the old woman was suddenly there.
She stared up at them, her body trembling, and her eyelashes wet from tears. It made her the most fragile creature Saavik had ever seen, and, for no reason at all, she was suddenly reminded of Amanda. The two women didn't look alike except for their silver hair and being human, but something in the way strain turned the skin to porcelain, the way it was thin over the cheekbones even as it sagged in other places and created hollows, made Saavik think of the way Amanda had looked, standing next to Sarek, on the Bird of Prey's viewscreen before she heard Spock was alive and coming to Vulcan for a possible refusion.
“Please...” The word broke off between trembling lips, and Saavik realized she and the Nehwour scared the woman even more. The ceiling lights probably blinded her until the two of them were just a silhouette, and a menacing unknown.
“We will not harm you. We have come to aid you.” Saavik pitched her voice to what she thought humans considered soothing or at the very least non-threatening.
The old woman’s words slid from her mouth like they simply fell out with her breath. “My legs gave out.” Saavik wasn’t even sure if the woman knew what she was saying. “I couldn’t... they wouldn’t work.” She continued staring up at them, her defeated body working on tired automatics while her soul lay crumpled somewhere inside. “Someone tried to help.”
The Nehwour's previous barreling through the crowd, and his currently being an obstacle, had one benefit. People now noticed the old woman they had previously been too panicked to see right in front of them. Remorse and guilt showed on quite a few faces, and they reached out towards her.
That is, they would have if the Nehwour hadn’t already held out his free hand. “We’re going,” he said, in the same automatic way the woman had spoken. “In a lifeboat or shuttle, I don’t know which.”
“All right,” she said, as if he were merely the travel agent giving her the details for her cruise.
The big hand reached down further, and Saavik began telling him not to pick up the fragile woman in the same way as he had swung her about, but stopped when she saw the warning wasn’t necessary. The elderly hands reached up, only able wrap around his two smallest fingers, reminding Saavik of the boy who had held onto her hand only moments ago. The Nehwour lifted the woman to her feet more than her actually standing up. She didn’t take two steps when her legs crumpled again.
Her face flamed at the same time as more tears made her eyes bright. “I’m sorry -- it's so silly--”
The Nehwour scooped her up into the crook of his arm as if she was an infant. As nonchalantly as he had pushed the crowd, he turned around, carrying her and already disrupting the traffic in the corridor.
No one complained this time.
“Sir,” Saavik said. She waited for him to remember she was here and swing her in front of his face. People in the corridor hastily jumped out of the way, as much as they could in the tightly packed space.
“What?” the Nehwour asked.
“Release me,” she requested. He started to do it; her feet almost touched the floor when he abruptly lifted her back into the air. Apparently, looking down at her was too much of an effort any more.
“Where?” he asked.
She almost asked him to clarify, but decided teaching the means of better communication could wait. She indicated a line jutting off from where they stood. “Lifeboat bay 4, station 3. While it is the largest, I cannot promise you will be comfortable.” She was about to say which shuttle the elderly woman could take when the Nehwour interrupted.
“We don’t care. We’ll be staying in one piece, that’s what matters.”
He walked off even as he spoke, and Saavik pushed her way to his side to make sure the woman wasn’t protesting. Her brief glimpse made Saavik stop and go back to her duty post with Warfield; the human's dazed expression had started to fade as she calmly sat in that massive arm and chatted idly on the situation, safe and secure.
Saavik pulled her communicator and told the personnel at bay 4 that she had cleared the Nehwour and his “guest” for a lifeboat.
When she managed her way back, she saw someone from a medical team was bending over the abrasions around Warfield’s neck. Jakobs stopped working the crowd into a calmer funnel towards the shuttle bays to look Saavik up and down to see if she was all right. Funneling the crowd was a long, relentless job since each time they allayed the fears of everyone in the corridor, that group loaded into the shuttle bays, and a new anxious group filled the space, shouting to get off the ship and starting the whole process again.
Jakobs said, “You didn’t signal for help, so we didn’t push it.”
She nodded. The crew’s main job was to get everyone off the cruise liner; redirecting anyone to help her when she didn’t need it jeopardized the evacuation.
Her cut tongue and cheek stung, but she easily removed the pain. She didn’t spend any energy in beginning to heal the wounds, since that energy needed to be focus on everything going on around her. Not to mention that her brain, as it was reminding her, was flesh and blood, a highly complex system of a gland and electrical synapses, but still just another vulnerable body part that had undergone serious trauma today. Between damaging it further and healing mouth lacerations, her mind received the higher priority.
“From what we got,” Jakobs was saying, “from the crowd going by, you had it under control.”
She nodded again, gracefully accepting his compliment. She outranked him, but the Chief had years of experience. He had served with Hunter ever since she took command of the Aerfen and he was a newly enlisted non-comm; a compliment from him held real meaning because of what he knew.
“They also said that you made quite a sight. I can believe that just from watching the big guy march out of here with you riding along like a periscope aimed backwards.”
Now she raised her eyebrows as she gave him back his look. There was speaking from experience and there was speaking in jest. She had learned that much.
Saavik's communicator signaled at the same time as Jakobs’ and Warfield’s, and they each pulled theirs open, but none of them had a chance to speak before Hunter's voice came blasting out.
“Which one of you wants to tell me why we gave a shuttle seat to one of our people instead of a civilian!”
Saavik signaled Jakobs that she would answer. "I gave the order, Captain." She had been the ranking officer on the scene, and she had decided to send the nurse along. He hung close even as he went back to directing the people in the corridor, reassuring them at the same time as keeping them moving.
"You still haven't said why, Lieutenant!"
Jakobs deliberately widened his eyes at Hunter using Saavik's rank. "It's like your mom using your full name when she's yelling at you, you know."
Saavik didn't know, but she wasn't going to waste time asking. "Extenuating circumstances required a crewmember accompany that particular party, Captain. Current evidence suggests possible abuse against the children. A member of the medical staff could initiate exams as well as monitoring the father."
Hunter was silent for a moment before Saavik heard her captain exhale loudly over the comm. "All right, I'm giving you leeway on this one until I can get a full report. But no more -- wait, what's this comm coming through about you wanting to give a Nehwour a lifeboat?!"
Hoskins cut in over the channel before Saavik could explain about the weightlessness allowing a full compliment of passengers. "Captain, Commander Stuart is sending a priority override to all personnel."
Aerfen's first officer was in charge of the team trying to keep the cruise ship’s engines online. She spoke without any further introduction, knowing the priority signal status was all the permission she needed to cut over her captain. "Another dilithium crystal has a hairline fracture, this one's in the center of the crystal. Bottom line: we've lost time. The engines won't hold as long as we thought. We’re routing everything we got into life support, but it won't last."
"How much time do we have, Dannan?" Hunter asked.
"We estimate 30 minutes."
And Saavik estimated 3,562 people were still on board, to be evacuated sixty-five percent faster or they would be lost.
The latter was not an option, as Hunter was saying. "I don't need to tell you people that everyone gets off. All of them, all of us. We can't use the transporters anymore than we already are, so we're using Warfield's and Saavik's idea of going weightless on the shuttles and lifeboats. Pack them in, keep them calm, and give them the crash course in zero gravity training."
She and Stuart cut the channel, off to the next emergency that needed their attention. Warfield got up from the nurse, the abrasions healed enough that her uniform collar covered up any sign of them. They hadn’t been serious to begin with, but if left unhealed, the blood could have upset the crowd.
"Thousands of people being thrown into zero gee. The Vomit Comet rides again." Warfield gave Saavik a strained grin. She didn't have to explain the reference; Saavik knew it was the old NASA jargon for the airplane used in weightless training.
Jakobs worked with them both to speak with the crowd before he jerked his head towards his post at the shuttlebays. "I'd better get back. Telling those people about the zero gee, after all they've been through already with a pirate attack, is going to be fun enough. Wait until this ship starts to shake when the engines collapse."
Warfield grimaced, and spoke low in between allaying people’s fears. "No rest for the wicked, Mal. At least you have someone to crash with tonight when this is all over."
It was fairly common knowledge that Malcolm Jakobs and Dannan Stuart had recently become intimate, even though Saavik never understood why the crew insisted on knowing their shipmates' private lives.
Jakobs snorted. "None of us is sleeping alone tonight. You’re forgetting that they're stacking us five layers deep to make room for everyone we’re taking onboard. I just hope I don't draw Kartchner and DeLuca again like the last time. Kartchner's snores enough to suck in a bulkhead, and DeLuca flings his arms around so much while he sleeps that he hit me in the face three times from the next bunk."
Lauren smirked. "Like I said, no rest for the wicked, Mal. Nothing says good-night's-sleep like hearing you're bunking in a cargo bay."
He gave her a dirty look that mocked her mocking, when a woman carrying her son collided with him. The small boy wore a red and white stripe shirt underneath a tattered black vest, and a plastic eyepatch with a skull and crossbones symbol that matched the one on his black hat.
"I'm a pirate!" he yelled at the three Starfleet officers. He made laser pistol sounds even though he swung a toy sword that just missed Jakobs' one eye.
A man next to them screamed at the boy's mother. "Are you insane, lady! Did you forget who just attacked us!”
The boy didn’t understand that the shouting was over him, so he waved his sword again, right at the man who was complaining.
His mother hitched her son up again on her hip, her hair falling out of what must have been a very elaborate style. Now wisps sprung out in different directions where it didn’t cling to her skin from sweat. “He’s just a kid!”
“So’s my daughter! Want to see what the pirates did to her?”
He brought out a girl about the same age as the boy. Saavik could tell a medic had treated her, but that didn’t prevent everyone from seeing where she had been burned down the right side of her face.
The boy picked that moment to once more yell in triumph about how he was a pirate that would get them all. The girl started crying, and when the little sword was aimed at her, she flinched behind her father.
Jakobs exchanged stone faced glances with Warfield.
Twenty-six in their squadron were seriously injured from the pirate attack. One was dead.
That didn’t count the loss to the cruise ship’s crew.
But as Starfleet, they had to find a solution, not choose sides in the problem. Unfortunate, but there it was.
“He’s a kid!” the boy’s mother yelled again. “He doesn’t understand!”
“You do!” the other parent yelled back, and Jakobs stepped in between them before there was a riot. He fumbled with his Starfleet insignia and held it out to the boy.
“Trade?” He plucked the toy sword from the child's hands who threw it in his eagerness to take the pin. Jakobs got the line moving again as Saavik heard him offer his water flask -- also emblazoned with a Starfleet emblem -- as a gift to the little girl.
Warfield spoke in a whisper. "I remember when I thought pirates were romantic. That was a long time ago." She seemed to shake herself, then looked over at Saavik as best as she could with people pushing and shoving. "Listen, Lynn probably can't do her usual Idiom of the Day exchange with you, so I'll do it. No rest for the wicked. Your turn."
"You believe we are wicked?"
"We are if pirates are the good guys.”
Saavik wondered if this was humor. She was making progress with humor. Once, after repeated demands that she attempt it herself, she had tried the Romulan humor she knew from childhood on Amanda and Lynne Hoskins. Not only had they not gotten the joke, they had paled. So Saavik had then repeated the extremely dry humor of Subcommander T'Mes, the Vulcan woman she had met while stationed on the homeworld. Amanda ‘got it’ right away since she knew T'Mes well, but Hoskins took a few seconds longer. Still, both had agreed that they liked the humor.
Based on these experiments, Saavik was figuring out her own sense for being wry, and that experience told her that Warfield was not joking now. In fact, she was quite the opposite.
“Sorry, I shouldn't have-- never mind. The expression is a translation of a religious quote. So is No rest for the weary. Many people use it now as a joke or in sympathy when you're going through difficult times. Now it's your turn. Give me one from Vulcan."
Another thing Saavik didn't understand: why Lynn Hoskins or Lauren Warfield insisted on such things that they claimed was part of being "friendly". Although the possibility existed that Warfield used this as a means of distraction from tension.
There always are possibilities.
Saavik pushed thoughts of Spock away. Pain served no purpose. She knew what she had lost.
Perhaps being "friendly" with anyone else wasn't such a good idea, not after losing the one person whom she trusted most.
She answered Warfield anyway, since it would have been rude not to answer, and even if the two humans didn't attempt to learn the actual Vulcan, they were all expanding their vocabularies to some degree.
But unknowingly, she retreated a step inside herself from Warfield's friendship.
She couldn't know Lauren was thinking Saavik needed the distance, or that she reigned in her natural impulse to say how it hurt to have the Vulcan pull away. If Warfield had more experience with Vulcans, and Saavik in particular, she would have said it, just as Kirk, McCoy, or Amanda would have done -- or innocently blundered in, the way Saavik's friend Rrelthiz would have. That way, Saavik would have seen the issue and could have answered it.
Instead, the walls surrounding Saavik unconsciously grew a little thicker.
She spoke the idiom in Vulcan. "Te'tsyih zaia'kharh athaut itkya 'ynai."
"Which means?" Lauren asked.
"Even facts are not universal."
Warfield scowled. "How can facts not be universal? They're -- yes, ma'am, we will be getting everyone's belongings to them after we evacuate the ship. You might have to wait until we tow the ship into port. Yes, ma'am, you can trust us. Our people don't steal. Now it's very important that you listen to the officer over there. He's telling you about the weightless travel. Yes, ma'am, thank you. -- Where was I? Oh yeah, they're facts. How can you say they're not universal?"
The communicator signal once more interrupted. “Saavik!” Hunter ordered, “Get immediately down to Transporter Room three and take a Security detail with you. A civilian has stolen a phaser.”
Warfield turned sharply to face her, and Saavik theorized what was going through the tactical officer’s mind in a flash of less than a second. Warfield had a little more experience, and once outranked her before a mistake with a landing party got her taken off the promotions list while Saavik caught up.*
The fact that assignments with Security usually went to Warfield as weapons officer added to it. Saavik getting this instead of her might show the Vulcan was again passing her by in the eyes of Command. She had, very recently, got into trouble with an admiral.
But who might be promoted over whom couldn’t factor in doing their duty, so Saavik took off and Warfield without hesitation got the crowd to make a path as she called out for the Vulcan to be careful.
Again, they fought their way upstream. The pace in the corridor was more of a stampede than ever with the bigger loads going on the shuttles, but it did have the added benefit of easing the tensions in the air. The faster people moved off the failing ship, the better they felt. A few now even smiled at Saavik and the two humans with her, and a family of analytical Pibauferxas stretched out their extraordinarily long arms to hold back the crowd so the Starfleet personnel could get through.
That was the atmosphere away from where someone had stolen a phaser.
The closer they drew to the problem, the more somber the expressions around them became. The crowd still parted to let them through, some with sounds of relief, but strain showed the worst even as people told each other to stay calm, and instead of sounds of easing tension, they heard noises of having survived the pirate attack only to face a new battle inside.
"Someone stole a phaser! I heard it from someone in the crew-- they said the guy's a maniac! What more do we have to go through?"
"--my friend was there and he said it's a human and he took someone in the crew hostage!--"
And even further in: "--my cousin barely escaped with his life! A Tellarite killed the transporter operator and took the rest of the room hostage--"
And further: "--I was right there! It's a Takessian and it threw acid on one of the Starfleet people, grabbed a phaser, and shot four more! It's demanding one of the pirate ships--"
Saavik was in sight of the transporter room door when she heard one distinctive sound followed by screams.
No, not from the transporter room -- from a small passageway a meter further. A cluster of passengers drew away in a knot of tense bodies; they were the ones who had screamed and muttered or shouted now as fear built up again when escape had just been in sight.
But there had been others, fainter, closer to the phaser shots.
The man and woman with Saavik drew their weapons as surreptitiously as possible even as they ran, and kept them tight to the sides of their bodies that faced away from the crowd. She kept hers under her jacket. The Security pair were all the weapons she could afford if hostages had been taken.
They stopped at the hallway's edge rather than rush in. Saavik called down, identifying herself, but didn't hear what she expected in reply.
"Thank god, get down here! I can't get this open!"
Saavik risked easing to the corner and darting a glance down the hall. He was human and sweating from struggling with a sealed fire door. Scorch marks from the phaser scarred the once smooth, gray-white hatch and walls.
"Some people are trapped behind this thing!"
It could be a ploy to make them come in with their weapons down, but Saavik's hearing picked up the renewed screams and shouts from behind the emergency door.
"Place the phaser on the floor, sir, and push it towards me."
"Huh? Oh, sorry!" He pulled it from the waistband of his pants and did like she asked without a clue that he was in trouble.
They still didn't know why he had taken the phaser, and if he meant this as a trap, it was a good one. So even though he wasn't threatening anyone, especially now that he was unarmed, she signaled the Security woman, Haidar, to take the rear and box the man in between them. The Arab nodded and moved into place.
Saavik and the other Security officer, the dark Lisimba, were already at the fire door. He pressed his shaved head against the barrier and called to the screaming people on the other side to be calm. From the shouts that came back, they found out that another door had closed behind the trapped people, sealing them in tight, and Saavik rushed to check the control panel for the air levels. At her gesture, Lisimba again tried to keep the people on the other side of the door calm and quiet. Shouting and panicked breathing were using up too much air.
With the extra hands now helping, the man who had taken the phaser sagged, bending over at the waist, with his hands on his knees. "I took a wrong turn, I thought I was going into the transporter room. A friend of mine forgot her ID in her cabin, and I said I'd go back for it. I admit I was hoping you guys would let me tag along when you beamed her out, once I was standing there, you know?"
Saavik's fingers punched at the control patrol as she ran a systems check, trying to find out why the fire door had activated, why it stayed closed, and, most importantly, to get it open. Even being the ranking officer, she and the Security team silently motioned to each other that she should take this and they would handle the misreported emergency and the problems it still caused.
That's exactly why Haidar spoke. "How about explaining why you stole the phaser?"
"Right, sorry, my head's all over the place." He scrubbed his face with his hands and took a deep breath. "I ran into the transporter room to get help, but I don't know if I sounded like a maniac or if the person working for the cruise line is a moron because they just blew me off. Said the doors would cycle open and I was overreacting. So I grabbed a phaser that was just sitting there to shoot the lock open or something, but then I got afraid that it would totally screw up the door. I tried shooting the door itself to make a hole, but it didn't work."
Saavik made a mental note about the cruise crew leaving a weapon unsecured.
He dragged a hand through his hair. "I am really glad they sent you guys because I didn't know what else to do. It didn't cycle open like they said it would."
"It is a malfunction in the system." Saavik opened the comm to Dannan Stuart in Engineering as Lisimba came up to her. Haidar was pulling the civilian back towards the fire door and out of earshot.
Stuart beat Lisimba in talking first. "Status on the stolen phaser?"
"This is an unsecured channel, Commander."
The man may be out of earshot, but there was no guarantee, so Stuart had to know that what was said on either end might be overheard.
"Understood." Stuart would govern her words, and knew Saavik did the same. "Go ahead."
"The reported emergency has changed, Commander. We have a misactivated fire door trapping a small party of people. The civilian states he took the phaser in order to open the door." Saavik didn't have her field parka, but she fortunately did have a few items with her that she could use now. She stopped running the system diagnostic, pulled out a multi-facet tool and started removing the panel as fast as possible.
Time was running out before the engines failed and life support was gone. They had only twenty minutes left from the original thirty.
"How are you handling it?" Stuart asked.
Saavik spared a glance at Lisimba who nodded and held up five fingers. So they agreed: Security level five.
"Recommend we maintain a secure area including all parties as a precaution."
Translation: they didn't think the civilian was any threat, but to be safe, they were keeping him here where he could be watched, and would evacuate him with the people trapped between the fire doors. Letting him go risked the slim possibility that he wasn't innocent and would be free to attempt something else.
"Agreed. What about the door?"
The guts of its controls were in Saavik's hands as she stripped faulty chips and leads. "Its sensors read a false positive. It will not respond to overrides."
"Get it open, Saavik! We could beam those people out, but you know what that would mean."
In order for Aerfen or any other ship in the squadron to use its transporters to bring the trapped people out before they ran out of air, it would have to stop transporting people it was already rescuing from somewhere else in the cruise ship. They didn't have that sort of extra time to make other people wait.
"I am already attempting to find the fault in the override, Commander."
"Tell me now. Do you need an engineer with a full kit? We have system failures springing up all over this boat, so I don't want to spare the body or the kit if I don't have to, but if you need them, we have to know now. You won’t have time for anyone to get there later."
On cue, the ship shuddered and it rumbled from below the deck. The engines were failing.
The connection between the override controls to the main board was shorted out. Replacing that section meant getting the full engineering kit, but Saavik figured out the time it would take for anyone to get it here plus making the repair against how much air was left inside the shut doors. She looked at what she had and made her choice.
“It is better if we attempt the repair on our own, and if it fails, risking the delay as we transport the trapped party.”
“If that’s going to happen, you have to ask for the transporters in the next five minutes.”
Saavik had calculated 7.23 minutes. She pulled the small chip bank that no longer connected with the override controls as she asked, “Has our engine evaluation been modified?”
The power source on the small board had shorted out with its connector. She flipped to a different tip on her multipurpose tool and pulled the burnt supply, then switched to yet another tip to test the relays that ran from the now gone power source to the rest of the bank. Positive: if she replaced the power, she’d get control of the door.
Stuart talked over all this, her words coming out faster just as the remaining time ran out more quickly. “We figure we lost another 10 minutes. Get that door open, Saavik, or let us know if -- no, forget that. Get that door open.”
Neither of them bothered signing off. Saavik pointed for Lisimba to take the stolen phaser from Haidar and bring it over. She’d scavenge its power supply, strip its connectors, and jury-rig it to the door’s small bank.
Lisimba took the phaser from Haidar's belt. Doing that was probably what tipped off the one who had stolen it that he was in some trouble. After all, they had taken that particular phaser instead of using one of theirs. And it was true; Saavik wasn’t going to strip down one of their weapons while someone was even slightly under guard, not when they had a spare.
"Hey, they did send you down here to open this door, right?" His protruding Adam’s apple bobbed in a hard swallow. His eyes barely showed through the light brown hair that had fallen in front of them, but she watched them dart from her to the pair of Security officers and back to her. "Right?"
Lisimba handed her the phaser during this, and his face, as well as Haidar's, watched and waited for her to answer the man's begging for reassurance.
She was the ranking officer. Even though she had acted on Lisimba’s recommendation to put the man on Security level five, it was her responsibility to enforce it and explain it to the person in question.
He didn't give her a chance to say anything. "OK, stealing a phaser wasn't the smartest thing to do, but I swear! I didn't mean any harm, I just wasn't thinking!"
Maybe he thought that wasn't the best thing to say to a Vulcan, because he stammered, “I mean, I didn’t know what else to do, the ship’s crew wasn’t helping me, and ok, I must have made them panic by grabbing a phaser, but--”
Saavik interrupted him even though she knew it was rude, especially from a Vulcan, but it simply wasn’t necessary for him to continue like that. He was only upsetting himself each second he went on.
“Sir, we are convinced you meant no threat by your actions. You are correct in your statement regarding the lack of help from the ship’s crew, and your attempts to rescue these people speaks well of your character.”
He slumped in relief, which she saw when she had to spare precious seconds from her repair work to look at him and make sure he understood the next part of what she had to say. Her lacerated tongue fortunately hadn't swelled fully yet, so it didn't get in between her teeth while she talked. Her words were still clear, although her cheek was bitten a few times more as it did get in the way.
She had the phaser’s power pack out and its connectors stripped off, but that didn’t automatically mean it was ready to hook into the door’s circuit bank. There was a reason why the two weren’t made to connect; the power for a phaser was vastly higher than the bank circuits could take, and they could burn out without ever opening the door. She had no reducer coupling to act as a mediary between the two parts and bring down the current, and no high-limit safety circuit to protect the bank from burnout. She also had no choice. She had to get that door open in the next minute and a half.
“However, you were also correct when you stated your theft of a weapon caused a security issue. While we believe your behavior since then has shown you meant no harm, we must take precautions and ask that you remain here.”
“Ask?” He obviously didn't believe her. The man’s glance darted around from one officer to another again, especially the big Lisimba.
The Security man nodded. He was the biggest human Saavik knew with his tall height and well muscled body; in fact, with his black skin and shaven head, he was very similar to her fellow Hellguard survivor, Strahinja, who trained in Vulcan’s martial arts and security. Even Lisimba’s African accent and Strahinja’s Vulcan-Raal province speech bore similarities. Amanda thought it necessary to inform Saavik what the other Vulcan-Romulan hybrids on the homeworld were doing, ever since the hybrid disease first was diagnosed.** So she knew Strahinja had goals to someday reach the elite guard that defended such great leaders as T’Pau.
So far, he had not fallen to the recently detected Phase III of the hybrids' disease.**
“That’s right,” Lisimba said, “we’re just asking at this point. But like the Lieutenant said, what you do influences what we think about you. If you start to bolt out of here, we’re going to re-think what you meant by stealing that phaser.”
The big Adam’s apple jumped up and down again, but the man only said, “Okay.”
Saavik could look back down at her work. She hadn't wasted time while she talked over the security issue; she had to spare the attention of her eyes and voice, but not her mind. It had multi-tasked, analyzing the door problem and making connections in her calculations.
No reducer coupling was even made for a phaser power pack and a door control bank...
...Except for the mechanism in the phaser itself that changed the power levels from light stun all the way to overload. If she modified it to fit--
No if, just make that door open.
Her brain pulled schematics from memory, stripped pieces from them and mentally built a Frankenstein's monster that would have to do.
Back went the power pack to the level adjuster, then she scavenged three tiny pieces of the thin, pliable metal from inside the door's controls that were used for the minimal shielding its display needed. She twisted the metal over the bare chord ends, burning her fingertips, and squeezed the new connectors into the bank port. As she had gambled, their pliancy molded into the port's shape -- not well, but enough. They should conduct.
Or blow up in her hand.
She waved the others back, and Lisimba and Haidar heeded her warning, moving to take positions by the door. She put her back to them so if her ugly hodgepodge did explode, she'd take the brunt of the charge. Setting the level indicator to one, she fired the power.
The hot smell of scorching machinery stank in her nostrils; what couldn't melt began to heat, but it held.
Haidar yelped from the door; it had opened less than a meter when it started closing fast again. She jumped into the space, and the heavy barrier pinned her as it still tried to close. Lisimba got his hands in the space and pushed, and Saavik fired the power again. The hot smell got worse and her Frankenstein died, but the door stopped trying to close. She ran to join Lisimba when other hands appeared from the other side of the door. Together, they all heaved the door back along its track. It fought them, jamming, until something finally buckled and snapped inside, and they shoved it open.
The people poured out, most of them stopping to shake the hand of the man who first heard them and brought help.
"You stayed," one said, pumping the other's hand as he gushed thanks. "You stayed until we were out. Thank you, thank you!"
"This way," Saavik said, and with Lisimba and Haidar, escorted them all at a run. She updated Stuart, and was told to take her party to Lifeboat station 5.
The hallways were clearer now as they joined the tail ends of lines who were the last to get out. Saavik gave a fast lecture on the weightlessness the rescued party was about to go through, then jumped to the head of the line and helped in loading people as fast as possible. She checked with her replacement at Aerfen’s science station to use the ship’s sensors to find anyone else that might be trapped on the cruise ship.
Until time ran out as the last lifeboats and shuttles launched.
Saavik and her shipmates were still on board for the engines' quiet death. The air that didn't escape through hastily sealed hull breaches lasted until Aerfen and the rest of the squadron transported their people out.
She looked up as Lieutenant Lynne Hoskins called her name. Chaos reigned everywhere, and she was just one of those attempting to channel it into some order. Everyone from the cruise ship had been rescued, passengers and crew, but the work wasn’t over; Aerfen and its sister ships were packed with people. Stenches filled the air, the odor of sickness from traveling in zero gee, and of blood and burns from the pirate attack. The circulation vents couldn’t keep up with it, and Saavik and the others like her had used more of the nasal inhibitors until things were better.
A few humans used them as well.
Voices called from everywhere, from the passengers who needed answers on what was going to happen to them to the ship’s personnel who answered. Some passengers calmly listened and were patient when they heard about the few days travel to the Aleph Prime, about the close quarters on the ships, and the wait for the medical staff to get to them. Others hollered and demanded Starfleet do its job the right way.
But everyone had been rescued.
“The captain wants to see you.”
Saavik didn’t understand at first why Hoskins said this with such heaviness. Captain Hunter was gathering oral reports from a number of people, so was Commander Stuart.
So this summons must have another reason.
If that was true, Hoskins didn’t give it. She looked away, staring blankly instead at the civilians filling Sickbay beds and the corridor. “I was red flagged, so I thought I’d bring the news personally.”
This was becoming more and more odd. Not the red flag part; Sickbay had a database of every species and of how long they could sustain stress in tangent with a lack of sleep. Lynne Hoskins had hit the limit for humans, and Sickbay had done its job by making her stand down to lesser activities, now that the worst was over, rather than risk her making a critical mistake on the bridge.
What wasn’t clear was why she personally delivered any news rather than page Saavik as she would normally do.
Saavik glanced down at her uniform splashed with blood and grime; hardly how she should present herself to her captain. Hunter was more relaxed about such things, as were most people in the border patrol, but it still seemed wrong.
Hoskins noticed. “You don’t have time. It doesn’t matter anyway. In fact, it might be better. Shows how hard you worked on this evacuation.”
Saavik was going to point out she worked hard at all her duties when Lynne interrupted. “You’d better go. Hunter’s in her cabin.” She looked around again, and Saavik thought she heard the other mumble, “Ignorant gits.”
But why insult the evacuees?
She had to leave that unanswered with the rest of this curious conversation. Perhaps it would make sense later.
Hearing that same heavy note grow even worse, she stopped and looked back, wondering if Hoskins was going to explain.
“It’s... bad. I can’t say more, but -- you should prepare yourself.”
Unsure what else she could do, Saavik nodded and left.
She heard Warfield shouting when she was still in the corridor outside Hunter’s door. She knew the weapons officer must be yelling because, even though the cabins weren’t soundproof, their walls blocked the sounds of normal conversation.
She let the door’s sensors read her and heard them the signal inside one beat before another voice in loud, flat nasal tones fired out into the corridor: Malcolm Jakobs.
“Captain, I know those were good calls, I was at that scene for most of them. Whoever’s saying different needs their head examined.”
Saavik heard Hunter tell her to come in, and she entered as Warfield yelled again. “Who is anyone on that cruise ship to say what we should have done! Didn’t we just save their lives? Didn’t we get them out of there while they panicked? And they’re going to point fingers and say one of us should be brought up on charges? Why don't we put them back and they can use all their damned suggestions to run their own damned rescue their way!”
“That's enough.” Hunter sat behind her desk, her uniform jacket slung on the back of the chair. The fact she had been in regular uniform while she had been out amongst the passengers meant she felt they needed to see her in ‘full regalia’ as she called it. She usually wore casual tunics of bright colors, but Saavik noticed she still had, as she always did, the phoenix eagle’s feather in her hair.
Charges? Had the evacuees told Hunter they wanted Lauren Warfield brought up on charges? It would explain Lynne Hoskins’ reaction; Warfield was her best friend.
“Saavik, thanks for coming down. We have a problem, as you probably heard.” She indicated the spot right in front of her on Warfield’s left, and Saavik moved to it.
She didn't know if Hunter meant she had been informed of the problem or that she had overheard Warfield out in the corridor.
More humor. Possibly.
Lauren had lowered her volume, but her attempts to control her temper were visible and barely worked. Her body nearly shook with her voice. “Captain, ever since I got into Starfleet, people have told me that I had better learn not to lose my head anymore. That the person that can keep in check and think clearly was the one who did the job right. You even told Bagwin that, when we were fighting the pirates. You said that if he couldn’t keep control of himself, you’d have him removed from the bridge. And that no captain in the fleet got that chair without using their heads, even people with reputations like you and Kir--”
Lauren cut off and Saavik saw the glance darted her way.
She had been in line to go to Enterprise when Spock ended their association, and Kirk, following that, canceled the transfer.**
But her mind did work clearly; it didn’t lull into the darkness of what had happened to her, but leapt into remembering Kirk battling against Khan. The surprising paradox of James T. Kirk wrapping himself in discipline, his voice as calm as Spock’s, and using his mind to plot the tactics that got them through. The only time he had failed to follow what his reasoning told him to do was not going to red alert when Reliant first appeared and failed to respond to hails. From that moment, his emotions showed only in his habit of biting his thumbnail and leaning forward in the captain’s seat while he was in command, his voice betraying him only when Reliant appeared from nowhere in the nebula.
And when Khan had almost out-thought him by not following Enterprise into that galactic, blinding dust, he had driven his enemy into reacting emotionally while he stayed in control himself.
It was something she had not expected to see, and she was ready to state in Warfield’s defense that the weapons officer had showed the same forethought in her actions on the cruise ship.
Hunter was taking advantage of Lauren’s hesitation in saying Kirk’s name. “When I gave you permission to speak freely, I wasn’t giving you the right to rant like a madwoman. I give a lot of leeway for this crew to be informal because that's how I prefer it, but since you obviously know I also expect clear heads, I suggest you start showing one.”
Warfield nodded as if she thought of nothing other than agreeing with her captain. “Yes, ma'am. I’m just going on the record in saying that it’s wrong to applaud clear thinking in all cases but one. Why that one? Because she has pointed ears?”
That was how Saavik learned she was the one being charged, not Warfield.
"I'm just acting emotionally, Captain. Isn't that what they said they wanted?"
“Enough.” Hunter said it in the same way Saavik had made a corridor of panicked people listen to her a few hours ago.
Apparently, it had been the wrong thing to do.
She was totally confused.
"Saavik," Hunter said. Her voice showed only the ship's commander; that was all she could show, and Saavik understood that. "I can see you figured out what's going on. I'm sorry you found out this way. I thought you might already know. I'm going to read out the charges, but just know they're not a matter of official record at this point. They're holding off until at least tomorrow before formally filing."
She glanced down and read off her desk's screen. "Multiple counts for dereliction of duty. 'We begged her to help', I'm quoting here, 'and she pushed us off on someone else.'"
The press of bodies pulling at her, overwhelming her...
But Hunter was still reading. "That's not just when Warfield had to pull you from that mob. It's other times when people tried to stop you in the corridors and you made people like Jasicki and Anahid take the situation."
"May I answer in my defense, Captain?"
Hunter's eyes narrowed as she assessed that, but Saavik had spoke evenly and never meant the question as sarcasm.
...You’re all alike, you cold, Vulcan--!
"I believed I did not meet the emotional needs of the people in question. Therefore, I enlisted the aide of those in the crew who might."
"So, in essence, the charge is correct. Someone came to you for help and you got someone else to take care of the duty. Didn't it occur to you that these people would have gone to someone like a human if that's what they wanted? Or that you added to Anahid's stress by plunging her and Jasicki into a situation where a civilian is now even more upset because you pushed them away?"
...stuck up, conceited...
"I did not 'push them away', Captain. I attempted to make them more comfortable by matching them with an officer of the same emotional makeup."
Jakobs said, “What was she supposed to do? Hug everybody who went by? None of us was holding anyone’s hand. We didn’t have the time, and even if I had, I would rather had slugged a few of those people.”
“Let’s see you give them what they want,” Warfield said to Saavik. “Be emotional, act Romulan.”
"All right,” Hunter ordered, fierce and brooking no disobedience. “Leave it at that for now. We’re moving on.”
The chief and Lauren muttered something, and Hunter reprimanded them with a glare. “In uniform or not, you serve on this ship with me, and I will not have anyone in my crew acting like this.”
Still tight, but now also looking abashed, they apologized.
The captain took a second to calm herself, then read off the report, “Next charge: the Nehwour is claiming you blackmailed him. You refused to discuss his getting a lifeboat seat until he did your job in rescuing a fallen civilian."
Warfield exploded. "Captain! That is--" She struggled to keep obscenities from her statement, or so Saavik guessed. "--wrong! That Nehwour attacked me, and he attacked Saavik!"
Hunter held up a hand, and then gestured to Saavik. "I want to hear it from you."
It was a good thing Saavik had taken the tea from Nurse Barasa Quezado for temporary relief from the inflammation in her tongue and cheek. At least, until she could heal them properly. Even more than the stolen phaser situation, she needed to speak clearly now.
"I had to refuse him at first, Captain. I could not reward negative behavior such as his attacking Lieutenant Warfield. Such a reward would encourage others in the evacuation to make such attacks. However, his size and strength better equipped him to reach the fallen woman, and it provided a reason for a positive reward."
"Did you say that to him?"
"No," Saavik was forced to admit. "Not directly."
Jakobs spoke up. "But what she says is true, Captain."
Hunter's voice grew flat. "What she's saying is that from other people’s point of view, the charge looks true for the second time. They can’t guess what she’s thinking. Even you two didn’t know that. She refused to give that lifeboat until he rescued that woman, a job she and the rest of you were there to do."
"I did not demand he fulfill my duties, Captain, I requested he aide us."
Jakobs broke in, his loud volume up again and his gestures back to jabbing at the air and the desk. "Look, I could see she was finding a peaceful solution to the problem without knowing what was in her head. We were making ready to shoot this guy, and everyone here knows what a firefight would have done to that panicky crowd. We didn't even know that woman was there, because we couldn't see her, and none of us was jumping on the guy like Saavik here did, because quite frankly, if I pinched him under the armpit, he would have just laughed at me."
"Exactly!" Warfield agreed. "We had every right to make him go into the transporter whether he liked it or not. So what's wrong with asking him to show some good faith and help us rescue someone that no one else is giving a damn about? That way, the woman is helped and the Nehwour is rewarded for doing a good service instead of us bringing him down and dragging him into a transporter for beating on two officers."
Hunter stared at Saavik. "Is that how you describe it?"
"For the most part, yes, Captain."
The older woman sighed. "It's a thin line, Saavik, because you didn't explain yourself. It looks like you’re changing things after the fact."
"Captain, this is ridiculous!" Warfield cut in again.
"She's right," Jakobs said. "This guy attacks two of our own, and we're saying that Saavik is the one who did something wrong? Settling that whole thing quietly and getting that woman rescued has got to be worth something!"
Saavik expected Hunter to have an outburst that would rival the Chief's and Warfield's, but she didn't. She, in fact, spoke with less emotion than Saavik's even tones, almost robotic.
"What the Nehwour did is not in question here. It's a different case and a different charge. We're focusing on the set of actions that lead him to rescuing another civilian, and the facts are--" Hunter looked back to Saavik, her gaze as flat and blank as the Nehwour's had been. "--some people are going to believe him."
"He's doesn’t know the --!" Warfield stopped sharply and her head swung towards Saavik too, her face white against her black hair. "Even facts aren't universal..."
Saavik nodded once, a short, tight movement.
Hunter went back and forth between them. "What's this?"
"A Vulcan expression, Captain."
Hunter seemed to think that over... or perhaps she was taking in the very controlled way Saavik was answering. "They're not universal... because people always put their own interpretation on them? They don't just report them?"
She gave the same tight nod.
"Saavik... I know what you’re trying to tell me, and even if you had told the Nehwour how you meant it, he still might have thought himself under attack because that's just how he'll always see it. Like our friend who stole a phaser and resents being labeled a security threat."
Saavik drew up more in her stance of being at attention. Hunter eyed that too.
“That was the Security team’s decision!” Warfield shouted.
“I was the ranking officer. I put the recommendation into action.” Saavik knew she stated what everyone knew, but it seemed necessary to say she understood her position. “That would not have happened if I had disagreed with it. Clearly, the man in question believes I was wrong.”
“Defamation of character,” Hunter read out the charge. “Abuse of authority causing endangerment to civilians. They claim you would have gotten the door open faster, and come better equipped, if you hadn’t wasted time with accusing this man of terrorism. Warfield, quiet! I know the charge is a sham. It’s not going to get anywhere, not even a formal filing. Once he stole that phaser, we’re obliged to take security measures.”
“Saavik,” she continued, “If it helps... it wasn't the Nehwour or the human who took the phaser that made the complaints. It's the people they -- rescued, for lack of a better word. They're complaining about how their... heroes were treated."
Saavik thought over if it was any better which person brought a charge against her, and decided it wasn't. No matter who filed the charge, people she had attempted to help stated she had been wrong, utterly wrong, and derelict in her duties as an officer.
Because she was Vulcan.
Starfleet was all Saavik had left. The service, its exploration and responsibilities to the Federation, what it meant to be commissioned in it... it made up so much of her foundation, especially after losing Spock.
Now she was in real danger of losing Starfleet. Even without the last allegation, enough was against her for a court-martial and a dishonorable discharge.
Hunter sat back in her chair, holding on to its arms like she sat on the bridge during the battle. "I want to discuss one last thing with the three of you here, although I'm not so sure if Warfield was around for what happened." She looked at Saavik a long moment before speaking. "The last charge is from the family you sent over with Nurse Barasa. That man is very aware of what you're trying to say about him, and he is bringing charges against you. A long list of them."
Jakobs answered. "He's guilty."
"He says he was upset over his daughter being lost, and you overreacted to his trying to find her and his family's being upset from the pirate attack."
“Captain, you have a kid just like I do,” Jakobs’ heat took on a different intensity, “and she probably gave you a scare like this at some point. She got lost or separated from you, or ran off or said she hated you and never wanted to see again. Probably all of the above.”
She glanced over where photos bolted to the half wall near her desk showed her grown daughter smiling at her mother, right next to the people in Hunter’s group marriage. She watched those smiling faces the whole time Jakobs kept talking.
“My son got lost one time, and I know I was no example of a calm parent. I even yelled at some of the people who were trying to help me find him, but when he was found, I was so relieved and so thankful for their help, I was apologizing for everything I said, and listening to whatever they told me about how to get to him. And my boy didn’t tell people to keep him from me. Now, as a fellow parent, you’re telling me that a man who is making threats about dragging his daughter from a safe place back to where she’s in danger, and a girl who begs us to hide her -- not to mention a boy and a wife who cowers around this guy -- none of that sends up signal flags that there’s a problem?”
The room grew totally silent after this to the point where it was a harsh white noise. They all waited on Hunter to say something. She stared at her daughter’s picture for a moment more, then down at her desk, still saying nothing, until she at last looked up to Jakobs.
“Answer me honestly, Mal. What convinced you this man might be abusing his family? His behavior or Saavik’s conviction about it?”
Silence fell like a weight on them again while Jakobs pressed his lips together and finally looked away from Hunter. Saavik wanted to defend herself, but the captain had asked for the chief’s argument, not hers.
He shifted on his feet, his mouth still tight, and even exhaling loudly as his eyes darted around the room and the three women who watched him.
Warfield broke first. “Mal, come on!”
“I know she made the right call,” he ultimately answered. “I don’t know how I got to the point of thinking that, but I do know that from the start, I knew this guy was wrong and nothing he did ever made me think differently.”
Hunter sat forward, tired. “All right. I need to talk to Saavik alone.”
“Captain!” Warfield protested.
“You two are dismissed, Lauren.” When the weapons officer still hesitated, Hunter spoke up. “I know you’re available. I’ll need your report by the end of tomorrow morning. Until then, Sickbay has you and Mal red flagged. You’re in the first round for hot bunking. Cargo bay 2. Use the showers in the gym until you can get back in your cabin. You know the routine.”
“Yeah, I do.” It wasn’t the military practice of hot bunking that bothered her. Aerfen and her squadron had taken thousands on board, and the crews voluntarily exiled themselves from their cabins for the people they had rescued. That included Warfield. It meant arranging the crew so tightly to the number of bunks that when one woke up from their sleep shift, another was scheduled for the same bunk in his place and so on in an endless round.
But it was not behind her deflated answer. She stood there, and then looked to Saavik who watched her start to say something a few times. Finally, “So much for diversity in Starfleet,” she whispered, but Saavik had the idea that Warfield was talking to herself. “I’m sorry for that,” this time to the Vulcan before she and the chief left quietly.
Hunter sat back in her chair again. "Do you want to take a seat?"
"I had to ask those questions. I wasn't there, and I have to dig at everything until I know what happened. You understand."
Saavik said she did.
"At ease, Saavik. Please."
Saavik did a slight shift to a stance somewhere between at attention and parade rest. She wasn't trying to defy her captain or give even a tiny show of rebellion for what was happening. She was Vulcan, she was an officer, and she would not disgrace herself with such petulant actions. She simply could only manage this much less stiffness under the circumstances.
"I have to ask this next question too," Hunter said. "Are you sure? Or did their emotional behavior cause you to pull away or misjudge them? Or even manipulate the situation just the slightest bit? If it did, tell me. It's better if we deal with it now, because they'll bury you if it comes out later."
The odd thing was, Saavik knew Hunter wasn't judging her, but just sitting there, waiting quietly for the truth either way.
She was uncertain if the captain wanted an immediate answer or expected her to reflect, so she gave a brief pause before she replied. "Captain Hunter, in each case, I made my decision by accessing the situation and applying my training and experience to it. No other influence factored in those decisions."
Hunter looked down at her lap, and after a beat, nodded and rose from her chair. She came around her desk to sit on its edge and look up into Saavik's carefully still face.
"Have you have ever heard the expression: I see two people in you... the one you are now, and the one you could become? Well, I some times imagine I see the shadow of a third person when it comes to you. Someone you used to be and needed to leave behind. I think that person lended some of her experience today."
Saavik kept her gaze above the captain's head, but was still aware of how those eyes darted back and forth between Saavik's own for that quiet second.
"I have no problem with that experience creeping in, whatever it is, " Hunter continued, "because I know you’d never let that out if it was wrong or harmful. Frankly, there isn't one of those people in you whose judgment I don't trust. "
That brought Saavik to looking down at Hunter who kept the same, now calm, gaze back up into her face.
The captain slapped her legs, and rubbed them while she thought. "All right." Another second, and the heaviness came back. "All right. Here's how I see this going forward."
She reached back and pulled a data padd around front where she could see it. "I did need to focus on your actions before, but now we talk about the other side of this. First, give them time to calm down. It's like I told you, those people just went through hell during that pirate attack, and they come down from that in different ways. It doesn’t excuse racism or violence, but there it is. Give them room to relax, and hopefully they’ll see it's ridiculous to file charges. But I have to warn you -- that doesn't mean they'll change their minds about you. They’ll go to the graves you helped them escape today swearing you were wrong."
"The second plan of attack: If they still want to go through with filing charges for your court-martial, then it’s time to point out the laws they broke. Your actions were driven by theirs. They were the catalyst. Those people did assault you and didn't break off until Warfield forced them. And your Nehwour did attack Warfield and then you when you came to her rescue. Not only is it all grounds for countersuits, it’s evidence explaining your actions are justified."
Saavik hadn't thought of bringing her own charges. “You wish me to threaten them?”
“No, I’ll point out the logic of going with a peaceful settlement, and it’ll come better from me. They can shout blackmail, but I’m betting they’ll see the sense in it.”
Saavik did, so she filed this idea away as a good one. Not that she ever expected to be in such a situation again.
If she survived this one.
But Hunter's experience was always valuable as a lesson.
Which is why she paid attention when Hunter said, "Let me give you this advice. About you bringing a human or someone else to meet emotional needs. That was a good idea, but ask next time if that's what they want. Some will say yes, but others are grabbing on to you because a Vulcan and people like them are the calm in a storm. You must have seen people look to you on the bridge. They need to know that no matter what the universe throws at us, from horrors to excruciating boredom, one person isn't going to crack."
"Understood." Saavik remembered to add, "Thank you, captain."
"You're welcome." Hunter rubbed her eyes. "Now for the worst part. The man you accuse of abuse."
"If I may, I suspect abuse is a possibility, and we should investigate further. I have not, however, accused him of anything." She kept her mind firmly away from returning again to the memory of Spock discussing possibilities.
"At this point, Saavik, it's all a matter of arguing perception. The facts aren't universal."
"The medical scans will reveal--"
"The mother has agreed with the father. They’ve refused to give permission for either of their children to get medical attention."
Saavik should have expected the woman would pick more abuse over an avenue of escape when it was offered. For wrong or right, it put her secondary from then on in Saavik’s mind, but the children were innocents who still needed that strong, helping hand held out to them. "Sickbay has to be allowed to give the routine exams. Following an event such as the privateer's attack, the exam is standard procedure."
Hunter shook her head. "It's tough when the parents fight you, and remember they could be completely innocent, which makes us the ones abusing this family."
The remembered screams from the boy’s mind: his, his mother's and sister's--
Saavik's chin came up. Even without those memories, the man incriminated himself with his behavior. "We must investigate this further. It cannot be ignored."
"I think the mother can be persuaded. The boy at least is showing bruises, and she can't be happy with him not getting that looked after. Either way, we’re going to look into it and make sure this family’s safe. ...Saavik, if this man is innocent, maybe he’ll calm down and leave you alone, but you need to be ready."
Saavik nodded, but Hunter didn't look so sure.
She stood up and went back around the desk, dropping into the chair like she had no energy. "If you're lucky, by the time we reach Aleph, these problems will have gone away with people's bad tempers."
"And if I am not so fortunate?"
Hunter said nothing, and instead changed the subject. "Sickbay tells me they gave you a quick scan. You're not over the hours for a Vulcan, but they're worried about the trauma your mind's been through today, so they're red flagging you. You're on the first sleep shift, Cargo bay 1. I wish I could get you some privacy for your meditations, or to just be alone for the night and give your mind total rest, but it's the worst time. We don't have one nook or cranny that isn't stuffed with our passengers or our own people."
What a luxury her cabin had become, where she could have let her mental shields lapse. "I understand, Captain."
"I know you do. I'm still sorry. Anyway, I want you to sleep and in the morning, I want your report."
"After you hand that in, Sickbay wants another look at you and then you report to Commander Stuart. You're going with the teams to the pirate ships to make any necessary repairs. I'm not leaving them here for any partners to gather up and use against us, and I’m already towing the cruise ship the whole way. Not to mention all the cargo we’re storing on it."
Now Saavik had a question she must ask. "Permission to speak freely, Captain? Are you... intentionally separating me from the passengers?"
"I am sending you with Stuart's team because you are my science officer who also has strong skills in warp physics. Those ships have to run and their sensors have to be going to watch our backs. But yes, I am well aware of the benefit of keeping you out of sight while this trip gives those people a chance to think things over."
Translation: she was a liability onboard the Aerfen that the captain couldn't afford, so she would be serving her duties off ship.
"It gives you time too, Saavik. Use it to think this over again. At any time, especially tonight or the morning before I speak with these people, if you see things differently, come forward and tell me."
Hunter sounded as if she still had doubts. Perhaps...
Perhaps she believes I acted unconsciously, and therefore do not know I acted with even the smallest hint of what they accuse me of doing?
If so, further denials serve no purpose.
So she only responded with, "Yes, Captain."
“No matter what, you got a good record. Without this happening, you would have been on the next promotions list. And Starfleet knows I give every one of my bridge officers the captain’s chair in crisis situations whenever I can. I could get killed or brought down with an injury at any time. I’m not leaving my ship in the hands of someone who’s only played at commander when it’s quiet. I want a leader proven under fire, and Starfleet knows I’ve put you there. That’ll weigh in your favor.”
Saavik honestly appreciated this approval, but more and more, her defense sounded as if it was about her being a member of the crew, not that they believed she had done the right thing. It was also putting the careers of Hunter and the others at risk.
"Get whatever rest you can, Saavik. Dismissed."
She started to leave, but stopped at the door. "Captain? Judging by your earlier reaction, I suspect you are dissatisfied with the behavior of Lieutenant Warfield and Chief Jakobs."
For the first time in that long night, Hunter smiled. "If Warfield doesn't get control of that mouth and temper, she might never see another promotion. But not because of me. You don't have to come to their defense where I’m concerned."
Saavik left, certain that she had, at least, not endangered her shipmates with the captain through their association with her.
Warfield had already cleared out of the gymnasium showers by the time Saavik got there. As she stood under the pulsing sonics, along with other Aerfen crewmembers assigned to first sleep shift, she thought over two points:
Hunter's defense of her might be done only from a sense of duty. Jakobs was questioning if he really saw the events as they were or if she had convinced him they were that way.
And that defense, even at its minimal level, made her a liability to her captain and crew. So much so, she had been assigned away from the passengers for the entire trip to Aleph.
She went to her assigned bunk amidst the countless racks in Cargo Bay one, and saw her possible good fortune was already failing. Her bunk was between Kartchner and DeLuca, the two people Malcolm Jakobs declared he most wanted to avoid in hot bunking.
Kartchner was already asleep and snored loudly. She stripped down to underwear like the others, in case of a red alert, and climbed up carefully, but he still woke up for a brief instant, gave her an evil eye as she went by before he dozed off again. She settled on top of the blankets, and began releasing the tension in each muscle when DeLuca tossed and turned above her, shaking the rack of four bunks. He rolled over, and his arm fell over the side, his hand striking her head.
She brought her mental shields back to their regular levels, and her mind protested by making it an ache. She shifted to the direct center of the bed, making it harder to reach her with his flailing because of the angle so she wouldn't have the extra effort of blocking his mind all night.
She spent the next hour the next hour examining her actions to answer the question: was the idea of her acting unconsciously correct?
At the end of that time, she was able to answer honestly: no, she had not.
Yes, she was Vulcan, and she did consider that an achievement, but while she did not act as the Nehwours, humans or other emotional people, she also had not acted coldly, heartlessly, or with prejudice. Being Vulcan was not synonymous with cruelty. She had carefully given the Nehwour a chance and soothed her voice to talk to the collapsed woman. She had, with equal care, addressed the crowd so they would calm down and hear the truth in what was happening. She had reassured the man with the stolen phaser when he grew frightened about the charges against him, and had reigned in her strength and sense of preservation before it hurt the people who were attacking her.
She had acted differently than those people, but she had not acted wrongly.
She still was in serious danger of them accusing her of it, so her next thoughts focused on the different lines of defense open to her. That’s when she realized, Hunter had left out one option: Saavik could plead guilty.
If she claimed she was wrong, she might give her detractors what they wanted: her admission of guilt and that everything they said about her was correct. Then they could spare Hunter. Warfield, Jakobs, and any others forced to her defense would be spared. So would her place with Starfleet.
All she had to do... was lie.
When she had taken her oath as a Starfleet officer, she had sworn to do right. Outside of Hunter's one piece of advice, she had no doubts about her actions. Saying otherwise went against her oath.
One did not do the correct thing for recognition or praise. Even at a cost, the correct thing was done because it was correct.
That was duty.
She would not betray it; that more than anything, she now saw, was the foundation she built when she left Hellguard behind: to do right by the Federation and Vulcan ideals that had taken her in.
Doing the wrong thing – lying to remove the persecution – went against those ideals.
She would spare everyone else the repercussions for her actions, but she knew she would repeat what she did on the cruise ship in another situation. They had been right to do, even when no one else agreed, even though they punished her for it.
This was possibly one of her last nights in Starfleet. The bay loomed large in the dimly lit darkness, but her eyes bred for Vulcan’s moonless sky made out the bunks with their sleeping silhouettes. People called out to each other or in their sleep. More still came in from the showers, did a limited form of their nightly rituals or cursed about giving up their cabins as a matter of routine; some already in their bunks whispered harshly at the newcomers for waking them up.
How odd to be so surrounded, and yet so alone.
She slipped under the blanket, for warmth as well as covering her exposed skin from DeLuca’s flailing, and closed her eyes. Tomorrow aboard one of the privateer ships, she would find a place for her meditations, and a more private sleeping place to give her mind real rest. Until then, she eased away thinking to better bring sleep. Her defense would start tomorrow, and she could do no more tonight.
Worry was illogical, and would cost her the rest that she needed.
One by one, she released each thought until peaceful darkness came at last.
*See Savage by Joanna (Sands of Vulcan)
** See The Race of Cain by me
*** As many people probably recognized, this particular paragraph is based on a true event that happened during the evacuation of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. I don’t know if anyone else stopped to help the real woman after the man who tried was pushed away by the crowd.