Once Dr. Mosier considered Nekal sufficiently recovered, the Farnaz's senior officers began interrogating him. The ship's company crackled with tension in anticipation of the Romulans appearing to retrieve him. On the bridge, the watch's eyes strained for any sign which might possibly suggest a cloaked Romulan warbird. Even minutely increased tachyon output readings would cause suspicion.
A week passed without a hint of pursuit. Elise listened to speculations on the captain's actions if they did appear. She didn't care for what most of them insinuated. Mercilessly, she pushed herself in an attempt to forget the bizarre turn her life had taken.
First she went planetside several times to secure new specimens, then planted them at once. Hovering around them like a broody hen over her eggs, she took the extra precaution of locking them in a personally encrypted vault when she left work. To keep out of Nekal's way, she sequestered herself in the lab after regular working hours.
She avoided facing him in person, but soon realized her efforts proved futile for he always seemed near. He became a familiar unobtrusive presence within her mind, reassuring and supporting her. While the experience unnerved her at times, she began to welcome the warm stroking of his thoughts.
Elated when the new tests proved negative for any organism inimical to either humanoid or Morabis physiology, she proudly produced the results. Dr. Mosier received her reports brusquely. Perhaps he wanted her to fail, but she vowed if he continued to treat like her this, she would tell the captain. If he refused to do anything about the situation, she would request a transfer at the next Starbase.
She'd tried dealing with the irascible, overbearing senior medical officer for more than six months. Whether or not she might receive a blot on her record from it, she wanted out of his medical department. What he and his sidekick had put her through vied for some of the most miserable times in her life.
After she confronted Dr. Mosier, he suggested visits to the ship's counselor. She went more to keep her nemesis off her back than because she thought the man could do anything for her. The counselor had the nerve to propose her insecurity caused the conflict. It took all her control not to slam out of his office.
The tenth day after the Romulan's arrival found her stretching her protesting muscles after a long duty shift. In addition to her routine job, she'd delivered two babies and repaired a child's lacerated arm from a fall against a glass table. While she changed into her sleep tunic, the door signal sounded. Torn between fear and a desire to see him again, she stood silently. The signal beeped insistently.
"Who is it?"
Nekal's distinctive voice brought a rush of warmth to her face. "You've eluded me too long. May I come in?"
"I'm getting ready to go to sleep. Can't it wait until tomorrow? I'm exhausted." Her feet and back ached, but adrenaline poured through her.
"It must be tonight. Time is short. Since it is late, I will not stay long."
"All right. Come." Her mouth dry, she stood near the food replicator, facing away from the entry.
The door whooshed open and closed. Why didn't he say anything? She turned, finding him only inches behind her. Startled, her heart pounded in reaction. She stepped back against the wall, stunned by his appearance. He bore little evidence of injury; his body's powerful lines cloaked in the soft tunic and slacks of standard Starfleet civilian issue. His wicked good looks made her quiver inside. The sense of familiarity he evoked intrigued and frightened her. With a slightly shaking hand, she gestured toward the couch.
"Please, have a seat. Would you like to try some Mexican chocolate? It's a hot, sweet drink. Especially good before bed." Her face grew hot at the image the words brought to mind. He ignored her request to move to the couch.
"Refreshment would be most pleasant." At his slight smile, her gaze slid away from him. She returned to the replicator. Alarm spread through her. Though the offer had been meant innocently, they aroused such sensual thoughts
"Chocolate, Mexican, hot. Make it two cups." She gestured toward one of the cups the replicator materialized. Nekal took it, cautiously sipping the steaming liquid.
Elise noticed her hand shaking ever so slightly as she retrieved her own. She sat on the couch, holding the cup in both hands. He remained standing
"I have a roommate...a girl who shares these quarters. But she's hardly ever here. Either she's on a different shift or out with friends." *What's the matter with me? I'm babbling for Pete's sakes! Why won't he just sit?*
"I make you uncomfortable. Is it because of the dreams?" At her nod, he set his empty mug down and took her hand.
The link strengthened, allowing her to see into his mind. He wanted to be near her to ease her anxiety. Yet he could sense her mistrust mingled with her fascination. She closed her eyes. Through his memories, she watched a tiny, furry rabbit-like creature called a *boutag* freeze before the raptor warbird. The hunter wove its neck back and forth, mesmerizing its prey before pouncing. The image shifted to the bird with its life mate, crooning to its young, protecting the family against predators brave enough to attack.
"To you I am the warbird, while you are my prey. In my eyes, you are my mate, to be protected, respected, loved." He broke the link with a gentle pressure from his hand before he released her.
In a dreamlike state, she went to the replicator and ordered another set of drinks. She headed for the sofa with the mugs of steaming, rich brown liquid. Afraid to begin, she watched him move to the spot where a painting of Vulcan hung. He studied the harsh, arid landscape intently.
"Not unlike Romulus, although we also have forests in the north." Regret tinged his voice. He took a deep breath, then sat beside her.
She inhaled the familiar, pungent aroma of cinnamon and cocoa, then plunged ahead.
"You must admit this entire situation is difficult to understand. Why me? I've never tested for any psi powers. Do your people have similar capabilities to the Vulcans?" She clasped her mug like a life line. She had so many questions and so few answers.
"I will do my best to give you what you seek. Time is limited and I realize you must rest. Are you aware I will be leaving when this ship arrives at Starbase Twelve?"
"That's not right!" Surprised at her own vehemence, she tried again. "I mean, why?"
"The captain feels it best I leave this vessel. I will go to Vulcan, where there is less chance of an infiltrator doing me harm. At least, that is what he told me."
"Then you must tell me all you know about your people. And whatever this thing is between us." She sipped the sweet brew, trying to maintain some semblance of calm when he moved closer. No longer certain why she'd avoided him, she wished she had spent her evenings learning about him and his people.
"I am the last male of my line. All but I and my younger sister are dead. This is one reason why I left my home. I have become convinced only through those of us who manage to escape can we hope to change our society. The Proconsul and his supporters must be deposed. Someone must break the terrible grip of fear they hold over my people." His voice remained moderate despite the passionate words. She sensed his anger and sorrow behind the quiet facade.
"What of your sister? Why didn't she come with you? How could you leave her behind?" She leaned forward, her grip on the mug tight. Something awful might happen to the young Romulan woman who had stayed behind.
"Two years ago my father and two brothers died within three months of each other. My mother withered away before my eyes. A month after her death, my brother-in-law failed to return from a similar mission. My sister retreated within herself, also losing her will to live. Her husband's family went into hiding, taking her along to care for the shell she has become." Pain etched harsh lines across his face, his voice thick with regret.
"What an dreadful tale. Does this sort of thing happens to many families on your world?" She frowned at his nod, distressed at the basis of truth for the rumored defections.
He stood and paced before her, bringing to mind stories of caged animals on ancient Earth. Fascinated, she watched his measured strides as he spoke.
"Over the last sixty years, a dissident group began to grow. They opposed the continued hostility and warfare between the Empire and Federation peoples. The iron grip of the T'aal Shi'ar, our intelligence, forced them underground in fear of reprisal from their open disagreement with government policy. Most of my family joined them." He stood with his back to her -- arms clasped behind him. Tension radiated from him. She moved to his side, laying a hand gently on his rigid arm.
"Come and sit beside me. Nothing you tell me will turn me away and it might ease your mind a bit." For a brief moment, she feared he might leave, refuse to tell her more.
"Yes. You are right. Perhaps if I share this injustice with you I may find some peace." Rejoining her on the sofa, he leaned back, trying to relax. "Until the T'aal Shi'ar placed suspicion on my family, I held the rank of Wing Commander. Shortly after my brother-in-law's death, I was given duty in administration. I worked each day until I fell into bed, exhausted, always expecting them to come for me in the night."
His voice, harsh with memory, failed for a moment. She reached over, covering his hand with one of hers. The contact appeared to comfort him some. He turned his hand to clasp hers, briefly closing his eyes as if to steel himself.
"My decision to leave came after the Proconsul called me to appear before the Senate. The messenger could give me no details, yet I felt certain my family's reputation for dissension would come to bear on me. Not that I agreed with what the Empire did, but I kept my mouth shut and obeyed orders without questioning them aloud."
While he told how he faced the Senate's accusations of disaffection to the best of his ability, his grip began to tighten until she nearly cried out. Still she kept quiet, listening to his horrifying story.
They made no overt threat, yet he knew soon he would be "reassigned" to a mission no one would be expected to return from. The same day, he contacted a man he knew to be in the underground.
Since little time for arrangements with anyone in the Federation would be possible, a recently arrived Musiiqw trader ship would be "appropriated." He had three days to prepare. Those involved in the underground would keep the crew busy and provide a diversion while he slipped away. He'd survived, he'd accomplished what he'd set out to do. Yet he felt a coward somehow, that he should have stayed to help the others.
Struck mute, she nearly cried in anguish at his story. She doubted anyone else in the Federation would understand what he'd been through. When she winced at the pain in her hand, her movement made him open his eyes and release his hold at once.
"Forgive me. I forget my strength at times." Taking her injured limb carefully, he frowned at her reddened skin. "You will bruise. I must be more mindful with you. Especially when I am deeply moved."
He brought her fingers to his mouth. Softly, he pressed his lips against the angry marks he'd made earlier. Heat spread from her hand over her entire body. The whirlwind change of emotions shook Elise, making her want to snatch her flesh back from his touch. Without success, she attempted to take a nonchalant sip of the now-cold drink. At the taste, she made a face.
"Excuse me. This is no good. Let me get some more." Shaken, she rose and returned to the replicator. "What you've told me is extraordinary and touching, but where do I fit in? Don't you have someone else besides your sister back there?"
"You are the only woman who means anything to me. I told you I have been waiting for you. The link has remained strong over the years."
She returned to his side, sitting close enough to touch him. Her nose picked up over the Mexican chocolate's spicy scent, a subtle, seductive, citrus-tinged musk. Leaning toward him again, she found herself more exited than fearful this time.
"Go on. It can't be much more fantastic than what I heard and experienced." Exhaustion seemed pushed aside by her curiosity.
He told her first what he knew of Romulan physiology. From this she concluded it indeed contained similarities to that of Vulcans. However, the long separation caused certain biological variations due to environmental and social differences.
There was no *pon farr* among Romulans, no control of emotions. Some developed increased psionic capabilities, although those with talent quickly learned to hide them to prevent exploitation. His people departed Vulcan a warrior society, remaining so for thousands of years.
"Now, I must ask you a few questions. How far back do you remember dreaming of my planet?" At her surprised look, he nodded. "Yes, the images you have seen are of Romulus. When did you first see them?"
"I must have been say, two or three. I remember telling my parents about them and being told they were nightmares. Later, I confided them to a friend, who told me I had an overactive imagination. Especially when I talked to her about the man. You, I suppose?"
"Indeed. Even before you became aware of me, I knew of your existence. You see, twenty-two years ago I heard your birth-cry."
"That's impossible! I was born on Earth, millions of light years away from Romulus. There is no way we can be bonded. I'm not one of you, not even Vulcan and I've never heard of anyone, even them being tied from birth. Especially at such a distance."
"We are bonded. I do not know how, but I know why." He smiled at her puzzled look. "What do you know of your background Elise? How many generations can you trace?"
"Back to my great-grandparents. All I know is my father's grandmother resigned her Starfleet commission to settle on some distant colony. Her children left and returned to Earth. That's why I was born there and raised on Mars. It was never something my father talked about much and we had no reason to discuss the subject. Why?"
"The Empire would like to refute it, but throughout the last seventy-five years, people have disappeared from our homeworld. Those in the military, business families...none were exempt from the wrongs of our government. We are fiercely loyal to our world. We love the land, our honor and the ideals of our culture. Those who could no longer tolerate the abuses of the system found ways to leave. They turned to Federation planets for asylum."
His dark eyes searched her face, seeming to seek something from her.
"An uncle of my father became one of them. He also had a military career, but as science officer aboard a research vessel. When he received orders to a warbird, he made a desperate leap for freedom. Torsal nearly lost his life in the process. A group of Altair III's colonists found his crashed escape pod and helped him. Luckily, they took him for a Vulcan. When he recovered, he did not disabuse them of this falsehood. One of those who found and aided him was a former Starfleet navigator named Janet Macahan. Your great-grandmother, Elise."
"How do you know that? Besides, how does this affect me?" Although afraid to hear what he had to say, she desperately wanted to know.
"My great-uncle had a very close relationship with my father. Somehow he managed to smuggle a letter into Romulus which told of his whereabouts and what had happened to him." Nekal sat again, studying her intently as he continued. "They fell in love, Elise. They were married on Altair III and had four children. One was your grandfather. We are distant cousins."
She tried to digest what he said, then figured he must be trying to lighten the atmosphere. Yet he seemed startled when she threw her head back and laughed until tears rolled down her cheeks. When she could finally stop, she held her sides, gasping for breath.
"That's the greatest fish story I've ever heard. You should write fantasies for the holodecks." She grinned in relief. He must be joking so they could share amusement instead of suffering.
"I am perfectly serious. Is the story so difficult to believe?"
"Look, Nekal, you're a remarkable man. I appreciate you talking about yourself, but I can't take this part as a true story. After all, don't you think someone would have said something about me having even a Vulcan for a great-grandparent? Besides, my blood's all wrong. I have definite iron-based blood, not the copper combination you do."
"Are you sure? Have you asked anyone about it?"
"Well, sure. I entered the academy and had blood drawn for the physical. I didn't actually see the results, but I'm sure if there were anything strange they would have said something. Wait a minute! Let me call up my medical file. I'll show you I'm completely human."
Nekal watched Elise as she moved away, sensing her doubt. He could feel her consternation at the link and his story but did not probe further. A few minutes later she returned, a stunned expression on her face.
"What did you find?"
"Evidently there was an anomaly in my blood typing when I entered Starfleet Academy. Instead of contacting me, they called my parents. I requested a note cross-referenced in a sealed, 'Medical-only' portion of my record which verifies a fusion two generations ago."
"This discovery disturbs you." He didn't question her; he stated what he knew. "We are distantly related. You bear both Romulan and human blood."
Her knuckles turned white, the pain of her nails digging into her palms an invaluable anchor to sanity. Illogical though it might be, she felt betrayed and frightened of why her parents had never told her. For years her fascination with extra-terrestrials had driven her to study them. Instead of joy, she felt anger at the deception. Her alien blood made her want to run, hide, scream or do something to prove the report wrong. She had never felt so alone in her life.
"I am here. What can I do to help you?" Nekal broke off as she buried her head in her hands.
Tentatively, almost afraid of driving her away, he reached out to her. His touch seemed to open a raw wound. Tears began to fall, painful sobs tearing at her throat. Gently, he pulled her unresisting form into his arms. The intimate contact heightened the tie. Though more prepared for such an experience, the intensity of their shared physical and emotional sensations left Nekal as shaken.
"*Mahksha'tal*...beloved one..." His warm breath puffed into her ear. She could feel him tremble. Or was it her? "You and I are one. Join me. Let our long wait bear fruit."
"But you'll be leaving soon. I can't stand it. I'll only feel worse if we are together." She raised her tear blinded eyes to his, devastated at having to decide to either make him leave or let him stay.