It was only by chance that Ayn Trent happened to be on the bridge
when the call from the surface came through. She'd gone up to
discuss an engineering problem with Lt. Commander Scott, and had
been only marginally aware that some hours ago, Captain Kirk and a
small landing party had beamed down to Korus under yellow alert
conditions. There was a report, unconfirmed, that a Romulan spy
ship had crashed here, on the Federation side of the Neutral Zone.
It should have been easy enough to determine, for Korus was an
uninhabited planet. But the ship's sensors had detected no life,
leaving them with three possibilities: the report was false, the
crash had left no survivors -- or the Romulans cloaking device was
still very much intact and operating.
The latter contingency proved to be true.
The voice that signalled the Enterprise from Korus was not Kirk's.
Nor did it belong to any of the security team members who'd
accompanied him to the surface. Uhura transferred the call to
Spock's intercom on the arm of the captain's chair, and the bridge
personnel held a collective breath.
"You are the Vulcan called Spock?"
The first officer raised an eyebrow at the insolence -- and the
vague familiarity -- of the voice. "This is Spock, he replied.
"Identify yourself, please."
Without warning, the viewscreen image of Korus' rotating globe
dissolved into a setting Spock recognized. It was the bridge of a
Romulan bird of prey. And the man in the commander's chair was one
he also recognized: a Romulan he had once known as Subcommander
"Commander Tal of the Flagship _Thrysn_," the face on the screen
informed him acidly. "I am pleased indeed to have encountered you
again. Thus the gods have granted my revenge." Emphasizing the
final word, he pressed a control that widened the Enterprise's view
of the Romulan bridge. Gasps escaped several of the observers,
including Ayn. Standing to Tal's immediate left, a Romulan
centurion held a semi-conscious James Kirk with a Federation phaser
pressed to his temple. Two more centurions held the four
Enterprise security men at phaser point just behind them. It was
apparent from the cuts and bruises on his face that Kirk had not
been captured without a struggle.
"My ship is grounded," Tal said to the camera pick-up. "Disabled.
I require yours. As you see, I have something of value with which
to bargain. Therefore you will begin abandonment precedures at
once, beaming all ship's personnel to the surface except the
minimal crew required to operate the Enterprise. No more than
seven. And no tricks. I will execute one prisoner per Terran hour
for every hour you delay in carrying out this order. Am I
Spock studied his adversary for a long moment before responding.
"An evacuation procedure will require time, Commander Tal."
"You have one hour. If the first landing parties have not arrived
by then, the first execution will be carried out."
Beside Tal, Kirk stirred, lifted his head. "Spock," he murmured.
"Take the ship--"
The centurion guard struck him with the butt of the phaser. Kirk
slumped, and was permitted to fall to the deck.
"One hour, Spock." Tal broke the circuit.
Dr. McCoy, who had come onto the bridge in the midst of the
transmission, was the first to break the stunned silence that
followed it. He said simply, "My God."
Spock ignored him. "Mr. Scott," he queried, "what is the
probability the Enterprise phasers on stun force might penetrate
the Romulan screens?"
Scott consulted his viewer, pressing several controls before
answering. "Their remaining systems are operating on auxiliary
power," he reported. "And the shields are at fifty percent
capacity. They don't function effectively in an atmosphere."
"The probability, Mr. Scott?"
The chief engineer cocked his head at an angle. "The computer
gives it sixty-four point seven percent. If I can give the phasers
a bit of a boost, we may add one or two percentage points.
"And you may get them all killed," McCoy protested.
"We have very few alternatives, Doctor," Spock said flatly.
"Sir," Ayn interjected, "if I may... It should be possible to
effectively neutralize the Romulan shields with a single burst of
concentrated phaser fire. The interaction of the planet's
"Ach," Scott interrupted. "I should ha' thought of that. The lass
is right. It could work."
The Vulcan first officer weighed the possibilities, considering
carefully. "Very well," he said at length. "Lt. Uhura, you will
begin forming evacuation parties in the event they become
necessary. Mr. Scott, please relay data for the neutralizing beam
to Mr. Chekov. It is essential that stun force phasers follow
immediately upon dissolution of the screen. Should the Romulans
have time to realize what is happening... "
"Aye, Mr. Spock. No room for error."
Some minutes later, a bolt of fiery electric blue streaked
planetward from the massive hull of the Enterprise. On the
windswept surface of Korus, it struck the invisible edge of the
force field enveloping the downed bird of prey, defining the screen
in brilliant blue. By Ayn and Scott's calculations, the planet's
nitrogen-rich atmosphere should then have interacted to dissipate
the energy of the field. Their theory, as it happened, was sound,
but the Enterprise engineers had no way to know that a newly-
developed sensor unit aboard the Romulan flagship, detecting the
energy flux of the approaching phaser bolt, had diverted emergency
power to the crippled shields and strengthened their protective
The force field held.
Seconds after Spock had ordered the ineffectual phaser fire
discontinued, Uhura responded to another signal from the flagship
"It's Tal, sir," she said unsteadily. "He's requesting visual."
McCoy, from behind Spock, said quietly, "Now you've done it."
"A calculated risk, Doctor."
"Yes, Mr. Spock. One that _failed._"
The Vulcan signalled Uhura to activate the viewscreen. Tal's angry
face replaced the stars.
"I should perhaps have anticipated your treachery," he seethed.
"It is, after all, no less than you have demonstrated in the past.
You force my hand, Vulcan."
Tal widened the view again, this time revealing only one centurion
beside him, with one of the Enterprise securities. While the
bridge crew watched in horror, the human was shoved savagely toward
the camera. A split second later, he was struck from behind by the
yellow corona of a phaser bolt. Enveloped in golden fire, he
dissolved into atoms of light and was gone.
"That was the first example," Tal said to a stunned audience. "In
one hour there will be another. Unless you comply. Consider the
consequences, Vulcan." Abruptly then, he cut the transmission once
"It's my fault, " Ayn whispered to Scott. She was very near to
abandoning protocol and breaking into tears. "If I hadn't
"Your theory was quite sound," Spock said to her, overhearing.
"The responsibility for what action was taken, however, is mine.
You have no basis for guilt."
"Maybe not," McCoy put in. "But Tal has a score to settle with
you, Spock. You disgraced his commander. Probably cost her her
command. He's nursing a grudge against you big enough to drive a
"That has little bearing on the problem at hand, Doctor."
"Doesn't it? Revenge is a relentless master, Mr. Spock. It means
that this Romulan will stop short of nothing to get even with you.
You destroyed his superior -- now he intends to destroy yours. Or
Spock considered that. The emotional motivations of hatred and
revenge were to him incomprehensible, but he understood all too
well the thoroughly cruel ways in which the concepts operated.
"Mr. Scott," he said quietly. "Sensor readings. Are the Romulan
shields still holding?"
McCoy exploded. "You're not going to try it again!"
His outburst was ignored. "Mr. Scott?"
"They're losing power, Mr. Spock. Shields at thirty-six percent
capacity and dropping. Damned if I know what stopped our phasers
from neutralizing it. Something boosted its output at the last
"Can you get life form readings?"
"Aye. Four humans... and thirty Romulans."
Only thirty. That was promising. The usual Romulan flagship
complement was approximately fifty. The _Thrysn_ had sustained
heavy losses in its unexplained spiral to Korus' surface.
"Meet me in the transporter room, Mr. Scott," Spock ordered. "We
may yet, if I recall the expression correctly, 'snatch victory from
the jaws of defeat.'"
Ayn helped Scotty re-route the transporter circuits in order to
comply with Spock's plan. When they'd finished, the device was set
for wide scan pick-up anywhere aboard the flagship -- but it would
eliminate all non-human physiologies from the beam.
"I'm nae sure this'll work," Scott admitted. "We canna get an
accurate reading through what's left of their screens."
"Precisely the reason for the wide scan, Mr. Scott," Spock said.
"We have no time to waste. Energize."
Scott slowly pressed the energizing levers forward. A high-pitched
whine filled the chamber at once, swelled, and shortly became four
insubstantial pillars of light on the dais. As quickly as they'd
appeared they began to fade again.
"Be damn't," Scott swore. "I shoulda known..."
"What is it, Mr. Scott?"
"Romulan transporter interferin' wi' the signal. The bastards are
onto us already."
"We can increase power," Ayn said. "Their systems are failing --
their output should be weaker.
Scott paused for a split second, then nodded and threw a switch.
The figures in the chamber reappeared, shimmering unsteadily amid
the sickening wail of competing beams.
"That's doin' it," Scott said triumphantly. "They're cutting off
their transporter unit."
Ayn barely restrained the urge to cheer--until she noticed
something odd on the sensor indicator screen. "Mr. Scott... Sir,
they haven't cut it off! They're--"
Four sparkling forms in the chamber suddenly became eight, then
twelve, then fourteen.
"Switch to C circuit," Scott shouted. "Send 'em back!"
"I can't! It's too late!"
Spock joined Ayn at the controls, tried and failed with her to
reverse the mass beaming. Their efforts were too little too late.
The four humans solidified in the transporter chamber surrounded by
ten armed Romulans.
"Spock!" Kirk started forward only to find himself immediately
restrained. "What in God's name are you doing?"
The Vulcan stepped forward, meeting the Romulan commander who
stepped off the platform first. Oddly, the anger had vanished from
Tal's dark features. He looked pleased now, very much the
"A valiant effort," he said to Spock. "Foolhardy, but ingenious."
He looked at Scott and Ayn, smiling faintly. "Order the first of
your evacuation parties down to the surface. Immediately."
Hesitant, Scott glanced to Spock and then to Kirk.
"Only the captain may give such an order aboard this vessel," Spock
Tal reddened. "_I_ am the captain of this vessel now."
When Scott still refused to comply, one of the centurions levelled
a Romulan phaser at Ayn, his intention more than clear. Kirk spoke
"Scotty," he said hoarsely. "Give the order."
Tal's centurions marched their prisoners off the chamber dais.
"When your evacuation is complete, I will transport the remainder
of my crew aboard," he said to Spock. "You have been a worthy
adversary, Vulcan. My compliments.
He raised a hand in imitation of the Vulcan salute, but Spock
disdained to return the honor. "I am your captive, Commander," he
said calmly, shaking his head. "Not your ally."
Anger crept back into Tal's eyes. "Take Kirk to the bridge," he
ordered the centurions. "And the Vulcan to the brig. He was
sentenced to death for the commission of treason against the Empire
many years ago. His execution is long overdue."
Phasers readied, the Romulan forces left the transporter room to
carry out their final triumph -- taking possession of the
Federation Starship Enterprise.
Scott and Ayn were taken to the engineering section by a surly
Romulan who demanded to be shown the warp drive system.
"You will explain its function -- in detail," he ordered Scott.
The chief engineer had a gleam in his eye. "By all means," he said
facetiously. "The warp drive, as I'm sure ye know, was discovered
by Anzelf von Gilch in nineteen hundred and twelve. It runs on
matter-antimatter fusion/implosion, focused via shoggam crystals
through a prismatic--"
The Romulan cut him off, angered that this human's jest had almost
taken him in. "There is no such crystal."
"Aye, of course there is. _Ayn,_ lass. Show the gentleman our
Ayn paused, momentarily confused by Scott's peculiar instruction
and knowing look. Shoggam. She knew that name. He'd been a
crewman in engineering... An Oreilian. The one whose error in
placing the dilithium crystals had almost caused a...
So that's what Scotty was getting at. A brilliant idea -- if they
could pull it off.
She pressed two controls: one to elevate the recepticle housing the
primary crystal, and another which imperceptibly tilted it out of
its proper position. While Scott expounded a plethora of BS on the
history and function of shoggam crystals, Ayn prayed silently that
their desperate ruse would work.
When he had tired of Lt. Commander Scott's rather weird
explanations, their centurion guard escorted them to the bridge,
where three of his companions held Kirk and the bridge crew at bay.
The evacuations were proceeding as ordered, and Tal had gone to
oversee them. Ayn and Scott were brought onto a sullenly quiet
bridge only moments before the red crystal at the helm began
flashing a warning.
"Orbit decaying," Sulu reported, puzzled.
Kirk gave Scotty a questioning glance and received a sly smile in
response. "Compensate, Mr. Sulu."
The centurion-in-charge objected. "You will do nothing, he told
Sulu. "Until we verify."
"By that time this ship could hit atmosphere," Kirk said. "I don't
have time for your verification." He turned back to Sulu.
Two of the Romulans moved in on the helm too late to prevent Sulu
from touching the compensator. The moment he did, the Enterprise
lurched violently starboard and threw them all to the deck. It
provided the opportune means for the humans to overwhelm and
overpower their captors while Sulu struggled to right their
dilithium-induced spiral. Kirk, meanwhile, with a Romulan phaser
now in hand, regained his chair.
"Thank you, Scotty," he breathed.
Scott picked himself up, helping Ayn to her feet as well. "Thank
the lass," he said. "We could nae ha' rigged it without her help."
"We're not home free yet," Sulu noted. "There are six other
Romulans aboard. Including Tal."
The turbolift doors swished open to admit Ensign Chekov and two
security men. They herded two Romulan centurions in front of them.
"Captain, these persons were apprehended in auxiliary control," the
young Russian reported jubilantly.
Kirk smiled. "Good work, Mr. Chekov."
"Sickbay to bridge," McCoy's voice said over the intercom. "I have
a centurion down here who backed into a sedative hypo by
'accident.' You want him?"
"I'll have security pick him up, Bones." That left three still
aboard -- one of them Tal. "Mr. Chekov, Mr. Scott -- escort these
gentlemen to deck twelve and secure them there. Lt. Uhura, recall
our evacuation parties, on the double. And Sulu -- give me an
intership sensor reading. I want to know where Tal and the other
The intercom's whistle cut across his speech as the last of the
prisoners and their security escort vanished into the turbolift.
The voice was Tal's.
"We are not so easily defeated, Kirk," he said coldly, and the
small screen over Uhura's station came to life, resolving into the
image of Tal and the two remaining armed centurions. They were in
the ship's brig -- outside a security cell that still held First
Officer Spock. "As you see, Captain, I retain a certain bargaining
Kirk allowed no hint of his concern for Spock to show in his voice.
"We have what is idiomatically known as a standoff, Commander. I
have custody of seven of your men. You have one of mine. An
unequal basis on which to bargain."
Tal curled his lip in disgust. "The human talent for deceit is
even greater than I'd been led to believe. This Vulcan traitor is
under sentence of execution. If you wish to commute that sentence,
you will return control of the vessel to my centurions. Twenty
minutes, Kirk. Twenty of your minutes to decide..."
"I need more time than that." But Kirk's words were spoken to a
Ayn had slipped into the turbolift in the middle of Kirk and Tal's
conversation and had heard the remainder of it over the intercom.
There was, she knew, an access crawlway over the brig section where
the power circuitry was housed. She should by rights have asked
Kirk's permission to do this... but there was very little time...
Commander Tal had lowered the cell's force field long enough to
enter the cubicle with his Vulcan prisoner. With the field
restored, his two centurions stood guard outside.
"You cannot succeed in taking this ship," Spock told him frankly.
"I have already taken it."
"And lost it, Commander. To continue in this effort now is
pointless. And illogical."
"Don't talk of your logic to me, Vulcan! You, who dishonored my
commander, you who betrayed the sacred honor of Romulus! This
matter is not concerned with logic, but with honor."
"I think not. It appears more likely that your 'honor' masquerades
An infuriated Tal moved to strike him, and in that moment the
entire brig section was plunged into darkness.
Spock's left hand met and blocked Tal's blow; his right grasped the
Romulan Commander's shoulder and squeezed.
Outside in the corridor, Ayn had kicked an access plate open and
dropped into the darkness below. The phaser she held fired blindly
into the shadows, illuminating the Romulan centurions as it hit and
stunned them. With twin groans, they collapsed on top of each
other just as Ayn's power interruption corrected itself --
overridden by the ship's computer. The lights hummed back to life
-- as did the cell's blue force field. Putting away her phaser,
Ayn went to turn it off.
Minutes later, when Kirk and several crewmen stormed the brig, it
was to find Ayn and Spock outside a cell that now contained two
sleeping centurions and a stonily silent Romulan commander who
contemplatively massaged one shoulder.
"I'll still have to put you on report," Kirk said after Ayn had
given him her explanation. "But I'm in your debt all the same.
Next time, just... explain it to me first, all right?"
Nervously, Ayn nodded.
"We are left with a far more serious problem, Captain," Spock said.
"After all that they have seen and learned here, we cannot allow
these Romulan officers to return home."
Kirk gave the Vulcan an anguished look. "No, I suppose we can't."
"That is as it should be," Tal spoke up from behind
the glowing forcefield. "I prefer death to disgrace."
"No one is going to die, Commander. The Federation has...
colonies." Kirk hated the archaic term 'prison camp,' yet that, in
essence, was what the Federation's rehab colonies were.
"I will not accept that!" Tal shouted. "You must grant us the
honor of death, Kirk. I demand it. I _beg_ it of you!"
The captain of the Enterprise faced his adversary through the blue
energy field and slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry. We'll send
word to Romulus about the rest of your crew on Korus. A Federation
scout will pick them up and see that they're delivered home."
He walked away, and Tal was left to plead with the Vulcan science
officer he had very nearly executed.
"I cannot live without honor, Vulcan. And this... this human
female has taken it from me."
"All the more reason not to go home, Commander," Spock replied.
"There are times when honor is little more than a clever snare. In
those times, it is best set aside."
Ayn followed Kirk out of the brig section, leaving Spock and Tal
alone to discuss the peculiar vagaries of Romulan honor. For Tal,
she knew, the ultimate disgrace in this entire matter was not so
much his capture, but the fact that it had been facilitated by a
'mere' human female. She couldn't help wondering what would become
of the Romulans in a Federation penal colony. For each of them,
death would have been preferable. Yet their cruelty deserved a
less 'honorable' punishment. They had, after all, murdered one
Enterprise crewman in cold blood.
The Romulans, Ayn decided, would probably get precisely what they
But she was sorry, all the same, for Tal...