Future Winnings 2: Cafe Americano

Rating: R for language, mild violence and sexual situations
Spoilers: Assume XF through season 5, FTF, and all of Voyager

Summary: Living aboard the starship Voyager Mulder continues his journey
into the unknown. Can he overcome old fears and new terrors? Or will he
find himself a victim of his own reckless presumptions? 

Archive: Go for it.

Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story belong to me and I'm not
making any money. So, please sue me. At least that way I can maybe get on
Oprah and have the other 7 minutes of my 15 minutes of fame.

E-Mail: Comments, flames, superfluous remarks and vicious character
assassination can be cheerfully sent to me at: eclectic99@mindspring.com

Author's Note: This story may have come about as a lark, but I have done
everything possible to make certain the psychiatric, medical and military
terminology as well as their functions in the story are accurate. Any
mistakes are definitely mine.

Many thanks to Leathie for her patient explanations, and Sue for her
interest, help and perseverance, especially after she told me Kirk was the
only captain for her -- and Leathie agreed. And to Samantha, for beta above
and beyond the call. You ladies are terrific!

Dedicated to His Gracefulness Charles, for absolutely no reason.

Future Winnings 2: Cafe Americano
Ecolea DiNardio 

There were never enough hours in a day, Fox Mulder thought wearily. He
poured himself into a chair, refusing to give in to his exhaustion. Just
when he thought he had one new learning experience conquered Tuvok threw
him another even tougher assignment. He'd been aboard Voyager for a month
now and the Vulcan hadn't let up. In addition, Mulder had kept to his
original schedule of interviewing at least six members of the crew every
morning. As well as the requisite training that went along with the job of
Ship's Counselor and reading as much as he could on Federation history,=
politics and culture. But there was just so much! And only so much time in
which to do everything. The growing mountain of information disks on one
corner of his desk was appalling and he knew he'd just barely skimmed the

Mulder yawned and stretched, groaning as he thought of slipping into a
restful sleep in his nice comfortable bed.

"Fuck!" Mulder sat up straight in his chair, forcing himself to get up. If
he went on thinking this way he'd give into the weariness and never get his
reading done. Gotta get out of this room, he thought, and go somewhere a
lot less comfortable. He checked the clock he'd replicated for his desk.=
12:16 am. The Mess Hall would still be open for those just coming off duty
or the few crew members like Tuvok and Seven of Nine who required less
sleep. To his disgust, he'd discovered a number of alien races which had
refined their rest habits to a point where sleep had become optional. 

He grimaced as he sorted through his disks until he found the ones he wanted
and grabbed a PADD. Coffee would help, he thought as he left his quarters
and made the short trip down the corridor to the Mess Hall, long since
having given up on his vow not to drink the replicated stuff. Hell, Captain
Janeway had been right when she'd pointed out that not only did it taste
just like the real thing, but that all solid matter was essentially
replicated, whether it be by nature, or by machine. He hadn't liked to
admit it, but he really couldn't tell the difference and a regular schedule
of caffeine fixes seemed to be a necessity. When he entered he found the
place empty except for the presence of Neelix and Tom Paris. The pair
looked to be commiserating, probably on the subject of women from the
confused and disappointed expression Paris was wearing.

Mulder was just pouring himself a cup of coffee when Paris called him over.=
"B'Ellana?" he asked, guessing the source of the other man's distress.

Paris nodded morosely and Mulder took a seat. It never ceased to amaze him
how two people so wrong for each other could get together, make each other
miserable and still go back for more.

"Well?" Mulder prompted. "Let's hear it."

"She threw me out!" Paris exclaimed as if he still couldn't get over the
fact the half-Klingon woman had done it. "She said my music gave her a

"And you were listening to?"

Paris looked a little chagrined, while Neelix was grinning.

"He likes rock and roll," the Telaxian told him.

"Oh," Mulder nodded, smiling at the younger man, who merely shrugged. Paris
was certainly consistent in his obsession with all things 20th century.=
He'd asked so many questions over the past month Mulder had begun to
suspect Tom was writing a treatise on the subject. "So," he began
thoughtfully. "Do you want counseling or advice?"

Paris grimaced. The lieutenant had been trying to get out of his pending
psych evaluation in the same way Mulder had once done. "Advice," he

"When it comes to relationships I'm the wrong man to ask for advice," Mulder
admitted with a grin. "Just get yourself a set of headphones and give the
woman some peace."

"Headphones," Paris murmured. "Yeah, headphones! Thanks, Mulder," he said,=
practically jumping to his feet. "I'll do that," he added as he headed for
the exit. 

"How did you do that?" Neelix asked with no small amount of wonder as soon
as Tom was out the door. "He's been here since the last shift change."

Mulder shrugged. "I had the same argument with my mother when I was ten over
a Grateful Dead album." He smiled to himself remembering how his father had
settled the issue by purchasing each of them a set of headphones -- so his
mom could listen to her Johnny Mathis collection and his dad could enjoy
his Benny Goodman in peace.

"Singers who are grateful to be dead?" Neelix asked, interrupting his
reverie. The Telaxian seemed appalled by the idea.

Mulder chuckled and shook his head. "The name was taken from a poem by Walt
Whitman, who served as a nurse in the American Civil War. And, yes, there
were many soldiers who were badly wounded, suffering as they died, and were
eager for their agony to end. So, yeah, in the poet's mind they probably
were grateful to finally be dead."

"But why would anyone think that's a good name for a group of singers."

"Advertising," Mulder grinned. "I only bought the record because the name
sounded cool. Then I played it to death and beyond 'cause it annoyed the
hell out of my family. That I really liked the music after I heard it was a
fringe benefit of driving my sister up the wall."

Neelix looked shocked. "Why would you want to torment the poor child?"

Mulder narrowed his eyes, staring down the Telaxian. "She sang "Sugar,=
Sugar" by the Archies for a week. I had to do something to protect my
sanity, didn't I?"

Neelix shook his head and wandered off to serve a pair of ensigns who'd just
come off shift, leaving Mulder to muse over the vagaries of his own
childhood. He let his mind wander a bit, then pulled himself back to the
present when his memories touched a particularly difficult moment he didn't
really want to deal with. Read, he told himself, groaning silently as he
slipped a disk into the PADD he'd brought. "Okay, Dr. Seul," he muttered,=
"let's get you done, so T'vrill doesn't stare my spine into Jell-O

"Counselor Mulder? Mulder?"

He nearly fell off his chair as he started awake. "Jesus, Seven!" he
exclaimed, righting himself. "Next time, make some noise, will you? I could
have broken my neck!"

The Borg gazed down at him, her eyes showing her amusement. "I did,=
Counselor Mulder. You continued sleeping."

Shit! He'd only just closed his eyes to rest them. "Well," he said, trying
to hide his embarrassment. "Was there something you wanted?"

"A nutritional supplement," she stated blandly. "I have achieved that goal."

Mulder had to smile. "Congratulations, Seven. Now, was there anything you
wanted from me?"

She pointed one elegant finger at his PADD. "Why do you persist in this
inefficient method of assimilating information?"

Seven was about as polite as a nuclear missile. Mulder crossed his arms and
leaned back in his chair. "Inefficient, how?"

"Manual ocular scanning is time consuming and unnecessary. Borg drones
assimilate far greater amounts of information than you are required
utilizing a synaptic access port. Retention is complete and the information
is available instantaneously. Is that not a more efficient method?"

"'Manual ocular--? Oh, reading!" Mulder cringed inwardly. He'd actually
expected someone to catch on to him sooner. In truth, he'd been skating on
thin ice for weeks now. If he didn't do something quick...  There was, of
course, another option, just as Seven had pointed out, but not one he
really wanted to consider. "I like reading, Seven," he answered wearily.

The blond Borg thinned her lips. "At your current rate of study and
assimilation I calculate it will take just under 237.4 Earth Standard years
for you to absorb all required information. Given the normal human aging
process you will most certainly be dead long before you achieve your goal."

Laughing softly at her estimation, Mulder shrugged. "I'm not drilling
anymore holes in my head, Seven."

The woman raised a brow at that. "Unlike a synaptic access port a neural
data transmitter does not require an invasive procedure."

"Okay, okay!" Mulder raised his hands to stop her from voicing the obvious.=
"I know all about sleep teachers. I'm just not comfortable with the idea of
information going into my head when I have no control over what's in it.=
Call me old fashioned, but it makes me nervous," he finally admitted.

"I see," Seven intoned. "You are afraid."

"Yeah, okay, I'm afraid!" Mulder snapped. "It's not like I've had any good
experiences in that area. I've had enough people poking about in here!"=
Mulder tapped his forehead and looked away, angry at Seven because she'd
forced him to confront the issue, and at himself for making it necessary. I
should have just stayed in my quarters!

"You're fear is rational, but an obstacle to your ability to adapt. If you
require assistance I will be in Astrometrics." She paused as she turned to
leave. "I will use discretion in this matter, Counselor Mulder."

"Shit!" he whispered after she'd gone. Mulder sighed, rubbing his face. At
least she wasn't going to rat him out to the captain. Both Janeway and
Tuvok had mentioned the neural transmission process and he'd pretended to
agree just to avoid talking about his feelings on the subject. He gathered
his things and stood, weaving a little as he made his way back to his

I'm too tired for this shit! he thought, dumping his stuff on the desk. He
stumbled into the bedroom and threw off his clothes. Tomorrow. I'll think
about it then. Maybe. "Christ!" he muttered, climbing into bed. It was at
moments like these he wished Scully were here. She'd have either calmed his
fears, or told him he was crazy to even think about trying it, but he'd at
least have someone with which to bounce around the idea. "Lights out," he
groaned, vaguely wondering when he'd begun to accept talking to a computer
as useful technology and was it any different really from the notion of
using a sleep teacher. 

In the dark of his quarters Mulder drifted into a restless slumber. His
dreams that night were far from peaceful. Bright white light and forgetting
everything as he wandered in places no one recognized him, or worse, seeing
familiar faces and recalling nothing.


"Come on, Mulder, you'll love it!"

"Tom, I already told you, I don't have time to go to the holodeck." Mulder
crossed his arms, both exasperated and amused. "And," he added, looking at
his watch, "your fifteen minutes of glory just started."

"Come on," the lieutenant pleaded. "I'm your last appointment this morning
and we can do the psyche thing just as well, or better on the holodeck."

"Better?" Mulder asked with a grin. "You mean safer, don't you?" Paris
merely shrugged. "Okay, we'll do it on your turf, so you can feel more in
control, but it isn't really necessary, you know. This isn't an evaluation,=
just a hello kind of thing."

"Even better," Paris smiled broadly. "We already know each other."

Mulder shook his head, slipped on his shoulder holster and shrugged into his
jacket. He always tried to make things as casual as possible when he did
these little interviews which were more for the crew of Voyager than for
him. Still, he never left his quarters unarmed. Despite what Captain
Janeway thought of his weapons, he felt better having them on his person
when he was outside his quarters.

"So, Tom, you think men who've killed together naturally bond?" Mulder
teased as he walked beside Paris into the lift.

The lieutenant grimaced. "If I thought that I'd be in love with Chakotay!=
Deck 7," he told the lift computer. "And we just barely tolerate each

"The curse of the Alpha Male," Mulder responded. "Some things never change."

Paris snorted. "Well, psychoanalyze away, Mulder. It won't do you any good
on that score. We just dislike each other, end of story."

The lift doors opened and Mulder followed Paris to holosuite two, saying
nothing. He'd read both men's files and knew there was a hell of a lot more
to it than that. Still, he wasn't a Freudian and since both men seemed to
be coping fairly well with the situation he wasn't about to interfere
unless asked.

Paris requested a program entitled "Grease Monkey" and Mulder had to stifle
a laugh. The younger man was offering Mulder a deeper glimpse into his
psyche than he could ever have gotten sitting across from him in a chair.

"Well, whaddaya think?" Paris asked, eyes lit with pride, after they'd
entered a perfect facsimile of a typical garage, replete with oil stains
and greasy cloths.

Mulder burst out laughing as he stared at the vehicle in the center of the
room. "Now that's cherry!" he exclaimed walking around the car. "A '69
Camaro. Christ, the last time I saw one of these I was trying to shoot the
tires out as it went by!"

Paris cocked his head. "You think I should paint it red?"

Mulder looked up from his examination of the interior, noting the confusion
on the lieutenant's face. "Ah...no. It's cherry. You know, mint? Mint
condition. Cherry." Paris' mouth opened in a silent oh as he filed away the
slang for future use. Mulder opened the driver side door and slid in. "You
did the detail yourself?" he asked, impressed.

"I rebuilt it from the ground up," Paris told him, climbing into the
passenger seat to watch Mulder, who simply nodded.

"Did that with a couple of friends in college. Not my thing, but I learned a
lot. Mostly, that being a mechanic was hard, dirty work and to be really
glad I didn't have to be one. But, I'm not surprised you find it

"Still trying to psychoanalyze me, Mulder?" Paris asked, faintly annoyed.

"Don't have to," he admitted. "You just told me what I already knew."

"Which is?" the other man asked warily.

Mulder put on his most non-judgmental expression. "That you want to run as
fast and as far as you can from the things that bother you."

Paris shrugged. "I could have told you that from my last twenty psych
evaluations. It's nothing new."

"No," Mulder agreed. "But you aren't running. You're coping -- and doing it
extremely well -- now that you've gotten as far away from the problem as
you could."

"My father?" Paris sighed.

"Among other things," Mulder smiled ruefully. "I did pretty much the same
when I took off for Oxford. But in my time you could get away and not have
to leave the planet."

"Or the quadrant?"

Mulder nodded. "Sometimes it really works to put enough distance between you
and what's bothering you so that you have time, real time, to explore the
issue when you need -- and forget about it when you don't."

"Real time..." Paris mused. "Yeah, I can see that. There's no way for him to
reach me out here to tell me when I've screwed up."

Again Mulder nodded. "No communication at all. Makes it easy to deal with
your feelings -- without having to worry about what the old man is going to

"But," Paris asked curiously, "shouldn't I be trying to build some form of
communication with him? I mean, that's what all the counselors I've ever
seen have said."

Mulder shrugged. "You are an adult, Tom. You can decide for yourself just
how much contact you want to have with your family when you get back. And,"=
he added, "you can decide on what terms it's going to be. If they refuse to
respect that then you can decide whether or not you want to be treated as
an adult or a child."

They sat in silence for a time, until Paris cleared his throat. "Maybe it's
all those years of being told it was up to me to do something about the
situation, but I still feel guilty."

Mulder sighed. "I know. Been there. Done that. But it really wasn't your
fault. I've looked at your father's records," he admitted and Paris' brows
rose. "Yeah, well, I got a little curious. So, sue me. Anyway," he went on.=
"And, I'm saying this as your friend and not your therapist, your father's
a real bastard. I think he realized pretty early on that he couldn't
compete with you intellectually. He had to work for everything he got. He
was a good student, good commander, but not brilliant. You, on the other
hand, naturally excel. When he slacked off, he fell behind. You could skate
through stuff and still come out on top. So, he stomped on you, trying to
keep you in line when you really didn't need that kind of discipline. You
would've found your own path without all that and you would have
disciplined yourself -- which you've been doing at a fairly decent clip
since Janeway got you out of prison. As a result, he created his own worst
nightmare. He didn't leave you any choice, Tom. It isn't surprising that
you ran at the first opportunity."

"Hey, I was the one who screwed up at the Academy," Paris insisted. "I got
myself court martialed."

"You could have lied about how your friends died," Mulder said quietly.=
"Your family had enough power to get it all swept under the rug nice and
neat. But you didn't."

"You're not saying my subconscious engineered the whole thing are you?"=
Paris asked hotly. "They were my friends! It was an accident! And it was my

Mulder remained calm in the face of Paris' hostility. "I'm not saying you
wanted them to die. I'm saying you pushed the envelope. You wanted out. So
when the accident happened you owned up to it and got yourself out.=
Becoming a mercenary and joining up with the Maquis was an act of
rebellion. You don't have a criminal mind, Tom. But you weren't offered a
middle path. So, you took the only one available at the time."

"And what about you?" Paris asked. "You took the straight and narrow."

Mulder gave him a telling smile. "Because I do have a criminal mind, but not
the desire." Paris leaned back in his seat, looking surprised. "It isn't a
big leap from profiling psychopaths to being one. It's just a choice I
made. Getting away from my family taught me there was a middle ground. I
took it." Mulder glanced around the garage. "You're just discovering your
middle ground. I think you should explore it some more. Now, you wanna

"Uh..." Paris looked stunned. "Drive?"

"What? Don't tell me you built this beauty -- a favorite I might add among
criminals looking for a really quick getaway -- and you aren't going to
take her out for a spin?"

"Actually," Paris admitted, a little flushed. "I understand the principles,=
but I've never..."

Mulder grinned, turned on the ignition and put the car into gear.=
"Computer," he called. "Keep the car and give me, oh, a highway, any
highway USA circa 1998, early evening, middle of nowhere, summer and an
oldies station for the radio."

He smiled at the other man's surprise. Now, what would he think if I took
him to McDonald's? Mulder wondered. It was getting close to lunch.


It had been another long day for Mulder. Despite his brief time on the
holodeck, several hours interpreting sensor logs had not been conducive to
relaxation. Quite the opposite. He was tense even after he showered and not
looking forward to reading a dissertation on the validity of the Vulcan
mind meld as a healing technique. Just thinking about it brought up the
question of sleep teaching again.

Sitting at his desk with a cup of coffee, Mulder rubbed his temples trying
to ease the headache he'd had all afternoon. It did nothing for the
queasiness he felt every time he thought of attaching himself to a neural
transmitter. It can't be any worse than having someone drilling into your
head, he silently reasoned. Or, getting your mind wiped at Ellen's AFB. So,=
what's really bothering me?

Scully. More to the point, he realized, no Scully. Just knowing she was
there had allowed him to take chances he would never have taken otherwise.=
At that moment, Mulder felt the pain of her loss more keenly than he had
since he'd found himself on Voyager. And for an instant the thought of
going on without her presence was just too much. Taking a deep breath he
shoved all thought of her aside. Later. I'll think about all this later.=
When it doesn't hurt so much. If I think about it now I won't be able to

He pushed away from the desk and stood, decisively pulling on his jacket.=
"Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

"Seven of Nine is in Cargo Bay Two."

A few minutes later he was striding into the bay and pulling up short at the
sight of Seven sitting rather forlornly on a step leading up to a strange
piece of equipment. She quickly stood and assumed an air of professionalism
Mulder found at odds with her previous posture. Seven was hiding something.

"May I help you?" she asked briskly, moving to a computer console.

Mulder nodded, glancing from her to what he realized was a Borg regeneration
alcove. "I didn't mean to interrupt," he apologized, a bit confused.=
"Shouldn't that be in your quarters?" he asked, looking around the stark
cargo bay and then back to the alcove.

"You were not interrupting, Mulder. Although, in future, I would prefer if
you announced yourself before entering."

Mulder stared at the woman, his mouth slowly opening in shock as he realized
exactly what her response implied. "These are your quarters?" he asked,=
very much appalled. "An empty cargo bay?"

Seven's spine went a little more rigid, her voice a little colder. "You
wished to speak with me?"

Definitely a sore point, Mulder thought. They want her to be more human, but
they think of her exclusively as a Borg. No place in here to really sit and
think, or learn to be comfortable lazing about. Captain Janeway was not
going to like the memo he was going to fire off.

"Yes," he told her, allowing a small, compassionate smile to grace his lips.=
"I need your help, Seven."

Such a little thing, Mulder mused as he attached the neural transmitter to
his temple. With a grin he tossed his uniform aside and climbed into bed.=
He'd pictured wires and tubes and nasty looking paraphernalia. Seven's
droll response when he'd told her this was one he'd remember as long as he

"Would you like me to replicate a drill bit for old time's sake?"

The pretty little blond had a wicked sense of humor under that titanium
exterior she put on. She'd definitely been amused by his reaction to his
first experience with the transmitter. Everything he ever wanted to know
about fluidic space and would never have known to ask instantaneously on
the tip of his tongue. Wow. Big wow, he thought grinning like a fool as he
stretched, crossing his hands behind his head. I'll be up to speed in no
time this way, Mulder thought gleefully after calling for lights out. He
could even do this while he was awake and busy. For the first time in a
month, Mulder realized as he drifted off, he was going to get a full
night's sleep.


Mulder woke with a groan as the computer buzzed him back to consciousness.=
He reached for the neural transmitter and tossed it onto the night stand,=
yawning as he did so. Five days of using the device and he' made a sizable
dent in his reading material, but he'd barely scratched the surface of
everything he really needed to know. Oh, he knew how Voyager functioned
down to the last light on her port nacelle, and T'vrill, the Counselor
Evaluation Program, had qualified him the day before to do real psychiatric
work with the crew. But there were still a couple of quadrant's worth of
history, literature and mathematics he needed to absorb. 

Up to speed, yes, Mulder thought as he dragged himself into the shower, but
uneducated. What he really wanted was to be able to hold up his end of a
conversation on say, the poetic alliteration of Demarr the Grentian -- a
favorite of B'Ellana Torres and a number of other crew members who held
weekly poetry recitals in the Mess Hall. He'd done Whitman from memory at
the last one, but had been deeply, though quietly, embarrassed when the
conversation veered off into the more esoteric realms of Bajoran theophoric
epics versus Klingon. It was an unsettling feeling for someone used to
almost always having the right answer, or, at the very least, being able to
bullshit his way rather glibly through an intellectual discussion.

Scully would have laughed herself silly, Mulder thought wryly as he exited
the shower and started shaving. No doubt about it, she'd have paid serious
money to watch me with my mouth shut, trying not to fidget while I kept up
a facade of polite interest. A part of him almost wished she'd been there
to see it, but he ruthlessly quelled the thought before it could
materialize into the dull ache such ideas left him with. She lived, she
died, and had a good life in between, he told himself. I'm just not going
to think about it.

A short while later, dressed in his old black jeans, gray tee shirt and
leather jacket he made his way to the Mess Hall for breakfast, wondering
what he was going to do with his first real day off. One he'd already
decided not to spend with the transmitter. He hadn't liked it, but as a
psychologist he knew he needed it. And T'vrill was keeping close tabs on
his down time. For a Vulcan psychiatrist, even a holographic one, to point
out that her patient needed a break was tantamount to heresy. But the woman
had been a surprise from the beginning, Mulder reminded himself

He grinned as he saw Tom and B'Ellana sharing their morning meal with Harry
Kim. He grabbed a cup of coffee and joined them. "Hey, Dad, can I borrow
the car?"

B'Ellana rolled her eyes at Harry, who made a point of staring intently at
his eggs.

Paris sat back in his chair. "Well, Son, if you promise not to scratch the

B'Ellana's mouth fell open. "Your priceless ka-ma-roh!"

Paris grinned and nodded. "He's gonna teach me to parallel park!"

"Why?" Harry asked. "So you two can go play cops and rubbers?"

None of them could figure out why Mulder was laughing. There were a
multitude of comebacks he could have made, but decided not to. Better to
tell the truth, he thought, and torment Harry for the rest of his natural
life. The young Asian man was blushing intensely when Mulder finally
quieted down to the occasional chortle and explained.

"Uhm," Ensign Kim stammered, hastily getting to his feet. "I need to see how
that new diagnostic program is running."

"Which new diagnostic program?" Paris asked innocently.

Harry grabbed his tray, lips finally curving in a self-deprecating grin.=
"Any new diagnostic program. See you later."

Mulder and Paris held back their laughter until Harry had left, but B'Ellana
wasn't having any of it. "That was really juvenile. The pair of you ought
to be ashamed!" Which only made them laugh harder. She shook her head and
grabbed her tray. "Well, I'm on duty in five minutes. Tom?"

Paris shook his head. "I want to finish my coffee. I'll see you tonight."

B'Ellana gave him a warning look as she stood then turned her gaze on
Mulder. She looked as though she were about to say something, then shook
her head and gave a long suffering sigh. "Counselor," she murmured and
walked away.

"I'd hang my head in shame," Mulder said thoughtfully. "But I'd be lying."

Paris nodded. "I know. Harry's way too easy to tease and B'Ellana likes
him." Both men smiled. "So, what are planning to do with my car?"

Mulder sipped his coffee, recalling a thought he'd had after he'd first seen
the Camaro. "I think I'll abuse my new privileges as Ship's Counselor and
order Seven to take a long drive in the country."

Paris couldn't have looked anymore stunned if he'd been hit upside the head
with a board. "Seven? Oh, Mulder," he shook his head. "Don't even think
about going there. She's trouble with a capital T."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you of all people would say that.=
You're the one person on this ship she actually likes."

"She told you this?" Tom's mouth hung open in a gasp of stunned horror.

Mulder shook his head. "She didn't have to. Haven't you noticed you're the
only person she jokes with?"

The lieutenant shook his head. "Seven never... Oh, no wait. You mean those
slightly nasty flip remarks?"

Mulder grinned and nodded. "If she didn't care, she wouldn't bother."

Paris looked vaguely disgusted. "Damn, the last thing I need is a Borg with
a crush on me."

That made Mulder angry. "She's a person with Borg implants and has the
emotional comprehension of a twelve year old. You could be a little kinder,=
Tom. Not that anyone around here cares, but it would be the decent thing to
do, considering you're dragging her back to Earth. But then I expect you
all felt you could assuage your guilt that way after cutting her off from
the collective -- by playing savior and feeling oh so smug and superior."

Mulder put aside his empty coffee mug, ignoring Tom's embarrassment. "Now,=
if you'll excuse me, I have a day off to enjoy."

Out in the corridor Mulder fumed. He glanced around and quickly came to a
decision. "Computer, where is Seven of Nine?"

"Seven of Nine is in holosuite two."

He stalked to the lift, ignoring nervous glances from some of the crew.=
Probably have her repairing the damn thing so their playtime isn't
interrupted! he thought, letting his anger boil. And, as he recalled,=
Captain Janeway hadn't even bothered to answer the memo he'd fired off
about giving Seven appropriate quarters.

Once on deck seven he strode through the holosuite doors, pulling up short.=
There was a program running. A pretty forest setting. And somewhere in the
distance he heard the murmur of voices and a child laughing.

He made his way down the path. A child. Mulder felt his stomach turn at the
sight of the little girl, sensing, somehow, that this was not some holo
image Seven of Nine had dreamed up to compensate for her lack of a
childhood. It wasn't in her Borg defined nature. But a child! his mind
cried out silently. His memory filtered through scenes of the past month.=
The Byrlyx raiders taking control of Voyager, the D'vor Imperium hunting
down telepaths and their constant boarding parties inspecting the ship,=
along with several other minor incidents no less dangerous because they
involved only a few members of the crew. Christ, this is no place for a

The little girl suddenly caught sight of Mulder and screamed, running to
hide behind Seven. "Flotter! Trevis! Save us!"

"Freeze program," Seven ordered and the two holo beings, one a violent shade
of blue, the other covered in what appeared to be bark, stopped in their
tracks. "Naomi Wildman," Seven said sternly. "You are being foolish. This
is Counselor Mulder, whom you would have met sooner if you hadn't been
trying to hide from him."

The child looked contrite, but fearful. No wonder, Mulder thought, dismayed
as he recalled that there was an Ensign Wildman on the crew roster. She's
living on a starship in constant danger from the unknown. Hell, any
sensible child would be terrified of strangers.

"It's all right, Seven," Mulder told her in his softest voice, stifling his
anger as he hunkered down to crouch below the child's eye level. A simple
gesture, but one he often used to reduce the threat level when dealing with
children. "Hello, Naomi, my name is Fox. I'm sorry I interrupted your
game." He glanced at the two holograms. "Who are your friends?"

Naomi shifted a step or two away from the protection afforded by Seven.=
"That's Trevis," she pointed to the bark covered man. "And that's Flotter.=
We were going to explore the Cave of the Crystal Giant." She toed the
ground, glancing shyly at Mulder. "Do you want to come?" she asked quietly.

He smiled, but before he could answer the sound of Captain's Janeway's voice
interrupted him, requesting his presence in her Ready Room. Mulder sighed.=
"Maybe next time, Naomi. Seven," Mulder nodded to the woman. Then he
grinned and gave then both a wink. "Have fun you two."

Neither saw the frown he was wearing as he left the holosuite, or heard him
whisper angry curses as he went up in the lift. "Goddammit!" he muttered as
he crossed the bridge, heedless of the startled looks he received.

The doors of the Ready Room whooshed open, sliding shut behind him as he

"Why wasn't I told there was a child on board?!" he demanded.

"Counselor Mulder!" Janeway looked up from her tea and reports, obviously

"Don't 'Counselor Mulder' me! I've gone up against baby butchers, Senate
Select Committees and irate bill collectors, I don't intimidate that easy!=
Now, why wasn't I told about Naomi Wildman? Other than Seven of Nine that
child is most in need of therapy."

Janeway remained silent for a long moment, apparently refusing to be drawn
into an argument on the subject. "I wondered when I'd get to see that
famous temper of yours."

Mulder thinned his lips. "Don't try to placate me, Captain."

"I wasn't," she stated blandly. "I was considering writing you up for

"Go right ahead," he told her. "I can add it to my collection. Now, let's
talk about Naomi."

Janeway suddenly smiled and shook her head. "You know, you really should
read Agent Scully's book. 'Dogged and relentless' is how, I believe, she
put it."

"I've had other things on my mind and I'm not the subject here, Captain."

"In part, you are," Janeway told him. "Have a seat, Mulder, we need to

He slid easily into the seat beside her desk, crossing his arms. "Yes, we

The captain said nothing, but picked up a PADD and started to read aloud.

"'Since the dawn of time mankind has required that certain fundamental needs
be met. Needs of the heart, mind, body and soul...' Mulder," she asked,=
shaking her head in amusement, "who writes reports like this?"

Mulder rubbed his eyes, trying not to laugh. After so long under wraps it
felt good to release his anger and he didn't want to relinquish that just
yet. "Did it get your attention?"

Janeway sighed. "Obviously, or I wouldn't have sent for you. Which, I
suppose," she nodded to herself, "was the point."

"Not really," Mulder admitted with a rueful grin. "That's just a perk. When
you've written as many dry reports as I have over the years, you have to
find some way to keep from falling asleep."

"And when you've read as many dry reports as I have, you appreciate the ones
that keep you from falling asleep."

Mulder merely nodded. "And I appreciate the compliment, but..."

"But you're concerned about Seven and Naomi Wildman." Again Mulder nodded.=
"I'm granting your request to assign quarters to Seven of Nine," she told
him gently. "I understand your reasoning and I'm sorry I didn't force the
issue sooner. I had hoped she'd come to me as she began to feel more
comfortable with her humanity."

"She doesn't know how to ask, or that she should," Mulder responded. "And
why should she? You want her to be human, yet you deny her the basics. She
needs to be taught how to integrate into society. Not simply be allowed to
assimilate behavioral patterns. And for all that, she will never be truly

The captain nodded. "What you say and what you wrote," she held up the PADD,=
"is all very true. So, it's going to be your job to get her to leave the
cargo bay."

No shit, Mulder thought, not relishing the idea, but well aware that it had
to be done. "And Naomi?"

"Naomi is just fine," Janeway told him, obviously confused as to his
interest in the child. "She's bright and happy and--"

"Terrified of strangers, isolated from her peers, and living in a state of
constant danger. Now, tell me this a normal childhood."

Janeway templed her fingers and sighed. "We had no choice. Ensign Wildman
gave birth after we were pulled into the Delta quadrant."

Mulder shook his head. "That isn't at issue here. Although, pregnancy alone
should have disqualified her from--"

"Captain Janeway! You're needed on the bridge!"

The urgency of the voice, Chakotay's Mulder thought, sent Janeway
practically flying out of her chair and through the door into the command
center. He followed, glancing at the wall sized view screen in amazement as
space seemed to shimmer and distort, suddenly revealing a ship.

Light blossomed outward from the immense craft, heading toward Voyager.

"Shields up! Evasive maneuvers!" Janeway called out. The ship lurched and
Mulder watched in sickening fascination as the blob of light seemed to
envelope the view screen. Voyager suddenly shuddered, bucking violently and
tossing Mulder to the floor as the bridge lights flickered out and tiny
explosions lit up half the Operations console.

"Damage to the hull on decks 10, 11 and 12." Tuvok's voice was unnaturally
calm. "Shields down to seventy percent. The Warbird is preparing to fire

Mulder gasped in surprise as he recognized Tuvok's reference to the other
ship. What the fuck? Romulans? Out here?

"Tom!" Janeway ordered. "Get us out of here. Warp Nine."

Voyager swiftly veered away, but not before another ball of light shot from
the Warbird. It caught them from behind, causing a long, terrifying moment
of weightlessness and several more explosions from half a dozen other
consoles around the bridge.

Mulder landed with a thump when the inertial dampers kicked the gravity back
on, immediately feeling the searing pain that told him he'd cracked a rib.

"Shields at forty percent. Direct hit to the aft nacelle. Warp core is
off-line," Tuvok reported.

"Do we still have weapons?" Janeway asked.

"Routing all non-essential power to the weapons."

"Target their engines," she ordered.

A moment later the view screen was lit by a bombardment of photon torpedoes,=
headed for the Warbird.

"Direct hit," Tuvok stated. "They've lost warp capability."

Janeway nodded. "Hail them," she ordered tersely.

"No response."

The lights on the bridge flickered again then came up to reveal a scene of
controlled frenzy. Mulder slowly drew himself into a sitting position,=
wincing at the lancing pain his side.

"I believe Lt. Torres has the warp core back on line," Tuvok announced.

"Move us away, Tom, but stay within sensor range. Keep trying to hail them,=

"Long range sensors are down, Captain." Mulder recognized the voice as
Paris'. "But I'll maintain optimum distance. If they try anything..."

"Understood," Janeway responded glancing around at the damage until she
caught sight of Mulder. She tapped her comm badge once. "Doctor, you're
needed on the bridge."

Mulder gave her a look of thanks, grimacing slightly as he tried to keep
himself upright. "Captain," he gasped, breathing shallow to reduce the
pain. Janeway moved to his side. "That ship is probably in the same boat as
Voyager. If they won't negotiate you have to destroy them, or they'll be
dogging our heels back to the Alpha quadrant."

Janeway nodded. "I was thinking the same thing, although I'd like to avoid
the destruction part."

"That's up to them," Mulder whispered, grateful at the sight of the doctor
coming off the lift. Janeway stood aside to let the doctor work.

"One rib broken, two fractured," he told the captain as he gestured to a
pair of ensigns to put Mulder on the stretcher.

"Other injuries?" she asked.

"About a dozen or so crew members with various broken bones and bruising.=
Nothing too severe."

"Captain!" Paris called. "I've got an unknown ship coming in at the edge of
our sensor range. It's headed right for the Warbird."

"On screen."

Mulder lifted a hand to one of ensigns and told her to wait. He watched as
several bolts of violet energy seared the Romulan ship.

"The Warbird has lost life support," Tuvok announced.

"Captain," Harry Kim interrupted. "I'm intercepting a message from the alien
vessel to the Warbird."

Janeway smiled grimly. "Let's listen in."

"Telepaths! This is F'har Venul of the Ossean Guardianship. Surrender and
prepare to be boarded. You will be well treated in service to the

Mulder snorted, wincing at the pain. Sounded like slavery to him. "Captain,"=
he called breathlessly. Janeway turned her head, her surprise at his
presence evident. "Fire on the other ship," he advised, an idea forming.

Janeway grinned. "Are you thinking what I am?"

Mulder gave a little nod. "Your enemy is my enemy."

Tuvok nodded. "It would be a debt of honor."

"Do it," Janeway told the Vulcan. "And, Counselor Mulder, better brush up on
your Romulan. I want you here when I start negotiating with them."

Mulder sighed and his stomach flipped, quickly realizing what he was going
to have to do. "Part of the job description," he murmured, closing his eyes
against the light that filled the view screen and the image of the Ossean
ship as it exploded into tiny bits.


"Counselor," the doctor called just as Mulder was trying to make a quick
exit from Sickbay. He turned to see the hologram holding his jacket up with
a pair of extension forceps. "Don't forget your dead animal skin covering."

"Dead cow skin, if you please," Mulder responded haughtily, taking the
proffered item.

The doctor snorted. "Oh, and Mulder?" He turned again with a sigh. "Next
time someone lobs a plasma mortar in your direction, hold on."

Mulder gave him a look of wide eyed innocence. "If I did that, I wouldn't
ever have the pleasure of your company." He flicked a wrist and twitched
his hip, striving to look very fey. He left the doctor staring after him --=
an expression of sheer terror pasted on the hologram's face.

That'll teach him to rag on my leather, Mulder chuckled nastily as the doors
closed behind him. Despite his injury it had taken only a few minutes for
the broken and fractured ribs to be repaired. He could live with that kind
of medical attention -- if only the doctor didn't have such a stick up his
ass most of the time.

He tapped his comm badge. "Mulder to Seven of Nine," he called. "I need to
see you. Can you meet me in my quarters?" he asked, headed for the lift.=
First, he needed to change.

The response was immediate." We are in the midst of a Red Alert, Counselor."

"No shit," he retorted. "I need your help with the neural transmitter."

There was a slight pause. "I shall comply."

Mulder sighed. Scully would have threatened to shoot him if she knew what he
planned, but there was no help for it. What he knew about the Romulans
wouldn't fill that hypothetical thimble. He'd merely made an educated guess
on the bridge. Now, he'd better put some facts behind it.


There was no doubt about it -- Scully would have shot him. And he'd have let

"Oh, fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Mulder's arms clasped his head, pressing hard
against his skull as if to keep his brain from exploding. Images, words and
sounds flooded his brain at break neck speed and it was all he could do to
keep from screaming. Every synaptic nerve seemed to have been scraped raw
then had salt rubbed into the open, bleeding wounds. "Oh, shit. Shit," he
whispered as the images slowed and finally stopped, leaving Mulder a
panting, exhausted heap on the floor of his quarters.

Seven helped him up and onto the couch. "I warned you that it would be
difficult," she scolded, removing the neural transmitter from Mulder's

"Not so loud, please," he whispered, keeping his eyes tightly closed. Her
voice was like vinegar in his frontal lobe.

More quietly she added. "You must rest now."

"I know," he told her. "And thank you."

"I will be in Astrometrics if you need further assistance."

He lifted a hand in acknowledgment, listening for the whoosh of the door.=
When she was gone he eased himself off the couch and stumbled over to the
replicator. "Four aspirin and water," he requested. A moment later he
swallowed the pills and forced himself to stand upright. He blinked hard,=
scrubbing the tears of pain from his eyes and took a deep breath as he
carefully made his way to the door. He knew he needed to rest -- he just
didn't have the time.


The senior staff was meeting in the conference room. As Ship's Counselor,=
Mulder was required to be there. He steeled himself as he entered, hoping
he didn't look as pale as he felt. Luckily, everyone seemed to attribute
his lack of color to being in his first real fire fight in space. Mulder
didn't bother to disabuse them of this notion. At the moment, he needed
every advantage he could get.

"It seems we have an interesting problem with our Romulan friends," Janeway
began. "Chakotay."

The Commander leaned forward, crossing his arms on the table. "Apparently,=
they've been in the Delta quadrant about twenty years longer than we have.=
They have their own set of badlands along their opposite border, which is
how they were captured by the Caretaker. Most of their original command
crew is dead, and of those given battlefield commissions only a handful
remain. Normally," he explained. "A Romulan Warbird carries a compliment of
600. They're down to 214 and getting desperate."

"With a rate of attrition that high, I shouldn't wonder," Paris commented.

Janeway nodded. "I've offered them help in exchange for a truce."

"Captain," B'Ellana interjected. "We can't trust them!"

The captain raised a hand to forestall anymore objections. "In this case, I
believe we can. We have a mutual enemy. And we need each other to get out
of this sector as quickly as possible."

Mulder nodded thoughtfully, but said nothing, until Janeway glanced in his

"You knew," she said quietly, staring at Mulder as if he were under a

He shrugged. "I suspected. There had to be something out here to make the
D'vor so anal about telepaths. Something that made their continued
vigilance an imperative. A race that not only valued them, but had a
particular use for them. An application which probably endangered D'vor

"Indeed," Tuvok said quietly. "According to the Romulans, the Osseans, who
have no telepathic ability of their own, use telepaths and telekinetics to
virtually run their empire. Nor does one," he added, "have to be a telepath
in order to be taken. They seek out those with the potential as well, and,=
in essence, force the neural pathways open."

"So how does that effect us?" Harry wanted to know. "Can't we hide Tuvok and
the others like we did from the D'vor?"

"I'm afraid that's not an option," the doctor explained. "The cumulative
effects of their long term immersion in transporter stasis during the D'vor
inspections have seriously compromised the molecular stability of their
bodies. In time, it might be possible. Right now, it would kill them."

"And not just our telepaths are at risk this time," Janeway pointed out.=
"Every one of us has telepathic potential. We may refer to it as instinct
or a sixth sense, but it's there."

"But why deal with the Romulans?" B'Ellana asked as if the very thought left
a sour taste in her mouth.

"We have to," Janeway admitted. "Neither of our ships alone are capable of
making it through Ossean space. And we can't go around it. Our long range
probes have tracked heavy ion storms along their nearest border. Even if we
could make it through, we'd be leaving the Romulans to die. I won't do

"But they fired on us!" B'Ellana exclaimed.

"They claim they didn't know we were Federation," Chakotay told her. "And it
could be true. The Intrepid Class starship wasn't even off the design
boards when they were pulled into the Delta quadrant."

B'Ellana sat back, clearly wanting to argue the point.

"You're awfully quiet, Mulder," Captain Janeway noted.

Mulder smiled gently. "I don't have the same emotional stake in this as all
of you. I'm not at war with the Romulans."

"You're wearing a Starfleet uniform," B'Ellana insisted.

He gave a brief nod at the accuracy of the statement. "Yes, I am. But the
clothes don't make the man. I know Voyager and I know her crew. I haven't
met the nebulous Starfleet. I'll fight for you and I'll fight for humanity
on principle. As for the rest," he shrugged. "That remains to be seen."

"So, that's it? You don't care?"

He looked at B'Ellana as he'd look at a child in the midst of a temper
tantrum. Neither angry, nor amused. More sad than anything else. "I'm not a
saint, B'Ellana, no matter what you may have read about me. The truth is,=
the Romulan War was started by a mistake. An error in judgment made out of
fear on the part of the Romulans and inexperience on the part of Starfleet.=
That one set of mistakes poisoned everything that came after. As for the
Klingon involvement with the Romulans... Well, both parties have grievances
there. Ones I'm not inclined to address at the moment. Are they germane
right here and now?" Mulder shook his head. "No matter what I think, I know
we don't have the luxury of falling back on old habits. And hatred is
habitual. It's easy and it's safe. But it's also dangerous."

"Well said," Janeway nodded.

"Very," Tuvok agreed. "I, too, am reluctant to form an alliance with the
Romulans. But logic dictates that we at least make the attempt."

"Agreed," the captain stated with finality. "Now let's discuss the make up
of the away team."

They did so at length, deeply concerned over the safety of the negotiators.=
Mulder held back, saying nothing while they argued their various points.=
Partly due to exhaustion and pain, and partly because he was trying to
figure out a way to get on the team. He needn't have worried. In the end it
was determined that the captain and Chakotay would remain aboard Voyager.=
It would be too much of a temptation for the Romulans to hold the pair as
hostages. Only Tuvok, the doctor and Mulder would go. The Vulcan because of
the Romulan belief that they were distant cousins to the Vulcans, and their
attendant reputation for honesty which garnered respect from even the most
hostile of races. The doctor because the Romulans hadn't had medical
attention in nearly a decade and his presence would be seen as an act of
good faith. And Mulder because Tuvok suggested that his canny ability to
read emotions and defuse tense situations objectively would be extremely

Mulder smiled inwardly as he realized it was a better excuse than any he
could have come up with. With all the information floating around in his
head at the moment, he was also very curious about the Romulans. And now
that he was on the team, he felt a bit better about nearly frying his brain
with the neural transmitter. He stifled a yawn, grateful that the pounding
inside his skull had subsided from a jackhammer to a mallet tapping against
his eyes.

No rest for the wicked, he thought as the meeting adjourned. Or the weary!=
With Janeway going off to negotiate the final details of how and when they
were to beam aboard the Romulan ship, Mulder headed for the Mess Hall and a
strong cup of coffee. Yet, when he got it, he could barely drink it -- and
the thought of food made him queasy. Instead, he went back to his quarters
and replicated an extra clip for his gun. The one good thing about living
in this century was that the only weapons they scanned for were those with
energy signatures. He might not have an ax to grind with the Romulans, but
he wasn't stupid either.


Mulder's heart was in his throat by the time the process of beaming onto the
Romulan ship was complete. If there'd been anything in his stomach to bring
up, he would have done so. Man was not meant to be taken apart molecule by
molecule and put back together.

They were met by half a dozen Romulan guards led by a subcenturion, the
equivalent of a lowly ensign. Technically an insult, Mulder realized, to
let them know where they ranked in the scheme of things.

"Greetings," Tuvok intoned, raising a hand with fingers parted down the
center. "Live long and prosper."

"Live long and prosper," the subcenturion responded, ignoring Mulder and the

A moment later they were being marched through the ship. Mulder glanced
around, noting that the corridors which had once be bright, were missing
lighting panels. The walls definitely needed a new coat of paint and many
of the work stations they passed had obviously been cannibalized for parts.=
It was also cooler in this part of the ship. As if it had been closed down
to conserve energy and reopened just for the away team. A psychological
trick, Mulder thought. A long walk through dangerous territory -- meant to
intimidate and unnerve the faint of heart. The strategy was lost on Tuvok
and the doctor, who couldn't be intimidated by such obscure methods, while
Mulder found it merely annoying.

As they were rounding another corner, he heard the guard on his left mutter
something about "filthy scavengers" to the guard on his right. Mulder
almost laughed in their faces.

"That's well dressed scavengers to you," he retorted in Rihannsu.

The guard looked surprised. "You admit that humans are scavengers?"

Mulder smiled grimly. "Scavengers always survive. And," he added pointedly,=
glancing at one of the empty work stations. "You seem to have been doing a
bit of scavenging of your own."

The guard flushed, coloring a deeper shade of olive, but said nothing. A few
minutes later they reached their destination -- a large room lit with
torches of all things. Mulder didn't think it was for atmosphere. A brief
glance at the ceiling told him all of the lighting panels in the room were
missing. God, he thought, shocked by the stark reality of their plight,=
they're barely making it. For a proud people obsessed with personal honor,=
accepting help from Voyager had to be incredibly humiliating.

They were offered the customary drink as they took their seats. Not Romulan
ale which was served only at the end of successful negotiations, but a
yellowish tea which tasted faintly like tar mixed with brine. Tuvok made
the introductions and the doctor was quickly led off to their Sickbay,=
while Mulder noted the relief clearly written on the Romulan commander's

"I am Lt. Commander Ka'avik," the young Romulan in charge finally told them.=
"Aefvadh. Be welcome."

Scared, Mulder thought as he assessed the man, but far too proud to admit
it. Ka'avik was in over his head and terrified of losing control of the
ship. Doubtless, given some of the small weapons fire scoring the walls of
the corridors, there'd been at least one attempt at mutiny and probably

For a time they discussed what assistance was needed. Mulder simply watched
and listened, making careful notes in his head when the Romulan seemed to
be down playing particular needs. Finally, Ka'avik grew more relaxed,=
perhaps soaking up the calm emanating from Tuvok. The Vulcan seemed to be
deliberately projecting an air of confidence as if to counter the other
man's fears.

Mulder nodded inwardly, suddenly realizing there might be a problem no one
had thought of. As the negotiations wound down -- assistance to the
Romulans in exchange for mutual protection until they reached the Ossean
border, and thereafter, a non-aggression pact -- Mulder cleared his throat.

"Counselor," Tuvok inquired, raising a brow. "You have something to add?"

"We need to move some of our people over here. About fifty or so, even after
the repairs. Along with an equal number of Romulans to be placed on

Lt. Commander Ka'avik nodded. "Yes. An exchange of hostages. That would be

Mulder shrugged. "Call it what you like, but we have to mix the telepaths
with non-telepaths. We have to assume the Osseans are going to use every
means necessary to capture what remains of your crew. That means subliminal
propaganda is a definite possibility. Have you noticed we haven't seen
another Ossean ship in nearly four hours? I doubt they're afraid of our
mighty selves. More likely, they're bringing up their most powerful
telepaths in order to suborn your crew. And, I suspect, they're far more
interested in a larger cache of telepaths than Voyager represents.  If we
take about fifty off the Warbird and switch them with the same number from
Voyager, I think we might stand a good chance of holding off a psychic
attack. The non-telepaths can watch out for signs of odd behavior among
those most susceptible to subversion."

Tuvok nodded thoughtfully, while Ka'avik looked surprised. "Clever," he
murmured. "And here I thought you merely decorative."

Mulder said nothing, relaxing back into his chair as he let his eyes grow
cold. The Romulan gauged his reaction and nodded. "I see I was mistaken.=
You have the look of a predator."

At that Mulder gave him a sly grin. "All humans are predators, Lt.=
Commander. Unlike the Romulans or the Klingons, we fight when and where we
choose. Not solely out of honor or tradition. That thin veneer of
civilization we wear can be shed at a moment's notice, or not. And still,=
we can become aggressive merely because we enjoy it."

Ka'avik nodded. "That is what the Praetor who ruled during the
Rihannsu-Earther war had the audacity claim. He did not survive his

Mulder acknowledged the Lt. Commander's words with a slow tilt of his head.=
"The truth is a bitter pill to swallow even at the best of times. Jingoism
under the guise of patriotism is always more palatable."

"And you speak from experience?" the Romulan asked curiously.

That got him a tight little smile. "Painful experience."

"Anything else, Counselor?" Tuvok interjected, steering the conversation
back to the matter at hand.

"Well..." Mulder began, uncertain as to how this might be received. "I
really hesitate to mention this, knowing how uncomfortable both your
species are with this subject."

"Fear not, Counselor," Ka'avik said expansively. "It is the fool who only
listens to words that bring no questions."

Mulder forged ahead, glancing at Tuvok for support. "I think the Romulan
command staff is most in danger. As a Vulcan, you are less susceptible to
psychic manipulation. The Romulans don't have that kind of rigorous
training. You could supply that."

Tuvok steepled his fingers. "What you are suggesting is deeply personal as
well as dangerous."

Mulder nodded, somewhat embarrassed, but it had needed to be said. "It was
just a thought."

"A wise suggestion nonetheless, and perhaps our best defense against psychic

"Explain," the Romulan demanded.

"I believe Counselor Mulder is suggesting that  I meld with you and your
senior staff, in order to create a natural barrier against psychic
incursion. Once erected, thoughts not your own would be easily identified
and discarded by the shield."

For an instant Ka'avik looked taken aback by the suggestion. Then, after a m
oment's consideration he capitulated. "We have long admired our Vulcan
cousins' abilities in this area. If you are agreeable, Vulcan, then I will
order my command staff to submit."

"I must discuss this with Captain Janeway, but I foresee no obstacle."

"Then it is done." 

Ka'avik signaled a centurion and the man stepped forward with a bottle of
blue liquid, signifying that the discussion was at an end. Romulan ale.=
Mulder cringed inwardly as he raised his glass to join in the toast which
sealed their bargain. Just one sip, he promised himself. Just one.

It hit him like a wall of flame. Heat, intense heat suffusing every nerve in
his body. Synapses, already inflamed, seemed to expand and contract at the
same instant. And then it subsided to a dull, pleasant roar that washed
through his body, banishing his headache and the aching weariness he'd felt
since he'd used and abused the neural transmitter.

"Wow!" he muttered when he could finally speak. "That is some seriously good

Ka'avik grinned. "There are other Romulan customs I could introduce you to,=
Counselor Mulder. Ones of equal or greater intensity."

At that, Mulder couldn't help laughing. Whether it was the ale, or the fact
that Ka'avik was flirting with him, Mulder didn't know. He simply found the
situation amusing. Seventy light years from home and some green blooded elf
had just propositioned him. The powers that be definitely had a strange
sense of humor.


"You seem to have impressed the Romulan commander," Janeway grinned when
everyone else had left with their assignments after the post negotiation

"He thinks I'm decorative." Mulder laughed softly at the absurdity

The captain's eyes widened in surprise. "He specifically requested that you
be the Starfleet liaison aboard the Warbird. If it's going to be a

Mulder smiled thinly and patted his jacket, reminding her that he was always
armed. "No problem, Captain. Although, he might be a bit stunned by my
rejection if he tries a little forcible male bonding."

Janeway looked startled. "Mulder," she finally sighed. "The last thing we
need is a war with the Romulans."

He gave her a reassuring grin. "Don't worry. If it comes to that, I'll have
myself beamed back to Voyager immediately. But I don't think it will.=
Ka'avik talks a good game, but he's young and he's scared. He needs us far
more than we need him, or so he believes."

The captain thought it over for a moment then nodded. "All right. But
remember," she advised, eyes alight with humor. "Shooting one's host, in
any culture, is generally considered bad manners."

"I will be the picture of decorum," he said, giving her a half bow.

"Go on, Mulder," Janeway laughed. "Get out of here, before I decide you
might be better off as a Romulan concubine."

"Nah," he grinned. "I'd make a rotten slave. By the time I was done
manipulating the poor man, I'd have him fetching and carrying for me."

"Not to mention, terribly concerned with those constant headaches you'd be
having." Laughing, Janeway gently shooed him from the room. They both had
work to do in order to be prepared.

The door chimed as Mulder was tossing the last of his gear into a pack.=
"Come," he called as he grabbed the neural transmitter. A couple of weeks
aboard the Romulan Warbird would give him plenty of time to do some
extracurricular assimilating. And since the headache had worn off he wasn't
feeling too terribly guilty about abusing the device.

"Special Agent Mulder once again leaps into the fray."

Mulder turned with a smile. "Hey, Tom. Come to see me off?" The ship's pilot
and medical assistant wasn't going. Only non-essential personnel who had
been cross trained to perform in engineering and other key areas. The same
went for the Romulans.

"Actually," Tom told him, rather embarrassed. "I came to apologize." Mulder
paused and waited. "I know you're just trying to help Seven, and I'm sorry
for being such an insensitive lout."

Mulder smiled. "That's insensitive prick. Mid-eighties. Lout is forties or

Tom returned the smile. "What am I gonna do while you're gone? You're
definitely more fun than most of the pricks on Voyager. Me included."

Mulder stifled the laughter that threatened. "It's only for a couple of
weeks. But, if you really want to make up for how you and the others have
been treating Seven, you can start by finding her suitable quarters,=
getting a regeneration alcove moved in -- there are a few extra in bits and
pieces down in Cargo Bay Three -- and decorating the place to the nines.=
Lot's of frou-frou stuff. Very feminine."

"You're joking," Paris responded, fairly stunned at the suggestion.

"Nope." Mulder tossed him a PADD with notes he'd made on the subject. "Just
don't let Seven know about it. Leave that to me."

"Frou-frou, huh?"

"Frou-frou. I think she's spent enough time being practical, efficient and

Tom nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. Okay, I'll get Harry and the twins to help.=
It'll be fun."

Mulder paused a moment and cocked his head. "I think you should ask
B'Ellana, don't you?"

"B'Ellana? Now you really are joking."

Mulder shook his head. "Not in the least. She's one of the worst, if not the
worst offender aboard. She was raised Roman Catholic, so she knows better
than to engage in arbitrary persecution. She can consider it her penance.=
If not, then fine. Let her sulk while Seven grows up and becomes a woman."

"I'll give it a shot," Tom nodded. "But I won't promise anything."

"Fair enough. Now, I'd better get a move on. For some reason Janeway thought
it would be amusing to put me in charge."

The lieutenant smiled. "Command track protocol. It was your idea, after


Me and my big mouth, Mulder thought as he left the medical center, putting
another Romulan-Human skirmish behind him. They'd been at it nearly a week.=
And, while most of the repairs to the Warbird had been completed,=
communication problems abounded. Little mistakes in common expressions that
turned into violent challenges. Luckily, no had died, but it was making
Mulder nervous. Almost as if...

He headed for the bridge to find Ka'avik, tensing slightly as he thought
about being in the other man's presence. The crew wasn't the only one
having communication problems, he thought ruefully. Oh, nothing overt had
been said or done, but Ka'avik had put Mulder in the officers' quarters
which were several decks away from the rest of the crew. To make matters
worse, a ship normally crewing 600 had to conserve space, so Mulder had
found himself sharing the adjoining bathroom with the Romulan commander. An
honor, from the Romulan point of view. From Mulder's it was damn

He stepped onto the bridge, drawing glances from the staff. Not all of them
were as happy as Ka'avik to see a Federation uniform striding onto their
bridge. He waited until Ka'avik gestured for him to approach then moved
forward quickly, ignoring the rest of the crew. Aristocratic disdain was
held in high regard amongst Romulans, Mulder knew, and the impression he
strove for was one of aloof superiority. It wasn't his style, but he'd seen
it done by Phoebe Green and her friends more than enough times to emulate
the posture. Unfortunately, it had the opposite effect on Ka'avik, who
grinned with delight at the sight of his "princely figure" as the Romulan
had once put it.

"I think we have a problem," Mulder said quietly, refusing to acknowledge
the blatant desire in the other man's eyes.

Immediately, Ka'avik lost the look of hunger he'd worn and gave Mulder his
full attention. If nothing else, Ka'avik respected Mulder's ability to
sniff out trouble where most men couldn't even imagine it. "Speak," he

"We're having too many arguments over nonsense. Arguments that are becoming
violent. Both your people and mine know better than to get stressed out
over the language barrier. That's why we gave them universal translators.=
We all accept that our customs are radically different. But we're still
having problems getting the crews to mesh. It's as if they're of two minds.=
Do you see the connection?"

Ka'avik looked thoughtful. "The Ossean telepaths," he surmised.

"Exactly. The command crew is impervious to their thoughts, and having
Humans on board is distracting enough so that your crew is more likely to
want to stick together rather than fight with each other. So..."

"They are attempting to sow dissension and destroy our alliance," Ka'avik
growled, slamming a hand down on the arm of his chair and activating the
ship's public address system. "Rihannsu!" he barked. "All hostilities
toward our Human allies will henceforth be punishable by death!" He looked
at Mulder, smiling like a child seeking approval.

"Well, that'll do it," Mulder murmured and tapped his comm badge.=
"Children," he said in English. "Play nice with the neighbor's kids.=
Remember why we're here. If you don't behave, I'll tell mommy on you."

Ka'avik's brows rose in surprise. "You have a cruel streak, Mulder," he
commented in deadly earnest.

He knew what the Romulan meant. It wasn't the threat of putting them on
report that would hold any sway with the Voyager crew -- but treating them
like unmanageable brats. Mulder shrugged amiably. "I can't threaten to
execute them, but I can certainly embarrass them sufficiently to make them
wish they were dead."

The commander grinned. "Shall I see you at dinner tonight?"

Mulder gave him a long, thoughtful look. "Only if you promise that the food
won't be moving of it's own volition."

Ka'avik laughed. "The U'hrit larva were not to your liking?"

Mulder inhaled deeply, fending off a slight bout of nausea at the thought of
what had appeared on his plate two nights earlier. He'd been very glad to
beam over to Voyager on a manufactured pretext the previous night for a
burger and fries. "Let's just say they're an acquired taste and leave it at

The Romulan nodded. "This is true. There are many Rihannsu who do not
appreciate that particular delicacy. I was not offended."

That's a relief, Mulder thought. He'd understood that Romulans were
exclusively vegetarians. Ka'avik had turned out to be part of a religious
sect that "prized" the occasional taste of meat, among other things. That
fact hadn't been in the data base which accounted for the bizarre
appearance of the larva. It had made him wonder what else had been "missed"=
by the programmers and anthropologists.

Thankfully, Mulder was reprieved from having to make further conversation by
a subcenturion, who required the commander's attention. Making chit chat at
dinner with Ka'avik and his senior staff would be hard enough. With a half
bow to the commander he turned on his heel and swiftly left the cramped
bridge. It was hard to imagine, even for Mulder, that less than a week ago
he'd been looking forward to what he thought would be a little excitement
aboard the Warbird.


Dinner had been a painfully long, drawn out affair. When isn't it? Mulder
thought wryly. He'd never been much for the niceties after graduating
Oxford. At least not on a regular basis. Formality was all well and good in
its place, but he'd never enjoyed the dressing for dinner business he'd
endured for Phoebe's sake. And the Starfleet dress uniform was decidedly
uncomfortable even without the nuisance of a tie.

He stripped off everything from the waist up, tossed it over a chair and
went into the bathroom, not really looking forward to the Romulan
equivalent of a shower. The thing stripped off the outer layer of dead skin
cells -- which left one clean, but it wasn't the least bit relaxing. He
still didn't know how it worked and frankly didn't care. He had enough to
worry about without trying to figure out alien technology.

Not a single fight in six hours, Mulder thought as he removed his boots and
took off his pants. The Romulans were no doubt still celebrating -- pouring
down the ale like water as they did pretty much every night. Yet, the quiet
worried Mulder. The calm before the storm, he thought absently.

"Why so pensive?"

Mulder froze at the sound of Ka'avik's voice. He hadn't expected the man to
return to his quarters so early. Silently, Mulder cursed the damn data base
he'd absorbed. Romulan warriors were supposed to sit up late every night
reliving old battles and telling solemn tales of dead comrades and their
great deeds. Apparently, Ka'avik wasn't much of a traditionalist. He turned
slowly, keeping his movements relaxed.

"It's too quiet," he stated, hoping to distract the man.

"You worry too much," Ka'avik replied, moving into Mulder's personal space
as he stepped into the room. "The Osseans are neither gods, nor warriors.=
They will not fight both our ships head on and their attempts to undermine
my crew have failed." He held up a bottle of ale. "We should celebrate."

"Not tonight. I have a headache."

Ka'avik gave him a rakish grin. "I can cure that."

Mulder stood his ground and shook his head. Suddenly, Ka'avik reached for
his shoulder. Grabbing the offending wrist, Mulder used it as leverage to
twist himself out of the way.

"Easy," the Romulan said quietly. "I only wished to examine your scar."

"My...? Oh." Mulder visibly relaxed. Of course the man was fascinated by his
scars. No one in this century had scars. The doctor had even asked Mulder
if he'd wanted them removed, but he'd declined -- afraid it would distance
him from a past he wasn't yet willing to let go.

"What weapon made this?" Ka'avik asked curiously, lightly running a finger
over the puckered skin of the old wound.

"Gun shot," Mulder answered tersely.

"And the same on your thigh?" Mulder nodded. "And these?" A long, elegant
finger gestured toward Mulder's upper torso and arms.

Mulder shrugged and crossed his arms, feeling distinctly uncomfortable
dressed only in his shorts and socks. "Knives mostly, some broken glass, a
couple of deep gouges from falls. This one," he grinned and tugged his ear
lobe, trying to lighten the mood, "I got from an infection after I had it

Dark eyes roved across his body as the Romulan sighed softly, sexually, and
Mulder felt a shiver of dread accompanied by a single drop of sweat run
down his spine. Oh, fuck! His comm badge was in the other room, still
attached to the goddamn uniform jacket as was his gun. No wait! he
remembered as Ka'avik reached for him -- intentions all too clear. Not in
this life time, buddy!

Dropping to one knee he slipped his back up out of the holster beneath his
boot sock and slammed the butt end of the gun downward into Ka'avik's foot
while at the same time punching upward, striking hard into the soft flesh
of the man's lower abdomen. Another quick twist as the Romulan doubled over
and Mulder had him in a lock, one arm caught behind his back, the other
pressing the .32 hard against his side just above the more powerful of the
Romulan's double hearts.

Now what? He couldn't kill the man and he did sort of like the Romulan, but
if he let it go any further he'd have to do some real damage. Mulder shook
his head and sighed in weary exasperation. "Good. Night!" he stated firmly,=
putting an unmistakable tone of finality into his voice.

He let Ka'avik loose with a little shove of annoyance to clear some space
and turned toward his quarters. A  soft, unexpected growl came from behind
and Mulder suddenly found himself pinned face first against the wall, his
gun falling uselessly to the floor.

"Who did this?!" Ka'avik demanded angrily, one hand moving lightly across
the skin of Mulder's upper back. "Who?!"

"Did what?" Mulder gasped, squirming to get loose. Jesus, it was like being
pinned by a Sumo wrestler! "Get the hell off me, Ka'avik! What the fuck are
you talking about?" 

But the Romulan wasn't letting go. "Who laid these stripes across your back?=
Tell me his name!" he growled.

"Wha... Oh, shit!" Mulder swore, realizing what the man was asking. He would
have thought it funny if the situation hadn't been so dangerous. "Some
Cossack on a horse. How the fuck should I know his name? I was on a case
and some place I wasn't supposed to be. I got caught. Get over it. I did."

A long pause followed his words, and the hand at his back came up to gently
squeeze his scarred shoulder in an odd caress.

"You may keep the battle scars, but these will be removed." 

Ka'avik's voice washed over Mulder like a bucket of ice. Janeway would never

Before he could finish the thought Mulder found himself facing the Romulan,=
still pinned, but in what he considered a less vulnerable position. Think
again, bright boy! He twisted his head as the hand was laid against the
side of his face, fingers placed just so.

"No! Fuckin' get off me!" Delicate tendrils of thought laced into his mind
-- melding, blending with Mulder's. Desperation flooded his senses as the
mind meld went deeper -- too deep for safety's sake, laying bare all of who
and what he was. "Oh, god. Stop! I don't want this!"

"You will."

And the voice in his ear echoed the one in his mind.


Shock. A long, seemingly endless moment of horror. Then silence, and Mulder
sensed he was finally alone in his quarters. Physically alone -- but not
the other. Oh, Christ. He remembered now. Thoughts in his head. Alien.=
Invasive. Taking possession of his mind. Rifling through his thoughts and
memories. Like Ka'avik had done. A violation so personal there weren't
words to describe the crime.

Not again. Not this time, he swore.

"Fuck it!" Mulder shouted, furious. For an instant his mind cleared and he
could hear himself -- only himself -- in the corridors of his mind. Then a
hard push from somewhere in the center of his brain and it was there again.=
"Fucker! I'll kill you! Get the hell out of my head!"

"It cannot be," Ka'avik's voice whispered sibilantly. "We are bonded." 

The word carried a horrifying connotation. So much more than a simple meld.=
Primitive and violent. A permanent hold that went so deep there was
probably only one way to break it. Anger rose again -- red hot and filled
with hatred. One of them would have to die.

Pride and amusement filtered down the link -- and Ka'avik's thought that he
had chosen well.

Arrogant little shit! Mulder thought, and set his jaw. His eyes scanned the
room, catching sight of his uniform. Voyager! Get out of here and get to
Voyager. He searched his clothes, hurriedly putting them on, then
frantically searched the room. The bastard had taken his comm badge! He
tried the pneumatic doors, pounding on them in unrestrained fury when he
found them locked. If he hadn't been so angry, he might have cried. It
wasn't fair! To have suffered as much as he had all those years just to end
up as somebody's bed warmer!

Along the bond Ka'avik sent calming thoughts, trying to create in Mulder a
sense of peace coupled with acceptance. Hands pressed against his forehead,=
Mulder paced the room, trying to block the Romulan. I can't! I won't!=
Without thought Mulder pulled his weapon, put it to his temple and pulled
the trigger.

Pulled it again. And again. And again.

"Son of a bitch!" he screamed, and threw the empty gun aside, tears of
frustration beginning to form in the corners of his eyes. Despair
threatened as Mulder slid to the floor, burying his head in his arms. I
won't do this! I won't! 

And maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have to. Janeway would figure it out soon
enough when he didn't check in. Mulder gasped as he caught the thought in
Ka'avik's mind. "You bastard!" This act would indeed provoke Janeway to
fire on the Romulans, nullifying the agreement. The Warbird could then turn
and destroy Voyager without loss of face or honor.

Just the idea of Ka'avik succeeding made him ill. And it would be his fault,=
no one else's. Because he had misjudged the situation. Smug, arrogant,=
self-absorbed -- he'd failed to take into consideration the realities of
dealing with another species. Sure, he'd filled his head with information
about Romulan culture and tradition, but he'd neglected to do the one thing
which might have saved them all. He hadn't profiled himself into the
equation. Hadn't bothered to consider that Ka'avik's desire might turn into
something more than simple lust. It shamed him. He'd fucked up. Like he had
with Roche. Overestimating his abilities while underestimating his

Anger threatened to overwhelm him -- anger at himself, at the Romulan and at
life in general. Then a wave of sensuality hit him full force, leaving
Mulder gasping on the floor of his cabin.

Focus! he screamed silently. Focus on the anger, on the pain! And then he
just let himself feel it. Let it build against the back drop of Ka'avik's
desire. Until it did overwhelm him and he could use it like a fist,=
mentally pounding against the Romulan's will until he felt the other flinch
with surprise at the strength of Mulder's raw opposition.

Sensing victory, Mulder followed his most elemental instincts. The ones
years of self-discipline and training had sublimated. The very thing that
made him an extraordinary profiler.

Without conscience, without remorse, he unleashed every bit of savagery and
ugliness his soul had ever known. Veritably stalking the Romulan through
every mental twist and turn as the bastard fought to escape. There was no
way to break the link, even Mulder knew this. But he could make Ka'avik
fear to use it -- make him regret ever trying to claim a man he couldn't
begin to understand. 

And knowing Mulder, was not the same as understanding him as both Scully and
his enemies had come to discover over the years. They had all failed to
take into account the driving force of his personality. The uncivilized,=
unrepentant monster that lurked beneath the surface. Only Patterson had
known -- one monster to another -- and the serial killers he'd hunted,=
who'd hated and admired his ability to remain in control.

How long it took -- a moment, an hour -- Mulder never knew, until at last he
felt Ka'avik's mind withdraw. Mercilessly, he followed, allowing his inner
beast to lead the way. It was wholly instinct, without awareness of self or
civility. Brutally, he blasted his way into Ka'avik's mind. For an instant,=
he felt the other man recoil then the shock of silence as the Romulan

Mulder's triumph lasted less than a moment. Wide open and without the
protection of Ka'avik's mental shields, the ones Tuvok had put in place,=
the psychic gestalt of the Ossean telepaths hit him full force.

Synapses afire and quickly losing consciousness, Mulder cried out as
information flooded in and he learned the price of Ka'avik's greed.=
Somewhere on the Warbird a mind was being suborned. Molded and shaped into
a weapon it would strike for the Osseans. Disabled and adrift, the Warbird
then Voyager would be easy pickings.



"Yes, Harry?"

"I'm picking up some odd fluctuations from the Warbird's warp core."

"How odd?" Janeway asked, concerned. Romulan ships used a Quantum
Singularity Drive. Essentially, a tiny black hole held in stasis by a
dampening field surrounded by an anti-gravity chamber which allowed the
ship to move at warp capacity. Starfleet had toyed with this idea, but
decided against it for reasons of safety.

"Trying to determine that now, ma'am."

"Captain," Tuvok interjected. "I'm getting reports from some of our crew
aboard the Warbird of an incident in their engineering section."

Janeway's brow creased in a worried frown. She tapped her comm badge.=
"Janeway to Mulder. Report." Silence met her request. "Mulder, report!"

"Captain!" Harry called out. "The stasis field around the warp core is

"Damn!" she muttered. "Beam our people back to Voyager, now! And hail the
Warbird. I want to speak to Ka'avik."

As Tuvok contacted the Warbird and Harry locked onto the comm badges of the
Voyager crew, Tom Paris nearly gasped as he read the long range scanners.

"Captain, I'm picking up a dozen Ossean war ships headed our way. Estimated
time of intercept is fifty-seven minutes."

Janeway nodded grimly, but first things first. The view screen now showed
the rather haggard face of the Romulan commander. "Ka'avik, what's going

"Sabotage," he hissed. Over his shoulder he called something in Rihannsu
then turned back to Janeway. "I have no time for pleasantries, Captain. Get
your people off my ship! Return my centurions!"

"Are you sure that's wise?" Janeway asked, her concern evident. "Perhaps you
and your crew should beam aboard Voyager. We can erect a containment

A small explosion rocked the Warbird and an irritated Ka'avik broke off

"Captain," Tuvok announced. "The Romulans aboard Voyager are being beamed
back to the Warbird."

"And our people?" Janeway asked nervously. "Is Mulder all right?" Knowing
him, she thought wryly, he'd likely been in the thick of things and gotten
himself injured.

Tuvok looked up from his display console. "Counselor Mulder is not among
those evacuated. I am scanning for human life signs aboard the Warbird."

"Two minute fifteen seconds until warp core breach," Harry reported. "The
Romulans are attempting to jettison the core." A moment later the ensign
sighed to himself. "Warp core successfully jettisoned."

"Tuvok, hail the Warbird again," Janeway ordered.

"No response, Captain, but I have located Counselor Mulder. His life signs
are weak. Beaming directly to Sickbay."

"Harry," Janeway ordered tersely. "Set up a containment field for that warp
core. When it goes, I don't want either of our ships damaged."

"Already on it, Captain."

Janeway impatiently tapped the arm of her command chair. This was the one
part of command she hated most -- waiting as others did their jobs. When
Harry confirmed the containment field was stable she glanced at her first
officer and rose, heading for the lift. "Chakotay, you have the con. Keep
trying to hail the Romulans," she ordered. "Make sure they know the Osseans
are on the way and offer our assistance. Keep me updated. I'll be in
Sickbay trying to find out what happened."

"Aye, Captain," the commander responded, moving to the captain's chair as
she left the bridge.

A few moments later the captain was striding into Sickbay, pleased to note
that while Mulder looked pale and shaken he was conscious.

"Doctor?" she asked, her tone implying that she wished him to report on
Mulder's condition before she questioned the counselor.

The hologram looked concerned as he glanced up from his medical console.=
"I'm not sure exactly what happened to Mr. Mulder, Captain. I've treated
him for increased endorphin levels, altered ceratonin production, along
with random and increased synaptical firing in the middle brain. An odd
area for activity in a non-telepath, to say the least. On top of which he's
suffering from a narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain as well as an
increase in fluid and swelling."

"Meaning," Janeway smiled tightly. "He's still got one hell of a headache."

"Correct," the doctor muttered, puzzling over his readings. "What I don't
understand is this!" Janeway moved around the console to look at the
screen. "His brain wave patterns have not only been altered significantly,=
as if he were under psychic attack, but they appear to have a Doppler
effect. Almost as if there were another mind within his."

There was a soft groan from Mulder and the pair moved over to the biobed
where he sat. "The Osseans!" he gasped, hands pressed against his forehead.=
Finally, he took a deep breath and told them something of the truth. "I
heard them. In my head! They've targeted one of the Romulans, using him to
disable the Warbird. Then they'll turn to Voyager."

Janeway gently squeezed his shoulder, quickly pulling back as she saw him
flinch. "Can you still hear them, Mulder?"

He shook his head, wincing noticeably and stared at the hands resting in his
lap as if they didn't belong to him. "Just the one time," he admitted.

"Doctor," she asked, sensing that Mulder was holding something back, "could
that account for what your scans are showing?" 

"Possibly. I'll need to run more tests. I'm concerned about the other
pattern. It appears to be -- for want of a better word -- intertwining with

"Do it," Janeway ordered. "And get a security team up here. If there's any
chance the Osseans are maintaining a link in order to use Mulder as a
weapon I want to know about it."

Mulder looked stricken as his face went ashen at her words.

The doctor nodded. "I'll keep him under a level two force field. If I alter
the field harmonics I may be able to filter out the secondary pattern, or
at the very least keep it from gaining control."

For a moment, Mulder seemed relieved. Then Janeway noted his eyes glancing
nervously around the room as he chewed his lower lip. Odd, she thought,=
that he hadn't argued about being confined to Sickbay. There was definitely
more going on here than he wanted to discuss. Still, he'd given her the
most important information and steps could be taken to keep him contained
if the Osseans tried anything.

The Captain's comm link beeped once and Chakotay announced that they'd
established communications with the Romulans.

"I'll be on the bridge, doctor," Janeway said. "Keep me apprised of any

"Yes, Captain."

"And, Mulder," she called over her shoulder as she headed for the doors.=
"I'll ask Tuvok to check in on you when this is over." If he were simply
feeling violated by the attack the Vulcan might know how to help.

Neither she, nor the doctor saw Mulder's grimace of distaste, or the anger
that crossed his face as he thought of what Ka'avik had done. He'd be
damned before he told anyone what the Romulan had intended -- let alone the

Back on the bridge the situation was growing tense. What Ka'avik was
suggesting went against everything Janeway believed.

"There is no other choice," the Romulan reiterated, his expression resolute
in its determination. With every passing minute the Osseans drew nearer.=
The Warbird's warp core was salvageable, but not in the allotted time and
impulse engines alone were not enough to power their cloaking device while
maintaining shields, weapons and life support.

Janeway shook her head. "There must be another option, Commander. I cannot
allow you to sacrifice your ship -- your crew -- to cover our escape."

Ka'avik smiled humorlessly. "It is not your choice and it is our way. We do
not run from battle."

"A strategic withdrawal," Janeway interposed.

"Call it what you must, but we fight and die with honor. Nothing less will
satisfy our blood."

Silently, Janeway admitted that this was an argument she would likely lose.=
Still, she had to try. "We could take you and your crew aboard Voyager,"=
she offered lamely.

At that Ka'avik laughed. "If we did not kill you for the prize Voyager
represents, we should kill ourselves to avoid the shame of limping home by
the merciful hand of our enemy. No," he told her proudly. "You will go on
and carry back the names of our honored dead, so that our Houses might fly
our funeral flags with esteem while singing accolades of our glorious
deeds. Remain here and you die for nothing. There is no honor there, and we
would all be lost, without anyone to remember how or why we gave our

"You can't know that," Janeway insisted.

The Romulan raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps not. But I am not willing to risk
certain things on a vague, unrealistic hope."

The captain cocked her head curiously. "What things?"

Ka'avik shook his head, indicating with a wave of his hand that it was not
her concern. "I do have one request to make of the Vulcan."

Tuvok looked up from his console, where he had been tracking the Ossean
advance. "Yes, Commander?"

The words were in the ancient tongue of Vulcan, from a time long before
Surak and S'task had led their followers on separate paths. And as they
were spoken a small, ages old, ornately carved casket was beamed onto the
deck of the bridge.

Understanding the gravity of the request, Tuvok bowed formally. "It will be
done as honor demands."

The Romulan bowed his thanks. "Farewell Humans, may your Goddess of Fortune
smile upon your journey." The screen faded back to the starfield where the
wounded Warbird sat, still proud and dangerous in her fallen splendor.

Chakotay glanced at the box as Janeway gave the order for Paris to plot a
course out of Ossean territory. "What was that all about?" he asked the

Tuvok silently debated what to say and quickly came to the conclusion that
it was neither his place to speak, nor relevant to the issue at hand. "It
is a private matter," he told Chakotay, "as regards the Lt. Commander's

That seemed to settle the matter for the bridge crew. Vulcans were
notoriously closed mouthed about such things. And, besides, it wasn't as if
the Romulans mattered.


Mulder sat in his darkened quarters still trying to take it all in. Less
than an hour ago he'd been given a clean bill of health and released from
Sickbay. An hour before that he'd been lying on a biobed writhing in agony
as he felt Ka'avik and his crew suicide -- destroying the Warbird as they
released the containment field around the damaged warp core. Of the dozen
Ossean ships sent to capture them, long range scanners showed that only two
had survived the explosion. I should be ecstatic, Mulder chided himself.=
Ka'avik was dead and with him went the bond. 

Yet, he wasn't happy. Far from it. Perhaps, he told himself, it was merely
because he'd never been the sort of person to revel in the deaths of
others. Still, that was only partly true and he knew it. The truth was, he
finally admitted, he felt guilty. Guilty because he knew for a fact that
much of Ka'avik's decision had been based on the Romulan's desire to
protect Mulder. That particular fact did not sit well with its subject.

In his own way, Ka'avik had loved him. Even Mulder had to acknowledge the
truth of that. In that last instant before death the Romulan, who had
thinned the link down to the barest minimum during the intervening time,=
had opened himself and his heart to Mulder. The force of that passion had
been a revelation.

And yet, even now Mulder knew, he could never have returned that love. Never
felt the smallest fraction of desire for Ka'avik -- not after the violation
he'd suffered -- and the Romulan had known. Known that he'd miscalculated,=
just as Mulder had misjudged the Romulan. A cultural faux pas as it were,=
but on a grander scale.

Mulder sighed and shifted on the sofa, glancing briefly at the view port.=
There had been no pursuit of Voyager and they were little more than a day
from the edge of Ossean space. He knew he needed to get back to work --=
back to some form of normalcy -- yet he felt lost. Despite the raw pain and
anger, he also felt sad. Not lost, he realized with a sense of surprise,=
but loss. Christ! I'm mourning the fucker!

The sudden chime from the door interrupted his thoughts and Mulder asked for
lights before he gave permission for his visitor to enter. He stood
nervously as Tuvok walked into the room carrying a heavy wooden box covered
in carved relief.

"Forgive me for intruding, Counselor," the Vulcan began, placing the box on
a low table.

"No problem, Tuvok," Mulder said, forcing himself to remain calm. He had an
awful sense of foreboding. Somehow, he thought frantically, the Vulcan
knew! And then he confirmed Mulder's worst fear, bowing formally as he
opened the casket.

"This is the Naming," the Vulcan intoned. "Its origins lost to time, only
the tradition remains." Mulder paled as Tuvok removed a pair of objects
from the box. A ceremonial dagger made from what appeared to be obsidian
and etched with indecipherable script. "For Honor," he stated, offering the
knife to Mulder, who took it with a hand trembling in dread and

The second item was a heavy, faceted diadem done in some kind of jade
colored crystal which seemed to glisten as the Vulcan passed it to Mulder.=
"For Glory."

Then Tuvok bowed again and departed in silence, leaving Mulder stunned and
appalled as he stared in dismay at the artifacts. 

"Shit!" he whispered, feeling sick. "What the hell do I do with this stuff?"=
He started to toss them back in the box then noticed the glint of gun
metal. His weapons. Ka'avik had returned them along with his own special
post mortem calling card. 

"For Protection," Mulder muttered, putting aside the knife and the crown to
cradle his Smith & Wesson like an old friend.

It's over, he told himself adamantly. It's done. So Tuvok knows. So what?=
From the looks of things it was unlikely the Vulcan had told anyone. If he
had, Janeway and the doctor would have been all over him demanding a
report, or sending him straight into therapy with the Counselor Evaluation

He might talk to T'vrill-- No, he amended silently, he should talk to
T'vrill. But not now. Maybe later. He just wanted to put it all behind him
and forget about aliens rooting around in his brain.

A slow deep breath and Mulder laid his gun aside, removing the .32 then
indifferently shoving the Romulan objects back into their box which he
quickly stowed in a closet. That done, he went to his desk and pulled up a
display of his last scheduled day aboard Voyager.

That's right, he took another deep breath, refusing to dwell a moment longer
than necessary on the Romulan issue. I have people to see, appointments to
keep -- and, god help me -- a housewarming party to organize.

Coming soon: Future Winnings 3