trekwriter151: by <lj user="cedarrapidsgirl>" (malcolm hoshi)
[personal profile] trekwriter151
Three

Hoshi materialized on the mining grounds with her UT and communicator in hand. The dry ground crunched under her feet as she made her way toward the Duilea Mines, Number 13. She shivered at the slate gray cliffs that towered over her, the dead black recesses in the rock walls, the powdery ash that covered everything within sight. She pressed the handkerchief to her mouth and suppressed a cough. The rebreather that Phlox had given her filtered the air, but not enough to stop the tickle in her throat.

"Hoshi!" Malcolm hurried to meet her halfway. He, too, wore a rebreather, but despite his best efforts, a fine powder of keracite dust coated the protective clothing he wore over his Enterprise uniform. She managed a smile at him. "Here...put this on. This dust is a bloody nuisance."

She took the clothing and hat with a grateful nod and put them on. "Have you found out who attacked the mines?"

"Not yet. We've heard all sorts of conflicting reports from all sides." He shook his head in frustration. "Most of the reports contradict each other. If I didn't know better, I'd say that someone was trying to stage a cover-up."

She thought about Gavva and his words to her and nodded in agreement. "I had the dubious pleasure of talking to Prefect Gavva. He wanted me to turn my translated interviews over to him without any fuss."

He tensed and glanced sideways at her with a hooded expression. "Commander T'Pol and I have also had the...dubious pleasure of talking with him. He contacted us a few hours ago, before we talked to Captain Archer on Enterprise. Gavva seemed quite eager to meet you and the Captain."

Hoshi nodded grimly. It reassured her that her instincts agreed with his. "I don't trust him, Malcolm."

He opened his mouth to say something, then revised what he was going to say. "Neither do I. I made it quite clear that if you and the Captain were to meet with him, that I was going to be present. He knows that I'm responsible for your safety, and if anything were to happen, he would answer to me."

She heard the dark undertone and shivered. Malcolm Reed was a dangerous man when angered, and she hoped Gavva would think twice about trying anything sneaky. She felt the Armory Officer's hand tighten on her arm as he steered her toward the mine's command post. The steps creaked as they climbed up. Malcolm tried to open the door, but the keracite dust caked on the hinges prevented it from swinging freely. He gritted his teeth and shoved against it with much more force than he'd intended. It crashed back, slammed against the inside wall, then caught on its runners. The abrupt bang made everyone inside jump, including the mine foreman and T'Pol. The Vulcan took one look at Malcolm's expression and raised an eyebrow at him.

"Lieutenant?" she asked coolly.

"My apologies, Commander. The door was stuck." He winced and motioned for Hoshi to come in. "That dust gets into every nook and cranny."

The foreman, a tall, well-muscled Trianarian, only quirked an eyebrow at Malcolm. "You're stronger than you look, Ve'Char," he said, giving Malcolm the formal address of "Sir". Hoshi couldn't help but smile a little as she translated the man's remark.

Malcolm smirked back. "Looks can be deceiving, Master Ven."

After Hoshi relayed his answer, the Trianarian chuckled deep within his throat. He turned and sketched a bow at Hoshi. "I am Master Foreman Donnar Ven, mining crew chief of Number 13. Allow me to activate the network without delay, Ni'Chara Sato." He stepped past her to the computer keyboard and input several words. "There. I hope that will help. I understand that Ve'Char Reed has some questions for me; please let him know that I will answer them to the best of my ability."

It took a moment to translate the words in her head. Trianaran had multiple dialects for each caste; Ven obviously belonged to the mining caste, whose dialect was nowhere near as refined as the administration caste. She nodded and told Malcolm, who smiled faintly.

"Of course," he said, addressing Ven directly. "Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. We'd like to know where you were and what you were doing at the time of the attack."

The foreman began to speak again; slowly at first, then more rapidly. Hoshi understood most of it: Ven had been in one of the main keracite shafts when the ground had shuddered above them. Several of the minor tunnels had collapsed, so he and the other miners dropped what they were doing to free the ones who were trapped. Then, he'd heard shouts and cries from the mine entrance.

"A moment later, the world exploded into flame. Those caught underground...never resurfaced again."

"I'm sorry," Hoshi murmured. The memory of the medical camps was still fresh in her mind; she couldn't even begin to imagine Ven's pain at losing his men.

The enormous sense of loss were mirrored in Ven's pale gray eyes. "We were betrayed, Ne'Chara. Betrayed by someone who knew our operation well. I only hope we find the ones responsible and bring them to justice. Until then..." His shoulders slumped. "We work as before."

T'Pol frowned. "They make you work in the mines, even though they may not be stable for further production?"

"Time is money, Ne'Chara T'Pol. The Mining Commission cannot afford to halt our work for however long their 'investigation' will last." Hoshi heard the quotes, and so did the others. Ven shrugged in defeat. "They tell us to work, we work, or we will face the consequences. The healing caste has already demanded payment for their services, which is not exactly inexpensive---"

"Wait." Hoshi frowned at him, unable to believe what she'd just heard. "The healing caste has demanded payment for providing aid for your people?"

Ven grimaced, showing his teeth. "Yes, but the off-world healers have reassured us that they will take care of everything, including the cost of services. Our Prefect has endorsed the arrangement, so we owe the healing caste nothing. The administration caste, on the other hand, wishes us to continue as before, for the good of the people."

"I..see." Hoshi's tone was quiet, but she sternly controlled the anger and disgust she felt toward Gavva. The nerve of the man...The more she heard of him, the less she wanted to meet him. She wondered if there was a way to get out of the formal meeting with the Trianarian Council.

"Ensign?" T'Pol asked. The Vulcan had picked up on her emotions; Hoshi took a deep breath to calm herself. She felt Malcolm's hand on her shoulder, a steady rock of reassurance. As Hoshi translated what Ven had said, she saw T'Pol's face become even more inscrutable, and Malcolm's become even grimmer.

"We have been promised new equipment, but it has not arrived yet. I have told the administration caste that it is impossible to meet their demands without the proper tools. They have sent mechanics to help us, but it is not enough."

"Perhaps Commander Tucker can assist them," Malcolm suggested in a low tone, "and also ascertain how the attackers were able to locate the keracite and transport it so quickly. Subronn said that someone had leaked the security codes, but it would have taken a superb sense of timing, and technology, to actually steal the keracite."

T'Pol nodded in agreement. "I concur, Lieutenant. "Keracite leaves a faint, but unusual, radiation signature. I am currently conducting a scan of the surrounding space around Trianara, but it will take much time and constant readjustment of the sensors. The attackers must possess some technology to compensate for the instability of the mineral."

Malcolm asked aloud, "How many people would have intimate knowledge of your operation? By that, I mean shift schedules, personnel rosters, transportation routes from the mine to the refineries?"

Ven listened to Hoshi's translation, then thought for a moment. "Not many,Ve'Char Reed. Besides myself, three shift supervisors and the Minister of Mining Operations...I can give you the name of the lone remaining shift supervisor at the time of the attack. The Minister of Mining Operations...you would have to consult the Prefect's Office for that. He's of a higher caste, and would not respond to a request from the likes of myself."

T'Pol raised an eyebrow at Ven's answer. "How convenient," Malcolm murmured.

"Indeed," T'Pol agreed. "We should inform Captain Archer of this."

"Do you think the Minister of Mining Operations may be involved with this?" Hoshi asked, her eyes never leaving her screen.

"Perhaps, but this is all speculation for now. Until we have evidence connecting the Prefect's Council with the attack on the planet, we cannot assume such a thing." She raised an eyebrow. "But if you are referring to what Commander Tucker calls a 'gut instinct', then I believe there is a link between the two."

Malcolm smirked. "Vulcans have gut instincts? I won't argue with that, then." He nodded at Ven. "I'd like to talk with that shift supervisor, Master Ven, while Commander T'Pol consults with the Captain and Ensign Sato sifts through the information from your database."

"Of course, Ve'Char Reed. Ni'Chara T'Pol, you may use my private line, one that circumvents the official channels." At Malcolm's look, Ven added, "There are some of us, Ve'Char Reed, for whom discretion is a matter of survival."

Hoshi turned her attention back to the encrypted files, but not without catching a glimpse of a thoughtful look on Malcolm's face. Even with Ven's assistance, the analysis was slow going, and she saw telltale signs of tampering. Whoever had tried to change the information had done a sloppy job of it, or they hadn't expected anyone to look too closely. Hoshi guessed the latter; the arrogance of the Prefect's caste was almost laughable, if it wasn't so sinister.

Why would they stage an attack on their own planet? It doesn't make any sense. T'Pol was right; they couldn't assume anything, but her own gut instincts told her that they were on the right track. The only way to find the truth was to confront the lion in his den, and that meant meeting with Prefect Gavva.

T'Pol returned with her PADD and a look of disquiet on her face. "Ensign? May I have a word?"

She nodded as the last bit of information scrolled onto her own PADD's screen. "Of course, Commander, I just finished. Excuse me, Master Ven."

"Ni'Chara." Ven pressed his palms together and bowed his head. "I will see if your partner has finished questioning the shift supervisor."

"My---" She didn't get a chance to ask before he quickly walked out the door. Ven had used the Trianarian word "gen'aar", which meant "something more than a friend, but less than a mate", and implied all sorts of things that made her uncomfortable. It was good that Malcolm didn't understand any of the Trianarian dialects.

She refocused on T'Pol, who gazed at her with a lifted eyebrow, and gave herself a mental shake. "Commander?"

"Captain Archer has received the details of your meeting with Prefect Gavva. There will be a reception in two days' time. You and Lieutenant Reed will accompany the Captain to the Council Hall." T'Pol handed her the PADD. "At that point in time, the Prefect will want to hear about your investigation, as well as the Lieutenant's findings."

Her mouth twisted in a faint grimace. "Hand over our evidence, you mean."

"On the contrary. There is nothing that states you must relinquish all of your hard-earned work. Not if we take the necessary precautions." T'Pol nodded. "I can convey your findings here personally to the Captain and Commander Tucker."

Hoshi nodded. T'Pol had worked for the Vulcan Security Ministry; of course, she knew ways to get around "official" instructions. Hoshi popped the datacard out of her PADD and handed it to the Vulcan. T'Pol nodded and met her gaze, and Hoshi knew she'd found a formidable ally.

"Thank you, Commander."

*****

She spent the next two days researching formal Trianarian customs, in between translating for Phlox's medical teams and Trip's engineering teams. Trip and Ven were in the process of repairing the equipment for the keracite mines. With any luck, Ven's mining operation could resume with little trouble. Trip, with his natural cheer, got along with the quieter, more solemn Ven. Both discussed the best ways to streamline the process to make up for the disruption caused by the attack.

T'Pol talked with him every evening, claiming that she needed to report his progress to Captain Archer. Yet Hoshi heard a sense of concern from her, and thought that she would be relieved when Trip returned to Enterprise. She didn't blame T'Pol one bit, especially with Malcolm making arrangements for the meeting with the Prefect and his Council.

Now Hoshi gazed at herself in the mirror and adjusted the collar of her formal uniform. She'd considered wearing civilian clothing, but decided against it. If Gavva saw her as a Starfleet representative, it would make him think twice against doing anything to her. She sighed as she braided her long dark hair and looped it into a bun. Definitely not her usual style, but she figured that the more professional her appearance, the better.

Her doorbell chimed. "Enter!" she called. She turned to see Malcolm step through her door, also in formal uniform. He smiled faintly as he saw her. "What?"

"I don't believe I've ever seen you wear that yet," he replied. "It's very becoming on you."

She tried not to blush. "Thank you, Malcolm. You don't look half-bad yourself."

His smile widened a fraction, and to her surprise, he offered her his arm. "Stay close," he told her in a low voice. "As long as I'm with you, the Council is honor-bound to keep their distance."

She nodded; that much, she'd read from the cultural files. Hoshi tried to ignore the slight thrill she felt at his touch. This was professional, not personal. Malcolm took the safety of the crew quite seriously, especially in a potentially dangerous situation like this. It was his duty to protect her and the Captain.

Archer met them at the transporter room. He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "All set, you two?"

"Yes, Captain," Hoshi replied, with more confidence than she felt.

The captain patted her arm in reassurance. "It'll be all right. We won't let anything happen to you. Won't we, Malcolm?"

"Of course, sir," was Malcolm's quiet reply. She noticed he ignored the knowing look Archer gave him.

"Let's get his over with, then." Archer nodded at the transporter tech as he and the others took their places on the pad. "Energize."

She took a deep breath as her safe and secure world vanished in sparkles of light.

Four

The Trianara Council chambers reminded Hoshi of the Sanctuary of P'Jem. The floor-to-ceiling columns were inscribed with brightly-colored text and pictures, and the warm sandstone walls reflected the light from the torches. She glanced down at the floor at the intricate mosaics embedded there; sea-blue, crimson and verdant glass sparkled in the dim light.

"Ve'Char Reed, it is good to see you."

Malcolm smiled and extended his hand to Marshall Subronn. "Marshall Subronn."

Subronn grasped his hand and shook it once before letting it go. He looked sideways at Hoshi, then at Captain Archer. "You must be Ensign Sato, the translator of Captain Archer," he said, with a friendly nod at both of them. Hoshi noticed that he used a dialect that marked them as equals to Subronn's rank and social status.

"Captain Jonathan Archer," Archer confirmed and also shook Subronn's hand. "And yes, this is Ensign Sato."

Subronn bowed deeply to her as she translated the words."It is an honor and pleasure to finally meet the di'nahra of the esteemed Captain, and the Kv'ohraiya of Lieutenant Reed. He has spoken highly of your translation skills."

She blushed; "di'nahra" roughly translated as "voice", which in a sense, was accurate. Kv'ohraiya meant something like "a military officer's mate, with all the privledges and honors therein, and a noblewoman in her own right." It was a title rarely used in high Trianaran society, though it did exist.

"Thank you," she replied. "May I ask...Kv'ohraiya?"

Subronn inclined his head at her. "I see the way he looks at you, Ni'Chara. My job is to notice things like that. I would not say otherwise, should the Prefect asks of your relationship with him."

"Ah." Hoshi said with a nod. Subronn was warning her about Prefect Gavva's intentions; Gavva would be less likely to attempt anything untoward. "I understand."

"Hoshi?" Malcolm asked.

"I was just clarifying some arrangements," she answered. Strictly speaking, it was the truth. "But I think we should still be careful."

"Agreed," Archer said. He nodded at Subronn. "Marshal?"

"This way." Subronn brought himself along Captain Archer as they walked down the corridor, as befitted his rank, while Malcolm and Hoshi took up the rear. Again, Malcolm offered his arm to her, and she took it and kept in step with him.

The corridor led to a large atrium with a skylight set high above it. Moonlight illuminated the room's mosaics and wall paintings, throwing rainbows of color. Huge transparent windows revealed a view of the nearby mountain valley. It was a breathtaking sight, if Hoshi was relaxed enough to enjoy it.

"Captain Archer." Prefect Gavva turned from a conversation with a minor official. An unnatural smile cracked his face as he offered a hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you face to face."

"Prefect Gavva," Archer answered, as he shook Gavva's hand once, as was customary. He nodded at Malcolm. "My armory officer, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed and my communications officer and translator, Ensign Hoshi Sato."

Gavva nodded at Malcolm. "Yes, we've already spoken on the comm channel. Be welcome, Lieutenant."

Malcolm only nodded at him and Gavva's eyes narrowed in a calculating look as he took in the formal uniform and the way Malcolm held Hoshi's arm. The Prefect's look of surprise was smoothly hidden under a polite expression.

"I did not know she was your Kv'ohraiya, Lieutenant," he said. "Forgive me; I meant no offense in our earlier conversation. You have my word that she will receive the best hospitality and care while she is under my eye here."

Hoshi translated his words and Malcolm replied in turn, "I appreciate your cooperation in this matter, sir."

Gavva turned back to Captain Archer. "Let me introduce you to my Council, then we will enjoy a meal before I and my Council listen to what you all have seen and experienced."

The next three hours crawled by as Gavva took them around the atrium, introducing them to every member of his Council. Hoshi translated the formal greetings and polite mouthings, while committing every face and name to memory. She noticed that each Council representative hailed from the largest and most influential sectors of Trianara. There were no people from the trade guilds, the mining caste, or the medical caste. Fully half were officers in the Trianara Forces, including Marshall Subronn. All of them were male and over 40 Trianaran seasons old. No one paid attention to her, despite the fact she was translating for the captain; it was as if she didn't exist, which suited her just fine.

"It's a miracle they get anything done, it seems," Malcolm commented, as they shared a mug of good Trianarian spring water. "There's what...close to sixty Council members?"

Hoshi shook her head. "Numbers are deceiving. Most of the Sixty take their orders directly from the military caste, who support Gavva. Effectively, Gavva has all of them dancing to his tune. It's a 'benevolent dictatorship'."

"No wonder it seems that the Council has no idea of how serious this crisis is."

"They do, but they can't even breathe without Gavva's explicit permission." She shook her head. "I don't like this, Malcolm. Even if we do tell them how bad it is, I doubt they'd do much unless he allows them to."

"A bloody shame. And what about the missing keracite?"

Hoshi frowned. "No one's even mentioned it. Either they don't know about it or no one wants to talk about it."

"Subronn would have told some of them. I can't believe they don't know about it." He glanced over as Gavva motioned the Council to take their seats. "Looks like the Prefect is calling the meeting to order. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"If I can get through to one of them, it will be worth it." Despite her brave words, it took all over her self-control to keep from shaking like a leaf. All eyes would be on her, especially Prefect Gavva's. He had given her some unreadable looks throughout the introductions. She knew he was already revising his original plan, whatever it was.

Malcolm looked over at her and whispered in her ear, "I'll be right here and the Captain will be close by. We won't let anything happen to you."

She gave him a smile of relief. "Thank you, Malcolm."

The Council quickly assumed their seats and Gavva stood up from his position high above the others. "I have asked our guests to relate their experiences in helping our people in the wake of this attack. Please listen and think on what you hear; these reports will provide much information for our investigation." He inclined his head at Hoshi. "Please."

She took a deep breath and glanced over the Sixty. Their reactions ranged from curious, to suspicious, to indifferent. It looked no different from the panel she'd faced when she'd defended her thesis in linguistics years ago. As long as she kept that in mind, it wouldn't be so bad. So she took another deep breath and began to talk. She found herself slipping into what she dubbed "teacher mode", modulating her voice to keep her audience's interest. Her voice rang through the atrium and echoed like a siren song in a cavern.

Unconsciously, she used her hands and body language to make her points known, like a dancer. It was a habit that came naturally to her; she couldn't even restrain herself, even if she tried.

And close by, Malcolm marveled at her oratory skill as she kept the Sixty under her spell. He watched their reactions carefully. Those who were indifferent began to show some interest, those who were hostile softened their expressions, while those who were curious watched with awe. Gavva, in particular, kept his eyes on her, with something resembling a wicked pleasure.

Malcolm shifted slightly and attracted Gavva's attention for a moment. The Prefect's features hardened as their gazes met in a cold challenge. Malcolm's words were clear without being spoken: Touch her and I will kill you. Make no mistake of that. Gavva's mouth turned upward in a bemused smirk, then he returned his attention to Hoshi's lecture.

"He's a clever bastard, isn't he."

Malcolm glanced at Captain Archer in surprise. Archer's face was impassive as ever, but the low, angry tone told Malcolm what he was thinking. Such language was out of character, but Archer noticed things when it involved his crew.

"Yes, sir," Malcolm replied in a low voice.

"When Hoshi's finished, I'd like to get out of here as quickly as we can without offending them."

"I fervently agree with you, sir."

Hoshi's sharp hearing overheard the conversation and she smoothly brought her report to an end. She paused, looked over the assembly, bowed to Gavva, then took a step back towards Malcolm, blatantly putting herself back into his protection. Marshall Subronn pounded his tabletop with his fist; within moments, the rest of the Sixty took up the applause.

Gavva stood up and bowed back to her, causing a pleased and surprised gasp among the Sixty. It signified that he was willing to speak to her as an equal, an honor bestowed on very few. "Thank you for that enlightening report, Ni'Chara. We will take your words under due consideration and find ways to better serve our people during this crisis."

"I am grateful for your willingness, Prefect," she replied coolly.

Gavva made his way down to the floor and stopped a few meters away from her. Smoothly, Malcolm stepped between them as was his right as her protector. A pleased murmur swept through the Sixty at his actions.

"I mean her no harm, Ve'Char Reed. I only wish to honor our previous agreement." Gavva smiled and held out his hand. "If it would ease your mind, the Ni'Chara can hand the data chips to you, and you to me, and that way there is no contact between me and her."

Hoshi translated his words and Malcolm nodded. "Very well, sir," Malcolm replied.

Gavva nodded back. His face was schooled into a pleasant expression, though his eyes were hard ice chips. "Proceed, then."

Hoshi reached into her belt and withdrew the four data chips containing her interviews with the people in the medical camp. Of course, these weren't the only copies; T'Pol was analyzing them up on Enterprise and Trip Tucker was sharing them with the mining crew he worked with. Another copy was on its way to Starfleet Command. She sighed and looked down at the chips, then reluctantly handed them over to Malcolm. He offered them to Gavva, who accepted them. The Prefect's touch was oily, as if his palms were slicked with grease, and Malcolm repressed a shiver as his skin made contact with Gavva's.

"Thank you, Ni'Chara. All of Trianara is in your debt." Gavva glanced at Captain Archer. "You are fortunate to have such a person under your command, Captain."

Archer smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "I am."

Gavva picked up one of the chips with his other hand and studied it. "We will view these tonight and debate until we have a long-range plan to help our people back to normalcy. Thank you, Captain."

They all heard the tone of dismissal and Subronn got up once again to escort the Starfleet officers out into the corridor. As soon as the atrium was far behind them, Hoshi let out a long sigh of relief. Archer reached over and squeezed her shoulder.

"Well done, Hoshi."

She shook her head. "I don't know how much help that will be, sir. Gavva says all the right things and acts the right way, but I'm not sure if he'll keep his word."

"We'll see. Once we get back to the ship, I'm having a word with Admiral Gardner. We're supposed to keep friendly relations with Gavva's government, but I think Gardner may have to rethink some of his proposals after I tell him about this."

Malcolm scowled. "Proposals?"

"I'll tell you later, Malcolm. I just found out about them this afternoon." Archer glanced at Marshall Subronn. "Thank you for your assistance, Marshall."

Hoshi translated his words, and Subronn managed a smile. "You're quite welcome, Captain. It is my hope that at the very least, this will ease our people's suffering."

"As is mine." Archer flipped open his communicator. "Archer to Enterprise. Three to beam up."

Hoshi took a deep breath as she waited for the transporter beam. The moment it swept over her, she knew something was wrong. Instead of golden sparkles, green bands overwhelmed her consciousness. The last thing she heard was the sound of weaponry echoing off the stone walls of the corridor, then there was nothing at all.

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May 2012

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