Cloak and Dagger

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure romance virtual season

Keywords:

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This story is number 7 in the series Virtual Season Five


Cloak and Dagger: A Matter of Trust

By Distracted

Rating: PG 13 for sexual situations and a little violence

Disclaimer: Paramount owns all these characters. I’m just tryin’ to let ‘em out so they can have a little fun.

Genre: Romance, Action adventure

Summary: This is a sequel to Diplomatic Relations, and my first attempt at a “spy story” Please let me know what you think! I’ve never done this before, so if I’m really bad at it, I’ll go back to fluff … I promise. In this one, T’Pol has her loyalties tested, and Malcolm learns an important lesson.


 

The Enterprise sped through the vacuum of space at a steady warp three point five, heading back home toward Earth… home, that is, for every member of her crew but one. Having just ended her duty shift on the bridge, T’Pol headed directly for her cabin to continue her work on the debriefing report which she was compiling describing her experiences on the Romulan ship. It was proving to be a difficult task. Reliving the experience, combined with her continued struggle to deal with her sorrow over her separation from Lianna, was playing havoc with her slowly recovering emotional control. In the week since the Enterprise had left the Betazed system, she had spent the preponderance of her off-duty time either writing the report or meditating. Her mental barriers had remained firm for Trip’s benefit. She had noticed, however, that he was less than appreciative of her efforts, and in fact had seemed rather upset with her the previous evening when she had refused to lower the barriers to allow him more intimate access to her emotions. She was still able to sense his emotions, and his worry over her mental state was beginning to cause him distress. She was convinced, however, that being forced to share her current state of emotional turmoil would be even more distressing to him.

As she approached her cabin, she realized that she might have underestimated the extent of his concern for her. She could sense his presence in the bond, and he was not happy. She entered her quarters and found him waiting for her with a frustrated look on his face. He sat on her bed with his arms folded across his chest.

“We need to talk, T’Pol,” he told her with determination. “I can’t take you shuttin’ me out like this.”

She gave him an innocently bland look. “I am not ‘shutting’ anything, husband … I am merely preserving your efficiency for your benefit … and for the benefit of the Enterprise.”

Trip shook his head. “Don’t give me that Vulcan ‘preserving efficiency’ crap, T’Pol,” he said angrily. “How efficient can I be when all I can think about is how worried I am about you … and that you won’t let me help! You’re drivin’ me nuts!”

T’Pol sighed, and sat down on the bed facing Trip. “Trip, please believe me when I tell you that you would not wish to share my current emotional state. As we have discussed previously, this is something that I must do alone. You cannot assist me.”

“I believed you when you told me that a week ago, T’Pol, but this is taking too long! I really think I could help if you’d just let me in.” His beautiful blue eyes pleaded with her so appealingly that she almost gave in. Then her protective instincts reasserted themselves.

“T’hy’la, you have no defenses against this. I refuse to cause you pain.” she said softly.

“If you think I need defenses, T’Pol, then teach me defenses,” he replied with unexpected logic. “That way, if I feel like it’s too much or it’s dangerously distracting, I can block you myself. Otherwise, I wanna be able to share this with you …. Please!”

T’Pol considered his suggestion thoughtfully. It was a logical compromise. Once Trip could erect his own barriers, she would be able to refocus her energy… energy that she was currently expending to protect him … on strengthening her efforts to control the problem.

“Very well,” she agreed. She got up from the bed and walked toward the door. “We shall have your first lesson after the evening meal. The sustained mental effort required to erect a barrier of sufficient strength will be extremely fatiguing. You will no doubt prefer to go directly to bed afterwards.” She looked expectantly at him, waiting for him to join her. Trip, somewhat taken aback by her rapid acquiescence to his suggestion, gave her a reluctant smile and followed her toward the dining hall. Her lips twitched upward ever so slightly at his wry thought, which, despite her shields, came through loud and clear.

What am I gettin’ m’self into now?



Captain Jonathan Archer sat at the desk in his quarters putting the final touches on his reports concerning Enterprise’s contact with the Romulan ship, and … a more problematic project … his diplomatic negotiations with Betazed. He was still not certain how he was going to explain to Starfleet Command why the final version of the treaty of alliance listed the identity of the negotiator from Earth as one “Jonathan, consort of Amelia, daughter of the Sixth House, Matriarch of the Ruling Council and Keeper of the Sacred Saber of Betazed”.

He was sitting there trying to come up with a plausible explanation when Ensign Hoshi Sato’s voice came over the comm.

“Captain, I have Admiral Gardner for you on a secure channel from Starfleet headquarters, sir.”

Archer sighed and turned to the vid screen. “Put him through to my quarters, Ensign,” he replied. He rearranged his tired and frustrated expression into something resembling polite attention as Admiral Gardner’s gruff visage appeared on the screen.

Archer nodded respectfully. “Admiral …” he acknowledged.

Gardner nodded brusquely. “Have you been contacted by anyone within the Vulcan government since your contact with the Romulan ship?” he asked abruptly and without explanation. Archer looked puzzled.

“No, sir,” he replied. “Is there a reason why we should have been?” He suppressed his irritation at Gardner’s terse and impolite manner.

Admiral Gardner stared back at him with a look of intense aggravation. “We have a situation with the Vulcans,” he said angrily. “I received a call from the Chief Minister of the Vulcan High Council today, someone named T’Pau… I take it you know her?” he asked.

Archer nodded. “We’ve met,” he said guardedly.

Gardner exhaled. “She informed me that the Vulcan government demands … she said demands! ... the right to debrief Commander T’Pol before Starfleet does, and insisted that I have you divert to Vulcan immediately.”

Archer’s jaw dropped in outrage. “Admiral! ... T’Pol is a Starfleet officer! The Vulcan government has no jurisdiction over her! If you think I’m going to hand over my First Officer to be given the third degree by a bunch of…”

“Hold on, Jonathan!” interrupted Gardner with a wryly amused smile. Archer stopped cold. The man was smiling!

“That’s exactly what I told them,” he said to Archer. “We’re in agreement on this.”

Archer sat back and studied Admiral Gardner’s face. “Somehow I get the impression that the rest of Starfleet Command didn’t agree with you,” said Archer.

“I did get the powers-that-be to refuse to back down about diverting you to Vulcan,” admitted Gardner. “Unfortunately… for diplomatic reasons… they had to agree to allow Commander T’Pol to be debriefed by a representative of the Vulcan government on Earth prior to her Starfleet debriefing.”

“I wonder what they’re trying to hide?” mused Archer.

“They also insisted that T’Pol’s report on the incident be approved by their representative before she presents it to Starfleet,” added Gardner.

“Starfleet Command agreed to that!” asked Archer in amazement.

“I don’t think they had a choice. You know the Warp Six project is underway… but it won’t go anywhere without the Vulcans. Starfleet Command is certain that faster ships will give Earth an advantage if and when the Romulans decide to become the aggressors. The Vulcans have us by the balls, Jon. If we want Warp Six, we need to keep ‘em happy.”

Archer nodded in reluctant agreement. “What do you need me to do, Admiral?” he asked.

“If you’re contacted by a Vulcan ship, or by the Vulcan government, stick to your guns about going directly to Earth, and don’t let them take your First Officer. She may be a Vulcan national, but when you sign on with Starfleet, your “ass belongs to the fleet”… Her ass is ours, Captain, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let the Vulcans have her without a fight.”

Archer smiled at his metaphor. Somehow he doubted that T’Pol would appreciate the Admiral’s sentiment, though. “That I can do, Admiral,” he agreed.

“The Vulcan government hasn’t named its representative as yet,” added Gardner. “I’ll be contacting you when we know where Commander T’Pol’s initial debriefing will take place. The rest of you should report to Starfleet headquarters when you arrive.”

“Yes, sir,” Archer acknowledged. “Our ETA is approximately two weeks.” He gazed at the Admiral with newfound gratitude. “Thank you, sir.”

Admiral Gardner’s face resumed its surly expression. “Just don’t get blown up by any Romulans on the way here,” he said curtly. “Gardner out.” His image vanished as abruptly as it had appeared. Archer smiled and shook his head.

That man really needs to work on his people skills! he thought.


 

T’Pol sat facing Trip across the meditation table in her quarters. They had been working on shielding exercises for nearly two hours. His face was covered in tears, his clothes were drenched in perspiration, and he was begging her to continue.

“I’m okay, darlin’. You just took me by surprise last time, is all,” he reassured her. “I’m ready, now … let’s try again.” He wiped the tears from both cheeks with the back of his hand and smiled at her encouragingly.

“Trip …,” she told him, trying to make him see reason. “You cannot expect to learn this skill in one night. We have been doing this long enough. You are making progress. Every time I lower my barriers it takes you less time to mount a defense. Your shields are becoming gradually stronger.” She swallowed and reached out a hand to touch his tear-stained face. “I just cannot bear to watch you weep again tonight.”

Trip raised his hand to hers and turned it gently upward, then kissed the palm softly and pressed it to his cheek. He smiled wistfully at her. “How do you think I feel now that I know what you’re feelin’ every day, darlin’? Do ya wonder why I’m in a rush to learn this shieldin’ stuff so you can stop worryin’ about me and focus on gettin’ yourself to feel better?”

T’Pol pulled her hand from his, then stood up and walked around the meditation table. She drew him to his feet. “If you wish to comfort me t’hy’la, there are more pleasant ways to do it than to continue to torture yourself,” she told him softly. She put her arms around his waist and laid her head on his chest.

Trip began to realize that her warnings about how tiring these exercises would be had not been exaggerated. He felt a strange lassitude stealing over him, as if he were falling asleep on his feet. T’Pol felt his unsteadiness and stepped back to look at his face in concern. Supporting him as he walked, she led him to the bed and helped him to lie down.

“We will continue your lessons tomorrow evening,” she told him as his eyes closed involuntarily. “I will wake you at 0500 so that you may return to your quarters safely … Sleep now.” By the time she had finished her reassurances, Trip was sound asleep.

T’Pol sat down again to meditate, but was unable to concentrate. The temptation to join Trip in the bed and enjoy the unexpected luxury of spending the night in his arms was just too great. She set the alarm, undressed for bed, and then eased herself beneath the sheet beside him. Even when he was completely unconscious, his presence comforted her… even more, she suspected, than meditation would have. She tucked her head beneath his arm, wrapped one arm over his chest and laid one leg over his thighs. Then she closed her eyes, sighed contentedly, and went to sleep.


 

Following Captain Archer’s conversation with Admiral Gardner, he gave orders to the helmsman to proceed directly to Earth without delay. When T’Pol arrived at her duty station that morning, she found that all investigations of new phenomena that might prove to be of scientific interest had been placed on hold for duration of the trip. Left with very little to do while on duty except babysit the long distance sensor readings searching for objects of interest that bore future investigation, T’Pol continued working on her debriefing report while at her duty station. It was proving to be a test of her emotional control… and curiously, today she found it possible to record her experiences on the Romulan vessel without any external expression of the emotions they invoked. She found it strange that her control had so dramatically improved.

Trip was evidently correct when he assumed that his influence would be beneficial ,she thought.

It wasn’t entirely clear to her whether her improvement had been brought about by their shielding exercises and the sharing of emotions that had resulted from them, or had simply been the result of sleeping the night in his arms. She rather suspected that the latter had been more helpful. Unfortunately, it was not an activity they could risk repeating very often.

“Commander …,” said Ensign Sato softly, interrupting her reverie. T’Pol abruptly returned to the present, feeling rather dismayed by her lack of concentration. She gave Hoshi a questioning look.

“A private, coded message is coming in for you from Vulcan,” continued the young communications officer. “Where would you like to take it?”

Captain Archer, overhearing Hoshi’s question, turned in the command chair. “Who’s it from, Ensign?” he asked in sudden interest.

Hoshi looked at him in surprise. “I’m not sure, sir … the source of the message is also in code. All I can identify is its point of origin.”

Archer gave T’Pol a thoughtful look. “Go ahead and take it in my ready room, Commander,” he told her. “Then I need to speak with you for a few moments to update you on a call I received last night from Starfleet Command.”

T’pol raised a brow at him. “Very well, Captain,” she said in a slightly puzzled tone. Archer watched her as she walked across the bridge to his ready room and closed the door. Then he turned to Hoshi.

“As soon as the transmission is completed, I want you working on a translation, Ensign.”

Hoshi gazed at the captain in shock. “Captain…what if the message is a personal one?” she protested, reminding him of previous indiscretions with regard to Commander T’Pol’s private messages.

“This is an entirely different situation, Ensign,” he replied in a firm voice. “I need that translation.”

Hoshi sighed in resignation. It was against her better judgment, but a direct order was a direct order. “Yes, sir,” she replied.


 

T’Pol stood before the vid screen in the captain’s ready room. She wasn’t sure who she’d expected to be sending her a coded confidential transmission, but she certainly hadn’t expected the person who faced her now.

“Chief Minister … It is agreeable to see you again,” she told T’Pau with a slight nod of her head.

T’Pau’s expression did not change, but her posture and manner somehow conveyed reluctance. “And you, Commander … although it would be my preference to see you under more agreeable circumstances.”

T’Pol raised a brow and waited for the Chief Minister to clarify her statement.

“It was my wish to give this information to you in person, but Starfleet Command has refused to allow the Enterprise to be diverted to Vulcan. Their Admiral Gardner insists on your presence at a debriefing on Earth within the next two weeks. He was not amenable to negotiation,” T’Pau said emotionlessly.

“Indeed,” T’Pol replied. “It has been my experience that Admiral Gardner is very rarely amenable to negotiation about anything.”

Without smiling, T’Pau’s expression conveyed amusement. “Your association with humans has affected you greatly, Commander,” she commented.

“I prefer to believe that it is a favorable influence,” countered T’Pol. She paused for a moment, and then eyed T’Pau with a slightly puzzled expression. “What did you wish to tell me, Chief Minister?”

It was T’Pau’s turn to raise a brow at her directness. “The High Council has received several ultimatums concerning your upcoming Starfleet briefing from a terrorist group styling itself the Seheik’uzh.”

“The Newly Declared Ones?” said T’Pol in a puzzled tone. “That would seem to imply an association with …”

“You must be silent concerning this subject!” interrupted T’Pau. “This transmission may not be entirely secure.”

T’Pol exhaled, her recent difficulty with emotional control finally manifesting itself as frustration. “Chief Minister, every Vulcan child knows the tale of the Declared Ones. How long do you and the High Council believe that you can keep this information from the Humans?”

T’Pau straightened and looked at her in disapproval. “You will cease this at once, Commander!” She inhaled and then exhaled, recovering her calmness with difficulty. “I risked this communication in order to provide you with copies of the terrorists’ demands. They are threatening to destroy Enterprise if you are not prevented from revealing certain information to the humans… information that both the Vulcan High Command and the present Vulcan High Council have thus far been able to conceal from Starfleet Command. Although we do not approve of their methods, both the High Council and the Seheik’uzh seek the same goals, Commander. You are in an extremely dangerous situation. If the link to the Declared Ones is discovered, it may destroy the Earth-Vulcan alliance completely. Is this an outcome for which you are willing to bear responsibility?”

T’Pol’s jaw tightened almost imperceptibly. “Transmit their demands, Chief Minister. I wish to study them myself. I will then make a determination concerning what information I will give to the humans.” She straightened and looked T’Pau in the eye. “I will be coerced neither by terrorists nor by the High Council into perjuring myself at my debriefing,” she said firmly.

T’Pau’s eyes glittered coldly. “I have named Ambassador Soval as my representative in this matter,” she told T’Pol. “He has the authority to see that you are extradited to Vulcan and prosecuted to prevent you from releasing treasonous information to the Humans. Make your choice, Commander…. To whom do you owe your allegiance?”

“I owe allegiance to myself … and to my honor as a Vulcan, Chief Minister,” replied T’Pol, her nostrils flaring with poorly suppressed anger. “You may rest assured that I will do what is right.”

T’Pau appeared relieved, interpreting T’Pol’s statement as acquiescence to her demands. “That is fortunate for your sake … and for the sake of the Enterprise, Commander … Peace, and long life.” She held up her hand in the traditional Vulcan leave-taking salute.

T’Pol, unable to force herself to be hypocritical enough to return the gesture, simply cut off the transmission. Several pages of ornate Vulcan script began scrolling down the vid screen. She preserved the documents carefully, and then used her security override codes to erase all traces of her conversation with T’Pau from the ship’s log. After transferring the documents she’d preserved to the work station in her quarters, she composed herself and stepped back out onto the bridge.


 

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed was spending the morning at his station on the bridge amusing himself by running diagnostics on the ship’s security systems. After hearing the Captain’s brusque exchange with Hoshi, he felt the need to run a diagnostic on communications security. He eyed Hoshi from across the bridge. She was most emphatically not happy about being ordered to invade the Commander’s privacy. Malcolm sighed. He’d been so looking forward to movie night with Hoshi that evening, but he was less than hopeful now that she would be in a pleasant mood.

Perhaps I ought to beg off and go practice my target shooting in the armory tonight, he thought. Then he thought better of it. Cancelling their “date” … could he call it a date when he couldn’t even hold her hand in public? ... was very likely to put her into a really foul mood.

He smiled ruefully and shook his head. Damned if I do and damned if I don’t! he thought … and then he froze in disbelief as he saw the results of his diagnostic. Someone was at this moment expertly overriding his painstakingly programmed security codes as if they didn’t exist. By the time he’d located the source … the ready room… the deed was done. Commander T’Pol’s recently received message was irretrievably erased, and the Commander herself was walking back out onto the bridge with a bland, innocent look on her face.

“Captain?” asked T’Pol in her usual expressionless monotone.

Archer turned in the command chair with a questioning look on his face.

“I’d like to request permission to go to the work station in my quarters to study the information in the message I just received from Vulcan. I will compile a report and be available to discuss it with you at 1100 hours.”

Archer seemed puzzled. “Why can’t you just work on it at your duty station on the bridge?” he asked.

She raised a brow at him. “I would be more efficient in the quiet of my quarters, Captain, and there is very little for me to do here.”

Archer sighed and nodded. “All right, Commander. Meet me in my ready room at 1100 hours.” T’Pol simply nodded in return, and left the bridge somewhat hastily.

Malcolm’s eyes narrowed as they followed T’Pol to the turbolift. To paraphase the immortal bard himself … Something was definitely rotten in the state of Denmark.


 

By 1030 hours, Hoshi had completed the translations that the Captain had requested. They sat side-by-side in his ready room, discussing the Vulcan documents which were the only portion of the transmission that Hoshi had been able to recover.

“I could have sworn that there was also a vid component to this transmission, Captain, but when I pulled it up after the fact, all I got was twelve pages of text written in High Ceremonial Vulcan. That’s why it took me so long to translate,” explained Hoshi.

Archer smiled. “I don’t think an hour and a half is too bad for the translation of twelve pages in a dead alien language, Ensign. Don’t beat yourself up about it.”

Hoshi looked pleased by his praise.

“So what have we got?” asked Archer in a businesslike tone.

“I think what we’ve got is a major problem, Captain,” Hoshi replied. She showed him the PADD containing her translations. “This is a terrorist manifesto, apparently initially presented to the Vulcan High Council, demanding the arrest and imprisonment of Commander T’Pol to prevent her from testifying at her upcoming debriefing. The terrorists call themselves “The Newly Declared Ones”, and they seem to think that the Commander is in possession of information that could destroy the Vulcan civilization … or at least the parts of it that they consider most important. They’ve threatened her life, and threaten to destroy the Enterprise if she is not prevented from testifying.”

Archer sat back in his chair with a stunned expression on his face. Whatever the Vulcans were hiding, it must be good.

“Do we know anything about the terrorists? Could they make good on their threats if we stay away from Vulcan?” asked Archer.

“I took the liberty of searching the Vulcan database for similar terms, Captain.” answered Hoshi. Archer looked favorably impressed by her initiative. “The closest thing I could find was a reference to a group called ‘The Declared Ones’ in a collection of moral lessons for children. The reference was not totally clear, but the group seemed to be used as an example for Vulcan children of how not to behave.”

“Well, that’s singularly unhelpful,” said Archer ironically. He paused to consider his options, and then seemed to come to a decision. “Get Lieutenant Reed in here,” he said. “If a member of my crew is receiving death threats, it’s time to beef up security.”


 

T’Pol entered the Captain’s ready room at 1100 hours. In it she found Captain Archer, Lieutenant Reed and Ensign Sato deep into the planning stages of a major overhaul of ship’s security procedures, and a revamping of personal security measures designed primarily to keep their First Officer alive and well. For the first quarter hour that she was present in the room, she sat in befuddled silence as they discussed her safety without seeming to acknowledge her existence.

“The Vulcan database doesn’t contain any information about any past terrorist activities by this group,” said Hoshi. “It’s like they just appeared out of nowhere.”

“We can’t assume from that that they’re amateurs, Captain. They could be extremely well-organized, and might very well have a presence on Earth. Perhaps they’ve just been underground up to now and haven’t wanted to draw attention to themselves,” countered Malcolm.

“So it sounds like we’ll need to assume they can get to her anywhere, and we’ll need to assign a security detail to her both night and day,” said Archer.

“I don’t believe a security detail will be necessary on board ship,” interjected T’Pol. They all looked at her as if their discussion had nothing to do with her. “A mass assault is unlikely on board the Enterprise, and I am fully capable of defending myself against a single human assailant. As an assailant of any other race would be immediately identified by ship’s sensors, I believe we can dispense with a security detail at my door,” explained T’Pol mildly. She looked from one to the other of them in bland curiosity. “Can one of you tell me how you came into possession of this information? I came to this meeting prepared to explain the situation, but all three of you seem to be quite well informed.”

Hoshi pushed the PADD with her translations across the table to T’Pol with an embarrassed look on her face.

“I ordered the translation, Commander,” explained Archer. “Last night Admiral Gardner called me and informed me that the Vulcan High Council had demanded your presence on Vulcan, and that I was by no means allowed to give you up. I was concerned that with the proper persuasion they might be able to coerce you into going back to Vulcan ‘voluntarily’. I couldn’t risk not knowing what was in that transmission. The preservation of your privacy was not worth risking your life … Given the choice …,” he told her firmly. “…I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

T’Pol raised an ironic brow at him. “I suppose I am fortunate that your ability to distinguish a flagrant invasion of privacy from a necessary security precaution is so well-developed.”

Archer smiled weakly at her. He wasn’t sure… but he thought she was probably just being sarcastic.


 

Malcolm lay on two layers of self-defense practice mats covering the floor of a sealed weapons locker in the armory. Hoshi had decided she wasn’t in the mood for a movie, but they hadn’t gotten to do any target practice.

“Where’s the armory officer on duty tonight?” she asked him softly as they lay tangled together on the mats without a stitch on, still breathing heavily in the aftermath of the activity that Hoshi had decided she was in the mood for.

“I offered to relieve him so he could go to the movie,” whispered Malcolm. “We have two hours.”

Hoshi smiled and laid her head on his bare chest, wrapping both arms around him in the attempt to get as close to him as physically possible. She sighed in relief.

“Oh …. I needed this,” she whispered.

Malcolm stroked her hair and kissed the top of her head.

“A difficult day… I know,” he said in sympathy.

“I hate it when he makes me do things like that,” she replied.

“He made the correct decision to preserve ship’s security,” Malcolm told her. “Just as I must do.” He exhaled heavily. He paused for a moment, considering the wisdom of discussing his dilemma with the woman he held in his arms. He decided that availing himself of her uncanny insight would not only be the smartest thing he’d done in a long time, but it would make him feel so much better as well.

“Hoshi… what would you say if I told you that T’Pol wasn’t telling us everything, and that I believe she may be working for the Vulcan High Council and against Starfleet?”

Hoshi chuckled. “I would say that you’re letting your paranoia run away with you again,” she said in amusement. When he didn’t laugh as well, she sat up and looked at him in surprise.

“You’re serious!” she said in an astonished voice.

Malcolm nodded matter-of-factly. “Remember the vid feed you swore you thought was in the original message from Vulcan? I was doing a diagnostic when the transmission was taking place. It definitely existed. T’Pol overrode the security codes and erased it,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean she’s working for the Vulcans and against Starfleet, Malcolm. The last I heard, we were all on the same side,” protested Hoshi.

“Why would she do something like that unless she had something to hide?” countered Malcolm.

“I think you ought to ask her that question, Malcolm. Don’t you think we’ve gone behind her back enough already?”

Malcolm looked at Hoshi with a rueful smile, and then nodded in agreement. “Okay, Hoshi… I’ll do it your way. I’ll ask her.”

Hoshi smiled at him and laid her head back down on his chest. “Good for you, Malcolm,” she said in teasing approval. “Not everything is a state secret… maybe she was just embarrassed for anyone to see the message. All you have to do is talk to her.”

Malcolm sighed contentedly. Hoshi had a way of making things so simple. Now he felt much better about the whole situation. Pulling her more tightly into his arms, he ran a gentle hand softly over her bare shoulder and down her arm. She shivered at the touch. He looked at her in concern. “Are you cold, luv?”

She smiled and shook her head, and then gazed at him intently. “Don’t call me that unless you mean it, Malcolm.”

He looked puzzled, and then his eyes widened. He nearly panicked, and then he noticed her teasing smile. She reached one hand up to touch his face.

“You don’t have to say it if you’re not ready, Malcolm,” she whispered. “Just show me.” His eyes searched her face for a moment, and then he drew her body to his and eagerly took possession of her mouth. Showing, for now, was still much easier than telling.


 

Trip and T’Pol had opted out of the movie too, and were taking advantage of the nearly deserted hallways to hold round two of their shielding lessons in Trip’s quarters to allow for any sudden need for sleep he might have following the lesson. He was dry-eyed this evening, and seemed to be progressing in his skills by leaps and bounds.

“You’re angry tonight, not sad,” he told T’Pol with a puzzled look. “Ya wanna tell me what’s happened?”

Following T’Pol’s explanation of the terrorists’ demands and also the demands of the Vulcan High Council, T’Pol was no longer the primary source of anger in the bond.

“Who the hell do they think they are!” he exploded. “What do they think you know that’s worth killing over?”

“Trip…,” said T’Pol seriously. “I need to tell you something … but you have to promise me that you won’t reveal this information to anyone else. If the terrorists even suspect that any human knows what I’m about to tell you, the results could be catastrophic.”

Trip gazed at her intently. “Then don’t tell me, T’Pol,” he told her. “I trust you.”

T’Pol exhaled. “I want to tell you t’hy’la. Knowing will make you a target, it’s true … but only if anyone finds out.” She took his hands. “Knowing will also help you to protect yourself.” Trip looked at her in puzzlement.

“It is my belief that the terrorists are somehow connected with the Romulan Empire,” she said frankly. “I also believe that the Romulans may have infiltrated the highest levels of the Vulcan government, but I have no proof of that.” She fixed her eyes on his. “Vulcans might hesitate to use violence as a means to achieve their goals, but Romulans will not,” she said emphatically. “The destruction of Enterprise and the assassination of anyone capable of revealing the terrorists’ connection to the Romulans are both very probable outcomes of this situation unless we are extremely well-prepared, but we must prevent anyone from discovering why we are targets, lest they become targets as well… Do you understand?”

“Why can’t we tell the Cap’n?” asked Trip beseechingly. “It seems to me that he’s gonna need to know this to protect Enterprise.”

“And when he reports his suspicions to Starfleet Command, what do you think will happen then?” countered T’Pol.

Trip gave her a horrified look. “Do ya think they’d bomb Starfleet headquarters?”

“Others on Vulcan have acted similarly for lesser reasons,” T’Pol told him.

Trip looked down at the floor in conflict, and then raised his eyes to hers. “All right, T’Pol. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”


 

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed stood at the door of Commander T’Pol’s quarters at 2200 hours trying to get up the nerve to activate the chime. It was all well and good to discuss the course of action he should take with Hoshi, but the prospect of actually having to discuss the situation with a potential Vulcan spy was a bit more daunting than he’d expected it to be. Perhaps it was because of her greater physical strength and her obvious martial arts expertise… or perhaps it was because he considered her a friend and didn’t think he was capable, when push came to shove, of actually using the weapon he was carrying tonight on her. He steeled himself and pushed the button.

After a brief pause, the door opened. T’Pol stood there in a pair of blue silk pajamas, with a matching robe wrapped around her curves. Malcolm blinked. He’d never seen her dressed like this before. It made her seem vulnerable… less threatening. Suddenly he felt ashamed of the phase pistol he wore concealed in a holster beneath his jacket.

“Lieutenant,” she said expressionlessly, acknowledging his presence at her door and then simply waiting for him to declare his purpose.

Malcolm straightened and cleared his throat. “I have a matter of ship’s security to discuss with you, Commander. May I come in?”

T’Pol raised a brow at him. “As you can see, Lieutenant, I am not dressed appropriately for visitors,” she told him blandly. “Can’t this wait until morning?”

Malcolm looked up and down the deserted corridor and then returned his gaze to hers. “I came to discuss the diagnostic of the communications security system that I ran during the transmission you received from Vulcan this morning,” he said quietly. Her eyes widened slightly, and she stepped aside to let him in.

The lights in the room were dimmed, and a single meditation candle burned on the low table in the center of the room. T’Pol blew out the candle and brought the room’s lights up to a more business-like level. She offered Malcolm the only chair in the room … at her desk ... and then sat on the bed and gave him her full attention.

“What would you like to know, Lieutenant?” she asked him matter-of-factly.

He was rather taken aback by her apparent willingness to be honest with him, and hesitated a moment before asking his question.

“Why did you erase the video portion of your message?” he asked her finally, looking at her as if he truly hoped that she had a rational and non-sinister explanation for her behavior.

T’Pol looked down and sighed, then she met his eyes unflinchingly. “That portion of the message contained information which would prove dangerous to anyone possessing it. I anticipated that the Captain would feel the need to know its contents. I erased it to protect him and the crew of the Enterprise.”

Malcolm eyed her doubtfully. “And we’re supposed to just take your word that you’re working in our best interest?”

“Malcolm…” T’Pol began with uncharacteristic fervor. His eyes widened in astonishment at her use of his given name. “I believe that you at least suspect the existence of a relationship between Commander Tucker and myself which is greater than friendship. Please believe me when I tell you that everyone and everything currently of any significance in my life is aboard Enterprise. I would literally do anything to insure the safety of this ship and her crew.”

Malcolm sat back in his chair and studied her face. It revealed more emotion than he’d ever seen on the face of a Vulcan in his entire life. He came to the sudden realization that he believed her, and … to his astonishment … he also trusted her.

“So that’s it then?... That’s all you’re willing to tell me?” he asked her.

“I assure you that if further information would enable you to better protect the Enterprise, you will receive it,” she promised him.

Malcolm exhaled heavily, and then rose from his chair. He gave her a brief nod. “Thank you for your assistance with my investigation, Commander,” he said formally. “I apologize for disturbing you so late in the evening. Please let me know if you think of any other information that you believe I might find useful.”

T’Pol gave him a strange look. “I will be sure to do so, Lieutenant,” she replied.

Malcolm gave her a brief smile, and then walked to the door. He turned to her.

“Don’t worry, Commander,” he reassured her. “Protecting the Enterprise and her crew is my first priority as well. With both of us on top of the problem, we’ll be ready for anything,” he told her with a determined expression.

T’Pol nodded at him with an equally resolute look on her face. “Indeed, Lieutenant … anything at all.”

Malcolm walked into the hallway. The door shut behind him. As T’Pol dimmed the lights again and relit her meditation candle, she mused wonderingly over Lieutenant Reed’s surprisingly easy acceptance of her partial explanation. She had no illusions that Starfleet Command would be as easy to convince. Unfortunately, Chief Minister T’Pau was correct about one thing … if the humans ever found out that the Romulans were the direct descendants of the Vulcan rebel group that had once called themselves “The Declared Ones”… and that the Vulcan government had been lying to them to conceal this fact ever since the Enterprise first came in contact with the Romulans over two years before… it would very likely mean the end of the Earth-Vulcan alliance. She hadn’t determined yet exactly how she would do it, but she had to discover a way to give the humans the information they needed to protect themselves from the Romulans without risking exposure of the Vulcan-Romulan connection. It was a perplexing problem. T’Pol decided to put her concerns aside for the time being and enter a meditative state in preparation for sleep. Perhaps in the morning her thoughts would be clearer. She took a seat on her meditation cushion on the floor before the lit meditation candle and closed her eyes.

T’Pol opened her eyes to shining whiteness. Mere seconds after she’d settled into calmness, a smooth southern drawl interrupted her meditative state.

How ‘bout some company, darlin’?Trip asked with a mischievous smile.

T’Pol turned to see him walk toward her in the glowing expanse of nothingness.

I thought you were asleep, thy’la,” she answered in gentle reproof.I left you sleeping soundly in your quarters after our shielding lesson.

Trip approached her and took her by the hand, pulling her to her feet.

I took a little nap… and now I’m good to go!he told her, pulling her body against his and wrapping his arms around her.

T’Pol’s eyes narrowed.My concerns awakened you … didn’t they?

Trip’s sheepish smile answered her question.

I am sorry, t’hy’la … I will reconstruct the barrier…

Oh, no! ... Don’t you dare!interrupted Trip.I have a much better idea…He smiled invitingly at her, and then gently kissed her, exploring her mouth slowly with his lips and tongue. She felt her desire for him, always present in the back of her mind, ignite from banked coals to a slow blaze.

Trip smiled as he felt her respond.See? ... Isn’t this much more fun?. .. You know it always makes you feel better, even if it’s only in our heads.

T’Pol eyed him speculatively. Then the luxurious bed from their guest room in the Sixth House of Betazed appeared in the whiteness beside them.

Is this what you had in mind, husband … or would you prefer the bathtub?she asked him dryly.

Trip chuckled and drew her down with him onto the bed. She began kissing his jaw, trailing soft kisses under his chin and down the side of his neck. When she reached the collar of his shirt, their clothes simply vanished.

Well … that’s a neat trick!whispered Trip approvingly. T’Pol didn’t answer. She was otherwise occupied.



“Cap’n, I really don’t like the idea of just leavin’ her at the Vulcan compound,” protested Trip. “That place would be even easier for a Vulcan terrorist to get into than Starfleet headquarters. How do we know they won’t go after her there?” Although he was not involved in the new security measures and didn’t have Hoshi’s knowledge of Vulcan culture, he’d insisted on being involved in the plans for T’Pol’s personal security. Everyone in the room knew why he was there. By unspoken agreement, no one challenged his right to be involved.

“Starfleet Command has ordered me to report for debriefing at the Vulcan compound, Commander,” T’Pol informed him evenly. “We have no choice in the matter.”

“I agree with Commander Tucker, Captain,” said Malcolm. “It’s a high risk situation. I suggest we take a six-man security detail to provide escort to and from the compound, and then Commander Tucker and I will enter the compound with her to protect her.”

Captain Archer held up his hand and shook his head. “We can’t show up at the Vulcan compound with a six-man armed security detail, gentlemen! The Vulcans would never allow it.”

“Is there a reason why the Vulcans have to know about it, Captain?” asked Hoshi curiously.

The three men eyed her in shock, and then Malcolm grinned. What a bloody marvelous idea! he thought, gazing at her in admiration.


 

Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker flanked T’Pol as she exited the shuttlepod onto the landing field just outside of the Vulcan compound. They were armed with phase pistols and wore full body armor.

“The periphery is secure, sir,” came Corporal Ramirez’ voice over Malcolm’s earpiece.

“Acknowledged. Approaching the delivery point,” muttered Malcolm into his throat mike.

T’Pol walked between the two men, looking serene and regal in full-length cream colored Vulcan robes. The trio approached the gate of the compound and were met by three armed Vulcans, evidently the Vulcan security detail that would be responsible for T’Pol’s safety within the compound. Trip’s eyes scanned the rooftops of the buildings past the gate. He saw the flash of plasma rifle fire just as Malcolm did.

Both of them dove for T’Pol. She’d heard Trip’s mental warning … a headache-inducing GET DOWN! … and was already heading to ground. A fraction of a second before Trip and Malcolm landed on top of T’Pol in an attempt to protect her, the rifle shot tore through the chest of the lead Vulcan security guard and left a smoking hole in the back of T’Pol’s robe as she lay on the ground. Almost immediately, return fire from another plasma rifle, firing from a rooftop outside the compound, hit the sniper responsible for the attack and sent him tumbling off the rooftop onto the concrete in the central courtyard. Trip rolled hurriedly to the side to check T’Pol, while Malcolm got on the com.

“Ramirez … I think your man got him. Good work!”

“Thank you, sir. We’re rechecking the perimeter now … I’ll keep you informed.”

Trip helped T’Pol to her feet. Refraining with great effort from taking her into his arms in relief, he communicated his joy at her uninjured state through the bond. She returned reassurance and affection.

“The body armor that both you and Lieutenant Reed insisted that I wear beneath my robes performed admirably, Commander. I commend you both on your persistence.”

Trip grinned. It had been a major challenge to get her to wear the incredibly uncomfortable gear.

You’re welcome, darlin’, sent Trip. I love you, too.

T’Pol raised a brow at him and then turned toward the Vulcan security detail, now minus one member who was being carried by stretcher, along with the sniper, to the morgue in the medical facility within the compound.

“We should go,” she told them in Vulcan. “It is unwise to remain here in such an exposed position.”

The taller of the two Vulcan security officers glanced toward her two armed and armored escorts.

“The humans must remain outside the compound,” he told her.

She regarded him evenly. “These humans have just saved my life… and quite possibly yours as well. Since your security forces are obviously not capable of protecting me, I plan to bring these humans with me. It would be illogical of me to leave them behind in such a dangerous situation… don’t you agree?”

The Vulcan just stared at her for a moment, and then turned. “Follow me,” he said without further comment. “Ambassador Soval awaits you.”


 

The heavily armored trio followed their Vulcan escorts into the central building of the compound and through several undecorated pristinely white hallways to a featureless door. The lead Vulcan opened the door and stepped aside. The interior of the room was as unlike the unmarked hallway as any room could possibly be. The walls were painted the warm red-brown of Vulcan stone. Wall sconces contained candles… unlit in the light of day. On the walls were a variety of primitive stone artifacts… or perhaps their reproductions. Amongst the obviously Vulcan pieces, Trip saw what appeared to be Celtic stone carvings, Mayan temple carvings, and a variety of other primitive creations… the origins of which he failed to recognize. Many of them had hieroglyphic symbols or strange calligraphy engraved into them. Malcolm grinned and whispered to Trip.

“Hoshi would go nuts in here!”

Trip chuckled and nodded in agreement.

At the rear of the room was a large desk with a granite top and a state-of-the-art computer console. Behind the desk sat Ambassador Soval. He rose and walked to the center of the room to greet them.

“Commanders … Lieutenan t…,” he acknowledged each of them with a nod. “It is agreeable to see you uninjured.” He exhaled heavily. “I must apologize for our inability to provide adequate security,” he told them, glancing with subtle disapproval at the security officer who stood behind them in the doorway. “An investigation is underway. I assure you … an occurrence of this nature will not happen again.”

T’Pol raised a brow at him. Her escorts said nothing.

Soval spoke again into the awkward silence. “Lieutenant Reed, I wish to commend both you and your men for your most efficient security measures. We owe you a debt of gratitude.” He extended his right hand toward Malcolm. Malcolm cut his eyes briefly toward Trip in amazement, and then extended his hand to shake the Vulcan’s hand firmly.

“Thank you, sir,” he said in a puzzled tone. “Just doing our jobs.”

The Ambassador turned to Trip. “Commander … I was not aware that providing personal security fell within your area of expertise.” He looked at Trip with a blandly innocent expression.

Trip gave him a warning glance. Soval, having been a major player in Trip’s plans to marry T’Pol only six months previously, knew very well why he was present on this particular security detail. His eyes narrowed as he took in Soval’s expression. If he hadn’t known better, he would have sworn the crusty old Vulcan was teasing him!

“It never hurts to learn new skills, Ambassador,” he replied weakly.

Soval’s expression became more serious as he turned to T’Pol.

“It appears that you have succeeded in getting yourself into even more trouble than is usual for you, Commander,” he said in Vulcan. T’Pol could sense concern in his voice. It both surprised and touched her.

“I have been told that you must approve what I will tell the humans about this situation,” she returned in the same language.

“This discussion should not take place until we are alone,” he replied. T’Pol nodded in understanding. She turned to Trip and Malcolm.

“I will be quite safe in here with the Ambassador,” she told them. “There is an exit from this room on the other side of the desk.” She indicated the door in question. “That door and the one through which you entered are the only ways to get into this room.”

Malcolm opened his mouth as if to protest, but Trip placed a hand on his arm. He turned to the Ambassador.

“We will leave her with you only if the two of you are alone in this room, and one of us is stationed at each exit,” he told Soval.

“Agreed,” said the Ambassador. “A most logical precaution.” The Vulcan security guards split up, each one accompanying one of the humans to their duty stations. Malcolm, stationed in the front hallway, called Trip on the com as he left the room.

“Are you certain it’s safe to leave her in there alone with him, Commander?” he whispered under his breath.

Trip stood in the back hallway eyeing his Vulcan escort. “Absolutely, Mal … don’t worry about Soval … he’s on our side,” murmured Trip. “Just keep your eyes on these security types. They’d be the best candidates to be undercover assassins, if you ask me.”

Malcolm rolled his eyes as he watched his escort standing motionlessly at attention on one side of the door. “Now you’re beginning to sound as paranoid as I am!” he replied.


 

Soval and T’Pol walked toward the desk in the rear of the room and sat facing each other in the chairs set in front of it. T’Pol looked around her, examining the room and its décor.

“This room reminds me of the temple where we last encountered each other,” she told him.

“I find the temple atmosphere conducive to serene contemplation,” Soval replied. “My efficiency has improved by over twenty-five percent following the renovation of this office.”

“I can indeed see how that might be the case,” replied T’Pol approvingly.

Soval sat back in his chair. “When the Chief Minister contacted me about serving as her representative in this matter, I debated whether I should inform her that I was not an objective party,” he told her. T’Pol raised a brow and waited for him to explain himself.

“I realized that as long as she was not aware of the regard I have for you, I was in the position to protect you from the person that she would undoubtedly send in my place… so I agreed.” He sighed. “I was not prepared for the duties that she requires of me.”

“My years with the humans have taught me the value of friendship, Ambassador,” T’Pol replied. She met his eyes. “I hold you in high regard as well, and I have no wish to cause you distress.” She pulled a data disc with a copy of her debriefing report from a pocket of her robe.

“I am in agreement with the High Council that informing the humans of the Romulan-Vulcan connection would be damaging to both our species. You will find that all references to the physical appearance and biologic characteristics of my captors have been deleted. I have also removed my assessment of the similarity between the writing on the walls of my cell and ancient ceremonial Vulcan script. My cultural and psychological assessments, as well as the physical descriptions of my surroundings, including what I could deduce about their engines, weapons, and cloaking technology, all remain intact.”

Soval solemnly took the disc from her hand with a grateful nod. “What should I tell the Chief Minister about your live testimony tomorrow?”

T’Pol sighed, and then said reluctantly. “You may tell her that if I am directly asked a question which would reveal information that might put Enterprise or any of her crew in danger, I will refuse to answer, even if it means my court-martial and eventual imprisonment for treason at the hands of the humans. I will not risk Enterprise… even at the cost of my own life,” she told him firmly.

Soval regarded her in somber admiration. “I believe that should suffice, Commander,” he told her. “I see no reason to detain you further.”

T’Pol nodded and stood. “It is my hope that when we meet again, it will be under more agreeable circumstances,” she told him sincerely.

“That is my hope as well, Commander,” replied Soval. He walked with her toward the door. “Please convey my greetings to your captain.”

He opened the door for her. Malcolm looked up in surprise. They’d only been in the room for a quarter of an hour.

“I will be sure to do so, Ambassador,” she told him, in an unusually warm tone of voice for a Vulcan. “Peace, and long life,” she said as she held up her hand in the traditional Vulcan gesture of farewell.

Malcolm got on the com. “They’re done already, Commander,” he whispered.

“Live long, and prosper,” answered Soval, returning her gesture.

Trip came up behind them from inside the room.

“You’re ready to go already?” he asked T’Pol in surprise. He sent concern through the bond. She returned reassurance.

“I believe it would be wise for all of you to leave the compound by the rear entrance,” replied Soval. “Your security escorts can show you the way.”

Soval watched the group as they proceeded down the hallway. He returned to his office and got on the com.

“Security Chief Tyvok, please. This is Soval,” he said to the voice at the other end of the line. After a short pause, the man he sought responded.

“Tyvok here.”

“Report.”

“The compound is clean, Ambassador. The humans are pulling out.”

“And the assassin?”

“The doctor confirms it, sir. He’s had some cosmetic surgery, but he’s definitely a Romulan.”


 

The Enterprise crew members who were required to attend the next days’ debriefing were all given rooms within a single hall of the officers’ dormitory within the Starfleet headquarters complex. Security guards were stationed at each end of the hall and at each entrance to the building. In addition, Commander T’Pol had two guards assigned to her personally. The hall was beginning to get somewhat crowded.

It was a typical Starfleet large volume temporary housing facility, with a single large multi-fixture bathroom at the end of the hallway. The crew had met in the communal hall in the lobby of the building that evening, and had agreed to specific times for shifts in the bathroom. T’Pol exited her room at 1900 hours with a change of clothes and a toiletries bag in either hand, and a neatly folded towel laid over one shoulder. As she walked down the hall, the two security guards stationed on either side of the door followed her like shadows. Hoshi exited her room ahead of the parade, and smiled in a friendly manner at T’Pol.

“Are you bringing company, Commander?” she asked in a teasing manner. She waited for T’Pol to catch up with her, then leaned close to her and whispered, “Somehow … I don’t think Trip and Malcolm would understand.” Then she straightened and walked briskly toward the bathroom.

T’Pol raised a brow and followed her into the bathroom, indicating with a look and a gesture that her guard detail should remain at the door. She heard water running as she entered. As T’Pol and Hoshi were the only female crew members who had been directly involved with the Romulans, and thus were the only ones required to testify at the upcoming debriefing, they had the bathroom to themselves. T’Pol took possession of the shower stall next to Hoshi’s, and undressed. She took a deep breath, and then asked the question that was on her mind.

“Ensign… am I to understand from your comment in the hall that you are aware of my relationship with Commander Tucker?” she asked through the wall of the shower. The sound of running water ceased.

“Just about everyone is suspicious of something between you, Commander,” replied Hoshi through the wall. “But … you’re right …. I think I know more than most people. I mean … the clothing swap was a dead giveaway … and then something Lianna said sort of gave you guys away, too, “ she admitted.

“And your mention of Lieutenant Reed?”

“I don’t think anyone but you and Malcolm know about that, Commander,” replied Hoshi honestly.

T’Pol sighed. “I believe that it would be wise for both of us to forget that this conversation ever occurred, Ensign. I would also greatly appreciate it if you would never again mention my name in concert with Commander Tucker’s in a manner implying an intimate relationship where anyone else could possibly overhear you.”

T’Pol’s sharp ears heard Hoshi’s sharp intake of breath. After a moment, Hoshi replied in a small, penitent voice, “I’m really sorry, Commander… I guess I just wasn’t thinking,” she said.

T’Pol closed her eyes and sighed. Hoshi sounded so young … and so lonely. T’Pol realized that Hoshi’s comment was very likely motivated by her desire to confide in someone about her forbidden relationship with Enterprise’s chief security officer.

“I apologize as well, Ensign,” she said. “Please disregard what I said previously about forgetting this conversation. You may feel free to speak with me concerning this subject if you find the need to talk to someone. It is my understanding that human females often feel the need to confide in other females. Considering the circumstances, I would much prefer that you confide in me.”

T’Pol heard Hoshi’s delighted laugh through the wall of the shower as she turned on the water and stepped under the showerhead. “Okay, Commander… It’s a date. Girl talk at 2000 hours during the boy’s shower shift. I’ll meet you in your quarters.” T’Pol raised a brow as she began to lather herself. She heard Hoshi leave the bathroom.

Girl talk’? … mused T’Pol as she stood beneath the relaxing flow of hot water. Why do I feel as if I am preparing to learn a foreign language?



On the first day of the debriefing, only the crew members who’d had direct physical contact with the Romulans were called in. This group consisted of Commanders T’Pol and Tucker, and Lieutenant Malcolm Reed. They sat together in the antechamber of the briefing room, waiting to be summoned. T’Pol couldn’t help but glance occasionally at Lieutenant Reed, trying to reconcile the man before her with the overly complete information that Ensign Sato had regaled her with the night before. She came to the conclusion that Ensign Sato must have been exaggerating. It wasn’t at all likely that Lieutenant Reed was capable of the feats of physical prowess that had been described to her in such complete detail. She resolved to determine, with Trip’s assistance, whether the activities that the communications officer had described were even physically possible. She found that she was quite looking forward to the investigation.

A fresh-faced ensign opened the door of the debriefing room.

“Lieutenant Reed?” he called.

Malcolm rose and accompanied the young man inside. The door closed again.

Trip glanced at T’Pol, and then looked upward at the security camera in the corner of the room.

Have you decided what you’re gonna tell ‘em? he asked silently as he nonchalantly picked up a magazine and began paging through it.

I have decided that I will tell them the truth, t’hy’la…, she answered, sitting calmly with her eyes closed in an attitude of meditation, …just not all of it.

Be careful, darlin’, he warned her, You’re walkin’ a fine line between assassination and a prison sentence.

I am quite aware of that, husband. I promise you that I will think very carefully before I speak, replied T’Pol reassuringly. Trip continued to page through the magazine as he sent support, encouragement, and love to her with all of his might. T’Pol exhaled fully as she sat with her eyes closed, and visibly relaxed. She returned affection to him in the bond, and they sat in silence for nearly an hour, enjoying just being in the same room with each other.

The young ensign opened the door again.

“Commander Tucker?”

Trip sent a last affectionate thought in T’Pol’s direction, and then walked into the debriefing room. She felt him erect a barrier so that his anxiety over the situation would not upset her. She took a shaky breath and let her own barriers down so that she could devote more energy to emotional control. Her fear nearly took control for a moment. She entered the white space and began her litany of Surak’s teachings. One hour and twelve minutes later, the ensign’s hesitant voice roused her from her meditation.

“Commander T’Pol?”

She entered the room. Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker had apparently left the room by a separate exit, because they were nowhere in sight. She was directed to a chair facing a table. At the table sat four men and one woman, all in admiral’s regalia. The only face she recognized was that of Admiral Gardner. The members of the debriefing panel had name cards on the table in front of them. The one female, evidently named Admiral Moore, began the debriefing. She got straight to the point.

“Commander T’Pol… in your report you admit to attempting to voluntarily consort with these Romulans… Can you explain your actions?”

T’Pol simply stared at her. Of all the questions she could have anticipated, this was one that had not occurred to her.

“I believe that I explained my motivation and intent sufficiently in my report, Admiral Moore,” she replied stiffly. “The Romulan ship possessed a strategic advantage in the form of a cloaking device. I attempted to convince the commander of the Romulan ship to spare the Enterprise despite his superior position by using the only bargaining tool I had at my disposal.”

“The Romulan commander must have been physically compatible with you in order for that solution to present itself, yet there is no physical description of any of the Romulans in your report. The two crew members who boarded the ship to rescue you have informed us that they did not pay attention to the physical appearance of the crew in the limited time they were aboard. Do you mean to tell us that, despite the obsessive completeness of the remainder of your report, you failed to take note of the appearance of your captors?”

T’Pol took a deep breath and then exhaled. It was the moment of truth. “I saw very little strategic importance in a detailed description of Romulan anatomy, Admiral,” she began. She paused briefly, carefully considering her words. “They were humanoid, without significant external differences from Vulcans… or Humans.”

“Meaning? ...” interjected Admiral Gardner.

“Meaning the appropriate number of limbs and sensory organs… all in their proper places, a smooth integument of varying shades of tan to brown, hair growing primarily on the crown of the head, and two genders… male and female. I did not have the opportunity to see any of them unclothed, so I cannot be certain about secondary sexual characteristics or the appearance of external genitalia, but I would venture to say that…”

“That will be sufficient, Commander.” said Gardner hastily, with a somewhat embarrassed expression. “I believe that you’ve adequately answered the question.” He glanced at the other members of the panel. “Does anyone else have any further questions for the commander?”

T’Pol spent another three hours answering a multitude of questions about her painstakingly detailed report. No one else brought up the issue of the Romulans’ physical appearance. She left the room physically and mentally exhausted, but still a free woman in good standing with Starfleet.


 

After making a small side trip to deliver an item of strategic importance that she’d brought planetside from Enterprise inside her duffle, T’Pol returned to the tiny room assigned to her in the Starfleet headquarters officers’ dormitory. Both she and Trip had been released from the debriefing, and planned to spend the remainder of the Enterprise crew’s one week shore leave visiting Trip’s parents in Atlanta. Although it was a logical use of their time on Earth, T’Pol found herself becoming quite apprehensive about informing Trip’s parents of their relationship. She closed her eyes as she sat on the bed and entered the white space, seeking her husband and the reassurance that only he could provide.

Opening her eyes, she found herself alone in whiteness, and settled herself down to wait. As she sat waiting for Trip, she experimented with one of the scenarios that Ensign Sato had described to her. The sweet spot on the Enterprise materialized around her. She stood up and focused on recreating the sensation of weightlessness, and then launched herself into the center of the room. She practiced pushing off the bulkheads and setting herself spinning. The sensation was exhilarating. She heard an amused baritone drawl, and grabbed for a handhold. Trip stood on the ‘floor’ of the chamber, looking up at her as she hung upside down with a wide grin on his face.

That sure looks like fun, darlin’!” he told her with a chuckle.What brought all this on?

I thought we might try something new this evening, t’hy’la,” she said with a slightly embarrassed look.

He launched himself toward her and, flipping smoothly head-over-heels, grabbed a handhold near her. He smiled at her. He’d always been really good at freefall exercises back at the Academy. He’d seemed to have a natural feeling for where he was in space. He reached for her and pulled her against him. Then he pushed off. They clung to each other, caressing each other and slowly spinning in place. Trip found that any sudden, forceful movement tended to overbalance them and send them crashing against the bulkheads. After a little practice, he became adept at the slow, sensuous movements that allowed them to remain floating in the center of the room. As he kissed T’Pol slowly and lasciviously, she performed her little trick with their clothes again. He laughed into her mouth as she wrapped both legs around his waist.



After an enjoyable meal with Hoshi in the officer’s mess in Starfleet headquarters, Malcolm reported to his assigned room to prepare for bed. Hoshi was scheduled to report for debriefing in the morning, and then they had plans to spend their leave time together. They hadn’t decided exactly how they would spend their leave, but Malcolm had decided that it didn’t really matter as long as he could spend it with Hoshi. He was growing accustomed to the idea of the two of them as a couple. He wasn’t quite sure exactly when it had happened, but he was perilously close to using the “L” word with her and meaning it. The idea didn’t even terrify him anymore … much.

When he sat on the bed, he found a hard rectangular object beneath the sheets. He pulled it out and studied the PADD. He’d never seen it before, but it appeared to be of the same design as the PADDs used on Enterprise. The screen was initially blank, but as soon as his fingers touched a random key, a single sentence appeared on the screen.

“Whom do you trust?”

Malcolm stared at the screen. It must be a password clue of some sort, he thought.

He considered the possibilities for a moment, and then typed, “No one.”

“Invalid password. Access denied.”

He tried, “Myself.”

“Invalid password. Access denied.”

“Starfleet.”

“Invalid password. Access denied.”

Malcolm exhaled in frustration. He stopped and reflected for a while. Whoever had planted this PADD was either a member of the crew or one of the security detail. The building was locked down tight to everyone else. He grinned suddenly. This was just the type of prank that Hoshi would pull. He entered “H. O. S. H. I.”

The screen came to life. Several words at the top of the screen caught his eye.

“Eyes Only. This document intended for the Chief of Covert Operations, section 31, Starfleet Command.”

Malcolm’s eyes widened. That had been his unit within covert operations before he’d signed on as a regular member of Starfleet. He inspected the document more closely. It appeared to be a translation of a Vulcan history text detailing the formation and activities of a group calling themselves “The Declared Ones”. References were made in the document to Surak being a living contemporary. Malcolm knew next to nothing about Vulcan history, but he guessed that that would make the history within the document in question very old news. The resemblance to the name of the terrorist organization that had threatened T’Pol and the Enterprise was too close to be a coincidence. He continued to read. Apparently this group had left Vulcan around the time of Surak to found their own colony in protest of Surak’s teachings on suppression of emotion. The history ended with their departure from Vulcan. Appended to the document, curiously enough, was a detailed description of Romulan anatomy. Malcolm continued to read, his face reflecting his shock as he realized the significance of what he was reading. He deactivated the PADD. First thing in the morning, he’d contact his former section head. The contents of the PADD might provide vital information that would allow them to identify Romulan plants among Vulcan allies. It could also mean the end of Earth-Vulcan relations. He wasn’t sure of the source of the information … although he did have his suspicions… but his anonymous benefactor did have the right idea. Covert operations was probably the only department self-contained and paranoid enough to make use of the information on the PADD without disseminating it throughout the upper echelons of Starfleet. If Malcolm’s assumptions about T’Pol’s actions concerning her message from Vulcan were correct, the fewer people who were aware of the terrorists’ connections with the Romulans, the better.

He placed the PADD carefully on his bedside table and lay back on the bed with his arms behind his head. It was beginning to look like trust was now a valuable survival trait instead of a liability. He smiled. He could live with that.

End


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