Show and Tell

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure romance virtual season


This story has been read by 510 people.
This story has been read 807 times.

This story is number 8 in the series Virtual Season Five


Rating: PG 13 for sexual situations and violence

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters. I just give them interesting ideas.

Genre: Action/adventure, romance

Summary: This is a sequel to my story, A Matter of Trust. Everyone goes on leave and meets the parents. We learn a lot about Trip’s dad and Malcolm’s childhood, and Malcolm gets to play like James Bond. (If you want to play your favorite Bond theme in your head during the appropriate scenes, be my guest … I know I did while I was writing them!)

A/N: I did a lot of research on Malaysia when I wrote this, but I’ve never been there … so any inaccuracies and/or perceived slights to the Malaysian people are entirely my fault. If you want to learn more about gasing , the country of Malaysia, or the Malay language, I suggest you check out .gov ‘s “The World Fact Book”. I have, on the other hand, known many hunters, and none of them were like Red. All of them were really nice people, just like you or me … thought I’d make that clear. – D

Trip Tucker exited the domestic airliner that had brought him and his companion from San Francisco to the Atlanta Space and Airport and climbed down the stairs onto the blazingly hot tarmac in the humid mid-summer Georgia weather. His parents were scheduled to meet them at the Spaceport Hilton later that day. They’d made the trip from Bay St. Louis two days prior to attend the most recent showing of Catherine Tucker’s now world-famous collection of photographs of the Xindi disaster at the Atlanta Metropolitan Museum of Art. The photos had gained her nation-wide publicity when they had first been made public. She’d channeled her grief over Elizabeth’s death into an outpouring of images so poignant that they had made the whole world cry with her. Trip had never seen them… and frankly didn’t really want to… but he was happy that his parents were doing so well. They’d lost everything they owned in the alien attack. The revenue from the showing of Catherine’s photographs kept them afloat financially so he didn’t have to worry about them, and the attention his mom received for her work in a small way made her grief easier to bear for his dad, who was more tenderhearted… especially when it came to his wife… than anyone gave him credit for.

Trip slung his carry-on bag over one shoulder and ran his hand through his still chemically-scented head of dark brown hair. He’d had to dye his eyebrows, too, but he’d drawn the line at the brown contact lenses Malcolm had wanted him to wear. They were uncomfortable… and besides, if an assassin got close enough to be able to see the color of his eyes, they were in serious trouble anyway. He wore a nondescript dark green knit short sleeved shirt, a pair of khaki shorts and plain white tennis shoes… his usual choice of obnoxiously loud Hawaiian style shirts having been deemed too conspicuous to blend in. He eyed his traveling companion admiringly as she walked along slightly ahead of him. She wore a broad-brimmed straw sun hat with a pale pink scarf interwoven into it and tied beneath her chin for security, covering her ears. Large dark sunglasses hid her eyes. A sleeveless sundress in a dainty pink floral print hugged her curves and flowed liquidly around her bronze thighs as she walked. On her feet, she wore a pair of flat white thong sandals. Every man she passed as she walked along stopped in his tracks and turned his head to follow her progress to the terminal with great interest.

So much for not attracting attention! thought Trip with amusement. His eyes roamed her body with great appreciation. At least nobody will ever suspect she’s a Vulcan… no Vulcan in the history of the universe has ever looked this delicious!

Must you look at me in that manner in public, husband? came her acerbic question inside his head. He grinned and caught up with her, avoiding her eyes as he silently responded.

Why not? Every other man you pass is doin’ it!

I am quite aware of that fact, she sent back sharply. This disguise that Ensign Sato recommended does not seem to be having the desired effect.

I beg to differ with you, darlin’… I think it’s brilliant, Trip replied, suppressing a laugh at the waves of pure aggravation he was receiving from her through the bond. It’s a sure thing that nobody’s gonna peg you for a Vulcan as long as you’re dressed like that!

T’Pol raised a brow at him and sighed as they entered the terminal. A uniformed security officer directed them to the baggage pickup area. Trip approached her.

“Excuse me, ma’am. Can you direct us to the firearms pickup area?”

The heavy set blonde woman smiled and eyed him appreciatively, and then spared a brief envious look at the woman beside him.

“It’s over yonder by oversize package pickup… I’ll take ya there,” she told him. They followed her through the crowd.

“Y’all plan ta do some huntin’?” asked the officer curiously. “There’s not much ta do of that sort around here this time a’ year. I mostly deer hunt m’self… but that season’s in the fall, a’ course.”

“The firearms are not for killing animals,” T’Pol told her flatly. She didn’t elaborate. The officer’s eyes narrowed at what she perceived to be T’Pol’s impolite tone of voice.

“We’re just collectors…,” Trip put in, giving T’Pol a warning look. “We just use ‘em for target practice.” The officer looked from one to the other of them in puzzlement.

“There’s a convention in town…,” Trip improvised hurriedly. “The… um… International Sport Handguns Association.”

The officer smiled in relief, nodding her head. There was always some sort of convention going on somewhere in Atlanta.

“Here we are!” she announced as they reached a counter behind which two armed security officers stood over a pile of gun cases. “Have fun at the convention!” Trip smiled at her in gratitude and turned to the counter. After showing their military I.D.’s, identifying them as Ensigns John and Mary Smith… Malcolm was not having one of his most original days when he came up with the names… and their Starfleet concealed carry permits, the two of them were allowed to take possession of the case containing the phase pistols that Malcolm had insisted they bring with them.

“Please leave them in the case until you have left the terminal, sir,” said the security officer. Trip nodded in understanding. As they left the counter he sent to T’Pol.

That was a close call with the lady cop, T’Pol…. I think you oughta let me do all the talkin’ from now on. I think she could tell there was somethin’ different about you.

I apologize, t’hy’la. My ability to mimic human mannerisms must not be as well developed as I believed it to be.

Trip smiled at her reassuringly. You’re doin’ fine, darlin’… just stand there and look gorgeous and we won’t have any problems at all!

That comment earned him another raised brow as they walked toward baggage claim to pick up their luggage.

Catherine and Charles Tucker walked into the restaurant in the hotel lobby. Trip had warned them that, for security reasons, he and his Vulcan friend had changed their appearances. Her eyes passed them by completely before returning to the table where they were sitting. Trip’s appearance, aside from the darker shade of his hair… and perhaps a more tasteful choice of clothing… was basically unchanged. The young woman who sat beside him, however, bore virtually no resemblance to the stiff, emotionless Vulcan that she had met at Elizabeth T’Mir’s funeral. The change was not entirely external, although the style of the sundress she wore and the simple pale pink scarf that she’d tied around her head certainly gave her a softer appearance. Catherine noticed a difference as well in the way the woman gazed into her son’s eyes attentively, as if the rest of the world were of no consequence to her.

If something wasn’t goin’ on before… I’m darn sure it’s goin’ on now, she thought ruefully. She looked sideways at her husband. He hadn’t even noticed them yet. Even when he did, he’d likely be completely oblivious to what was happening right in front of him. That was just as well, as he was going to require a considerable amount of time to come to terms with this situation. She smiled and waved to catch Trip’s attention and led Charles by the hand toward the table. Charles’ mouth hung open. He was staring at T’Pol.

“That’s the Vulcan science officer?” he whispered to his wife in a dumbfounded voice.

“Close your mouth and be polite, dear,” Catherine whispered back out of the corner of her mouth as she continued to smile at Trip.

Trip stood as they arrived and gathered his mother into his arms.

“Hi, Mama,” he told her, holding her tiny frame carefully in his embrace as if he were afraid she would break. She was stronger than she looked, though, and returned his hug with every ounce of strength in her five foot two inch frame, causing his breath to rush out with an “oomph”.

“Hi, yourself!” she returned enthusiastically, and then let go of him to let his father have a crack at him. He laughed at her as he turned to warmly grasp his father by the forearm. “Still the best hugger in the southern U.S., huh, Mama?” he joked as he pulled his dad into a bear hug of his own.

“She has been for forty years, son… and I still can’t do it like she can!” replied Charles with a grin.

Both of Trip’s parents then turned to T’Pol, who was eyeing them somewhat warily, as if she expected to be pounced upon and hugged thoroughly at any moment. Catherine broke the ice by simply smiling and nodding.

“Commander T’Pol?” she said softly. “It’s nice to see you again.”

T’Pol nodded in return. Her face remained impassive, but Trip could sense profound relief in the bond.

“Mr. and Mrs. Tucker… it is agreeable to see both of you again as well,” she replied.

The four of them took their seats. Catherine watched the two young people carefully as the group made small talk about her photographic exhibition, the flight from San Francisco, the latest news from Trip’s brothers, and the senior Tuckers’ new home on the beach in Bay St. Louis. By unspoken agreement, no one mentioned the reasons for their change of appearance or the fact that not everyone sitting at the table that evening was Human. Catherine noticed how Trip lifted T’Pol’s sweater to her shoulders without being asked when the room took a chill from the air conditioning. She saw how he ordered T’Pol’s meal for her without asking her what she preferred… a small salad with dressing on the side, flatbread with hummus, and a piece of pecan pie… and how she seemed perfectly accepting of his actions. And she saw the worshipful way her son smiled at his companion. Although T’Pol never smiled in return, her eyes rarely left his face. It was obvious that the two of them were deeply in love.

How on God’s earth are they hiding this aboard Enterprise? she wondered in amazement. This relationship could get them in serious trouble. She decided to discuss the issue with both of them later in a more private place.

“So what are ya ‘ll planning to do tomorrow?” Charles asked as he polished off the last bite of his own piece of pecan pie.

Trip looked at T’Pol, who raised a brow at him, and then he looked back at his father.
“I guess we’re gonna go to the Art Museum and see Mom’s photos,” he said reluctantly.

“You guess?” replied Catherine with a laugh. “You sure sound enthusiastic!”

He gave her an apologetic smile. “You know I’ve never seen ‘em, Mama….Just afraid they’d make me crazy, I guess.” He looked at T’Pol again with a wistful smile. “But T’Pol thinks I should see ‘em… says it’ll give me ‘closure’ or somethin’… and I guess it won’t be too bad as long as she’s with me.”

Charles sat back and looked from Trip to T’Pol with dawning understanding. He was finally beginning to comprehend the situation. Catherine hurriedly stood up from the table and excused herself before the fireworks started.

“If both of you are up early enough, maybe we can go to the exhibit together,” she said as she left the table. “What room are you in, so I can call in the mornin’ when we’re ready to go?”

“2140,” replied Trip. “And we’d love to go with y’all.”

“And what room do we call for you, little lady?” asked Trip’s father gallantly. Catherine winced and closed her eyes for a second. T’Pol looked at Trip for assistance.

“We’re both in 2140, Dad,” admitted Trip reluctantly.

Charles’ jaw dropped for the second time that evening. His wife led him out of the restaurant by one arm, calling cheerfully over her shoulder.

“See you kids in the mornin’!”

“Dammit, Catherine! Ya sound like it doesn’t even bother ya that our son’s sleepin’ with an alien!”

Charles Tucker, Jr. had worked his way up to the boiling point during the short trip from the restaurant to the privacy of their room, and was well on his way to total meltdown.

Catherine Tucker, well-versed, after so many years with her volatile husband, in the ways that best seemed to calm him when he got into one of his moods, went to the minibar and pulled out the bourbon.

“Let me fix you a drink, dear, and we can discuss this a little more calmly,” she told him softly.

“I don’t wanna drink… and I don’t wanna be calm!” he shouted.

Catherine sat on the bed facing her husband and watched him pace the floor with an exasperated look on her face. Charles had always had a quick temper, but since the Xindi had destroyed his home, his machine shop, and his youngest child, it sometimes seemed as if he were no longer the mature, capable man that she had married over forty years before.

“You’re behaving like a child, Charles,” she told him firmly. “Trip is a grown man. If he loves this woman, who are we to tell him he can’t be with her?”

“How can he love her?” countered Charles angrily. “She’s not even Human!”

“You sure seemed to forget that easily enough at dinner when you got a load of the way she looked in that dress!” Catherine replied with a knowing smile. She’d grown accustomed to her husband’s obvious appreciation for attractive women. It never went beyond the admiring from afar stage, so she’d learned to live with it. She’d had so many friends with secretive, unfaithful husbands that she found Charles’ forthright appreciation of the female form both refreshing and amusing. Charles had the decency to look embarrassed.

“Okay… so Trip has great taste in women… even alien ones,” he conceded with a reluctant smile. “Must’ve inherited that from me,” he added, giving her an apologetic, hopeful look. Catherine exhaled in relief. When he started to flirt, the explosion was usually over. She smiled at him and patted the mattress next to her. He joined her on the bed.

“I know the idea of Trip being with a non-Human is gonna take some time for you to get used to after all that’s happened, but it doesn’t make sense to blame the woman your son loves for somethin’ that she had nothin’ to do with,” Catherine told him gently.

He looked back at her with tortured eyes. “How can we be sure he loves her?” he asked. “What if she’s just usin’ her Vulcan mind powers on him?”

Catherine’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you hear that nonsense from, Charles Tucker?”

Her husband gave her a guilty look.

“Charles! You promised you wouldn’t visit those Terra Prime propaganda websites anymore!”

Charles sighed. “I know I did, Catherine… but a lot of what they say just makes a whole lotta sense, y’know? I mean… if the Vulcans hadn’t held us back, maybe we’da been able to fight off the Xindi and Lizzie’d still be alive!”

“That’s bullshit… and you know it, Charles Tucker!” replied Catherine emphatically. She exhaled and tried to calm down. Then she looked her husband directly in the eye.

“I’m goin’ to the museum tomorrow with my boy and his girl. If you can’t come along and behave… then stay here. That’s all I’m gonna say on the matter. Turn the lights out when you’re ready for bed. I’m gonna go take a shower.” With that said, she got up from the bed, went into the bathroom, and shut the door.

Charles Tucker sat on the edge of the bed with his elbows on his knees, thinking. He had a conflicted look on his face. When he heard the shower begin to run in the bathroom, his expression changed suddenly, as if he’d come to a decision. He left the hotel room to go find a pay phone.

Trip and T’Pol were making good use of the huge Jacuzzi bathtub in their hotel room. They’d added bubble bath and filled it to the brim.

“Your father seemed disturbed when he discovered that we were sharing a room, t’hy’la. Do you think it would have been wiser at that point to reveal to your parents the fact that we are married?” T’Pol stepped carefully into the tub to join Trip as he sat waiting for her. She sat down and began to lather herself.

“My dad’s gonna need to talk this over with Mom before he’s okay with it, darlin’. Tellin’ him we’re married now might just make it worse. Once they’ve gotten used to the idea of us bein’ lovers, though, I think both of ‘em are old fashioned enough to actually feel better once they find out we’re married,” he explained.

T’Pol mulled over his explanation for a moment. “I suppose your plan has a certain peculiar logic to it,” she said in a puzzled voice.

Trip laughed softly. “Why thank you, darlin’… I’m so glad you approve.”

T’Pol completed her wash and rise, and then sat back against her husband and closed her eyes.

“When Hoshi made these room reservations for us, what was her excuse for getting us the honeymoon suite?” asked Trip idly as he lay back in the hot water with T’Pol’s back against his chest and gently stroked every bit of warm, wet skin he could reach. She sighed softly, laid her head back to nestle on the side of his neck and raised both arms above her head, linking both of her hands around the back of his head to give him better access.

“I believe her explanation was that our cover story was that of a newly married couple, and a suite would give us additional sleeping space on the couch so that we would not be required to share a bed,” she said softly, her respirations becoming more rapid as Trip’s exploring hands wandered farther and farther afield.

“Hoshi’s a clever girl,” replied Trip absently as he focused his attention on the task at hand. T’Pol gasped, and then replied in a husky voice, “I have found her to be a source of some very fascinating information.”

Trip chuckled softly and then turned his head to gently tease the point of T’Pol’s right ear with his teeth and tongue. “So that’s where all these interestin’ ideas have been comin’ from!”

T’Pol, unable to tolerate not being fully joined with her husband any longer, turned suddenly in his arms, straddled his lap, and gave him an eager openmouthed kiss. It was time to stop talking about interesting ideas. She was ready to show him a few.

Charles Tucker sat on the rooftop of the hotel at a small table behind a large potted palm that hid him from view. He could see the pool area, deserted at eight a.m., from between the leaves surrounding his hiding place. He was nursing an iced coffee and hiding from his wife.

When she finds out what I did… she’s gonna leave me, he thought hopelessly.

He took a swig of his coffee, wiped the sweat from his forehead with the tail of his shirt, and looked out morosely over the rooftops of the city. Despite the early hour, the temperature in the shade approached ninety degrees Fahrenheit. Charles closed his eyes and sighed.

God… I hope they believed me last night. If anythin’ happens ta that girl it’ll kill Trip.

He’d really thought he was doing the right thing when that guy approached him in the hotel bar on the first night after they’d arrived from Mississippi and gave him his card. Now, after the fact, he wondered how the man had known he was a sympathizer. It wasn’t like he had it tattooed on his forehead or something. When his wife had told him Trip was bringing the Vulcan with him, calling the guy and telling him about it was the obvious solution to two problems. He’d intended to protect his son from alien influences and, at the same time, help to get rid of one of the sneaky mind-controlling bastards that had gotten Earth into this situation in the first place.

Then the Vulcan menace turned out to be a doe-eyed sweet young thing in a sexy sundress who kept looking at his son like he was the second coming of Christ... and Charles Tucker’s life turned upside down. In no time at all, he’d called the number on the card and told the skeptical voice on the other end that he’d been mistaken… that it wasn’t her after all… that his son had a new, very Human girlfriend and they should call it all off. The voice had thanked him for the information and hung up. He hadn’t given Charles any reassurances, which left Charles feeling profoundly guilty… and scared half to death.

A familiar voice startled Charles out of his reverie.

“See, darlin’? I told you the pool would be empty this early. The museum doesn’t open ‘til ten. We’ve got plenty a’ time.”

Charles peeked through the palm leaves to see his son and the woman who shared his bed walk together toward the edge of the pool. Trip pulled his shirt off over his head and jumped into the pool wearing a pair of flamboyantly colored bathing trunks.

“It’s nice and warm, too.” He smiled up at his companion invitingly. “C’mon in!”

The young woman stood wrapped in a calf-length terry-cloth robe. She had a white rubber bathing cap on her head which completely covered her hair and ears, and a very reluctant expression on her face.

“Perhaps this is not the best time or place for a swimming lesson, t’hy’la,” she said in a low expressionless voice. “Someone might come in at any moment.”

“So what if they do, T’Pol? You’re all covered up. Not every Human your age knows how to swim, y’know. Adults take lessons all the time.”

The young woman raised a considering brow as if she were judging the merits of his argument, and then shrugged off the robe and strode purposefully toward the steps that led into the shallow end of the pool. Charles grinned and shook his head. He wasn’t sure why a Vulcan would be interested in a Human, but the reasons for his son’s interest in this particular Vulcan were certainly no mystery to him. She wore a simple one piece racer-back Speedo that covered everything quite completely, yet clung to every curve so tightly that it left absolutely nothing to the imagination. Charles almost laughed at the expression on Trip’s face as he watched her walk down the steps toward him. He met her at the bottom step and took her hands in his.

“We’ll start with somethin’ really easy, darlin’,” he told her reassuringly. “Let me show ya how to float.” He stepped behind her and took her by the shoulders, trying to lower her backwards into the water. She stiffened and resisted the movement.

“Relax…,“ Trip said softly into her ear. “Trust me… I won’t let ya drown.”

T’Pol allowed him to lower her backwards into the water, but she was still rigidly stiff, fighting to keep her head erect instead of extending it backwards and letting the water support her. Charles saw Trip laugh softly at her and then lower his mouth to hers from where he stood supporting her shoulders. She arched her head back to meet his kiss, relaxing her body completely as she focused on returning the kiss with sensual abandon. Forgetting all about drowning for a moment, she floated.

Charles blushed and sat back in his chair, redirecting his attention to the rooftops of Atlanta. Guess the stuff about Vulcans all bein’ cold fish when it comes to sex was all bullshit, too, he thought with a smile. He was glad.

As soon as he got the word from his contact on the hotel switchboard, Red climbed up to the top of the building that was under construction next to the Hilton and set up his tripod and range finder. The shot looked to be about 300 yards… easily do-able in the windless conditions. He propped the hunting rifle on the tripod, and then scoped the rooftop of the Hilton. He saw no sign of the target yet, but he could see that there was someone on the roof.

“Damn!” he whispered. The last thing he needed was a witness. He debated taking the witness out too, and zoomed in on the guy to try to get a good shooting angle. Then he recognized him.

Shit! What a pervert! Not only does he rat on his own son’s alien whore, but he’s gotta watch me off her, too!

He chuckled wryly. Maybe the guy wasn’t as much of a wuss as he’d sounded last night when he’d lost his nerve and tried to get Red to call off the hit. He didn’t want to bust the guy’s bubble, but he was getting paid entirely too much money to call off this hit… by an off-world employer no less! Talk about ironic for an old ex-Terra Primer like himself. He did have to make sure he hit the correct target, though. His employer had not sounded like the type who’d put up with any mistakes. Red focused on the roof again as he saw the couple walk up to the pool. After Tucker jumped into the pool… no point in risking the red-blooded American to off the Greenie… he took aim carefully at the center of the woman’s chest… then paused in appreciation as she took off her robe. He gave a long, low whistle.

“Damn!” he said again with a grin on his face. Sometimes this job really sucks! he thought in reluctant admiration. I sure wish I didn’t hafta do this long distance… what a waste of a great piece a’ tail!

By the time he’d focused his attention back onto the target, she’d climbed down into the pool and was too close to her human companion for a clean shot. Red sighed and settled down to wait. He was an expert at it. Ninety percent of hunting was waiting for the right shot… and first and foremost, Red was a hunter.

He studied his target through the binoculars. It was peculiar, but with her ears all covered up like that, he really didn’t see a difference between her and a Human woman… or maybe a Human super-model… he told himself with a chuckle. It made him think again about what the informant had told him the night before. What if he was telling the truth? What if the woman he was about to shoot was just a knock-out gorgeous Human who’d had the bad luck to hook up with one Charles Tucker the Third, known Vulcan sympathizer and mind-control victim? Red was prepared to ignore his doubts and get on with the job until it happened. Tucker kissed her, and she returned the kiss. Damn, did she return the kiss! He blew out all the air in his lungs as he watched the two of them making out in the pool. He’d lost the Vulcan. There was no possible way that this woman was her. His employer was definitely not gonna be happy. He continued to watch the couple in the pool… now simply for the entertainment value.

“Shit!” he said in exasperation. “Go get a room, will ya!”

The grey-haired Vulcan male sat facing the vid screen on the desk in his study. His face, though solemn, revealed his displeasure.

“You assured me that your remaining Terra Prime connections on Earth would be quite capable of performing this small task,” he told the disreputable looking human whose face filled the screen. “The funds which you have requested will not be forthcoming until this matter is taken care of.”

The human’s unshaven face took on a sullen and angry expression. “Now wait a minute, you green freak! You told me the money was already deposited in a bank here on Mars, an’ all I needed was an access code.”

The Vulcan deliberately ignored the Human’s rudeness. “You are correct, Human.” He made the term sound like a deadly insult. “But I will reveal the code to you when you provide proof of the informant’s death, and not before.”

“We can’t kill her if we can’t find her,” protested the human. “The information you gave us is wrong… she’s not with Tucker.”

The old Vulcan raised a brow at that, and briefly considered his options. There was insufficient time before the Enterprise shipped out again to surgically alter and send a more capable agent from the ranks of the Seheik’uzh, and an unaltered agent would be entirely too conspicuous. He would have to rely on his reluctant Human allies. He sighed. Hopefully one could be found who was capable of walking and speaking simultaneously without losing his footing.

“If you cannot locate the informant, then focus your attention on Enterprise’s chief of security. After he is eliminated, a substitute can be found from within the ranks of the Terra Prime sympathizers in Starfleet. Once we have an agent aboard with full access to all aspects of ship’s security, our task will be much simpler,” he replied.

The Human’s eyes narrowed. “Not that I’m complaining, mind ya… but why do you want to off one of your own people anyway?” he asked suspiciously.

“That is not your concern, Human,” the Vulcan said stiffly. “Can you complete the task I have set for you or not?”

The Human sighed and nodded. “Yeah…sure,” he said. “Since we lost Paxton’s influence we’ve had some set-backs, but offing the security chief should be no problem. It’s not like he knows we’re coming, right?” he smiled jokingly.

The Vulcan returned his gaze blandly. “I wouldn’t allow your agents to make that assumption if I were you, Josiah.”

The Human scowled at the old Vulcan’s patronizing and insulting use of his first name. “Just have my money ready, V’Las,” he said, deliberately omitting the ex-minister’s title in retaliation. “I’ll inform you when the job’s done.”

The old Vulcan clenched his teeth, perilously close to a most unseemly display of emotion. “See that you do, Human,” he replied in an even monotone. “I’ll have our agent in San Francisco sent you the surveillance data on the Enterprise security chief.” Before the Human could say anything else, V’Las cut the connection.

He sat with his eyes closed for a moment, attempting to regain control. This entire situation is unnecessary, he thought. I have reviewed both the written report that she presented to Starfleet Command and the transcript of her live testimony. If she chose not to reveal compromising information to the humans in those instances, it would be illogical to assume that she would do so at a later time unless circumstances changed considerably.

He had, unfortunately, been unable to convince his more emotionally volatile allies that T’Pol would not betray them to the Humans. They didn’t trust his logical assessment of the situation. They wanted a guarantee. To satisfy that requirement, V’Las had to provide them with proof that T’Pol was dead. He’d been given to understand that his continued existence depended on such proof, and Romulans did not make idle threats. V’Las opened his eyes, and began entering a coded subspace message to his Seheik’uzh agent in San Francisco. It was time to locate and eliminate Lieutenant Malcolm Reed.

Malcolm turned to his traveling companion and asked, “Exactly why are we doing this again?”

Hoshi smiled up at him from beneath the colorful scarf that she’d wrapped around her head… conscious, as always, of the culture surrounding her and not wishing to offend anyone’s sensibilities in the predominantly Muslim country in which they currently found themselves.

“We’re doing this because you haven’t seen your parents in almost five years, Malcolm… and I need to brush up on my Malay,” she told him in a teasing tone.

Malcolm smiled at her ruefully and swallowed, gazing past her and out of the window of the bus in the attempt to settle his queasy stomach. When they’d arrived at the Kuala Lumpur airport, the city had been reassuringly modern. There had been office buildings at every corner. The streets had been filled with people of an assortment of races and manners of dress. He’d seen Caucasian, Chinese, and Indian businessmen in three piece suits walking alongside bearded Sikhs in turbans, and native Malaysians in both western clothes and more traditional garb. There were even a few women, usually with their heads and arms completely covered… but in this very conservative, primarily Muslim area of the country, women rarely ventured openly on the streets. Hoshi had gotten quite a few disapproving glares before she’d purchased the scarf and the loose, flowing long sleeved tunic and drawstring pants that she now wore. She’d wrapped the brightly patterned scarf around her head and shoulders. The effect, contrasting with her almond shaped eyes, was exotic and compelling. She still drew attention. The glances she received, however, were no longer looks of disapproval, but of admiration.

When they’d arrived at the bus terminal to board the bus that would take them to Kota Baharu, it seemed as if they’d abruptly gone back in time at least 200 years. The bus was an ancient diesel-powered monstrosity that had been modified to run on grain alcohol. It looked like it was about to fall apart. Their fellow passengers on the bus included not only a wide assortment of day laborers and local farmers who’d come to town from the outlying rural areas, but also a fair number of chickens and goats. The road was in poor repair, making the ride not unlike a carnival roller coaster in its ups and downs.

Malcolm closed his eyes, and then abruptly opened them again as his nausea got worse. He kept his eyes fixed on the horizon… at the mass of green jungle that seemed to encroach upon the city. Hoshi laid a hand on his arm in sympathy.

“How are you doing?” she whispered to him.

“I’m holding my own,” he replied, and then swallowed, continuing to look fixedly out of the window. “I just can’t talk right now.”

She patted his arm, and then turned to the dark-eyed woman who sat next to them with a live rooster in a cage sitting on her lap. Despite the muggy heat, the woman was covered from head to foot in a dark brown garment that left only her eyes and upper face visible. She looked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with the obviously foreign woman at her side.

“Selamat pagi,” Hoshi told her with a bright smile. The woman’s eyes widened as she made eye contact with Hoshi.

“Selamat pagi,” she replied, returning Hoshi’s greeting and smiling hesitantly.

Malcolm smiled as he listened to the two of them. In less than five minutes, Hoshi had brought the Malaysian woman out of her shell, and the two of them were conversing in Malay as if they’d been best friends for years. He understood only a few of the words… his command of the language being limited to a few choice phrases that the servants had used to describe his behavior and the behavior of his younger sister when they had been teenagers in his father’s household… but he could tell by the tone of Hoshi’s voice that she was in her element. The realization that she was enjoying herself made him feel somewhat better, and enabled him to keep his breakfast down all the way to Kota Baharu.

The bus finally arrived, after several hours of what seemed to Malcolm to be unmitigated torture, at the bus station in Kota Baharu. After exchanging handshakes and smiles with nearly every remaining passenger on the bus, Hoshi disembarked at his side. To Malcolm’s relief, his father’s thoroughly modern electrical ground car awaited them. He recognized the uniformed driver and approached him. The grey-haired Malaysian man’s face broke out in a broad smile.

“Good day, young master! It’s been too long since we have seen your face. Your parents will be pleased that you have returned for a visit!” His smile included both of them as he gave Hoshi a friendly nod.

Hoshi’s brow went up when she heard how the old man addressed Malcolm, but she refrained from commenting, returning the chauffeur’s smile with a friendly one of her own.

“It’s very good to see you as well, Abdullah,” replied Malcolm politely. “And how is your family?”

“My wife is quite well, thank you,” replied Abdullah as he grasped their bags and loaded them into the boot of the vehicle. He shut the boot and turned to face Malcolm.

“Fatimah also sends her regards,” The man told Malcolm softly, with a brief questioning glance at Hoshi. “She was married shortly after your last visit to a local fisherman… a fine young man… and now has a strong son.”

Malcolm’s face took on a look of concern. “She’s not still in service with my parents, is she?”

“Oh, no!” said the chauffeur emphatically, shaking his head. “She assists her husband with his business now.”

Malcolm gave him a relieved smile. “Please give her my best wishes,” he said to the old man. “Tell her I’m very happy for her.”

The old man smiled at Malcolm ruefully. “I will certainly do that, young master.”

Malcolm hesitated, and then placed his hand on the old man’s arm. “And you?...,” he asked softly. “You are comfortable remaining?...”

Abdullah shrugged. “Jobs are difficult to find for an old man like me… I have no choice.”

Malcolm gave him a sympathetic nod and climbed into the car. Hoshi followed with a puzzled expression on her face. There was definitely more to this story than first met the eye.

The car rode smoothly over the streets as they made their way slowly between the throngs of pedestrians. Street performers… all male… were at nearly every street corner.

“Is it always like this?” Hoshi asked as she gazed at the crowd through the tinted window glass.

“Oh no, miss,” replied the chauffeur. “The Malaysian Traditional Arts Festival is being held this week. Both of you should consider attending while you are here. It is a most enjoyable spectacle.”

“Please… just call me Hoshi,” she told him with an uncomfortable look.

“As you wish, Miss Hoshi,” answered Abdullah over his shoulder with a polite smile.

She opened her mouth to correct him, but Malcolm laid a hand on her arm and shook his head, smiling at her. She rolled her eyes at him. Malcolm grinned wryly back at her and shrugged.

The car pulled through a set of wrought iron gates onto an enormous circular drive. The house was a huge sprawling British colonial with a large veranda, complete with palm-frond bladed fans and papasan chairs. Hoshi stared around her in wonder.

“You didn’t tell me your parents were rich, Malcolm!” she said in an awed voice.

Malcolm gave her an embarrassed grin. “When my father retired from the British Navy twenty years ago he put all of his savings into the largest shipping company in Malaysia. Now he’s one of the wealthiest men in the country… and prides himself on being the last bastion of British colonialism in Southeastern Asia.”

Hoshi looked at Malcolm in puzzlement. “But Malaysia has been independent of Britain for over 200 years!” she told him.

“Just try telling him that!” Malcolm replied in a disgusted tone of voice as he assisted Abdullah with their bags. Hoshi eyed Malcolm’s angry face with trepidation. She decided that she’d prefer not to be present when Malcolm saw his father again. She doubted that it would be a very pleasant encounter.

An elegant dark-haired woman met them in the entrance hall of the enormous house. Malcolm stepped up to greet her and gave her a brief kiss on one cheek.

“Hullo, mum,” he told her with a fond smile.

She smiled gently back at him, remaining at arms length and looking him up and down.

“You look well,” she said. Her eyes spoke volumes, but she didn’t elaborate or even offer to embrace him.

“Your father is still at the office,” she added.

Malcolm nodded, appearing relieved. He stepped aside and pushed Hoshi forward.

“Hoshi, this is my mother, Mary Reed…. Mum, Ensign Hoshi Sato, Enterprise’s communications officer.”

Hoshi suppressed her annoyance over the impersonal way Malcolm had introduced her to his mother. He could have at least said I was a friend! she thought.

Mary Reed smiled politely, eyeing Hoshi’s head covering and native clothing warily. “You’re most welcome in our home, Miss Sato,” she said.

Hoshi smiled and pulled the offending scarf from her head. “Thank you, Mrs. Reed. It’s very nice to finally meet you,” she said sincerely. “Malcolm has told me so much about you!”

Malcolm coughed to cover a snort of laughter. He hadn’t realized that Hoshi was quite so adept at the social white lie.

Mary Reed gave them both a puzzled look.

“Let me have someone show you to your rooms,” she said.

Trip and T’Pol walked into the exhibition hall within the art museum and stood together before the enlargement of Catherine Tucker’s most famous photograph... the one of the dust-covered toddler grasping a bedraggled stuffed bunny by one ear, her tears drawing lines in the chalky whiteness of her face as she stood by the rubble of her home waiting for rescue workers to unearth the bodies of the rest of her family. Trip’s anger hit the bond first like a forceful torrent, threatening to carry T’Pol away. His grief closely followed, causing her breath to shorten and her heart to race. She sent support to him in the bond, but it was merely a drop of water added to the storm-tossed sea of his misery and fury.

They progressed from photograph to photograph. At ground zero, there hadn’t been much to see but a five mile wide artificial canyon which stretched from horizon to horizon. The aftershocks of the particle weapon had destroyed the surrounding towns and cities, but from within the rubble, the occasional street sign or partial structure would rear its head… miraculously preserved. Panama City was still recognizable despite its devastation. If anything, that made the photographs of its remains even more disturbing.

As they walked side-by-side without touching, tears began to stream silently down Trip’s face, and T’Pol began to notice others in the gallery giving her strange looks. She realized then that a Human woman, faced with the extremity of Trip’s distress, would not be simply standing and staring at him. Justified in her actions by the quite logical need to behave as a Human would to avoid suspicion, she gave in to his overpowering need for physical comfort and reached out to clasp his hand in hers. She had not held hands in public with anyone since she was a small child. In this instance, the action felt absolutely right. He smiled tearfully at her, and gripped her hand tightly as they moved on.

Catherine Tucker returned to the gallery from her photo signing to find her husband sitting on a bench against the wall. She sat beside him and followed his gaze to Trip and T’Pol as they stood hand-in-hand in front of the large photocollage of the images of Panama City.

“How’s he doin’?” she whispered to Charles.

Charles gave her a small, bleak smile. “They’ve just been standin’ there like that holdin’ hands for the past half-hour,” he told her. “Not talkin’ or movin’ or anythin’.”

Catherine sighed, and then got up from the bench. She approached her son and gently laid a hand on his shoulder. He turned his tear-stained face to hers, and then smiled a sweet, wistful smile and laid his hand over hers.

“You okay?” she asked softly.

He nodded. “Just sayin’ goodbye,” he told her.

“When you’re done, let’s go back to the hotel,” she said, returning his smile. “We can all order room service and visit for a spell.”

Trip took one last look at the remnants of his childhood, and then turned away from the photographs and toward the exit.

“Okay, Mama… Let’s go,” he said with determination. Grasping T’Pol’s hand tightly, he led the way out of the building… with Charles bringing up the rear.

The four of them sat in the sitting area of the honeymoon suite, Trip’s parents’ room being deemed too small for the four of them to comfortably “visit for a spell”… according to Catherine. The remnants of their sandwiches and salads were piled on the trays to be picked up again by room service. Trip and T’Pol sat on the couch facing Trip’s parents, who sat on the antique wingback chairs that formed the remainder of the elegant seating area. Trip reached out and grabbed T’Pol’s hand for reassurance. She gazed at him intently and didn’t pull away.

“Mama… Dad… We have somethin’ we need to tell ya,” Trip began hesitantly. “First off… I want ya to know that we woulda told ya before this, but we couldn’t risk sendin’ the message through Starfleet channels…” He paused and took a deep breath. “T’Pol an’ I got married on Vulcan a couple weeks after we lost the baby,” he said in a rush. Then he stopped and looked at his parents, trying to gauge their reaction to the news.

Both of the elder Tuckers momentarily looked stunned, and then their faces… both of their faces… broke into sincerely joyful smiles at the news. Catherine rose from her chair and pulled Trip to his feet to give him an enthusiastic hug.

“I just knew there was somethin’ special goin’ on!” she said as she squeezed him so hard she risked breaking a rib. “Congratulations, darlin’!”

T’Pol, momentarily abandoned by her husband as he defended himself against the best hugger in the southern U.S., stood face-to-face with her father-in-law. They eyed each other uncomfortably for a moment, and then Charles smiled at her apologetically.

“I’m happy to have you in the family, T’Pol… honest. I’m just not sure how to welcome ya without makin’ ya uncomfortable,” he told her candidly. T’Pol raised a brow at him.

“I, too, am pleased to join your family, Mr. Tucker,” she replied politely. “Thank you for your welcome. I know that this situation has been difficult for you.”

Charles Tucker smiled ruefully. You have no idea, little lady! he thought.

T’Pol paused, and then continued frankly. “You may be assured that I intend to do everything in my power to ensure Trip’s continued well-being.”

Charles gave her a look of respect and gratitude, and then extended his right hand. T’Pol stared at it for a fraction of a second, and then took it in hers and shook it firmly. Charles winced.

“Boy… you’ve sure got a good grip for such a little thing!” he quipped. “Looks like you have a lot in common with my wife!” T’Pol regarded him blandly, and then turned to Catherine as she spoke.

“Welcome to the family, dear,” said Catherine with a gentle smile. She leaned forward and pressed her cheek against T’Pol’s, who tolerated the gesture, but did not return it. Catherine didn’t seem to mind at all.

Then she turned to Trip and said in a more businesslike tone, “Okay, young man… sit down! I wanna hear the whole story… and don’t you dare leave anythin’ out!”

Trip and T’Pol exchanged rueful glances, sat back down on the couch, and got comfortable. This was going to take a while.

Hoshi had a headache. Not just any sort of headache… but a curl up in a dark room and hold her head together to prevent it from exploding kind of headache. It had started with the bus ride. Although she’d certainly enjoyed the ride far more than Malcolm had, the irregular roads had made for a rather rough trip. Then there had been Malcolm’s strangely impersonal introduction to his mother, and finally… the piece de resistance… dinner with Stuart Reed. The man was infuriating. He was arrogant, chauvinistic, intolerant and overbearing… and was not at all hesitant about sharing these admirable qualities with those around him. When, during the course of the tremendously uncomfortable experience that passed for the evening meal, she’d discovered that Malcolm had left home for boarding school at the tender age of seven and had subsequently been home again only on holiday, her primary thought had been, How fortunate for Malcolm! She’d excused herself quite early, and hid in her room from the shouting match that had ensued between Malcolm and his father later in the evening.

Hoshi heard a tap on her bedroom door. She rolled painfully over in her mosquito-net shrouded bed and faced the door.

“Who is it?” she called. Then she winced.

“It is Maslina, miss. I have something for your headache.”

Hoshi groaned. Maslina was the mischievous young Malaysian girl that Mary Reed had assigned to “assist” her. She was about fifteen years old, and thus far the only assistance she’d offered was to help Hoshi unpack. She’d promptly located the laciest, most transparent night clothes she could find and held them up, commenting with a sly smile, “The young master will like these, I think.”

Hoshi had snatched them from her, but she’d been blushing… and the damage was done. Now, the only people in the household who didn’t know that she and Malcolm were lovers were Malcolm’s parents.

“Come in, Maslina,” answered Hoshi in a forced whisper.

The young woman entered the room and walked to the bed, offering Hoshi a steaming cup of something which smelled sweet and herbal. Hoshi took the cup from her and sniffed it.

“What is it?” she asked curiously.

“It is for headache,” the girl repeated unhelpfully, with an encouraging smile. “You drink it, yes?”

Hoshi sighed. Well, It can’t possibly make me any worse! she thought. She downed the cup in two gulps and then lay down again. In a matter of minutes, she was sound asleep.

Hoshi was awakened by a small hand shaking her by the shoulder. She opened her eyes cautiously. The headache was gone.

Wow! she thought. That’s some great stuff… I ought to get the recipe before I leave!

Maslina’s face appeared before her in the darkened bedroom. Hoshi opened her mouth to speak, but the girl put a finger to her lips and beckoned for her to get out of bed. As Hoshi sat up, Maslina leaned forward with a grin to whisper in her ear, “The master and madam are asleep… Follow me!”

Hoshi’s curiosity got the better of her, and she stood to follow the young Malaysian, grabbing her robe on her way out of the door and wrapping it around her body. Maslina led her down the dimly lit hallway to another door and opened it, ushering her inside. To Hoshi’s surprise, she didn’t follow her in.

“I will wake you at sunrise,” whispered Maslina. “Selamat malam!” Then she shut the door.

Hoshi turned to find herself in a darkened bedroom. The light of a full moon shone through the large casement window, casting shadows on the figure in the bed. She approached the mosquito-netting and pulled it back. Malcolm appeared to be sleeping soundly, his breathing soft and regular in the silent room. Then she noticed his eyes open… just a crack… and she saw his hand move slowly out from under his pillow… holding a metallic object. He made eye contact with her, wordlessly bidding her not to speak, and offered her the handle of the phase pistol he’d pulled out from under his pillow. She leaned forward to place her lips gently on his forehead and took the pistol from him. A sudden noise from the direction of the casement window caused both of them to spring into action, as Hoshi crouched down into a protected position on the floor beside the bed, and Malcolm rolled smoothly out of bed, a second phase pistol in hand. Hoshi had barely enough time for a stray thought… He keeps two phase pistols under his pillow?… before he’d taken his place beside her. They both squinted into the darkness, weapons at the ready. They waited for several moments. Nothing happened.

“Did you see anyone?” Malcolm whispered, still scanning the room.

“No… but I definitely heard something… over by the window,” Hoshi whispered back.

Malcolm got up, and Hoshi followed, looking over his shoulder as he inspected the open window. He closed and locked it, and then made a thorough search of the room. The two of them were its only occupants.

Hoshi looked at him quizzically. “All this wouldn’t have anything to do with the terrorists’ threats to T’Pol and the Enterprise, would it?” she asked astutely.

“I hope not, Hoshi,” replied Malcolm. “My father is a wealthy man, and not very popular with the locals. He’s been burglarized before… and this part of the house is not usually occupied. Perhaps we simply scared away a local petty thief.” He sighed. “It would be best to be safe, though.” He pulled her to him, still holding the phase pistol in one hand, and gazed into her eyes in the darkness. She could see his concern for her on his face.

“Perhaps you should stay here with me tonight,” he whispered.

Hoshi smiled. She reached up and placed both arms around his neck. “I think that was the original idea… before we were so rudely interrupted…”, she softly replied, “… but can we put the pistols away first? I’d like to have both of my hands free.”

She kissed him eagerly, their recent danger adding spice to her desire for him. He reached behind his neck to take her weapon from her without lifting his lips from hers, and, maneuvering her back across the room so that he could deposit both pistols under the mattress, pressed her backwards onto the bed, covering her body with his own.

Muhammed sat crouched beneath the casement window behind the palmettos, silently cursing his incompetent employers. It was supposed to have been a simple matter… the local police would have blamed a surprised burglar… but instead of an unsuspecting Starfleet officer who’d been away from covert ops for years, he was obviously facing a well-prepared team of operatives who knew they were targets and were prepared to defend themselves. It was time to call for backup… and to ask for a larger fee as well. He was going to have to get creative to finish this job.

Hoshi sat in the kitchen, conversing in Malay with the smiling, motherly cook, who was entertaining her with tales of Malcolm’s youthful shenanigans, and feeding her piping hot, melt-in-her-mouth scones for breakfast. She’d given her native garb to Maslina the night before when she’d changed for dinner, and had found it clean and pressed in her room that morning. She’d put it on again since she and Malcolm planned to hit the streets of Kota Baharu and see the festival… assuming, of course, that it was still safe to do so.

Malcolm entered the kitchen. He smiled at the cook.

“Good morning, Binah! I see that Hoshi has found the most delicious-smelling room in the house.”

The heavy-set Malaysian woman gave him an indulgent smile. “I have made your favorite, young master… scones with pineapple preserves. We are all pleased that you have returned for a visit… and that you have found such a beautiful woman to share your bed.”

Malcolm turned bright red at her words. These people really tell it like it is! thought Hoshi with a grin as she watched Malcolm struggle to come up with a reply to the woman’s comment.

“Ah… thank you, Binah,” he said finally, with an embarrassed smile. He turned to Hoshi.

“You look very nice this morning,” he said gallantly, apparently unaware of the fact that she was wearing the same clothing today as she had the day before. Hoshi nodded her thanks anyway… it was a noble effort on his part… and checked him out from head to foot. The household staff had obviously been at work on his wardrobe as well. He wore a pristinely white long-sleeved shirt with sharply pressed collar and cuffs and a pair of dark grey slacks. The top two buttons of the shirt were undone, revealing a hint of dark curling hair. The effect was oddly compelling. He looked like an investment banker who’d just taken off his jacket and tie, ready to wind down at the end of a long work day.

“And you look very… English,” Hoshi replied with a teasing grin. Malcolm gave her a puzzled smile, and then sat down to breakfast. He grabbed a hot scone and slathered it with butter and preserves. Binah set a cup of tea on the table next to his plate. He gave her a look of thanks, and took a huge bite.

“Do you think it’s safe to go to the festival today, Malcolm?” asked Hoshi softly as the Malaysian woman turned back to the stove. Malcolm took a sip of tea and swallowed his bite of scone.

“I refuse to hide in my father’s house when we could be enjoying the festival,” he replied softly, with a dangerous glint in his eye. “You can stay here if you prefer, but if someone is after us, I’d rather draw them out into the daylight than wait for them to kill us in our beds.”

“Stay here?... Are you kidding?” countered Hoshi in a whisper. “I’m going with you. You’re going to need someone to watch your back!” She grinned eagerly at him as if she were spoiling for a fight.

Malcolm grinned back at her and took another huge bite.

This vacation might turn out to be rather entertaining after all, thought Hoshi.

Charles Tucker sat at the hotel bar polishing off his fourth double bourbon and coke. He had such an air of complete despair about him that the other bar patrons kept looking at him sympathetically, wondering what could have happened to him to make him look so miserable.

It’s not like I don’t deserve it, he thought.

He closed his eyes and went over the evening’s events once again, trying to find a solution to his seemingly insoluble problem. The four of them had spent the afternoon discussing every detail of Trip’s courtship of T’Pol… or at least every detail that the two of them were willing to divulge. He still thought that the two of them had been mighty secretive about a few things… like the nature of this “bond” they supposedly had… but Catherine had been content to let them tell the story the way they saw fit. In the early evening, the couples had split up… with sly remarks from Catherine about leaving so her son and his wife could make good use of the honeymoon suite. Charles and Catherine had retired to their room… and Charles had decided to come clean.

It was stupid of me to even tell her, he thought in inebriated disgust. How could she possibly forgive me for somethin’ like this?

Catherine had been furious… he hadn’t seen her so furious since she’d caught him using Trip’s new telescope to spy on their fashion-model neighbor sunbathing in her backyard when Trip was twelve. Then she’d begun to cry as if her heart would break. That was a thousand times worse than her anger. She’d told him that he was no longer the man she’d married… and ordered him out of “her” hotel room. When he’d asked her where she expected him to go, she’d told him she “didn’t damn well care” and shut the door in his face.

Charles lifted his head up from the bar, where he had laid it down without realizing it, and signaled to the bartender for another round. The bartender gave him a sympathetic smile.

“Sorry, buddy, but you’ve had enough,” he told him. “Can I call someone down to help you up to your room?”

Charles straightened up on the barstool and stood up unsteadily, looking at the bartender with offended dignity.

“No thanksh,” he said, enunciating clearly and precisely. “I can do it myshelf.” He turned ponderously and walked with slow, deliberate steps toward the elevator. Entering it, he pushed the button for the 21st floor. He’d put the two of them at risk. The least he could do was go stand guard and make sure they were safe. Getting off the elevator, he weaved his way down the hallway until he stood before room 2140. He knocked, and then propped himself up on the doorjamb to keep from falling to the floor. After several minutes, a sleepy-eyed Trip wearing one of the hotel’s terry cloth robes… and apparently nothing else… answered the door.

“Dad!” he said in a puzzled tone. Then the odor hit. Charles smelled like a distillery.

“Your mom n’ me… we…,” began Charles with an embarrassed look.

Trip shook his head, grinning ruefully. “Never mind, Dad,” he said with a chuckle. He’d stopped interfering in his parents arguments years ago. His dad’s behavior was constantly getting him kicked out of the marital bed… but somehow his mother always seemed to eventually find it in her heart to forgive him. “C’mon in… you can have the couch.”

Abdullah dropped Hoshi and Malcolm off in the center of Kota Baharu’s main square. Hoshi gazed around her with delight. It was impossible for her to decide where to begin. Malcolm directed her attention to the artisan’s row. Wares of every possible description, from clothing and head coverings to pottery and jewelry, were displayed on open tables.

“I’m going to get something to drink. Would you like something?” Malcolm asked. Hoshi shook her head absently, her gaze fixed on the colorful goods displayed on the tables. “I’ll meet you back at the shops, then,” he told her. Hoshi smiled at him and then made a beeline for the shopping. Malcolm watched her go. When she was out of sight, he ducked down a side street behind the food and drink vendors where he’d seen a familiar face. He followed after a young Malaysian woman walking hand-in-hand with a small child.

“Fatimah!” he called. He had a broad smile on his face. The young woman turned, and then returned his smile with an ecstatic one of her own.

“Abang!” she cried. “Father said you were here… but I didn’t think it would be proper to visit the house,” she told him, looking down at the ground in embarrassment. Malcolm approached her and embraced her tenderly. “You are always welcome, you know that Fatimah… but I can understand if you would prefer to stay away.”

The young woman smiled gently at him. “I am pleased to see you again, Malcolm,” her liquid brown eyes filled with tears, which she hurriedly blinked away.

She looked down at the child she held by the hand. “I would like to introduce you to my son, Fazil.” The small boy looked up at Malcolm with wide, curious eyes. He was about four years old. Malcolm squatted down to the child’s eye level and gazed at him with a wondering expression. Then he gathered him into his arms and tenderly lifted him, briefly holding him against his chest before leaning back to look at him again. He had tears in his eyes.

“Hello, Fazil,” he said in a choked voice. “My name is Malcolm. I am your mother’s friend.”

Hoshi found a beautiful scarf at the very first table she came to. The pattern reminded her of an ornate oriental rug, but it was made of nearly transparent whisper-soft silk. She bought it immediately, and then turned back toward the drink vendors to show Malcolm her purchase. He wasn’t in line for drinks, but she thought she saw his spotless white shirt in an alley behind the food vendors. She went to investigate. As she approached, she saw him tenderly embrace the young Malaysian woman that he’d been speaking with. She appeared to be in her early twenties, and had a small child with her. She was fair for a Malaysian, but the child with her was fairer still. With his black curls and olive skin, he could have passed for an Arab or a Spaniard. Hoshi approached more closely, and ducked around a corner where she could see and hear without being observed. She saw how Malcolm smiled at the young woman with true affection… more affection than he’d demonstrated for his own mother. The tears in his eyes when he looked at the child made her throat tighten… and when he lifted the child in his arms and she saw the boy’s face, she stopped breathing. The boy’s eyes were a pure blue-grey… exactly the same shade as Malcolm’s.

Hoshi closed her eyes. I’m jumping to conclusions, she told herself firmly. There’s bound to be another explanation for this… he would have told me, otherwise.

She looked back at the three of them. The happiness on their faces brought tears to her eyes. She looked away… and that’s when she saw him. A man stood at the next alleyway with a gun aimed at Malcolm’s head.

“Malcolm!” Hoshi shouted. “Get down!”

Malcolm obeyed immediately, pulling the woman and child with him. Phase pistol fire impacted the wall near the place where his head had been a fraction of a second before. Hoshi reached down and pulled the phase pistol from the leg holster beneath her loose trousers and fired at Malcolm’s assailant from her protected position. He’d ducked back into the alley, causing her to miss, but her shots provided cover fire, allowing the exposed trio to gain the safety of a neighboring alley. Malcolm, in the meantime, had pulled his own pistol from its hiding place along his leg. He beckoned to Hoshi to join them in the alley, and leaned around the corner to provide her with cover fire. She crossed the open street, weaving and dodging to present their attacker with a more difficult target.

Malcolm nodded and smiled at her when she arrived. She didn’t return his smile, but he was too preoccupied to notice.

“Hoshi…” he whispered intently. “I need you to take Fatimah and Fazil to safety… bring them to the police station and report this attack,” he told her. She nodded in a businesslike fashion.

“What are you going to do?” asked Hoshi, worried about him despite her recent discovery of his duplicity.

“I’m going after him,” Malcolm replied. He looked deeply into her eyes. “Go now… it’s not safe here.”

“Be careful,” Hoshi told him. It was a command, not a request.

He smiled at her tenderly, and kissed her… a brief passionate kiss so like their first kiss that it brought tears to her eyes… and then ran down the alley in the direction of their attacker… leaving Hoshi more confused than ever. She turned to the wide-eyed mother and child in her charge.

“You’ll have to show me the way to the police station,” she told them. Fatimah nodded, and led the way back to the main square.

Malcolm entered the alley where the attacker had been to find it empty. He ran down the street and caught sight of the turbaned figure as it rounded the corner, headed back toward the main square. Malcolm arrived at the square, and realized he’d lost his attacker in the crowd. Tucking the pistol under one arm, he nonchalantly scanned the crowd for dark, turbaned figures. They were everywhere.

Well… he thought ruefully. So much for the value of profiling!

He came upon the outskirts of the public park, where a gasing playground had been constructed since his last visit to the city. He’d always enjoyed watching the traditional top spinning contests as a teenager, and had even tried his hand at it a few times. There was a huge crowd surrounding the playground, watching a striking match. The two contestants faced each other across the field, holding their five kilo wood and lead tops over one shoulder. They tossed simultaneously and pulled the cords with both hands to create a forceful spin. The sport required a considerable amount of upper body strength. Neither one of the competitors looked like someone he’d ever want to meet in a dark alley. Malcolm stepped up to the front of the crowd, watching in fascination as the heavy, rapidly rotating masses of wood and metal struck each other forcefully, causing one of the tops to be knocked aside and lose its spin. There was apparently some betting going on, for Malcolm saw money exchanging hands, and the loser looked terribly disappointed. Malcolm slipped his phase pistol back into its holster when he caught sight of a couple of the toughs who were running the bets giving him a wary eye.

Engrossed in the drama before him, Malcolm failed to take note of another, more substantial exchange of funds between a dark, turbaned figure and the largest, strongest, and most unpleasant looking competitor waiting in line to go on. The huge Malaysian took the field. Smiling in a friendly fashion, he walked the periphery of the arena as if he were looking for an assistant for his act. He pointed at Malcolm… a conspicuous figure in his non-native garb. The crowd roared its approval. Malcolm smiled at the man and shook his head, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally giving in good-naturedly to public pressure, Malcolm stepped out on the field.

The huge Malaysian made a point of painstakingly showing Malcolm how to throw one of the huge tops. Malcolm went along… earning laughter from the crowd at the idiot Englishman trying to do something he wasn’t suited for. Finally, his muscle-bound opponent seemed satisfied that he’d covered all of the essentials. He placed Malcolm on one side of the arena, and he took the other. They both lifted their tops. The Malaysian threw first, but instead of heading down toward the ground, the huge man’s five kilo top spun through the air like a missile, headed directly for Malcolm’s head.

Holding his own disc-shaped top over his head like a shield, Malcolm deflected his attacker’s deadly projectile, and then threw his own top with surprising skill, hitting the enormous Malaysian squarely in the solar plexus and knocking him to the ground. Phase pistol fire flared from the crowd, striking the ground beside Malcolm’s feet as he ducked and rolled. From the opposite side of the arena, a return blast of phase pistol fire took out his turbaned attacker, striking him precisely in the center of the forehead with a stun blast. Malcolm turned his head to see Hoshi, still holding the weapon that had stunned the assassin and surrounded by most of the Kota Baharu police force. He grinned at her. She gave him a triumphant smile in return.

He looks like James Bond in that white shirt, she realized suddenly. The police officers were surrounding him, congratulating him on his brilliant plan to capture the assassin. Hoshi was a bit miffed. It had been her idea to go back out with the police and save his butt… and she’d fired the shot that brought down the attacker! That figures… she thought with disgust. Here I am… the heroine of the hour… but since I’m a female in this male dominated country, where do I end up? She sighed. I’m the damned Bond girl!

Hoshi towel-dried her hair after a long, stress-relieving soak in the tub. At least, she’d intended the bath to be stress-relieving. Her stomach, unfortunately, was still in a knot after the day’s revelations.

I’ve got to go talk to him and clear the air, she thought reluctantly. Then her jaw tightened, and she began to get angry. If he really got that poor little Malaysian girl pregnant and then left her for four years, then he and his father deserve each other… and I’m outta here!

Hoshi threw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and left her room to find Malcolm. He wasn’t in his bedroom, so she headed toward the central part of the house. As she approached the library, she heard raised male voices. Malcolm and his father were arguing again. She could hear them both quite clearly through the door.

“Malcolm, I cannot believe that you would be so irresponsible as to fire live weapons in the streets of the town where I must make my living!” protested Stuart Reed’s cultured voice. His tone was patronizing, as if he were scolding a small boy for his misbehavior.

“I’m sorry, Father… but your reputation was not my first concern when I discovered that someone was trying to kill me,” responded Malcolm in an aggrieved tone.

“You should have let the police handle it, Malcolm. I’ll be dealing with this scandal for months!” replied his father.

“Well… pardon me for the inconvenience, Father… but I couldn’t very well just stand by while someone tried to kill both me and the woman I love!” shouted Malcolm.

Hoshi’s eyes filled with tears as she remembered the protective way that Malcolm had acted toward the Malaysian woman and her son when they’d come under fire. It was obvious to her which woman Malcolm was talking about.

“I wish you would be more discreet, Malcolm,” said Stuart Reed in a softer tone of voice. “You know I don’t approve of interracial relationships. Why must you flaunt your activities with this woman to my face?”

Malcolm laughed bitterly. “Oh, that’s just marvelous, Father! After the way you’ve betrayed Mother with everything in a skirt that will allow you access, you’re giving me a lecture about interracial relationships?... I can’t take this anymore. I’m going to pack and I’m leaving in the morning.”

The door to the library opened suddenly and Malcolm exited. Hoshi, caught eavesdropping, raised a tearstained face to his, and then turned without a word and fled down the hall back to her bedroom.

Malcolm started after her with a concerned look on his face. “Hoshi! Wait! What’s wrong?” he called as ran to catch up. He reached her bedroom door just as she did and stuck his foot in the door to prevent her from slamming it in his face. He pulled it open, stepped inside, and shut it behind him. He approached Hoshi, who stood in the center of the room looking at him furiously. He would have thought she was simply angry with him if she hadn’t also had tears freely streaming down her face. He stepped up to her and put his arms around her.

“What’s the matter, sweetness?” he whispered softly.

His gentle manner and obvious concern completely dissolved her anger, leaving nothing but her wounded feelings… and she began to sob in earnest. He led her to the bed, sat down with her, and simply held her.

“I know today was frightening for you, Hoshi,” he said to her quietly between her sobs. “I promise we’ll leave here tomorrow and go back to Starfleet headquarters’ secure compound for the remainder of our leave.” He sighed and held her more tightly. “All this has been my fault. I should have realized that I would be a potential target for the terrorists… I’m sure they’re trying to get an agent on board Enterprise. My job is the obvious choice. We’ll just have to be more careful.” He pulled back and made eye contact with her.

“Perhaps we should separate,” he told her with a reluctant smile. “I’m the target… You’re just on leave with the wrong fellow.”

Hoshi gazed back at him, calmer now. “Would you prefer that we split up?” she asked. “That way, you could go into hiding with Abdullah’s family and be able to spend more time with Fatimah.”

Malcolm gave her a puzzled look, and then laughed. “I should have known that if I left the two of you alone together for more than five minutes, you’d get her life history out of her!”

Hoshi smiled briefly and shrugged, allowing him to assume what he would from the gesture. Fatimah had actually been too frightened to say much of anything on the way to the police station, and shortly after their arrival she and her son been whisked away by her husband, a handsome young Malaysian who’d treated both of them with obvious concern and affection.

“No…,” continued Malcolm. “I’ve done all the visiting with Fatimah that I should do on this trip. She’s managed to find herself a fine Muslim man who loves her so much that he’s willing to overlook her past and raise her son as his own.” Malcolm smiled wistfully. “As much as I’d like to be a part of their lives, I don’t think his pride could take regular visits from me or any member of my family. There’s only so much you can expect a man to tolerate in the name of love!”

He looked at Hoshi seriously. “I also think it’s better for the boy to get a little older before he finds out who his biological father is… but I do intend to make sure Fazil gets the inheritance he’s entitled to… that I promise you!”

“Is that all fatherhood means to you? An inheritance?” asked Hoshi in amazement. Her anger was returning again in full force. “You’re actually willing to leave your son after seeing him only once, and quite possibly not see him again for another several years?”

Malcolm’s jaw dropped. “My son!” he repeated in amazement. “Hoshi… Fazil’s not my son! He’s my half-brother!”

It was Hoshi’s turn to look back at him with a stunned expression. “But you love Fatimah!”

“Well… of course I do! We grew up together. She’s like a sister to me,” Malcolm told her with an earnest expression. “After my father took advantage of her innocence, I nearly killed him! That’s why I left home the last time! Before I left, I tried to convince Abdullah and his wife to go to the authorities… but they were afraid of public opinion. My father has a lot of political influence in this country. They felt it was best to keep the assault within the family. I didn’t know he’d gotten her pregnant until we arrived a few days ago.” He shook his head with a wondering smile. “That boy could pass for me with a suntan at that age!... I never thought I’d ever have a brother!”

Hoshi’s expression changed to one of sudden realization. “So the woman you love that you told your father about… this interracial romance that offends him…?

“Is with you,” finished Malcolm with a rueful smile.

Hoshi searched his face. “I think I need to hear you say it, Malcolm,” she told him with a small, hopeful smile on her face.

He smiled back at her tenderly. “I love you, Hoshi Sato,” he said. “Wildly… madly… completely and without reservation.” He laughed at her expression. “Is that sufficient?”

Hoshi gave him a smile of pure joy. “It’s not too bad, for a start…,” she told him as she pulled his mouth down to hers and kissed him until his breath grew short. She pulled away.

“Um… by the way… I love you too,” she whispered.

Malcolm chuckled and pushed her backward onto the bed. “I may be a rather dense fellow when it comes to women…,” he told her softly, “… but I believe that I may have already figured that out for myself.”

Trip and T’Pol sat on the floor in the sitting area of the honeymoon suite. They faced each other on either side of the coffee table with a lit meditation candle between them. Trip could sense T’Pol’s improving control in the bond. They hadn’t taken the time to meditate as much as she usually required in the previous several days, and the emotional challenges of their leave time had been very difficult for her. She opened her eyes.

“Are you sure it’s been long enough, darlin’?” he asked her with a concerned expression.

“I have had sufficient meditation, husband,” T’Pol responded. She stood up smoothly and then sat on the couch, looking expectantly at Trip. “I would, however, like to ‘sit and visit a spell’,” she said, with a humorous lift of one brow. Trip chuckled, and then got up off the floor where he’d been sitting motionlessly opposite T’Pol for two hours. He stretched both arms over his head, and his back gave an audibly loud “pop”. He joined her on the couch, gathering her into his arms with a contented sigh.

After a few moments of silence, he chuckled softly. “I swear I think this couch still smells like booze after my dad slept on it a couple a’ nights ago. I wonder what made Mama so mad at him this time?”

“You were still resting when your mother came to retrieve him the following morning,” replied T’Pol. “She said nothing of her disagreement with him. She simply told him to get up and come with her, and he followed her without argument… She did apologize to me for the inconvenience, however.”

“He has been on his best behavior the past couple a’ days,” replied Trip. “I don’t think Mama’s completely forgiven him yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time.”

“Why does she continue to forgive him, when… logically,… she certainly must expect that he will at some point in the future once again behave in an inappropriate manner?”

Trip smiled and held T’Pol even more tightly in his arms. “That’s what Humans do when they love each other, darlin’…,” he told her softly. “They forgive each other.”

He kissed the top of her head. “You ready to go back to work?” he murmured.

“Our clothing is packed, and I have placed the phase pistols back in their case in preparation for the flight tomorrow,” replied T’Pol practically. They’d brought the pistols with them everywhere, as Malcolm had insisted… Trip’s in a leg holster and T’Pol’s in her hand bag. Both of them had been very relieved when they had not been required to use them.

Trip laughed at her. “You might wannna check between the sheets, in the bathroom, and under the bed for stray clothes… just in case,” he joked. “But that’s not really what I meant.”

He sighed. “It’s sure been awfully nice not to have to pretend we’re ‘just colleagues’ for a week. I’m sure gonna miss havin’ you in my bed… not to mention the swimmin’ lessons!”

“I will miss those things as well, t,hy’la, but I would much prefer to be with you on Enterprise… despite the need for subterfuge… than to be separated from you,” T’Pol replied. She rubbed her cheek against his chest as he held her in his arms.

“You don’t hafta worry about my parents givin’ away our secret, T’Pol. They know how important it is to keep our marriage outta the news.”

“I am not concerned, husband… I trust your parents,” she reassured him.

Trip leaned back on the couch and surveyed the room, admiring the elegant furniture. “This is sure a nice place Hoshi got for us…,” he said with his tongue in one cheek and a mischievous grin on his face. “…Only one problem though…” T’Pol raised an inquiring brow.

“Well… we tried out the bathroom… and that was real nice… and we spent alotta time in the bedroom… that was even nicer… but so far, all we’ve done in here is visit and meditate. Don’t ya think that… if we really wanna get our money’s worth… we should spend a little more time in this room, now? Sorta try it out ta see if it’s as much fun as the other rooms in here?”

“That would seem to be a logical use of our accommodations,” agreed T’Pol, “…but the upholstery of this couch does have a rather pungently alcoholic aroma.”

Trip smiled at her, and then led her to one of the beautiful wingback chairs facing the couch. He sat down, and then pulled her down facing him to straddle his lap. Lacing his fingers in her hair, he began to kiss her eagerly.

“How’s this?” he whispered into her mouth, smiling. She answered by reaching for the buttons on his shirt as she enthusiastically returned his kiss. Apparently, Hoshi wasn’t the only one with interesting ideas.

V’Las sat in his study, still facing the darkened vid screen and struggling to control the anger, frustration, and…he was forced to admit it… stark terror that the Human’s news had evoked. The Terra Prime operatives had failed abysmally. Not only had they not eliminated either target, but they’d alerted Malcolm Reed … an ex-covert operative!… to their presence. This would tremendously complicate the task that his allies still insisted he complete. He’d have to call in some favors and try to get an agent aboard Enterprise in whatever capacity he could find. Because the odds of a member of the maintenance crew or galley staff being able to get close enough to the informant to do the job without being discovered were minimal with Enterprise on full alert, he’d have to find a xenophobic fanatic… someone willing to give his or her life in order to eliminate one Vulcan. He had no doubt that he’d be able to find a Human fitting that description… but he was extremely reluctant to trust his life to someone so dangerously unstable and illogical. Unfortunately, it now appeared that he had run out of other options. V’Las sighed. It appeared to be time to set his affairs in order. It was no longer logical to delay. He very likely did not have much longer to live. First, though, he planned to call someone in the personnel office at Starfleet Command about crew assignments for Enterprise.



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