Extenuating Circumstances

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure drama romance virtual season


This story has been read by 544 people.
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This story is number 10 in the series Virtual Season Five

Extenuating Circumstances


By 2Distracted

Rating: PG-13 for sexual suggestiveness and violence
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, it all belongs to Paramount.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance, Angst
Summary: This is a sequel to my story, Forgiveness. Malcolm gets flack for his solution to the assassin problem. T’Pol is called back to Vulcan. On the way, she and Trip meet up with some old acquaintances and learn a lesson about understanding the actions of others.


Chief Minister T’Pau stood at the observation window of the detention facility, watching as Stel, the solemn young ex-Security Chief under the previous administration, underwent the close questioning required of all paroled prisoners before their return to Vulcan society. It would, of course, not be logical to release a felon back into society without some assurance that he or she would not choose to violate the law again. That is why Stel had been forced by the courts to undergo Kolinahr in order to purge himself of the illogical emotional responses that had evidently prompted his crimes. In the course of the ritual, a thorough medical evaluation had been performed. The prison physician, understanding immediately the danger he was in, concealed his findings from everyone except the Chief Minister herself. The Chief Minister had chosen to share the information with only one other.

Minister Kuvak was her elder by nearly fifty years, but he had been a moderate within the Vulcan High Command, and was now her trusted advisor on the High Council. He stood beside her, also studying the young man who was the subject of her interest.

“He appears entirely Vulcan,” murmured Kuvak.

“And so he now believes himself to be,” replied T’Pau. “The ritual was a success. The suggestion to seek out his confederates is so deeply implanted that it would require a mind meld of fatal intensity to reveal it.”

Kuvak turned to her and raised a brow. “Merely seek them out?” he asked softly.

“Our suggestion has been linked to his original instructions. I do not consider myself responsible for what will occur when he locates them. That is his responsibility… and the responsibility of his superiors within the Romulan hierarchy,” said T’Pau under her breath.

“A very fine moral line, Chief Minister,” replied Kuvak quietly.

It was T’Pau’s turn to raise a brow at him. “And would you suggest we do nothing while Romulan agents once again insinuate themselves into the highest echelons of our government, Minister Kuvak?”

“No, Chief Minister,” responded Kuvak. “You are, of course, correct. This is a most logical solution.”

V’Las sat at breakfast, sipping plomeek broth and reviewing the day’s news feeds on a portable reader. The most interesting news of late was the rash of deaths that had occurred within the ranks of Vulcan’s highest officials, all within the past several days. Although the method of the deaths varied, all had apparently been silently and efficiently killed in their own homes by some violent means. No powered weapons or anything that might have made enough noise to alert the household to the presence of an assassin had been used. Many were calling it a coincidence, for the victims seemed to have nothing in common. As the death toll mounted, however, V’Las could see a very obvious pattern. When he’d been notified by a Terra Prime connection in the colony on Second Chance that the second assassination attempt on the informant had also failed, and that the assassin had been killed, he’d begun to prepare himself for death. It was simply a matter of time now.

As V’Las finished the last of his plomeek broth, he began to feel his chest tighten. Gasping for air, he clutched at his chest and fell heavily to the floor, dropping the reader as he fell. He lay on the floor, wheezing painfully… Poison… he thought. The news feeds said nothing about poison…

He saw a pair of feet approaching, and looked upward. Stel’s impassive face staring down at him was the last thing he saw before losing consciousness. Then the seizures began. Within three minutes he was dead. Stel evinced no emotion at all as he bent to assure himself that this task was complete before proceeding with the remainder of his assignment.

Chief Minister T’Pau studied the document in her grasp, and then, with a hand that shook ever so slightly, placed it on the desk in front of her and looked at Kuvak with widened eyes.

“Ten, Minister Kuvak? Ten deaths in five days?”

Kuvak stared back at her impassively. “Apparently, your concerns about the widespread presence of Romulan sympathizers within the current government were well-founded, Chief Minister.”

“Autopsies were done, I assume?” she asked.

“Of course, Chief Minister.” he replied. “None of the victims were Romulan. Their personal effects and home computer records were all searched very thoroughly. We found evidence of recent tampering with computer records… especially in the case of ex-minister V’Las… but no incriminating evidence was found linking any of them to the Romulans or to the Seheik’uzh.”

“And Stel?”

“He is once again in custody, Chief Minister.”

T’Pau took a deep breath in an obvious attempt to regain control of her emotions.

“I must have more information concerning the Romulans and the threat that they pose to us,” she said thoughtfully. Her eyes met Kuvak’s decisively.

“I have not fared well with my recent requests from the Humans, Minister Kuvak. I would like you to contact their Admiral Gardner and request a copy of the briefing report concerning the encounter between the Romulan ship and the Enterprise. I would also like for you to once again request Commander T’Pol’s presence before the High Council. Inform him that recent developments within our government require further information which only she can provide.”

Captain Jonathan Archer surveyed the faces at the table in his ready room. Everyone appeared to be present. It was 0800 on the last day of their colonist transport assignment. To the relief of the entire crew, the modular living area had finally been dismantled and the components beamed down to the surface. Enterprise’s structural engineering staff was assisting the colonists with the construction of temporary living quarters using the components until more substantial houses could be built from the plentiful stone and lumber available to them on the planet’s surface. Archer was in some ways quite jealous of the colonists. They had managed to gain possession of some of the most beautiful real estate he’d ever seen. The challenge of taming the wilderness all around them would keep them very busy for generations to come… too busy to foment unrest and rebellion. It was a surprisingly merciful solution to Earth’s problem… and would eventually produce a colony world rich in exportable natural resources for Earth’s industries to exploit. He thought perhaps that was why Starfleet had been forced to go along with the plan. Large corporations had considerable political clout on Earth. It had even been some corporate PR guy’s bright idea to have Enterprise do the transporting… just to prove to everyone that Starfleet had no hard feelings toward the Terra Primers… as long as they kept to themselves. Sometimes Archer wondered whether corporate bureaucrats and the rest of humanity were even the same species… their thought processes were certainly alien enough to qualify.

“Good morning everyone,” he announced to the table at large. “I see that some of you are already in need of a vacation.”

Archer smiled and eyed Trip, who was rubbing his eyes and yawning. He looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. T’Pol had dark circles under her eyes as well, but otherwise showed no sign of fatigue. Archer dreaded her reaction to his upcoming announcement. He hoped she wouldn’t see it as a betrayal on the part of Starfleet and the Enterprise. Hoshi was her usual perky morning self … and Malcolm appeared relaxed and very satisfied with himself, as if he were mentally congratulating himself on a job well done. Archer eyed him for a moment. He still had questions concerning the events which had taken place two days before on the surface of the planet that had yet to be satisfactorily answered by the official report that his Chief Security Officer had presented to him.

“You will be pleased to know that we have another three weeks of uneventful travel ahead of us. Enough time for all of us to recover and prepare for our next assignment.” He paused for a moment, and then let the other shoe drop.

“We’re going to Vulcan.”

Subcommander Maec sat silently studying the image of the Enterprise on the forward view screen from his place in the command chair on the bridge of the cloaked stealth ship, Shiarrael. Enterprise was a tempting target, but his orders were clear. He was to recapture the Vulcan female that he’d so carelessly allowed to escape, or his career … and quite possibly his life… would be forfeit. His superiors had initially simply wanted her dead… but after two failed assassination attempts, it became obvious to them that someone who was surrounded day and night by such impenetrable security obviously was more valuable than they had initially realized. They wanted her captured and interrogated so that they could discover why the Humans were expending such an enormous amount of resources to keep her alive. As the Enterprise engaged her impulse engines and left orbit, the Shiarrael followed like an ominous shadow … matching her speed … invisible to her sensors … stalking her like a predatory animal waiting for the chance to bring down its prey.

Commander Trip Tucker was exhausted, and … after discovering that the Enterprise was heading back into the lion’s den toward a planet where his wife was under threat of death from a radical terrorist group … was in a mighty foul mood as well. The entire Engineering staff was by this point in their shift well aware of this fact, and were trying their best to steer clear of him.

“Dammit, Lieutenant!” he shouted to poor Janice Hess, who, as ranking officer below the commander, did not have the option of avoiding his company. “How many times do I hafta tell you that the intermix ratio has gotta be kept precisely within specs? Do you wanna blow us all to kingdom come?”

Lieutenant Hess looked down at the display to which he was angrily referring, and did notice a .001 deviation in the intermix ratio… not enough to make any difference in engine function at all. This fact was definitely not something she intended to mention to the commander in his present state of mind, however.

“Sorry, sir. I’ll get right on it,” was all she said, avoiding his eyes. She turned to the nearest console and immediately got to work. Commander Tucker, deprived of anything to be angry about, and lacking someone to express his frustration to, grabbed a tool kit and walked off in a huff to hide in an access corridor and repair something … anything … just as long as he didn’t have to deal with people anymore. Machines were just so much easier to deal with.

“Lieutenant, I called you in here to discuss your report concerning the incident on the planet. In my opinion, you are responsible for the death of a suspect who should have been taken into custody without difficulty,” said Archer sternly. He stood facing Malcolm in his ready room. They were alone.

“Excuse me for saying so, sir …,” Malcolm protested, “… but the man was a professional assassin. How can you say that?”

Archer crossed his arms. He did not appear pleased. “I seem to recall, Lieutenant, that the only reason I allowed you to pursue your plan was that you assured me that the assassin’s weapon would be deactivated, thereby reducing the risk to Commanders Tucker and T’Pol. Why, then, did the report that you presented afterwards indicate that the assassin’s body was found at the bottom of a ravine beside a perfectly functional plasma rifle?”

Malcolm straightened, and looked Archer directly in the eye. “Starfleet security regulations expressly prohibit firing upon an unarmed suspect, sir.”

Archer sighed. He leaned back against the conference table and eyed Malcolm with disapproval, saying nothing.

“Sir… may I say something?” Malcolm ventured as he stood at rigid attention with his gaze directed at the opposite wall.

“Go ahead, Lieutenant,” said Archer in a resigned tone of voice.

“I’d like to point out, sir, that it is quite fortunate for all of us that the assassin was not taken into custody. Holding him in our brig risked the entire ship. He’d already demonstrated an uncanny ability to get himself out of tricky situations… and even if we were able to keep him in custody, sir, I’m sure his employers would not have been willing to risk a public trial. With him in our brig, we would have been a target.” Malcolm kept his eyes focused on the wall as he said this. His face was impassive. Archer gave him a considering look.

“That very well may be the case, Lieutenant…,” he said under his breath, “… but you are a member of Starfleet security, and no longer an agent of Section 31. You do not have the authority to make those kinds of decisions.”

Malcolm met his eyes. “And who would you suggest does have the authority, sir… you?” he whispered in challenge.

Archer clenched his teeth. “You are insubordinate, Lieutenant. If I didn’t need your services to protect this ship, you’d be heading to the brig right now.”

Archer stood toe-to-toe with his Security Officer, staring him straight in the eye. Malcolm met his gaze evenly, with a calm and non-confrontational expression. Archer’s anger suddenly dissipated and he stepped back, rubbing the back of his neck and looking down in defeat.

“…But I do need you, Lieutenant… and I have no proof that you’ve broken any regulations.” He met Malcolm’s eyes again. “I know you believe that you did the right thing, Malcolm… and I can’t say I entirely disagree with you… but if … hypothetically speaking… a member of my crew was caught going rogue and killing a suspect that he’d been ordered to capture… I’d have to report that to the proper authorities,” said Archer.

“I realize that, sir. I wouldn’t expect you to act in any other manner,” replied Malcolm stiffly.

Archer sighed and nodded. “Very well, Lieutenant. You’re dismissed.” He watched Malcolm leave the room with a conflicted expression on his face, and then followed him out on to the bridge.

T’Pol sat on the floor in her dimly lit quarters facing a lit meditation candle. The captain’s decision to travel to Vulcan had taken her by surprise. He’d briefed her after his announcement concerning Chief Minister T’Pau’s personal request for her presence. For some reason, Starfleet was now disposed to allow the Vulcan High Council to question her as long as a Starfleet representative was present. Jonathan Archer had been designated that representative, and the decision was made. She understood the logic of it… keeping the Vulcans happy had the potential to benefit Starfleet in many ways… but she couldn’t help a feeling of dread over returning to a planet where at least one very dangerous organization had quite publicly demanded her death. The danger of the situation was not to her alone. She was concerned about the safety of the crew as a whole… and especially about the safety of one particular crew member with widely publicized ties to her… or at least rumors of ties. Thinking of him reminded her of the hour. Her husband was late for their meditation session. When she’d tried to call him in the bond, she’d realized the reason for the feeling of unease that had been with her all that day. He’d shielded his emotions so thoroughly that morning during the briefing in the captain’s ready room that she had not noticed his turmoil. Something was causing him great distress… and he was taking pains not to reveal his distress to his wife. She closed her eyes and located him. He was in Engineering. As she rose from the floor, intending to go to him and convince him to tell her what was troubling him… troubling him so much that he continued to bury himself in work over three hours after his scheduled work shift was over… her door chime rang.

T’Pol opened the door and found Lieutenant Reed standing in the hallway with what looked like a military helmet under one arm.

“Lieutenant,” she acknowledged blandly.

Malcolm straightened. “Good evening, Commander,” he said formally. “I have a matter of ship’s security to discuss with you.”

T’Pol raised a brow at him and stepped aside to allow him entry into her quarters. She had not been alone with him since entrusting him with highly sensitive data intended for Starfleet covert operations. Although she hadn’t identified herself as the source of the information, she was certain that he was intelligent enough to deduce her connection to it. The fact that he sought her out when she was alone in her quarters implied that he very likely wished to speak with her about a related issue.

“I’m pleased to see you look so well, Commander,” offered Malcolm. He noted the faint remnants of bruises surrounding her neck. Otherwise, she appeared outwardly to be back to her usual state of health.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” replied T’Pol formally. “I am quite recovered.”

She paused and looked at him then, waiting for him to state his business and be gone so that she could go to Trip. Somehow, he sensed her impatience. Pulling the helmet from beneath his arm, he indicated the sensor baffle attached to the left temple.

“As we are heading toward a planet where you are under threat of death, Commander, I’d like to make a suggestion that will help to insure your safety,” he began.

“There is no one on board now to threaten me, Lieutenant… I do not wish to reinstitute the guard on my quarters,” said T’Pol firmly.

Malcolm shook his head. “No, Ma’am… I don’t think that will be necessary… but since your vital signs are easily distinguishable from the rest of the crew, I do believe that there is considerable risk of abduction by matter transporter once we get within transport range of the planet. As you are well aware, there is more than one group on the surface of Vulcan who would like to have access to the information you carry in your head. What better way to get that information than to take you alive?”

T’Pol’s brow went up at that. “That is a possibility which I had not previously considered, Lieutenant… what precautions would you suggest?”

Malcolm handed her the helmet. “This has a sensor baffle in it which would prevent sensors from identifying you as Vulcan,” he said.

T’Pol lifted the bulky helmet and studied it… turning it in all directions. She placed it on her head. It was several sizes too large for her, and slipped down over her forehead, covering her eyes. She pushed up the brim of the helmet so that she could see again, and looked up at Malcolm.

“I don’t believe it would be possible for me to perform my duties while wearing this, Lieutenant,” she said seriously.

Malcolm suppressed a smile. She looked like a child playing dress-up in her father’s uniform. “I’m not suggesting that you wear it, Commander… but if you’re interested I can have Commander Tucker take a look at the sensor baffle to see if he can modify it… perhaps as a belt-carried device.”

T’Pol removed the helmet from her head and placed it on the desk in her quarters. “A most logical suggestion, Lieutenant,” she said approvingly. “You may leave the device with me. I will discuss the issue with him this evening at our meditation session.”

Malcolm smiled briefly at her, and nodded, turning to go.

“Lieutenant?” T’Pol asked. She paused, trying to frame her offer properly. Captain Archer had been quite obviously furious with his Chief Security Officer that morning, and T’Pol felt certain that she knew the reason why.

Malcolm stopped and looked at her inquiringly.

“Do you require … assistance … with recent events … someone to discuss things with the captain?” she asked.

Malcolm’s eyes widened. The ship’s First Officer was offering to intercede for him with the captain … an action that might very well implicate her in the death of the assassin if the captain found any evidence of Malcolm’s flagrant violation of Starfleet security protocol.

He smiled in sincere gratitude, and shook his head. “I don’t believe that will be necessary, but thank you for the offer, Commander.”

T’Pol gazed into his eyes with respect. “No, Lieutenant … I should be the one thanking you … for everything.” She extended her right hand toward him stiffly.

Malcolm eyed her in amazement as he took her hand and shook it firmly. He gave her an embarrassed smile as she released his hand, and then turned and left her quarters, shaking his head in puzzlement.

I will never understand that woman! he thought as he walked toward the dining hall to meet Hoshi for dinner.

T’Pol entered Engineering. Beta shift was on duty, and the lights were dimmed slightly in the shipboard version of artificial night. She located her husband … or at least located his feet and lower legs as they protruded out from beneath the warp coil assembly.

Trip? she inquired silently. It is time for the evening meal.

There was no answer. He was blocking her completely.

“Commander Tucker!” she said in a more than mildly aggrieved tone.

Trip Tucker slid out from beneath the warp coils. He was covered in grease and various other noxious fluids.

“Can I help ya with somethin’, Commander?” he asked impatiently.

She stopped and looked at him for a moment in puzzlement. He hadn’t seemed angry with her the last time they’d been alone, so why was he refusing to allow her access to his emotions?

“We have a standing appointment at 1800 hours, Commander,” she told him. I miss you, t’hy’la, she sent. The engines can wait until the morning. Please come and dine with me.

His expression softened as her message found its way through his barriers. His state of mind leaked through for just a moment, and she could sense grief… and a feeling of betrayal. She decided then and there that she was not going to take no for an answer.

T’Pol looked around her. Seeing no other crew members in their immediate vicinity, she risked physical contact. Reaching down to grasp her exhausted husband by both hands, she pulled him rapidly to his feet, turned him around, and, pushing him firmly in the small of the back, quick-marched him toward the door.

Trip felt like a child being sent to his room. Sometimes I forget how strong she is! he thought as he walked quickly ahead of her. He hadn’t been angry with her before, but her almost parental treatment of him was starting to get on his nerves.

“Okay … Okay … I’m goin’!” he protested under his breath. T’Pol followed him like a shadow all the way to the dining hall.

Hoshi sat alone with Malcolm at an out of the way table in the dining hall. It was late for an evening meal, and the lights were dimmed. It would have been an ideally romantic setting … if Hoshi had been paying any attention to him at all.

“What do you suppose is going on?” she whispered to Malcolm as she sat with her eyes fixed on the two commanders at the table across the room.

“Hoshi … what are you talking about?” asked Malcolm in puzzled frustration. Commanders Tucker and T’Pol were sitting across the table from each other having a quiet conversation. Commander Tucker looked a bit aggravated … but then he often looked that way in the Vulcan’s presence.

“They’re just sitting there talking,” said Malcolm. “What makes you think something is going on?” His eyes followed Hoshi’s, trying to figure out what she was referring to.

“That’s just it, Malcolm …,” Hoshi softly replied, her brow wrinkling in bewilderment as she gazed at the couple. “They never talk to each other in the dining hall … all they ever do is just sit there and eat.”

Malcolm’s eyes widened in understanding. Hoshi was right. As a matter of fact, he hadn’t seen the two of them engaged in an obviously private conversation in public for months. Anything they discussed in public now seemed to be solely related to their duties. His eyes returned to his two superior officers, who were now quite blatantly in the throes of a very public, rather spectacular argument.

“Why can’t ya just leave me alone?” Commander Tucker shouted. “Yer not my damn mama, T’Pol… so stop trying ta act like one! I’m a grown man! I can take care of myself!”

“I will treat you as a responsible adult when you begin to act like one, Mister Tucker,” came T’Pol’s deadpan and pithy reply. Her voice never rose above her usual conversational tone, but the bland iciness of her expression conveyed her anger just as effectively as Commander Tucker’s shouting conveyed his.

Malcolm and Hoshi both winced, exchanging looks of alarm. They watched as Commander Tucker pushed back noisily from the table and stormed out of the dining hall. T’Pol sat for a moment, watching him leave in apparent disbelief, then got up and followed him out with a determined expression on her face.

The Shiarrael, still cloaked, matched Enterprise’s speed and course precisely. If it had been possible for the sensors on the Earth ship to detect her, they would likely have mistaken her for a sensor malfunction… a reflection effect caused by subspace distortion.

“I have a transporter lock on the Vulcan, Subcommander,” said Centurion Vrih from the weapons console. “Should I bring her aboard?”

“Wait until she is alone, Centurion,” replied Subcommander Maec. “When we decloak to bring her aboard, fire disruptors at their engines. Enterprise’s captain will no doubt believe we are attacking his ship. The longer it takes for him to discover that his First Officer is missing, the longer he will believe that we remain in the vicinity waiting to attack. That belief will slow their pursuit efforts.”

He turned to the young centurion manning the helm. “As soon as the Vulcan is aboard, helmsman, go immediately to maximum warp toward Romulus.”

The solemn young Romulan nodded in understanding, and then turned his attention back to the helm.

Trip Tucker strode rapidly across the dining hall, blinking back tears and heading straight for his quarters.

Dunno what’s the matter with me … but I’ve gotta get outa here before I start bawlin’ like a baby in front of the entire crew! he thought.

He could sense T’Pol’s embarrassment, shock, and genuine concern in the bond from where she still sat at the table trying to figure out why he’d exploded on her like that in public. The trouble was, he wasn’t even sure why he’d done it. And now he felt even worse… his guilt over causing her emotional upset was just confusing him even more. Mixed in with the confusion was anger. He was mad at his parents for betraying him, mad at T’Pol for treating him just like his mother did, and mad at the captain for agreeing to go back to Vulcan. As a matter of fact, he was just generally pissed off at everything and everyone around him… and what made him even angrier was the fact that there was absolutely nothing he could do about any of it.

“Commander Tucker!” T’Pol’s voice rang authoritatively down the corridor from behind him as he walked. He ignored her.

Trip! Please! came her silent plea. He was so upset that he’d lowered his mental shielding. Her desperate concern for him and her confusion about his behavior came in loud and clear. He stopped in his tracks almost involuntarily and waited for her to catch up without looking at her.

“We need to discuss this,” she said quietly as she reached his side and a member of the crew shouldered past them in the dimly lit corridor. “May I suggest a meditation session in my quarters?” She gave him a sidelong glance.

I don’t understand what’s wrong, thy’la …, she added mentally, … but if I have done or said something to offend you, it was unintentional … and I am sorry.

Trip closed his eyes, on the verge of tears again. She could sense his remorse mixed in with the unreasoning fury that she’d felt from him in the dining hall. They entered the turbolift. As the doors closed, he reached for her and pulled her into his arms. She returned his embrace without hesitation.

I’m so sorry, darlin’ …, he sent repentantly, It’s not you … it’s me. He held her tightly until the turbolift came to a stop, and then stepped away from her to a respectable distance as they walked side by side down the hallway to her quarters.

T’Pol waited for him to follow her in before she closed and locked the door. Then she took him gently by the hand and pulled him down to the meditation cushions. As soon as they had reached the privacy of her room, tears had begun to silently stream down Trip’s cheeks. He seemed unable to explain why he was in such pain as he looked deeply into her eyes in apology.

“Something is distressing you,” said T’Pol as she caressed his tear-stained cheek gently. “Will you tell me about it so that I may help you?” Her eyes searched his face, and he felt her warm affection and her concern for him in the bond.

His mouth opened … and then he closed it again. It was then that she felt his fear. He was afraid to tell her … afraid of how she would react. T’Pol closed her eyes in regret. He had seen the violence she kept hidden within herself … the violence which would have allowed her to kill a man with her bare hands had Trip not intervened … and now he was afraid of her.

She opened her eyes again and reached out a hand to the mind meld contact points on his left temple.

You have nothing to fear from me, t’hy’la … let me show you, she sent.

T’Pol opened her mind to him completely, presenting her feelings to him openly and without reservation. Her own unique combination of possessiveness, tender protectiveness, and physical desire … indistinguishable in Trip’s mind from human love, surrounded him and buoyed his spirit. His tears fell freely as he opened his mind to her and allowed her to see what was causing his distress. He winced as her righteous anger over what his parents had done to him… over their betrayal of him and his trust of them… burned within her. When she recognized his true fear… that revealing his parents’ betrayal would destroy any hope of eventual affection between T’Pol and his father and mother… she controlled her fury for his sake, and pulled out of the meld to spare him the worst of her negative emotions.

“Is this why you have been blocking me today?” she asked him gently as she wiped the tears from his face.

He smiled tearfully at her. “I was afraid you’d hate ‘em now… and that you’d sense how mad I was at ‘em and think they had hurt me… and ya know how ya get when ya think somebody’s hurt me!” He laughed ruefully and looked at her in complete bewilderment. “And I felt awful about you findin’ out that my dad had given out information that might’ve killed ya, and then realizin’ that I was really tryin’ hard to forgive him … ‘cause he’s sick, y’know … but you coulda died, T’Pol … so maybe I shouldn’t forgive him ….”

T’Pol placed a hand gently on his lips to stop the confused jumble of words flowing from Trip’s mouth.

“And then I treated you as a parent might treat a child, and you became just as angry with me as you have been with your own parents,” she finished succinctly.

Trip’s eyes widened slightly, as if that explanation for his public outburst in the dining hall had not occurred to him. He looked at her in sudden realization.

“Y’know … I think ya might be right!” he told her.

T’Pol sighed. She made eye contact with him then and said, “I will make an effort in the future not to behave in an excessively maternal manner with you if you will promise to call your parents and attempt to settle this with them.”

Trip shook his head. “Mom said Dad won’t be home for another week. Besides … There’s no way I can call my dad when I feel like this about what he did, T’Pol … I’ll just end up cussin’ him out.”

“Perhaps that is what he requires,” T’Pol replied dryly. As a Vulcan, she would not be allowed the luxury, but she found herself wanting to be present when Trip did so. She had a feeling that both she and Trip would find the experience satisfying. Trip caught her fleeting wish in the bond and chuckled.

“Well, if anybody deserves to cuss out my dad, darlin’… I sure think you oughta be first in line!”

“Actually…,” T’Pol said thoughtfully. “… considering what your father lost at the hands of non-Humans and the well-known suggestibility of Humans under the influence of alcohol, I find your father’s pro-Terra Prime sentiments not unexpected under the circumstances… and he did, after all, correct his error when he discovered that I was not the threat to his son that he supposed me to be.”

Trip’s jaw dropped at her conciliatory tone. She’s a hell of a lot more forgivin’ than I would be in her shoes! he thought. Then he caught a trace of the protectiveness and anger that she was suppressing … and winced.

“I am less distressed by your father’s behavior toward me than I am by the pain that both of your parents have caused you. I believe that I would like to speak with both of them after you have had the opportunity to discuss this with them,” she finished. Trip smiled weakly. His parents were sure in for it now!

“As we apparently will not be able to discuss this with your parents for several days, may I suggest meditation as a means to reduce your distress in the interim?” T’Pol asked.

Trip grinned wryly, and then settled himself on the meditation cushion facing her across the low table in the center of the floor.

“Okay, darlin’… but only if I get to pick what we do tomorrow night to help us feel better,” he replied with a suggestive smile.

“It is early yet,” said T’Pol, raising a brow at him in amusement. “Perhaps we will have time for your choice of activity later this evening … but first … we meditate.”

Trip sighed. He hated when she was right. He closed his eyes and focused on his breathing.

Maec stirred in his bed, awakened by Nuhir’s soft caresses as she traced the line of his jaw and the outline of one ear with two fingers. He sat up, baring himself from the waist up.

“I have come to report that the Vulcan remains in her quarters with the Human, Subcommander, and so we have not attempted her transport yet,” she whispered with a smile.

“You awakened me to tell me this useless piece of information, Centurion?” he responded softly with mock disapproval as he returned her caress with one of his own.

“No, Subcommander,” she responded as she removed her uniform in the darkness. “I awakened you for this.”

Nuhir slipped between the sheets and pressed her strong young body against his. He responded to her overtures by rolling on top of her, pinning her to the bed. The young centurion had surprised him in his quarters for the first time the evening following the disappearance of the Vulcan prisoner. She’d somehow sensed his arousal, and intended to be the one to satisfy it. He hadn’t refused her. Since that night, she’d offered herself repeatedly to him, and he’d never told her no. He found her youth and beauty appealing, and her obvious admiration of his power refreshing.

“You should be on duty, Centurion,” he said quietly as he pressed his hips against hers.

“I am, Subcommander,” she replied as she caressed his naked back. “I am delivering a status report to my commanding officer.”

Maec’s lips twitched in a brief smile in the darkness. Nuhir’s interpretation of exactly what her duties entailed was certainly unique, but he found no reason to complain.

“Carry on, then, Centurion,” he said with amusement. She enthusiastically did so.

The dining hall was deserted. Malcolm and Hoshi had deliberately lingered over their meal, enjoying the opportunity for conversation that their isolated table provided. After Commander Tucker’s outburst and noisy departure… closely followed by Commander T’Pol’s hasty retreat … the remainder of the dining hall had broken out once again in wild speculation about the nature of the engineer’s relationship with the Vulcan Science Officer. Hoshi had overheard everything from assumptions of an upcoming physical confrontation between them … there were bets made at that table about the severity of Commander Tucker’s injuries … to a statement made about how much their argument resembled the arguments one crew member’s parents used to have when he was a child.

“The rumor mill is grinding again,” said Hoshi softly over her dish of chocolate ice cream. “It may be a while before they’ll be able to live this down.”

“Everyone seems to be angry and on edge now that the captain has agreed to go to Vulcan,” replied Malcolm as he took a bite of his pineapple sherbet.

“Is that why the captain was so angry with you this morning?” asked Hoshi innocently. She put a spoon with a large bite of ice cream into her mouth upside down, and then pulled it out again, the ice cream only half gone. Malcolm’s eyes followed the spoon as she put it back into her mouth and thoroughly licked it clean with obvious enjoyment. He’d never wanted to be a spoon so much in his entire life.

“Umm … no …” he responded with a distracted expression. “He was upset with how I handled the situation with the fugitive … said I should have been able to capture him alive.”

He grasped Hoshi’s hand as she brought her spoon up toward her lips again, and brought it to his own mouth, stealing a bite of her ice cream. Smiling at him, she reached for his spoon and stole some of his in retaliation, puckering a bit at its tartness after the cloying sweetness of the chocolate.

“Why didn’t you?” she whispered, licking the sherbet from her lips.

Malcolm, his eyes riveted on her lips, wasn’t paying attention.

“Why didn’t I what?” he whispered back. He leaned forward and touched his lips to hers gently. She could taste the chocolate he’d stolen from her. She pulled back slightly to look him in the eye.

“Take him alive?” she finished. She leaned forward and kissed him again, open mouthed this time. It occurred to him that chocolate and pineapple were a wonderful combination.

“Didn’t want to,” he answered without thinking as he deepened the kiss. Hoshi stiffened and pulled away, eyeing him in disbelief.

“You mean you could have and you chose to kill him instead,” she clarified.

Malcolm sighed in frustration. Of all the times to speak without thinking! he thought ruefully.

“He was dangerous to the entire ship as long as he was alive, Hoshi,” he explained. “I was just doing my job.”

Hoshi’s brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “If you were following the captain’s orders, then why was he angry with you?” she asked.

Malcolm grimaced and shrugged. “He wasn’t exactly aware of my intentions,” he told her.

Hoshi sat back, crossed her arms, and stared at Malcolm angrily. “So … let me get this straight,” she told him. “Against the captain’s orders to the contrary, you took it upon yourself to kill a man instead of bringing him to justice?”

Malcolm looked at her earnestly. “Hoshi … you don’t understand … the man was a professional assassin. His presence endangered all of us. He didn’t deserve to live!”

Hoshi pushed back from the table and stood up. “That very well may have been the case, Malcolm … but you should have let the courts decide.” She was so angry with him …. and so disappointed … that she had tears in her eyes. “If you’re capable of doing something like this … then maybe you’re not the man I thought you were.”

Malcolm shook his head in amazement. “Hoshi … I’m no different now than when we were running for our lives in Malaysia. You didn’t seem to have a problem with my actions when your life was in danger. I’m Starfleet security … I carry a weapon and shoot at things. That’s what I do for a living! If you can’t understand why I had to do what I did when we had an assassin threatening the lives of everyone on this ship, then maybe you’re not the person I thought you were either!”

Hoshi looked at him in shock for a moment. Then she burst into tears and ran out of the dining hall. Malcolm watched her go with a helpless look on his face. He sat alone at the table for the next hour, glumly watching the rest of the ice cream melt.

Centurion Vrih, pulling a double shift at his own insistence because he wanted to be certain that there would be no mistakes this time, looked up as Centurion Nuhir stepped back on to the bridge. He checked his chronometer. It had required three hours for her to deliver a simple status report. He sighed. The subcommander was a fortunate man. His eyes followed the communications officer as she returned to her post, smoothing her uniform over her considerable attributes as she sat once again in her seat. She met his eyes with a questioning look, and he hurriedly returned his gaze to the sensors. To his surprise, the Vulcan was now alone in her quarters. He activated the transporter and beamed her directly from her quarters into the holding cell on the Shiarrael. The subcommander would be pleased. As the Shiarrael decloaked to bring the Vulcan aboard, he fired disruptors at the Enterprise’s starboard warp nacelle. His sensors registered a direct hit as he recloaked. The helmsman, as ordered, immediately set a course for Romulus at maximum warp.

Trip woke to the alarm at 0500 with T’Pol’s warm, silk-clad body in his arms. He groaned softly and pulled her more securely to his chest, burying his face in her hair and ignoring the alarm. She wriggled closer to him in the bed, and turned to put her arms around him.

Good morning, t’hy’la, she sent sleepily. He felt her regret before she sent, You must get up if you are to return to your quarters before the halls become crowded.

“Mmmm…,” he mumbled aloud. “Don’t wanna get up… you feel too good.”

He sensed T’Pol’s agreement with that sentiment. Neither of them had gotten as much sleep as they should have… and not because of any difficulty sleeping. They’d simply had other activities to engage in that had proven to be a great deal more satisfying than slumber. Trip also felt T’Pol’s concern over the crew’s reaction to their display in the mess hall the night before, and realized that now was not the time for either of them to be caught in a compromising position. He sighed, and then sat up and rolled out of the bed. As he was putting on his filthy uniform from the day before, he noticed the helmet that Malcolm had offered to T’Pol.

“Malcolm told me about this sensor baffle, but I hadn’t had a chance to look at it yet,” he told her as he turned the helmet around in his hand. He reached inside the helmet and flipped a toggle switch. The sensor baffle unit warmed slightly in his hand, but made no sound. He slipped the helmet on his head jokingly. It fit perfectly.

“How do I look?” he asked her with a teasing smile.

T’Pol raised a brow at him, sitting up in bed. “Perhaps you should consider wearing it,” she said dryly. “It might at least protect your head from damage the next time you fall off the catwalk in Engineering or get shot at on your next away mission.”

He chuckled at her joke and reached to remove the helmet when he heard a low hum, and saw the outline of T’Pol’s body begin to fuzz. Without thinking, he launched himself into the bed, landing on top of his wife and placing his arms around her protectively. Both of them vanished in a column of particulate haze. The instant that they dematerialized, the tactical alert siren sounded. Enterprise was under attack.

The two of them rematerialized on top of a narrow bunk inside what appeared to be a holding cell. Trip’s head came up as he scanned the room. They were alone. He sensed sudden alarm from T’Pol as she lay beneath him doing her own survey of the chamber over his shoulder. Without warning, she slapped him across the face and pushed him forcefully away from her by planting a foot in his abdomen and shoving. He flew halfway across the room and landed on his back on the decking. The helmet he still wore was the only thing that protected his head from coming into painful contact with the metal floor of the cell. He put a hand to his reddened cheek. The blow had had little force to it, but the impact of her cupped palm on the side of his face had been theatrically loud inside the closed room. He looked at her in puzzlement. He sensed no anger from her… only urgency and a feeling of apology… before she explained.

We are on a Romulan ship, she sent succinctly. If our captors discover that we are mates, they will use us against each other.

Trip’s eyes widened in understanding, and his face took on an uncharacteristically sullen and angry look as he got up from the floor and backed away from T’Pol with exaggerated caution. He could feel her amusement at his uncanny acting ability. Glancing at T’Pol periodically as if he didn’t trust her, he made a circle of the room, examining it carefully for weaknesses. He saw evidence of relatively recent repair work all around him, and the cell door had deep dents in it. The dents were in pairs, and were precisely the correct size to have been made by T’Pol’s deceptively dainty fists. Trip ran his fingers over them lightly. He felt T’Pol’s barriers go up as she blocked the emotions elicited by her current predicament.

I’m here this time, darlin’, Trip sent without looking at her. He communicated comfort and sympathy through the bond. He felt her emotional turmoil settle, and her mind return once again to its usual calm precision in the face of imminent danger. His survey of the room completed, he sat back against the corner of the room farthest from where T’Pol was sitting and eyed her warily. As he continued the outward charade, the wheels of his analytical mind were turning. His eyes met T’Pol’s as he came to a decision.

I think I may have figured out a way to get us outta here, he sent, … but I don’t think you’re gonna like it much.

Jonathan Archer walked rapidly on to the bridge from the turbolift. He was in uniform, but his hair was uncombed and his face unshaven. Lieutenant Reed followed immediately behind him, looking like he’d never been to bed at all. Lieutenant Sato, red-eyed and puffy-faced, avoided looking at Reed as she took her station. Archer turned to the beta-shift lieutenant who’d been in command.

“Status report, Lieutenant.”

The young officer looked slightly flustered as she gave her report.

“A Romulan ship materialized for just a few seconds, Captain. They fired on us and damaged our starboard warp nacelle, and then immediately recloaked. There was no time to return fire, sir.”

Archer turned to the weapons console.

“Damage report, Lieutenant,” he said to Reed, who was looking over internal sensor readings with a puzzled look on his face.

“The damage to the warp nacelle is significant, Captain…but reparable in my opinion. I am more concerned, though, by something else… Sensor logs picked up an energy signature during the attack that looks like a transporter signal.”

Archer looked at him in alarm. “Have we been boarded?” he asked.

“No, sir. Someone’s been beamed aboard the Romulan ship from Enterprise… and it looks like the transport was done from Commander T’Pol’s quarters.”

Archer finally noticed, then, that his First Officer was not at her station. His chest tightened in sudden concern.

“Send a security team to her quarters, Lieutenant.” He returned to the command chair and activated the comm.

“Archer to Engineering”

“Hess here, sir.”

The captain’s brows went up in surprise. “Where’s Commander Tucker, Lieutenant?”

“I’m not sure, sir. He hasn’t reported for duty yet,” she replied reluctantly.

Archer exhaled in frustration. There was no time to chase him down.

“You’re in charge, then, Lieutenant. See what you can do with the warp nacelle.”

“Yes, sir… I’ll get structural engineering on it right away, sir,” replied Hess.

“Get me a best estimate on repair time just as soon as you can, Lieutenant… Archer out.”

The captain turned to Lieutenant Reed, who continued to study the sensor logs. He looked up at Archer with a disbelieving look on his face.

“Neither Commander Tucker nor Commander T’Pol are on board, Captain. The Romulans appear to have taken them, and we have no way of tracking a cloaked ship. I don’t see how we’ll ever be able to find them, sir.”

Archer sat back in the command chair with a look of shock on his face. He looked blankly at the viewscreen for a moment, absorbing Malcolm’s news. Then he began to get angry.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to let those bastards steal my two closest friends without a fight, he thought grimly.

“Go over the sensor logs again, Mr. Reed… and have the leader of the security team which examined T’Pol’s quarters report to my ready room. I’m not ready to give up just yet.”

Subcommander Maec gazed through the observation window at his captives in resignation. Evidently, simply beaming the Vulcan aboard when she was alone had been too complex a task for the members of his crew. In all fairness to them, the Human was virtually invisible to sensors while wearing the helmet, but careful calibration would have at least revealed his presence, if not his species. Unfortunately, it was too late to concern themselves with that now. The Human was aboard, and they’d simply have to make the best of it.

Maec observed their interaction in puzzlement. The security recordings had shown them arriving entwined in an intimate embrace, the Human’s body draped protectively about the Vulcan’s minimally dressed form. Mere seconds after their arrival, however, the Vulcan had violently thrown the Human across the room in apparent revulsion. He could completely understand her distaste. The man was dressed in a filthy, stained uniform that looked as if it hadn’t been washed for days. The disheveled Human looked at the Vulcan with poorly disguised fear combined with obvious physical desire. Perhaps he had been in the process of attempting to force himself on her when they had been transported? In that case, perhaps the Vulcan would be disposed to cooperate in exchange for being protected from her would-be assailant. Maec turned to Centurion Sela, his medical officer.

“Instill the sedative,” he ordered brusquely. He still didn’t trust her, but, as there was no one else on board with sufficient training to take her place, he was forced to allow her to do her job… under very close supervision. For example, he’d required her to inhale a small amount of the sedative she was about to administer to reassure himself that it was harmless to Romulans… and Vulcans.

Sela glanced at his closed and impassive face before activating the controls. She’d had to be extremely cautious with the subcommander since the first incident with the Vulcan. He had no proof of her attempted betrayal, but if the Vulcan chose to reveal her role in previous events, it could seriously threaten her position on the Shiarrael, and perhaps even threaten her life. She couldn’t take direct action against the Vulcan, though, or the result would be even more catastrophic. Their superiors wanted the Vulcan alive.

Nuhir’s quick thinking had eliminated one of Sela’s planned methods of control, and Sela was quite sure that the stupid girl had absolutely no idea of the power she now held in her hands.

Perhaps I could control him by controlling her? Sela mused as she watched the Human keel over in the corner where he was sitting.

The Vulcan stood and faced the door, unaffected by the sedative. As the mist settled, Maec entered the room, unarmed as before, and faced the Vulcan. He had a portable translator programmed for the Vulcan language hanging on his belt.

“Commander T’Pol.” He greeted her with a polite and respectful nod, as if they were meeting socially instead of confronting each other as captor and decidedly underdressed captive. His eyes roamed her body, objectively admiring the attributes revealed by the silky sleep shirt and trousers that clung to her body like a second skin. Strangely, her presence did not seem to affect him as strongly as it once had… perhaps due to the recent thorough and enthusiastic satisfaction of his sexual appetites provided by young Nuhir.

“Subcommander,” The Vulcan responded dryly. Her eyes cut to the Human where he slumped in the corner. “A sedative?” she inquired. Her voice was bland… almost disinterested… but he sensed something unexpected. Concern, perhaps?

“I thought perhaps you would prefer a private discussion,” he replied. “He’ll awaken in a few hours.” T’Pol exhaled in relief. Maec couldn’t determine whether it was relief over the Human’s uninjured state, or relief that he was unconscious and she could finally speak freely.

“Your insight into my situation surprises me, Subcommander,” said T’Pol. “As you can see…,” she nodded to the grimy Human in the corner, “… I have been assigned a 24 hour guard detail. Starfleet no longer trusts me. Enterprise was enroute to Vulcan to hand me over to the High Council for trial on charges of espionage. No one believes my claim that I escaped from your ship without your assistance.” She straightened her shoulders and faced him squarely.

“I am formally requesting asylum, Subcommander. I wish to become a subject of the Romulan Empire.”

Captain Archer, Lieutenant Reed, and Crewman Morris, a fellow Englishman who’d led the security team that had thoroughly examined Commander T’Pol’s quarters, met at 1100 hours in the captain’s ready room to discuss the Enterprise’s chances of locating the Romulan ship and their two missing officers.

“I’ve found a discrepancy in the sensor logs, Captain,” said Malcolm. He brought up the log recording on the console in the ready room.

“If you’ll notice, up until this point, sensors register two life forms in Commander T’Pol’s quarters… one Vulcan, and one Human.”

Morris looked puzzled, and then he figured it out. “Commander Tucker?” he asked in disbelief.

Malcolm glanced at his subordinate briefly. “Presumably… but that’s confidential information, Morris,” he told him briskly.

“Of course, sir,” replied Morris with an embarrassed look.

“At this moment, only a few seconds from the transport …,” continued Malcolm, “… the sensors read only one life form… but no one left the commander’s quarters.”

Malcolm turned to Morris with an intense look. “Did you find a security assault team helmet with a sensor baffle on it in the commander’s quarters, Crewman?”

Morris looked puzzled. “No sir… why would the commander have one of …?”

Malcolm interrupted him with an excited look and turned to Archer, who had been following their exchange with a confused look on his face.

“I know how to find them, Captain!” Malcolm said triumphantly.

Trip Tucker woke with a splitting headache. His mouth felt full of cotton, and every muscle in his body ached from lying in one position for hours on the cold metal floor of the holding cell. Grasping his head in both hands, he noticed that his captors had taken the helmet from him… likely for further study. He opened his eyes. When he realized that he was alone in the holding cell, he panicked. Pulling himself to his feet with great effort, he made his way to the bunk and lay down to prevent the room from spinning around quite so rapidly. Then he closed his eyes and tried to make contact with his wife in the bond.

T’Pol? Are you okay? he sent.

I am well, t’hy’la, came her calm response. Everything is proceeding according to plan.

Trip could sense her concern over his discomfort.

Rest, now, she continued. I will have them bring you something for your pain, as well as food and water. Trip sighed and relaxed onto the hard bunk. As he fell into a natural sleep, he could sense T’Pol’s tender affection surrounding him like a warm blanket. He felt safe and secure.

Maec paused in his questioning as the Vulcan suddenly appeared distracted by something. Her face softened slightly and her eyes closed for a moment, and then she returned her attention to him. They were seated together in the war room near the Shiarrael’s bridge. An armed security guard stood behind the Vulcan’s chair, but she was unrestrained. Centurion Nuhir sat at Maec’s right hand, bearing formal witness to the Vulcan’s statement. Centurion Sela entered the room, bearing a hypospray in her right hand and a look of eagerness on her face. Maec glanced at her, and then faced T’Pol reluctantly.

“There is an additional formality we must observe, Commander,” he told the Vulcan. He nodded at Sela, who advanced quickly with the hypospray. T’Pol put up her hands in protest, and her guard pulled out his disruptor and held it to her head.

“I’m afraid my superiors will insist on a drug-assisted interrogation to prove that you are telling the truth,” said Maec.

T’pol remained absolutely still with her eyes fixed on the disruptor in the guard’s hand as Sela administered the hypospray into the side of her neck.

“What is the purpose of this agent?” she asked in a strangely calm voice as her speech began to slur slightly.

“It is a drug developed especially for the interrogation of Vulcan prisoners,” murmured Sela into her ear. The Romulan medic had an anticipatory smile on her face. “It will affect your centers of emotional control. If you fight it, you may do permanent damage to yourself, so I suggest that you cooperate,” she whispered.

As T’Pol felt the effects of the drug, her fear for Trip’s safety and her need to free him overrode all other considerations. Her guard, at Sela’s instruction, grasped both of her arms and pulled them firmly backwards against the sides of her chair as tears began to fall freely from her eyes.

“Why are you crying, T’Pol?” asked Sela with deceptive gentleness.

“I am afraid,” replied the Vulcan in a pitiful, childish voice.

Sela’s eyes met Maec’s, who was watching the display with a look of vague disgust on his face. “She is ready for interrogation, Subcommander,” said Sela with satisfaction. She was looking forward to this.

The Engineering crews had made quick work of the repairs on the warp nacelle, and, after Lieutenant Reed had modified Enterprise’s long range sensors so that they could pick up the homing beacon built into the security helmet that Commander Tucker had been wearing when he was transported onto the Romulan ship, the Enterprise began to track her quarry at maximum warp.

Malcolm Reed, finally off duty after pulling a double shift modifying the ship’s sensors, sat at a table in the dining hall polishing off a meal of bangers and mash with pineapple cake for dessert… his preferred comfort foods in times of stress. He looked up in surprise as a subdued Lieutenant Sato joined him at the table with a salad covered with a few chunks of chicken. He eyed her plate as he dipped a chunk of sausage into his mashed potatoes and carried the whole mess into his mouth in one bite. She picked at her meal as he chewed and swallowed.

“Is that all you’re going to eat?” he asked.

She smiled at him bleakly. “I’m not very hungry,” she replied.

He nodded, and then shoveled another bite into his mouth. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, and then met her eyes again. They had circles under them, as if she hadn’t been sleeping. He felt sympathy for her. He hadn’t been able to sleep very much either… and the cause was not entirely the abduction of the commanders.

He missed her. Although they hadn’t been seeing eye-to-eye recently, he found that her presence was a comfort, even when he knew that she disagreed with him.

“Are you all right?” he asked her softly, reaching across the table to place a gentle hand on hers. His eyes met hers with sincere concern. Her eyes brimmed with tears, which she determinedly blinked away. She turned her hand over and grasped his firmly.

“I am now,” she told him with a small, sorrowful smile. They finished their meal without breaking the grip, and then walked hand-in-hand to her quarters, ignoring the looks everyone gave them on the way. Hoshi opened the door, stood aside for Malcolm to enter, and then locked the door behind him. They had a lot to talk about.

Trip woke with a start. At first he thought he’d had a nightmare, but the feeling of suffocating terror that he’d awakened with was not fading as he regained consciousness. The fear was primal… overwhelming. He had the urge to curl in a ball and hide. He hyperventilated as he scanned the holding cell frantically with his eyes. He was still alone. He tried to locate T’Pol … to draw comfort from her in his terror … and realized to his horror that the overwhelming fear was coming from her. Gritting his teeth, he closed his eyes and mentally plunged directly into the center of the emotional maelstrom that the bond had become. He sought T’Pol’s logical, conscious mind within the onslaught of emotion, and found it behind a thick, almost impenetrable barrier … hiding.

I’m here, darlin’! he sent forcefully, trying to break through. Don’t panic … I’m still here.

Somehow, T’Pol sensed his presence from behind her mental fortress. Her protective walls came crashing down, and her mind merged with his in an attempt to run from the emotions that were destroying it. He cradled her consciousness within his own as a mother would cradle a precious infant, soothing her … loving her … taking the burden of emotion from her. He fought the core of fear that he bled from her mind, and forced it behind his own barriers where it could no longer harm her. He felt her become calmer … felt her control returning. Merged with her, he saw what she saw when she opened her eyes again.

Centurion Nuhir sat near her commanding officer, fascinated and repelled by the scene unfolding before her. She could see his discomfort with the situation on his face.

He admires this Vulcan, she thought with a stirring of jealousy. He doesn’t enjoy inflicting pain on her.

Maec turned then, and made eye contact with Nuhir. It was almost as if he were turning to her for support in his distress. The young centurion nodded briefly in encouragement. The subcommander appeared to regain control. He turned back to Sela, who was still looking at the prisoner with ill disguised glee.

“That will be all, Centurion. You are dismissed,” he told her firmly. Sela opened her mouth as if to protest, and then thought better of it as she took in his intransigent expression.

“Yes, Subcommander,” she muttered petulantly, giving the prisoner a final longing look before she left the room.

Maec sighed and leaned back in his chair. The atmosphere in the room was palpably less strained and hostile with the departure of the medic. He gazed almost sympathetically at the terrified Vulcan, who sat with her eyes tightly closed and tears streaming down her cheeks. She sobbed silently, with deep gasping breaths like a frightened child. As he watched, her sobs quieted, and she grew calmer. The subcommander nodded to her guard, indicating that he should release her arms. The solemn sub-centurion did so, stepping back slightly from the Vulcan’s chair.

“Now… Commander T’Pol …,” said Maec almost gently. “Tell me the truth about why you wish to defect to the Romulan Empire.”

T’Pol’s eyes snapped open. For a fraction of a second Nuhir saw fury there, and then the prisoner was in motion. She ducked to the right, rolling out of her chair, and pulled her guard’s disruptor out of his holster. She stood, holding the disruptor to his head as she reached up to pinch him at the base of his neck. He dropped limply to the floor. When she turned to the pair who’d been sitting across the table from her, they were both standing, holding disruptors trained on her. T’Pol gazed coldly at both of them, and then deliberately pointed her disruptor at the beautiful young centurion at Maec’s side. She showed no evidence of fear. The transformation was dramatic … and frightening.

“It seems we are at an impasse,” said Maec dryly.

“On the contrary, Subcommander … You will do exactly as I say, or I will kill the Centurion,” replied T’Pol impassively.

“Commander …,” began Maec reasonably, “… You will die if you fire your weapon. You must know that.”

“I realize that, Subcommander,” said T’Pol, keeping her eyes fixed on Nuhir’s frightened face. Her weapon didn’t waver. “But leaving here alive is no longer my primary goal.” T’Pol seemed to wince then, as if she were fighting an internal battle. A moment later, her expression cleared. “My demands are quite simple. You will have the Human brought to the shuttle bay, and the shuttle prepped for launch. Then you will clear the corridor between this room and the shuttle bay, and I will escort both of you to the shuttle bay. I will release both of you when I see the shuttle safely beyond disruptor range. Afterwards, you may take me into custody.”

“And what makes you think that threatening this underling will force my hand?” demanded Maec coldly.

“You can’t fool me, Maec,” said T’Pol softly, “You forget that I have seen you… and touched you… before.”

Nuhir made eye contact with T’Pol in challenge over possession of her lover, and then glanced at Maec. He seemed to be struggling with an unidentified emotion… embarrassment, perhaps?

“The odor of pheromones in this room intensified tremendously when this young woman entered it, Subcommander… and you were the source,” continued T’Pol. “She is either your lover, or you greatly wish her to be… and she will very shortly be dead unless you do as I ask. Give me your weapon.”

“Long range sensors have picked up the location of the helmet’s homing beacon, Captain,” said Lieutenant Reed in his clipped British accent. “We should arrive at its location in less than two hours, sir.”

“If we can see them, Lieutenant, we should assume that they can see us. Go to tactical alert… but silence the sirens, please. Two hours is a long time,” replied Archer half-jokingly.

“Yes, sir.” replied Reed with a good-natured smile.

Trip paced the holding cell frantically. When he’d realized what T’Pol intended to do… how she planned to sacrifice herself for him … he’d protested so forcefully that she had been forced to cut him off from her mind in order to complete her task. Although her planned sacrifice was definitely not part of the plan that they’d agreed upon, he now regretted his instinctive reaction. If he hadn’t objected so violently, he might have had the opportunity to talk her out of her suicidal plan. He was hysterical with worry, now … not knowing if she were living or dead. He turned as the holding cell door opened. Two armed guards with pointed ears like Vulcans … Trip mentally reminded himself to discuss that particular detail with T’Pol if they ever got out of this alive… it seemed to him that it could be important … pointed their weapons at him and motioned for him to precede them down the corridor. They traveled down the deserted hallway to the shuttle bay, where it appeared that launch preparations were in progress. A moment after his arrival, a distinguished looking dark-haired Romulan entered the shuttle bay, followed by T’Pol, walking with her arm around the neck of a quite curvaceous young woman, and holding a disruptor to her head. His overwhelming relief at seeing his wife again inundated the bond. She didn’t look at him, but he felt her reassurance, combined with her continued struggle to fight the effects of the interrogation drug that she’d been given. He tried to assist her again, but she blocked him.

Get in the shuttle, Commander, she sent firmly. That’s an order.

I’ll get in after you do, Commander, he sent back with equal force. She looked at him then. He could sense her frustration. He returned her gaze with the fabled Tucker stubbornness, crossed his arms over his chest, and planted his feet. He wasn’t going anywhere without her.

“The Human doesn’t trust that he’ll be allowed to leave safely,” said T’Pol aloud to Maec in Vulcan. “Have the guards put him into the shuttle.”

Maec barked out a command in Romulan, and the guards began to herd Trip into the shuttle at gunpoint. He looked back at T’Pol in panic.

Please do not resist, Trip, she sent. He felt her tenderness … and her profound regret at saying goodbye. Be careful … and stay safe, ashayam.

As the two guards and the agitated human passed within a meter of the unarmed Romulan subcommander, Trip spun toward him and locked an arm around his neck, using his body as a shield. With desperate strength, he throttled the older man, shouting defiantly, “I’ll break his neck! I swear I will!” No one else in the shuttle bay spoke English, but the Human’s intent was clear. The guards held their fire.

The Romulan’s face began to turn an interesting shade of blue-green as he gasped frantically for air. Trip backed into the shuttle. T’Pol followed closely behind, still holding firmly to Nuhir. They released their hostages simultaneously after the shuttle doors were closed and locked, and T’Pol held both Romulans at gun-point as Trip began the engine startup procedure. Hand disruptor fire, minimally effective against the shuttle’s hull plating, ricocheted from the walls of the shuttle bay.

Do you require assistance, Commander? sent T’Pol. He could feel her disapproval over his high risk behavior in the shuttle bay. She was not at all happy with the fact that he’d nearly gotten himself killed, but sensibly avoided expressing her displeasure while they were still in such a dangerous situation.

Don’t think so, darlin’, he replied. A shuttle engine’s a shuttle engine… The shuttle roared to life as he spoke, and he looked back at T’Pol with a heartbreakingly boyish smile of triumph.

The shuttle’s docking arm began to extend as the doors opened beneath them, depressurizing the shuttle bay. The security guards still present in the bay scrambled for the airlock, the last of them reaching safety mere seconds before the shuttle was launched. Trip accelerated to maximum speed, rolling to avoid the disruptor fire that he was sure would follow. As he circled, to his astonishment he saw the enormous bulk of the Enterprise, dwarfing the smaller Romulan vessel, take disruptor fire to the deck plating protecting its weapons array. As the shuttle reached a safe distance, the Enterprise returned fire. Trip turned toward the battle and powered up the shuttle’s weapons, intending to enter the fray and assist the Enterprise.

Nuhir sat against the storage lockers in the rear of the shuttle. The Human was preoccupied with piloting the shuttle, and both the Vulcan and the subcommander had their eyes fixed on the battle taking place around them. Nuhir crept forward slowly, unnoticed by the other occupants of the shuttle. She launched herself suddenly from the floor, grasping the disruptor with both hands and wresting it from the Vulcan’s grip with desperate strength. She pointed the weapon at the smaller woman, and said loudly, “Tell the Human to pull us out of the battle and give control of the helm to the Subcommander, or I will kill you.”

The Human stiffened and looked behind him in alarm at the sound of her voice. He took in the situation at a glance, although he understood neither Romulan nor the Vulcan translation produced by the device on the subcommander’s belt, and he immediately backed away from the controls. Nuhir exhaled in relief. She’d been correct in her assumption after all. The Human did have feelings for the Vulcan. Not only that, but based on the worried glance that the Vulcan shot toward the Human, odds were good that his feelings were reciprocated. This shed a whole new light on the situation. The Vulcan had been willing to give her life to assure the Human’s safety. Nuhir smiled. Now she had the upper hand.

The subcommander gave the young woman an approving smile before he walked to the front of the shuttle and took the controls. As he changed course and opened a channel to the Shiarrael, he saw the Earth vessel’s phase cannons score a direct hit to the Shiarrael’s warp core. The ship was effectively disabled, with no hope for escape. Over the shuttle’s open comm channel, Maec heard the captain of the Earth vessel call for the Shiarrael’s surrender. He closed his eyes, preparing for the worst. He knew very well what Vrih’s response would be to the Human’s demand. Opening his eyes, he forced himself to watch as his hard-won command… with all hands aboard save himself and Nuhir… exploded in an enormous fireball. The two non-Romulan occupants of the shuttle stopped and stared in complete shock.

“How could one shot cause such destruction?” whispered the Vulcan in dismay.

Nuhir and Maec exchanged glances. He looked regretfully at her. She returned his gaze with equal sorrow, and then nodded. Maec turned to the controls and entered a code into the shipboard computer. T’Pol noticed a countdown appear on the console screen in Romulan numerals, and realized suddenly what Maec was doing.

“Subcommander!” she said urgently. “This is not necessary! You and the centurion will be well-treated by the Humans. There is no need for drastic action!”

He ignored her, walking over to Nuhir and reaching two fingers toward the young woman’s cheek in an intimate caress… completely ignoring the other occupants of the shuttle in his attempt to say goodbye. Their eyes locked, and she lowered her weapon, reaching two fingers to his face as well. Tears filled her eyes as they embraced each other tenderly for the last time.

T’Pol moved immediately to the controls, trying frantically to shut off the self-destruct sequence that Maec had instituted. The code was in Romulan, and apparently unbreakable. Trip joined her at the console and activated the comm. As he communicated with Enterprise, he sent support and love to T’Pol in the bond, trying to help her keep the fear at bay as she rapidly cycled through possible code sequences looking for the correct combination of characters. The countdown continued. She was running out of time.

“One direct hit to their warp core shouldn’t have been enough to do that, Captain!” said Lieutenant Reed in horror as the flash from the Romulan ship’s annihilation faded. The view screen was once again transformed into a field of black studded by minute points of light.

“I’m receiving a hail from the Romulan shuttle, Captain,” said Lieutenant Sato. She listened for a moment, and then looked up in alarm. “The two commanders are on the shuttle, sir. They’re requesting immediate transport of all shuttle occupants.”

“The power couplings to the transporter were damaged in the attack, sir,” put in Lieutenant Reed. “I’m reading four occupants in the shuttle… We can take them two at a time.”

“If you can tell which two are ours, Mr. Reed… take them first,” ordered Archer.

Malcolm studied the sensor readings for a second. Commander Tucker’s life signs were obvious, but the other three shuttle occupants all looked like Vulcans. He took his best guess… the closest one to Tucker… , locked on, and energized. As soon as sensors registered a successful transport, he locked on to the second set of life signs, but before he could activate the transporter, the shuttle exploded violently. He exhaled heavily. He was not a religious man, but he found himself praying that he’d guessed correctly. He activated the comm to the transporter room.

“Bridge to transporter room… status report.”

There was a short delay, followed by an unusual noise… halfway between a scream and a laugh.

“Waaahooo! Mal! Ya did it, man! We’re back, and we’re okay!” came Commander Tucker’s distinctive drawl over the comm. The strained silence on the bridge was broken by laughter from the bridge crew as they involuntarily responded to the commander’s enthusiasm despite the tragedy that they’d just witnessed. There was a short pause over the comm as Trip realized that the other occupants of the shuttle were not going to materialize.

“Uh… Mal?” he asked hesitantly. “The others didn’t make it, did they?”

“No, Commander… I’m afraid they didn’t,” responded Malcolm reluctantly. “If they were friends of yours, sir… I’m very sorry.”

Trip laughed ruefully. “Not exactly friends, but it’s still a shame…” He sighed audibly. “It’s kind of a long story.”

“Report to Sickbay, Trip,” put in Archer. “After Phlox checks you both out, we’ll have plenty of time for you to tell us about it… and… welcome back,” he finished with a smile. “You’ve been missed.”

Trip and T’Pol sat facing each other on the floor of Trip’s quarters for a change. He didn’t have a meditation table, but a candle burned on the floor between them, and pillows from his bunk did double duty as meditation cushions. T’Pol opened her eyes. He could feel her surprise in the bond as she sensed his thoughts.

“You regret their deaths, despite what they would have done to us,” she said quietly.

He smiled and shrugged. “I’m not all broken up about it… I mean… it was their decision after all… but it did seem a shame to me,” he replied. He looked at T’Pol with a puzzled smile. “I was all ready ta hate the guy after what he’d done to ya, darlin’… but then I realized he was just doin’ his job… and when I saw him with the girl I started feelin’ sorry for him, y’know? He couldn’t help bein’ Romulan, after all.”

“It is true that there are times when circumstances justify behavior which would not under other circumstances be acceptable,” agreed T’Pol. She met his eyes squarely. “Perhaps this is something you could keep in mind when discussing things with your father this evening.”

Trip’s eyes widened as he took in what she was saying. As he opened his mouth to respond to her observation, the comm sounded.

“I have an incoming call for you from your parents, Commander.”

With his eyes still fixed on T’Pol’s, Trip answered absently, “I’ll take it in my quarters, Lieutenant.”

He stood and extended his hand. T’Pol took it and rose from the floor, turning with him to take a seat beside him in one of the two chairs set before the vid screen. He held her hand tightly as his parents’ faces appeared on the screen. It was time to talk.



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