Barriers to Communication

By Distracted

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure drama romance virtual season

Keywords:

This story has been read by 544 people.
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This story is number 11 in the series Virtual Season Five



Disclaimer: Still belongs to Paramount. Don’t sue.

Summary: This is a sequel to my story Extenuating Circumstances, and is part of my "Virtual Season 5" series. You get to read “The Talk”… as requested, T’Pol goes before the Vulcan High Council, and Malcolm gets to be a hero.


 

 

William Buchanan the Third, the CEO of Boeing-McDonnell-Douglas Aerospace Industries, Inc., was having a very bad day.

“What do you mean they located the cell in Houston? That was one of our largest sources of manpower on-planet!”

He sat behind his enormous real mahogany desk … constructed of probably the last and largest piece of wild harvested mahogany on Earth … and stared in dismay at the clean cut young Texan who faced him on the vid screen.

“There turned out to be an informant among ‘em, sir,” replied the young man in a polite, cultured drawl. “The whole lot of ‘em were taken inta custody this mornin’, and they’re expected ta be sent out with the next batch of colonists.”

Buchanan sighed and ran his fingers through steel-grey hair. “How many of our Warp Six Project agents are still uncompromised?” he asked reluctantly, as if he already knew the answer.

“They got ‘em all, sir,” admitted the Texan with a rueful grimace.

Buchanan sat back in his chair, rubbing his eyes with thumb and forefinger. The Warp Six Project Headquarters in Houston had security measures surrounding it that rivaled Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco. He was going to have considerable difficulty getting a saboteur in at this late date, and testing of the new engine was scheduled to begin in less than a month. If the project proceeded as planned under the control of the Vulcans, with their requirement of free distribution of the warp technology to every nation on Earth, his corporation, which had invested billions on research and development of the engine before the Vulcans had decided that they had to give it all away, would be virtually bankrupt. Getting the Vulcans to leave was an economic necessity. After Paxton’s abysmal failure, the best Buchanan could now hope for was to prevent the giveaway until he could do a better job at ousting the Vulcans.

“Intensify your recruiting efforts,” he ordered brusquely. “We need engineers and mechanics that can pass for native Texans.”

The young man nodded. “I remember Jackson sayin’ somethin’ about talkin’ up a retired engineer in Bay St. Louis before he got pulled in and deported. I think the guy’s name was Tacker … or maybe Tucker.”

Buchanan nodded. “Sounds like a good start, son. You keep me posted. We need replacements with impeccable qualifications within the week. I’ll take care of getting them into the complex.”


 

 

Charles Tucker Junior ran his hands through his graying hair and studied his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His grey-blonde curls were getting thin up top, and he had a lot more laugh lines on his face than he’d had a decade before. His blue eyes narrowed as he inspected the man in the mirror. He looked healthier now that he was sober. His eyes had lost their perpetual bloodshot color, and his face was lean rather than puffy, but he still looked grizzled and well worn.

You’re gettin’ old, he thought to himself, shaking his head with a sigh.

So why did he feel like a nervous teenager at the thought of facing his son, a son who was millions of miles away on a starship with no power over him except the power of his contempt?

“The connection’s made, Charles … the call should be comin’ through any second,” called Catherine from the next room.

Charles sighed. Here goes nothin’! he thought wryly as he left his hiding place and walked into the living room to take his seat next to his wife in front of the vid screen. When the screen came to life, he forced his face into a welcoming smile despite his fears. His smile faded again when he caught sight of the woman seated next to Trip. He reached for Catherine’s hand, seeking reassurance.

Trip gazed at them with a small, reluctant smile, as if he were happy to see them in spite of himself. T’Pol, on the other hand, had an expression on her face which was the image of rigid Vulcan disapproval. The beautiful young thing in the sundress was gone, replaced by a woman in uniform who was the embodiment of everything Charles had been taught by his Terra Prime associates to fear. He panicked for a moment, and was tempted to lean forward and sever the connection. Then he caught sight of her hand. Her fingers were interlaced with Trip’s on the arm of his chair in a white-knuckled grip. Her thumb gently, apparently unconsciously, stroked the back of his hand as if in reassurance. Charles’ eyes went to her face again and, instead of a Vulcan’s emotionless mask, he saw the face of a woman filled with righteous anger over a wrong done to her man. This change in his perception of her did little to comfort him. In some ways, confronting the Vulcan would have been easier than confronting the woman before him.

“Hey, Mama,” said Trip wistfully, smiling gently at Catherine, a smile of forgiveness. Then he turned his attention to the man at her side, looking him up and down. He nodded without smiling.

“Hey, Dad … you look good,” he told him.

“Just takin’ it one day at a time, son,” replied Charles. He stared back at his son, not knowing what to say. There was an awkward pause.

“I guess ya’ll have a lot ta talk about,” put in Catherine. She eyed her husband with an expectant look.

Charles cleared his throat. “Yeah … well … when we told the substance abuse counselor we were gonna do this, he offered to be here to facilitate.” He looked at Trip apologetically. “Your mama and I didn’t think that was such a good idea … what with certain confidential things that might come up in our discussion… so he gave me some suggestions ta make things go smoother …” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, consulted it briefly, and then looked back at the two of them reluctantly. “First, I’m supposed ta just sit here and let both of y’all say your piece … so why don’t ya just start by tellin’ me how ya feel, son.”

Trip’s eyes widened. He looked at his father in disbelief.

“Just like that, Dad?” he asked angrily. “I’m supposed ta just tell ya how I feel and then that’ll make it all better?” He clenched his teeth and looked away from the screen. T’Pol’s gaze followed his face as he looked down, fighting back tears. He looked up again with glistening eyes. His voice, when he spoke, shook with emotion.

“How the hell would you feel if you found out that your own father was a bigoted drunk who’d nearly got the woman you love murdered? ... I’m pissed as shit with you, you prejudiced sonofabitch!”

Charles inhaled deeply, and then exhaled. His eyes filled with moisture, but he said nothing. He merely nodded in acknowledgement, and continued to listen.

Tears fell in earnest from Trip’s eyes as he continued.

“T’Pol an’ I have talked about this a lot, and I guess I can see why you thought you were protectin’ me… but what I don’t understand is why you couldn’t trust me enough ta let me be the judge of who I should be with.” Trip looked at his father in bewilderment. “I’m not a kid anymore, Dad … I’m a grown man … and you didn’t even give me the courtesy of comin’ ta me with your suspicions before you informed on T’Pol! I know ya didn’t know how I felt about her at the time … but it seems ta me that ya couldn’t have had much respect for my intelligence if ya didn’t at least talk ta me first.” Trip looked pleadingly at his father, who still said nothing. Trip looked at T’Pol, who gazed back at him unblinkingly. He seemed to gain strength from her regard, and then turned back to the vid screen.

“I guess that’s all I have to say for now,” he finished.

Charles wiped tears from his eyes. He exhaled shakily, and then made reluctant eye contact with T’Pol.

“It’s your turn, ma’am,” he said.

T’Pol raised a brow at him. “Asking a Vulcan to speak of ‘feelings’ would seem to me to be a most illogical activity, Mr. Tucker … but in this instance, I believe that I do have something to contribute to the discussion,” she said in a frosty tone of voice.

“I have spent a great deal of time considering the circumstances in which you found yourself after the Xindi attack, and I find that, based on the information you had available to you at the time, I cannot fault your logic in mistrusting non-Humans and considering them to be a threat to your planet and to your son,” she began. Charles’ jaw dropped in stunned surprise at her statement.

“Vulcans do not speak of forgiveness as a rule, as the need for forgiveness requires an admission of the existence of guilt… which we, of course, do not admit to experiencing …” she said dryly. “…but I have recently discovered that receiving forgiveness can improve one’s clarity of thought and efficiency of action.” She met his eyes squarely. “I would therefore like to say that … from the standpoint of the portion of your behavior which affects me alone … I forgive you, Charles Tucker.”

Charles sat back in his chair, completely undone by her statement. Whatever reaction he’d expected from her, it certainly wasn’t this.

“But I am not the only person affected by your behavior, and though I may understand the logic behind your actions, I cannot forgive the pain that you have inflicted on the one person more valuable to me than my own life,” she continued.

Trip eyed her ruefully as she made this statement.

Charles nodded at her, and then waited silently.

“That is all I have to say,” finished T’Pol. She looked at Trip, who gripped her hand even more tightly.

Charles looked down at his paper again, and then met their eyes.

“Guess it’s my turn now,” he said. He looked away to collect his thoughts, and then addressed Trip.

“Son… I deserved every name you called me … and then some. I’m an ignorant old fool … but I’m a sober fool now, God willin’, and I’m learning somethin’ new every day. I can’t tell ya how sorry I am for what I did. No apology could ever make up for it. I was wrong about T’Pol and about Vulcans in general. I was wrong not ta trust ya, and I should have come to ya first. I don’t expect either of you ta forgive me or ta trust me just yet … but I hope that eventually I’ll be able ta prove ta both of you that I’ve changed.”

Charles then looked at T’Pol as if he still couldn’t quite believe what she’d said.

“Ma’am … don’t get me wrong … your forgiveness means a lot ta me … but don’t feel like ya have ta give it. What I did to ya was just plain awful, and most Humans would never be able ta forgive somethin’ like that. All I can say is that I’m more sorry than words can say… and that now that I know you I could never do somethin’ like that ta you, or any other Vulcan, for that matter. I promise that you can trust me to treat Trip with respect from now on. I never wanna hurt him again for as long as I live. You have my word on that, ma’am.”

T’Pol acknowledged his statement with a nod. Trip gave his father a small smile. Charles sighed in relief. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.

Catherine spoke into the silence.

“Trip, I want to apologize, too, darlin’,” she said. “Coverin’ up for your dad and ignorin’ his behavior had just become second nature to me, but I never shoulda done it. I’m gettin’ better with that, though. Just ask your dad!” She looked at Charles with a rueful smile.

Charles chuckled, and he looked at her fondly. “Yep! Shoulda seen her when we went out ta dinner last night! She came right out and fussed at me for flirtin’ with the waitress. All these years together, and I never knew how much that bothered her till last night!” Their eyes met with obvious affection.

Trip’s smile widened. It was starting to look like his dad was in for a very eye-opening experience. He wondered what bad habit his mom was going to start working on next.

“It’s gettin’ late for us, Dad, and we have to go to work in the mornin’,” said Trip. “Why don’t we all plan ta talk again in a coupla weeks?”

Charles wrapped his arm around Catherine’s shoulders as he noticed her bereft expression. He turned to Trip and T’Pol.

“We’d like that, son … call us anytime,” he said sincerely. “’Bye now… and thank you for sharin’ with us.” He gave them a last apologetic smile before he reached forward and cut the connection.

Charles looked down at his wife, who was still nestled in the crook of his arm.

“Well? How’d I do?” he asked her sadly.

She put a hand up to the side of his face and smiled gently. “You were honest, darlin’,” she replied. “It’s up to them now… but Trip’s a forgivin’ boy… especially since now he’s got somebody to show him how to do it!”

Charles chuckled in frank amazement. “Sure woulda never pegged her for the forgivin’ sort,” he replied. “Guess that goes ta show ya how much I know about Vulcans.”

“I don’t think forgiveness is a Vulcan trait, Charles …” replied Catherine thoughtfully. She met his eyes. “… but it’s certainly nice to know that she loves him so much that she’s willin’ to forgive you.” She embraced him with both arms, laying her head on his chest. “I think God’s just given us the precious gift of a daughter-in-law who’s devoted to our son. The fact that she’s Vulcan’s got nothin’ to do with it.”


 

 

Trip Tucker sat looking at the empty vid screen with his fingers still interlaced with T’Pol’s. She could sense his turmoil in the bond, his struggle to understand and forgive the man whom he loved so much, the one who’d hurt him so deeply.

“We should meditate now, t’hy’la. It will calm you,” she said softly.

Trip, startled from his reverie by the sound of her voice, looked at her as if he’d forgotten she was there. He smiled sadly at her.

“You’re always thinkin’ about me, darlin’,” he told her in a puzzled tone of voice. “Don’t ya ever think about what you need anymore?”

T’Pol gazed at him seriously. “Your welfare is more important to me,” she told him evenly. “Humans are fragile, and you require my protection.”

He laughed hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure if she were joking or not, and then his face sobered as he realized that she was entirely serious.

“T’Pol …,” he protested gently. “… You’re as bad as my dad! I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself.”

“I’m afraid your past history of injuries sustained while on away missions does not support that assertion, husband,” she responded dryly.

He looked at her in disbelief. “I thought your bein’ willin’ to give yourself to the Romulans to make sure they cut me loose was a side effect of that drug they gave ya that made you afraid of your own shadow… that you were too afraid I’d get killed ta risk our original plan … but that wasn’t it, was it? You really think you’re less valuable than me!”

“Your skills are more valuable to the Enterprise than mine are, that’s true… but that’s not the reason why I chose to act as I did,” she told him. “At the time when I made my decision to act, we had both been drugged, and neither of us were capable of hand-to-hand combat. Our original plan required both of us to engage in high-risk activity. I made a value judgment to prevent you from being killed.”

Gazing at him with wide, serious eyes, T’Pol raised the hand which was not clasped firmly with Trip’s up to the side of his face to stroke his cheek. He could sense her affection and protectiveness.

“The Romulans wanted me alive,” she said, “… but they had no such instructions concerning you. If we were both to be assured of living through our captivity, I had to prevent you from drawing their fire. I wished to be certain that you remained alive, even if it became necessary to separate myself from you.”

Trip looked at her in frustration. “Did it ever occur to you that I might not wanna be alive if I could never see you again?”

T’Pol regarded him with disapproval. “That is an illogical attitude, husband,” she told him firmly. “Living is always preferable to dead. Circumstances may change … hostages may be released or rescued … but dead is quite permanent.”

Trip chuckled and grasped her other hand. Rising from his seat, he pulled her to her feet and wrapped his arms around her.

“I see your point, darlin’…,” he whispered. He kissed her gently on the forehead, and then pulled back to look her in the eyes. “… but ya gotta promise me … no more noble sacrifices, okay?” He smiled at her, his blue eyes shining with love and gratitude. “I appreciate what you were willin’ ta do, but next time … let’s figure out a way ta keep us both safe.”

“One would hope that there will not be a next time,” replied T’Pol, raising a brow at him.

Then she pulled his head down to hers and kissed him so thoroughly that in a few seconds he’d forgotten that she’d never actually promised. They ended up not having sufficient time for further meditation that evening, but neither of them minded very much.


 

 

“You have a call from Malaysia, Lieutenant Reed,” came the beta shift comm officer’s voice into the quiet of Malcolm’s quarters. “Are you able to take it, sir?”

Malcolm sat up in his bunk in the darkened room and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. I wonder what Mother finds so important that she must call me about it right in the middle of my off shift? he thought wearily.

“Go ahead, Ensign,” he said as he rose from the bed to take a seat at his desk. The vid screen came to life, but instead of his mother’s face, he was confronted with the secure screen of a scrambled communication. Malcolm sat up straight in his chair. This call may have been routed through Malaysia, but it certainly wasn’t from his mother. He entered the code which would descramble the signal, and watched Harris’s face appear on the screen.

“I understand there’s been a contact,” Harris said without preamble.

“I told you the last time …” Malcolm told him coldly. “… I agreed to do a job for you because the safety of the Enterprise was at stake, and it was obvious that the target had to be eliminated, but I am no longer an agent of your department.”

“You are our only option in this situation. I would not be contacting you if this were not an emergency, Lieutenant,” replied Harris.

Malcolm sighed, crossing his arms over his chest, and waited for Harris to explain.

Enterprise is headed for Vulcan, and Starfleet has pledged its full cooperation to the Vulcan government.” Harris told him. “If the Vulcans are given unlimited access to the sensor logs from Enterprise’s recent encounter, as well as free reign to debrief all personnel, certain information will be revealed which could jeopardize Human-Vulcan relations and set the Warp Six Project back by several months. Our intelligence indicates that the Romulans are on the verge of an all-out offensive. We may not have several months to play with.”

Malcolm nodded in reluctant understanding. “What do you need me to do?” he asked.

“Your mission parameters are in a scrambled attachment. Download it to a secure site, and then erase evidence of this communication from the main log. The log will show an unsuccessful connection to your parents’ home in Malaysia. Contact me if you are unable to successfully complete your mission, and we will attempt to solve the problem using agents stationed on Vulcan,” said Harris. He reached forward as if to cut the connection, and then paused.

“Oh … and, Lieutenant?” he began. Malcolm raised a cool brow at him in inquiry. “I understand that Commander Tucker is a friend of yours.”

Malcolm’s brow wrinkled as he nodded.

“I suggest you attempt to achieve your objectives. It’s unlikely that you will approve of the way our agents on Vulcan will be forced to handle the situation.”

Before Malcolm had the opportunity to respond to the implied threat in Harris’ voice, the man leaned forward and cut the connection.

“Bloody hell!” Malcolm exclaimed to the empty screen. His fist came down on the desk in frustrated anger. Then he took a deep breath, got control of himself, and entered the code that would allow him access to his mission instructions.


 

 

The Enterprise sped through the vacuum of space toward Vulcan. Since the rescue of the commanders and the witnessed self-destruction of the Romulan ship with all hands aboard, the mood of the crew had been somber. Malcolm surveyed the serious faces on the bridge. The captain appeared apprehensive. Malcolm knew that Starfleet had made him primarily responsible for the success of their upcoming mission. His instructions were quite simple. He was to keep the Vulcans happy. Regrettably, none of the Starfleet bigwigs who’d issued his instructions had any clue about the potentially disastrous consequences of full cooperation with the Vulcans’ investigation. Of equal potential misfortune for the Enterprise and everyone else involved, neither did the captain.

Malcolm transferred his attention to the First Officer. Although her expression varied not a whit from her usual bland demeanor, she wore a modified sensor baffle on her belt. The simple fact that she’d agreed to wear the device spoke volumes about her state of mind. Malcolm had spoken briefly with her before going on duty that morning, and they had agreed to meet in a secure location in the armory as soon as their shifts had ended that evening, ostensibly to discuss lesson plans for the next series of self-defense classes. Malcolm’s covert assignment objectives included ensuring the two commanders’ silence concerning the physical characteristics of their Romulan captors. He didn’t think he’d have any problem at all convincing T’Pol not to reveal the information. She had already made the decision to keep the information as confidential as possible, and although he knew that she was the source of the information he’d given to Starfleet covert operations after the Romulan incident in the Betazed system, she had, he was convinced, only revealed the information in order to ensure the safety of her Human crewmates. Ensuring Commander Tucker’s silence would very likely be more of a challenge, but Malcolm was hopeful that it could be achieved without harm to the talkative engineer, especially if he had T’Pol’s assistance.

Malcolm’s gaze traveled to Hoshi, and an almost imperceptible smile graced his lips. She was reviewing the Vulcan language database with great intensity. A stray tendril of shining black hair had escaped her hair elastic and hung down over her forehead as she chewed her lower lip.

She’s just so bloody … cute! he thought.

Almost as if she could read his mind, she looked up then, and caught him studying her with a smile on his face. She returned his smile flirtatiously, and then blushed as he raised a brow at her suggestively. After his appointment with T’Pol, he’d arranged to meet Hoshi in the armory, and would relieve the armory guard on duty. They did this regularly once weekly, and occasionally even made the time to do a little target practice. Hoshi’s skills with a firearm were improving gradually, and both of them were a great deal happier and more relaxed than they would have been otherwise. So far, their relationship still seemed to be a secret, albeit a rather poorly kept one. Rumors abounded, but no one had yet caught them red-handed, and the captain was continuing to look the other way. The only person on board with proof was the doctor, as Hoshi had sought his assistance early on with pregnancy prevention. Malcolm couldn’t remember ever being happier in his entire life.

Forcing himself to return to the task at hand, Malcolm continued his review of the sensor logs as he compiled his report on the incident involving the rescue of the commanders and the Romulans’ subsequent self-destruction. He brought up the logs of the scans of the Romulan ship and shuttlecraft. The scans of the ship itself were not a problem. The Romulans’ cloaking device had prevented clear scans of the occupants of the ship, and once the ship had decloaked, there had been insufficient time to scan anything until the battle was over. The principal problem was the sensor log containing Malcolm’s detailed scans of the Romulan shuttlecraft and its four occupants, two of which were Human and Vulcan. The other two presumably were Romulan. The difficulty was that neither of them differed in any meaningful way from the Vulcan on sensor scan. Finding the point in the log after the self-destruction of the Romulan vessel and before his scans of the shuttle, Malcolm introduced the code he’d been given, and then inserted the data disc he had hidden in his pocket; recorded from a portion of the mission instructions he’d been sent. It was his understanding that the entire computer programming division of Starfleet covert operations had contributed to the masterpiece of programming subterfuge that he’d just introduced into the Enterprise’s sensor logs. He logged out briefly, and then logged back in to inspect the results of his labor.

Following the explosion of the Romulan vessel, the new version of the sensor logs showed his scan of the Romulan shuttle. Instead of the previous troublesome evidence of the disturbing similarity between Vulcan and Romulan biosigns, the occupants of the shuttle were now quite clearly a Human, a Vulcan, and two beings who appeared to be wearing a form of sensor baffling that allowed the sensors to locate them, but not to identify their species. The readings were identical to the readings that the Enterprise had obtained during their scans of the commandos on the surface of Betazed in the last “Romulan incident” involving Enterprise. The alterations were seamless. If Malcolm hadn’t done the original scans himself, and had not been certain that there were changes, he would never have detected them. He logged off again, pulled out the data disc, and finished his report. Now all he had to worry about was Trip’s big mouth.


 

 

Second Assistant Virologist V’Lor had been a middleman in the Seheik’uzh hierarchy until Stel’s housecleaning two weeks before. His primary responsibility had been overseeing the organization’s attempts to develop a defense against the virology project which had been underway for months in Terra Prime’s laboratory on Mars prior to the destruction of the facility. Before being exposed as a spy, Terra Prime’s agent on the starship Enterprise had not only obtained the DNA samples which had been used to create the abomination Paxton had used to incite the Humans’ anger, but had also obtained samples of a virus which had been proven, according to the confidential recorded logs of the Enterprise’s medical officer, to cause disabling artificial Ponfarr symptoms in infected Vulcans. Through their recent peculiar alliance with the remnants of Terra Prime, the Seheik’uzh had come into possession of a sample of this virus. Now that the Terra Prime lab was destroyed, it had become V’Lor’s job to both weaponize and develop a defense against the virus. To his great satisfaction, after the recent thinning of the ranks within the organization, he was now also the man in charge.

Currently, V’Lor was at his day job… the menial, routine drudgery of a second assistant virologist in a minor virology research lab. Less than a year before, he’d been a Chief Virologist, heading a team of renowned Vulcan virologists who’d been invited to Betazed as part of a program of cultural exchange. Due to the interference of a single meddlesome Vulcan Starfleet officer, his career had been virtually destroyed, and his influential family had disowned him. Only his extracurricular involvement with the Seheik’uzh now allowed him a small taste of the authority and importance that he had once experienced as a matter of course. He had been very pleased to learn of his organization’s intention to silence Starfleet’s sole Vulcan officer, and was quite eager to take up the cause now that so many of his colleagues had been forcibly removed from the organization by Stel’s treachery. As he absently ran viral sample batches through the nucleic acid analyzer, his mind was busily occupied with plans for the best ways to achieve his objectives once the Enterprise reached orbit around Vulcan. His Romulan allies wanted the First Officer alive, but no one had said anything about the state of her mental health. He fully intended to see that she experienced the same destruction of her career and of her personal life that he had been forced to live through because of her actions. Only then would he see her delivered to his superiors. Justice would then be served. It was only logical.


 

 

T’Pol entered the armory at 1730. Lieutenant Reed had been insistent that she be prompt, but he was nowhere to be found in the huge central chamber.

“Commander?”

The lieutenant’s voice emanated from the depths of one of the darkened weapons lockers on the periphery of the chamber. T’Pol raised a brow at his cloak and dagger demeanor and walked into the dimly lit room. He closed and locked the door behind her.

“I assume from the precautions you are taking that we have more to discuss than your upcoming self-defense classes,” she told him dryly.

“Your assumption is correct, Commander,” Malcolm replied somberly. He gave her a considering look before continuing. “As you are undoubtedly aware, the Starfleet covert operations division is in possession of information connecting your people to a long-standing deceptive policy with regard to the Romulans. A policy which may, if revealed, create a rift between your people and mine.” He paused to judge her reaction to his statement. She simply raised a brow at him and waited.

“Our recent encounter with the Romulan ship… and, in particular, the direct contact that you and Commander Tucker presumably had with the crew of that ship, has been deemed a security risk by Starfleet covert operations,” continued Malcolm. He looked away from her for a moment, as if to collect his thoughts. His eyes returned to hers with an intense expression.

“I have been informed by my connections within the department that unless I can ensure both your silence and Commander Tucker’s, agents of the department stationed on Vulcan will receive orders to silence both of you by whatever means necessary when we arrive on Vulcan.”

T’Pol inhaled sharply at this news. Her nostrils flared in only partially suppressed anger over the implied threat to her husband.

“What reassurances do they require?” she asked coldly.

“Because of your previous assistance to the Human defense effort despite the obvious danger to yourself, and the fact that concealing the information is obviously in the best interest of both your people and mine, they are prepared to take your word that you will not reveal sensitive information. The primary difficulty seems to be getting them to trust that Commander Tucker can also be relied upon to cooperate. I believe that the two of us will be able to convince him of the necessity of keeping the information to himself,” said Malcolm. He eyed her reluctantly, and then dropped his bombshell.

“I will, however, require your permission to reveal the existence of your marriage to Commander Tucker. I believe that information might be enough to save the commander’s life, if I can convince covert ops to believe it.”

T’Pol raised both brows at him, startled by his unexpected revelation into expressing more emotion than she customarily revealed to anyone save her bonded mate.

“Lieutenant Sato revealed this information to you after vowing to me that she would not,” she told him disapprovingly.

Malcolm shook his head. “Don’t blame Hoshi, Commander,” he told her. “I made a lucky guess after seeing the results of the forensic DNA testing following your assault, and she couldn’t lie to me by denying it.”

T’Pol sighed heavily and looked away. “I suppose it was just a matter of time,” she said in resignation. “Being assigned to different ships, but remaining alive, would certainly be preferable to being permanently silenced by a covert operative… and if we face court-martial for our violation of regulations, at least we will face it together.”

“I don’t believe that the consequences will be as significant as you anticipate, Commander,” replied Malcolm. “The repercussions of a Human-Vulcan marriage could be just as damaging to relations between our peoples as the revelation of your people’s connection to the Romulans. It’s highly doubtful that news of your relationship with Mr. Tucker will reach the ears of anyone with the authority to officially object to it.”

T’Pol met his eyes squarely. “Be that as it may Lieutenant, you nevertheless have my permission to reveal the information to your covert ops connection if you truly believe that it is the most reliable way to protect Commander Tucker from assassination.” Her voice shook minutely, almost imperceptibly, with her final words.

Malcolm stared back at her. She really loves him! he thought in astonishment. Somehow, he’d thought that her side of their relationship had to be based on sex, or perhaps some logical reason that he, as a mere Human, failed to understand. It was a shock for him to realize that his apparently cold and emotionless First Officer was quite obviously just as head-over-heels in love with Trip Tucker as Trip was with her.

“Would you like for me to speak with Commander Tucker?” he asked.

T’Pol shook her head. “I would prefer that he remain unaware of your connection to Starfleet covert ops, Lieutenant. He has the unfortunate habit of being captured by nearly every group of aliens that we encounter. He is safer if he has as little sensitive information in his possession as possible,” she said wryly.

Malcolm chuckled softly. “Then I will leave explaining this situation to him in your very capable hands, Commander. Please let me know if you need my help.”

“Rest assured, Lieutenant Reed,” said T’Pol as she stepped toward the door. It was 1800 hours… time to meet Trip for dinner in the dining hall. “When I have finished with him, he will not be capable of revealing anything that might endanger his life. You have my word on it.”


 

 

Trip ate his meal of baked chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans with single-minded concentration. The emotional turmoil caused by his conversation with his father the night before had preoccupied him all day, and he was determined to think about something else… anything else which would stop the indigestion and allow him to enjoy his meal.

He glanced at T’Pol, who was sedately chewing her bite of sautéed vegetables in stir-fry sauce over rice and studiously ignoring him. This had become their pattern in the public venue of the dining hall. They shared a table as if they were alone. It puzzled their fellow crewmembers. Why share a table if they didn’t plan to engage in conversation? What the rest of the crew failed to realize was that usually they were engaging in conversation… just not aloud. This evening, though, even their silent communication was non-existent.

You’re kinda quiet tonight, Trip sent, without looking at his wife.

We always eat our meals in silence, husband, she responded as she took another bite. She felt his mental eye-roll at her literal interpretation of his comment.

You know what I mean, darlin’, he replied. He smiled and shook his head slightly as he reached for his iced tea. Somethin’ on your mind? he asked in amusement.

We need to discuss our upcoming debriefing on Vulcan, she told him. There are some things I must tell you that affect your safety.

He raised a brow at her in a very Vulcan manner. Ya mean like the fact that if I tell anybody how much Romulans and Vulcans look alike, I’m gonna be a target? he replied coolly.

T’Pol stopped chewing and made eye contact with her husband for the first time since they’d sat down to eat. For a fraction of a second, her face registered utter shock. Then she looked away, her expression smoothed to blandness again, and she resumed her meal.

Trip mentally chuckled. Ya don’t have to act so surprised, T’Pol! I’m not stupid.

He polished off the last bite of mashed potatoes, and washed them down with tea as he gazed studiously across the room, deliberately avoiding looking at his table companion.

First ya tell me that the Romulans have infiltrated the Vulcan government for years. Then ya tell me the terrorist organization that threatens you is also connected to the Romulans. Next, to top it all off, I find out that Romulans and Vulcans not only look enough alike ta be kissin’ cousins, but they show affection the same way… with that two-finger thing you’re always doin’. The writin’ all over the inside of that Romulan ship looked just like the writin’ all over the inside of the Vulcan temple where we got married, too! I really don’t think my people or yours would be too thrilled about the idea of Vulcans and Romulans bein’ related becomin’ public knowledge, do you? He eyed her over the dregs of his iced tea.

Ya were plannin’ on tellin’ me about all this, weren’t ya? He gave her a ruefully hopeful smile.

T’Pol exhaled heavily, and then put down her fork and pushed away from the table. She gave him a courteous nod, and then stood up to leave.

Perhaps we should continue this conversation elsewhere, she replied silently. I find this discussion difficult in such a public place. Please meet me in my quarters.

Trip watched her leave the dining hall, and, after a few moments, stood up to follow her. Something was really upsetting her about his speculations. He could feel her turmoil in the bond, and he intended to get to the root of it.


 

 

He looks so sweet and innocent when he’s sleeping, thought Hoshi. She lay on a double layer of practice mats on the floor of a weapons locker in the armory. They’d finally decided to hide blankets with the mats, so tonight her body was covered, but beneath the blankets, she lay skin to skin with the object of her intense scrutiny… Chief Security Officer Malcolm Reed. He’d been enthusiastic that evening… almost joyful for Malcolm, and then he’d fallen asleep immediately afterwards, as if he hadn’t slept in a week. She reached a hand out to brush dark curls gently from his forehead. His fatigue didn’t surprise her. She knew from her review of the transmissions received during beta shift the night before that he’d been awakened in the middle of the night by a transmission from home. When she’d asked him about it, he’d gotten evasive, so it must have been bad.

Hoshi placed her head back down onto his shoulder and wrapped her arms more tightly around him. She sighed, worrying yet again about his withdrawn manner and inexplicable coldness since the incident on Second Chance. After his inadvertent revelation to her, she’d been so angry and disappointed in him that she’d considered breaking off their relationship, but after several days of soul searching, she’d come to the conclusion that she wasn’t ready to give up on him quite yet. In the days since their reconciliation, she had felt at times that she was getting through to him, and that he was on the verge of opening up to her. She could sense the fury he still had bottled up inside of him after all these years… fury over what his father had done, and gotten away with. In a way, she could see how that fury could express itself in the need to eliminate a rapist and murderer without the benefit of a trial. She’d considered suggesting that he see Phlox for psychotherapy, but knew that if she even brought up the subject indirectly Malcolm would shut down on her… perhaps permanently. She would simply have to be patient, and wait for him to express the feelings he’d hidden for so long. She was prepared to wait a very long time, but not forever. The thought occurred to her that all she needed to do to find out what his mother had called him about was to read the transmission logs. Her wrist chronometer beeped. Their two-hour respite was over. She gently shook Malcolm until he stirred, and then rolled over to find her clothes. I’ll just have to do some detective work, she thought.


 

 

Trip sat on the floor of T’Pol’s quarters, supposedly meditating with her. What they’d been doing instead was having an argument. It was a telepathic one, at T’Pol’s insistence, as the subject they were discussing was too sensitive to discuss aloud even in the privacy of her quarters, but it was no less intense for being completely silent.

I don’t give a damn about how much danger you think I’m in, T’Pol! I’m not gonna let you monkey around with my head! I’ve got stuff in there I might need

I will be as selective as I possibly can, t’hy’la, replied T’Pol insistently. You fail to understand the danger that you are in. The Seheik’uzh are not bound by Surak’s teachings. They are emotionally labile and vindictive, and many of them are melders, driven from Vulcan society by the prejudice still rampant on my planet. They will not hesitate to strip you of your knowledge and then kill you to remove the threat that you pose to them. She leaned forward and took both of his hands in hers. If you will allow me to remove these memories, then if you are captured they will discover that you are no threat to them, and will be much more likely to allow you to live.

Tell ya what, T’Pol, sent Trip sarcastically. I’ve got a better idea… How ‘bout we keep me from gettin’ caught in the first place? He hesitated for a moment as a thought occurred to him. And what about you, T’Pol? he asked her silently with a serious look on his face. Who’s gonna protect you?

Our blocking exercises have strengthened my shields considerably since my experience with Tolaris, she sent staunchly. I do not believe that another Vulcan could break my barriers against my will again.

My barriers are at least as strong as yours, T’Pol… You’ve told me that yourself, he insisted. I may not be a telepath, but I can block like one… you made sure ‘a that, darlin’.

His head came up in challenge. You just try an’ break in! he announced. If ya make it through, I’ll let ya erase whatever ya want… Deal? His eyes narrowed in determination as he prepared himself for her onslaught, but no attack came.

I cannot attempt to enter your mind without your consent. I might injure you, protested T’Pol. He could sense her disbelief that he would even suggest such a thing.

And you don’t think erasin’ my memory is injurin’ me? he demanded. He stared at her angrily. Come on, you muleheaded woman! You wanna mess with my head?... Then do it!... But don’t expect me to cooperate! You’re just like everybody else in my life… can’t just trust me to take care of myself… no… Poor little Trip’s so fragile! Well… to hell with that! I can protect myself, and you’re too stubborn to admit it!

T’Pol’s jaw tightened. He could sense her anger in the bond.

Name-calling is childish and quite unnecessary, husband, she sent icily. I will attempt this foolishness if you insist.

Good! Trip thought in satisfaction. He looked at her rigidly cold expression for a moment. She wasn’t nearly angry enough to really try to hurt him yet, so he gave her the coup de grace.

You Vulcans are all the same… too superior and pigheaded to admit when you’re wrong. I bet you’ve just been waitin’ for a chance to mess with my mind. Isn’t that what y’all do for kicks? Screw around in other people’s minds like perverts who’d rather watch?

T’Pol’s face twisted in anger as her hands reached out for the mind meld contact points on his temples. Her mental strike against his shields was more powerful than anything he’d felt since the aborted attempt to break their mating bond on the day of their marriage. This time, though, he was prepared for the onslaught, and had spent months learning to shield his thoughts. His barriers held firm. He could no longer sense T’Pol’s emotions in the bond. His barriers completely blocked all mental contact between them. He closed his eyes to focus his attention. He could feel her attempts to penetrate his mental barriers as a sensation of pressure in his head. The pressure gradually increased in intensity until it became a burning. Soon the burning became a fire that threatened to consume him … and yet his barriers held. He opened his eyes. T’Pol’s eyes were closed in concentration, her face contorted with the effort she was expending. She was perspiring heavily… they both were, despite the coolness of the room. Trip felt as if his head was about to explode. He had to distract her with something so that she would stop this torture and admit that he was right, but he had no idea how to go about it. Gritting his teeth against the pain, he reached up to place his fingers on her temples in a mirror image of her contact with him. Then he reached within himself and brought out a sequestered nugget of pure emotion. It was the terror he’d taken from her on the Romulan ship, the mindless fear that had nearly destroyed her, and that he’d tucked away so completely within the depths of his subconscious mind that he’d forgotten about it until this moment … when he’d decided he’d had enough pain. He decided to use it as a distraction… something to break her concentration. Gathering his determination around him like a shield, he suddenly broke through his own barriers from the inside, driving terror before him like a battering ram deep into T’Pol’s unprotected conscious mind. Although his attack was weak by Vulcan standards, T’Pol had lowered her barriers completely in order to devote all of her energies to breaking through his, and so she was unprepared. To Trip’s dismay, her reaction was far more drastic than simple distraction. The fear overwhelmed and incapacitated her, abruptly stopping her attempts to break through Trip’s barriers and causing her to retreat deeply within her own mind. Her hands fell from Trip’s temples as she curled into a fetal ball, whimpering mindlessly as she stared with sightless eyes at imaginary terrors. Trip broke contact immediately and gathered her into his arms as he sensed her response to his attempt at self-defense.

God! he thought in horror, realizing too late the devastating result of his actions. What’ve I done? He tried to make contact with her mentally, but her barriers had instinctively come up with full intensity at the onset of his counterattack.

“T’Pol?” he whispered tenderly. “I’m so sorry, darlin’!” He gazed into her eyes, and searched her face pleadingly. “I didn’t mean it. Please come out.” Her eyes remained wide and terrified, but they focused on his face.

“Trip?” she asked in a tiny, frightened voice.

“I’m here, darlin’,” he reassured her as he held her tightly against his chest.

“I’m afraid,” she whispered.

“Let me in … I can help,” he replied, raising a hand to cup her cheek.

Her doubtful, distrusting expression nearly broke his heart. He could sense nothing from her. Her barriers were locked down tight. Tears filled her eyes as she battled her fears alone. He gazed into her eyes and wiped the tears from her face with shaking fingers. Then he realized what he should do.

Lifting T’Pol’s slender form gently in his arms, Trip deposited her on the bed, removed his clothing, and then slowly removed hers, making love to her with careful attention… almost reverently. When, finally, she shuddered beneath him and softly whispered his name, he felt her mind open to his. It was then that he delicately entered it and took back the fear, locking it away again behind barriers in his subconscious mind where it could no longer hurt her. Then he sent love, acceptance, and apology as he brought her once again to satisfaction. Afterwards, she fell asleep in his arms with a trusting and contented sigh.

Trip watched over her for a quarter of an hour to reassure himself that she would not awaken again in fear. Then he gingerly disentangled himself from the bedclothes, tenderly covered her with the blanket, and got dressed. Before leaving her quarters, he retrieved the sensor baffle from the tangle of her clothing on the floor, activating it and placing it at the head of her bed for protection. Then he locked the door securely behind him.

Trip found it difficult to sleep that night. T’Pol’s wide-eyed, terrified face kept intruding each time he closed his eyes. His remorse over the way he’d attacked her made him sick. After an hour of tossing and turning, he finally gave up and rose from the bed. He spent the rest of the night completing the report he intended to present to Starfleet and the Vulcan High Council concerning his captivity on the Romulan ship. It turned out to be a welcome distraction. It had been a while since he’d done any creative writing.


 

 

V’Lor sat back with a sigh within his recently appropriated private office deep within the hidden underground complex that was the central headquarters of the Seheik’uzh. He’d recently moved his research laboratory to the complex as well, despite protests from the lower ranking members of the organization that putting a bioweapons research facility in the center of the facility was dangerous. V’Lor had dismissed their concerns. The isolation protocols in his laboratory were faultless. Besides, as the head of the organization, he couldn’t be expected to take the time to travel back and forth. Having his office and his lab in the same area of the complex was a necessary convenience.

V’Lor had spent the morning reviewing his correspondence. The coded transmission from his Romulan contact had taken him by surprise. It was prerecorded, and contained instructions that had initially displeased him greatly. As a result of negotiations between a certain member of the Vulcan High Council and V’Lor’s Romulan contact, an agreement had been reached which satisfied both parties’ need for information. He was now instructed to concentrate on capturing a Human engineer named Tucker… the only Human who’d actually been on board a Romulan vessel, if his contact’s information was correct. The Vulcan science officer was to be left for the Vulcans. Initially, he’d thought that his plan for just retribution would have to be abandoned, and then he recalled a press release from Earth that he’d seen concerning a funeral for Paxton’s abomination. He’d pulled up the footage … and there they were, standing side by side… the infamous couple. His face took on a pleased expression that, for a Vulcan, was the equivalent of a broad smile. The situation had some potential after all.


 

 

The planet Vulcan hung below them, a dry, red dusty place that resembled Mars before Earth’s terraformers had gotten to it. There were a few differences. Vulcan did have a few open bodies of water left at the poles, and an underground river network allowed the growing of crops in the bottoms of ravines where the air was denser and the water closer to hand. Every Vulcan community had extensive networks of underground hydroponic gardens, which fed the people and enriched the air within the caves. Very little life on Vulcan was visible from orbit, however. There was virtually no green foliage in evidence. It was no wonder that many mistook the planet for one with a dying ecosystem, populated by a dying race. Nothing was further from the truth.

T’Pol gazed upon her home planet through the dining hall view port with a feeling of both anticipation and fear. With the exception of a five-day leave on the occasion of her first Ponfarr, the same leave during which she and Trip had wed, T’Pol had not set foot on Vulcan since her mother’s death. Since that time, her home had become a dangerous place, both for her and for everyone close to her.

She stiffened as she felt the most pressing cause of her apprehension this morning enter the room. He was the reason for the remorse and self-recrimination that she had suffered from the moment that she had awakened and remembered the unforgivable assault that she had mounted upon his fragile mind the night before. She sipped her chamomile tea and firmly maintained the shields she had erected for his protection as she hesitantly raised her eyes to his.

Trip gave her a small reluctant smile, as if he were unsure of his welcome at the table. “Mornin’,” he said softly. She nodded in acknowledgement of his greeting, and he cautiously sat down.

He fears me, thought T’Pol guiltily. She could sense nothing from him in the bond. His barriers were up as well, as if he were afraid to lower his guard in her presence.

Trip pushed a PADD toward her on the table as he took a bite of his scrambled eggs. “It’s my report… thought you should look at it before I turn it in to make sure we agree,” he said with his mouth full, as he raced to finish eating before they were called to the mission briefing scheduled for 0800.

T’Pol pulled the PADD toward her and studied his creative efforts with great interest. She raised a brow and looked up.

“EV suits?” she asked in a puzzled tone of voice.

“Yeah …” he replied, swallowing his bite. “Malcolm came by Engineering yesterday to show me some scans he’d done of the Romulan shuttle before it exploded. Apparently the Romulans were wearin’ some sort of sensor baffles that messed up their biosign readings. He showed me the scans Enterprise had done of the Romulan commandos on Betazed, and the changes were the same. He’d come to ask me if the Romulans in the shuttle had been wearin’ EV suits like the Romulans on Betazed.” Trip paused thoughtfully. “He was kinda funny about it… almost seemed like he knew the answer to his question already…” He took another bite of eggs, and at T’Pol’s meaningful look, chewed and swallowed before continuing. “Anyway… I figured it was as good an explanation as any, and it got me off the hook… so I said yes.”

T’Pol nodded in satisfaction, and pushed the PADD back toward him. “I believe this will be a satisfactory solution, Commander. I will amend my report so that it agrees with your account.” Trip nodded, and polished off the last of his eggs, chasing them down with several large gulps of hot coffee. He put his mug down on the table and gazed at her profile as she sat calmly sipping her tea and staring out the view port.

“T’Pol?” he whispered. “I really need ta talk to you… can we go somewhere after the briefing maybe?”

T’Pol turned her head to gaze at him, and cautiously dropped her barriers enough to sense him. He still had his barriers firmly in place. The fact that he obviously didn’t trust her enough for mental communication grieved her.

“Perhaps there will be time before our appointment with the Chief Minister,” she replied. He hesitated as if he were about to say something else, and then Lieutenant Sato’s voice rang out over the comm.

“Will the Command staff report to the Ready Room for a mission briefing, please? All Command staff, please report to the Ready Room for a mission briefing.”

They looked at each other for a second in silence, and then rose from the table and walked side by side out of the dining hall without another word.


 

 

Hoshi entered the ready room after making her announcement. Malcolm was already seated at the table, deep in conversation with the captain about the security arrangements for their away mission to the Vulcan surface. She sat at her usual place at the table, and watched the two of them silently.

I wonder if the captain knows how good Malcolm is at lying? she thought to herself somewhat bitterly. Her eyes went to Malcolm’s face, and she sighed. The lie he’d told her was a minor thing, but how could she believe him about anything now that she knew he was capable of lying to her with a straight face? The evening before when she’d asked him about the call from his mother, he’d at first told her nothing. Later, when pressed, he told her that the connection had not gone through. She’d been desperate to help him, whether he wanted help or not, and so she’d reluctantly checked the transmission log, thinking that she’d just confirm that his mother hadn’t spoken to him, and that would ease her mind. Instead, she’d found that thirty minutes of the transmission had been deliberately erased. Normally, the change would not have been detectable, but Hoshi had modified the transmission log for continuous recording after their reception of the Imzadi’s faint SOS signal several months before. This meant that, instead of simply recording messages that were directly transmitted to Enterprise as would usually be the case, the comm system now picked up stray messages from the entire sector in a continuous manner. Hoshi had her hands full sifting through the noise at the beginning of each shift, but now she’d never miss another SOS. The deletion of the incoming message had created a time gap in her continuous recording which was quite obvious if you knew what to look for. Hoshi was sorry she’d even looked … because now she knew that Malcolm was a boldfaced liar.

Hoshi’s head turned as Commanders Tucker and T’Pol entered the room. They seemed subdued. T’Pol nodded to her solemnly, and the engineer took a seat opposite them at the table, studiously avoiding her gaze and focusing his attention on the captain at the head of the table.

“Now that everyone’s here …” began Archer. “I’d like to go over our upcoming mission so that nothing … and I mean nothing goes wrong.” His anxiety over the upcoming meeting with the Vulcan Chief Minister was palpable to everyone in the room.

“Commanders T’Pol and Tucker have an appointment with the Chief Minister in two hours. I am required to be present as Starfleet’s representative, and Lieutenant Reed will accompany us as the head of a six man security detail.” His eyes focused on Hoshi. “That will leave you in charge of Enterprise, Lieutenant.” He smiled as her eyes widened slightly. “I want her in one piece when I get back… is that clear?” he joked.

She swallowed. “Um … yes, sir … as crystal, sir.” She returned his smile weakly.

“As far as the rest of you go…,” he continued, “I don’t have to tell you how dangerous going down to the surface is for all of us… most especially for T’Pol…” His eyes locked apologetically with those of his First Officer. T’Pol returned his gaze calmly, refusing to reveal any sign of her apprehension. “… but Starfleet says we have to keep the Vulcans happy… so stay together, be careful, and cooperate as much as you can. The shuttle pod departs in fifteen minutes.”


 

 

The landing party disembarked from the shuttle pod in a tight group, stirring up a cloud of dust in the oppressive, dry heat. Archer took the lead, flanked by two security guards in full field gear, including body armor, helmets, and plasma rifles. The two commanders followed closely behind, with the other four security guards, including Lieutenant Reed, covering them in all four directions. The group walked across the landing field, where they were met by a pair of solemn Vulcans in security uniforms.

“Your security escort will not be necessary, sir,” said one Vulcan with a supercilious air. “We will escort you to the Chief Minister.”

Archer eyed the underground entrance to the Vulcan High Council’s headquarters a mere twenty meters away. He debated insisting on bringing his own escort, and then thought better of it. That would very likely violate his primary orders on this mission… to “keep the Vulcans happy”. He nodded at the Vulcan and turned behind him to speak to Malcolm. As he did so, a phaser stun blast took down the guard on his right with a clean hit to the neck between his body armor and his helmet. Morris, his other guard, immediately jumped on Archer and took him to ground. He could see the others being taken down by their guards in similar fashion. Malcolm rolled to the side, and then ran in a zigzag fashion to plant himself behind a large boulder… one of several on the periphery of the landing field which were the only areas of cover between their exposed location and the shooter. He beckoned to T’Pol, who ran to join him. Morris pulled Archer to a similar hiding place.

Archer could see shots being fired from behind a third boulder where, presumably, Trip had taken refuge with the two remaining guards. Meanwhile, the Vulcans had retreated into the High Council’s headquarters… to call for reinforcements, Archer hoped. He hunkered down behind the boulder. In a moment, though, he noticed something strange. The only phase pistol blasts still traveling through the air were coming from Enterprise security phase pistols.

“Hold your fire!” Lieutenant Reed’s voice rang out over the dusty field. He’d obviously noticed the lack of return fire as well. Cautiously peeking around the side of the boulder where he was hiding, he saw no evidence of the sniper. Making eye contact with Morris, he motioned to him with hand signals, indicating a flanking maneuver. They circled in either direction toward the apparent source of the shots, finding nothing but an area of scuffed, dust-covered rock.

“All clear,” announced Malcolm softly into his helmet comm unit. “Advance to the entrance with caution.” He and Morris proceeded to do just that. Malcolm turned to see T’Pol and Archer advancing, escorted by one security guard. The stunned guard still lay where he’d fallen. That left two guards and Commander Tucker still missing.

“Baker? Mitchell? What’s your status?” asked Malcolm over the comm. There was no answer.

Leaving T’Pol and Archer armed with phase pistols at the entrance to the underground complex, Reed took Morris to search for the others, sending the remaining guard to retrieve his stunned colleague, who was beginning to wake up. The Vulcan security guards reappeared then with reinforcements… a mere two additional guards… assistance which turned out to be too little … too late. Reed and Morris found Baker and Mitchell unconscious behind the third boulder, but there was no sign of Commander Tucker. The sniper had been a diversion. Someone had kidnapped their Chief Engineer.


 

 

At the sound of the first phase pistol blast, T’Pol immediately began visually scanning the area for a human assailant. Lieutenant Reed had informed her that morning of covert op’s acceptance of his reassurances of confidentiality, but it was always conceivable that the agent stationed on Vulcan had not gotten the message. She dropped her barriers and tried to make contact with Trip in the bond to warn him of her suspicions, but he was preoccupied with returning the sniper’s fire from behind the boulder approximately ten meters to her right, and still had his shields up. She glanced at his hiding place, and saw the top of his blonde head rising precariously above the rock, closely followed by his arms and shoulders as he foolishly exposed himself to return fire. She nodded in approval as two sets of hands roughly pulled him back down. Lieutenant Reed had been quite correct in assigning two of the six security guards specifically to Commander Tucker. In fact, as his head began to rise again above the safety of his hiding place, T’Pol wondered whether two were sufficient. She glanced to her left at the Chief Security Officer as he crouched beside her, wisely remaining entirely behind the boulder. Her eyes met his as they simultaneously realized that the gunfire from the sniper’s direction had ceased. As Reed and Morris circled the field in opposite directions, T’Pol thought she heard a muffled thud from the direction of the boulder where she’d seen Trip. She stood, intending to investigate the faint noise, when Archer and another of the guards came up behind her to escort her to the High Council Complex. As they walked across the field, she looked over her shoulder. There was no movement at all in the area where she’d heard the sound. To her relief, she noticed Lieutenant Reed and Crewman Morris heading in the same direction as she reached the safety of the entrance. As she waited for them to search the area, she closed her eyes and once again dropped her barriers. This time, she sensed nothing. With mounting apprehension, she tried harder, pushing to overcome Trip’s closed barriers the way she’d done the night before… still nothing. She couldn’t even sense the faint itch of his presence in the back of her mind, a presence that she always felt even when he was preoccupied and blocking her.

He is either deeply unconscious, or … Her mind refused to process the rest of the thought. When Reed and Morris reappeared dragging the two unconscious security guards, T’Pol strode rapidly across the field toward Malcolm, out of earshot of their Vulcan chaperones, and pulled him roughly by one arm behind the nearest boulder, causing him to drop the unfortunate guard into the dust. Her forearm went across his neck as she shoved him up against the boulder out of sight of the rest of the landing party. Her eyes glittered with feral intensity as, with her face only inches from Malcolm’s, she demanded in a soft growl, “Where is he, Lieutenant? You said you had the situation with covert ops under control!”

Malcolm gazed back at her with widened eyes. He attempted to answer, but all that came out was a strangled croak. T’Pol let up pressure slightly to allow him to speak.

“I don’t think his kidnapper was Human, Commander,” he whispered hoarsely. “There’s a single set of footprints leading into the rocks that I plan to investigate as soon as my men are cared for. Unless he left alone and of his own free will, whoever took him was able to carry him without assistance.”

T’Pol’s eyes widened as she took in this information, and then suddenly she seemed to realize that she was in the process of assaulting a friend. She released him, stepping back to look rather shamefacedly at the ground in front of her.

“I apologize, Lieutenant. My behavior was inexcusable.”

Malcolm cleared his throat and straightened his uniform. He stepped away from the rock, keeping a cautious arm’s length between himself and the First Officer.

“Think nothing of it, Commander… entirely understandable under the circumstances,” he told her with typical British understatement. He eyed her questioningly and then checked his wrist chronometer. “You’re late for your appointment with the Chief Minister. Perhaps you should go ahead while my men and I investigate Commander Tucker’s disappearance?”

T’Pol raised a brow at him. She said nothing, but simply followed him as he walked out from behind the boulder, and assisted him with the unconscious security guard. Once the injured men were out of the heat and being checked by the Vulcan medic who’d arrived to assist, she followed Malcolm out to the scene of the crime to help him with his investigation. Apparently, the Chief Minister would just have to wait.


 

 

Trip awoke unable to move a muscle, lying flat on a table with his arms and legs firmly restrained. His head felt like it was about to explode. The sensation was extremely familiar. It was almost as if someone were trying to break through his mental barriers… as a matter of fact, it was exactly like it. He opened his eyes to the sight of a strange male Vulcan, with his eyes closed and his face contorted with effort, seemingly trying to crush Trip’s skull with his bare hands. Then he realized that the guy was attempting a mind meld.

Damn! thought Trip. T’Pol’s got kid gloves compared ta this guy! Fortunately, although T’Pol was gentler, she was also apparently much stronger mentally. The Vulcan male was becoming fatigued. Aside from the headache, Trip felt no effect from his attempts at a mind meld. His barriers were holding. The Vulcan opened his eyes and dropped his hands in frustration. He turned and said something in Vulcan to the person standing behind him. An older Vulcan male stepped forward. He eyed Trip with a raised brow.

“You have obviously been instructed by your First Officer in ways to resist a Vulcan mind meld,” he said in English. “She is more thorough than I expected.” He sounded slightly disappointed. The older Vulcan turned his head and beckoned toward a female Vulcan in a white coat. She approached, carrying a hypospray.

“You will regret your failure to cooperate with the meld, Commander,” he said ominously. “You have forced us to resort to a more potentially… damaging means of obtaining what we want from you.” Trip’s eyes cut to the hypospray as the woman injected it into his neck. Almost immediately, he felt lightheaded and dissociated, as if he were no longer connected to his body. The older Vulcan beckoned to the young male, indicating that he should begin again. The second time, he was not as careful. There was no need to preserve the Human’s sanity if the information would not be forthcoming. It was time to move on to the second phase of the plan, and for that, all they required was the Commander’s warm body. An intact mind was unnecessary.


 

 

Over an hour past their scheduled meeting time, Captain Archer and Commander T’Pol were escorted into the Chief Minister’s private study deep within the dim interior of the ancient complex of caverns that had for millennia housed the offices of Vulcan’s highest government officials. Although, for safety reasons, there were no open flames in evidence, the light fixtures were designed to resemble candles in wall sconces. The walls and floors were covered in ancient-appearing and richly colored abstract tapestries. The Chief Minister herself sat behind a huge desk that seemed to be made entirely of a single piece of shining black volcanic rock. Combined with the ornate robes she wore, the effect was exotic to Archer’s eyes, and quite impressive. He nodded at her politely as they entered the room.

“Chief Minister T’Pau,” he began. “Thank you for seeing us despite our …”

“Please do not apologize, Captain,” interrupted T’Pau. “I regret that our recent political turmoil has resulted in the loss of one of your crew.”

Archer looked at her in surprise. “He isn’t dead as far as we know, Chief Minister… merely kidnapped. Do you know something we don’t?” T’Pau’s eyes narrowed slightly. Her expression otherwise remained unchanged.

“Merely a figure of speech, Captain…,” she said calmly. “We will, of course, investigate his disappearance most thoroughly.”

“We would certainly appreciate any help you can give us, Chief Minister. My Chief of Security Lieutenant Reed has already begun his investigation. I’m sure he’d be happy to have your people work with his,” replied Archer.

T’Pau’s brow came up at Archer’s presumption. “Your security personnel have no jurisdiction on Vulcan, Captain.”

Archer smiled at her disingenuously. “When my man was taken, this became a Starfleet matter, Chief Minister. Surely you won’t mind cooperating in this small matter when our peoples are cooperating in so many other, more important ways?”

She stared at him in silence for a moment.

“Very well,” she said dryly. Her gaze turned to T’Pol. “I have had the opportunity to read the briefing reports and review the sensor logs which you, Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed have prepared. I assume that they are complete and accurate?”

“Of course, Chief Minister,” said T’Pol flatly.

“And you have read them, Captain, and are satisfied with their accuracy as well?”

Archer looked at her in puzzlement. “I wasn’t a witness to anything in the reports other than the battle with the Romulan vessel, but if you’re asking me if I believe that my crew is telling the truth … then, yes … I’m satisfied with their accuracy.”

T’Pau studied his face, and then nodded in satisfaction. She turned back to T’Pol. “Your presence is required in the Council chamber,” she said in Vulcan. She paused. Her expression softened a bit as she glanced briefly at Archer. “Your Captain is so transparent with his emotions,” she told T’Pol. “I do not believe it would be possible for him to lie believably to anyone. He truly believes that the reports are accurate, doesn’t he?”

T’Pol stared back at her dispassionately. “Yes, Chief Minister … he does,” she responded in the same language.

“Then you must convince him to remain here while you answer our questions,” replied T’Pau. “Starfleet must be convinced of the accuracy of the reports as well, and your questioning may plant doubts in his mind. I will await you in the Council chamber.” With that, she nodded politely to them both, rose from behind her desk, and left the room.

T’Pol exhaled. She truly disliked lying to her captain, but in this instance, it seemed that she had no choice. She turned to Archer, who was waiting for a translation with an inquiring expression.

“There is a formal ceremony which must be observed, Captain… one which may not be viewed by offworlders. The High Council has accepted the reports as accurate, and so no new information of any significance will be presented. I know that you have been instructed to be present at my interrogation as Starfleet’s representative, but in being present for this interview, you have fulfilled your obligation. The Chief Minister would be pleased if you would agree to wait here for a few moments while I follow her into the Council chamber for the ceremony. I will then rejoin you here.”

Archer’s brow wrinkled in concern. “Are you sure about this T’Pol? I mean … we still don’t know if one or more of the Council members might not be a member of the terrorist organization that’s already threatened your life.” He searched her face. “Are you comfortable going in there alone?”

T’Pol gazed back at him evenly. Her guilt over lying to him was almost unbearable in the face of his obvious concern. She placed a hand on his arm in reassurance.

“Thank you, Jonathan,” she told him softly. “I will be fine.” Then she took her hand from his arm, straightened her spine in preparation, and followed T’Pau into the Council chamber, leaving a very surprised Jonathan Archer standing in the middle of the room with his mouth open.


 

 

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed stood in the center of the rock-jumbled plain with tricorder in hand, attempting to pick up the trail of Commander Tucker’s kidnapper. The visible signs had disappeared several hundred meters back, masked by the constant wind that blew the dust continuously over the rocks and obliterated footprints in a matter of minutes. The tricorder was initially picking up traces of the kidnapper’s footprints, cooler silhouettes on the blazingly hot rocks. As the sun mounted in the sky, the rocky ground heated up again, eliminating even that small residual trail. It had ended here, in the center of a featureless rocky plain. He sent his two remaining men to search the area in a radius around the end of the trail for an underground entrance or cave. The others had been transported back aboard Enterprise and were recovering in Sickbay. As he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped his face in the heat, his communicator called for his attention. He pulled it from his belt and activated it.

“Reed here, “ he answered.

“You’ve received a coded message, Lieutenant,” said Hoshi’s quiet voice over the comm. “I’m in the captain’s ready room, and I’ve taken over communications again for the moment. I can send you audio where you are, or send the whole thing to the console in the shuttle if you prefer.”

“Who’s it from?” asked Malcolm.

“I can’t determine the source, Lieutenant, but it has a high level encryption on it. Where should I send it?”

“I can be back at the shuttle in ten minutes. Send it to me there,” he replied.

Malcolm mused over Hoshi’s call as he signaled to his men and then began walking back to the shuttle. Her tone of voice had seemed distant, and she’d called him by his rank despite the fact that she was not on the bridge where others could hear. Perhaps she was concerned about someone hearing her on his end… she was in command of the Enterprise, after all. She’d seemed preoccupied after the briefing that morning as well, but he’d thought it merely due to her apprehension about being left in command. He gave a mental shrug. If he’d done something to make her angry with him, he was sure he’d hear about it soon enough. She wasn’t one to keep those sorts of things to herself for very long.

Arriving at the shuttle, he entered it and locked the door, powering up the internal cooling unit and sighing in relief as he sat down and enjoyed the almost immediate twenty-degree drop in temperature. He activated the comm console and called Hoshi in the ready room. He smiled at her as her face appeared on the screen. She looked back at him in alarm.

“Your face is red as a beet, Malcolm! Are you getting heat stroke down there?”

He laughed and shook his head. The concern on her face relieved him. “You know what they say, Hoshi… mad dogs and Englishmen!”

“That’s not funny, Malcolm. The Vulcan sun can kill you if you’re not used to it… promise me you’ll drink something before you go out again.”

Malcolm sighed and grinned in resignation. “Yes, Mother,” he said.

Hoshi paused for a moment with an unreadable expression on her face. Then she asked, “Ready for the message?” He simply nodded. Her face disappeared, replaced by the secure screen of a coded message. He entered his code, and Harris’ face appeared.

“Are you in a secure location?” he asked.

“As secure as I can be on a planet apparently quite full of terrorists,” replied Malcolm dryly.

“Our agent was on site for your landing party’s arrival. We had nothing to do with the attack, but we know where your Commander is being held. He will be used as the means to destroy the Vulcan High Council unless we can prevent it. Our agents have been instructed to kill him if necessary.”

“And you expect me to go along with that plan?” asked Malcolm in disbelief. “I thought I had made it clear to you that the job on Second Chance was the last time I will ever kill anyone for you. You can’t expect me to just sit back while you kill my friend.”

“I cannot reveal the location of the terrorist base to a dangerous freelancer, Lieutenant. You must either agree to rejoin covert ops and do the occasional job for us, or sit back while we do what we must do to protect Starfleet’s alliance with the current regime.”

“I refuse to be your pet assassin, Harris,” replied Malcolm angrily.

Harris sighed. “I understand your reservations, Lieutenant. Would it help if I told you that I consider it poor leadership on my part to order a soldier to do something that he finds morally reprehensible? We have other agents who have no difficulty following orders of that nature. I’m not making any promises, you understand, but now that you have clearly stated your reservations, it would be stupid of me to assign you to such a mission and risk mission failure, wouldn’t it?”

Malcolm stared at him for a moment, and then his need to save his friend overruled his better judgment.

“Very well, Harris. When Commander Tucker is safe and sound back aboard Enterprise, along with all the rest of our landing party, you may consider me at your disposal,” he growled reluctantly.

Harris looked back at him consideringly. Then he appeared to come to a decision. “Agreed,” he said. He reached down and inserted a prerecorded data disc into his console. “Here are your instructions.”

Harris’s face disappeared as data began streaming over the shuttle’s console screen … maps, names, times, locations … Malcolm had them all, and the authority to use them. His face took on a grimly pleased expression. Not only did he have the privilege of attempting to save Commander Tucker, but he was also apparently responsible for saving the Vulcan High Council’s collective ass. Starfleet would owe him big time if he could pull this off. Perhaps he could actually trust Harris’ reassurances this time … and then again … perhaps not.


 

 

Hoshi shut off the audio link to the shuttle that she’d purposely activated in order to eavesdrop on Malcolm’s conversation, and sat back in stunned disbelief for a few moments, attempting to reconcile the man she’d just heard speaking… to someone obviously affiliated with Starfleet Covert Operations… with the gentle man who’d said he loved her. The idea was mind-boggling. Here she’d been joking with him all this time about James Bond movies, when all the while she’d been in a relationship with an honest to goodness covert operative. All of the secrecy suddenly made sense, and she began to feel rather ashamed of herself for doubting him. It was actually somewhat exciting, the more she thought about it. I wonder if they’d let me join, too? she mused. They’re bound to need a good translator.


V’Lor was in the lab, gazing about him in satisfaction at the nearly empty shelves and pristine workstations. He was quite satisfied with the performance of his new staff … especially with the older female … what was her name… T’Pel perhaps? She had a brilliant mind and very skillful hands. His task with the virus was complete, and he would very shortly be responsible for the restructuring of the entire Vulcan system of government. The Human had been surprisingly difficult to deal with, but with the help of the dissociative drug he’d learned about from his Terra Prime associates, they had finally achieved their goal. Nothing could prevent their success now. His personal goal would also be achieved when the Vulcan First Officer saw her lover voluntarily destroy her planet’s entire governing body. A faint noise interrupted his self-congratulatory musings, and he walked to the door of the laboratory. The air in the lab was still contaminated, and so he wore a biohazard suit, and was forced to cycle through a decon cycle before entering the rest of the complex. When he entered the hallway, it was deserted. He stripped off the disposable suit and discarded it, and then began walking… searching for the source of the noise he’d heard earlier. He didn’t become truly concerned until he came upon the first crumpled body in the hallway. The Vulcan male was still alive. He appeared to have been downed by a phase pistol stun blast. V’Lor immediately turned around and headed back to his office and the phase pistol in his desk. Turning the corner, he was faced with the sight of his portly grey-haired female chief lab assistant being threatened at gunpoint by an intent looking Human.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” the Human was saying, “… but I’ve been told that my friend is in the lab. I want you to bring me there.”

V’Lor stepped out in front of the lab-coat clad woman into the Human’s line of fire. “I am the head researcher, and I can assure you that there is no one in the lab,” he said.

The Human’s head came up in interest. “The head researcher, eh? Just the man I was looking for!” He motioned with the pistol for both of them to start walking. “Lead the way.” As they walked, V’Lor heard the Human on the comm, calling for reinforcements. The Human appeared to know the way to the lab already, for he redirected V’Lor several times when he tried to lead him astray, but he didn’t have the code to get in. This was made obvious when they arrived, and the Human ordered him to open the door.

“Go in there and get a sample of this virus you’ve been working on,” said the Human. “… and while you’re at it, get some of the vaccine, too.” V’Lor eyed the Human warily. He was entirely too well informed.

“That’s all been removed from the lab now that the project has been completed,” lied V’Lor. The project was not actually complete yet. His first field test of the new vaccine was taking place as they spoke. If it was effective, he and his staff would then use the stockpile of vaccine he’d hidden in the lab to vaccinate themselves. Since he still had no idea of the effectiveness of the vaccine, or even whether it might actually be harmful to the people he’d already given it to, he and his staff remained unvaccinated.

“Then I suppose you won’t mind if I take a look,” replied the Human. “Open the door.” V’Lor saw the Human deliberately move the control on his phase pistol from stun to kill as he continued to point it unwaveringly at the researcher’s head.

V’Lor turned and opened the door. The Human beckoned both of them into the airlock ahead of him. V’Lor grabbed for a biohazard suit.

“Now why would you need that if you’re telling me the truth?” asked the Human ironically. V’Lor met T’Pel’s eyes in apology, and dropped the suit. He would have to risk vaccinating them both as soon as the Human was satisfied and left.

The three of them entered the room, and to V’Lor’s utter amazement, the Human went directly to the hidden refrigeration unit where the specimens were kept, shot off the lock, and gathered them all into a transport case he carried in the pack on his back. We have a spy in the complex, thought V’Lor in sudden realization. The Human turned to him then, and once again pointed his weapon at V’Lor.

“Now… tell me the truth. Where is the Human you kidnapped from the landing field in front of the High Council Complex this morning?”

V’Lor gazed back at the Human with a satisfied expression. “I imagine that by now he is within the High Council chamber itself,” he said.

The Human’s weapon dropped a fraction in shock, and then he turned rapidly and left the room, locking the door behind him and shooting the mechanism to prevent their escape. He obviously intended to prevent the events unfolding in the High Council chamber, and wanted to make certain that V’Lor was not capable of warning anyone that he was coming. He would, of course, be much too late.

V’Lor and T’Pel searched the lab thoroughly, and found no trace of a second cache of vaccine anywhere. They finally gave up the search, and sat facing each other at one of the workstations.

“Perhaps you should tell me something of yourself, Head Researcher V’Lor,” ventured T’Pel. “It is highly likely that we will soon become much better acquainted … whether we’d like to be or not.”


T’Pol stood calmly in the center of the Vulcan High Council chamber. It was an ancient amphitheater, constructed within a natural domed cavern within the underground complex. Representatives from every major population dense area on the planet were present, sitting in concentric rows around the circular floor of the chamber. Seated directly above the ground level space where T’Pol stood were the twelve Vulcans who composed the Vulcan High Council. Since the High Command had been transformed into the High Council, the power of the twelve was only a shadow of what it once had been. The electoral congress had final say over the edicts passed by the twelve, but all laws still originated from them, and very little could be accomplished without their consent.

“And so you are prepared, Commander, to assure all of us that these reports you have presented to us will be the only information provided to the Humans concerning your contact with the Romulans?” clarified T’Pau.

“I will not reveal any further information to the Humans concerning the Romulans,” confirmed T’Pol.

“And you were given no information during your captivity which might shed light on our current problem with Romulan sympathizers among our own people?” asked Minister Kuvak.

“The issue never came up,” replied T’Pol dryly. Kuvak raised a brow at her attempt at levity. He turned his head as a young intern appeared to whisper something in his ear. Kuvak leaned over to T’Pau and murmured something to her as she leaned toward him. She glanced at him in ill-concealed surprise, and sat up again to make an announcement.

“The Human, Commander Charles Tucker the Third, has been located and wishes to address this body. I have a motion to allow his presence among us. Does anyone second?” An elderly female Minister to T’Pau’s left raised her hand. T’Pau gazed out over the body of the electoral college. “No offworlder has ever seen the interior of this chamber or been witness to these proceedings. Who among you would agree to allow him to address us?”

Numerous hands were elevated. Her sharp Vulcan eyes made a rapid calculation.

“And which of you would deny him entrance?” Once again, hands were raised. Many had abstained from voting, but this was their right. T’Pau’s assessment was of equal numbers in both groups. She called for a vote of the High Council. It was split seven to four in favor of allowing the Human to speak. She nodded to the guards at the ground level entrance, and the doors slowly swung open, revealing a blank-faced blonde Human male dressed incongruously in an ornate ivory colored ceremonial Vulcan robe. T’Pol turned in relief toward her husband, but he showed no sign of recognition. She dropped her barriers completely, and then realized that there was something very seriously wrong with him. She hurriedly walked toward him and blocked his forward progress with her body, touching his wrist at the base of his sleeve with her bare hand and relying on the simple touch telepathy that all Vulcans possessed to some degree. All she felt initially was emptiness… there was not even the trace of emotion that flowed by touch from every sentient being with whom T’Pol had ever been in physical contact. Then something in him seemed to recognize her touch. His face remained immobile, but deep within the emptiness she felt something stirring… something protected in so many layers of barriers that emerging from them was a struggle not unlike hatching from an egg. She raised her right hand to his temple and instituted a mind meld with him right there in the council chamber, eliciting gasps of disgust from many of the onlookers, but no one interfered. There was something strangely threatening about the silent Human. T’Pol was the only person in the room brave enough to touch him.

Using the meld, T’Pol entered Trip’s mind to help him break free of his mental prison. A mental picture of Trip’s consciousness encased in a shell that was beginning to crack entered her mind along with a faint voice … unmistakably Trip’s, which whispered, Bomb…. Get ‘em out now!

T’Pol’s eyes flew open. She broke the meld, then turned and shouted in the direction of the twelve council members, “There is a bomb! Evacuate now!”

Pandemonium broke out in the council chamber as congress members and ministers rushed toward the exits. There were cries of dismay as the room’s occupants discovered the doors locked and sealed. T’Pol turned back to Trip and re-entered the meld. She sensed his barriers opening like flower petals to the sun at her contact. His self-blame over their current predicament vied with his relief at seeing her again and his joy that she didn’t hate him for frightening her half to death the evening before, until the confusing jumble of all of his emotions overwhelming her all at once threatened to overwhelm her sanity. He sensed her distress, and pulled back from contact, allowing her to collect her thoughts enough to ask, Where is the bomb, t’hy’la?

Trip’s eyes, finally come to life again with the reopening of the barriers he’d used to protect himself from the brainwashing techniques of the Seheik’uzh, gazed at T’Pol’s face in fear as he unfastened the robe he was wearing. Beneath it, a device with a chronometer face showing a countdown with four minutes and twelve seconds remaining was strapped to his chest over his uniform. It was connected to two silver canisters with Vulcan biohazard symbols on them which were strapped to his back. Trip was rigged to blow, and would be taking the entire Vulcan governing body with him, it seemed. T’Pol looked into his eyes for a moment. She sent reassurance, relief at his presence, sorrow over her attack the night before, and overwhelming affection to him all together in a single burst of emotion. He staggered slightly, wide-eyed.

Don’t move, she sent firmly. I will get help.

Pulling the communicator from her belt, she activated it.

“Reed here,” came the reply. The Lieutenant sounded like he was out of breath… and running perhaps?

“We require your assistance immediately in the Council chamber, Lieutenant. You will need to force your way through the doors…”

An explosion rocked the main entrance doors off their hinges, and Malcolm stepped through, covered in dust.

“…They are locked,” finished T’Pol somewhat ironically.


Archer watched in bemusement as four members of the Vulcan High Council and thirty-three members of the over two-hundred-member congress were unceremoniously hauled off in handcuffs to await trial. He was still a bit out of the loop, but it was his understanding, based on T’Pol’s briefing, that Malcolm had successfully disarmed a bioweapon that Trip had been forced to carry into the Council chamber by the terrorists with thirty-four seconds to spare, and that Phlox, called to the scene because of his apparent familiarity with the agent in question, and in the guise of checking everyone in the chamber for inadvertent exposure to the agent during the disarming process, had identified thirty-seven members of the Vulcan ruling body who had inexplicably been vaccinated against this previously unknown offworld viral agent with as yet unexplained… at least to him… effects on the Vulcan body. This vaccination had apparently been sufficient evidence to allow T’Pau and the remaining Council members to order the arrest and detainment of every last one of the vaccinees. T’Pau approached Archer as he stood before the ruined entry doors, admiring the architecture of the spacious vaulted chamber.

“This is a beautiful hall, Chief Minister,” he told her politely. He looked regretfully behind him at the doors. “I apologize for the damage. Is there something that I can do to show how much Starfleet regrets the fact that one of our people found it necessary to blow up your three-thousand year old doors?”

T’Pau raised a brow at him in amusement. “As that same person protected Vulcan’s entire governing body from the effects of a bioweapon, I would have to say that the scales are balanced, Captain,” she replied. “Although, I would not be adverse to a meal in your company before we conclude our negotiations.”

Jonathan Archer’s jaw dropped open for the second time in one day. What was it with him and older female heads of state? He had to be imagining this. There was no possible way that T’Pau could be flirting with him. He shut his mouth again with effort and smiled politely at the beautiful, petite… much older, tremendously powerful, and totally out of your league… Vulcan woman. “It would be my pleasure, Chief Minister,” he replied.


Trip lay skin-to-skin with T’Pol in her bunk, luxuriating in the sensations of both caressing her smooth, soft skin and being in complete mental communication with her at the same time, and still breathing heavily from the after-effects of their reconciliation.

Did I ever tell you that makin’ up with you is definitely better than fightin’, darlin’? he sent with satisfaction. He felt her amusement in the bond.

One would not think so based on our past history, husband… but I must admit that I also find ‘making up’ to be a very pleasurable activity, T’Pol replied as she rolled on top of him and rubbed herself against him like a large cat. Trip swore he could almost hear her purr. He laughed and ran his hands over her warm silky back and hips, his body already starting its preparation for round two of “making up”. The comm sounded loudly in the silence of T’Pol’s quarters, interrupting their interlude. T’Pol rose gloriously nude from the bed and kept her eyes on Trip’s as she answered the comm.

“T’Pol here.”

“Sorry to interrupt your meditation, Commanders, but there is an urgent priority one message for Commander Tucker,” said Hoshi over the comm.

T’Pol’s eyes met Trip’s questioningly. He nodded, and immediately got up and began throwing his clothes on. T’Pol collected her clothes, and then. once Trip was decently covered, said, ”Go ahead Lieutenant,” and retreated into the bathroom to get dressed. Trip sat down in front of the vid screen as his mother’s face appeared. She looked worried and frightened.

“Are you okay, Mama?” asked Trip with a concerned expression.

Catherine Tucker nodded, attempting to smile, and then she abruptly burst into tears and shook her head. “Your daddy’s missin’, son,” she told him brokenheartedly. “The police think somebody might’ve kidnapped him… or maybe…” she stopped then, unable to finish her sentence. T’Pol appeared behind Trip then, fully dressed.

“Who would do such a thing, Mrs. Tucker?” she asked. “Do you know if Mr. Tucker had any enemies?”

Catherine Tucker gave her a small smile, as if she knew that T’Pol was just trying to help, and shook her head. “Before the thing with Terra Prime after the Xindi attack, I woulda said my husband had no enemies… that everybody liked him. Now… well… I just don’t know!”

Trip nodded decisively. “If there’s any possible way for me ta do it, I’m gettin’ leave and I’m comin’ home, Mama. We’ll find Daddy, don’t you worry! I’ll call you when it’s all arranged, okay?”

Catherine Tucker nodded, and then gave him a tearful smile. He smiled back and cut the connection.

“I bet it’s got somethin’ to do with those damned Terra Primers!” said Trip angrily as he sat back in his chair. T’Pol, standing behind him, put her hands on his shoulders and rubbed them with gentle reassurance.

“Perhaps…” she agreed. She looked down at him then as he looked up at her. “…but perhaps he simply doesn’t want to be found,” she said softly. Trip grasped her hands in his and gave her a rueful look.

“He’s my daddy, T’Pol,… no matter what he’s done or how stupid he acts… and my mama needs him. I have to at least try to find him.”

T’Pol nodded and squeezed his fingers. “Of course you do, t’hy’la… and I will help you,” she said. Their eyes locked for several seconds in silent understanding. Then T’Pol broke the silence with a practical suggestion, as always.

“Since our conference with the captain must wait until the morning, may I suggest we meditate? I don’t imagine that this news will be very conducive to sleep this evening unless we calm ourselves.”

Trip sighed in frustration, and then nodded in agreement. Without argument, he settled to the floor on his meditation cushion. T’Pol sat opposite him on hers, and the room returned to silence, interrupted only by the sounds of inhalation, and then exhalation… done in complete accord by two people who were also one.


END (of this story)


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