The Briar Patch

By Dinah

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure angst drama romance

Keywords: Andorians bond Romulan War Romulans Shran Vulcan Civil War

This story has been read by 4906 people.
This story has been read 17077 times.

This story is number 2 in the series The Thorn and the Rose


Chapter 20 - Trip

 Author’s note:  Once again I apologize for taking so long to complete this chapter. 

My sincere thanks to everyone for the reviews.  I want to thank paulc5for a thought-provoking idea and SavanaSahara for her continuing support.  Please understand that I know nothing about medicine and any mistakes are mine alone.

Unspoken thoughts are in italics.  Telepathic bond speech is shown as normal speech.


Aboard the Warsaw

Trip stood, hands on hips, and took a quick look around.  He loved T’Pol with all his heart.  He knew he’d love her to his dying day and beyond.  But he had to admit that he was getting a little tired of the homogenized white space her mind created.  It was boring.  Really boring.  And just a bit claustrophobic.  How could he be expected to make love to his wife when he felt like he was trapped inside the belly of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man?

“You do not like the space I’ve provided for us?”  There was a hint of defensiveness in T’Pol’s voice.  “I thought you were comfortable here.”

Damn, Trip thought.  I just got here and I’ve already pissed her off.  When am I going to learn to keep my thoughts to myself?

“Of course I’m happy here.”  Trip walked over to her and lightly ran his hands up and down her arms.  He was surprised that she was wearing a regulation Starfleet uniform.  “I really appreciate the fact that we have a place to go when we’re apart.  I just wish —”

“Yes.”

“I just wish it had a little more pizzazz.”

“Pizzazz,” she said flatly.

“The first time I came here I mentioned that a beach or the Fire Plains might be nice.  Remember?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“So what do you think?”  He raised a hand, thumb and index finger forming a right angle.  “How about a waterfall?  Or maybe Suraya Bay on Risa.  Golden sand, turquoise water, clothing optional.”  He gave her a knowing wink.  “Now that would add some color to this place.”

“My white space offers serenity, a quiet place for me to meditate.  It is not designed to be some sort of theme park to keep you entertained.”

Laughing, Trip pulled her close to him.  “I apologize.  Your white space will do just fine.”

T’Pol snuggled against his chest.  “I had hoped that, since we are apart, you would be a little more —“

“Romantic?”  Trip said with a grin.

“Attentive.”

“I can be attentive.”  He tipped her head back and brushed his lips lightly against hers.  “Will this do?”

“It’s a start.”

He pulled her into a long, slow, passionate kiss.  It wasn’t the same as a kiss between two flesh-and-blood people, but they were able to convey the depths of their feelings for each other.  Trip had never felt so complete, so much a part of another living being.  It was intoxicating.  All the pain and anguish of their on-again, off-again relationship was behind them now.  No matter what the future might bring, they would be together.  No one could take that away from them.

“I miss you,” he whispered.

“And I miss you.”  T’Pol took a deep breath as Trip nibbled along one of her delicately pointed ears.  ‘The Sas-a-shar is traveling at maximum warp.  It won’t be long before we’re together again.”

“Good.  With General Casey dead, things are starting to heat up.  Is Malcolm with you?”

“Yes.”

Trip pulled back and stared at T’Pol.  “Captain Sirek let a disreputable Human on board a Vulcan battle cruiser?  Will wonders never cease?”

“Don’t be flippant.”  T’Pol ran her fingers lightly through his hair.  “Captain Sirek is not as dogmatic as Admiral Kiran.”

“Malcolm’s confined to his cabin, isn’t he?”

“Well —”

“In a remote part of the ship.”

T’Pol squirmed slightly in his arms.

“With an armed guard outside his door.”

A big smile spread across Trip’s face.  “I’m right, aren’t I?

“It was not deemed necessary to blindfold Commander Reed while he walked to his cabin.”

Trip threw his head back and laughed.  “I love the Vulcans!”

T’Pol looked at him skeptically.  “You love the Vulcans?  All Vulcans?”

He nodded.

“Does that include Admiral Kiran, Minister Sulin, Captain Vanik, Minister Herac —

He planted a kiss on her nose.  “All right, I love one very special Vulcan.”

Evidently that was the right thing to say because she quickly pulled him into another kiss.

When their lips parted, T’Pol continued to hold him close.  “Are you keeping track of the time?” she murmured.

“Hmmm?”  Trip nuzzled her hair.  Taking a deep breath, he was a little disappointed when he couldn’t detect her unique scent.  But it really didn’t matter.  He’d be happy to stay like this forever.

T’Pol pulled back and looked him square in the eye.  “It is getting late.”  When he still seemed at bit vague, she added, “You will be late for your shift.”

“Oh shit!”  Trip slapped a palm against his forehead.  “I’m supposed to meet Gardner and Tamura.  I completely forgot.”

“Are you still in bed?”

“Yeah.  The meeting is set for 0730.  What time is it?”

“0720.  You will have to hurry.”

Ten minutes.”  Trip gave her one of his dazzling smiles and another quick kiss.  “No problem.”


Trip ran full tilt down the passageway, turned a corner and skidded to a stop in front of the door to Warsaw’s conference room.  After taking a deep breath and checking his uniform one last time, he opened the door and stepped inside.

Admiral Tamura stood next to the conference table, reading through the information on a PADD he held in his right hand.  “You’re late,” he said without looking up.  “I expect my officers to be punctual.”

Trip took a quick look around the room.  “Admiral Gardner isn’t here yet?”

Tamura looked up and frowned.  “Admiral Gardner left for Earth three hours ago.”

“But I thought —”

“It was unexpected.  The prime minister and General Danjuma felt it was necessary for Admiral Gardner to be present when they begin the realignment talks next month.  Even at top cruising speed, Zhukov will barely arrive in time.”

“I apologize for being late, sir.  It won’t happen again.”

Tamura nodded then slid the PADD into one of his pockets.  “Come with me.”

The door slid open and the two men headed down the passageway.  “Where are we going?”  Trip asked.

“To the shuttlebay.”

“Oh.”  Trip had a feeling this was going to be one of those good news-bad news situations.  The good news:  He wasn’t going to be cooped up on Warsaw anymore.  The bad news:  Leaving Warsaw probably meant that the admiral had a job for him.  It didn’t take long for his mind to begin conjuring up all sorts of unpleasant possibilities, most of which revolved around Admiral Kiran.

“Is everything ready?”  Tamura asked Lieutenant Gannet Brooks, who was waiting for them outside the open door to the shuttlebay.

“Yes, sir.  The preflight inspection is complete.”

“And my call?”

“Ready whenever you are.”

“Good.  Put it through as soon as we’re underway.”

Trip had to admit that he was surprised when Gannet Brooks slid into the pilot’s seat.  Somehow he still thought of her as a reporter.  Obviously, since she was working for Starfleet Intelligence, she was capable of a great deal more.

When Trip started to sit in the co-pilot’s chair, the admiral said, “No, Commander.  Back here.”  Tamura pointed to the seat beside him.  Shrugging, Trip walked the length of the shuttle and sat in the designated spot.

As soon as the shuttle took off, the viewscreen sprang to life.  In three small squares along the left side of the screen were images of Admiral Gardner, Minister of Defense Maria Aurelia Carvalho and General Amobi Danjuma.  The man in the main section of the screen, however, was a total stranger.  He had thinning grey hair, a round face, narrow shoulders and wide belly and hips that made him look like a bowling pin.

“Oh no,” Trip groaned, when it finally registered that the man’s coat was liberally streaked with red.  He scrubbed his hands over his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Commander?”  Tamura turned to look at him.  “Is something wrong?”

“If this is what I think this it is —”

“General Casey’s autopsy.”

Trip gulped and nodded.  “That’s what I thought.  It’s kinda early in the morning for this, isn’t it?”

“Not back on Earth.”

“Oh.”

“Gentlemen,” Minister Carvalho said, “to save time, I have already briefed Doctor Levasseur.”

“He is aware of our need for security?”  Tamura asked.

“Yes.  He understands that all press releases, autopsy notes, etc. will be controlled by the United Earth government.”  The doctor nodded in agreement.  “By the way, in case you aren’t familiar with Doctor Levasseur, he is the top forensic pathologist in the European Alliance.”

The doctor frowned and wagged his finger.  “No, no, no, Madame, I am famous worldwide.  Every pathologist and law enforcement officer knows and respects Doctor Henri Levasseur.”

“Forgive me, Doctor,” Minister Carvalho replied.  “Now that we have that out of the way, can you tell us the cause of General Casey’s death?”

“Certainly!”  Levasseur turned and walked to the metal table directly behind him.  “I did a full autopsy.  I do not believe scans alone can provide the necessary information.”  He motioned toward Casey’s body.  “As you can see, I left the body cavity open and the brain separated from the skull in case you require tangible proof of my conclusions.”

“Just what I need,” Trip mumbled.  “Show and tell.”  He pressed a hand against his stomach, thankful that he hadn’t had time to eat breakfast.  At least he didn’t have to look at Casey’s face; that was obscured when the top portion of his scalp was pulled forward.

“General Casey died of a catastrophic brain stem stroke,” Levasseur continued.

“Catastrophic,” General Damjuma said.  “That would seem to imply that there was little hope for him once he was stricken.”

“That is correct.  With a stroke of this magnitude, he was probably dead before his body hit the floor.”

“So any attempt at resuscitation —”

“was a waste of time.”  Levasseur waved one gloved hand aimlessly in the air.  “It is, of course, unfortunate, but there can be no doubt that he was brain dead.  Let me show you.”  He reached for a clear, round, fluid-filled container which held Casey’s brain.

Admiral Gardner cleared his throat nervously.  “That won’t be necessary, Doctor.  You’re the expert.  We’re willing to take your word for it.”  Trip looked at the tight set of Gardner’s lips and the deep sadness in his eyes.  This has to be difficult for him, Trip thought.  He and Casey had been friends for a long time.

“Are you sure?”  There was a hint of disappointment in Levasseur’s voice.  “It will only take a minute.”

“Yes,” Gardner said emphatically.  He rubbed a hand across his mouth and took several deep breaths.  After taking a moment to compose himself, he dropped his hand and sat up straighter in his chair.  “So you’re saying that he died of natural causes.”

Arms behind his back, the doctor rose up on his toes then rocked back down again.  “The inexperienced physician might be fooled, but not me,” Levasseur smirked.  “No, no.  I dig until I find the truth.  There was nothing natural about General Casey’s death.  Murder … possibly.  An accident?  Suicide?  That is for you to ascertain.”

“Suicide.  Never,” Admiral Gardner asserted, shaking his head.  “George wasn’t suicidal.  As for murder … I know he’s been a pain in the butt lately, but he was a good man.  I can’t believe that anyone would want to kill him.”

General Danjuma raised a hand.  It reminded Trip of a schoolboy asking for permission to speak.  “Just a moment, Doctor.  You’re saying that something caused General Casey’s stroke.  Am I correct?”

“Yes.”

When nothing else was forthcoming, Danjuma added, “Would you explain, please.”

“Certainly.  General Casey died from a hemorrhagic stroke.  When a stroke of this type occurs in the brain stem it places vital bodily functions at risk.”  He waved his hand in a circular motion.  “Heartbeat, breathing, speech, blood pressure, etc., etc.  The arteries in the brain had been weakened by hypertension.  When the stroke occurred …” Levasseur clapped his hands together.  “Catastrophic.”

“But what caused this?”  Danjuma was obviously tiring of playing 20 Questions.

The doctor nodded.  “I carefully checked the general’s medical records, but there was no indication that he had a history of high blood pressure.  I believe his stroke was caused by an unidentified substance I found in his body.  A new substance.  It is exciting, yes?”

“Are they sure this guy is the best pathologist available?”  Trip muttered to Tamura, who motioned for him to be silent. 

“Doctor,” Gardner said stiffly, “this substance – whatever it is – just killed our top MACO commander and a close personal friend.  A little less … enthusiasm would be appreciated.”

Levasseur bowed his head.  “Of course.  The death of a dear friend is always a cause of great sadness.”  His head popped back up again.  “But I digress.  This chemical …  I have never seen anything quite like it before.  We continue to do exhaustive tests on it, but there are some properties which are completely foreign to us.”

“By foreign, do you mean alien?”  Minister Carvalho asked.

“It is possible.”  The doctor pointed one finger straight up in the air.  “No, I would say it is probable.”

“Could such a drug be used to alter or control behavior?”  Tamura asked. 

The doctor shrugged.  “Until we know what we are dealing with, who can say?”

“How was it administered?”

“I went over the entire body very carefully.”  Levasseur rocked up on his toes and back down again.  “There were no marks from an injection.  Of that I am certain.  The stomach contents showed no indication of the drug, so it was probably not administered orally.  There was no residue in the nose, mouth or other body cavities.”

“Through the skin?”

“It is possible, but I can provide no solid proof.”

Tamura ran a thumb pensively over his bottom lip.  “What about Julian Esterle?  Have you done an autopsy on him yet?”

“Of course.”

“Did he have the same substance in his body?”

“Yes, but un peu.”  The doctor held up one hand, moving the thumb and index finger close to each other.  “Only a little.”

“So someone has been trying to control both men,” Gardner said.  “Is that what you’re thinking, Osamu?”

“Yes.  But General Casey probably wasn’t as compliant as Esterle, so they were forced to raise the dosage.”

“Do you have any idea who might be behind this?”

“Yes.  But without proof we can’t take action.”

“Doctor,” General Danjuma said, “was there anything else unusual about either body?  Any marks or anomalies that we should know about?”

“Only the knuckles on General Casey’s hands.  Although the skin is not broken, the damage is consistent with a person who has been in a fight.”  Levasseur tried his hand at a little shadow boxing.  “Not just once, but over a period of time.  Two knuckles are broken; four have been broken in the past.  There is also damage to the joints and joint linings – some inflammation, swelling.  It must have been very painful.”

“Could the substance have entered his body through his hands?”  Gardner asked.

“Anything is possible, but why?  There are far more efficient methods.  Did he box on a regular basis?”

“No.”  Gardner shook his head.  “No, he didn’t.”

“If there is nothing else.”  Minister Carvalho paused for a moment.  “Then, on behalf of the United Earth Government, I would like to thank you, Doctor, for your efforts.  General Danjuma will be by within 30 minutes to collect your records and any samples of this substance that you’ve collected.  I’m afraid that your experiments with it must cease, as well.”

“But no!”

“I must insist.  The results of these autopsies are now classified information.  You will not communicate your findings or the existence of this substance to anyone.  If you’ve involved other people in your experiments – and it sounds as though you have – they, too, must be cautioned.  If the existence of this substance leaks out, you and your people will be detained by the Government Security Force.  Is that clearly understood, Doctor?”

“But your doctors and scientists will need my guidance.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible, Doctor.  But rest assured that we are in you debt.”

“Of course you are.”  Levasseur threw both hands up in the air.  “I will do as you ask, but you are wrong to reject the offer of my expertise.”

“I regret that it will be necessary for us to struggle along without you.”

The doctor motioned toward Casey’s body.  “Will someone be collecting them as well?  Your General Casey and this Esterle person?”

“Yes,” General Danjuma said.  “I will you see to it, Doctor.  Under no circumstances are you to release the bodies to anyone unless I am there personally to approve the transfer.  Understood?”

Levasseur nodded reluctantly.

“Thank you, General,” Carvalho said.  "I will contact Casey’s family and —”

“He had no family,” Admiral Gardner said.  “His wife and son are dead.”

“Then I will begin making arrangements for the funeral.”

“What about Esterle?”  Danjuma asked.

“Collect the body for now.  I will consult with the Prime Minister.  Is there anything else you need from us, Doctor Levasseur?”

“No.”  The doctor’s lower lip protruded, making him look like a petulant child.  “Since I’m given no other choice, I will tidy up the bodies so they will be ready when General Dajuma arrives.  Good day to you.”

“Thank you again, Doctor, and good-bye.”  As soon as Minister Carvalho finished, the doctor disappeared and the likenesses of Gardner, Carvalho and the general realigned on the viewscreen.

“We thought we had trouble before,” Admiral Gardner said as he scrubbed a hand over the back of his neck and stretched his shoulders.  “If this gets out the shit will really hit the fan.  Top military official controlled by aliens.  That will play real well with folks back home.”

“I’m afraid Esterle may present an even bigger problem, gentlemen,” Minister Carvalho said.  “His followers are already circling like a flock of ravening vultures.”

“If only the broadcast hadn’t cut out when it did, people would have seen the MACO sergeant take out Esterle, and we wouldn’t have the conspiracy theorists running wild,” Danjuma added.  “Now, even when the full version is shown, some people refuse to believe it.  They accuse the government and Starfleet of murdering Esterle to protect the Coalition.”

“The one thing we cannot afford to do, at this point, is to make Esterle a martyr.  Somehow we have to prove to people that the man was killed by a lone MACO for reasons that were known only to him.”

“Speaking of the MACOs,” Tamura said, “Have you had a chance to interrogate the prisoners yet?”

“Yes, but they aren’t being cooperative.”  Danjuma shifted in his chair.  “Nobody’s talking.  Not even name, rank and serial number.”

“Let them sit behind bars in solitary confinement for a while.  That may loosen their tongues.”

“That may not be an option.”

“Why not?”

“Corporal … or Captain Ryan … is no longer in his cell.”

“Dead?”  Gardner said.

“No, just gone.”

“How is that possible?”  Minister Carvalho asked. 

“Oh, it’s possible,” Gardner replied, his voice rising.  “Some bastard got hold of a transporter.  Jail cells aren’t equipped to prevent someone from transporting out because the technology is only available to a select few.”

“Like Starfleet.”

“Yes, like Starfleet.  And a whole lot of alien species.  That son of a bitch could be anywhere by now.”

“Starfleet Intelligence may be able to help secure the remaining prisoners,” Tamura said.  “General, I will have Commander Dockerage contact you as soon as we are finished here.”

Danjuma acknowledged with a nod of the head.  “Admiral Leonard is already checking all Starfleet vessels and facilities for transporter activity.  We might still have some MACO wolves loose among our lambs.”

“Has he checked the ships in orbit and those that have recently left orbit?”  Admiral Gardner asked. 

“He’s in the process of doing so, yes.”

“Tell him to really check them.  Board the ships, if necessary.  This wouldn’t be the first time we’ve faced hostile ships disguised as friends.”  

“And if they take exception to being boarded?”

“First option:  disable them.  If that isn’t possible, blow them straight to hell.”

“Gentlemen,” Carvalho said, both hands raised in a cautionary gesture.  “We may be getting dangerously close to an act of war.”

“Forgive me, Minister,” Gardner replied, “but the real act of war may have already occurred:  the attempt to destabilize our government.  We’re being systematically picked apart by forces beyond our control.  It’s about time we stand up for ourselves and take control of our own planet once again.”

“All right, Admiral.  But I urge all of you to exercise caution.  The other members of the Coalition are not reassured by the unrest on Earth.  Our security depends on keeping this alliance in force.”

“Understood, ma’am.”

“If, as Admiral Gardner observed, we are being manipulated by our enemies, then we must act quickly to stop them.  General, I want you to move your timetable forward.  We can’t afford to have Earth’s military organizations disorganized and ineffectual.  You have two months to get everything straightened out.”

“But, Minister …” Danjuma had rather heavy-lidded eyes, but they were wide open now.  “This could be very complicated.  It shouldn’t be rushed.”

“Nonsense.  Get it done, General.  Two months.  Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.

“Admiral Gardner, as soon as the Zhukov enters orbit around Earth, I want you down here looking into this mess with Casey and Esterle.”

“General Danjuma wanted my help with the military reorganization,” Gardner said.  “I take it that’s no longer on the table.”

“Correct.  I’m sure you have other officers who can represent Starfleet.”

“Admiral Leonard and Captain Archer can get the job done.”

“Good. 

“I know this won’t be easy.  You’re Starfleet and that’s like raising a red flag in front of the isolationists, but I can’t help it.  I need people I can trust.  Find out what happened and who’s to blame.  You have two months.  Use the time well.”

Gardner nodded.

Admiral Tamura,” Carvalho said, “if our government has been infiltrated, this must stop.  I want to know who’s loyal and who needs to be stood up against a wall and shot.  Time is running out.”

“Two months,” Tamura said resignedly.  “Am I correct?”

“Exactly.  We have a lot to do, gentlemen.  I suggest we get busy.”  With that, the transmission came to an abrupt end.

“That is a formidable woman,” Tamura observed.

Trip knew all about formidable women.  After all, he was married to one.  And while Minister Carvalho couldn’t hold a candle to his T’Pol, he was just glad that the minister hadn’t noticed him.  Given the jobs she’d just dished out to the top brass, he shuddered to think what kind of job she might have lined up for a lowly Starfleet commander.

“Lieutenant Brooks, what is our ETA?”

“We’re in orbit, sir.  We can land at any time.”

“Good.  Let’s drop off Mr.  Tucker and then head for Mount Seleya.”

“Aye, sir.”

Drop off Mr.Tucker?

Trip wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.  “You’re dropping me off?  Where?”

“I’ve scheduled a meeting for you with the Vulcan High Council.”

Trip groaned.  This job, whatever it was, stood a good chance of being every bit as nasty as he’d imagined.  “When?”

Tamura checked the shuttle’s chronometer.  “Five minutes.  You should just about make it.”

“Am I just listening and reporting back?”  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all, Trip thought.

“No, I expect you to take an active part.  Everything you need to know is right here.”  Tamura pulled a PADD from his pocket and handed it to Trip.  “I suggest you take a moment to review the information on this PADD before you go into the meeting.”

When Trip felt the shuttle slow then touch down softly, he looked out the front viewport and knew immediately that they had arrived at the private landing platform attached to the top floor of the Vulcan government building.  Trip decided that whatever information Tamura had given him had better be brief and in simple language.  He wasn’t going to have time to wade through a ten page report.  Besides, what was the big secret, anyway?  Why was he going into this meeting cold?  “Admiral —”

Tamura held up a hand and pointed to the PADD.  “Everything you need is right in there.”

“But —”

“You’ve just heard how serious the situation is.  Our planet is in danger.”

“Yes, sir.  I understand that, but —”

“I have complete confidence in you.  I’m sure you won’t let Starfleet and United Earth down.”

Uh oh.  This just kept getting worse and worse.

Before Trip could think of anything else to say, Gannet Brooks was on her feet and had the hatch open.  “Commander?” Trip tapped the PADD on his open palm and took a deep breath.  “On my way.”  Standing, he made a mental note to find a quiet place to read whatever was on this PADD.  It was hard enough to appear intelligent when you were dealing with Vulcans without showing up at a meeting totally unprepared.

Just before he reached the hatch, the admiral called to him.  When Trip turned, the Tamura tossed a small box to him.  Catching it deftly with one hand, Trip saw that it contained a set of pips. 

Thoroughly confused, he asked, “What are these for?”

“Admiral Gardner and I figured that if you’re going to represent Starfleet in any more interstellar dealings, you should probably carry a little more clout.  Congratulations, Captain Tucker.”

“Captain?  After everything that’s happened?  I don’t —”

“Don’t try and figure it out.  Just be glad that you seem to have some small aptitude for diplomacy.”  Tamura pointed toward the hatch.  “Now go and make the Vulcans see reason.  I have a date with the High Priest on Mount Seleya.”

“Yes, sir.  And thank you.”  A grin spread across Trip’s face as he stepped out of the shuttle and headed for the meeting with the Vulcans. 


To be continued - - -


Comments:

Transwarp

So, Trip thinks T'Pol's whitespace is boring?  Then he's not focusing on the right thing!

Also can't wait to see what Trip's meeting with the Vulcan's is all about.

A good chapter in a good story.

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