The Borders of Reality

By Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Rating: PG

Genres: drama

Keywords:

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Disclaimer: Star Trek, Enterprise and its ever-expanding universe do not belong to me, though I love it and spend a certain amount of time there and, not being a Ferengi, I seek no profit from writing or sharing this story, only comradeship & entertainment.

Summary:  For T’Pol, reality was once a singular thing: its borders clearly, precisely and logically defined.  But could that have been a misperception?

A/N:  This story takes place as awareness of the Romulan threat permeates every aspect of life aboard Enterprise, even something as routine as a shuttlepod mission to do a little star and weather-pattern mapping.  It’s been in my head for ages, originally imagined in a sort of H. G. Wellsian London, but it never would come together until it traveled off-planet and a Vulcan got in on it.  Thanks, T’Pol! 

 


 

25 April, 2155

 

It had been a productive two days.

 

T’Pol checked the readings on Shuttlepod One’s navigational display and listened for the captain’s voice through several light-years of ionic activity.

 

The storms seemed to be dissipating, though not enough for reliable communications.

 

“Hoshi?” Captain Archer’s voice came through the static as little more than a buzz.    “Can you get us-”

 

T’Pol narrowed her eyes along with her attention and attempted to catch his next words.  Were they perhaps “-any better resolution?”?

 

Even to her acute Vulcan hearing, Ensign Sato’s background response was all but undecipherable, but she believed it was  “I’m attempting to boost the gain now…”

 

There was a pop, a fizz, a crackle and the captain’s voice came through the channel undistorted.  “Commander, we’re trying to-”

 

The ionic interference garbled his next syllables.

 

T’Pol tapped in a series of commands.  “Your signal is breaking up.  Please repeat.”

 

She waited, tipping an ear toward the incoming tangle of sounds.  It took all her concentration to reconstruct them into an approximation of “-firm that… rendezvous coordinates unchanged… previous estim… ETA… ‘main unchanged…”

 

“Confirmed,” she said.  There were three more brief bursts of almost word-shaped static before the channel was clogged with meaningless white noise.

 

There was no way to be certain whether Enterprise had picked up her last transmission.  Still, barring any unforeseen circumstance, at present course and speed, the rendezvous with Enterprise should occur in approximately six hours.

 

For the first time in two days, no project was scheduled.  She checked the navigational display, checked the autopilot control and, in her role as mission commander, began organizing the remaining hours.

 

The test runs on the shuttle’s engine and sensor upgrades were over.  The preliminary star charting of the region was complete.  Along with the expected red giants, white dwarves, binaries and trinaries, they had found a supernova with three planets still orbiting the collapsed star as dead cinders after a millennium.  In a nearby system was a depopulated minshara class world whose end had been much more recent and the result of far less natural causes.  The computer was still organizing all collected data relative to that planet for more detailed analysis back on Enterprise.  The ionic storms saturating this sector had been cataloged and streams of incoming sensor readings continued to be uploaded.  Therefore, there was time to-

 

A rustling sound from the seat beside her interrupted her thoughts.

 

“How long ‘til that rendezvous?” asked Trip.  His voice sounded muffled, his tone distracted.  She doubted he had looked up from his data PADD to ask his question.

 

“Approximately six point five hours, which should allow us ample opportunity to begin an evaluation of the sensor upgrades’ performance and -”

 

“Already on it,” Trip said, still not looking up from his PADD.  “Looks like we got the ten per cent range increase the folks at Jupiter station projected, and then some.   This storm cuts into that a little, probably no more than two per cent.  We won’t have a good read on how much visual resolution’s been sharpened either, but I’d guess it’ll factor out to a close to ten per cent improvement.”

 

At last he looked up.  “Too bad that wasn’t enough to tell us  more about that planet back there.  If all that destruction came from an internal conflict or at the hands of the Romulans.  But there’s nothing these sensors know how to recognize yet- that connects them to it.  A warp signature might’ve told us something, but this storm would obscure it within hours and whatever happened was at least a couple of weeks ago.”

 

T’Pol nodded.  Though the fate of that minshara class planet troubled her as well, without the resources for analysis available back on the ship, no firm conclusions could be drawn.  Still, it demanded a deliberate act of will to make herself return to Trip’s earlier comments.  “I do believe the captain will be impressed with the upgrade results, as well as with this craft’s increased speed and maneuverability.”

 

“Oh, yeah.  He’ll wanna take it for a test run.”  Though he grinned with affectionate understanding of his old friend’s love of piloting, T’Pol recognized that, like her own change of subject, it had cost him some degree of effort.

 

It was a difficult balance these days, not becoming too dismissive of the idea of a Romulan presence, or too preoccupied by it.  Even though no overt signs of their ships had been detected within its borders since the formation of the new Coalition of Planets, knowledge that they were out here somewhere was hard to ignore, even during the most routine of missions.

 

Not that this one was routine.

 

While Enterprise was undergoing her most recent refits, Captain Archer had pressed hard to get her upgrades field-tested rather than put through weeks of  simulations.

 

“I trust my crew to continue modifying these refits as necessary as well as refining the upgrades.  What we need is to know how adaptable they are in situations that Jupiter Station can’t recreate,” he’d said.

 

Conditions like this ion storm.

 

T’Pol skimmed nimble fingers across her console, bringing up a new series of displays. “Perhaps,” she said.  “We can use this time to develop a grid overlay of our stellar maps, using time-lapsed storm front information to project patterns of strength, duration and distribution throughout the sector.  Ensign Mayweather could use them to create some new piloting simulation programs.  A review of signal decay rates at different band frequencies during our attempts to contact Enterprise might help Ensign Sato develop more efficient communication strategies for conditions like this.  After that, we…”

 

“Nothing like a nice, leisurely trip, is there?”  Trip’s voice cut in.

 

T’Pol glanced over at him.  Was there a hint of unforced amusement now shining in his eyes as he looked at her over the top of his data PADD, and a note of humor in his tone to go with the irony in his words?

 

“Did you have something else in mind, Commander?” she asked.

 

No doubt about the humor now.  It danced in his eyes.  “Only a little this-‘n’-that.”

 

“This?” asked T’Pol, caught somewhere between an irrational flicker of exasperation at having her thoughts interrupted by such an imprecise statement and curiosity as to what he meant by it.  For him that comment was a coherent expression, not a deliberate ambiguity.  She could almost hear the dashes connecting  his quick succession of words- this-‘n’-that- even if the mental bond she shared with him hadn’t already tied the phrase into a single concept.

 

One that she nevertheless still found to be…

 

Completely ambiguous.

 

“Yeah.” Trip set his PADD aside and reached for her hand.  Drawing it toward him, he planted a quick kiss on the back of her index finger.

 

The old melding words were no longer necessary. (My mind to your mind… my thoughts to your thoughts… our minds are one…)  As his willing touch allowed the link between them to open, the general stream of ideas and reactions that had become a subtle flow far at the back of her mind focused and spoke to her more clearly than the limiting clutter of words.

 

She was loved without condition.  She was respected.  Trusted.

 

He saw her as infinitely precious and more beautiful than she had ever thought to consider herself, especially right now with the reflected glow from the console displays touching her cheeks with its colors.  And…

 

“This.” Trip said again, moving his attention to the next finger and the next, repeating the gesture.  Above her hand, his eyes danced with mischief.  “And this.”

 

“And… that?”  T’Pol asked on a soft intake of breath.  She wouldn’t have needed their bond for her senses to explain exactly what Trip was thinking about, though it did provide some intriguing details.

 

“And that,” he laid heavy emphasis on the word as he sighed and with unmistakable reluctance lifted his head.  “Is about as far as it goes ‘til we get back home.”

 

Still he continued to hold her hand.

 

The smile lighting his face faded to simple earnestness as, with conscious deliberation the sweet and eager signals flooding to her mind and body calmed.  “T’Pol,” he said, his voice not quite steady.  “I wanted a minute to tell you…  These last weeks, since we chose to meld… completed our bond… even with Elizabeth dying and the Romulans threatening our borders, well… I can’t think when I’ve been more fulfilled.  Complete, I guess I’d say and…”  He grappled for the right word, sighed then shrugged.  “The closest I can get to it is… happy.”

 

T’Pol regarded his unwavering blue eyes.  Did attaching words to feelings somehow make them more real?  It would certainly seem so, or at least, as the struggle implied, they did to Trip’s way of thinking.

 

For herself, she had always considered reality as a constant, one that could be perceived, experienced, observed or even commented on, but certainly not one which was changed by anything as insubstantial as words.  Especially when they involved the casual labeling of subjective emotional states.

 

The easy naming of her own emotions was something difficult for her.  Still, as she looked at him, she was aware of a strong and steady warmth inside her.  The sensation was too familiar to be new.  But had she been consciously aware of it before he spoke?

 

She wasn’t sure.

 

How much did words- his words- her own words- any words at all shape reality?

 

Happy was not one that was part of her upbringing.  Discipline was of course, plus emotional control and mental centering.  They were skills expected of her since earliest memory by her mother, her teachers and herself.  Countless solitary hours of candle-lit, cross legged, motionless meditation had gone toward perfecting them.  It still seemed a paradox that her bond with an emotional, often impulsive human, had contributed so much more toward her progress in achieving them.  She was gratified by the knowledge that, after their daughter’s death, it had helped to do the same for Trip.

 

Perhaps that sense of being able to share with, nurture and strengthen each other was as good a definition of happiness as any.  She allowed her fingers to tighten on his.

 

For several moments their hands remained intertwined in easy companionship on the armrest of her seat.

 

“I too have found…”  She began, then paused.  Why, she asked herself, was she struggling for words to speak, or even to articulate within the silence of her thoughts, what Trip’s touch would already have read more fully?  Perhaps to give it shape?  To solidify the reality of it?

 

The idea was coalescing toward verbal expression, when it was interrupted by a quiet, steady beeping and the small blue flash, flash, flash of a dot moving on a diagonal from the upper left corner of the navigational display.

 

“That’s a ship!” Trip’s gaze followed hers as the dot positioned itself in the middle of the interference clouded screen.  “Looks to be a little smaller than this one.  Pretty hard to tell through this storm, though.”

 

“It’s on an intercept course with ours.” T’Pol didn’t notice when his fingers released hers, only realized that both her hands had arrowed to long-familiar places on the console to input a series of data requests.  “I’m attempting to clarify the image.”

 

Beside her, Trip was doing the same.  “I can’t confirm if there’re  life signs aboard.”

 

T’Pol opened the comm channels.  “I’m attempting to hail.”

 

Nothing.  Only the crackle of static and the beep, beep, beep of the proximity alert.

 

“Nothing on its warp signature.” said Trip.

 

T’Pol tried another hail.  Still nothing.

 

The beeping grew faster, louder.

 

Trip’s voice rose. “Nothing on any weapons compliment it may be carrying, either.”

 

The word “Romulan” hung, an unspoken question in the air between them.

 

The jumble of colors filling the display vanished as she incorporated their recently completed star chart, then requested the newest readings on the ion storm. A moment later the screen filled with uneven waves of green, yellow and orange cascading through a grid-work of coordinate squares.

 

Trip stared at her new layout, then gave her a surprised glance.  “You thought setting that up would take a full six plus hours?”

 

“Yes.”  She paused to magnify the image, then glancing at him with one brow slightly raised, she added.  “Allowing, of course, some time for this-and-that, as you would have known, had you not interrupted me.”

 

Even through all the she heard his familiar laugh as he turned back to his console.    “I’m entering the craft’s most recent coordinates now,” she raised her voice over the

steadily rising warble of the proximity alert.

 

“Go ahead!”  He almost shouted.  “Since we already know the thing’s coming, I’m…”

 

Before he could finish, she deactivated the signal.

 

His words burst into the quiet filling the shuttle. “…gonna turn off that damn noise!”

 

The dot reappeared, a series of wavering blue dashes marking its trail from one color washed coordinate square to another.  “The craft should clear the current wave of ionic activity in sixteen seconds.”

 

The dashes flickered across a wave of red, then grew brighter and took on definition as they moved through bands of yellow and green.  The lead indicator slipped beneath a grid line and appeared in an entirely black square.

 

“It’s free of interference.”  T’Pol studied the screen.  “On its present course, it should remain so until the next front arrives in approximately thirty minutes. I believe we can get a visual image.”

 

Trip glanced toward her screen.  “Looks like its sitting in the eye of a hurricane,”

 

The dashes became a single dot that resolved into something recognizably a craft that hung crumpled and spent before a backdrop of stars.

 

“Still no response to hails,” said T’Pol.  “But I’m picking up one life sign, very faint.”

 

“No evidence of active weaponry,” said Trip.  “Or any warp signature.  She’s barely making impulse.  That won’t last more than a few minutes and neither will life support.”

 

Beside her, he was running all the usual investigative protocols, his hands flying across the console with sure, steady precision.  Still…

 

There was a brief shift in her heart rate, announcing a rising adrenaline level.

 

T’Pol cast an abrupt look in his direction.  It was their bond rather than any outward sign that picked up the shudder rippling through him.  She shivered in an instant of cold and almost gasped for air that seemed thinner with each breath.  A moment later she tasted the memory of something strong and alcoholic burning its way down her throat and felt long-ago hands circling her own as Lieutenant Reed steadied the bottle…

 

Trip had known the reality of being marooned within the confines of a failing shuttlepod…  This shuttlepod.  Now, so did she.

 

While she sensed no trauma from his experience, that knowledge sharpened the urgency of the situation.  He had already shrugged off the memory and was accessing a series of schematics.  Two, three, four blinked by before he froze, then enlarged an image.  “According to this, we can create a reasonable docking seal with that craft’s air-lock and render a little first aid.  Get that ship up and running, or at least up and limping well enough to get home.”

 

Rising, T’Pol moved to a compartment housing tethers and E V suits.  Pulling one out, she checked the size, handed it to Trip, then selected one for herself. “Internal scans show no obvious bio-contaminants falling  within the parameters of the Coalition’s database.  I will notify the captain of our intent and that we’ll update him when we have a new ETA.”

 

Trip nodded.  As she extended a helmet toward him, she went on. “The air saturation is low, but the oxygen-nitrogen ratio is within accepted safety guidelines for both of us.  If the levels can be raised, we may be able to remove our helmets.”

 

Trip glanced at the console.  “We have three minutes before we reach her.  While you suit up, I’ll grab my tools and run one more check on that air lock.  Maybe you can get the med-kit ready while I get mine on.”

 

Barely six minutes had passed before Trip and T’Pol hovered in the passage joining the two crafts, bulky but weightless in their E V suits.

 

“Radiation levels are significantly elevated,” T’Pol said, her scanning device almost flush with the door of the inner airlock.  “But with careful monitoring we can minimize the risks and compensate with extra de-con measures when we return to the shuttlepod.”

 

“Good.” Trip’s hyper-spanner swiveled the last locking dial into access position.  A five sided opening grew before him.  “Because life support’s failing.  Guessing by the dimensions of the circuitry, it’ll be easier for me to work with it if I can shed the helmet.”

 

The opening led to a dimly lit space too small to call a room, though it held lockers and cabinets suggestive of a storage area.  Trip pressed himself gently against a locker  to permit T’Pol access.  As she bobbed against him, the door behind her slid shut and the locking mechanism activated.

 

“Makes for a nice feeling of togetherness in here, doesn’t it?”  Trip swiveled in midair to flash her a brief, bright grin from behind the faceplate of his helmet.

 

At his words, she again experienced warmth spreading through her.  Had they created, or only focused her attention on it?  It didn’t matter.  Momentarily she savored the awareness that she was… pleased… they were undertaking this venture together: that she was… glad… of his presence beside her.  Though she had experienced no lack of strength, resolve or focus prior to his words, she was aware that their confirming unity in working this rescue had enhanced all three.

 

“It does indeed,” she agreed as the craft’s artificial gravity engaged, allowing them to settle to the floor.

 

At either side of the chamber, squat doorframes with raised sills indicated two further compartments, each sealable in case of emergency.  From one an impulse drive sounded: not the purr of their shuttlepod’s, or the steady rumble of Enterprise’s, but a rasping growl.  From the other there was only the low back-and-forth murmur of sensors.  In the dim light, T’Pol spared a glance at Trip as he ducked through the low entryway toward the engine room.  The sense of togetherness stayed with her even as he disappeared.

 

Turning, she followed her helmet-beams into what she assumed was the command area.  A solitary humanoid figure slumped on a low seat before a bank of monitors.       His slow breathing was raspy an congested.  Still, there was a spark of humor in his eyes as he turned to her.  “Surprising,” he said without preliminary greeting.

 

“What is?”  She raised an eyebrow as she ran her first aid scanner over him.

 

“You.  I didn’t think… I still had it in me.”

 

Trip’s voice interrupted, coming through the speaker in her E V suit. “I’m adjusting life-support levels.  Not sure how long they’ll hold, but once the saturation levels rise, we can dispense with the headgear.”

 

“Understood, Commander,” T’Pol glanced at her medical scanner, then the pilot’s face.  Even in the low light, the telltale petechial spotting of subcutaneous hemorrhage was apparent.  Radiation sickness.  Her eyebrow rose higher.  “What do you mean, that you had it in you?”

 

“To be able to come up with something like you.” He wheezed.

 

Before she could check the universal translator or ask him to clarify, Trip’s voice again came through the speaker.  “How’s the pilot doing out there?”

 

“I’m running preliminary diagnostics now.”

 

“Good.  I’ve located the atmospheric feed canisters and I’m rerouting a couple of conduits for better dispersal.  You can remove your helmet now, but…”  His tone distracted, Trip’s words trailed off.

 

The pilot’s gaze followed T’Pol’s every movement as she closed off her air-feed hoses, unclipped her helmet and lifted it off.

 

“But what, Commander?” she called.

 

“I don’t like the looks of it in here…” Trip’s voice came through the doorway behind her.  Its muffled sound said  his helmet was off too, and a throaty note of constriction indicated he was maneuvering himself into a tight space back there.

 

“Understood,” T’Pol replied.  She didn’t like the looks of things in here, either.  The scanner said the pilot’s life signs were wavering, but she wouldn’t have needed it to hear the deepening rattle in his breathing.  “Do you have medical supplies?” She asked.  “Or your own diagnostic scanners?  I am not familiar with the specific needs of your species.”

 

“Good line…”  He said.  His head rolled on the neck rest of his seat.  The amusement was still there, bright in his eyes.  His shoulders jerked and a  sound between a cough and a laugh bubbled up from within him.  “Nice details.  Diagnostic scanners!  I didn’t think I could keep … finding names…  Crafting detailed names… technical names when… I was so far gone.  Let alone come up with your elegant eyebrows…”

 

From the aft compartment came the familiar sound of metal sliding over metal as Trip opened a panel to access circuitry.  “This whole place’s taken a beating.”  He called.  “And not from the storm.  Impulse is about shot.  And this warp drive’s…  Oh, damn!  Hang on a minute!”

 

In the following silence, T’Pol studied the pilot.  “What did you mean, come up with?”

 

“What do you think?” he snapped, not turning his head to look at her again.  This time, when the sound came, T’Pol knew that it was a laugh, though the amusement had given way to bitterness.  “Of course, you really don’t think at all, do you?  It’s all just my dialogue you’re reciting, but…”

 

“But what?” T’Pol prompted.  Even with the universal translator, sometimes meanings could be buried in cultural context.  To work productively with him she needed more understanding of how his mind and perceptions worked.  “Please explain.”

 

“Oh, why did I let myself do this?” he demanded, speaking to himself rather than to her.  “I intended to sit here and let everything blur… fade out.  The lights on the console, the console itself…  The skin of the craft would grow thin.  Maybe dissolve, and I along with it…  I didn’t mean to bring in a whole new species!”  A note of what she recognized as resignation crept into his tone.  “If I was going to think of anybody,  why wasn’t it someone… from my own world… to be here at the end?  Not a couple of aliens…!  More creative, I suppose…  But I’m too tired to… keep this up.  Want to… stop now.”

 

A metallic clang sounded from the other compartment.  “The readings are getting real unstable in here!”  called Trip.  The constricted quality had gone from his voice.  Apparently he’d pulled himself back out of whatever crawlway he’d been exploring.  “Is he stable enough for us to get him outta here?”

 

The pilot spoke as though he hadn’t noticed.  “Just wish I… could still remember where I… sent them to.”

 

“Sent?  The people from your world?”

 

“Yes, sent!  Evacuated them, just as the ships arrived.”

 

“Commander!”  Trip’s voice was rising.  “There’s a slow coolant leak here.  I can’t see reaching it in under an hour.  I don’t think we’ve got that long.  The warp drive’s not operating, but it’s been damaged so it can’t properly shut down.  It’s been working its way up to super-heating!  I’ll try slowing that down, but I’m makin’ no promises!”

 

“Can you estimate our margin of safety?”

 

“Workin’ on it.”

 

T’Pol clicked off the medical scanner.  “You heard Commander Tucker.  Our time is limited.  Is there a name or title by which I may address you?”

 

That half-cough, half bark of humorless laughter came again.  “How is it … you don’t… recognize me?  Well, never mind.  We’ll forgo… the formality of titles… at a time like this.  Don’t know why… I would’ve thought that important anyway.  Just call me Keddic.”

 

“I am Commander T’Pol, of Starfleet.  We must…”

 

“Tep?  Awl?”  There was a glint of surprise in his eyes and a ghost of his earlier smile.

 

T’Pol glanced in Trip’s direction.  How soon would he have their safety estimate?  Weak as he obviously was, Keddic might need considerable time to maneuver out of his seat and then to the shuttlepod.

 

“We must prepare to evacuate,” she told him.  “We can discuss locating someone from your world when we reach our shuttlepod.  If you will allow me to assist in undoing your safety harness-”

 

His hands, suddenly quick and decisive, batted at hers.  “Leave it!  I’m stopping all this nonsense now!  It’s…” The brief exertion seemed to have winded him.  “It’s all gone… so dark these last weeks.  Just one bright thing like you, my elegant Tep Awl, isn’t enough… measured against the rest…  No matter what I do… I can’t seem to stop these thoughts!  Can’t turn things around…”

 

T’Pol watched his hands drop back into his lap.  “What are you unable to redirect?”

 

She was unprepared for his answer.

 

“The fate of my people,” he said.

 

The murmur of sensors and the growl of the impulse drive were very noticeable in the silence following his words.  Who had she and Trip happened on?  A high ranking soldier?  Perhaps a world leader?

 

“Don’t know why I bother telling you this…” he continued.  “It serves no purpose …  In the same way I… destroyed my world … I will cause… your destruction!”

 

His voice was fading.

 

By contrast, Trip’s came more clearly as he entered the storage area.  Within their bond, the rise of  adrenaline singing through him reached her before his words defined the seriousness of their situation.  “Our time frame’s no more than fifteen minutes.  That gives us room to detach moorings and clear the area before this thing blows.”

 

“Understood,” T’Pol replied, glancing at her completed medical scan.  She could provide Keddic symptomatic relief, though there was nothing in her kit to address the long-term radiation permeating every organ system of his body.  Back on Enterprise, there was a slim chance Doctor Phlox could offer some assistance.  Also Ensign Sato might be able to determine the meaning of his words.  Obviously, she had misinterpreted something, since they seemed completely lacking in logic.  Unless-?

 

“Keddic?” she asked.  “Is this craft equipped with an auto-destruct mechanism?  If so, have you engaged it?”

 

That gurgling bitter laugh came again.  “Won’t bother saying… not to waste time with foolish questions, when I’m the one who… conceived… their content!  Of course I… put in an auto-destruct capacity.  But that’s beside the point.   I’ll destroy you and this ship…  the same way I brought you here!  You’re part of the story!”

 

He looked at her with resigned, exasperated eyes.

 

“What I write… happens.  Even when I don’t plan it or… it’s only set down… in my head.  Used to write novels.  Drama, suspense…  Weeks, maybe only days later, things I’d written about showed in the media.  I switched to… poetry.  Flowers blooming, birds flying… Seemed safer.  But one day… I woke from a nightmare and couldn’t… get the idea of a conflict out of my mind.”

 

He paused.  Her waiting silence seemed to surprise him.  After a few shallow breaths, he went on, his tone impatient.  “It would be easier if I thought you up already knowing this!  In the dream… I saw invaders come …  I couldn’t help thinking about… how they would… destroy our cities… take our resources…  I tried not to think how… news broadcasts would describe it.  Deciding all those words… would make it harder to erase.  I thought if I imagined what would… grow next in my gardens… focused on that beauty, I would… dissolve that compelling idea of threat…  until I came up with a scenario for our world’s bloodless victory.”

 

There was a break in his voice.  Emotion?  Lack of air?  Before she could decide, he drew a whistling breath and went on.  “The invasion idea wouldn’t go away.  So I knew I had to make up… evacuation plans.  I thought of how they would be disseminated through our media, then imagined activating my receiver.  Immediately I began picking up the broadcasts.”

 

Movement at the corner of her vision drew T’Pol’s head around as Trip made his way toward her.  “I’ve done a basic…”

 

She gestured him to silence as Keddic went on.

 

“I’d thought there could be… escape pods.  Five thousand of them, each to hold three adults, four people if two were children.  It seemed like a good number.  Almost twenty thousand people escaped besides me before the invaders arrived.  I… couldn’t unthink the attack.  I’d never thought up military stories, even before I realized what I was doing…  Probably that’s why… I couldn’t imagine a defense plan I could believe in.  Not well enough to… undo…”

 

Trip’s hand on T’Pol’s shoulder was more the sound of gentle friction against the stiff material of her E V suit than a sensation, but his murmured words were warm against her ear.  “We’re down to ten minutes before we gotta leave.  There’s enough pressurized atmosphere in the docking area so he wouldn’t have to suit up-”

 

“That…” Keddic interrupted.  “Won’t happen.”

 

T’Pol met Trip’s questioning gaze.  “Keddic believes he created this craft’s current situation, as well as the fate of his world, its people and-”

 

“Damn it!  I don’t believe it!”  Keddic’s wheezing breaths came faster as his voice rose in irritation.  “I know it!”

 

Trip picked up the med-scanner T’Pol had set aside.  After a moment, he shook his head, then turned to Keddic.  “If you don’t wanna go, we’re not gonna try to make you.”

 

“You realize,” added T’Pol.  “Your only chance of survival is to come with us.”

 

“I intend… to stay… here.” Keddic said between coughs.

 

“You say you’re okay with dying here?”  Trip pressed for clarification.

 

“Yes.  To have created such misery and destruction is intolerable.”

 

“How can that be,” asked T’Pol.  “If you consider it all to be your perception?”

 

“I am succumbing to my own… darkest fantasies.  Getting… lost in them.  I don’t believe… continuing into… such a future would bring me anything but misery.”

 

Behind them, the growl of the impulse drive took on a new, underlying staccato.  Trip glanced over his shoulder.  “Right back,” he said.

 

A moment later, a light in the upper left corner of the pilot’s console flashed- green, gold, green, gold- in rapid succession.  T’Pol gestured toward it.  “What does this mean?”

 

Keddic stared at it.  “Five per cent drop… atmospheric saturation…”

 

Getting to her feet, T’Pol made her way into the storage area, just as Trip emerged from the engineering compartment.

 

“Trip…” she began.  “The oxygen- nitrogen saturation has decreased by…”

 

“Yeah, I know.”  He held up his scanner.  “It’ll hold us long enough to get outta here.  I set this up back there to collect as much data as it could about this ship’s manufacturing specs, default perimeters, operating systems and recent course settings.  Our helmets are still up front.  We better grab them and see if there’s anything the pilot will let us do for him before we go.”

 

She turned, began to lower her head to move through the squat opening, then paused.  “I have reservations as to his lucidity and ability to make a life-and-death decision.”

 

“Bottom line,” said Trip.  “Is he understands he won’t make it if he doesn’t come. For his own reasons, he chooses not to.”

 

“His premise is illogical.” T’Pol protested.

 

“Not to him,” said Trip.  “I think he’s what’s called a solipsist.  They believe the only true existence comes from their own thoughts and ideas.  Nothing else is real.”

 

“Though I am familiar with the term, I have never closely examined the philosophy.”  T’Pol said.  She weighed her next words, uncertain if they formed more a concept or a question.  “He believes his thoughts brought you and I into being and to this vessel as part of a story that he can’t keep himself from constructing, even as he is dying?  That he had the power to destroy a world which he now grieves over since he feels himself helpless to imagine restoring it.  How could he have trapped himself within such an illogical paradox?”

 

“I dunno.” Trip squinted in perplexity, then shrugged.  “Especially since he also believes he thought up the planet and its people in the first place.  Maybe when he was a kid something happened, just like he’d hoped it would and that got him thinking this way.  Or a prediction he didn’t want to be right turned out to be straight on target.  Maybe it’s the trauma from what happened on his world… survivors’ guilt or even dementia from radiation sickness.  Whatever caused it, it’s gotta be a burden, thinking you carry the responsibility for all existence.  What sounds even worse to me is the awful loneliness.  Never believing anyone else can really surprise you with what they do, because you were the one who’d already thought the action up for them.  That nobody else can really touch you ‘cause it’s just your own idea of what a touch is like.”  Trip’s gaze caught and held hers.  The smallest of smiles quirked the corner of his mouth.  “Or that somebody can just plain overwhelm  you with their love.”

 

He shrugged away the moment.  “Right now, how he got that way doesn’t matter.  He has shaped himself one solid, unchangeable reality.”

 

“Do you believe he can’t be convinced he isn’t responsible for events on his planet?”

 

“Not without tearing his whole reality apart, then replacing it with what?  The logs here show he came from that dead minshara class planet back there.”

 

A whisper of sadness brushed across their bond: a flicker, come and gone in less than

a heartbeat as he went on.  “If I learned anything from my experience with the Cogenitor, it’s that you don’t go ripping apart the whole fabric of a person’s life if you can’t deliver some genuine bit of hope to put in its place.  But what you said gives me an idea!  Y’know, when you talked about him believing he created the two of us?  If you’ll go along with it, I think there is something that might help ease him a little.”

 

“You are considering palliative measures to decrease his discomfort for whatever span of time he may survive here?”

 

“Palliative?  Yeah, I guess I’d call it that.  I don’t know if we can do anything for his body.  I’m thinking of his mind and that miserable guilt he’s about drowning in.”

 

Trip’s whisper of sadness echoed in her, along with a fleeting memory of the Vissian Cogenitor.  Trip hadn’t been directly responsible for its death, but he’d ached with the knowledge that his actions had, in some measure, contributed to it.  Unlike his experience in the failing shuttle, this still carried a trauma scar.  But, as with that other memory, he was drawing on it as a starting point for offering assistance.

 

He raised a hand to caress her cheek.  His words were hesitant, lacking the usual decisiveness that was such a part of him.   “I know I’m asking something real personal here, real private, but I’m not sure there’s anything else that’ll work.  If this goes the way I’m thinking, I’m afraid most of this’ll rest with you.  We haven’t got much time right now for explanations, but will you trust me?”

 

Through the thin fabric of his work glove, the touch of Trip’s fingers was gentle on her face.  And there it came again, the knowledge that had poured through her back on the shuttlepod.  She was loved without condition.  She was respected.  Trusted.

 

He saw her as infinitely precious…

 

It was the way she saw him as well.

 

Her hand brushed his, feather light, before she broke away, spun and started back to Keddic.  “I trust you,” she said over her shoulder.

 

Keddic hunched over his console displays, one hand wavering across its upper right corner.  A series of clicks mingled with the labored rasp of his breaths before a metallic voice spoke.  “Please specify designated interval until activation of auto-destruct.”

 

T’Pol didn’t see what he entered.  At least, since the computer voiced no acknowledgement, it seemed Keddic had not yet input the final command sequence itself.

 

“Wait!” Trip shouted as another series of clicks began.  “Stop!”

 

Keddic paused only a moment before shaking off the instinctive response to the command, then clicked another three, four, five numbers.

 

How many were there in the activation code?

 

“Wait!”  Trip almost flung himself to Keddic’s side.

 

Keddic turned to look up at him.  “Why should I… do that?  I said I… would stop… this dark, pointless nonsense!  This wasteful thinking, end all this…”

 

Trip’s eyes studied the display.  He laid his hand on the console, close beside Keddic’s, but in no way restraining it.  “Because, as tired as you are, as much as you want everything done with, you’ve got a few reservations about doing it, that’s why!  Call this

a sort of last-minute re-write, kind of tacked together maybe, because you’re tired, but I’m here, T’Pol and I are both here- trying to get those reservations into words for you, okay?  Maybe trying to give you another option!”

 

For a moment, his words seemed outside of sanity or logic when the risks inside the already dangerous craft rose with every clicking command Keddic input, when Trip’s life as well as her own rested on those words, second by second.  Then T’Pol’s eyes opened wide.  Choosing careful words to avoid lying, Trip was using his human intuition to work himself into Keddic’s way of thinking, inserting himself into his reality by becoming a character there.

 

“Listen,” Trip’s urgent tone drew Keddic’s gaze up from the auto-destruct key-pad.

“You believe you crated this war and destruction and it grieves you.  It probably wouldn’t if you didn’t think you’d believed in something better first.  Am I right?”

 

The pilot’s nod was barely perceptible.  “Yes.  My deepest regret… is the beauty… I inadvertently destroyed and that…what remains in my memory will… vanish like everything else once I… let myself cease to exist.”

 

“Do you think,” asked Trip, sparing his chronometer only a brief glance.  “You could focus on that beauty and share it with T’Pol?”

 

“Why?  You… she… will both… cease to exist when I do.”

 

“Let’s be clear here.”  Trip kept any cynicism from creeping into his voice.  “That’s because you thought the both of us up.”

 

“Yes, yes, yes!  I told you that before!  Yes!  Why… did I have to…make you both so damn… ignorant!  I planned to just drift away until… you crossed my mind.  But, enough now!  This is better …  I can’t seem to… let myself drift, but I can imagine how… it would be to… go out in one brilliant instant… like a… beautiful, hot… supernova!”

 

His fingers scrabbled toward the key-pad.

 

“Wait!” Trip’s words came in a rapid tumble.   “You can share the beauty you have known with T’Pol because she, like you, knows how powerful the belief in existence is!  You’ve said you carried it all alone for a long time, right?  You’re a writer.  It wouldn’t surprise me to think you could’ve written about, or just imagined a powerful but peaceful planet…  One like yours, whose greatest strength was its people’s minds. Minds forceful enough to hold on fast to their convictions.  An ancient, beautiful, mysterious  world.  Well, where do you think T’Pol here comes from?  Let me tell you, she’s got one very strong mind!”  For a moment, his eyes lifted to hers, bright with pride and affection, before he returned it to Keddic.  “She is totally convinced of the truth of her existence, anything you share with her doesn’t have to die with you!”

 

“I don’t…”  Keddic’s voice was little more than a rattling whisper now, but the idea intrigued him, at least a little.  “…remember doing it… but I’d like to think I… could have come up with a place, a people like that.  Been so distracted with all these dark ideas… It’s hard to recall bright ones now, but…  Yes… if I gave that strong a belief to her people… then reality could… be transferred…”

 

“And,” Trip encouraged. “With the way her people can share thoughts with a touch, it’ll take only seconds!”

 

“Trip…” T’Pol began.

 

“Look, there’s only one more character space left on the line for the auto-destruct  activation code, on the pad here.”  The racing heartbeats coming through the bond were in sharp contrast to Trip’s almost casual tone.  His gesture brought his hand even closer to Keddic’s.  “It’d cost him almost no effort to enter it!  He can afford to take a few seconds to check out this last choice before he inputs it.  Isn’t that right, Keddic?”

 

T’Pol’s gaze traveled from Trip’s poised hand to his unwavering blue eyes.  His words came, more shaped than spoken above Keddic’s head.  “It’s his one chance to go out with a sense of peace.   We all deserve that.”

 

Will you…?  Trip had asked.  Trust me…?

 

T’Pol nodded.  She had worked with Hoshi once, outside her bond with Trip, and had been successful.  Perhaps this time would be as well.  “Allow me,” she said and, stepping to Keddic’s side, raised her hand to his face.

 

Her fingers rested as gentle on his cheek as Trip’s had done on hers.  His skin burned with fever from the radiation sickness as the last of his systems battled for a life he no longer wanted.  He did not resist, but allowed his head to relax against her touch.

 

“My mind to your mind,” said T’Pol.  “My thoughts to your thoughts.”

 

There was a deeper awareness of that same fever heat.  But beneath it was the bone-deep cold of loneliness, of long sorrows and faded dreams.  Then came stillness.  A heartbeat passed when there was nothing between them but a waiting void.

 

Then a presence brushed her mind.  Almost indifferent, it was a vague, undefined probing that became curiosity as it discovered the borders of her awareness.  A look of surprise lit Keddic’s ravaged face.  “So clear and… focused!  Easy to sense, but so… separate!  This may work!”

 

“Strong enough?” Trip asked, leaning closer in and maneuvering his hand even nearer to the command keys.  “That you can trust her to carry all that beauty you remember?”

 

“Perhaps…” Keddic’s answering voice was a bare murmur, though joy flowed strong within T’Pol’s mind, mingling with overwhelming relief.  “Her name… Tep Awl would suggest… she is already attuned to beauty.”

 

At his words, she understood the meaning of his earlier smile as he’d said her name.  In his language, its syllables,  Tep Awl, sounded much like those for “lovely crystal”.

 

“I am,” T’Pol said.  “Convinced of my own existence.  My belief sustains me.  There is an expression: I think, therefore I am.”

 

“I… think… therefore I am…  Yes…”  The final word was drawn out, long and slow with satisfaction.

 

“Now,” said Trip.  “When you think of the conflict on your world, can you believe she’s strong and resilient enough, to be the story’s heroine?  One who can do what you feel you’re no longer able to?  To find and help your people?”

 

Keddic’s gaze locked on T’Pol.  “I believe that she believes she can.”

 

Trip grinned, glanced again at his chronometer, then at T’Pol.  “Five minutes.”

 

“I and my companions have methods for tracking your people,” said T’Pol.  “And for rendering them aid.  But knowledge of the conflict is new to me, as are the events of the evacuation.  We will share yours.  Did it occur on the third planet orbiting the small G-class star in a trinary system approximately four light years from here?”

 

“Yes.  Aleighkus Secondary.”

“The minshara planet we encountered,” T’Pol confirmed.  “Were images of the invasion force included in your media broadcasts?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“You need not speak.”  T’Pol’s touch deepened.  “I will see what you see.”

 

The unfolding vision played in the back of her mind, indistinct at first, with little form or color, but gained definition as her mental focus shifted to align with Keddic’s.

 

There was no doubt about the design of the approaching ships.  The silent question she had shared with Trip back on their shuttlepod had been answered.  They were Romulan.

 

There were two, then three, four five of them, looming larger and larger as they maneuvered into the trinary star system.  A flurry of tiny craft, mirror images of this one, rose through the last glow of planetary atmosphere into the blackness of space.  They hovered, like flocks of birds she had seen during her time in San Francisco, waiting to begin their migration, then scattered in a dozen directions, angling away from the oncoming ships. Weapons fire erupted from the nearest Romulan vessel.  Once, twice, then a third time.  Three small flares grew then vanished in clouds of debris.  Shock waves battered the escaping crafts.  T’Pol knew each shuddering bounce, every shrieking alarm and flickering display, along with the acrid stench of frying insulation as the vessel around her tumbled out of the fleeing formation.  She knew the long- held breath of an eternity’s span of waiting.

 

But there were no further shots.  The invading vessels clustered in tighter formation and swept on toward the planet.

 

Keddic’s silent comment was tinged with revulsion.  They weren’t content with the knowledge of a  future  victory, but had  to terrorize those who were no threat to them!

 

T’Pol was reminded of the Forge-dwelling le-matya of her home-world, leisurely toying with their living prey prior to devouring it.

 

Before Keddic’s revulsion, or her own, could escalate, she shifted her mental course from the Romulans.   Between his memories and what Trip had collected from the ship’s database, there was much to review later, in the shuttlepod.  But there was no later time for Keddic.  Only four minutes remained for him to convey all that he wished to share.

 

To go out with a sense of peace, Trip had said.

 

Show me, she said in the silence of their minds.  What is beautiful in your world.

 

Crystals grew like blossoms in shades of amethyst purple and citrine yellow.  Flowers lifted like great butterflies in oranges and greens.  Tall mountain spires glimmered gold in star-set light.  Cities glowed, jewel-like in deepening twilight.  Music soared in many voices, vibrated through many instruments and thrummed in shifting drumbeats.  Poetry scrolled, line upon line across her vision.  Mathematic formulae grew and vined outward in exquisite equation chains of logic.  Large winged creatures played acrobatic games of chase in midair between tall trees.  Small, round creatures tumbled over each other in grassy meadows.  Adults ate from baskets under cloudless skies.  Children laughed.

 

I think… Keddic’s voiceless words poured through her mind.  I did a good job on a lot of this. Even if my long-ago nightmares brought in scissor-jaws and dive-screamers to give nature a predator’s balance…  Maybe haunt the forests at night and startle visiting city-dwellers!  I didn’t like being too predictable, so sometimes I let my subconscious just flow where it would and…

 

Before he followed that path of thought back to the destruction on his planet, T’Pol spoke aloud for both Keddic and Trip to hear.   “What you shared with me is beautiful.  I will remember it.  We have spoken mind to mind.  You and I are convinced I am real.  Even when your perceptions cease, mine will continue.”

 

“T’Pol…” Trip murmured.  “Did he say he evacuated five thousand…?”

 

Keddic nodded.  There was only the sound of low, gurgling breaths, but his silent words swept clear and strong across her mind.  Five thousand escape pods like this one.

 

Her hand still on the side of Keddic’s face she looked up at Trip.  “Yes.  He told me he sent them to safety, but doesn’t remember where.”

 

Trip’s hand eased on the console.  With the other he held up his scanner and smiled at Keddic.  “I know which way they went.  It’s here in your craft’s original course settings.”

 

“We’ll be able to locate your people,” said T’Pol.  “We will determine what types of assistance we may render them.”

 

Keddic’s jaw had gone slack, but the faintest remnant of his smile tightened the muscles of his cheek against her hand.  His eyelids had drifted halfway closed, but she could see that for him, her image had not faded.  She wasn’t certain if he’d caught one of the earlier impressions Trip had shared with her or if his thoughts formed it on their own.  He saw her as infinitely precious and more beautiful than she had ever thought to consider herself.

 

Your words honor me, she said in silence.

 

“We gotta clear the docking area in three  minutes,” Trip murmured in her ear.  “I can’t guarantee anything after that…”

 

Keddic must have heard.  He blinked open heavy-lidded eyes.  His hand moved on the keypad.  There was a click.  “Auto-destruct sequence activated.” Said the computer.

 

This time the smile reached Keddic’s lips.  Humor flowed through the link, now untainted by bitterness.  “Only three?  I gave you fifteen.  That’s more than sufficient time to reach a safe distance.  Look back, Lovely Crystal and watch for my supernova.  It’s going to be spectacular.”

 

He turned his head and the contact was broken.

 

T’Pol picked up her helmet.  Trip was already holding his under one arm as he moved toward the storage area.  Before ducking through the small doorway, he glanced over his shoulder.  “I’ll remember you, Keddic,”

 

“As will I,” T’Pol said, recalling the fleet of Romulan vessels  “What we shared will be used to help your people, and may also aid my world and Commander Tucker’s.”

 

Had he heard?  His eyes were completely closed now.  But through the fading echoes of their link she believed she could still sense his last flickering smile.

 

“Two minutes,” said Trip as they scrambled through Keddic’s air-lock.  Weightless, they maneuvered the connecting passage to reach their own.  With a feather-touch of pressure, T’Pol coded in the access sequence as, with a clang, the sealing door behind them shut.  Her heartbeats counted three, four, five before the one ahead slid open revealing the glow from their shuttlepod’s familiar consoles.

 

There was no time for comment or relief, only well established protocols to follow, the division of labor so automatic T’Pol no longer knew where years of training and working together ended and instantaneous communication within their bond began.  All that mattered was that the air-lock sealed and that the heavy clunk of metal on metal announced that the docking clamps had released.

 

“We’re clear,” said Trip a moment later.  “Traveling at half impulse.  Increasing to three quarters.”

 

The blue flash, flash, flash of Keddic’s vessel blinked its way across the coordinate grid toward the edge of the navigational display as the shuttlepod pulled away.

 

“We will encounter the next wave of ionic activity in approximately four minutes,” T’Pol studied the grid before her.  “Our readings suggest light to moderate intensity.”

 

The blue dot slipped from one grid square to another, then stopped near the lower right corner of the navigational display, holding its position for several bright flashes.

 

She turned to Trip.  He nodded in answer to her silent question.  “We’re a safe distance away now.  “I’m bringing us about, then going to station-keeping,”

 

She nodded her gratitude.  Look back, Lovely Crystal.  She remembered his last shared thought.  Watch for my supernova.  It’s going to be spectacular.

 

She didn’t know when Trip’s hand found hers, only that silence lay easy between them as they waited.

 

There would, she realized, have been a time when she’d have used the word “failure” to describe this mission.  By one reality’s definition, it had been.  They had failed to rescue the pilot.  By another’s, Keddic had provided information on recent Romulan activities that could have taken Enterprise weeks or months to uncover, He had also given them the potential for finding and  assisting his people.

 

But what she found her thoughts returning to as the shuttlepod’s sensors murmured about the small ship hanging out there in the waiting starfield, was that Keddic had not been the angry, despairing soul she and Trip first met by the time they left his craft.

 

Despite their deepening bond, it sometimes still surprised her how precisely Trip could voice her thoughts.  “I think he’s gonna go out with that sense of peace,” he said.

 

T’Pol checked the chronometer and then the external sensors.  Almost four minutes before activation of the auto-destruct sequence, if the anti-matter  held that long.  She spared a sidelong glance at Trip.  “He does seem to have unburdened himself.  However, I continue to have difficulty comprehending the logic in…”

 

She was interrupted by a whisper of static, an instant before the air crackled with tangling words and electronic interference.  “…is En…prise!  … been trying… quite… time to pick up your sig…  Shuttlepod One… you copy?”

 

“It’s the captain!”  There was pleasure in Trip’s voice, though his tone remained quiet in recognition of the vigil they were keeping and, she sensed, in deference to her recent connection with Keddic.  With his free hand, he transferred the comm. to his console.  “I’ll talk to him.   You just keep on watchin’.”

 

Was that a subtle shift in the energy output aboard Keddic’s craft?

 

“Yeah, Captain…?  No, you’re not coming in real clear, but better than a while ago…  No trouble here.”  He paused, choosing careful words in case the frequency was being monitored by unwelcome ears.  After what they’d learned from Keddic, that was an increasingly real possibility.  “We got some good event horizon readings from a black hole and a lot of storm pattern information.  It’s almost passed, but another wave’s coming in that’s gonna take out  communications for a while.  We got something to take care of here and then we’re heading back.  We’ll get you a full report when we get home.  Give our E T A a thirty minutes delay from our last projection….”

 

The energy build-up on Keddic’s ship was definite now.  Their own margin of safety had long passed, leaving three minutes before auto-destruct.

 

Closing off the comm, Trip turned to her.  “What was it you were about to say?”

 

T’Pol turned from the view-screen.  “The idea is incomprehensible to me that we, and the entire universe around us, would possibly cease to exist because Keddic no longer fits together words to form a reality.”

 

A small, rather sad smile lifted one side of Trip’s mouth.  “Well, of course it’s not gonna cease to exist.”

 

Something suspicious in his tone caught her attention.  “What do you mean?”

 

His words were slow, thoughtful.  “There’s no way to know anymore what would’ve happened if Keddic hadn’t shared his words, his whole concept of reality with you.”  The smile grew and a gentle glint of humor lit his eyes.  “The fact that you heard them means they were no longer his alone.  Theoretically speaking, now you’ve become the one who’s carrying reality!”

 

“Trip, that is completely illogical,” she objected.  “One person cannot carry the entirety of…”

 

“Of course not!  No one person can do all that!” Trip said.  Before her agreeing nod could satisfactorily convey they had both just stated the obvious, he continued.  “But since we have a bond, that won’t be the case.  Between the two of us, this universe is safe for another day!”

 

His gently teasing words  spoke more of their love for each other, their strength and togetherness than of any theory of reality.  That for him, this was their reality and he liked it just fine.  His hand tightened on hers and again  the awareness flowed to her through their bond.  She was loved without condition.  She was respected.  Trusted.  Honored for the gentle way she had worked with Keddic.  He saw her as infinitely precious and more beautiful than she had ever thought to consider herself.  Still, she voiced one last protest.  “Words can’t create reality.”

 

It was automatic statement, an instinctive search for the measurable, objective, definitions that had formed her reality throughout her Vulcan upbringing.  But did she believe that now, any more than she believed this mission was a failure?

 

She only had to look at Trip to realize she could no longer answer with certainty.

 

The reality was that words had created their history together, launching them toward a future she could never have foreseen when she was assigned as the Vulcan observer on a human space craft.  Over the years the words she permitted herself for describing him within her mind had changed their interactions and opened unconsidered possibilities.

 

Once he was only one name among many on Enterprise’s crew roster- Commander Charles Tucker the Third.  On meeting him, she determined he was a typical Earth human- impulsive, argumentative and opinionated.  As she began working with him, she referred to him in terms of his title: Chief Engineer and in that capacity found him quick and inventive, as well as steady and decisive in an emergency.  He became the “fellow officer” who, no matter their differences, was joined to her by their mutual duty and loyalty to the ship, to its mission and to the man sitting in the captain’s chair.  Over time,

her “colleague” was more than capable of presenting and discussing his ideas in a clear, articulate manner and later, her “sounding board” could also listen to hers, then ask intelligent, insightful questions.

 

Was it during the quiet hours practicing neuro-pressure together the word “friend” began to test itself in her thinking?  Someone who sought her out when he sensed, sometimes more than she did, that she needed to quit wrapping herself in habitual solitude?  Who showed her  sampling popcorn or pecan pie would not shatter her integrity as a Vulcan?

 

The words reshaping their relationship came quickly after that.  Her sexual partner who taught her the joys of tenderness, the companion who could spend time in her presence as comfortable with silence as conversation, her bond-mate, her beloved.

 

She could see the way his face changed through each of the stages she had named, from the formal image in Starfleet blue in Enterprise’s personnel roster to the thoughtful man beside her.  One person, so many very different people, each as real as the next.  But had her words shaped the evolving reality, or had the changes in their relationship caused her to alter the words she used to describe him?

 

She was unsure.  The longer she lived and worked among humans the more complex and indefinable reality seemed to become.  But perhaps life with some uncertainties was preferable to living with the absolute convictions that had held Keddic inside his despairing version of reality.  Maybe those questions had been his legacy, his unknowing gift to her.  And with them had come Trip’s half-humorous reminder that they wouldn’t have to be wrestled with alone.

 

For the moment, whether the borders of reality lay within or beyond her didn’t matter.  T’Pol was content to sit with her bond-mate’s hand circling hers while she waited and watched the starfield.

 

She felt more than saw his quick, sidelong glance.  “A little over a minute,”  he said.

 

But as if to emphasize the power of uncertainties, the anti-matter containment indicator spiked.  “Forget that!” he exclaimed.  “She’s going in ten seconds, nine…”

 

A burst of brilliance spread over the view-screen.  It overwhelmed the sensors, setting off a light-show of electronic interference before clearing to reveal a bright, cascading cloud of burning gasses pouring across the starfield.

 

T’Pol sat, paying silent tribute to Keddic, the solitary dying writer, the sad survivor of a destroyed world, the person whose information might be invaluable to the Coalition.

 

Within her, the last echoes of his cold, bone-deep loneliness began to warm as the hand of her bond-mate stayed firm in hers, strong and steady.

 

They watched for several minutes as the glow grew and spread.  Though it was an emotional response to something she would have no way of knowing, she found herself hoping it was everything that he imagined it would be.  To her, it was spectacular.

 

As the brilliance began to dissipate, she nodded to Trip to bring the shuttlepod about.  It had been a long and productive two days.  Barring any unforeseen circumstance they would get back home in approximately six hours.


Comments:

Weeble

hate to say it but I struggled mightily with the story, its kinda beyond my creativity level. I will repost comments after i read it a few more times. I did find it deep and beautiful. Very beautiful but over my waders!

Cap'n Frances

Beautiful story. It was great to see Trip portrayed as someone who knew more than just engineering and who could use his intuition to solve a problem that seemed to defy logic. The trust between the two of them made a seemingly impossible situation work out in a totally unexpected way.

Eireann

Superbly written as always - your gift with words and emotional imagery is truly awe-inspiring.

Linda

I am making notes as I read the story.

The visuals I am getting from this story are very good.

I love this sentence: “As his willing touch allowed the link between them to open, the general stream of ideas and reactions that had become a subtle flow far at the back of her mind focused and spoke to her more clearly than the limiting clutter of words.”

The details are clear and beautiful.

This solipsist philosophical discussion is fascinating. 

Beautiful writing, poetic.  And great plot.

 

Asso

I have long sought a few adjectives fit, a little at least, for this story so delicate.
Difficult to find one suitable. Perhaps, soft and fluffy? Creamy too, possibly?

It doesn't matter. It's damn beautiful, and that is enough.

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