Something Real

By Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Rating: PG-13

Genres: drama

Keywords: Mirror Universe

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Summary:  Even five years after Enterprise’s destruction in the Mirror Universe and T’Pol’s betrayal, Tucker finds he must at last re-examine the question: beneath all the plotting and plans, had he and she manage to find something real?

Disclaimer:  Star Trek Enterprise, all its intellectual properties and universes belong to CBC Paramount.  This story is written for entertainment purposes, not for profit.

A/N:  This is for Weeble, who read my first and (not) last M/U story, then did me the honour of asking for a sequel. 


 

 

4 September, 2161

Jupiter Station

2300 hours

 

So…  They were free!

Tucker took a deep swig of beer.

At least three weeks free now, judging by the date signature the relay beacon had tagged onto the message.

He hadn’t believed it was possible!  Hadn’t even wanted to speculate on it.  Not after all this time!

Another swig drained the bottle.  He sank back in his chair, rolled the kinks out of his shoulders and did a few calculations.  Closer to four weeks, judging by the distance from their hideaway to the beacon.

Drumming his fingers against the bottle’s cool surface, Tucker stared at the message he’d intercepted two days ago.  The one that, during off duty hours in his quarters at Jupiter Station, he’d slowly, carefully decrypted.  A couple of useful and entertaining skills he’d acquired during his posting here, thanks to some good access, great luck and even better timing.

Not that he’d put them to use real often in the past five years.  Too much risk of discovery.  It didn’t matter much anymore what other punishments might come down on him if he was found out, but however many skills he had to offer, favors were owed him or secrets he could use as leverage, it would cost him this posting.

Still, tapping in on Fleet Captain Malcolm Reed’s communiqués from time to time, and then making sure that they, well…

…met delay…

…went astray…

…or, best of all, vanished without a trace…

…was a rare source of late-night satisfaction.

Especially if the straying and delaying interfered with Reed’s performance, maybe put a spot or two of tarnish on his shiny bright reputation with the Empress.

Whatever you had to say about Klingons, they were right about one thing.  Revenge was a dish best served cold!

It didn’t matter if most of those interceptions were pretty mundane.  What did he expect?  Most of his so-called life was pretty mundane.

Except for those occasional times when, as Senior Engineer, he’d get to take the shuttlecraft from Defiant for a solo flight.

He’d had her out past the orbit of Sedna, to Alpha Centauri and once as far as a system in Canus Major to check an endurance to efficiency ratio.  Flying that pretty little craft from the future was a decent trade-off for all the reports he’d have to write on its performance afterward.  It even made up for the back-chaining of warp equation algebra he’d have to ad lib in an attempt to explain that performance, extrapolating from a hundred plus years of theory he…

Well, that he wasn’t supposed to have all the data for yet.

As long as the flight lasted, the universe was his.  He could listen to the warp drive pulsing in his bones and singing through the ship.  He could feel the engine throbbing sweet beneath his hands.  He could forget there was a bitter past, an almost meaningless present, and that his dead-end farce of a future would be waiting to welcome him back at the end of the ride.  He could ignore the grey parade of days he spent supervising and scheduling repairs at Jupiter Station.  He could dismiss the black parade of restless nights in his quarters and the numbing golden parade of beer glasses and whiskey bottles that kept him company there.

But sometimes discovery was a risk worth taking.  It wasn’t as if thoughts of the occasional shuttle run were strong enough, vivid enough diversions on the nights when the booze roused the dreams instead of drowning them.

And because sometimes…yeah, sometimes…  the messages of Captain Reed’s that he managed to waylay had their… amusing aspects.  Like when he cancelled Malcolm’s surprise order of Aldean sushi for Her Absolute Wonderfulness Empress Hoshi’s  birthday last year.

It’d been worth missing a night’s sleep, making up for the time he hadn’t spent updating the work and personnel schedules.

Bet old Malcolm had to scramble good and hard to come up with a suitable substitute kissing-up gift at the last minute there!

Imagining both the scramble and possible failure had given Tucker more than a few late nights’ worth of secret, grinning satisfaction!

But this latest message had been anything but mundane.

Not when it was really meant for some carefully unnamed Vulcan outpost.  Not when it contained news of the prison break.

After a failed takeover when the future ship, U S S Defiant had come to Earth and ushered in the rein of Empress Hoshi Sato, the instigators of the revolt had disappeared.

All the official reports said they had been imprisoned.  That, as a sign of her beneficent mercy, the Empress had ordered they all be detained under the most humane of conditions.

Yeah right.

Back when she was just Hoshi, the communications officer aboard the Terran Empire’s flagship, Enterprise, Tucker had kind of liked her.  Never had any romantic aspirations in her direction though, except in some solitary bedtime fantasies.  She’d been Captain Forrest’s woman and far too ambitious to settle her lot with a mere engineer, even in the days when women had considered him to be handsome.  After the delta radiation burns had turned half his face into a landscape of keloid scars and he saw how she looked at him, there was no joy or adventure to indulging in those anymore.

By then though, the scars weren’t the only reason to let go those particular fantasies, because his attentions had been… diverted elsewhere.

He’d pretty much managed not to think about T’Pol for a while now, except on those nights when the beer loosened the tight hold he kept on his memories before it could send him off to sleep.

As bitter as some of those memories were, he had no regrets that he’d distanced himself from Ensign Sato.

Commander, then briefly Captain, Archer had set his sites on Hoshi, as well as on Defiant and maybe even on the Emperorship itself back in ‘55.  He’d gotten himself poisoned at Hoshi’s pretty little nimble-fingered hands for his efforts when her ambition proved even greater than his own.  Tucker didn’t know how many others she’d gotten rid of during her rise to the Throne, but the softly spoken rumours were enough to make him question exactly how the one-time linguist defined the word “humane”.

Especially, when all his attempts to learn anything about the rebel prisoners had failed.

Until tonight.

Tucker’s hand closed tighter around the bottle, started to raise it.

Damn!  Empty!  He’d forgotten.

He pushed it aside, heard it clink against another.  He’d replicate himself one more in a minute… or search out something stronger.  Could be he still had a bottle of Rebel Yell stashed somewhere in his closet.

He continued to stare at the screen.

Supposedly, the rebels were detained in a specially built penal colony: location unknown.  Records sealed.  Files, classified from anybody without a top security clearance.  Like the Empress’s.  Or Fleet Captain Reed’s.

That jargon probably was political double-talk for dead: DNA molecules dispersed among the stars with all documentation destroyed.

But for once, he’d been wrong.

Two evenings ago, in bitter celebration of the Fleet Captain’s own birthday,  settled back with his third… or was it his fifth… cold beer in his hand, Tucker had decided it was time to give Reed a nice little surprise and intercept a message or two, maybe add, scramble or delete a bit of information.

It was fun.  An unexpected gift for good old Mister Reed!  He alternately swigged beer and hummed to himself as he worked.

 

Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday to you.

Happy birthday, dear Malcolm…

 

Then the list of names began to form amid the tangled strings of code.

He forgot all about Reed’s birthday as his curiosity gave way to an urgent eagerness he hadn’t let himself look at too closely.

It was only a few minutes ago he realized he was the one who’d received the real  present, when the last alphanumeric sequence was cracked.

Free!

Good thing it had been sent as just one more data packet from that automated surveillance beacon without having been unsealed yet! He filtered the original transmission from the data stream and scattered its digital remains to the vast expanses of cyberspace, then stared at the mix of Vulcan, Tellar, English and Andorian that Hoshi…

…Oops, pardon me! Her Sublimeness the one and only Empress Hoshi Sato…

could probably have untangled in  three minutes flat.

…but that took him two nights, the Universal Translator and three stolen decryption programs he’d had hidden in his data stash the last five years, to break.

T’Pol and a handful of prisoners from half a dozen worlds had disabled the penal colony’s sensors, comm systems and security grids, overpowered their guards, stole a small vessel and disappeared off the Empire’s radar.  They’d made it to one of the moons in the distant Signus Alba system.  It was Minshara class with edible plant life and plentiful water.

Now that he knew they were alive, their escape didn’t surprise him.  Not with at least a couple of Vulcans in on the plot.  All they’d need to do was get within firm touching range of one of their captors and then- quick!- do a little mind-twisting.

“Melding” was their term for it.  Most people… Correction!  …most humans still didn’t know all that much about that particular Vulcan skill.  Not like he did.

Not that he’d let himself think about that…  about her… for a long time.  At least during his duty hours.  It was only at night he and the beer had to battle against the thought of that long, flowing hair, that confident stride, those huge amber eyes.

No point, he’d told himself.  Dead was dead.  Gone was gone, along with any feelings she might once have roused in him.

In the first white hot rage of T’Pol’s betrayal he told himself he didn’t give a damn whether she was dead or not.  It was as close as he could come to letting himself be glad about it, even when he remembered those second by second, minute by minute hours in Major Reed’s booth.  Even when he pictured the faces watching him beyond its observation window: the high glee lurking behind the determination in Reed’s grey eyes and the bland satisfaction in those of Phlox.

“Stupidity” he called it, when he did let himself remember her.  That warm smooth skin, that elegant, perfect face.  Most of all, the eyes that looked at him without revulsion.

Frowning, he activated his own encryption codes, one, two, three of them, transferred the message to a PADD, deleted the original and clicked off the monitor.  He stared at his reflection in the darkened screen: the shadows where melted flesh had reformed itself in ridges, the streak of white that radiation had left in his hair, the half-fused eyelid.  He looked like something out of the old horror movies he and his sister had loved as kids.

Only Lizzie wouldn’t… wouldn’t have… ever made that comparison.

No point thinking of Lizzie.  Dead was dead, along with any feelings…

His hand found the bottle, started to lift.

Empty, right.

It had been an uneasy surprise, as well as a sneaking relief, when T’Pol looked at him like none of those scars were irrelevant.  She hadn’t evaded his skewed, lopsided gaze or shuddered under his touch.

Of course, he’d known she had her reasons for getting in good with him.  Probably wanted a favor of some kind.  Or maybe she’d sensed he didn’t give a damn she wasn’t human and came from a slave planet.  That he thought she didn’t carry herself like any slave he’d ever seen, but with a defiant pride that he couldn’t help but admire and…

…when the stares of horror or unease that met him in Enterprise’s corridors, the Mess or in Engineering itself grew too galling, even  tried to emulate.

Despite that, or maybe because of it… he told himself that when it came to T’Pol, it was best to remain wary.

Told himself and told himself and told himself.

Especially when she began appearing at his side in Engineering.  When she moved close enough for him to feel her Vulcan warmth through their uniforms while they sorted components from equipment trays and her hip brushed his, or when her shoulder settled against his arm while they studied a monitor.

Be careful, stay wary.

Still, he had been willing (oh, yeah, more than willing… way too willing!)  to help out when he’d learned  the full-blown pon farr was upon her and they’d spent nearly three days secluded in his quarters while he…  tended to her needs.

After all that time together, he’d supposed she’d become attuned enough to him to recognize his crazy urge toward protectiveness that day down in Engineering when he reprimanded Biggs for not seeing to it she was wearing a radiation meter.

…ya don’t wanna end up like me, do ya…?

Instead, it just confirmed to her that he hadn’t been wary at all.  She’d picked the perfect patsy for that mind-meld trick of hers, a dupe with knowledgeable engineer’s hands for sabotaging the integration of the Sulibahn cloak into Enterprise’s systems.  Though he covered his concern with sarcastic words, she’d have realized she’d gotten away with it.  That he hadn’t remembered a thing about what she’d done to him.

Even after four hours in the booth he hadn’t remembered.

Not until she told him.  Admitted she had melded with him, promising an encore to their sweet, wild ride through the nights of pon farr.  Back in his quarters, she’d instead planted a suggestion of just how to sabotage the cloaking project in a way that would take hours to detect.  And when she’d erased his memories of what he’d done to accomplish it, she’d sent him to that interrogation booth as sure as if she’d been the one to lock his hands in restraints and walk him down the corridor to meet Phlox and Reed.

His fury had burned, warp core hot, and if he’d given in to it in that moment, it would have been as destructive as a full out breech.

But he already knew that Klingon wisdom.  T’Pol could wait in her own wary anticipation for him to dish up her serving of cold revenge.  Know he was playing cat and mouse with her every matching second, minute and hour he’d held on, waiting to get out of that interrogation booth.

He’d believed he could make her go through it.  But it wasn’t as easy or satisfying as he’d expected, because…

During those nights in his quarters, in the spans of time when the passions of pon farr had burned to embers waiting their moment  to ignite the next flame, hadn’t he sensed…

…something real?

…beneath all their layers of plotting and purposes?  As they lay, pressed hard against each other, murmuring words that, for once, weren’t designed as barricades,  wasn’t there a bit of reluctant trust?  An awareness that, like him,, she’d held a fragile thread of hope for some better kind of life than the Empire had offered either of them so far?  A secret vulnerability that called to something older than he knew words for underneath all the years of cunning and cruelty needed in order to survive on the Flagship of the Fleet?

Something that reminded him that a long time ago, barefoot on the pale gold beaches of the gulf with his sister, or sitting in the back yard, gazing up at silent, silver stars, he’d known what contentment was?

There was no answer to that question, and not enough hours to impose his revenge in the brief interlude before the rebellion began.

How many nights, since the betrayal, since the revolt, had he stared at the ceiling over his narrow bed, asking himself that pointless question before getting up to get himself more beer?

During those amazing pon farr hours,, hadn’t the two of them shared more than the convenience of a private bed in his officers’ quarters, more than the needs and desires of

their bodies? Something deeper?  Something… real?

Stupidity!  Dead was dead.  Gone was…

Except…  T’Pol wasn’t dead.

Tucker pushed to his feet.

Enough!  He hadda clean up the empty beers spread across his desk.  Couldn’t leave them around in plain sight.  He’d replicate the usual bedside bottle afterward.

Good.  Evidence gone into the replicator in a series of clinks and hums.

Next, the PADDs.  The decryption keys hadda go back in the closet.  He’d leave the PADD with the staffing schedule on the desk.  If there was an inspection while he was on shift tomorrow, they’d see… and document for good old Reed … that he did his job in a timely fashion.

Everybody pretended those spot inspections didn’t happen, but knew damn well they did.  Anyway, there was nothing about that particular PADD he needed to hide.  In fact, he’d better not.  He might forget to finish and sign off on it before it needed to be posted next Friday.

Sometimes he thought he’d like to delegate the scheduling.  He was an Engineer, not part of the clerical staff.  But much as it grated, he knew he wouldn’t let the responsibility go.  It was his trade-off for the hours of freedom in the shuttle.  Besides, he knew whose talents meshed with whose, who had the strongest groundings in which elements of warp theory and whose hands and habits made for quick, smooth work.  And…

He knew who was the least and …hmm… the most likely to miss details or make haphazard log entries.  Who wouldn’t notice right away if there were any discrepancies in the speed to distance ratio variations if they showed up in the warp formulae projected for the next shuttle test later this month!

Tucker grabbed the PADD marked “Warp speculations & apps.”, where he’d made those calculations.  Both sets of them.

He’d done them in pairs over the last year- one to show, one to stow- sitting  here on insomniac nights when memories came faster than beer could obliterate them.

A game, a distraction, no more, he told himself the first time he’d pulled the secured box from his closet.  After inputting the auto-destruct abort sequence, he’d gazed at the stolen downloads and pulled out PADDs noted as “Theory”.  Just his private little freedom fantasy, an act of secret rebellion.  A bittersweet dream of veering off course, taking the shuttle to maximum warp and…

Keep going, away from the Empire and its territories as far and  fast as he could.

Not that he’d imagined what might happen after that.  There hadn’t been anywhere…

…anyone…

to go to.  Not until tonight.  Except out in a blaze of core-breech glory if Reed’s people ever got close to catching up to him.

Of course, if he ever actually tried it, they’d need Defiant herself to chase him.  None of the other ships went over five point seven yet.  And who’d compile the drive info to get Defiant to warp eight for the pursuit?  Parts of it had been edited out back in the Tholian sector, during Tucker’s first pass through her engine room.  Right after he downloaded all her specs and notations while his crew was busy getting maneuvering systems on line.  It was the same theoretical data he’d been integrating by little bits and pieces into random repairs, refits and upgrades over the last years on Jupiter Station, gaining himself senior status and a reputation as one of the Empire’s more innovative warp core specialists.

He turned from the desk.  Halfway to the closet, he paused, feeling the pull of scars as his jaw dropped and the eye that could still do so, opened wide.

What in the hell was he thinking?

Veering off course and going as far and fast as he could, to what?  …  Find T’Pol?

A smart man would’ve sung songs of joy when that heartless little betrayer vanished with her cohorts after Empress Hoshi’s coup, instead of wondering what had been real between them.

Somehow, he’d never been capable of doing it.

Only been able to tell himself he was a fool!  An ineffectual coward who couldn’t exact a full retribution for her betrayal.  No wonder he spent most of his days conducting repairs and upgrades at Jupiter Station instead of flying with the fearless out there, boldly putting all his innovations into action on a ship sailing between the stars.

And now?  What would he call himself now?

The same.  A man who had, for years, schemed in silence, building what reputation he had on stolen data.  A man whose acts of rebellion had been restricted to making warp calculations he’d pretended could turn Defiant’s shuttle into his getaway vessel and secretly sabotaging Fleet Captain Reed’s communiqués in the middle of the night!

But now, also a man who would allow himself not just to ask, but search out and face the answers to that old, old question.

Beneath the lies and pretenses needed to survive aboard ISS Enterprise, hadn’t he and T’Pol found something separate from the world beyond the door to his quarters?

He reached the closet.

Now, here he was contemplating one more secret scheme.  Not a sensible one either.

But… she was out there!

Fool!  He tried to tell himself again.  He knew what betrayals she was capable of,  After so many years serving in the Fleet how, how, how could he still be capable of such damn gullibility?

He wasn’t serious …   Was he?

Juggling his collection of PADDS, he opened the door, then the side panel he’d installed once assigned these quarters.  It would be invisible to all but the highest level security sweeps.  Even if found, the three boxes inside had auto-destruct sequences in their locking mechanisms.  Lifting them out one by one, he entered the codes and began to sort PADDs into place between the others filed, cataloged and alphabetized inside.  Some from here, from Enterprise and the most valuable, from Defiant.  Calculations.  Calibrations.  Current stellar cartography.  Decryption keys.  Favors.  Future warp fuel intermix formulae and ratios.  Leverage.  Messages.  Officials’ personal information.  Projected future stellar cartography.  Station personnel information.  Terran Empire history.  Twenty second century warp theory.  Twenty third century theory.

His thumb snagged on the last one: United Federation of Planets history.

He pulled his hand away like it had been burned.

Fool.  He should never have looked at that one.  Never speculated on how star systems could be united by cooperation instead of conquest.  Never studied the picture under the historically referenced name of “T’Pol”, a Vulcan living a century before the Defiant drifted to this universe from one hundred years in the future.

Just because, in that interplanetary Federation, the total antithesis of all the Empire had taught Tucker to believe, the elegant, short haired Starfleet Officer T’Pol got together with an engineer named Charles A. “Trip” Tucker III…

(Trip?  What the hell kind of name was Trip, anyway?)

…that didn’t mean a thing!

Just because he’d seen that picture…

…that beautiful little picture…

…of the two of them beneath a notation citing the first human-Vulcan child, with a pretty little girl cradled in T’Pol’s lap: one they’d named Elizabeth…

…that had nothing to do with him.

It was a different Universe, with a different history, a different T’Pol and a different, unscarred… Trip.

(No.  No way could he ever picture anybody calling him “Trip”!)

Still, that other Charles Tucker, that T’Pol…  Their coming together had made a significant difference over there.  Marked a change in thought… in possibilities… that continued to have relevance far into the future.

Hadn’t some things in that Universe almost parallel this one?  The date of the first space walk?  The first moon landing?  The first contact with Vulcan?  Different outcomes, different consequences, but…  With the possibilities opening up once he’d learned she was alive, he couldn’t help but wonder…

Was there something he and T’Pol were supposed to do… to change… to make a lasting difference over here?  The dates of major changes would be about right…

Tucker snapped the box shut, shoved it into its place behind the panel, then slammed the door closed, activating his security settings, all more by habit than thought.

“You’re getting’ carried away, Tucker!”  He muttered, turning from the closet.

It wasn’t like he had to do something about T’Pol tonight or decide anything at all, except whether a little Martian Double Malt or a Blue Moon would go down better.

Right.  He’d take down that beer fast as he could, maximize the effect.  Six, seven, eight good gulps.  One long, satisfying belch.  Hit the bed.  Close his eyes.  Before he counted to fifty, his muscles would be limp noodles.  That was how it usually worked.  By seventy-five… Well, with luck,  he wouldn’t be awake all the way to seventy five.

Wasn’t that a better idea than what he’d been considering a minute ago?

He didn’t need to go flying across the galaxy just because he’d thought… wished… imagined there’d been a moment’s worth of …

 

-Something real-

 

…between him and T’Pol, more than five years ago.  Who knew if they would, could, should be anything to each other after all this time?

Especially in this sick, crazy, power thirsty Imperial Empire!

Good God!  What a thing to… well, to let himself put into words!!  He hadda be real, real careful to keep a lid on that kind of thinking!  Captain Reed would happily dance on his grave if he heard him say anything remotely like that!  And the Empress would be happy to join him.

Besides, this was his world, his Universe!  Just because she was out there somewhere, he didn’t need to find cracks forming in the beliefs he’d always had!

Well, almost always… Since some time after sandy days and starry nights…

Tucker’s turned from the closet.  With heavy, late-night steps he made his way across his small, stark quarters and, sinking onto the edge of his bed, with a sigh of disgust, began pulling off one work boot, then the other.

The only thing crazier than what he’d already been thinking was to imagine what it might be like to head Defiant’s shuttle back to the Tholian Sector, where a rift in the fabric of space led to that Federation Universe.  The one ruled by cooperation instead of conquest. Where ships weren’t built with interrogation booths, officers weren’t always trying to assassinate each other and accomplishments were met with encouragement rather than jealous suspicion.  Where there were no slave planets.

Really?  God, how did anybody ever function in a place like that?

He yawned.  Found himself swinging his stocking-feet up over the edge of the bed and allowing his back to find comfortable spots on the mattress.  He folded his arms behind his head and gazed up at the ceiling.

Told himself he didn’t see large, amber eyes gazing back.  Couldn’t remember how warm it was lying in the circle of Vulcan arms, even if it’d be kind of a nice memory.

It was so long since he’d let himself consider much more than the stark realities of his miserable, mundane, meaningless life!  But tonight he couldn’t seem to stop all the ideas that were crowding in on him from beyond its borders.  Crazy images, but… compelling as they painted waking dreams on the smooth surface up there as he at last let his imaginings fly free.

Free as T’Pol…

A hundred years worth of theory that he wasn’t supposed to have…  Speed to distance ratios…  Far and fast…  Defiant’s little shuttle…Warp eight…  Signus Alba…

Or even… the Tholian sector?   He and T’Pol…  No more lies.  No betrayals…

Making changes.  Making a difference…

Dreams, only dreams.  Stupid, crazy, unrealistic dreams, but…

He could get up, get that beer and drown them.

In a little bit.

Right now, on this night when what he’d thought must be impossible instead became true, he could at least allow his dreams and his little freedom fantasies to fly fearless among the stars.  Maybe, for another minute or two he would consider how he could set events in motion to make those dreams become something more.  Become…

 

Something real.


Comments:

Linda

A little hidden hope in a universe writh with slavery, advancement through betrayal and murder, where compassion was foolhearty.   No wonder this Tucker is scarred - and I don't mean just his face.  A chilling look into his thoughts!

panyasan

Your dialogue of MU Tucker is very interesting. He is such a different man that RU Trip, but in a way so much the same. Really inspriring. 

Lt. Zoe Jebkanto

Thank you Asso for your response to this story as well as your encouragement through so many others.  Your comments always reach so deep to the heart of what I'mintending.

Asso

…of the two of them beneath a notation citing the first human-Vulcan child, with a pretty little girl cradled in T’Pol’s lap: one they’d named Elizabeth…

 

How many thoughts, Trip ... Oh, I beg your pardon... Tucker. 

How many thoughts. 

Real. 

 

Remarkable. Evocative. Suggestive. 

Real.

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