Scientific Method

By Amok2

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure au romance

Keywords: sickbay

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Chapter 1

Rating: PG-13 – Some violence
Genre: Romance with some action/adventure thrown in to move along the plot; AU since this rejects the canon beginning with TATV
Disclaimer: Star Trek and Enterprise belong to those who never deserved them, definitely not to the fans! But no, I’m not getting anything out of this except the satisfaction of seeing these two together, as they should be.
Summary: Enterprise is back on its original mission of exploration. I’m a sucker for the stranded on a planet/ship scenario, something we never really got to see with just Trip and T’Pol on screen. So, in this imaginary season 5, I figure why not?
Spoilers: Through the end of season 4 and ignoring TATV abomination, post-Terra Prime and pre-Romulan War

Author’s note: Everything between Trip and T’Pol in bondspeak is italicized, as are flashbacks. Thanks, Bucky, for giving me the lowdown on how to do that, and for the welcome back!

Also, I’m so not a techno-babble kind of girl, so I try not to get too deep into it. Shallow waters – like original Star Trek technical situations – for me. (Cue in dramatic 60’s score!) Forgive me if what little I include might not make the best sense. I’ve tried to look up what I can! Thanks to Memory Alpha, The Next Generation and Voyager (especially Voyager, for the missing link I needed for the story!) for help on some of the science parts and helping me get the crew where I needed them to be.

%%%

T’Pol’s quarters
June 2, 2155
0100 hrs

Trip sat at the desk working on the latest numbers from ongoing simulations to re-boot the warp drive. The ship had been at a standstill for 3 days now as he’d pulled double shifts trying to fix his unruly engines, damaged in a sudden attack by marauders who’d come for payback after Capt. Archer chased them away from a civilian ship in distress a week earlier. Enterprise had been successful in repelling them, but not before the pirates caused some serious damage.

In the aftermath of Terra Prime’s attacks – and attempted destruction of Starfleet – things had gotten back to normal – as much as things were ever normal—on Enterprise, which resumed its original mission of exploration. They were headed toward deep space again, but along the way they’d had some bumps. But it was peanuts compared to some – most – of the things they’d gone through in the past 4 years.

It might have been chump change compared to those times, but it was still enough of a hassle to give Trip a headache. He’d been over the numbers so many times, his eyes glazed over. His neck ached. He closed his eyes and rubbed it with one hand. That’s when he felt a hand on his bare shoulder and reached over to grasp the soft and small hand that was trying to soothe his aching neck.

He looked up to see a face he’d not only become accustomed to, but a face he couldn’t imagine living without.

“It’s time to rest, Trip. You are no longer capable of processing this information to any relevant end,” said T’Pol, who had risen from her place of meditation a moment before, where she was able to immerse herself in the white space while Trip worked. She had just blown out the flame, making the monitor Trip used the only source of light in the room. T’Pol spoke close to his right ear and kissed it as she pulled back, pulling him to his feet.

“Yeah, you’re right,” he said, his voice revealing the weariness he felt in his bones tonight. “Guess I can get to it in the morning.”

He turned off the monitor, bathing the room in darkness. He let her lead him the short distance to her bed. He heard her pull the covers up and felt her release his hands as she removed her robe and slipped into bed, nude. He took off his own skivvies and slipped in alongside her, pulling her flush against him, his arms wrapped around her back while her head found its usual place against his bare chest.

Both sighed in contentment; it’d taken a long time for both of them to admit they needed the other, but the death of their daughter sealed their path. They helped the other heal, resolved to begin a life together.

Trip had practically moved in with T’Pol, spending most of his nights in what the crew informally considered “their” quarters. It was an arrangement Capt. Archer sanctioned, a blind spot by official fraternization regulations so that he and the rest of the crew could plead plausible deniability if questioned by the powers that be. For the most part, the crew seemed to embrace the commanders’ blossoming romance. In the corridors and in the mess hall, crewmen would smile at them, even though the couple never showed their affection in public. It sometimes made T’Pol uncomfortable but Trip told her it was the crew’s way of showing support for the two of them.

T’Pol also appreciated the crew’s discretion: delivering and taking away meals for two to her quarters, giving the two of them space when she would visit Engineering or the rarer instance of Trip visiting T’Pol on the bridge. It was as though everyone on board was in a conspiracy to let them live out a relationship in plain sight with no hindrances, no shame and safely, now that Masaro and his ilk had been found out and dealt with. No one on this crew would do anything less than protect their secret and nurture a love that had dared to exist — that had in fact persisted — despite the obstacles.

After all Trip and T’Pol had been through, it was the least the crew could do to allow the couple to enjoy their happiness.

In T’Pol’s quarters, happiness ebbed and flowed between the couple, who had found peace in their burgeoning bond. With one hand on T’Pol’s back and the other on her waist, Trip kissed her hair. He couldn’t see the slight upturn on his mate’s lips but he sensed it through the bond. A matching smile graced his face. Arms wrapped around each other, sleep came at last.

%%%

Bridge of the Enterprise
June 2, 2155
0956 hrs.

Capt. Archer fidgeted in the command chair, rapping his fingers against the arm of the chair. He sighed. He thought he’d taken well to peace, and he did, but the recent repairs also meant a slowdown in their mission of exploration. And that made for a bored, restless captain. He rested his chin on his other hand, cupped into a fist. He threw a look at T’Pol, who sat at her console, her thoughts more with her mate than on her sensors, which were quiet.

“T’Pol, anything out of the ordinary today?”

T’Pol arched an eyebrow at her commanding officer.

“If there was Captain, I would have told you immediately,” she said. Even though Trip had become better about being comfortable in the calm – through her influence, she liked to think – it wasn’t easy for everyone to enjoy stillness. That went double for Archer, whose nature demanded perpetual motion.

“I know. I guess I was just hoping something would turn up,” said Archer.

“Even if there was, we’re not exactly in the position to investigate,” she said. “Be careful what you wish for.”

At that, Archer, Travis and Hoshi all turned around to give T’Pol a look of disbelief that she’d employed such a human cautionary phrase.

“Is that not the correct phrase?” T’Pol said, feigning her best innocent look.

As if on cue, her bondmate commed the bridge.

“Cap’n, it’s Trip. Just wanted to let you know, looks like we’ll finally have engines back to normal,” said Enterprise’s chief engineer and resident miracle worker.

Archer practically jumped out of his seat. He started walking around the bridge, unable to contain his enthusiasm.

“That’s great news, Trip! What’s your ETA on repairs?”

“I’d give it about 3 hours, sir,” Trip answered.

“Well done, Commander. I was starting to worry about whether you could work your magic this time,” said Archer, whose humor crept into his voice.

Trip picked up on it and chuckled in return.

“There’s no way I’d let a little thing like this ruin my reputation, Cap’n. I just needed a good night’s sleep to work through a solution, sir,” Trip said.

Thank you, T’Pol , he sent silently through the bond.

No need to thank me, Trip. You came up with the solution on your own, T’Pol answered. I did not help with your calculations. It was, as you put it, your hunches that paid off.

But you forced me to rest, he insisted, enjoying their internal banter.

I’d hardly say it was that much effort. You were about to fall over on the monitor. I merely steered you in the right direction.

T’Pol was getting the hang of her human’s colorful language, Trip thought. Ok, ok, I give up, woman!

Through the bond, he sensed her smirk and allowed himself one. See you in a few hours, he sent over their link.

“Good work, Trip. Glad to see you haven’t lost your touch,” Archer said, oblivious to the conversation that transpired in the seconds between Trip’s remark and his rejoinder. “In fact, I’m so confident you’ll get this done when you say you will, I’m going to have Chef prepare lunch for us. Steak sound good to you?”

Before he answered the Captain, Trip made a silent pre-emptive strike to his mate.

T’Pol, don’t start.

I wasn’t about to say anything.

Really?

Trip couldn’t believe she was letting him off the hook so easily.

Although, if you had asked, I would have pointed out how much healthier you’ve become in the past few months and how eating animal flesh might not be conducive toward maintaining your optimal physical condition, of which I’ve come to appreciate a great deal.

Trip suppressed an internal groan.

“Sounds great, Cap’n. It’s been forever since I’ve had one, but I’m actually more in the mood for fixins today, for some reason. You know, the sides to a great barbeque, things like cole slaw and baked beans and potato salad. How ‘bout you ask Chef to fix those things up for us?”

Trip couldn’t see it, but Archer’s face furrowed in confusion.

“Well, sure, Trip, if that’s what you want. But you’re sure you don’t want a steak, or some ribs, or even some barbecued chicken to go along with all that?”

“Yeah, Cap’n, I’m sure. I just got these cravings, that’s all,” Trip said.

“Cravings? You’re not pregnant again, are you?” Archer said, smiling as the bridge crew started breaking out in giggles.

Trip’s sigh was audible to everyone on the bridge. “Could you broadcast that any louder, sir? A guy makes one galactic first and no one ever lets him forget it!”

Archer tried not to laugh, instead forcing his best serious face. “You didn’t answer my question, Trip. Are you pregnant again?”

This time, the bridge crew’s guffaws came through loud and clear to Trip, who was receiving it in stereo through the intercom system and through T’Pol, who broadcast her own amusement to him even as he saw the faces of his friends having a laugh at his expense.

T’Pol was also aware of her mate’s discomfort and she tried to make him feel better. While the crew was seizing in laughter, she made a discrete trip to the white space, where she found Trip fuming and turned away from her. She put a hand on his shoulder.

It’s very considerate of you to accommodate my wishes, Trip, for a vegetarian meal. Thank you.

Instead of warmth, she felt an annoying kind of buzz coming from him. He didn’t turn around to greet her.

Sure. Whatever. Fine.

Ah, Trip was in an obstinate mood. Are you being emotional?

He hated that particular phrase. He stiffened further and crossed his arms. No.

Trip.

I said no.

T’Pol realized she had to let the wind out of his sails before his mood deteriorated further.

Trip, the crew is very fond of you. You are on edge after so many frustrating days. The crew was as well. They need to, how do you put it — blow off some steam? Besides, you have surmounted your obstacles and found a solution. You know they don’t mean you any harm, so why don’t you take it in your usual good humor?

At this, he finally turned around to give her an incredulous look. You’re telling me to relax?

T’Pol placed her hands on her hips and arched an eyebrow. Yes.

This time, T’Pol felt his amusement ricochet to her. He uncrossed his arms and put his hands on his hips and shook his head, sighing and chuckling. Well, if that don’t beat all. You making me not take something so seriously.

He looked at her and smiled. He moved closer to her, removed his hands from his hips and placed them over hers, while she moved her hands to his neck, letting her fingers tangle in his hair.

Now can I thank you? He asked, his mouth a short lick from hers. He heard her answer as they kissed.

If you insist.

“Trip? You still there? You, uh, know I’m joking, right?” asked Archer, a little concerned that his friend might not be taking all this in the right spirit.

T’Pol pulled away from Trip in their white space first, hearing the Captain from her station.

Trip, you need to answer the Captain.

They still had their arms around each other. He didn’t let go, instead leaning his forehead against hers, catching his breath.

We’ll continue this later, ok?

T’Pol moved her right hand to caress his cheek.

Yes, later.

Trip closed his eyes and he was back in his office in Engineering.

He cleared his throat and answered the Captain.

“Yes sir, I heard ya’. I know you’re joking, and no, I’m not in a family way. I’m just hungry for some home cooking!” he said, his smile infusing his comments, getting through to the bridge. “Everyone up there get their laugh quota for the day? Can we move on?”

“Sorry, Trip. Why don’t you get back to what you were doing and we’ll see you for lunch in a few hours. Archer out,” said the captain, who couldn’t help grinning as he signed off.

Hoshi snuck a look at T’Pol, who she could swear had a small smile on her face as well, if only for an instant.

“T’Pol, would you inform Chef of Trip’s request for lunch? And Commander, since it seems like we’ll have a bountiful harvest, why don’t you join us?”

“Thank you, Captain, I will,” she said.

%%%

Captain’s dining room, Enterprise
1330 hrs.

“This has got to be one of Chef’s best meals ever,” said Trip, who had just finished his second helping of baked beans, potato salad, corn on the cob and cole slaw. He leaned back in his customary middle chair, his hand patting his very full belly. “That really hit the spot.”

Archer licked his fingers of barbecue sauce and wiped his hands and mouth with his napkin, smeared red. “Too bad you passed on these ribs. Finger-lickin’ good,” he said. He grinned. “Bad for you, more for me.”

T’Pol tried not to look nauseated at the sight of the bones stacked up high on Archer’s plate, instead savoring her own meal. She’d found the side dishes to her liking, not surprising considering her mate’s influence through the bond, but she liked to think her own tastes had become more adventurous in the years on Enterprise.

“So, we’re all set to go to warp, Trip?” asked Archer.

“Yes, sir. We’re good to go,” said Trip. “It’s about time we get back to exploring.”

“No arguments from me on that,” said Archer.

“Any idea where we’re going next?” Trip asked.

Archer looked to T’Pol.

“Before the marauders’ attacks, there were several possibilities,” she said. She was about to continue when the familiar beep of the comm system interrupted her.

Hoshi’s voice filled the room. “Captain, a distress call is coming in. I can barely make it out, but I think it’s a civilian ship that’s been damaged by solar flares. They’ve got families on board, sir, and a warp core breach is imminent. I haven’t been able to make out their exact location, but if we are able to go to maximum warp, we should be able to reach their vicinity within four hours. We are the closest starship. The signal is weak but I think I can boost the frequency,” she said.

“Keep working on it, Hoshi. Open a channel to Starfleet and find out if they’re aware of any civilian ships in that area, or anything out of the ordinary, for that matter. T’Pol and I are returning to the bridge,” Archer said, rising from the table to answer the comm.

“Looks like we’re back to business as usual,” Archer said, glancing at his No.2 and No.3.

“Saving the galaxy one ship – or planet – at a time,” said Trip, whose quip earned double brows from T’Pol – her version of a slight frown.

He just shrugged and gave her a sheepish look as they left together, following their Captain.

%%%

Bridge of the Enterprise
1345 hrs

Archer and T’Pol passed through the turbolift’s doors and onto the bridge, having gone up while Trip had gone back down to his engines. T’Pol immediately relieved the crewman assigned to her station in her absence, while the Captain took his seat. Hoshi had vacated the big chair and returned to her console as soon as the doors opened.

“Status, Hoshi?” asked Archer.

“Starfleet is aware of our situation. They’ve had no reports of civilian ships in that area, nor of any solar flares that might be causing damage to nearby vessels,” Hoshi said. “But it’s not like they get regular check-ins from that system, so it’s not unusual for them not to be current on who’s out there.”

Archer looked at T’Pol for confirmation. “Sensors are not picking up any solar flares from nearby stars, nor can I pick up any vessels within range,” T’Pol said, her fingers dancing across her console.

Archer turned back to Hoshi. “Have you got a lock on the distress signal?”

“Yes sir. I cleared up the message – a little—and it sounds like they’re desperate for help. They’ve got 40 people on-board – 30 of them are families who are on some sort of pilgrimage. They’ve got injuries – some life-threatening – and already some casualties. I’ve narrowed down the frequency and I can pinpoint a location to within a few thousand kilometers,” she said.

That’s half my crew, Archer thought. “Why aren’t we picking up any of this?” he said.

“They’re just out of range of our sensors, sir,” Hoshi said. “But I can tell you it’s in the Ficus sector in the Bringloid system.”

“Bringloid system?” Archer said, spinning around to T’Pol to jog his memory.

“The Bringloid colony is in that system, on Bringloid V. A human colony,” said T’Pol, pulling up historical records. “Made up of Neo-transcendentalists, followers of Liam Dieghan’s philosophy.”

Archer tapped his fingers against his temple. “Right. It’s coming back. He believed in turning back the clock and trying to get in tune with nature, relying on human ingenuity versus using technology.”

“A group of his followers left Earth in 2123 on the SS Mariposa and settled in the Bringloid system,” said T’Pol. She pondered the name, which did not roll off her tongue smoothly. “Unusual name for a system.”

“I can help you with that, Commander,” said Hoshi. “It means ‘dream’ in Irish.”

T’Pol canted her head, thoughtful. “Thank you, Hoshi,” she said.

“Is there a history of solar flare activity in this sector or in this system?” Archer asked T’Pol.

“The system’s primary star – also named Bringloid – “ said T’Pol, who paused while catching Hoshi’s whispered, “Geez, could these people have been a little more creative in naming their system?” and then continued, “— does have some instability, but it has never been cause for alarm, although that could change in a few hundred years,” she said. “There is enough flare activity now to predict it could cause a catastrophic event at that time.”

“Ok, so an accident may be possible if a ship got too close,” Archer said. “What about this pilgrimage?”

“Other ships were dispatched to that sector in addition to the Mariposa – 9 total. Some traveled for the express purpose of colonization, while others focused on deep space exploration, diplomatic and science missions. There might be an offshoot of colonists who have formed a religion focusing on the system’s sun. It would not be unlike earlier civilizations of sun worshippers,” said T’Pol. “But that is merely a hypothesis.”

“More mysteries,” sighed Archer. “Well, if there’s any chance we can get to these people in time, let’s do it. Hoshi, whatever you’ve got, transfer the coordinates to Travis.”

Archer tapped the comm on the command chair console. “Trip? Are we ready to go to maximum warp?”

“She’s had cabin fever for three days, Cap’n. She can’t wait to get going,” Trip said.

“Well, let’s not keep a lady waiting,” Archer said. “Travis, you heard the man. Engage at maximum warp.”

“Aye, sir,” said Travis, who was, truth be told, also raring to go.

%%%

Bridge of the Enterprise
1700 hrs

Archer had taken to pacing again, but as they neared the coordinates of the distress call, he’d come back full circle to the command seat, detouring briefly at the situation room in the back of the bridge.

“Hoshi, can we hear the message yet? Is it getting clearer as we’re getting closer?” he asked.

“Yes, sir. It’s as clear as I can get it,” she said.

“Let’s hear it.”

Static cackled over the comm system on the bridge, making T’Pol wince briefly but everyone else waited in anticipation of the reason they’d come.

“Mayday. Mayday. Ship in distress,” said the disembodied voice, a man who strained to be heard above the sound of explosions in the background and his own fits of coughing. “Solar. Flares. Got too close. Hull is buckling. We’ve got fires everywhere and our warp drive is offline. A warp core breach is imminent. Repeat. Warp core breach imminent.”

The sound of desperation in his voice fortified the crew’s sense of duty.

Another coughing fit, then, “We’ve got women and children aboard. Families! For God’s sake, help us! Some are already succumbing to smoke and radiation leaks. We’ll put them first on the emergency life pods, but we haven’t got enough. Do you hear us? We’re just a charter service. We weren’t meant to carry this load, but they begged us, begged us to take them on this pilgrimage! Their damned star they had to see before they died! We’re sending coordinates now. Hurry! Our life support won’t last much longer!” and then nothing but the cackle and snap of static.

Silence enveloped the deck as the command crew processed the message.

Archer’s face set in resolve. He’d been through enough of these disasters to expect the worst, hope for the best. “T’Pol, are you picking up anything yet?”

T’Pol deftly maneuvered her console, swinging her chair back and forth as her fingers pulled up readings from sensors, her quick mind instantaneously analyzing its contents. “I’m reading a source of energy – faint—but indicative of some kind of warp capability. I’m also detecting trace amounts of radiation consistent with warp drive damage,” she repeated, not looking up to Archer’s eyes. “I’m also reading life signs. Again, it’s faint.”

“Can you tell how many?”

Now she looked up to meet his eyes. She shook her head.

“Are we close enough to transport them on board?”

“Yes, but I would advise against that due to the radiation. We would be contaminating ourselves,” T’Pol said.

“What if we transport them directly into decon?” Archer said.

T’Pol thought for a moment. “That is a possibility,” she said.

“Consult with Phlox. Figure out a way we can get the survivors on board without contaminating us,” he said.

T’Pol nodded and stood up from her console, making a quiet exit to the turbolift as Archer rose from his seat and approached Hoshi.

“Hoshi, try hailing them again. Tell them we’re responding to their distress signal. Ask them for an immediate update and to enact immediate evacuation procedures,” he told her.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

Archer turned from Hoshi and strode to Reed, who stood stiffly at his station, remaining vigilant to Enterprise’s potential enemies. He was probably the only one who saw danger in every situation. He knew how easily the rescuer could turn into the ones needing to be rescued. “Malcolm?”

“Scanning for ships, Captain. Nothing yet, although the presence of that nebula nearby, as well as that moon, would be ideal hiding spots if someone was going to ambush us,” said Reed.

Archer frowned, but he realized Reed was doing his job, not being a buzzkill. “Keep looking. I don’t want any surprises,” Archer said, exchanging a glance with Malcolm. He hadn’t yet regained Archer’s trust completely, but their relationship was on the mend.

%%%

Sickbay, Enterprise
1730 hrs

T’Pol and Phlox studied the images that were just now starting to come through from the vessel in distress. Hoshi had been unable to re-establish contact, but as soon as Enterprise got close enough, she started transmitting images, both to the bridge and to Sickbay. It was an old ship – at least 20 years of wear and tear on it – and it looked worse for the wear, although it was such an outdated model, any recent damage it endured was hard to pinpoint. It might have been a boomer’s ship at one time, but it looked like it’d been converted for some kind of planet to planet transport. It was a hulking eyesore of a design, meant more for function than any kind of form, and in line with earlier designs of colonists hoping to strike out for a new life. It was close enough that Phlox could see the hull showing signs of imminent buckling, and given the proximity of the ship to the Bringloid primary, it was apparent the reason for the damage.

“I have observed this phenomena before, a flare star near Vulcan, 40 Eridani C,” T’Pol said. “A flare star is a type of star that experiences brief and random outbursts on its surface, causing disruption to energy patterns in a system and potentially harming life forms nearby.”

She looked to Phlox, who was uncharacteristically silent, allowing her to continue. “Those outbursts more than likely damaged the vessel, causing a chain reaction in an already strained engine – such as plasma leaks,” she said.

“A domino effect leading to radiation leaks,” Phlox finished.

T’Pol nodded. “That would be the logical conclusion.”

“We should expect casualties given that the ship has been so close to the flares for going on – four, five – hours now. Victims will likely have major tissue damage, nausea, vomiting,” Phlox turned away from T’Pol and the monitor, scanning through his supplies. “My supply of hyronalin is limited, but I can use it to treat those who have been exposed the longest.”

“That does seem the best way to treat radiation poisoning,” T’Pol said. “But it still does not address the issue of the best way to administer the treatment without endangering Enterprise’s crew.”

Phlox turned back to T’Pol and frowned. “I have been thinking about that. We don’t have many options. The chances of radiation poisoning is so high, we cannot risk exposing it in an open-air environment, such as a shuttle pod – unless all our personnel are outfitted in EV suits. But we can’t possibly take everyone off that ship using Enterprise’s two shuttlepods, since their capacity is so limited. We also don’t have that kind of time. We can either use the transporter to beam those directly affected into the decontamination chamber, or I can go on board the vessel in an EV suit and treat from there.”

“The decon chamber was not made to accommodate more than a handful of people,” T’Pol said. “We have no way to ascertain how many victims we are dealing with. And you might run out of time treating patients on the ship. The best course of action would be for a recon team to gauge exactly how many are in the most immediate danger and transport the most critical cases first and continue to transport who we can using that method while also evacuating less critical cases via the shuttlepods. We can flood the chamber with a gaseous form of your solution and rotate those most critical of patients through it and into Sickbay.”

As T’Pol had explained her plan, Phlox’s grimace had gradually given way to a cautiously optimistic expression.

“Given the dire circumstances and our limited resources, I concur with your assessment, Commander,” he said.

“I will brief the Captain on the plan and begin preparations. I suggest you devise a method of converting the treatment into a gaseous form, or by generating more hyposprays that can be self-administered to your incoming patients,” T’Pol said.

Phlox nodded as T’Pol spun around and exited Sickbay to report to the Captain.

%%%

Captain’s Ready Room, Enterprise
1745 hrs

“Your plan’s sound, Commander. Good work,” said Archer, who sat at his desk while T’Pol briefed him. “Who do you suggest for the initial away team?”

“I believe it best if we limit the personnel to Commander Tucker, myself, a security team member and another engineer. And all of us should use the transporter with a containment field in place around it to reduce the chances for contamination and to reduce number of personnel who are needed on-board our shuttlepods,” she answered. “There is a chance their ship can be repaired so that we may proceed with our rescue operations without the solar flares’ interference. Though it is a slim chance, it would be greatly increased if our most competent engineer is part of that initial team.”

Archer smiled.

“Don’t let on you think he’s a miracle worker,” he said. “He’s already got a big head as it is.”

“I do not think of Mr. Tucker as a ‘miracle worker,’” T’Pol said, provoking a look of disbelief from her commanding officer. She looked away briefly and continued in a more reluctant tone. “But I do concede he has consistently been able to use unconventional methods to remedy otherwise seemingly hopeless situations. Perhaps his unique skills will prove valuable on a rescue mission of this sort.”

“We call that a miracle worker, Commander,” said Archer, allowing a small smile on his gameface. “In any case, I agree. Trip could use your help and someone else from engineering and the security might also give you an extra set of hands. Get to it and be ready to transport within the hour.”

T’Pol rose from her seat and nodded.

“Yes, sir,” she said, turning to exit the ready room and the bridge to find her mate and let him know he’d be accompanying her on the away mission. She had a feeling he would be enthusiastic about it, to her chagrin.

You don’t think I’m a miracle worker? All this time, you’ve been faking it? Trip’s amused voice piped into T’Pol’s head, like some kind of intercom system, but just for the two of them.

Are we talking about the engines or something more intimate? T’Pol volleyed back.

Ouch, honey. No need to hurt a guy in that department.

Be assured, beloved, I have never deceived you in our intimate relations. T’Pol could feel a rumble of relief coming from her mate, enhanced by a twinge of something more, a rush, really, of desire and affection.

After the mission, Trip. T’Pol sent back a gentle rebuke. For now, we have a rescue operation to execute. Can you be suited and ready at the transporter within the hour with one of your crewmen?

Already on it. Biggs is coming with me. I’ve already sent him ahead to set up the containment field we need around the transporter. We’ll see you at 1900 hours.

Acknowledged. T’Pol slipped back into purely professional mode, but could not resist expressing her gratitude to him. Thank you, Trip.

%%%

Unknown vessel
1900 hrs

Re-materialization always threw Trip off. He hated the momentary dissolution of himself in this process. After Hoshi’s ordeal – which he completely sympathized with – it was sometimes hard not to think about the fact his molecules were floating around out there in space in transit between points. But it had come in handy – the just-in-the-nick-of-time rescue from the Romulan prototype ship came to mind.

That moment flashed as Trip found himself back together, this time not in the familiar surroundings of Enterprise, but in a dark place. Ten fingers, 10 toes. I’ll check the rest later. A few seconds earlier, he had been standing on Enterprise’s transporter pad with T’Pol, Biggs and Crewman Wilber, a member of Malcolm’s security team, in EV suits.

He looked around. They were all accounted for – and all parts seemed intact. As soon as they’d become solid again, T’Pol whipped out a tricorder and began scanning.

Trip checked in with Enterprise.

“Captain, we’re here. We’re in a corridor but we haven’t found anything yet. T’Pol is scanning and we’ll let you know when we find anyone and the engines,” Trip said.

“Acknowledged, Commander,” said Archer. “Stay safe, and stay in touch.”

“Yes, sir,” he said.

They had materialized in a corridor. It was dimly lit – emergency lights, probably, Trip thought. They were in the long part of an I-shaped section of the ship. They could not make out what lay on the other side of the corridor.

Trip leaned close to T’Pol.

“Are you getting anything?” he looked around and took in the silence. “Where is everybody? Where’s the engine room?”

T’Pol paused as she waved the tricorder first down one end of the corridor, then the other.

“I’m not picking up any life signs, but there is a power reading,” she said, starting to walk in the direction of the signal. Trip signaled to Biggs and Wilber to follow him as he walked with T’Pol. He started to get a really bad feeling about this. Biggs and Wilber picked up on his apprehension, their faces showing more of their nerves than Trip’s, but if it made them more alert, the better, he thought.

The four reached the end of the corridor and then T’Pol stopped, waving the instrument down both ends of that section – the short part of the I-corridor.

“Strange. The power signal was coming from the right side of this corridor, but now it seems to have shifted to the other direction,” she said.

“Well, we’re not splitting up, so let’s all go where that signal’s coming from,” Trip said.

He felt the slightest disturbance coming through the force he knew to be the bond. He knew he was making her tense, but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was not right.

“Very well. Let’s continue down this hall,” she said. The beep on her tricorder continued to tap ever so lightly, getting stronger as the group moved forward.

Lights were still dim in the corridors, the emergency lights casting an eerie red glow all around them. And still they heard nothing. Not one voice asking for help, not one scream, not one coughing fit. Nothing that matched the sounds they heard earlier on the distress signal.

They reached the end of that corridor, which led them to a central chamber with three corridors branching off at 10 o’clock, 12 o’clock and 2 o’clock.

“Which way? Door number 1, 2 or 3?” Trip asked, stepping into the center and using his hands to show off the choices.

“There are no doors, Commander,” said T’Pol, distracted in trying to get a fix on the power source that was once again being erratic.

Trip wandered to a wall, where he recognized a ship’s schematic. Quickly, he figured out where they were – two decks above the engines and one deck below the main living quarters.

“T’Pol, come over here,” he said. She looked up and saw Trip shining a light on the map and walked over.

“Do you see what I’m seeing?” he asked.

She did. Instantaneously, the two came up with their next course of action.

“Crewman Wilber, you and I will go down this corridor,” she pointed to the middle one and then looked at Trip as she continued, “also known as Door No.2, to ascend to the main living quarters. If there were radiation leaks, the crew and passengers would no doubt try to get as far they could from the source of the radiation – the warp core. The radiation may also be affecting the tricorder. Perhaps that’s why I’m not able to acquire accurate readings. Either that, or there is something in the material of this vessel that renders our equipment unreliable.”

Trip pointed to Biggs.

“Biggs, that leaves you and me to go down to the engine room using Door No.3. There should be an access shaft that’ll take us straight down.”

T’Pol removed her communicator from her belt and activated it.

“Captain, we have been unable to establish contact with the inhabitants of this vessel. Either the radiation or something in this vessel is disrupting our scanning equipment. Commander Tucker has found a schematic. He and Mr. Biggs will proceed to the engine room, while Mr. Wilber and I shall make our way to the main living quarters to attend to the survivors,” she said.

“Understood, Commander,” Archer said.

As T’Pol and Trip moved away from the wall, they surreptitiously brushed their fingers as they passed to their respective corridors. The touch was fleeting, and through their gloves, a muted version of the sensation they usually felt. But it was something to supplement the sense of the other they felt through the bond. They looked at each other for a moment longer before they split up and shared one thought: Be careful.

%%%

Unknown vessel
1910 hours

T’Pol and Wilber silently walked down their corridor until they reached a lift. She passed a hand over sensor and the doors opened. She tentatively walked inside. Wilber followed as the door shut behind him. T’Pol punched in the floor for the living quarters. The lift rumbled for a second before righting itself and shooting upward.

Wilber clutched at his phase pistol in a deathgrip, his youthful ardor for being part of a rescue mission squashed by the feeling something was not right. Perhaps Commander Tucker’s apprehension was infectious, or perhaps his sixth sense was kicking in, but he could hear his heart beating faster than it ever had before.

Once they arrived at the living quarters floor, the doors opened. Immediately, they heard it.

Someone was calling for help. It was faint, but they could make it out. A man’s voice, coughing -- possibly the same one who sent them the message.

T’Pol and Wilber quickly sped down the corridor, which looked like the other ones they passed earlier. The same red glow filled the hall.

They reached a door near the end of the corridor. On the other side, they heard that voice again.

“Please help us! We’re dying in here! We have families! Children, women!”

T’Pol pushed the access button for the door, but it didn’t budge. She nodded to Wilber, who aimed his weapon at the access panel and fired. The door opened and released rolling clouds of smoke. They couldn’t see anything for a moment, and then T’Pol called out, “We are from the starship Enterprise. We heard your distress call. We have come to help.”

Her sensitive ears picked up a weak response.

“Help. Can’t make it. Come closer, we’re in the back,” the voice said.

T’Pol stepped inside the room and Wilber followed. The smoke was still thick but the hope of finding survivors spurred them on. They were in the middle of the room when suddenly the smoke seemed to part in certain areas around them, as though something was cutting through it.

Almost at once, she realized it was a trap. She tried to send a warning to Trip but it was too late.

She felt something injected into her neck, through the suit, and then the room started spinning. As she started losing her balance, she saw Wilber fall to the floor. She drew her weapon, but dropped it, as she too succumbed.

%%%

Unknown vessel
1910 hrs

Trip and Biggs walked down the corridor to the end, where they found an access shaft. Trip peaked in first, casting his light down the ladder. It was all clear.

“It’s two decks down, so we’ll keep going down until we see the signs for D deck,” Trip said.

He stepped in and started going down. Biggs followed.

In their EV suits, the climb was cumbersome, but they made it down the shaft in 15 minutes. When they got to the engine room floor, they climbed out of the access shaft and entered another corridor, but this one wasn’t even lit by the red emergency lights. It was pitch black here.

Trip took the lead and shone his light down the hall. Nothing.

He started to get that bad feeling again.

He took a few more steps and then he saw something. An arm, attached to a hand. He shone his light to see the rest and it was the torso of an unconscious man. He was lying there prone, just outside a room, his body trapped in between two doors.

Trip and Biggs moved quickly to assist him, but just as they were about to reach him, he was pulled into the room. The doors shut behind him, leaving Trip and Biggs shocked and locked out.

“Sir, what just happened?” Biggs asked.

Trip kept calm. One thing about being a natural leader – you had to at least act like you were on top of things.

“I don’t know, Biggs, but let’s try to get in there,” he said.

Trip immediately went to the access panel next to the room, poked and prodded until the doors slid open.

Biggs tried not to look nervous, but his state was evident to Trip, who remained cautious and quiet as he nodded to him to follow as he went through the door.

Inside, it was completely black save for the light of Trip’s flashlight, which cut a swath through the dark. But it illuminated nothing. Trip swung it around the room from left to right. As he started to swing it back, a movement caught his eye – the light had caught the edge of something. Or someone. Maybe the man they saw dragged inside?

“Is anyone there? Sir? We’re here to help. We’re from the Earth starship Enterprise. We heard your distress signal,” said Trip. He stepped closer and cast the light on the now inert figure.

Trip moved the light up the body and then felt something shove him, knocking the light out of his hand. He instinctually rolled to his left, his body coiled tight and ready to defend himself against his unseen attackers. He called out, “Biggs! We’re not alone! Get your phaser out.”

But he heard no answer from Biggs as he felt something sharp prick through his suit at the base of his neck. His legs gave way under him as his breath fogged up the window of his faceplate and he lost consciousness.

%%%

Unknown vessel
2200 hrs

As T’Pol came to, the first sense that kicked in was touch. Hard. Underneath her, she felt a smooth surface. It was cold as she tentatively skimmed her fingers, which lay at about hip level. It was also cold because she was dressed only in her grey undergarments. She started to shiver.

She opened her eyes to darkness. As she breathed, she could see her breath in a plume that escaped from her lips.

As her eyes got used to the lack of light, she moved to sit upright. She succeeded, but she felt pain near her heart, as if someone had struck her. Hard. She could sense a bruise in that area. She looked around the room. It was small – maybe 10 by 20 feet at the most. The ground was of a hard metal, same with the four walls. No windows. The ceiling seemed to be of the same materials. No doors or panels of any kind were obvious at first glance. The only illumination was through a small slit through one of the walls. T’Pol rose to her feet, turned around and slowly walked to it. She felt for an opening around the slit but found nothing. The light was so blinding, she was unable to see beyond it, but she did use it to orient herself to the rest of the room.

In the far corner, the light fell on a small mat covered by a blanket. Next to that was a bottle of water. T’Pol walked over to it and picked up the blanket, draping it over her shoulders and wrapping herself tightly, willing herself to keep from shivering. She paced, trying to keep up her body heat.

As she paced, she tried to use her other senses to give her clues. She sniffed the air. Sterile. No hint of smoke. It almost seemed like a decon chamber, but there was a holding cell kind of feel about it more than anything medically related. No sign of her EV suit.

Her ears also picked up nothing but silence. Not even the hum of engines. Not one thing that would explain what had happened to them.

Them. Trip. Where was he? She had some reassurance that he must still be alive, because she didn’t feel like dying. They were still connected, although the usual hum that resonated between them seemed muffled, even muted.

She closed her eyes to project herself into their shared space. When she opened her eyes again, she was in their space, the white space that had become their sanctuary when they couldn’t physically be together, a place that had become a comforting backdrop when T’Pol meditated while Trip was on duty or vice versa.

She heard him before she saw him.

He was in pain. She heard him moaning, and started to feel some of the pain he was experiencing. It was sharp and biting, the kind of pain that did not come from injuries but the kind inflicted on others. For what purpose, she did not know. Immediately she feared he was being tortured.

T’Pol doubled over briefly, spots before her eyes, before she steeled herself and moved toward him.

Their white space had gone dark except for one area illuminated by an almost blinding white light, not the foggy whiteness that usually inhabited this place. As she neared him, she saw Trip stripped down to his shorts, strapped down to an examination table. His arms were in restraints strapped to the table. Leads attached to his temple which led back to a monitor adjacent to the table. In silence, she took in his appearance and her mind supplied an interpretation at once: experiment. Someone is conducting an experiment on us. We are its subjects.

That logical deduction helped tamp the fear she felt for her mate, whose body was marked by needle pricks and wires filled with fluid flowing out of his arms, legs and chest. Her protectiveness toward him threatened to unravel her control, so she took a deep breath and projected calm as she stepped forward and put her hand on his arm.

At once, Trip’s anguish lifted, if only for a moment.

T’Pol? Are you ok? I can’t see you. I can’t see anything, Trip whispered the words, his head straining to move from side to side, trying to hone in on her movements. T’Pol moved to his side, her hand quickly soothing him as she rested it on his forehead, then stroked it through his hair.

I am here with you, ashayam, and I am fine, she responded, bending slightly to kiss his forehead. I’m here now.

Trip’s breathing calmed as their foreheads touched and her hand rested on his chest, softly caressing him.

T’Pol, where are we? What happened to us? Trip finally asked, his voice still no more than a whisper.

T’Pol lifted her head from where it’d been resting on Trip and leaned against the table, her hand resuming its place in his hair.

It appears we have been led into a trap. Whoever planned this knew we would respond to the distress message and they seem to have created this scenario with the specific purpose of abducting us, T’Pol said.

Why?

By your bindings, it would appear we are the subjects of some kind of experimentation, she said.

So first we fall into the spider’s web and now we’re the guinea pigs for mad scientists, Trip said. Great. Will you try to talk me out of it, the next time I want to go on these away missions? Then again, at least my streak of bad luck is consistent. If I’m going on a mission, you know trouble is gonna find us.

He tried to chuckle, but couldn’t quite make it before coughing.

Save your strength, ashayam, T’Pol said, gazing down at him with open affection. Even now, his sense of humor remained intact.

No, I need to tell you what I can before they figure out we share this bond – which will make us a lot more interesting to them,he said, igniting a pinprick of alarm from T’Pol. I remember waking up on this contraption and my vision was already blurry. They’d taken the suit off and I was on this table, strapped to it like this. And all these wires and tubes were going in and out of me. I felt drained, like they were taking my blood and I heard the sounds of monitors. I tried to turn my head to look for Biggs and I think I saw him on a table near me. It was dark but there were these blinding lights overhead our tables. I heard them around me, but I couldn’t see them. I went from blurry to blind.

No doubt something they injected you with caused your blindness. If they are such an advanced race of scientists, they have the means to bring back your vision as well.

I’m not too worried about that. Phlox can fix me. I’m more worried about how we’re going to get out of this. I’m trying to remember, I heard them talking. About us, about how they had not anticipated getting a Vulcan. How they were set on using humans to facilitate their experiments and that having a Vulcan threw their plans out of whack. They kinda talked like you, when you’re in your sciencey mode, Trip said.

It is scientific method. They are executing hypotheses, although of what I do not know. They seem to be measuring our reactions to different stimuli – you to pain and blindness, me to isolation. Perhaps our reactions to the scenario itself is the experiment, but that would not explain what they are doing to you now, she said.

What about Biggs and Wilber?

Just then, Trip snapped his head away from T’Pol, to a point in the darkness she could not see.

Trip, what is it? What do you hear? What’s happening?

Trip held still, then grimaced as he shook his head – this time, not because something was being done to him. He turned back to T’Pol.

I just heard Biggs. He was screaming, writhing on that table, calling out for help. And then nothing but a long beep and the sound of that table being rolled away. I don’t know how much time I have, T’Pol.

T’Pol turned to face Trip and held his face in her hands, using her thumbs to stroke his cheeks.

Do not talk like that, Trip. I will find you. Be strong. Do not give in to the pain. Think of me. Of us, she said. She leaned in close and kissed him. When she spoke again, her voice had dropped down to a whisper. I cannot imagine a life without you. Please do not make me go through that, not now.

She leaned in and rested her head next to his.

Cheek to cheek, he whispered in her ear, And I can’t imagine my life without you. I love you too. I won’t give up. I’ll hold on until you come get me.

He kissed her cheek and then her ear.

Just try to hurry, ok?

T’Pol pulled back and kissed him again. She locked gazes with him.

I will hurry.

Then she closed her eyes and willed herself back to her cell.

%%%

Bridge of the Enterprise
June 2, 2155
2200 hrs

“It’s clear it was a trap, sir,” Lt. Malcolm Reed stood at attention inside his captain’s ready room. “Not only has the away team not checked in, further scans of the vessel show no other life forms on-board.”

“How can that be, Lieutenant? So what we’re seeing in front of us isn’t actually happening?” Archer looked outside, where the vessel seemed to continue imploding. He started pacing in front of the window.

“I can’t even begin to explain it sir, but we’re looking at an illusion. On initial scans, it fit every parameter of the scenario but after the away team boarded our readings started getting erratic,” Reed said. “It’s as though they beamed there and then the ship around them started disappearing.”

“Are there any other vessels nearby that are unaccounted for?” Archer asked.

“No sir. But we are still looking. There’s a chance their abductors might have taken them to another location,” Reed said.

“And how about the solar flares?” Archer asked.

“Illusions as well. They’re projected from some kind of holographic device, the same one that’s projecting that vessel,” Reed said. “We’re working against technology far more advanced than us, sir.”

“That seems to be the case. But I still can’t believe we were taken in so easily,” Archer said, finally sitting down in his chair.

“Their lure was irresistible, sir. How were we supposed to ignore that kind of message?” Every line in Reed’s face pulsed with self-recrimination as he spoke to his superior.

“Well, they got us,” Archer said. “Hook, line and sinker.”

The two fell into silence for a moment, reflecting on how everything seemed to go wrong soon after their team boarded the unknown vessel.

First, it’d been the seed of unrest that had made a quick home in Archer’s stomach. He felt something was off, but they had just heard from Trip and T’Pol.

Then, no less than an hour after that, they still had not heard from their away team and Reed starting picking up peculiar readings.

Captain, I can’t explain it but that ship does not seem to be any further deteriorated than when we first arrived.

Archer rose from his seat. Come again?

Sir, it’s as though we’re seeing something being projected on a recurring loop – the same image over and over again. But that’s all it is. I’m not picking up any life signs.

What, Lieutenant? No life signs? Not even from our own people?

No, sir. We’re not reading anyone over there.

Reed looked up at the screen.

It’s an illusion, sir. I don’t know what else to call it. It’s there, but it’s not.

After that, the Captain had everyone in crisis/analysis/rescue mode. But the answers weren’t forthcoming. He hoped his friends, wherever they were, could send them something, anything that could help the crew bring them home.


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