Ragnarok

By ginamr

Rating: R

Genres: adventure drama romance virtual season

Keywords: first contact planetary exploration

This story has been read by 752 people.
This story has been read 1294 times.


Chapter 1

Series Notes: This season of the series is in the process of major revision. Four or five new scenes were added to Paradise Lost, Part One alone. I encourage you to read not only for the new scenes, but as a review for season 6, which should be released June 15.

Possible spoilers: Broken Bow through Terra Prime
Disclaimer: Only new characters and the new plots are mine. The original characters belong to Paramount. I receive no monetary reward for my work; my only reward is the joy of creating.

*********************

Last time on Star Trek: Enterprise…Paradise Lost Part Three

 

5.04—Ragnarok, Part One (R)

On a first contact mission, strange things happen and Trip is accused of murder. The others fight to clear his name and to discover the real culprit.

***

 

Murder is born of love, and love attains the greatest intensity in murder.
~~Octave Mirbeau

***

Captain's Log
June 22nd, 2155—1342 hours

Scans of the area have revealed several interesting phenomena worth a closer look. It appears as though we may have discovered a new class of nebula with some very intriguing properties not known to coexist peacefully anywhere near Earth. I've had Ensign Mayweather set a course for the nebula. Scans have also detected an M-class planet in a nearby system that appears to warrant further investigation.

***

Enterprise—Bridge
June 22nd, 2155—1423 hours

"We are within range of the nebula, sir."

Archer nodded and turned to T'Pol. "T'Pol, why don't you prep a shuttlepod for a closer look?"

With a simple inclination of her head in response, she made her way toward the lift. "And why don't you take Trip with you?"

T'Pol turned, her expression one of slight puzzlement, but she did not question the captain's decision. Inclining her head once again, she entered the lift.

***

Enterprise—Engineering
June 22nd, 2155—1429 hours

T'Pol entered engineering to a flurry of activity. As soon as she stepped through the hatch, she could hear Commander Tucker shouting orders. Undaunted, she started across the room. She had to move carefully in order to avoid bumping into various crewmen who were rushing by her. At last, she saw him in the far corner of engineering, directing repairs. "Rostov, check the coil assembly for damage. Mitchell, fix those fried relays in Junction 6-B. Hess…"

" Yeah, boss?" Hess called out from behind a panel.

"Never mind! You just stay where you are!"

Hess grinned. "Yes, sir!" Hess turned and saw T'Pol standing behind Trip. "Boss, I think you have a visitor!"

Trip turned and saw T'Pol standing patiently, waiting for him. "Now's not a good time, T'Pol…"

"The Captain wishes me to take detailed scans of the nebula. He suggested that you accompany me."

Trip's eyebrows shot up. "Now why would ya need me along?"

"Perhaps the Captain feels that you should have a respite from the repairs. I am sure Lieutenant Hess is exceedingly capable of overseeing the work until you return."

Trip sighed and nodded. "Hess!" he shouted.

Hess poked her head out, and he saw her roll her eyes. "Yeah, boss?"

"You're in charge until I get back! Make sure those injector manifolds get purged, or I'll have your hide!"

"Got it, boss!" With this, Hess returned to the repairs she was making.

Trip turned to find that T'Pol had a questioning look on her face, one that suggested that she knew the meaning behind his statement.

Trip chuckled and extended a hand. "Lead on to the Launch Bay," he said teasingly.

T'Pol quirked an eyebrow slightly and exited ahead of him. He followed her out, chuckling.

***

Enterprise—Launch Bay, Shuttlepod One
June 22nd, 2155—1435 hours

Tucker to the Bridge.

Go ahead, Commander, Reed replied.

Ready for launch.

Acknowledged. Opening Bay doors.

The Shuttlepod dropped out of the belly of Enterprise and Trip took the controls, guiding the shuttle smoothly away toward the nebula.

We'll rendezvous here in a couple of hours.

Got it. Tucker out.

Trip closed the comm. line and leaned back, letting out a deep sigh. "The shuttle's set on autopilot."

T'Pol nodded and a silence fell between the two. "Have you heard from your parents recently?" T'Pol asked, attempting to make conversation.

Trip smiled. "Yep. According to my mom, my youngest niece starts kindergarten soon. Oh, and my sister-in-law just had another girl. They named her Tina."

T'Pol nodded and paused. "I received a transmission from Koss. He wanted to offer his condolences…on the death of Elizabeth."

Trip opened his eyes and turned toward her, slightly stunned. "He must have been a bit bothered when he found out she was ours."

"If he was, he didn't show it."

He nodded and fell silent, the lump in this throat growing bigger as memories of their deceased daughter filled his thoughts. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw T'Pol's left hand gripping the arm of the chair tightly. Reaching out to her, he laid his hand on top of hers. She looked over at him and he smiled weakly. She held his gaze until the panel in front of her beeped, shattering the moment.

"We are approaching the edge of the nebula."

Suddenly, the shuttlepod shook violently. "What in the hell was that?" Trip exclaimed.

"There are several unidentified vessels approaching. I believe we are under attack."

***

Enterprise—Bridge
June 22nd, 2155—1442 hours

Reed frowned as he studied the readouts on the screen in front of him. "Several vessels are intercepting the shuttlepod," he reported.

Archer turned toward him, his brow furrowed. "Origin?"

"Unknown, sir," Reed said. "And I can't find a match for their configuration in the database."

"Let's see what they want, Hoshi…" Archer began. Before he could finish, Hoshi began to enter commands into her console. When she inclined her head, Archer turned toward the viewscreen and said firmly, This is Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise. Why are you attacking our shuttlepod?

Archer waited impatiently, but there was only silence.

Stand down or we will be forced to open fire.

When he once again received no response, he snapped, "Travis, set an intercept course." He then turned to Reed with frustration evident in his features. "See if you can knock out their engines."

Reed nodded. "Aye, sir."

As they intercepted the shuttlepod, Reed was better able to get a lock on the dodgy vessels. He locked onto the engines of one ship and fired. To the bridge crew's shock, the vessel exploded into flames followed almost instantly by a brilliant flash.

"The vessel has been destroyed, sir," Reed reported, with a stunned expression.

Archer stared at the screen with a similar expression on his face. It was at that moment that he realized just how vulnerable these vessels were compared to Enterprise.

***

Shuttlepod One
June 22nd, 2155—1448 hours

The shuttlepod lurched to the left, sending T'Pol out of her chair and into Trip's waiting hands.

"You all right?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'm fine."

Trip helped her up. "Switching to manual pilot. See if you can't get an SOS out to Enterprise."

T'Pol nodded and got to work. The shuttlepod lurched again, and Trip grabbed the underside of the panel to avoid being thrown face-first into the console. "They're closin' in! If we take cover in the nebula, will they be able to find us?"

"No. But the nebula will also interfere with communications."

He grimaced. "Damn! Transferring all available power to the engines! Let's see if we can't outrun them."

The shuttlepod jolted as Trip maneuvered to avoid the fast-gaining fighters. T'Pol gripped the console tightly to keep herself upright as she scanned the readouts. "There's another ship approaching. It's Enterprise," T'Pol said.

Trip's head snapped up when he heard Hoshi's voice filtered through the comm. Enterprise to Shuttlepod One. We're opening the Launch Bay doors.

Trip nodded. Acknowledged, Enterprise. We're comin' home.

Again, the shuttlepod rocked and then dipped sharply forward. "That last one took out the impulse drive! All we have left is maneuvering thrusters!"

Reed to Shuttlepod One. I've brought the grappler online. Get as close as you can to the Launch Bay doors.

Trip shook his head. All we have left are the maneuvering thrusters! That last hit took out the impulse drive! It's goin' ta be a close shave as it is.

Get as close as you can, and I'll use the grappler to bring you in the rest of the way.

A few moments later, Trip pressed his thumb to the comm. panel. Tucker to Enterprise. This is a close as we're goin' ta get. Acknowledged. Deploying the grappler.

A clunk on the hull alerted its occupants to the grappler making contact. Trip's hands flew out in front of him as the shuttlepod lurched suddenly forward.

Within moments, the shuttlepod was ensconced inside the Launch Bay and the doors were closed securely behind it. The moment the Launch Bay doors were sealed, Trip and T'Pol leapt from the Pod and exited the Launch Bay. With a quick nod of recognition, they parted ways; he headed for Engineering, and she headed for the Armory.

Upon arriving in the Armory, T'Pol pressed her thumb to the comm. panel on the wall. T'Pol to Lieutenant Reed.

Go ahead.

Please report to the Armory. I believe that we can modify a photon torpedo to emit an energy blast that will disarm their weapons and engines without destroying them.

There was a pause on the other end before she heard Archer say, Do it.

Aye, sir, Reed replied. I'll be there momentarily, Commander.

T'Pol cut the comm. and, with the assistance of an armory crewman, began to prepare the torpedo as she awaited Reed's arrival.

***

Enterprise—Bridge
June 22nd, 2155—1437 hours

Ensign Rigby looked up from the Tactical station, alarmed. "Sir, two crewman have just been transported from the ship.

Mayweather frowned. "The ships are veering off."

"Keep with them, Travis," Archer bit out sharply.

"Aye, sir. Adjusting course and speed."

***

Enterprise—Armoury
June 22nd, 2155—1442 hours

Reed and T'Pol removed the cover and then Reed grabbed the hyperspanner from the box of tools that sat just off to the side and moved it over the blue wire, which controlled the warhead's countdown timer. T'Pol stood behind him with a flashlight and a pair of wire cutters in hand. Reed laid the hyperspanner down, and T'Pol gave him the wirecutters while she positioned the flashlight so that he could see to work. Without a word, they quickly modified the output of the torpedo's energy source. "Got it," Reed said.

T'Pol took the tools and put them away while Reed replaced the cover. They then moved the torpedo to one of the tubes, lifting it up and in. T'Pol closed the hatch and rushed toward the comm panel, pressing her thumb to the button. The torpedo is ready, Captain.

Acknowledged.

Reed rushed forward. I can fire it from here, sir, he added.

Do it, Lieutenant.

Reed nodded. There was a long moment of silence before Archer's voice came through the comm. We've disabled two of the vessels. The other two escaped.

Sir! One of the vessels just exploded! Rigby barked.

"The vessel must have been set to self-destruct," T'Pol offered softly. Reed pinched the bridge of his nose in exasperation. "Cowards," he mumbled under his breath.

Though T'Pol's expression remained neutral, Reed could see the irritation in her gaze. The two stood side by side, waiting for word of the inevitable from the bridge.

Both ships have been destroyed. Rigby said somberly.

The two stood in silence.

Archer to T'Pol. I need you and Lieutenant Reed in the Command Center.

We're on our way, Captain, T'Pol replied.

Reed exited the Armory immediately and T"Pol followed just behind him.

***

Briliarus Moon Base—Rebel Headquarters
22nd Day of Hascal, Year of Vengeance—1501.12 Solar Hours

Talvic sighed heavily as he paced to and fro. He'd underestimated the alien ship's ability to maneuver and defend itself. He'd assumed that because it was large that it would be easy prey. Instead of increasing the size of his army, however, he'd lost six men, two of them to the larger vessel's weapons and four to self-destruct. Self-destruct was supposed to be a last resort. Doubtless the men had felt that they had no other choice. He stiffened resolutely. Their sacrifice wouldn't be forgotten.

He then turned to Lvor. "Only two new men?"

Lvor nodded. "Only two," he confirmed.

"The transport device is operating, then?" Again, Lvor nodded. Talvic frowned as his thoughts wandered back to Lvor's previous news. "We still need many more to join our ranks to ensure success."

Lvor paused. "I did warn you not to underestimate this vessel. Its captain seemed far too cautious and persistent."

Talvic turned, his features tight with restrained anger. "You dare to question me?" he hissed.

Lvor bowed his head. "N-no," he stuttered. "I am simply saying that perhaps we should have been more patient and waited until the larger vessel was vulnerable."

"Make no mistake," Talvic said firmly. "We will succeed."

***

Enterprise—Command Center
June 22nd, 2155—1504 hours

"We did everything we could, sir," Malcolm repeated.

"Damn it, that's not good enough!" Archer snapped. "They managed to get through our shields to kidnap two of our crewman. And when we tried to rescue them, the pilots set their ships to self-destruct, killing our crewman as well!"

Archer grimaced internally at the thought of writing two letters filled with condolences for the families of Ensign Christian Kilburn and Lieutenant Joseph MacRay. He'd met Ensign Kilburn's mother, Isabella, briefly at Enterprise's launch party, and he wasn't looking forward to giving the woman such painful news.

Everyone in the room was silent for a moment. "We could trace their warp signature, Captain," Trip suggested. Archer looked up at him. "T'Pol and I managed to get some scans of their ships before Enterprise came to the rescue. We could set the sensors up to detect the particles their engines generate."

Archer nodded. "Get to work, Commander."

Trip and T'Pol nodded. "Aye, sir."

Turning to Reed, Archer said, "See if you can modulate the weapons so that we can knock out their damn self-destruct mechanisms without destroying them."

Reed nodded and left for the Armory. Archer turned to the rest of the group. "Dismissed."

The senior staff exited the Command Center, leaving Archer there on his own. He sighed, pausing for a moment, before exiting the Command Center and heading to his ready room.

***

Enterprise—Captain's Ready Room
June 22nd, 2155—1702 hours

Archer was reading through Columbia's latest mission reports when the door chime sounded.

"Enter," he called, not looking up from the reports.

T'Pol entered, followed closely by Trip and Reed.

"Sir, I've managed to adjust the weapons to a lower yield. We're ready for them," Reed said.

Archer looked up and nodded before setting the mission report aside. "Well done, Lieutenant."

"Commander Tucker and I have adjusted the sensors to pick up the ion trail of the ships, Captain," T'Pol said. "We've traced the trail to a nearby system."

"Is the system charted in the Vulcan database?"

T'Pol shook her head. "There is no record in the Vulcan database of a system at those coordinates."

Archer grinned at T'Pol. "Maybe you missed one. Tell Travis to set a course for the coordinates. How close are we?"

"Less than 6 hours at Warp 4, Captain," Trip replied.

Archer nodded. "See what you can get out of the engines. But let's be cautious. Their attack was unprovoked. We could be dealing with a potentially volatile situation here." The other three nodded. "Inform me when we've reached the system. Dismissed."

T'Pol and Reed left. Trip, however, stayed behind. "Was there something else, Commander?"

Trip nodded. "T'Pol noticed…hell, the whole crew's noticed…that you're a bit wound up lately. Is everythin' all right, Jon?"

Archer nodded. "Never better. Why?"

"Like I said, you seem kind of tense is all. What's got you so damned uptight?"

Archer sighed. "It's personal."

Trip looked at him quizzically for a moment. Suddenly light dawned. "This is about Erika, isn't it? You're worried about the injuries she got during Columbia's firefight." Archer frowned, but before he could say a word, Trip rushed to explain. "I read the mission reports, too."

Archer nodded and sighed. "Starfleet says that she sustained severe trauma to her head and back." Archer grimaced. "They're still waiting to see just how bad it is. According to a couple of the doctors, she might not be able to walk again."

Trip frowned. "Jesus, Jon. No wonder you're so uptight. I'd be tense, too, if I was in your position."

"She means a lot to me. I don't know what I'd do if something like that -- or worse -- happened to her."

Trip nodded. "I know how you feel. If anything like that happened to T'Pol…"

With this, Archer looked up. "Speaking of T'Pol…"

Trip sighed. "I care for her, Jon, a helluva lot more than circumstances permit. But ever since Elizabeth…" He trailed off, a grief-stricken look coming to his face.

"You want a friend's opinion?" Archer asked. "It's been hard for her, Trip. She lost her mother not too long ago, and then to lose a daughter she didn't even know she had… The best thing you can do is to be there for her. The two of you need each other. The best medicine is time, patience, and just letting her know you care."

Trip looked up at him and smiled weakly. "I know you're right. But time and patience are two things I haven't got a lot of."

Archer nodded. "I know, Trip. But she can't push you away forever, though she can sure as hell try. Eventually, she'll have to face it…to face you."

"Thanks."

Archer grinned. Standing, he clapped the young engineer on the shoulder. "It's what friends do."

Trip grimaced internally, knowing that his friend was right. But he also knew that time and patience wouldn't do him any good if he couldn't get her to open up to him. They'd been close before their growing feelings for one another—or rather, his growing feelings for her—had complicated things. Sighing in resignation, Trip exited the room hoping that he would be able to follow his friend's advice without further complicating things.

***

Enterprise—Bridge
June 22nd, 2155—1805 hours

As Captain Archer stepped onto the bridge, he saw Hoshi concentrating hard at her station, presumably trying to decode some of the inhabitants' transmissions.

"Ensign?"

"Almost got it, sir."

"T'Pol?"

"The civilization appears to be advanced…even by Vulcan standards."

Archer looked at her, confused. "But those ships didn't have any type of shielding and their weapons barely scratched the hull."

"I did not say that the vessels we encountered were able to withstand firepower from a ship such as Enterprise. However, their engines appear to be similar in design to a cascading ion drive."

"A cascading ion drive? Not even Starfleet has figured out how to build a dependable cascading ion drive."

"As I have said, they are advanced even by Vulcan standards."

Archer nodded. "Hoshi, have you found anything in their communications indicating who they are?"

"I think so, sir. They call themselves…the Briliarins. Their home planet is called Briliarus IV."

"Anything else, Ensign?"

Hoshi shook her head. "That's all so far, sir."

"We're entering the system, sir," Mayweather reported.

Archer paused. "Slow to impulse."

"Aye, sir," the helmsman replied.

***

Enterprise—Bridge
June 22nd, 2155—1835 hours

"High orbit, Travis."

"Aye, sir."

Archer turned to Hoshi. "Channel open, Captain," she replied to his unasked question.

He nodded and cleared his throat, attempting to maintain his composure. This Captain Jonathan Archer of the Enterprise.

Silence permeated the air for a few moments before a response came through. It took the Universal Translator a few moments to adjust to the syntax, but it finally locked on.

…Repeat…this is Layetta of the Ca'vaen House…you may address me as House Mistress Layetta or as House Mistress.

Archer stiffened, his lips tight with anger. Why in the hell did you attack my ship?

The woman on the other end paused, as though she was unsure of how to react to his bluntness. We are not responsible for the attack on your vessel. There have been a series of attacks near our world, but it has been determined that pirates are responsible.

Archer remained ramrod straight, his nostrils flaring. I would like to speak with whoever represents your people.

Her Majesty, Queen Freyja has anticipated your arrival and instructed that I arrange for you to speak with her in person, the woman added calmly.

Archer looked at T'Pol and she met his gaze, her features neutral with the exception of a raised eyebrow. Returning his attention to the conversation at hand, the captain nodded sharply. When?

I am sending you the coordinates now, Mistress Layetta replied. Archer paused. I'd like to bring a few members of my crew to the surface with me.

Not at all, Mistress Layetta replied cheerfully. Her Majesty has also requested that you come dressed in civilian clothing. Along with the coordinates, I've included some information concerning our customs and our history. We will await you, Captain. The comm. was then cut.

Hoshi frowned as she perused the information that was being transmitted to them. "Sir, there are some things in this that I think the away team should be aware of."

Archer nodded. "T'Pol, Lieutenant Reed, I'd like you on the away team. Hoshi, I'll need you there in case something goes wrong with the UT."

"Sir, it seems the Briliarins feel that even numbers disrupt the balance of their natural order."

"Perhaps Commander Tucker." T'Pol suggested.

Archer nodded. "Stop by Engineering. We'll meet in the Command Center for a quick briefing."

The others nodded and, one by one, made their way towards their destinations.

***

Enterprise—Engineering
June 22nd, 2155—1841 hours

"The Captain wants me on the away team?"

"It was my suggestion. It seems that this race is more comfortable with odd numbers.

Trip frowned. "Hmm. That's strange."

T'Pol nodded. "Indeed it is."

***

Enterprise—Command Center
June 22nd, 2155—1847 hours

Archer smiled as Trip and T'Pol entered the room. "Nice of you to join us."

Neither said anything as they moved towards the others. Hoshi cleared her throat. "It's very important to remember that this is a matriarchal society."

"It looks like the Orion men aren't the only ones who are slaves to their women," Reed muttered.

Trip chuckled softly shaking his head. "Sounds like your kind of people, Malcolm."

"There is one other thing that I think is especially important for the men to know." Hoshi paused, a flush creeping into her cheeks as she decided how to word the next segment of information. "The women of this society aren't at all modest and wear very little. The one with the most clothing is the monarch. She is the most covered in order to project an image of purity and power to outsiders."

Archer gazed at Trip and Reed sternly when he saw them exchange an curious glance. Both men cleared their throats, understanding the meaning behind the look. There was no need for the captain to worry about them behaving inappropriately. Other women were the farthest thing from both men's minds.

"Another thing to note is that they're big on rank. Males are usually lower in rank than females…with the exception of the monarch's consorts."

Trip's eyebrows shot up. "Consorts? As in more than one?"

Hoshi nodded. "I was just getting to that. Unlike Humans, the Briliarins have multiple partners. The monarch has the most partners; they are the highest-ranking males in their society. Usually, they sit at the monarch's side, ready to get anything she needs."

Trip grinned wryly. "Sounds like the women have it pretty damn good here."

"Captain, since we're meeting with the leader of a matriarchal society, I think it would be best if Commander T'Pol did all the talking." Archer nodded. "And there's something else, sir. You may not like it…but men are considered property." Hoshi bit her lower lip. "While we're on the surface, you'll have to…"

"I believe Ensign Sato is trying to say that while we're on the surface, you will need to act…"

"Like a stud service," Trip finished, grimacing.

T'Pol looked at him curiously. "That is an accurate comparison." She turned to Hoshi. "Am I to assume that Mr. Reed will act as your escort?"

Hoshi nodded unblushingly while Reed frowned, looking quite disgruntled. She then turned to Archer. "And sir I'd recommend that we dress like the Briliarins to blend in better," she stated, now looking acutely uncomfortable.

To the women's surprise, the men said nothing. Trip simply stood there torn between amusement and awkward embarrassment, while Archer stood stiffly. Reed's embarrassment and discomfort were obvious, letting the others know exactly what he thought of that idea.

"It could help first contact go more smoothly."

Archer sighed. "All right, Ensign…in the interest of first contact…"

Hoshi nodded. "I'll see if I can get the Quartermaster to put something together." With that, she left the Command Center.

Trip grinned wryly. "Looks like this is goin' ta be an interestin' first contact."

***

Briliarus IV—Royal Palace
June 22nd, 2155—1923 hours

Trip frowned as he fingered the writing on his clothes. "What's this?"

"Basically, it says ‘property of House Mistress T'Pol.'" Trip opened this mouth to protest, but Hoshi cut him off. "It's for your protection, sir, unless you're prepared to ‘entertain' any Briliarian woman who tries to claim you." Trip frowned, muttering under his breath. "The Captain's markings say the same thing and the Lieutenant's…"

"Say ‘property of Second House Mistress Hoshi,'" Reed finished.

It soothed Trip's bruised ego to know that he wasn't the only male who was "marked." The group approached the entrance with T'Pol in front, Archer and Trip on either side of her and Hoshi following behind, her arm hooked into Reed's. They walked through the doorway and were greeted by a surprising sight.

There before them were several elegant, cat-like creatures. Though their physiques were similar, there were several distinct differences: height, fur color, spot patterns, eye color, and tail length. The men also noticed very human-like noses and fur-covered breasts, which were hard to miss, considering that the materials covering them were thin and translucent. As the queen approached, the men did as was the custom and dropped to one knee, avoiding looking at the queen until she instructed them to rise. She looked very much the part of a snow leopard, minus the spots. The cat-like slits of her eyes were a tempting shade of ocean blue; her human-like nose and lips added a fierce beauty to her tame features. Pointed cat ears rose on the top of her head, enticing the imagination, along with her mane of wavy black hair, which cascaded over her shoulders. Her clothing revealed a flat stomach with a red jewel adorning her belly button. She wore a silky, filmy cover in a light, sensual orange above her hips.

"Your Majesty, I am First House Mistress T'Pol of the Earthship Enterprise. This is my First, Charles, who prefers to be called Trip." T'Pol placed her hand on Trip's right shoulder. "And this is my Second, Jonathan. Behind me is Second House Mistress Hoshi with her First, Malcolm."

The queen eyed her with amusement, a brow arched. "Mistress Layetta tells me that your Second is quite commanding. Does he fancy himself superior to his Mistresses?" When T'Pol didn't reply, Freyja continued. "Also, I find it curious that it was he whom Mistress Layetta spoke with." Freyja's gaze then swung to Trip and she grinned cattily. "But with such a virile First, I imagine that you were…otherwise occupied." She paused. "I welcome you. May I introduce the First Royal Mistress, Mist…"

The woman with a purple tint to her fur and hair, strands of which easily brushed her shoulders, smiled a cat-like smile, her eyes locking with Reed's.

"…and the Second Royal Mistress, Hlathguth."

Trip stared at the tallest of the three women, who had a coat of golden fur, a mane of black hair, eyes of grassy green, and clothes of navy blue. As he watched in stunned silence, she smiled at him and sensually licked her lips. "Trip," T'Pol warned softly, an edge of uncharacteristic agitation sharpening her unstated warning. Trip swallowed hard and returned his attention to the queen.

"…and the Third Royal Mistress, Hrist."

The woman with blue fur and short pixie-like hair, colored an almost shocking blue, eyed Reed lustfully, as did her twin sister, Mist. It seemed that neither minded challenging the mistress who was lower in rank. Hoshi grabbed Reed's arm, snarling fiercely. The two women snarled in return, not backing down. The queen said nothing, returning her attention to T'Pol.

"Come. I have had a feast prepared in your honor."

T'Pol nodded, turning to Archer. "Jonathan, if you would escort her Majesty." She then turned to the queen. "It is customary for the visiting House Mistress to offer one of her men as an escort, is it not? As a show of good will."

The queen nodded, smiling a cat-like smile. Then she extended her hand, palm down, to Archer who took it, as was his duty as her designated escort. "You may all call me Freyja. I find that formality does nothing to encourage true friendship."

Out of the corner of his eye, Trip saw Hlathguth stiffen. A scowl crossed her face, showing her disgust at her queen's request. "Your Majesty…" she began, but Freyja's was already on her way into the dining hall with her arm hooked possessively through Archer's.

The others followed Archer and Freyja into the room, which contained a long, rectangular table filled with spectacularly odd-looking dishes. Freyja sat at the head of the table with Archer on her left and T'Pol on her right. Trip sat to T'Pol's right and across from him sat Hoshi. Hlathguth sat on Trip's right, eyeing him as though he was a tasty tidbit just waiting to be devoured.

To Hoshi's right sat Reed, who was trying to ignore Mist's very alien hand on his right arm and Hrist's foot moving up and down his left leg. "Ladies, please!" he protested.

The queen narrowed her eyes at him, and Hoshi shook her head. "Malcolm, pet, settle down," she said, patting his arm. She then turned to the queen. "I apologize, your Majesty. He doesn't get this much attention from other women at home."

"And where is home exactly?"

"A little place called Earth," Trip replied. He froze and his gaze dropped to his plate when he realized his blunder.

Again, Freyja narrowed her eyes. She was clearly not amused by this untoward behavior. Hoshi's head fell to her chest. "Trip," she sighed in exasperation. Focusing her attention once again on the queen, she explained, "Our culture is different from yours, your Majesty. I apologize for any offense, but we felt it would be more suitable to follow your customs until you learned more about us."

Freyja's face softened and she sighed. "You are not the first." She paused. "Please…I'd enjoy hearing more about your culture."

"Men and women in our society are equal. As far as mating, Humans are monogamous," Hoshi explained.

"My people, from Vulcan, are very similar in these respects," T'Pol added.

"Intriguing…and what of your leadership?"

"Both sexes can be leaders. Captain Archer is our leader. I am his first officer. Commander Tucker, Lieutenant Reed, and Ensign Sato are senior officers."

"What is your relationship to Commander Trip?" Hlathguth asked.

T'Pol stared at the woman and replied deadpan, "He is my mate and the father of my daughter."

Trip coughed, not sure whether to be shocked at T'Pol's blunt fib or to laugh at the look of surprise on the other woman's face. It quickly became apparent, however, that the gold-furred woman had no intention of backing off.

Clearing his throat, Trip removed the alien hand that snaked around his arm. "I don't mean ta offend ya, ma'am, but I'm a married man. My mama raised me ta respect the institution of marriage," he said.

"Do not women on your homeworld wear jewelry to indicate their status?" Hlathguth asked, obviously looking for a way to show that their claims of marriage were false.

"Vulcans do not wear jewelry," T'Pol offered logically.

Hlathguth frowned. Her attempt had failed; however, as the others continued talking and eating, she was formulating a plan to seduce Commander Trip.

***

Briliarus IV—Guest Quarters
June 22nd, 2155—0046 hours

Trip sat alone on the sofa, reading Archer's copy of The Teachings of Surak, which he'd borrowed on Archer's recommendation. At first, he'd had a difficult time staying focused, but now, several pages in, it was holding his interest.

He heard a soft knock on the door and looked up. Thinking it was T'Pol, he marked his place and set the book down. There was another soft knock, although more urgent this time. "I'm comin'." When he opened the door, he was shocked to see the gold-furred woman. Looking frantic, she pushed past him and shut the door behind her.

"Please hide me! He's going to hurt me again!"

"Who's goin' to hurt you?"

"My First, Lvor. I told him that I wouldn't service him tonight and he bit me," she said, indicating the bloody wound on her neck.

Trip frowned, looking confused. "I thought…"

"He threatened to kill me if I told anyone!"

Trip's protective instincts kicked in, and he hugged the woman tightly as she cried on his shoulder. "Shh. Everythin's goin' ta be all right."

***

Briliarus IV—Secondary Dining Hall
June 23rd, 2155—0700 hours

Freyja glanced at Archer who sat patiently while the Vulcan woman described the attack on her ship and Freyja could see that he was fighting to remain silent. Her brow furrowed. "That is most disturbing indeed. We have had outlaws rob passing vessels of their possessions, but we have had no incidents in which crewmembers were taken directly from the vessel, using this transporter technology that you have spoken of."

T'Pol was about to reply when Lvor entered, bowing deeply at the waist. "I apologize for the interruption your Majesty, but I am concerned about my mistress, Hlathguth. She was last seen entering Tucker's temporary quarters shortly after the midnight hour and she has not returned."

Freyja paused. "Was she present at the daybreak ceremonies?"

Lvor shook his head. "No. That is why I am concerned."

A troubled expression crossed Freyja's features. Hlathguth knew that it was her duty to lead the daybreak worship services. Never before had she forgotten to do so. "Have Talvic, Rhys, and Jaal meet us at Tucker's temporary quarters. You may join us there after."

Freyja raised her hand to stall Archer's angry protest. "You may accompany us if you choose, but you are not to question my authority." She then exited the room, walking briskly down the corridor. Archer and T'Pol exchanged a worried glance before following her.

***

Briliarus IV—Guest Quarters
June 23rd, 2155—0710 hours

Not realizing he'd closed his eyes, Trip opened them, regretting it instantly as his head pounded furiously and he was instantly overcome by a wave of dizziness. He clutched at his head, taking in his surroundings. He couldn't remember how he'd gotten on the floor. He looked down and was shocked to see that he was utterly naked. He picked up his blues and slipped them on and then slowly rose from the floor.

When he caught a glimpse of a tail out of the corner of his eye, he turned his head sharply. His eyes widened in shock at the sight before him. There lay the gold-furred woman with her glazed eyes open wide. There was a large burn on her chest similar to that caused by a phase pistol. A pool of blood had gathered between her legs. Looking down, Trip saw a phase pistol set to kill lying by his right foot.

Before Trip could make sense of the situation, two guards rushed in and restrained him. Freyja, Archer, and T'Pol entered just behind the guards. With disbelief clearly written on their faces, Archer and T'Pol looked from the corpse to Trip.

Freyja glanced at the dead woman lying on the floor, and then her gaze locked with Trip's. Talvic had warned her not to trust the Humans and now one of her most loyal mistresses had been cruelly victimized and Tucker had been found standing over her body.

Freyja's gaze flickered briefly to the metal rod used for challenge matches, which was lying on the floor next to the body. She exhaled heavily as images of Hlathguth struggling against Tucker's grip filled her mind. Hlathguth must have freed herself at some point and crawled toward the rod, then tried desperately to keep her attacker away. But Tucker had been stronger; he'd used that strength to defile and murder defenseless Hlathguth.

Freyja felt the anger and the injustice flare within her as her eyes again locked with Tucker's. "Commander Tucker, you are under arrest for the murder and rape of the Second Royal Mistress. You will be taken to the dungeons to await your trial."

"I didn't do it, Cap'n! I swear I didn't!" he shouted as the guards dragged him from the room.

"I believe him, Captain," T'Pol stated.

Archer sighed, not sure what to think. "I can't believe that Trip would do something like this, but that's the phase pistol that we brought down."

T'Pol nodded. "It is, but I still believe Commander Tucker to be innocent."

Archer frowned. "If Trip didn't do it, who did?"

T'Pol shook her head slightly before turning to Freyja. "I assume we will be given the chance to prove that Commander Tucker is innocent."

Freyja glared at her. "I will give you one week. If, at that time, you cannot prove his innocence to my satisfaction, he will stand trial…and he will be convicted. His fate will then be in the hands of Justice."

T'Pol nodded. "That should be sufficient. May I see him?"

Freyja looked toward where Talvic and Lvor stood, awaiting orders. "Under normal circumstances, that would not be permitted; however, I agree that this is a unique situation. Lvor will show you the way."

The man called Lvor stepped forward, inclining his head before exiting the room, with T'Pol following closely behind him.

There was a moment of silence before Archer spoke. "If my first officer believes Commander Tucker, so do I."

Freyja glared at him, her gaze narrowed. "We shall see, Archer," she hissed. "Until this matter is resolved, I must insist that you return to your ship."

"I'll need to send a couple of men down to…" Archer protested.

Freyja stared hard at him. "Each of your men will be in the company of one of my men at all times."

He nodded and then turned on his heal, striding stiffly from the room.

***

Briliarus IV—Brig
June 23rd, 2155—0151 hours

"Here," Lvor said, shoving Trip's clothes into T'Pol's hands.

T'Pol raised an eyebrow, curious about the man's attitude as he stormed toward the control panel and deactivated the force field. He closed the door between them, leaving T'Pol alone with Trip, who sat with his head in his hands.

Images of the dead Second Mistress flashed through her mind, and she knew that the thoughts were Trip's. She fought to maintain her composure when she felt a strong rush of anger surge through the bond at the injustice of the woman's death. At last, she managed to erect a barrier that blocked the negative emotion.

"Are you injured?" T'Pol inquired.

Trip sighed. "I'm fine. Just a headache. That was a helluva knock ta the head." He paused. "You do believe me, don't ya?"

T'Pol moved into the cell and laid a hand on Trip's shoulder, causing him to look up. "Of course I do, Trip. We have no secrets. If you had been responsible, I would know it."

Trip smiled weakly. "I don't think that'll be good enough for them, though."

T'Pol handed Trip the clothing that Lvor had so angrily shoved at her, and he nodded his thanks, slipping on the shirt.

"What do you remember?" she asked.

Trip sighed running his hands through his hair. "The last thing I remember, she was beggin' me to protect her from one of the males. She said he was goin' ta kill her," he said softly.

"Did anyone enter the room while you were consoling her?"

Trip shrugged. "My back was to the door."

T'Pol nodded solemnly. "Then it is possible that someone attacked you from behind and then proceeded to rape and murder Hlathguth, implicating you in these crimes."

Trip looked at her in shock. "Now why in the hell would someone do that?"

T'Pol's eyebrow shot up even higher. "I do not know. But the male who threatened her would be the most logical suspect."

Trip nodded. "I caught a glimpse of him at dinner. Lvor, I think. He didn't seem too happy about all the attention she was givin' me."

"If he was jealous, wouldn't he try to kill you instead of her?"

"He could've killed her and made it look like I'd raped her and then killed her," Trip suggested.

T'Pol paused. "What of the metal rod? Is it possible that it is the object by which you were struck?"

"Yeah, it's possible." He paused. "As to why whoever it was set it down by her…it might've been ta make it look like she tried ta fight back," he added.

T'Pol arched a brow. "A sound theory."

Trip grimaced. "I think it's goin' ta take more than a theory to save my neck."

T'Pol paused. "Then we'll need to find concrete evidence to prove your innocence."

***

Briliarus IV—Guest Quarters 2
June 23rd, 2155—0721 hours

T'Pol sat stiffly, attempting to keep her mind closed to Trip's as she spoke. "After speaking to Trip, I am even more certain that he has been falsely accused."

Archer nodded. "Any ideas on what happened."

"While we are uncertain as to his motives, we suspect that Lvor, Hlathguth's First, is the one who murdered and raped her. Then he coldly and callously implicated Trip."

"Why would anyone murder her in the first place?"

"According to Trip, Lvor seemed envious of the attention Hlathguth was giving the commander."

Archer frowned. "So if he was jealous of Trip, why kill her?"

"I believe that the murderer first disabled Trip and then, in a rage, raped and murdered Hlathguth. Jealousy can often make people act illogically. The murderer then vindictively tried to make it appear as though Trip had killed her. Did you see the metal rod near her hand?"

"Yes," Archer said. "I wondered about it at the time."

"I think the murder wanted us to believe that Commander Tucker tortured and raped her. The scene was staged to make it appear that, even though she was badly wounded, she fought back, striking Trip on the head. We are then lead to believe that even though he was stunned, he managed to reach for his phase pistol and kill her before blacking out." T'Pol hesitated for a moment, a look of concern passing over her features.

"What is it, T'Pol?" Archer asked.

"Since Trip was not in fact killed that might indicate that the murderer made a serious error. He could very well be worried about this turn of events."

"Do you think Trip is in any danger?"

"I do not know."

"We should have Doctor Phlox and Malcolm take a closer look at the body…if the Briliarins will permit it."

T'Pol nodded. "And we should see that Trip's injuries are tended to." She paused. "I am certain that the Briliarins will cooperate fully. Her Majesty's willingness to let me see Trip indicates that she is willing to consider other possibilities."

Archer nodded. "The sooner we prove Trip's innocence, the sooner we can get out of here…hopefully in one piece."

"Agreed."

Archer paused. "T'Pol, why don't you sit down?" With a look of uncertainty on her face, T'Pol complied with the captain's wishes. He sighed. "I know it hasn't exactly been easy for you after what happened with your mother and…Elizabeth. I'm sorry that I haven't been there for you."

Both of T'Pol's eyebrows shot up and, for a moment, a semblance of the old T'Pol came through. "I have been able to manage adequately."

Archer shook his head. "I'm still sorry I haven't been there." He paused. "Did I miss something?"

T'Pol hesitated. "Captain?"

Archer's brow furrowed. "You seem to be more…concerned…about Trip lately than you used to be."

"He and I have formed a close friendship over the last several years."

"Some things point to it being a lot more than that."

T'Pol sat, looking down at her hands. "We have become very close," she amended.

Archer smiled sadly and nodded. There were a few moments of silence before T'Pol rose. "I need to meditate. Good night, Captain."

Archer nodded and watched as T'Pol slipped into the corridor. There was something different about her. At first, he'd attributed it to her getting used to life among humans. But now that he looked more closely, it couldn't be just that.

He'd been so preoccupied with the mission in the Expanse that he'd missed an opportunity…an opportunity Trip had also been given. But Trip hadn't allowed it to slip through his fingers. He had confided in T'Pol about his sister and allowed T'Pol to help him.

Archer couldn't help but wonder what might have been if he had opened up to T'Pol about his feelings instead of pushing her – and the rest of the crew – away. He sighed. If only his blinders hadn't been so firmly in place, maybe she would have turned to him instead of Trip.

 

TBC…

Comments:

Reanok

Very mysterious and Intriguing and sinister who kidnapped T'Pol?

panyasan

Intriging, sinister and the only bright thing is that Trip is coming to the resue. You really pulled me in, Asso.

Asso

I adore a Beta who is capable of leaving in a handful of slight grammar errors and who is capable of making the narration flow the way it has to do.:D

Linda

Arg!  Some grammar errors, BnB?  My bad.  The beta should have cleaned them up! :@

Asso

Question is:  which ass?:p
Joking apart, I'm happy all of you enjoyed my effort. It isn't plain for me, but I assure you: there're many things in store for our couple. And for their friends too.;)

Dinah

This is all very sinister, Asso.  The evil trees, the "inhuman, inexpressible, incredibly age-old existence," the traitorous sleeping bag -- this is really good stuff.  Kind of part "Twilight Zone" and part "Without a Clue."  I agree that Trip is going to be ready to kick some ass.  I also feel fairly certain that when T'Pol wakes up she's going to be one pissed off Vulcan.  Well done! 

Blacknblue

Aside from a minor handful of grammar errors, I consider it a superb example of the classic genre of horror/ adventure romance. The heroine kidnapped, the hero in hot pursuit. One hting iA like is that you are buildin slowly. This is the old fashioned type of horror, not the sudden shock of a slasher story. Unkown fear is far more effective than sudden blood.

Linda

Asso does romance well and now he is showing us he can turn his writing hand to adventure! ;) :p :D

bluetiger

I agree with Transwarp. If this entity knows what's good for it, It'll leave Trip's woman alone. I felt like I was reading a horror story. The description of this evil forrest barring the way and then forcing them to its will was very chilling. Then the awakening of this force. You must write quickly my friend, we need to know what is happening to our favorite couple!

Transwarp

Asso asks, "So... what do you think will happen now?"

I think some unlimited, unknowable, unsearchable, primordial, inhuman, inexpressible, incredibly age-old existence is about to get its incredibly age-old ass kicked by one Commander Tucker.

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