Purgatory

By Blackn'blue

Rating: PG-13

Genres: adventure drama humour romance

Keywords: Andorians Baby Elizabeth Tucker bond Koss marriage Romulans time travel

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This story has been read 4751 times.


Chapter 1

Disclaimer: I don’t own Star Trek. I wrote this for fun. Feel free to download, copy or pass this around. Just don't sell it. If I can't make any money from this, nobody else gets to either.

Note: In all of my fics, I owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to the creativity, help, generosity and just overall niceness of the folks that post on the House of Tucker and Triaxiansilk web sites. Not only the authors, but the fans and critics as well. Their encouragement and feedback is the only real reason any of us bother with this stuff. Thanks everyone. Without your help I wouldn't be here taking up valuable space and bandwidth.

Speaking of which, I try to follow canon in my stories whenever possible. If I violate canon (as I did in this series) I try to make sure that I offer a plausible reason for doing so (which I tried to do in this series). Wherever canon turns on itself and bites its own ass, or simply doesn't mention something, I turn to fanon for reference. In other words, I imitate Rudyard Kipling —

When 'Omer smote 'is bloomin' lyre,
He'd 'eard men sing by land an' sea;
An' what he thought 'e might require,
'E went an' took --the same as me!

If it was good enough for the likes of Homer and Kipling, who am I to argue? So this story continues that proud tradition. If you see something here that looks familiar, there is most likely a reason for it. Thanks again everyone.

Genre: Drama/Adventure

Rating: PG (Violence, Adult Situations)

Description: This is the fourth story in my series that began with “For Want of A Nail” and continued with “In the Cold of the Night” and “Father to the Man”. I suggest reading those before tackling this one. Otherwise many of the references won’t make any sense.

This chapter was originally submitted to Triaxiansilk.com in smaller chunks during March and April of 2007. I decided to consolidate everything so it would be easier to read and follow. Same old complaint - no time to do it right, but time to do it over . . .


Introduction

Trip glanced up. The little K'Bet was still barely visible under the edge of the rock, only a trace of its fur showing at the edge of the shade. He went back to unraveling a string from the hem of his long tunic. The coarse woven material came apart with relative ease, which Trip suspected might be intended. When it came to Vulcans, very little was ever left to chance.

The eyeball frying light of Eridani beat down on the Forge like the angry hammer of a frustrated Hephaestus, working off a bad hangover after a long night of carousing on Mount Olympus. The thin air was still, for which Trip felt grateful. The Sandfire storms were always preceded by brief gusts of wind, according to T'Pol. This part of the season was the least likely time for them anyway. That was why the Kahs-Wahn was conducted during this period. The Vulcans were out to test their children, not get them killed. As long as he stayed in the shade during the day he ought to be safe enough.

Trip pulled the meter long piece of string loose and started twisting it into a tight cord. The K'Bet was doing the same thing Trip was, sitting tight and waiting out the heat of the day. He should have plenty of time to set the snare.

Trip paused to take a sip from his canteen. He capped it quickly and held the mouthful until it soaked in. Thankfully the insulated canteen kept the water cold. He could taste the salt tablets that T'Pol had added when she filled it for him at the house before they left.

“You must remember to add two of the salt tablets and one of the mineral tablets each time you refill the canteen, Trip.”

“Yes, Mommy,” Trip had grinned at her and kissed her cheek.

“This is not a matter for levity, Husband.” T'Pol's eyes reflected her worry, even if her expression stayed calm. “You could easily become disoriented or lose consciousness if your electrolytes are allowed to deplete themselves. If that happens, death will follow quickly. Please remember to do this.”

“I swear,” he had promised, holding up his hand.

His lips quirked in a fond smile. At least he had a canteen, unlike the Vulcan children. Trip knew it was foolish, and he wasn't going to argue the point, but he had still felt odd being the only one equipped with a canteen, an emergency blanket, and a pocketknife. This was on top of being the only adult in the group to begin with.

“Heck, if those kids can do it I can do it,”, he reassured himself. Trip eased his scorched backside off the flat rock and over to the soil against the back wall of the overhang. The bare dirt felt hot too. The atmosphere was a case of six of one, half a dozen of the other. It was too thin and hot to breathe properly, but if it was any thicker he would be steamed like a clam. Trip estimated that he had somewhere around four more hours of daylight to endure before sunset, and then another hour before T'Khut rose and he could get moving. A nap would help pass the time but there was no possible way a Human could sleep under these conditions.

The cord was ready. Trip tied a slip noose and inched his way to the far end of the overhang where the K'Bet had dug out a temporary day burrow. The little critters were shaped like hamsters and about the size of a rat. With any luck one of them would keep him going for two days. The Kahs-Wahn ordeal was ten days long. For the Vulcan kids that meant ten days with only the food and water they could scrounge, and no weapons to take with them.

However, allowances had been made for Trip. He grimaced and remembered squirming uncomfortably as T'Pol presented the special authorization, signed by T'Pau herself, that entitled him to carry a small supply of water in a reusable container, a protective covering, and a small knife. Trip's face had flushed crimson when all those solemn young faces looked up at him with poorly hidden disdain.

T'Pau had nodded as T'Pol finished her, for a Vulcan, impassioned plea. Trip stood nearby with a strong desire to sink into the floor in embarrassment. He knew T'Pol was right, but it sure didn't help his ego to hear her enumerate all the ways he wasn't fit to survive on Vulcan.

“Your point is well made and quite logical,” T'Pau admitted. “Trip is physiologically incapable of surviving without water for more than a day in the conditions that prevail on the Forge. Perhaps even less. The purpose of the Kahs-Wahn is to provide a realistic assessment of survival skill. Realistically, if Trip were actually stranded in the Forge without water he could not hope to survive more than a day. Much less ten days. And there are only two points on the entire course where water can be obtained from the land that are less than a day's travel apart.”

“Regarding the survival blanket and knife,” T'Pol doggedly continued her sales pitch, “it is true that Humans are well adapted to surviving cold. But Trip will require occasional shelter from solar radiation over and above what is available from the landscape. The melanin in his skin is inadequate to protect him from the full force of Vulcan solar radiation. The emergency blanket can be used to provide shade. And the small knife will compensate for the fact that Trip has never been trained in the art of flint crafting.”

Not formally trained, no. Trip remembered watching his Starfleet survival instructor tapping out a crude obsidian knife during his Outback training. But he had never been put through an actual course of study on the subject, that much was true.

He spread the loop carefully over the opening in front of the K'Bet's hole and backed off to the end of the string, looping it once around his hand. Trip settled himself gingerly into a reasonably uncomfortable position and started taking the deep, slow breaths that would help him enter into the first level of meditation. He figured that if he could manage to make it into the second level of mediation it would not only help the time pass faster, it would also slow his metabolism enough to conserve water and energy.

As Trip felt his muscles relax he closed his eyes and allowed his other senses to open wide. His own heartbeat started thundering in his ears. His breathing became a soft breeze that marched in rhythm to the rustle of his shirt. A faint trickle of sand told him that the K'Bet had shifted position slightly, and his hand reflexively twitched.

Little by little he sank further into himself. The second level was still difficult for Trip, even after all the hours that T'Para had spent patiently working with him. But he reached it eventually and felt the peace work its way into his bones. Deep in his mind, much like the way Enterprise's engines could be felt throbbing through the deck plates on the bridge, Trip could feel the power of the mating bond pulsing. He gladly touched it and focused his attention, sending an image of the ledge where he sat.

Trip held the picture in his mind for several seconds before releasing it. He waited calmly until an answering image formed. T'Pol was holding their baby, T'Lissa, and sitting on her meditation bench. A strong feeling of relief came through, along with pure love and concern. There was also, like a ghostly echo, the tiniest feeling through the bond of T'Pol physical connection with the baby. T'Lissa's innocent satisfaction brought a smile to Trip's face as the connection faded.

He settled in to finish his vigil. Another three and a half hours now, and supper should be served. Then he could get moving. Only nine more days to go.

 

&

 

 

Chapter 1

Enterprise cruised serenely in orbit over Vulcan. To all outward appearances, she seemed at peace with the entire galaxy. However, a closer look would have revealed appearances to be somewhat deceiving.

“What the hell do you think you're doing! Get your frickin' ass out of my kitchen, damn you!”

The sound of a quick swish culminated in a clang, provoking a shout. “Holy shit! You don't have to sling a cleaver at me, Chef! I'm going! I'm going!”

“If you aren't out of here in ten seconds, I'm going to do more than sling it at you! What do you mean, coming in here and poking around in my larder half an hour before time to start cooking lunch?”

“I was just looking for a snack! Honest!”

“I'll give you a snack! I'll shove this skillet down your throat! Get out! Out! OUT!”

The hapless crewman ducked and ran like a rabbit. He dashed past the serving counter and through the deserted dining area, making it through the door into the corridor in a leaping bound. It truly wasn't his day. Just as he glanced back through the closing doors to make sure that Chef was no longer in hot pursuit, he discovered the hard way that the ship's First Officer had paused to observe the proceedings.

“Oof!” Lieutenant Commander Reed whooshed and fell back against the far wall, while Crewman Butler dropped headlong at his feet. They both paused to catch their breath for a few seconds, while Butler wildly wondered if he could get away with slithering off down the hallway on his belly like a snake.

Malcolm looked down at the supine young man, who had just joined the crew during their last visit to Earth, and shook his head. “Nobody warned you, did they, Butler? 'Trouble rather the tiger in his lair than the Chef amongst his pots'.”

Crewman Butler decided that Commander Reed didn't sound overly murderous at the moment and dared to rise to attention. “I am terribly sorry sir. That was unforgivably clumsy of me.”

“Don't worry about it,” Malcolm told him, with a comradely clap on the shoulder. “If Chef had been after me with a cleaver I wouldn't have been watching for anything in my path either.” The pair started walking down the corridor. “I could hear him bellowing like a scandalized bull halfway to the Armory,” he added.

“I could understand him being territorial,” Butler said in an aggrieved voice, “but I never thought he would go ballistic like that. What is he, some kind of sociopath?”

“Worse,” Reed grinned. “He's a retired MACO.”

A choking noise emitted from Butler's throat. “A MACO? I had a MACO coming after me with a cleaver?” His color was approaching a shade that would, in a Vulcan, be considered quite normal.

Reed shot him a mildly sadistic look, but then relented. “Relax. If he had wanted to hurt you, he would have. Everyone in the crew gets tested and qualifies with basic weapons, you know that. Chef may be getting up there in years, but he hasn't forgotten how to shoot or throw a knife. His accuracy scores with phase pistol, throwing knife, and pulse rifle are consistently among the top 5% on the ship. He was just trying to scare you.”

“He succeeded,” Butler affirmed. “So how did a retired MACO end up on Enterprise?”

“Captain Archer recruited him,” Reed explained. “I'm not sure what rank Chef reached in the MACOs. That's not part of his Starfleet record, and I haven't been able to get those clerks at administration to get off their duffs long enough to dig it out. But he was a thirty year man. He cashed out and opened a restaurant in San Francisco, about ten blocks from Starfleet headquarters. Before six months it was one of the most highly rated places in town.”

“So what happened?” Butler wondered.

“Boredom,” Reed told him. “Five years of running a restaurant and listening to civilians chatter started driving him crazy. When Captain Archer came in and told him that he wanted the best Chef he could get for his crew, and that Lafayette was the man he wanted, Chef jumped at the chance to get off the ground.”

“Okay,” Butler said. “Now I know better than to scrounge unauthorized snacks. Guess I better make a habit of gathering up extra crackers and fruit during meals and stashing them.”

“Just don't let the Steward catch you,” Reed told him cheerfully as they parted at the turbolift. “He is still fuming over those mice that snuck aboard last time we took on fresh supplies. Any loose food outside the mess hall will have him chasing you with a broom.”

“I can't win,” Butler moaned.

“Look at it this way,” Reed consoled him as he stepped aboard the lift. He turned to face the young man and told him, just before the door slid shut, “between dodging Chef and running from the Steward, you should be in top shape when it's time for your next physical.”

Reed stepped onto the bridge with a smile, only to find Captain Archer waiting for him. “Ready to go, Malcolm?”

“Yes, Sir,” Reed replied, surprised. “But I thought you wanted to go over those duty rosters first.”

“Changed my mind,” Archer said, a touch acerbically. “If we are going to get the ball rolling on these negotiations, I want to start as fast as possible. We can't really do much with the Andorians themselves until Trip gets back from his little camping expedition. But at least we can lay some groundwork with T'Pol and obtain some preliminary results to report to Ambassador Trask.”

Reed firmly kept his mouth shut, but he traded a meaningful glance with Hoshi, who stood nearby with pursed lips. There was no point in trying to reason with the Captain when he was like this. It was better to let him work off his mood on his own. The three of them headed for the turbolift as Archer tossed back over his shoulder, “You have the bridge, Mr. Mayweather.”

“Yes, Sir,” Travis replied. He slid out of his place at the helm and settled into the command chair with a grin, running his hands over the arms in satisfaction. Once the lift doors had closed behind the other three officers Travis took a long slow look around the deserted bridge and permitted himself a triumphant chuckle. He rubbed his hands together theatrically and chortled, “It's mine I tell you. Mine. All mine.”

 

&

 

Trip's cheeks puffed as he blew out his breath in quick exhalations. In the back of his mind he kept a slightly distracted count of his paces while the front of his mind kept watch for large hungry things.

“Twenty-four, twenty-five.” Trip let his stride slow to a walk and started the count again. T'Khut was high and starting her slide down the western half of the sky. He had been wolf running all night, with only brief pauses for gasping relief. Walk 100 paces, jog 50 paces, sprint 25 paces, walk 100 paces again.

The air was cold and clear as glass, as it always was on Vulcan at night. For nearly four months now, Trip had been exercising under Vulcan gravity and atmosphere. His vital capacity was expanding to levels that the Human doctor at the Earth embassy called “extraordinary”. But half a night of quick traveling through the Forge was pushing pretty close to his absolute limit. He needed to find a good place to settle in to catch some safe sleep for the rest of the night, and then hide from the sun for the daylight hours.

He needed high ground with a steep approach, preferably sheer rock. Some kind of overhang for shade. Signs of prey nearby would be a bonus, but not critical. He still had over half of the K'Bet left. Trip shuddered. If he could keep it down this time. He had checked before leaving home, and T'Pol had confirmed, that there were no microorganisms or parasites present in any of the small animals native to the Forge that were likely to transfer to a Human host. So Trip could safely eat anything that he caught raw. But that sure didn't make it palatable.

That ridge up ahead looked promising. Trip veered slightly to his left and started ascending the slope, picking his way with extreme care from one solid foothold to another. A twisted ankle out here would mean certain death for him. Even with the bond, assuming he could get a cry for help through to T'Pol, by the time she arranged transportation and someone reached him he would have died from the heat or the wildlife. Excessive paranoia was called for. Paranoia, plus stubborn patience to keep digging his toes into the sand, meticulously testing one step after another. Bullheaded suspicion was the price of life on Vulcan. Trip had already learned that much.

The ridge top was windswept rock, weathered and fractured. Trip kept a wary eye open for carnivorous plants. Vulcan's answer to the Venus Fly Trap had tentacles that could snap out and grab passing animals, or people, like a striking snake. There were also some venomous thorn bushes that could kill you within two steps, dropping a nice bit of fertilizer to enrich the bush's nearby roots. Not to mention the nasty little animal buggers that had a habit of hiding under the plants.

An upthrusting boulder ahead of him beckoned with an intriguing crack near the base. As Trip got carefully closer, the crack started to look more and more like a small cave. “Jackpot,” he thought gleefully. Now all he had to do was make sure nobody was home.

 

No such luck of course. A nest of Dorloths had settled in and set up housekeeping. Only to be expected, Trip reflected philosophically. A prime location like this was not likely to remain open long, with the real estate market around here being what it was. The twelve legged spider-scorpions were longer than Trip's foot, and they came equipped with both fangs and stinger tails. Either end could paralyze him, leaving him helpless while the nest swarmed over and drained him. Not a prospect that appealed to him very much. Trip eased up to the opening with exaggerated caution and took a careful count. Nine of them. Two adults and seven smaller ones. All right. He backed off and started gathering rocks.

At least Dorloths were confined to the ground. Unlike Terran spiders, they were not good climbers. That was a major advantage for which Trip had already given thanks more than once. Vulcan gravity was so high, and tall vegetation was so unusual, that most animals were lousy climbers. Dorloths were exoskeletal. A well aimed rock could break their shells. He hoped. First though, he needed to block their escape. If they got out of there and surrounded him, he would be in trouble.

A scream split the night and Trip's muscles locked. His nostrils flared in atavistic reflex and he tilted his head in the direction of the sound. Le-Matya. Naturally, it had to be one of the few Vulcan animals that could climb. Quite a distance off though. Trip crouched without moving for several minutes until the cat-shaped lizard squalled again, then he relaxed. He was downwind from the Le-Matya, and it sounded like it was moving away from him anyway. Once he got inside the cave he was home free. Nothing big enough to eat him could get through that crack. As soon as he squashed the bugs that is.

The Dorloths were quiescent at night, so Trip managed to get enough large rocks piled in front of the cave entrance to barricade them inside. Then he piled up a generous supply of ammunition and started letting fly. The biggest adult took the first hit with a satisfying splat. The carapace busted like a purple egg, spattering green blood and yellowish ichor in all directions. However the noise roused the rest of the nest and from that point on it became a challenging contest of picking off a series of moving targets. After the second adult went down Trip started to relax. The youngsters were not likely to be able to kill him before he could smash them. Even if they got through and bit him, he could probably finish them off with a rock or his fist before the paralysis hit. The venom itself was not lethal to Humans, it would just leave him sick as a dog. As long as the bugs were dead, he could wait it out.

It seemed to take forever, but he finally killed the last of them. The stench was nauseating and Trip was devoutly glad for the cold air of night. He slipped into the mouth of the cave and kicked the carcasses out the door with revulsion. Eating the things was out of the question. He would never be that hungry. The crack was narrow but tall enough for Trip to stand upright, with walls that leaned together and joined about two meters over his head. It was surprisingly deep, deeper than it had appeared from outside, and Trip felt a twinge of concern about other occupants. He held his breath and listened for any movement or the sound of breathing.

He heard something and his belly tightened. The T'Khutlight behind Trip threw his shadow across the sandy floor and stretched his distorted form along the twisted back wall. He took a deep, silent breath through his mouth and let it out slowly. Then he stopped breathing and listened again. It sounded like something pecking. Trip's brow wrinkled. He couldn't offhand think of any critter that made a pecking sound. There wasn't any equivalent to the woodpecker on Vulcan. A rockpecker? Not likely. More bugs would rustle, and besides they would have come to help defend the nest when he attacked. The small mammals were no threat to him. Some of the lizards were venomous, but few were lethal to a Human.

Trip opened his knife and picked up the ugliest looking rock he could find. One foot length at a time. One breath at a time. The passage curved just enough to hide the far end in shadow. But the light from T'Khut was bright enough that even the diffuse reflections off the light colored stone provided as much light as a half moon on Earth. Nothing seemed to be moving. Trip waited.

Something moved in the corner of his vision. Trip did not react, except to shift his eyes toward the point where he had seen the flicker. Then it came again. A tiny drop of water formed at the tip of a stone chip and hung for an instant before dripping to splash onto the stones beneath it.

Trip let out a rebel yell that shattered the public peace. Heedless of dignity or sore feet, he started dancing in joy. “Yes! Yes! YEESSS!” he screamed out at the indifferent alien stones. “Kiss my ass Vulcan! Think you can kill me? Think again you burned out excuse for a planet! I FOUND WATER!” He whooped again and and fell against the wall, laughing in relief.

T'Pol had explained about these. The Kahs-Wahn course was laid out to intersect with seven known sources of dependable water. A check point was established at each of the seven springs with a stack of uniquely inscribed disks. Each participant was required to obtain a disk from each of the check points to confirm that they had successfully completed that section of the course. But in addition to the known springs, there were other sources of water in the Forge. Some of the other springs were seasonal. Some were underground and only reachable if one had digging tools. And some, like the one Trip had found, were simply unknown. If he could remember the location of this spring and report it when he got back, and if it proved to be dependable, he would be officially credited as its discoverer.

First things first. He walked over and held his hand under the drip. When the next drop hit his palm he brought it up to his nose and sniffed, then touched it with his tongue. Trip worked it around his mouth and smiled. It was sweet water, no odor or taste of any contaminants. Beautiful. He returned to the entrance and replaced the barricade to guard against any daytime visitors. This drip certainly explained the Dorloth nest, and would likely mean that Trip could expect a full dance card tomorrow. But he was ready and willing to fight to defend his little oasis.

Trip moved his ammunition to the back wall. Then he walked over to examine his treasure trove. He nodded. Trip knelt and started scooping stones and sand out from under the drip, leaving a shallow earthen depression for the drops to fall into. The water began to form a tiny puddle and instantly sank into the ground while Trip unfolded his emergency blanket. The silver colored, waterproof material was more than big enough to line the bottom of the depression with plenty of room left over. Trip smoothed the material at the bottom of his dirt basin and watched the drops start to collect in delight. He unscrewed the lid from his canteen, about one fourth of a cup in capacity, and placed it carefully in the bowl where it would catch the water. He started counting seconds.

When the lid was full Trip picked it up and took a sip. Akaline but not really bitter. Quite drinkable. Trip did a quick calculation. It took two minutes and thirty-six seconds to fill a quarter of a cup. At that rate he would have plenty of time to fill his canteen before sunrise. Then he could sit all day tomorrow in the comfy shade and sip cool water.

Trip's grin stretched so widely that his jaw muscles started to ache. It didn't get any better than this. If his landmark navigation was on track, he should be able to make it to the first check point before the end of tomorrow night and pick up his first confirmation disk. That would make him right on schedule to complete the ordeal in ten days. Trip sighed a little as he remembered hearing that some of the kids had been known to complete it in as little as six days. But he would be satisfied merely to complete it.

“Like that Philosophy of Religion seminar back in school,” Trip muttered. “If I can just pass this one test I will take my little C and go on with my life. I can live without perfection this once. Good enough is good enough.”

 

&

 

Phlox was waiting at the shuttle bay when they arrived. The doctor seemed in an unusually cheerful mood, even for him. Captain Archer pulled out of his sulk far enough to grumble, "You look awfully happy for some reason."

 

"And why not, Captain?" Phlox cheerily responded. "A chance to see some old friends. An opportunity to stretch our legs and get some fresh air on a safe, highly civilized planet where all possible amenities are immediately available. I will have the opportunity to consult with my colleague Healer Kerlek about his research results. And no dangerous aliens are shooting at us. What more could one possibly ask?"

Archer found himself unable to come up with a negative answer that didn't sound petulant, so he just grunted and climbed into the shuttle. Hoshi sighed and shook her head. The man was like a child when he didn't get what he wanted instantly. Honestly, she really felt like smacking him sometimes. Malcolm carefully kept a poker face and followed the other three aboard the craft. They strapped in without a word.

Archer got clearance from Travis and launched the shuttle briskly. Once they were in flight his nerves settled down a bit. Being at the controls of a ship, any ship, always made Archer feel better. Even if Trip was too busy with his vacation to bother helping Earth obtain a warp seven engine, they could still get things started. He set his jaw. At least T'Pol should be a little more reasonable.

Vulcan Space Central provided clearance and landing directions to the central port at Shi'Kahr. Ambassador Trask had sent his personal air car and driver to meet them. The quartet were hustled briskly inside and found themselves whizzing above the streets of Vulcan's capitol city at eye blurring speed.

The Embassy started looming in the distance within a few minutes, looking to Malcolm's critical eye like a half melted mushroom with stalactites hanging around the perimeter to prop it up. The Vulcan driver smoothly dropped to street level, leaving three Human and one Denobulan stomach hanging in midair, and slid the air car under the lip of the mushroom with effortless precision. His passengers climbed out on unsteady legs and concentrated on regaining their balance and breath.

The driver walked around to the passenger compartment and told them, "Pass through the green door in front of you. Proceed down the ramp 34.5 meters to the double doors and pass through them. Turn left immediately and follow the hallway an additional 27 meters to the reception area where someone will be waiting to greet you." He turned and walked off, leaving his bemused cargo to wander on their way.

Archer shook his head and led the his away team on their venture into the depths of diplomacy. Nearing the reception area, which proved to be near the main entrance of the embassy building, they spotted three figures standing by the front desk.

Ambassador Trask was a rotund man of middle age with gray streaked dark hair. He was of medium height, above medium girth, and lacked any distinguishing physical features. At first glance he seemed remarkably unremarkable. Until you saw his eyes. The second member of the trio, also Human, wore a Starfleet uniform bearing the rank of a Vice-Admiral. The last member of the group was a young Vulcan man who wore a Healer's robe and looked vaguely familiar to Archer.

"Welcome, Captain," Trask stepped forward with a hand outstretched. "It is an honor and a pleasure to meet you. Perhaps you recall... well I see at least one of you remembers Kerlek." Trask paused in amusement as Phlox stepped forward eagerly and began firing off a rapid stream of Vulcan technical terms at his colleague. Kerlek's eyes lit up and he started returning fire at equal speed and volume. Both of them seemed to have forgotten the existence of everyone else in the room.

Archer cleared his throat pointedly, to no avail. He glanced over at Malcolm, who shrugged and shook his head. Hoshi heaved an exaggerated sigh and stepped forward. She stepped up and poked Phlox sharply on the shoulder.

"Doctor!" He halted in mid-gab and turned to look at her. Then, suddenly realizing where they were, both medical men looked abashed. Hoshi grinned, "We are going to be here a few days. Maybe you two could pick this up a little bit later?" she suggested with a grin.

Phlox stammered a bit, "Certainly. By all means. I apologize for interrupting the proceedings. Please carry on." Hoshi stepped back and pressed her lips together as tightly as she possibly could. A quick glance showed Malcolm had a firm grip on his tongue between his teeth. Both hands were folded behind his back in an 'at ease' position, but his knuckles were clenched white with strain as he fought to keep in the laughter.

 

"Ahem," Trask resumed while scratching his nose with a fingertip. He turned to the officer beside him, who had stood quietly watching the proceedings with careful eyes. "This gentleman is Vice-Admiral Jendaro, Chief of Starfleet Operations here on Vulcan. I am afraid that he and I are in a bit of a tug of war for your time and attention, Captain. I am all afire to start our discussions, as I am sure you can imagine. But on the other hand, Admiral Jendaro is equally eager to debrief you on the successful completion of your mission to uncover the Terra Prime spies aboard your ship. I am open to suggestions on the best way to expedite things."

Captain Archer grimaced. "Truthfully, my Executive Officer here, Lieutenant Commander Reed, did most of the planning and execution for the operation. In essence all I did was nod approvingly and sign whatever he handed me."

"That's the best way to lead, I have found," Jendaro offered quietly. "Pick good people, tell them what you want done, then get out of their way."

"Our Communications Officer, Ensign Sato, handled all coordination between Enterprise and the Vulcan Security Directorate," Archer went on. "Between the two of them they can tell you as much as I can. In fact, they can tell you more than I can since they were aware of all the little details that never got included in the reports."

Jendaro nodded. "Then with your permission, Captain, how would it be if I kidnap your two officers for a couple of hours while you and the ambassador get started on your strategic planning? Meanwhile I understand that our medical men have an appointment at the University Medical Center?" He gave Kerlek an inquiring look.

"Yes," the Vulcan told them. "Lady T'Pol is scheduled to meet us there with her child as soon as Doctor Phlox arrived. This is intended to be a routine examination and should not require more than an hour at most."

"Yeah, T'Pol told me," Archer acknowledged. "Then she invited us all to come visit her at her—" he stopped and looked puzzled. "I am not sure what the relationship is. Eldest Mother is the title she used. Whatever that means. Anyway T'Pol is staying at her house while Trip is off gallivanting in the desert, and we are invited to join them for the evening meal."

Kerlek's eyes flickered but he said nothing. The two medical men headed out the door, apparently picking up their esoteric debate where they had left off. But only they and any supernatural beings in the vicinity knew for sure. Jendaro promptly shooed his captives down the hallway to a nearby conference room for an extended term of durance vile, while Trask escorted Archer back to the embassy's V.I.P. meeting room.

The ambassador waved Archer into a much padded swivel chair at a polished oak table and started pouring drinks. "We are going to be limited in what we can accomplish for the time being, Captain, since one of our main players is temporarily out of the game."

"Yes, Mr. Ambassador, I am afraid that is correct," Captain Archer reported glumly. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "It seems that Commander Tucker is engaged in some sort of Vulcan ritual that requires him to be out of contact for the next few days. I attempted to explain to him and to T'Pol the importance of this meeting—"

"Don't worry about it, Captain," Trask waved a casual hand. "I spoke to Chief Minister T'Pau this morning. What Commander Tucker is doing is called the Kahs-Wahn, and it's the final remaining requirement before he can apply for dual citizenship. I believe the advantages of having a Human member of Starfleet who is also a citizen of Vulcan outweigh any momentary inconveniences, don't you?"

" Kahs-Wahn?" Archer's face screwed up in thought. "That seems familiar. I know what that is. Either from... now I remember." He looked surprised. "T'Pol mentioned it once. A survival ordeal. Ten days alone in the Forge without food, water, or weapons. Trip is doing that?" He looked appalled. "Mr. Ambassador, I have been in the Forge. The heat is murderous in there. And Trip doesn't exactly have an affinity for deserts anyway. There is no way he can survive in there." Archer stood up. "We have to send in a rescue team right away! If it's not already too late."

"Relax, Captain," Trask gestured with his glass of ale. "I am certain everything is under control. The Vulcans have been doing this for centuries. They are not going to let anything bad happen."

"With all due respect, Mr. Ambassador, you don't know Trip," Archer said urgently. He planted his hands flat on the conference table and leaned over. "Trip goes with hot weather the way Klingons go with toothbrushes. We have to get him out of there!"

"Sit. Down. Captain." Trask nailed him with a laser pointed stare and Archer reluctantly sank back into his chair. "You really should finish your ale while it is still properly chilled," the ambassador went on in a more cheerful tone. "By the way, I can't thank you enough for bringing down a case of the Azure blend. It's the Andorian equivalent of Dom Perignon. Truly superb."

Archer gritted his teeth. "I am glad you like it, Sir. But I am sure Trip would trade a barrel of it for a glass of water right now."

"He has water, Captain," Trask told him mildly. "T'Pau assured me that allowances were made for the fact that Trip is Human. After all," he went on as the panic on Archer's face started to subside, "this is supposed to be a survival test. Not a test to destruction."

"Even so, Ambassador," the captain protested, "Trip can't possibly carry enough water to keep him alive in the Forge for ten days."

"He won't need to," Trask told him with a touch of impatience. "The Kahs-Wahn is designed to follow a pre-set course that intersects a series of known waterholes. Or maybe they are springs, or wells or something. I didn't bother to inquire. Anyway they are watering spots. All Commander Tucker has to do is walk from one source of water to another, and show sense enough not to step into any holes or Sehlat mouths along the way. Think he might be capable of accomplishing that much, Captain?" Trask asked wryly.

Archer ran his hand down his face and let out a heavy breath. "I guess so," he finally allowed. "But I will feel a lot better when I see him walk out of there."

 

&

 

"I am grateful for your companionship, Eldest Mother," T'Pol murmured as they walked along the hallway toward Kerlek's office.

"Nonsense, Daughter," T'Para waved it off impatiently. "I want to meet this Denobulan doctor that has earned such esteem from both you and Trip. Besides, if I did not come with you what would I be doing instead? I would be sitting at my home wondering what was happening here. Coming along to see for myself was the only logical course of action."

T'Pol's lips twitched imperceptibly. "Of course, Eldest Mother," she replied. "Healer Kerlek's office is behind the next door." T'Pol shifted her sleeping bundle to one arm and reached out for the door plate.

"T'Lissa Tucker," she announced. A slight click sounded and the door slid open.

They entered the waiting area that T'Pol remembered from T'Lissa's last examination. The exam she had undergone the day of the Gathering . . .

T'Pol embraced the initial stages of the Kohlinahr disciplines to control her wayward memories. There was no point in dwelling on that. It was done, and they were well advanced toward dealing with the repercussions of what happened that day. Besides, the issues that had come to light during Trip's confrontation with Koss needed to be dealt with eventually in any case. The fact that Trip had pulled a bowie knife and threatened to carve Koss a second mouth merely exacerbated the situation somewhat.

They barely seated themselves before the inner door opened to emit a huge smile with a brisk Denobulan attached.

"T'Pol. It's wonderful to see you again." Phlox held out his hands in sheer reflex, then hesitated. T'Pol reached over with her one hand that was not full of limp offspring and met his clasp. Phlox grinned and squeezed her hand very lightly then let go. "And here she is again. My favorite little patient. Oh my, look how fast she is growing. May I?" Phlox reached over and relieved T'Pol of her burden, causing the aforementioned bundle to stir grouchfully and emit a tiny snarl of irritation.

"Oh now, see here young lady," Phlox crooned happily. "Is that any way to greet one of your oldest friends? Hm?" He ran his finger over her cheek and watched her eyes flutter open.

T'Para stepped up beside T'Pol and watched with careful assessment as this alien male handled her descendant. He seemed somewhat experienced with infants, at least there appeared no immediate danger that he would drop her. T'Pol was obviously still alert in any case so the child was safe enough for now.

Phlox glanced up and found himself being scanned by high intensity sensors. "Excuse me, where are my manners? I deduce that you are Lady T'Para? I am Dr. Phlox, and deeply honored to meet you madam."

T'Para's nostrils twitched. She offered the salute and intoned, "Peace and long life to you, Dr. Phlox. It is agreeable to meet you as well."

Formalities out of the way, Phlox returned his attention to T'Lissa. The baby was starting to corkscrew and fishtail her way into wakefulness and venting her dissatisfaction with the process. T'Pol put her hand on her daughter's cheek and the little one settled down a bit. Suddenly her squinched eyes popped open and she looked around, realizing that she wasn't in her mother's arms anymore. A bellow of outrage signaled her opinion of the change in venue. T'Pol quickly rectified the situation, which mollified T'Lissa and persuaded her to turn off the Tactical Alert siren.

"Well, Kerlek is waiting for us in the examination room with all of her records," Phlox suggested. T'Para nodded approvingly. Logical. They could deal with the child's needs, discuss the matter of transferring responsibility for her care in private, and proceed with her examination all at the same time. Phlox led the way, followed by T'Pol with the baby. T'Para brought up the rear, carefully examining everything in the office as she passed by.

Contrary to Phlox's prediction however, the exam room was empty when they arrived. "He must have gone after his new assistant," Phlox mentioned. T'Pol straightened and shot him a look of distress.

"Assistant?" she complained. "Doctor, this is not acceptable. Adding another person to the list of people who are aware of T'Lissa is most unwise."

"He is not, and he will not be." Kerlek stepped into the room carrying a stack of PADDs and data cartridges. With both hands full he could not perform the salute, but he offered both women a slight bow. "Peace and long life to you both, T'Para and T'Pol. Be at ease regarding Sessek. As far as he is aware, T'Lissa is merely a Vulcan child that you have adopted. But since I have no logical reason to bar him from performing his normal duty of assisting me with a routine examination, I decided that it would be less suspicious to simply let him attend."

"Your 'new' assistant, Healer Kerlek?" T'Para's voice had a faint edge to it. Just barely enough to peel the top couple of layers from a man's katra. "I find the timing disquieting. How new is this assistant?"

"I assure you, Elder, there is nothing sinister involved," Kerlek said soberly. "Sessek has been working at the Medical Center for the past year. He was only transferred to my office two days ago, when my previous assistant was killed in an unfortunate accident."

"Then I am certain that you will have no objection when I ask Ganlas to conduct a background check on him." T'Para declared.

 

"Of course not." Kerlek wasn't about to argue. He meekly handed Phlox the pile in his hands and went to wash up while T'Pol finished T'Lissa's diaper change.

"I will look this over later," Phlox said to no one in particular. "Meanwhile, let's see how my little cohort in mischief in doing these days." T'Lissa, much improved in mood after getting completely awake and dried off, finally managed to recognize him. A piercing squeal of joy stabbed everyone in the ear and she lunged for his ridges with all three of her teeth bared. Phlox laughed and held her back. "So now the truth finally comes out," he teased. "You just love me for my pretty face."

Phlox started running a scanner over the baby, pausing at random intervals to tickle her briefly. Meanwhile the Vulcans stood around in a circle, watching with all the solemn intensity of a group of scientists observing the test firing of a new torpedo. The door to Kerlek's exam room opened and a young Vulcan male entered. T'Para saw him glance over the assembled crowd, paying particular attention to T'Pol.

Kerlek instructed, "Sessek, retrieve the sonic emitter attachment for Dr. Phlox. Then prepare the microbial delineation unit for the fluid samples." The young man nodded without speaking and went to work. T'Pol never bothered to lift her gaze from her child.

T'Para glanced back and forth from the baby's examination to watch Sessek. The young man seemed oddly tense. Perhaps it was merely the presence of an alien physician. Most Vulcans were not truly comfortable near outworlders.

Finally Phlox was done. He straightened and told them, "She seems healthy as a Denobulan Likho after spring molt. You and Kerlek have obviously been taking excellent care of her."

T'Pol let her relief shine through. "It is gratifying to hear that, Doctor. Will you be joining us for the evening meal?"

"I am tempted, truly tempted," Phlox declared. "But," he glanced over at Kerlek, "I am even more tempted to seize the chance to catch up with Kerlek about our research project. We are on the track of some remarkably fascinating results. I have been chewing my knuckles in frustration all the way from Earth, and I honestly cannot bear the suspense any longer."

"Indeed," Kerlek retorted, "I am equally eager to discuss our results. I have studied the information that you sent, and it matches my results to a remarkable degree. I believe that you may have provided the missing explanation as to why we are finding the results that we are."

"In that case, I understand," T'Pol told them graciously. "If Trip or I can be of further assistance with your research, do not hesitate to call upon us."

"Most generous, T'Pol. Most generous, and we may yet take you up on that," Phlox told her happily. "Kerlek?" he turned and gathered up the data cartridges and PADDS. "Shall we retire somewhere and start comparing notes? Your lab or mine?"

"Mine is closer," Kerlek pointed out. "Sessek can finish up here and put things away."

"Certainly, Healer Kerlek," Sessek told him, speaking for the first time. T'Pol's head jerked up in surprise. T'Para, watching, saw T'Pol's eyes lock onto the young man and freeze there. The two physicians walked out of the examination room, leaving T'Para to divide her attention between soothing the baby and watching T'Pol stare in shock at the young assistant.

The young man finished putting away the examination instruments and turned back to face the women. He noticed T'Pol's attention and raised one eyebrow. "Is something wrong, Lady T'Pol?" he inquired coolly.

"I am uncertain," T'Pol replied slowly. "You seem to bear a truly remarkable resemblance to someone I once knew. Even your voice and mannerisms are identical. I cannot help but be intrigued by this . . . apparent . . . coincidence."

 

"Perhaps a distant relative," the young man suggested. "I have noticed that such things do have a tendency to repeat themselves in families."

T'Pol blinked. "I suppose that is not absolutely impossible," she allowed. "However, I would not have expected such a perfect duplication." She glanced over at T'Lissa and shook her head uncertainly, then looked back at the young man. Who finally couldn't stand it any longer and broke up completely.

"I am sorry, Grandmother," he gasped between hiccups of laughter. "But I absolutely could not resist. The expression on your face was priceless. If only I had been recording it, T'Prell would have bought me the biggest lobster in Shi'Kahr for a copy of that picture!" He collapsed across the examination table in a fit of snickers.

T'Para raised both eyebrows a tiny fraction while T'Pol's mouth tightened. "George Hopkins," she said firmly. "Such behavior is most unseemly, given the circumstances."

George took a deep breath and straightened up. "You are quite correct, Grandmother. Erm, Great-grandmother I mean. Or rather, Great-great-, no. How many greats is it anyway? Let me stop and think a minute. It gets complicated on my side of the family you see, because our line split and then rejoined, so the Human generations outnumber the Vulcan generations."

 

"There is no reason to become overly meticulous," T'Pol sighed impatiently, looking nervously at T'Para. The Eldest Mother was holding her chin in one hand, while tapping her lower lip with her finger in a manner that made T'Pol's blood chill.

 

"Okay," George grinned again. "How about you call me George and I will just call you Granny."

 

"I think not," T'Pol replied promptly. "T'Pol will suffice. Now, before we go any further, allow me to perform introductions. Dr. George Hopkins, this is T'Para, Eldest Mother of our clan."

George stiffened like an electro-shocked cat. "T'Para?" he choked. "I didn't realize-" He swallowed hard. "I implore forgiveness for my inappropriate behavior Eldest Mother." George stepped across the room and knelt in front of T'Para with his head bowed, raising his arms to offer her the crossed greeting of kinship.

T'Para looked down for a few breaths, then reached to touch his fingertips. Her eyes narrowed when she recognized him as blood kin. She ordered him in formal High Vulcan, {"Stand, Son of my Clan. Explain thy presence, thy unseemly behavior, and thy mode of address to T'Pol."}

 

George rose and told her, "That will require some time, Eldest Mother. There are also important family matters that should be discussed in a place of greater privacy." He looked at T'Pol. "In retrospect, I shouldn't have revealed myself this way. You know this isn't my normal line of work. When Daniels reads my report he's likely to smack me upside the head with the nearest blunt object." He grinned. "But it was still worth it to see your face. I can't wait to hear what Grandfather has to say."

"I would not be overly sanguine, were I in your place," T'Pol warned him. "I am not certain that he has forgiven you for the ducks yet."

"I anticipate a fascinating discussion when we return home," T'Para remarked. "Let us proceed."

 

&

 

Harris tugged on his lower lip and stared out the window of his tiny office. Actually it wasn't a window, since his office officially did not exist on the building plans. Only a meticulous series of measurements taken between the third floor janitorial storage area, and the rear emergency stairwell, would have revealed the presence of anomalous distance between a few main support beams. Even that could be explained by “as-built” modifications to the construction specs due to encountering a small pocket of unexpected sandstone during construction of the building.

 

The external sensors were currently set to give him a view of the grounds outside Starfleet headquarters. The sky was unexpectedly clear today, in defiance of the weather reports. “They lie more than we do,” Harris thought in amusement. A soft tone brought him around to face the screen of his terminal. A second later and the face of his Enterprise operative appeared.

“Prompt as ever,” Harris remarked with a friendly smile.

“Shitcan the small talk, Harris,” the old man replied. ”I don't have any time to waste. I have to get back to work in seven minutes or someone will come looking for me.”

Harris dropped his casual facade and obediently got down to business. “Give me a quick sit-rep.”

“Trip is in the Forge on the Kahs-Wahn survival test. Nordstrom reported this morning that three teams are in place pacing him as he goes through. Should be no problem. The boy isn't an idiot. He travels only by night, and paces himself. Goes to ground early and doesn't leave his hole until well after sunset. Conserves his water. Even found an unmarked seep on his own. He should make it on time.”

“What about those electromagnetic traps in there?” Harris wanted to know.

“The sandfires don't come this time of year.”

“Not those,” Harris snapped impatiently, “The other ones. Those areas that you can't go into wearing metal.”

“Oh, those. Our boys are carrying carbon-silicate blades and hydrocarbon polymer projectile throwers, with darts that carry Le-Matya venom.”

“Good enough,” Harris nodded. “Go on.”

“Jon is down on the surface yapping with Trask. All they are going to accomplish is draining some Andorian ale, since T'Pol isn't going to do squat until Trip gets back and they know it. Without T'Pol, the Vulcans are stone cold.

“Rinaldo reports heavy subspace traffic between the Andorian embassy and their home world. Mainly scheming about using this tech swap to drive a wedge between Earth and Vulcan. Juarez reports Soval is trying to set up a three way with Trask and Kilruym. Sounds like he wants to spike some guns.”

Harris scowled. “That's the last thing we need,” he muttered. “Soval is the only Vulcan the Andorians might listen to.”

“You want him out of the way?”

“Unfortunately that's not an option, although it would make life so much simpler for all of us,” Harris pronounced regretfully. “Did you get an update on this crap with V'Rald?”

“T'Pau is setting some kind of trap for the bastard. That is the most devious young broad I have ever run into. She's got a mind like a sack full of night crawlers. Give her a hundred years and she will be a holy terror. I wouldn't worry about V'Rald. His nuts are in a vice, whether he knows it or not.”

“Good,” Harris said. “Colonel, we—“

“Shut up.”

Harris paused in mid word. “Sorry. I wasn't trying to needle you. Old habits die hard." He pronounced the name with some emphasis, “Ezekiel. We need a way to neutralize Soval without getting terminal. Look around and see what you can come up with on that end. I will try to find something that will drag his ass back here and distract him. One way or the other, we can't let the Vulcans knock us out of this. Did you see the last reports from the Tellarite frontier?”

“Yeah.” There was a silent pause. ”Not looking too promising.”

“No,” Harris rubbed his tired eyes. “It's not. We are trying to steer the Klingons and the Romulans toward each other, but we don't have much to work with. And the Vulcans are worse than useless for this kind of thing. The Tellarites are giving us a little to work with, but not much. We are going to need the best ships and guns we can get, as quick as we can get them.”

 

&

Trip caught a blissful five hours of cool comfortable sleep, curled up like a puppy on the soft dirt next to his drip. When he woke up his canteen was running over and sitting in a puddle of clear water, half submerged in the blanket lined basin he had scooped. Trip sighed happily in the pre-dawn dimness, screwed on the cap and triumphantly lifted out his 4 liter canteen by its shoulder straps. Then he bent over and started drinking like a fish.

Before the day was half over, Trip had valid cause to be glad he had gotten those five hours of sleep. Every mobile creature in the forge apparently smelled the water and decided to come investigate. Dorloths came calling, literally by the score. Trip killed spider scorpions until the stench made him nauseous. He finally decided to stop for fear that the that the next wave would be able to climb the pile of dead ones and surmount his barricade.

K'Bets came sniffing, in brief and timid scuttles. Trip just didn't have the heart to nail them. He never did manage to finish off the other half of their cousin, flinging the stringy handful of green meat through the cave mouth, well off into the distance.

The Corla, pack hunting scavenger lizards the size of Porthos, came hissing up to the entrance with their tongues flickering. A shout sent them packing though. Trip didn't mind most of the vertebrate visitors.

The bugs were a different matter. The Dorloths he could keep out. The Tregth he couldn't. Tiny little beige fliers that served the same function for Vulcan plants that bees and wasps served on Earth. Naturally, they came looking for water. Trip didn't begrudge them the water. But unlike Terran flower pollinators, the Tregth were omnivorous. They would take either nectar or blood, whichever was available. That was where Trip drew the line.

The battle was short but furious. Trip finally withdrew to the far end of the passage and sat down in disgruntlement while the Tregth helped themselves to his pool. Eventually they left and, to his astonishment, stayed gone. Apparently one drink was enough to satisfy them.

Between negotiating water rights with the natives, Trip concentrated on absorbing as much fluid as his tissues could hold. He dutifully added the salt and mineral tablets to his canteen as T'Pol instructed. He also munched a couple of tablets by themselves. They tasted surprisingly good. Finally sunset came and it was time to leave. Trip surprised himself by feeling a twinge of regret at leaving this little fortress. The last thing he did before leaving was to scratch his name and the date on the rock wall beside the drip. Just in case he didn't make it back, at least someone would know that he had found it first.

With his belly full of water, Trip decided to spend the first part of the night at a brisk walk. Even in the cold Vulcan night it didn't take long for thirst to return, but he stubbornly paced himself. He had to be no more than ten kilometers, maximum, from the first checkpoint. Even over rugged terrain he could do ten kilometers at a brisk walk in one night, surely.

As soon as Tucker passed out of sight, two figures emerged from cover and came together. They spoke quietly for a few seconds, then one of them stepped into the small cave. A light flicked on briefly, then off again. The figure emerged and rejoined the first figure. The two of them set off along Trip's trail. Neither of them glanced up toward the hill on their right flank.

The prone figure lowered his binoculars thoughtfully. He picked up a long, oddly shaped object and began moving in a direction parallel to, but offset from, the trail left by the two that were following Tucker. As he passed a narrow gap he raised his arm and lowered it, twice.

As the night wore on Trip started to get tense. “Did I screw up the directions?” he wondered. “How could I have possibly screwed up the directions? They were designed to be so simple a child could follow them.” He went over them again. Straight north until you reach the chert formation with the carving of a lirpa. Check. Did that. Veer northwest until you see the hilltop that resembles a crouching Sehlat. Check. Follow the ravine just west of the hill until you reach plain, then follow the cliffs eastward to the first check point. Well, here he was at the cliffs. So where was the checkpoint?

It was almost dawn and he had not made it to ground yet. Fear was starting to build. “Shit. I'm thinking like a vampire or something,” Trip groused to himself. But he continued to make frequent glances at the glowing eastern horizon as he jogged along the base of the cliff. So where was it? Could he have overshot the thing?

Something moving caught the early morning light and Trip almost collapsed in relief. A blood green banner hung out from the side of the cliff wall, marking the site of the first checkpoint less than 200 meters ahead of him. Relief made him stagger. Trip stopped to breathe a minute and take a sip of water. Then he straightened his shoulders and cleared his throat. He began strolling toward the checkpoint as if he were coming back home after a pleasant afternoon picnic.

Two Vulcan priests were attending the spring. They were alone, no doubt the youngsters had already come and gone. The rules of the Kahs-Wahn forbade speaking, but nothing was specified about generic noise. Trip glanced at the two males, one ancient and the other middle aged, smiled and started cheerfully whistling “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”. Eyebrows levitated as he strutted over to the covered artesian well.

Trip sat down with a satisfied sigh and raised his canteen. He ostentatiously lifted his canteen and spent an unnecessary number of swigs emptying the container. Then he set the canteen under the spigot and refilled it while the Vulcans watched in surprised respect.

Trip stood up, walked over to the bin containing the marker disks, and withdrew the medallion that would prove he had completed the first of the seven stages of his ordeal. Then he turned toward the cliff and located a nice deep ledge. Crawling under it, he stretched out and dropped into exhausted sleep in seconds.


Comments:

justTrip'n
Wow. Vivid, funny, imaginative, different . . . and some great lines. FIVE STARS!

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