By the time he and T'Pol were done modifying the sensors and Reed had successfully locked onto a Suliban plasma trail, Trip was starving. "I'm going to grab something to eat, if that's all right with you," he told T'Pol.
He supposed this meant he was accepting her command authority, which he still wasn't sure was the right the thing to do. On the other hand, she'd surprised him by listening to his argument, so there wasn't really that much point to getting all pissy about it. Jon could set her straight when he was back on his feet.
Assuming Jon didn't agree with her.
Jon wouldn't agree with her, would he?
T'Pol surprised him once again by saying, "I will join you. Mr. Reed, you have the Bridge."
Reed gave her a tight, reluctant nod and shot a vaguely reproachful look at Trip. Trip scowled. No doubt the Brit thought he was letting T'Pol roll right over him, but then Reed didn't have to worry about their entire mission being squashed out of existence by tight-assed Vulcans just looking for any excuse. Thank God she hadn't actually needed to issue many orders. The entire bridge crew looked doubtful and confused and kept turning to him for confirmation, which he gave with tiny nods.
MEMO TO: Capt Archer, FR: Cmdr Tucker RE: Chain of Command. Please establish one. Thanks.
In the lift, Trip stood uncomfortably and shifted his weight from foot to foot, conscious of silence, conscious that at this point the shower he'd had that morning was very old news. He was no doubt reeking in Vulcan terms, if not human, too. Good thing she was trained to tolerate unpleasant situations - like decon, which she'd handled like a trooper. Meanwhile, he was maddeningly unable to stop remembering that he'd seen and even touched this particular Vulcan when she was half-naked, or that she was incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous.
Was that why he just couldn't summon the nerve to tell her where she could put her superior Vulcan rank?
"The crew appears uncertain of my authority," T'Pol said, as the lift doors opened.
He was a little surprised that she 1) could see that, and 2) was willing to address it. "Well of course they are," he said. "They don't know you and they don't know what the hell you're doing taking command."
"What if we come under attack? Will they follow my orders?"
"I suppose that depends on whether your orders are reasonable."
"That is clearly an unacceptable situation."
"Then turn command over to me. I'm the officer they expect to be giving the orders."
She stopped in front of the mess hall doors and gave him a hard stare. "That would also be unacceptable. You are inexperienced and impulsive."
Trip smiled tightly. He walked into the deserted mess and opened the cabinets, scanning for something to tide him over. "I'm not as impulsive as you may believe. For example, I haven't had you thrown in the brig yet, although the thought has certainly occurred to me."
"You have no authority to throw me in the brig."
"You don't think so? Shall we test that?" Was that a ham and cheese? Perfect. He grabbed the plate and headed to the drinks dispenser. "Milk," he said.
She selected a salad plate and followed him, frowning. "That would hardly improve the situation."
"I agree, which is why I haven't done it. Guess we'll just have to do our best to work together until Captain Archer is back on duty."
"It is unfortunate that the captain did not detail a clear chain of command before our expedition."
Trip just smiled and took a seat. She sat down across from him, and they ate in silence for awhile.
Damn, she really was beautiful. She even looked good chewing lettuce.
She stopped chewing and gave him an odd look, almost as if she knew what he was thinking. He fumbled for something, anything, to say. "So, you Vulcans don't get involved when you see someone abusing someone else, huh?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"On Rigel. You said not to interfere." Yes, arguing was definitely safer than ogling. Plus, it was still bugging him. Those feminine yelps hadn't been expressions of joy, not in any universe that made sense to him.
"We were there to find Klang, not to protect the local prostitutes."
"What if she'd really started screaming bloody murder? Would you have been willing to do something then?"
"Women in that trade generally have their own protection in some form or another," T'Pol said. "Even if she didn't, as I said, we were there to find Klang. The situation was already dangerous enough without involving ourselves in issues that didn't directly concern us."
"Theoretically, then. You're in an alien space station and you come upon a man who's, say, raping a little girl while she screams and cries. You'd just walk on by?"
"That is a highly unlikely situation. But there are species known to tolerate rape. Unpleasant as we may find the practice, there are also species that marry off prepubescent girls to much older men, or sell them into the sex trade - in fact, I believe this tradition still existed only a century ago in some cultures on Earth. Do you believe you should reform the sexual mores of every new species you meet?"
"I'd sure as hell try to stop the guy from raping the little girl."
She frowned at him. "This is exactly why the Vulcan High Council fears your species is not ready for interstellar exploration."
Trip couldn't believe his ears. "And this is why a lot of humans think Vulcans are coldhearted bastards who would as soon step over your dead body as look at you!"
She blinked. "On Vulcan or even on Earth, I would not hesitate to interfere in the situation you described," she said, carefully enunciating every syllable as if she hoped to make herself more intelligible to the slow-witted human. "But on an alien world where I am unfamiliar with the laws or customs in such matters, I would leave it to the local authorities. You would be well-advised to do the same."
He scowled. "Like I said. You wouldn't even lift a finger to save a child."
"That is an oversimplification, but then I find humans are quite prone to that." She stood up. "If you will excuse me," she said coldly, and left.
Great. Now he'd really pissed her off.
Wait a minute. He stuck his tongue in his cheek, thinking. He had pissed her off. He'd pissed off a Vulcan. The corner of his mouth twitched.
This could be fun...
Next installment: Fight or Flight.
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