Author's Note: Trip barely appeared in this episode, so I gave him something else to worry about than a sentient species that might be going extinct. As always, thank you very much, reviewers!
Trip stared out at the perfectly lovely Minshara-class planet that hung outside the mess hall window, resigned to the likelihood that he would never land on it. Not this time around.
It wasn’t as if the people who had gone were coming back all that cheerful. People were dying in the millions down there. But he was sure the captain and Phlox would find a way to help.
Trip had just finished a post-mortem of his own, on that valve that had blown up in Alex’s face. It had failed way before it should have, and as best he could determine this was due to a flaw in the manufacture of the pressurized valve seal – the same seal used in hundreds of other valves all over the ship, in the various conduits that kept gases and liquids flowing to the places they were needed and away from the places where they were not needed.
Trip’s staff could fabricate a new shuttle pod, if they needed to, and even create their own versions of all but the most sophisticated engine parts, but Enterprise was not set up to manufacture something as basic as valve seals. They simply kept enough in stores to use as needed.
He was downing the last dregs of his coffee and wondering how best to explain to the captain that he was going to have to pull apart vast stretches of the ship’s plumbing just to check for failing valve seals that he wasn’t sure he could replace with anything better when he noticed T’Pol come in.
She went quickly to grab a beverage, avoiding all eye contact, her back rigid and unwelcoming. For a supposedly unemotional Vulcan, she had a real gift for body language.
He walked over anyway. After all, this was work. “T’Pol, how strong are you with materials science?”
She stared at him for a moment. “Why do you ask?” She sat down with her tea, so he sat with her, though he didn’t intend to stay.
“I’ve got a supply of valve seals I’m not sure I trust. The ones we have in our stores look fine, but I had one from a similar lot blow yesterday way before it should have – I expected to get at least another four years out of it.”
“Was it being used within specified design parameters?”
Trip grimaced. Did she think he was an idiot? Probably better not to answer that. “Yes, of course.”
“What is it made out of?”
“Supposedly, a very high-performance silicone. The design specs called for it to be embedded with predispersed, polymer-bound aramid short fibers.”
“But you believe it is not?”
He shrugged. “It could be embedded with predispersed, polymer-bound puppy dog tails for all I know... my scanner’s just not that sophisticated. Something’s gone wrong. I’m hoping your department has the equipment and the expertise to take a closer look.” He scowled. “This is the absolute last thing I ever expected to have to worry about, but if these things start blowing out all over the ship…”
“Have you notified Starfleet of the problem?”
“Yes, but until I have some specifics for them it’s only a heads up. Besides, Starfleet isn’t going to be much help to us with valve seals way out here.”
“Take your samples to the chem lab. Ensign Rao can investigate more closely. I will confirm his findings.”
“Thank you,” Trip said. “I appreciate it.” He caught the unmistakable aroma of her mint tea and smiled. “So have you tried any chocolate yet?”
“No, and I don’t plan to.”
“Why not? You liked the pecan pie.”
“Doctor Phlox just repaired a cavity in my teeth. Tooth decay is extremely rare on Vulcan.”
"You got a cavity? You know, I eat plenty of sweets, but I’ve never had a cavity. Don’t you brush your teeth?”
There she went with the body language again. She could be quite expressive, really. He grinned. “I’m sure Vulcans floss religiously.”
Her mouth thinned. “Have you notified the captain of the valve seal issue?”
“I haven’t seen him yet.”
“He is back on the planet this morning.”
“How’s that going?”
“We are still waiting to see if the doctor can come up with a cure. Apparently it is proving quite challenging.”
“Huh. I’m surprised he had time to fit in a dental exam.”
“That surprised me also. But I believe he wished to ask me for some advice about a personal matter.”
Trip raised his eyebrows. “And were you able to help him?”
“Perhaps.” She stared appraisingly at him. “Do you know of any successful long-term romantic relationships between Humans and other species?”
He stared at her. Why the hell was she asking him that? Did Vulcans even have romantic relationships? “Can’t say that I do. Why do you ask?”
“I told the doctor that I believe curiosity might cause Humans to seek out such connections, but they would most likely lack the emotional maturity such relationships would inevitably require. Humans are not particularly known for the longevity of relationships even among their own kind.”
“Wait a minute. Are you telling me Phlox asked you for relationship advice?”
That earned him a truly deadly look by T’Pol standards. Trip grinned. He hadn’t gotten a rise like that out of her in weeks. “You know, my parents have been happily married for over forty years. They raised four kids together. That seems pretty emotionally mature to me. Maybe you’re underestimating us.”
“Perhaps I am. However, I seem to recall that when I sought advice about my marriage, you referred to three ‘busted’ relationships. I recall also hearing recently that you wished to say goodbye to a ‘Natalie from Pensacola’.”
How the hell had she heard that? Gossip sure traveled on this ship. “Look. Humans don’t get betrothed by our parents when we’re children. We have to get to know each other better, see if we’re compatible. Sometimes, we realize that we aren’t … or, that it’s just not going to work out, for some other reason. Natalie didn’t feel like waiting around for years while I’m off exploring the galaxy. I can’t blame her for that.” He shrugged. “I kind of had the feeling she wasn’t the one, anyway.”
“It’s just an expression. The one you’re going to marry. The one you’ll spend the rest of your life with. My dad told me when you meet that person, you’ll just know. I’m not sure I really believe that, though.” Trip had been dead wrong before, that was for sure, and he’d sworn he’d never that fall hard and fast again. And he couldn’t believe he was sitting here talking about relationships with a Vulcan … and for what, now, the second time? He stood up. “I think I’d better go pull some more of those valve seals before things start blowing up around here.” He nodded politely. “Subcommander.”
He walked out, uncomfortably certain that she was watching him leave the room. In any other woman, he might take that as a mark of possible sexual interest and feel just a little gratified. He might even walk down the hall and realize he was swaggering just a little. But in T’Pol … well, in T’Pol it probably meant he was just interesting the way a new alien life form was – or an old alien life form, but one she didn’t find completely predictable.
Yeah, that was undoubtedly it. He had a warp drive and a bunch of unpredictable valve seals to worry about, while T’Pol no doubt felt she had to keep a careful eye on her unpredictable Human crewmates.
It couldn’t be anything but that.
Next installment: Sleeping Dogs.
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