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"Hess + Kov"
By Blackn’blue

Rating: G
Disclaimer: I don’t own Star Trek. I wrote this for fun. Anyone is free to download and/or redistribute this story as long as you keep it complete and intact, and as long as you don’t make any money from it.
Genre: Romance
Description: This is an afterthought to my series "The Road Once Traveled". In that series, I initiated a situation in which Trip volunteers to act as matchmaker between Anna Hess and Kov, the V'Tosh Katur aboard the Vahklas that he befriended in Season 1. This stand-alone short story is intended to tie up that loose end and show how things worked out.

Note: Vulcan terms used in this story were taken from the online Vulcan Language Dictionary, the Vulcan Language Institute, or I made them up myself.

Anna Hess came out of the shower in a robe, toweling off her hair. The message indicator on her terminal was flashing and she grinned. “Maybe, finally.” She hurried over to the seat and pulled up her inbox. “Yes!” He had finally answered. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment. Then she selected the message from Kov and sat back to hear his response to her letter.

The screen cleared to show the young Vulcan man's face. His expression seemed to Anna to be a combination of uncertainty, anticipation, and plain nervousness. The background behind him looked like the work area of an engine room. That's what the background noise sounded like too. “Maybe he couldn't get any privacy in his quarters?” she wondered. Kov licked his lips quickly and started talking in a stilted voice.

Miss Hess. It was agreeable... It was most agreeable to receive your letter. I have often thought of our conversations as well. I feel compelled to confess that I am surprised at your willingness to consider my father's offer however.

He paused for a moment. Then his expression changed quickly.

Please do not misunderstand me. I am gratified and pleased. I am merely surprised. According to my studies of Human custom, and during my time visiting with the crew of Enterprise, I gained the impression that arranged marriages were considered inappropriate among your people. I am grateful that Trip saw fit to suggest we might make an appropriate marriage. Perhaps you would be willing to explain the entire situation, including those aspects which are currently unclear to me? I have arranged to rendezvous with a Vulcan cruiser that is in-bound for the home world. My ETA on Vulcan is 13.11 days. I sincerely hope that we can meet to discuss this matter further. Until then, I invite you to continue corresponding with me as much as you desire. I...”

Kov paused and chewed his lip.

I find that I have nothing else substantive to say at this time. Perhaps something may occur to me later. Until then, or until I hear from you again, I wish you peace and long life.”

The screen went black. Anna started giggling and shook her head. The poor man was hopeless. But he really was a nice guy, or at least he seemed like one when the Vahklas was docked with them. Trip vouched for him, and his dad was a member of the High Council, which sure didn't hurt anything.

No harm in giving the guy a chance, is there?” she considered. “After all, it's not like hordes of suitors have been beating down my door. How long has it been since I had a real date anyway? Was it before the Xindi attack, or after we got back?”

She shook her head ruefully. Either way, it had been way too long. She reached for the controls and started composing her reply to Kov's message then stopped in horror. “My hair!”


Kov stopped at the entrance to Engineering and put his bag on the deck. Illogical though his father would no doubt pronounce it, he felt compelled to take one final look around before he left. Too large a portion of his life had been spent in that room for him to simply walk away as if it had been nothing.

The doors parted and Kov entered to find the entire engineering crew waiting for him. Evidently someone on the bridge had warned them of his departure. Tizok, Surpek, T'Hosh, Lenik, Pojik, Saldre. All of them were waiting in a line, and each was holding something. Kov froze and fought the hardest battle of his life to retain a facade of control. They had revived the ancient custom of leave-taking gifts. Despite his best effort, moisture started gathering at the corners of his eyes. He stepped forward resolutely, determined not to disgrace himself or his friends.

Tizok, his second, had crafted a finely wrought IDIC medallion for him. Painstakingly cut from platinum, with the central emblem of gold piercing a dilithium crystal. Surpek offered him the pair of crude calipers that the two of them had improvised together shortly after coming aboard the Vahklas. T'Hosh gave him something truly precious, a hand written copy of Falor's Journey, each character painstaking drawn in traditional calligraphy. Lenik offered three burnt out dilithium crystals, set together in a hull metal frame, to signify the three times that the drive had lost containment and nearly blown all of them up together. Pojik presented a hologram of the entire crew standing together, taken when they had stopped for their only shore leave on Risa. And Saldre, youngest of them all, gave him a lirpa and explained that it was an heirloom. Kov started to protest but, seeing the distress in the youngster's eyes, subsided and took the weapon with a bow.

“My companions,” Kov spoke with difficulty. “I would remain if circumstances allowed. Unfortunately, I no longer possess the luxury.” They smiled and either nodded or gestured. Everyone on the ship knew why he had to leave, but none of them would speak a word regarding it. Even the V'Tosh Katur did not discuss the Pon Farr outside of family. “I am certain that you skills and experience will permit the Vahklas to continue with minimal disruption of routine,” he added, more hopeful than certain.

Tizok stepped forward and told him, “You need spare no concern for us, t'hy'la-brother. Concentrate your attention and your energy on your own affairs. We will be well and safe. See that you remain the same.”

Kov nodded stiffly and raised his hand in the ta'al, which everyone returned. Then he spun around and marched out as quickly as possible before he broke down completely. Once in the passageway he snatched up his bag and almost ran to the airlock. Just before reaching the connecting passage he stopped and settled himself, dried his eyes, and forced his face into a mask. Then he strode around the corner and stepped through the portal into the D'Kyr that was currently docked with the Vahklas. One of the two guards on duty stepped forward and Kov presented his identification.

“Kov, son of Kuvak, of Clan Lorthinfrajankribervu'y't'werqan,” he stated authoritatively. “My father has arranged my transport back to Vulcan.”

The guard didn't twitch an eyebrow as he ran a tricorder over the ID, then scanned Kov. “Acknowledged. Proceed down the left corridor to the second intersection, turn left. Proceed to the turbolift and exit at deck 11. Proceed past four intersections, turn right, then left at the next intersection. The third door on the right is your assigned quarters, the lock is already set to your retinal scan. Set the access code as you wish. Meal times are 0400 – 0600 and 1600 – 1800, served in the refectories on decks 10, 12, and 14. If you require assistance, the quartermaster is located on deck 10. Proceed.”

Kov turned and walked away without another word or a backward glance. It was going to be a lonely trip. At least he had Anna's letters to study. Once more, Kov puzzled over the discrepancies between the information contained in the database, and the behavior he had observed among the Humans he had met. It almost seemed that the old High Command might have deliberately distorted some of the information in the database. But if so, the logic behind doing so eluded him.

Once settled in his quarters, Kov opened his portable unit and activated Anna's most recent correspondence, received only two days prior to the arrival of the D'Kyr. He watched her smiling face take form and felt the tingling begin. Deep down, a sense of disquiet started taking hold. If things had progressed to the point that merely looking at an attractive woman could induce such a response, it was not impossible that he had delayed his return longer than was wise.

Hi Kov. Nice of you to answer my letter so quickly. I didn't mean to confuse you. Let me explain how it is on this end, ok? I think I understand how things are done on Vulcan. At least, Trip tried to explain it to me. You know that he and T'Pol are married now, don't you? They have two kids. Or rather, they have a little girl and T'Pol is pregnant with a boy now. Trip is walking on air. Urm... that means he's very happy. Anyway, Trip was talking to your dad about being worried because you weren't married yet. Uh... I... uh... I guess there probably isn't any tactful way to mention this, so I won't try. Please don't be offended? Trip told me about the Pon Farr. I'm sorry if he shouldn't have, or if I wasn't supposed to mention it. Please forgive me if I did something wrong. I didn't mean to. But anyway, your dad told Trip that he wanted to find you a wife, and Trip is a born busybody. Um. Busybody means someone who is always tinkering with other people's business.

Anyway, Trip suggested that I might be interested because we seemed to get along pretty good when your ship docked with us a while back. I thought about it and decided that we could at least check each other out, if you are interested. I mean, why not? We are both engineers, so we have something to talk about. And I don't know about you, but my chances for meeting people are a little bit slim while I am flat on my back underneath the reactor trying to adjust the coolant flow.

So, um, I guess what I am trying to say is let's get together when you get here and talk. If you want to that is. I really hope that I didn't offend you with what I said earlier. I apologize again if I did. And by the way, arranged marriages still happen some places on Earth. Not where I come from, but some places. Anyway, I hope to hear from you soon. Please let me know if I screwed things up. I am starting to get worried now. Maybe I shouldn't even send this...”

The screen went dark and Kov sighed. He wondered whether his father's position might permit him the privilege of access to the ship's subspace communication array?


Anna straightened up from her desk and rubbed her lower back with a moan. “Oh c'mon, Anna, it can't be that bad,” a jocular voice behind her insisted. “Nothing is on fire, nobody is shooting at you, and you don't have the cap'n screaming at you that it needed to be done last night.”

She grinned and spun around in her chair. “Trip!” She lunged and caught him in a delighted bear hug. “Or I should say, Captain Tucker. You conniving social climber.” They both chuckled. “When did you get back? I thought you were at Utopia Planetia, trying to get everything set up for the new warp 7 project.”

“They're changing plans, Anna,” he told her with a broad grin. “Finally got some sense talked into their stone heads. I don't know which ones were harder, the Starfleet brass or the Vulcan High Council. But we got it through to them that if they want to cooperate on building ships, it made more sense to use the shipyards that are already producing warp seven engines. So in return for a peek at that Andorian engine design, the Vulcans are offering to construct additions to their shipyards. We will build the engines here, transport them to Sol system using cargo tugs, and install them in the Tellarite hulls at Utopia Planetia. Sounds like an awkward approach, but it will actually save us a hell of a lot of time and work.”

“What do the Andorians think about this?” Anna asked doubtfully. “I have suspicions that they won't be enthusiastic about us giving the Vulcans their engine designs.”

Trip waved it away. “They know we have been allies with Vulcan for a hundred years. No way they would trade us an engine design that they wanted to keep secret. I guarantee that there is nothing in what they swapped us that the Vulcans don't already have, and probably have an improved version of.”

“So the negotiations are done?” Anna bit her lip. “That means we will be shipping out pretty soon. We have been sitting here in orbit around Vulcan for all these weeks because they wanted the captain involved in the negotiations. But now...”

“You want a job?” Trip broke in bluntly.

“What?” Anna blinked.

“I need a second, real bad,” Trip told her. “You would not believe the quality of what they have been sending me from Earth, Anna. Please help me. I'm begging here. I got Gardner to ok my request to cherry pick my staff for this project. He really, really, really, wants the warp seven engine in production within a year. There's no way I can do it with that pack of illiterate robots that Starfleet sent me. Help me, Anna. I'm desperate.”

“Trip,” she sighed and shook her head. “I can't just abandon Enterprise. Who would take over? Somebody has to keep this bucket of bolts flying. After all the improvising and cross-connecting you did, a newbie would electrocute themselves in five minutes if they came in here and you know it.”

“I documented every change,” Trip sounded offended. “It's all in the as-built drawings and the revised manuals.”

Anna laughed. “Right. Sure. If someone could read your handwriting.”

“Anyway, you won't be leaving until after the farewell ceremonies are done,” Trip told her. “That will take at least another two weeks according to T'Pol. Maybe I can talk you into it by then.”

“Not likely,” she retorted. “But you are welcome to try. The puppy eyes are so cute.” Anna grinned and slapped his shoulder. “For now, I am heading for a hot shower and some chow, then a long five hours in the sack.”

“Oh, really,” Trip looked surprised. “Aren't you going to meet Kov?”

“Kov?” Anna stopped in her tracks. “What about Kov?”

“Didn't I mention?” Trip flashed an evil smile. “He's waiting out in the corridor.”

“Damn you Trip Tucker!” Anna yelled. She frantically dug out a brush from the drawer of her desk and raked it through her hair, pinning it back with a pair of barettes. A compact and some lipstick made her as presentable as she was going to get, under the circumstances. She looked down at her filthy uniform in exasperation. There was no way out of it, he was going to see her at her absolute worst, and it was all Trip's fault. “I am going to hunt you down and kill you, Tucker,” she hissed as they walked over the main entrance of Engineering. “Slowly.” He laughed at her and keyed the door open.

Kov was immaculate, standing stiffly formal and elegantly clad in what looked like some kind of Vulcan ceremonial garment. Anna wanted to sink to the floor and crawl off somewhere. Instead she smiled and offered the ta'al. “Peace and long life, Kov. It is good to see you again in person.”

Kov smiled faintly but un-self-consciously, returning her ta'al and telling her, “Live long and prosper, Miss Hess. It is agreeable to see you as well.”

“The name is Anna, Kov. Miss Hess makes me sound like some old maiden aunt,” she instructed him with a smile. He flinched.

“I am deeply sorry,” he hurriedly apologized. “I meant no offense, truly. Please excuse me if-”

“Kov!” Anna stopped his torrent of apology, while making time to shoot a glare at Trip, who stood nearby soaking up the show with glee. “It's ok. I'm not offended. I just wanted to let you know that there's no need to be formal. Please use my first name, Anna. After all, I use your first name. Don't I?”

Kov took a deep breath and nodded. “Anna. Yes. Certainly.” She felt an odd shiver at the sound of her name when he said it. Not an unpleasant sensation at all. “May I enter?”

“How about I come out instead?” she suggested. “My shift is over, and I was about to go get some food. Would you care to join me? Or maybe,” she realized, “you might prefer to wait until I get the chance to clean up first.” She glared daggers at Trip again, who cultivated a studiously innocent expression.

“Your current appearance in quite agreeable to me,” Kov told her emphatically. Anna caught him checking her out and blushed.

“All right,” she said, starting to feel a bit warm. “Let's head for the mess hall. And we can stop on the way, kill Trip, and then dump his body in the recycler.”


Kov stood anxiously beside his father in the main ballroom of the Terran Embassy. Both men were wearing elaborate formal attire as befit a member of the Vulcan High Council and his only son. Minister Kuvak greeted associates and sycophants alike with gracious dignity, while his son stood beside him trying not to look blatantly inept.

This is not my place, Father. Why must I endure this?” But of course, no trace of his thoughts could be allowed to show on his face.

He wondered miserably how much longer the reception would last. The four way technology exchange had been dragging on for an unexpectedly long time. Originally intended as a straightforward trade between the Andorians and the Humans - Andorian warp upgrades for Human transporter upgrades – it had been expanded to include an exchange of Human photonic torpedoes for Tellarite ship hulls. At which point the Vulcan had decided to step in, rather than end up facing trading competition from Human ships equipped with oversized Andorian engines mounted inside the strongest hulls in known space. The Vulcans had offered advanced computer technology in return for their own share of Tellarite hulls, and the dickering had begun in earnest.

It had taken an inordinately long time to reach a settlement that was less than satisfactory to all concerned, but finally the contracts had been sealed and the serious business of celebrating had begun. As Kuvak had explained to his son, for the less emotionally controlled races the tradition of celebrating an agreement carried great significance and it would be illogical to provoke them by refusing to take part. And thus Kov was forced to stand in the midst of this alien crowd and offer a pretense of satisfaction.

The originally anticipated fifteen days of celebration had stretched onward to twenty, then to twenty-five days. Kuvak, as a member of the High Council and a personal friend of one of the primary Human negotiators, had been invited to every single celebration. Naturally, his son was also included. It would have been unthinkable not to include him. Every celebration. Every. Single. Celebration.

In many ways, his Kahs Wahn had been less trying.

“Peace and long life, Minister. Kov.” The pleasant voice cut through the background noise and brought new life to Kov's dreary existence. He looked down and saw Anna standing in front of them, wearing her typical Starfleet formal uniform adorned with a plethora of decorations, none of which he was capable of identifying. Someday he positively must ask her about them.

Only Anna's presence at these gatherings had made them endurable for Kov. But the dreadful truth was that, as a relatively low ranking officer, she was only present at the Human hosted events. During the celebratory gatherings at the Andorian and Tellarite compounds, Kov was forced to carry on alone.

He was finding it increasingly difficult to do that. During the days since his arrival back home, Kov and Anna had managed to arrange frequent meetings. Kuvak had not hesitated to use his political influence to twist Starfleet's arm into assigning Anna temporary duty as Trip's assistant during Enterprise's time in orbit. Trip, for his part, had not hesitated to find a plethora of excuses for inviting Kov to visit the new facility. Invariably, on every visit he would find Anna assigned to be his guide and associate.

“Live long and prosper, Anna Hess,” Kuvak answered her gravely. “It is agreeable that you were able to attend.” Anna's lips twitched.

“Honesty compels me to disagree with you, Minister,” she admitted. “It is not that agreeable to me. I am here because my duty requires it, not by choice. I came over to plead with Kov to rescue me.”

He stiffened. “Rescue? Of course, Anna. What is wrong?” Kov looked all around, seeking any possible source of danger.

“Nothing too serious,” she assured him. “Just unpleasant. There's a half drunk Andorian that's been chasing me all over the ballroom, trying to get me to dance with him. Protocol requires me to mingle with the non-Terran representatives, trying to promote inter-species harmony you understand.” Both men nodded. “I figured if I am already hanging onto Kov, I can't reasonably be expected to promote inter-species harmony with Andoria too.”

“Your logic is flawless, Anna,” Kov told her happily. “I will be pleased to act as your escort.” He turned to Kuvak, “If you will excuse us, Father?”

“Of course, my son.” Kuvak watched them walk away with a definite twinkle in his eye.

Anna looked up at Kov and smiled as they walked together. Her arm brushed against his occasionally. He found the intermittent contact intensely stimulating. Kov frantically tried to think of a conversational subject that might interest her, but Anna saved him the trouble.

“Are you as bored as I am?” she whispered in a conspiratorial tone.

“I must admit that the level of intellectual stimulation at this gathering has been somewhat uninspiring,” Kov admitted. Anna giggled.

“Why do you have to use ten huge words when three small words will do?” she teased him. “Why not just say, 'I am bored', and be done with it?” Her fingers quickly reached up to stroke his sleeve, then dropped back to her side. She continued in a softer voice, “You don't need to impress me, Kov. You already have, in ways that don't require fancy speech. And I certainly know how smart you are.” Her eyes held his undivided attention. So fixated was he in fact, that neither of them noticed the inebriated young Andorian who walked into Kov until the impact had already occurred.

“Clumsy Vulcan! Watch where you are going!” The low ranking officer, slim almost as all Andorians were, blustered and shoved his chest up against Kov. His breath reeked of ethanol and various alien foods, some of which, unless Kov was badly mistaken, had recently been regurgitated.

“I apologize for my clumsiness,” Kov said instantly. “I was insufficiently alert. I trust that no harm has been done.” Anna, standing behind the noisy youth, was grimacing in an odd manner and gesturing for some reason.

“No harm?” The Andorian's voice seethed with outrage. “NO HARM. You spilled my drink! And whats more, you were touching my woman!”

Suddenly everything in the room froze for Kov. The background sound of the crowd faded into irrelevancy. The formerly cool air in the ballroom suddenly seemed warmer. Very much warmer. Kov's hands folded themselves into fists involuntarily. He took one step toward the youth and reached for his throat. Suddenly the Andorian buckled and hit the floor, moaning and holding one leg. Kov blinked and readjusted his stance, only to find that Anna had seized his hand and interlaced her fingers with his in the Human custom.

Kov suddenly realized what had just happened and froze in horror. He, the only son of a High Council member, had attempted to murder an Andorian officer. If Anna had not moved swiftly and decisively... Kov stood paralyzed by panic, unable to speak or think.

“What's happening here?” An older Andorian officer, a woman pushed through the crowd and sized up the situation with a single sweeping glance. She locked eyes with Anna for a moment, then glanced at Kov, then down at the floor where her comrade was still holding his knee and moaning in drunken pain.

“”I'm terribly afraid,” Anna told her in a small voice, totally unlike her usual confident self, “that this young man may have had just a tiny bit too much to drink. I think he tripped and fell.” Anna squeezed Kov's fingers tightly enough to cut off circulation and shot him a significant glance, which he interpreted to mean that he should go along with her deception. Her glance was unnecessary, since he was still incapable of speech.

“So it would seem,” the older Andorian said dryly. She turned her head and snapped a quick phrase in her language. Two more Andorian men came up and gathered the fallen one in an efficient carrying position. They turned to convey him out of the ballroom without a word, followed by the senior officer. The older woman paused to give Anna one final look and a faint smile before leaving.

“It would perhaps be more appropriate,” a voice noted flatly, “if you released the Minister's son.” Kov turned in dull anguish to see T'Pau herself watching with stern disapproval. “Such physical contact, particularly in public, is not appropriate. It reflects badly on Minister Kuvak, as well as his son.” And just when Kov thought the situation could not possibly get any worse, his father's face appeared over T'Pau's shoulder.

Anna tilted her head. “Really. I must have been misinformed.” She retained her grasp on Kov's hand, but turned to address Kuvak. “Minister Kuvak, was I misinformed? I had been told that it was acceptable for a betrothed woman to touch her fiancee's hand in public. If I have mistakenly violated custom, I ask pardon.”

Kov's eyes blurred and his ears roared. Dimly he saw his father incline his head and reply, with perfect equanimity, “You are correct, Anna. Generally such contact is limited to a brief touch. But there is no strict requirement to such effect. Certainly the Human custom of hand holding will cause no serious violation in custom between a betrothed pair.”

“Good.” Anna smiled up at Kov, who very nearly imitated the Andorian when he felt his knees start to buckle. “I'm going to try to the limits of my ability to adapt to whatever Kov needs me to be. But I am never going to be Vulcan. Kov understands that. I hope that everyone else will be willing to understand it too.”

“I will always accept you as you are, Anna,” Kov finally found his voice. “If you can accept me as I am, then no one else matters.” He lifted their joined hands, and then raised his other hand to press hers between them.



Trip slumped. “Jon. I know it's a lot to ask. But-”

“No.” Captain Archer's image on the viewscreen looked determined. His jaw was set and his eyes glittered. Anna flinched from guilt when he looked her way.

Trip heaved a deep sigh. “They're getting' married, Jon. Anna and Kov. It's a done deal, already been announced. And she can't leave anytime soon, he... uh... you know. He needs her nearby for a while.”

Archer shoved his chair back and stood up. On the screen, Anna and Trip could see him pacing back and forth in his office. “These damn Vulcans are taking every senior officer I have,” he grumbled.

“Now come on, Jon” Trip reproached him.

“Don't 'come on, Jon' at me, Trip,” Archer growled. “I understood why you and T'Pol had to leave. You can't raise a kid on a starship. That's just common sense. I understand that. But my new First Officer is talking about transferring to headquarters when this tour is up. And now you want to steal my Chief Engineer.” Archer sat back down looking depressed.

“Malcolm is transferring?” Trip sounded surprised. “When did this happen?”

“About a month ago,” Archer said glumly. “They plan to get married as soon as his tour of duty is up. Malcolm wants a transfer to San Francisco. T'Jala plans to open a restaurant near the alien embassies featuring non-Human cuisine.”

“Probably work out pretty well,” Trip considered. “There aren't that many places around that offer non-Terran food. I bet she makes a bundle.”

“Quit changing the subject,” Archer ordered. “What am I supposed to do without a Chief Engineer? How am I supposed to function? How is this ship supposed to function. Anna? Who on this ship is qualified to take your place? Answer me that.”

Anna writhed. “I... Captain, I...”

“Just what I thought,” Archer told them with dark satisfaction. “The next time we are a hundred and fifty light years from home, and the warp core goes critical, and nobody aboard has a clue about what to do, we will think about you two sitting safe and sound back here.”

“Now that's out of line!” Trip raised his voice. “That was a filthy shot, Jon, and you know it.”

Archer stopped pacing and stood with his eyes closed for a moment. “You are correct Captain Tucker. Commander Hess, please accept my apology. I am tired and aggravated, and I spoke without thinking.”

“That's all right, sir,” Anna told him in a small voice. She really wanted to crawl under Trip's desk and hide. Or better yet, run out of there and go find Kov so he could hug her and remind her of why she was doing this. It had been less than a month after all since Kov came back, and here she was uprooting her whole life. What was she thinking?

She wasn't thinking. She tried to convince herself that she was making reasonable judgments. But the truth was, the more she was around Kov the less clear her thinking became. What really started to worry her was that she didn't care.

She came back to the real world and realized that Trip had continued. “... and you know that all Kuvak has to do is make a request-”

“I know. I know.” Archer sighed. “Kuvak politely asks T'Pau. T'Pau politely asks the President. The President politely asks Admiral Gardner. The political food chain is pretty clear cut at this level. I know I can't do anything about it, but I don't have to like it. And I still don't have a Chief Engineer. I left Spacedock with the best engineer in the fleet, and now I don't have anyone.”

“We will try to find someone for you, Captain,” Anna told him impulsively. Archer looked up quickly. The faint glimmer of hope in his eyes made her feel even worse than before.

Evidently Trip felt it too. “Sure thing, Jon. We will put out the word among all the top notch engineers we both know. You gotta know that the best of the best are gonna be jumping at the chance to be Chief Engineer on the flagship.”

“Um-hm,” Archer looked at them. “How good are the best of the best, compared to you two?”

Trip and Anna looked at each other. “See, that's my problem, Trip. You personally wrote, or re-wrote the book on Human warp drives. Anna was standing right at your elbow when you did it. Nobody in Starfleet knows anywhere close to as much about them as either one of you. The next most qualified is Rostov, and he isn't ready to take over yet. If he had another six months of intensive training, maybe. But right now, no.”

Anna suddenly grabbed a straw. “Captain, would you be willing to consider a Vulcan?”

“Right now,” he told her, “I would be willing to consider an Orion.”

“I'll ask Kov,” she said positively. “I am sure he must know someone. If he doesn't, his Dad can put out the word. As big as his clan is, surely somebody would be interested. They may not know much about Human technology, but they would already be trained in warp theory.”

“Perfect,” Trip said happily. “You might luck into an engineer that has more experience than me and Anna put together. How'd that suit ya?”

Archer looked glumly at them. “I would rather have both of you back than every engineer in the Vulcan fleet,” he said. “But I'll take what I can get.” He looked at Anna. “Remember to be back here by 0830. Hoshi has that bridal shower all set up in the Mess Hall. I have no idea what all Chef has whipped up, but you can barely walk for the table's full of food. And bring Kov if you possibly can. A lot of people on board haven't met him yet.”

“I will,” Anna said gratefully. “Trip's coming too, aren't you boss?” She nudged his arm.

“Wouldn't miss it,” Trip promised. “T'Pol got her cousin to babysit, the woman's a glutton for punishment. We'll be there.”

“Great,” Anna felt relieved. “I need to talk to T'Pol about Vulcan wedding clothes....”


Kov knelt before Eldest Mother Laritkla and sipped from the ritual cup of greeting. Beside him Anna was doing the same thing with perfect aplomb. Kov had dedicated most of the previous evening to deep meditation, and it was only this which permitted him to maintain his composure against the burst of pride he felt at his betrothed's perfect presentation. She was dressed to perfection. She had greeted the Eldest Mother perfectly. She recited the ritual phrases effortlessly, with no trace of accent. The Eldest could not possibly disapprove.

"It is not appropriate to maintain eye contact, girl," Laritkla snapped. "It projects an attitude of insolence."

Anna froze. "I intended no insolence."

"Did I give you leave to speak?" Laritkla turned to Kov. "Have you taught her nothing, Son of My House? Does it not concern you that she will shame you and your father before the High Council, and before all of Vulcan?"

Kov straightened and stood, but before he could manage to produce some kind of response Anna started expressing herself in a forthright fashion.

"At no time was I informed that I required permission to speak. If I had been told anything of the sort, I would have ignored it. I am neither a child nor a slave, old woman. I require no one's permission to speak my mind."

"It concerns you nothing that you disgrace Kov with your shameful behavior?" Laritkla demanded. "Do you not care that your disdain for proper manners will force him to live his life as an outcast?"

"My behavior is not shameful," Anna retorted. "If the issue were significant, Kov or Kuvak would have warned me. The fact that they did not mention it tells me that this is simply a case of you expressing hostility on your own behalf. The logic is inescapable."

"You presume to lecture me on logic?" Laritka's face tightened and Kov felt the beginnings of stark terror form in his gut. "What would you know of logic, Human girl?"

"With all possible respect, Eldest," Kov desperately interjected. "Anna was not attempting to lecture. She-"

"Human girl?" Anna snapped back contemptuously. "Now the truth comes out. You bigotry is showing, old woman." She pointed at the IDIC symbol on the wall. "And your hypocrisy as well. The irony of someone like you displaying that symbol is rich."

"The IDIC is a Vulcan symbol, girl," Laritkla told her frostily. "It represents the teachings of Surak, the Father of Vulcan logic. It is not something that such as you are equipped to understand. The roots of Surak's teachings go back into the farthest depths of Vulcan pre-history."

"That may be true," Anna said. Laritkla looked mildly surprised and Kov started to feel the faintest breath of relief. But as soon as hope started to dawn in his heart, it was dashed again.

"But true or not, it is irrelevant," Anna continued. "I need not be a pilot to detect that an aircraft is being flown upside down," she told the Eldest Mother bitingly. "I need not be a musician to tell that a piece of music is being played off-key. And I need not be Vulcan to observe that someone is behaving with intolerance and bigotry, in direct contradiction to the IDIC principle. My people have a saying that talk is cheap. Actions are all that matter. You can claim anything you wish, but you are not acting like a follower of Surak."

"Begone from my presence! Both of you. On the instant!" Laritkla's nostrils flared and she stood menacingly, flipping on hand in a dismissive gesture. Kov's blood froze and he backed out swiftly, dragging Anna with him by the wrist.


After the door clicked shut behind the two youngsters, Laritkla stood musing for a moment. Then she strolled over to the communications console and entered a code. Soon the screen cleared to show Kuvak's face. "Eldest," he inclined his head respectfully. "Did the introduction go well?"

"Well enough," she told him. "I was agreeably surprised at the girl's discipline. Even when subjected to deliberate provocation, she maintained a modicum of control. An Andorian would certainly have become violent, given the intensity of my verbal attack. Even a Denobulan might have evidenced difficulty with restraining herself. But Anna was able to confine herself to verbal responses. And even those were measured and logically supportable. This was in spite of her obvious anger."

Kuvak looked troubled. "Are you certain that it is necessary to inflict such testing on the young one? She has impressed me as being sincere in her intention."

"As she did myself, as well," Laritkla told him. "However the minor irritations of todays meeting are minimal compared to the pressures and challenges she will eventually face." Laritkla paused, then continued in High Vulcan, {Thou knowest, Son of my House, that many among this clan stand firm against permitting a Human to join her blood with ours. This does not even begin to address the challenges she will face as the daughter-in-law of a Minister.}

Kuvak looked grim. {This be truth, Eldest. Yet Kov's time approaches dangerously near, and none other has looked upon him with favor. I dare not attempt to force one upon him, for I fear that I may lose him entirely.}

{Hast thou indeed made peace within thy katra with this choice?} Laritkla asked him, gently but insistently. {He is thine only issue. If this Human is to be his mate, thine only descendants will forever be of mixed blood, from now until the end of thy line.}

{Better mixed than none,} he told her bluntly. {I have seen the marriage of the Lady T'Pol to Captain Tucker. Their bond is strong and their family seems content. I could hope for nothing more for my son. I have been reliably informed that Vulcan and Human DNA will mix easily, with beneficial results.}

{Indeed? And yet this directly contradicts what the High Command has insisted to be true for a hundred years.} Laritkla noted. {For some reason, I find myself unsurprised.} She gave Kuvak a direct look. He winced visibly and looked away.

{Much of what V'Las did was not reported to the Council,} he admitted. {Our oversight was not as thorough as it should have been.}

{As long as a mistake is not repeated, there is no point in belaboring it,} she told him. {Assure your son that catastrophe has not descended upon him because of the interview today. If she offers an apology, I will certainly accept it. If not, make up some kind of excuse to prevent Kov from becoming overly distraught. Thus far, I have no objection to the girl. Maintain watchfulness.}

{As you command, Eldest.} Kuvak signed off.


"She's such a cute little angel," Anna told T'Pol with a broad smile as the peeked into the darkened bedroom together. T'Lissa, T'Pol's daughter (and Trip's of course) lay curled up like a kitten in the middle of her parent's bed. Her breathing carried a faint but detectable rasp, and there were visible signs of congestion around her eyes and nose.

"Her appearance is esthetically agreeable," T'Pol agreed smugly, carefully sliding the door not quite shut in case the little girl called out for something.

The two of them proceeded down the hallway to the kitchen table where Trip was cracking walnuts for the banana nut bread that Anna was working on. The scent of pine from the wreath hanging beside the front door was getting pretty faint, especially in the thin Vulcan air, but Anna could still catch a whiff of it. Tinsel strands were placed with mathematical precision over each doorway. They drooped in perfect loops, gracefully decorative and carefully high enough to be out of reach of little fingers.

Hess resumed stirring and needled Trip, "You have no business with a daughter that pretty. Thank goodness she takes after her mother." She grinned and playfully ducked his mock toss of a walnut shell.

"Not strictly," T'Pol corrected as she sat down beside her husband, still moving gracefully despite her burgeoning abdomen, "none of my relatives were known for blue eyes. Nor was climbing ability," she shot Trip what Anna could only interpret as a dirty look, "a matter routinely discussed during prenatal training prior to our marriage."

"It's too bad you can't have a tree this year," Anna regretted, pouring a little more milk into the mix. "T'Lissa would love it."

"She could certainly try to climb it," T'Pol stated in a deadpan voice. "Whereupon the entire assemblage would be launched with vigorous enthusiasm at random vectors throughout our dwelling, leaving me a two day task of recovering broken glass ornaments."

Anna couldn't help giggling at the mental picture. Trip told her sourly, "Yeah, you can laugh now. Wait until you get one of your own."

"I can't," she told him dreamily. "I can't wait. I've been thinking about it. There were years when I thought maybe I would never have kids. Now, I can't wait. I want a houseful."

"One is a houseful," Trip told her. "I expect two to be a warehouse-ful." T'Pol chastised him with a minor eyebrow flick, but did not seem really irritated.

"Oh hush," Anna scolded him. "T'Lissa is a cherub. What happened to cause her sniffles anyway?"

"A cherub when she is asleep sure," Trip acknowledged. "When she's awake it's a different ball game. Half leopard and half Le'Matya. Vulcan stubborn and Human sneaky, Vulcan temper and Human contrariness."

"Well, if you are getting tired of her, I will take her," Anna volunteered slyly. "Hand me that bowl of nuts."

"Not likely," Trip retorted. "I already have too many bruises invested in that little unshielded reactor." He dutifully passed the bowl of shelled walnuts. "Anyway, you asked about her sniffles. It was dust mites."

"Yikes," Anna winced and stirred the nuts into the batter. "I hate those things. I'm allergic to them myself. Why didn't your household filters pick them up?"

"Because Vulcan filters are not designed to detect Terran microbes," T'Pol told her in a deadly voice. "These were shipped directly to T'Lissa from Earth."

Trip nodded and glanced cautiously at his wife. "I thought for a while that T'Pol was going to disassemble some people at the embassy. What happened was that some of my Mom's friends knitted and crocheted a few things for T'Lissa. Blankets mainly. They gave them to Mom, she washed them, packed them, and passed them on to the Vulcan Embassy to shipment." He glanced at T'Pol again. "Honestly hun, she didn't know. She had never shipped anything off-world before."

"I do not hold your mother responsible in any way for this matter," T'Pol told him, obviously still not happy. "As you pointed out, she is completely inexperienced with interplanetary quarantine and decontamination standards."

"I still don't get it," Anna poured the batter into the baking dish with a puzzle expression. "How did the dust mites get past the standard irradiation and bio-hazard scan?"

"They items were neither filtered nor scanned," T'Pol told her with tight lips.

"Say what?" Anna returned blankly.

"Since Trip is a Vulcan citizen," T'Pol recited with eyes flashing, "his property is exempt from most import regulations. A gift from his mother, being the family member of a Vulcan citizen, is also exempt."

"You have to be joking," Anna was aghast. "Even things like bio-hazards? That's foolish."

"Oh yes, and my dear wife explained this to the personnel at the Vulcan embassy on Earth via subspace radio, explicitly and at length." Trip stopped thoughtfully for a moment. "At extended length." He paused again. "At extremely, long, extended length. By the time she got done I don't think they will pull that trick again. I borrowed a couple of air filters from the Earth embassy here and installed them in our house system. In a couple of hours the mites were history. But Healer Kerlek says it will be at least another day before she gets over it completely."

"But it could have been anything!" Anna was upset. "It could have been, I don't know, influenza. Or, or, anything!"

"Precisely," T'Pol nodded.

"You should have wrung their necks!"

"If it happens again, I intend to."

"Please, don't you start," Trip asked. "T'Pol already had the entire embassy staff on the floor, weeping and wailing for mercy. If you jump into the mix too the whole staff will run screaming out the door and fling themselves into San Francisco Bay in a clump. Then what will poor Soval do for lunch or clean sheets?"

The two women turned to look at him silently. Trip glanced back and forth with an innocent expression. "What?" He held up his empty hands. "What?"

"Anyway, I have some good news," Anna told them. "I was going to hold it in until he got here, but now seems like a good time to change the subject." She shot Trip a mock glare. "My brother, Eric, is coming for Christmas!"

"Yeah!" Trip grinned broadly. "That's fantastic, Anna. How did he get loose from that project in Newfoundland?"

"He told me that they are three weeks ahead of schedule," Hess informed them happily. "And he just said that he was taking the time off. If they didn't like it, they could get a new Project Manager. Not likely, since they are 98% done. I can't believe it! I haven't seen Eric since before we launched!" She couldn't stop herself from bouncing on her toes like a schoolgirl.

Trip laughed. "What does Kov think of meeting his perspective brother-in-law?" he asked. "To a Vulcan, meeting your fiancee's siblings is a big deal."

"A very 'big deal' indeed," T'Pol confirmed. "Kov will regard it as imperative that he make a good impression."

"I haven't told him," Anna held a finger to her lips. "And don't you tell him either. I want it to be a surprise."

"Uh... Anna?" Trip looked doubtful. "I don't think that's the best idea. Really."

"I must concur," T'Pol urged, "I strongly suggest that you provide Kov with some advance warning. He may well react with extreme discomfort if he is forced to meet your brother by... ambush... so to speak. Vulcans generally do not react well to unexpected shocks."

"They really don't Anna," Trip warned her. "On this world, surprises will usually eat you. One time I tried to throw T'Pol a surprise birthday party. "Worst idea I EVER had. I jumped out and started to yell, surprise. But before I got past 'sur-' she had me down and was within two centimeters of crushing my throat. Lucky she turned the light on when she walked in."

"Oh, piffle," Anna waved it away. "I am not going to jump out of the darkness on top of Kov. I'll just invite him to lunch and then introduce him to my brother." She grinned. "I want to see their faces when they size each other up."


Kov turned from the observation window and told Trip, "I am most impressed. Your progress is advancing rapidly. Your staff appears quite enthusiastic."

"If only their skills matched their enthusiasm," Trip grumbled, "we would be up and running by now. But I am still trying to hammer some basic principles into their heads. If it weren't for Anna's help I would give up and quit."

"I doubt that sincerely, based on your past record," Kov said calmly. "However, it is agreeable to hear that Anna's contribution is valued." The two of them headed out of the observation lounge in the direction of the exit. "She has also expressed great enthusiasm about this project."

Trip laughed. "Everyone in Starfleet is enthusiastic about this one. Except maybe Jon." He caught Kov's curious look. "I mean Captain Archer. He lost me and T'Pol, and now he lost Anna to this project too. I think he's starting to reconsider things. I suspect Jon may be thinking that Warp 5 isn't all that slow after all."

"In absolute terms it is not slow at all," Kov pointed out. "Anna mentioned this situation to me as well. She told me that you both made a commitment to Captain Archer to assist him in attempting to find a new Chief Engineer. Have you succeeded yet?"

"No luck yet," Trip admitted, running a hand through his hair ruefully. "If Jon has to break orbit with Rostov in charge he's not gonna be a happy camper."

Kov briefly considered the remark in context and tentatively concluded that happy camper was another of the Human 'throwaway' terms Anna had been teaching him about. "May I offer a tentative possibility for consideration?"

"Sure," Trip brightened. "I would love to hear one."

"Aboard the Vahklas there is, or was when I left, a Vulcan engineer named Tizok. He is known to me as an experienced and dependable worker," Kov recited formally. "During my time in charge of engineering aboard the Vahklas, I found his logic to be rigorous and his skills to be comprehensive. I recommend him for your consideration."

"Hm," Trip scratched his chin. "What kind of guy is he?"

"Kind?" Kov was confused. "I am not sure what you mean? He is an engineer. He is Vulcan."

"I mean, is he easy to get along with? Is he sociable, or will he hole up in his quarters every evening and ignore the rest of the crew? To boss a Human crew, you need to be available and out where they can see you."

"Ah," Kov suddenly understood. "Tizok is a deeply curious individual, and he has long been fascinated by Humans. I believe that he would cherish a posting to Enterprise as the opportunity of a lifetime, because it would provide him with a chance to answer his questions."

Trip nodded, looking intent. "Rostov could take over the personnel management part of the job. He could handle that part of it easy. Everyone likes him well enough, and he knows the drill. It would be great on his record too. Jon could shoehorn Tizok in as a special technical advisor, based on a recommendation from a representative of the High Council. That way he could train Rostov, and at the same time he can get all the exposure to Humans he wants." Trip looked at Kov. "If everything works out, after a probationary period he could maybe get some kind of field commission into Starfleet based on past experience. How old is he anyway? No offense intended, but we will need to know."

"No offense taken. I understand the necessity in this case, and so will Tizok," Kov told him. "I am unsure of his precise age, but I know that he is in excess of 130 years old. More than 80 of those years have been spent in space."

Trip blinked. "Nice. How did you figure to get him here? Is there a cruiser that he can hitch a ride on?"

"No," Kov told him. "The Vahklas is coming home." Trip's face went perfectly still for some reason, Kov noticed. "After the death of Captain Tavin 241 days ago," he went on to explain, "morale and group cohesion aboard ship began to suffer. I recently received a transmission from my former shipmates informing me that my own departure caused further deterioration in morale. Tolaris is the sole remaining officer of the original crew, and apparently he has been unable to persuade the crew that continuing their efforts is the logical thing to do."

"That's too bad," Trip said without any noticeable tone in his voice. "I look forward to seeing the Vahklas again. Tolaris too, I didn't have time to get acquainted with him last time."

"True," Kov remembered, "as I recall he was working with T'Pol on gathering those scans of the nebula while you and I were repairing the engines. Then, before we completely finished either task, Tolaris and Captain Archer has some sort of falling out." He looked at Trip. "I was never informed of the circumstances."

Trip suddenly relaxed and smiled. "Jon never told me what happened either. You guys just up and left." He started walking again. "Maybe when Tolaris arrives we can get him to explain it."

"Unlikely," Kov said. "After so much time it seems improbable that he will be willing to compromise privacy over such a minor issue." They reached the main turbolift and Trip activated the security code.

As the door opened Trip made a final remark, "You never know. He might not even remember it. But if he does he might look at it the way I do. I always hate to leave things hanging. Don't you?" Trip closed the door before Kov had time to compose an answer to this odd remark, leaving him to ride down in humming silence.

He reached street level and considered his options. Based on standard public transportation schedules, he would require 23 minutes to reach his appointment with Anna to share an evening meal at Angelo's.This would mean that he would arrive 17 +/- minutes early. Alternatively, he could return home and attempt to initiate the process of arranging Tizok's new position. This, however, would require routing a priority subspace message that only his father's authority could authorize. Since Kuvak would not be free from his official responsibilities until 1123 hours, Kov realized that he was left without a current option for constructive activity.

He hesitated. Until now, Anna had invariably been the first to arrive whenever they scheduled a meeting at a third party location. Not that Kov was ever tardy, but Anna had a conditioned behavior pattern of arriving ahead of schedule. It was certainly possible, indeed likely, that she would follow the same pattern on this occasion. Kov smiled and headed for nearest the subsurface transport system access port.

As Kov stood waiting for the next available cube to arrive, he pondered her somewhat disconcerting behavior the prior day.

She had invited Kov to her apartment to assist in placing decorations for the approaching celebration of Christmas. Anna had just finished explaining, and demonstrating, the custom relative to a plant called mistletoe. As she pulled back slowly Anna murmured softly, "What do you think?"

"I do not approve of this custom," Kov managed weakly.

Anna's eyes widened. "Why not?" she demanded indignantly. "Don't you like kissing me?"

"Of course I like kissing you," Kov protested. "But I am unwilling to tolerate anyone else doing it. You said that any two people who are caught under the mistletoe are expected to exchange a kiss."

"I see." Anna smiled and moved closer again. "Well then, since I don't kiss people I don't love, I guess I will have to either dodge mistletoe from now on, or stay permanently attached to you whenever I am in danger of getting near it, won't I?" She stood on her toe for another kiss, which Kov answered willingly. He was beginning to find this Human interaction intensely satisfying.

"Come on," Anna suddenly broke free, "help me get this tinsel up. I want everything done tonight. Tomorrow is going to be a busy day." She giggled for some reason and gave Kov a strange look.

He obediently picked up a strand of the gleaming rope and asked her where to hang it. Anna took the other end and led him like a domesticated beast toward the doorway to her bedroom, where she started attaching the glittering material around the doorjamb. "Does this look foolish to you, honey?" Anna asked over her shoulder. "Hanging up all this stuff?"

Kov told her, "Why would it look foolish? It is a tradition to commemorate the birth of an important person in your history. Certainly it is no more foolish than some of our own traditions. I personally find the practice of decorating with candles and scented plant clippings to be quite pleasant. I presume the glass ornaments and tinsel are hung to reflect and accent the candlelight?"

She paused and looked around in delight. "That's it exactly." Anna gave him a hug. "That's one of the thins I love about you, you big lug. You understand things without needing an explanation."

The cube hissed to a stop at the proper destination and opened its door. Kov stepped out to the platform, offering a polite inclination of the head to the woman with a small child who stood waiting to use the cube he had just vacated. He mounted the steps up to street level and found himself within view of the recently rebuilt Human embassy, which stood as a semi-circular edifice, looking inward on the city and fronted by an open plaza. Along both sides of the plaza a chaotic variety of businesses had sprung up, offering everything from Human food to Tellarite hair clippers.

Kov set out strolling toward a moderately large restaurant located near the embassy building itself. Angelo's featured Human cuisine from every culture on Earth and most of the established colonies. They also employed a Vulcan chef, and Kov was given to understand that they had recently hired an Andorian cook as well. Anna and Kov had met there for meals frequently since announcing their betrothal, and Anna had begun calling it "their" place. Kov smiled indulgently again and shook his head. She obviously knew that it didn't belong to them in any sense of the word. It must be another of those random contortions of this ridiculously illogical language.

But is was Anna's language. Kov was determined to master it completely, no matter how long it might take. At his present rate, he suspected several decades would be required. But no matter, Anna would be... there... to help... him...

Kov stopped dead, staring in disbelief.

Angelo's was constructed in the typical Vulcan style, using native materials in order to reflect daily sunlight and conserve even evening warmth. The front of the building was extended outward to provide a shaded portico where tables provided comfortable seating for evening diners.

Anna stood beside one of the tables, already set with plates. Kov staggered sideways and fell against the support of a nearby light pole. Anna's arms were wrapped around a tall Human male, who stood smiling down at her. She, in turn, was hugging him with a broad grin. Kov reached back to grip the pole so as to keep his feet.

"There is an explanation. There must be an explanation."

She did not expect him this early. But...

Kov's mind panicked. Why? What could cause her to do this? In public? Surely she must know that this would be seen and reported? He, Kov, would be disgraced. His father would be disgraced. There had to be some logical-.

She kissed him. Kov's world ended.

" ... I don't kiss people I don't love... "

Anna hugged the man tightly around the neck and gave him a quick peck on the lips. Then she gave him a longer kiss on the cheek, then another kiss on the opposite cheek. Then she tightened her grip around his neck again as the man picked her up in a bear hug.

Kov turned and ran.


Anna clenched her hands around the handkerchief. "I don't know, Trip." Her face was white and taut, and her clenched knuckles were trembling. "All I know is, Kov won't answer my calls. Kuvak won't answer my calls. Kuvak's office won't answer my calls or take a message. When I go over there, I can't get in at their house or their office."

Trip took a sip of coffee and shared a glance with T'Pol. She nodded almost imperceptibly and reached across to grip Anna's wrist.

"Commander Hess," T'Pol said in a firm tone, as if requiring a report, "if we are to assist you we need data. Please give us as much information as you can remember about the circumstances prior to this situation between yourself and Adjunct Ministerial Assistant Kov."

Anna swallowed and dabbed at her eyes. "Yes, ma'am. We were supposed to meet for dinner. You remember, I told you about my brother Eric coming?" They both nodded. "He made it in yesterday, early yesterday morning."

"Anna called in and told me," Trip informed T'Pol. "I told her to go ahead and start her Christmas break a day early, since he came all the way from Earth." Trip turned back to Anna. "Kov came by. I didn't say why you weren't there, I just told him you were off on some personal business."

"Did you have any contact with Adjunct Ministerial Assistant Kov at all yesterday, Commander?" T'Pol demanded. Anna shook her head miserably.

"No. We waited over an hour. I tried to call him, but that's when it started." She broke down and started crying into the handkerchief. Trip sighed and walked around the table.

"Anna, come on. You need to lay down for a few minutes while me and T'Pol do some digging." He tugged at her elbow.

"No," she shrugged off his grip. "I want to be here to find out what's going on. I'll bet my last credit that witch Laritkla is behind this somehow."

"The Eldest Mother of Kov's clan?" T'Pol asked, looking surprised. "Why would you conclude this? If she disapproved of you, she would simply forbid the marriage."

"Not if the only reason she had was that I'm Human," Anna retorted. "Not now, after the Kirshara's been found. Before, when V'Las was in power she might have been able to get away with it. But now, with all this preaching about IDIC and diversity going around, she would look like the hypocrite she is if she told Kov he couldn't marry me just because I'm Human."

Trip winced. "Ouch. That stinks. Are you sure?"

"Oh, I'm sure," Anna told them bitterly. "You should have been there when he introduced me. If you had been, you wouldn't be asking the question."

T'Pol looked troubled. "I am disquieted by this possibility. If the Eldest Mother of Kov's clan has determined to block your marriage, there may be nothing that Kov can do."

"Don't underestimate him," Anna said between her teeth. "People do that, you know. He doesn't look intimidating, so people don't think he's tough. But he is. Not even his father can push him around. His dad is a senior Minister on the Vulcan High Council, and not even he dares to push Kov too far. If I can just get to Kov and talk to him, I know we can straighten this out, whatever it is."

"All right then," Trip told her. "You know that the best weapon you have when dealing with a Vulcan is your self-control. Right now your self-control is crap. Go lay down on our guest bed and grab a few minutes of shut eye while we make a few calls. If we get anywhere we will come and wake you up. I promise. Deal?"

She sighed and nodded. "Deal." Trip led her down the hallway, past the door where T'Lissa lay sleeping the deep sleep of the innocently destructive, to the guest room at the end of the hall. He returned to find T'Pol already on the comm, talking to a remarkably obtuse young man with an attitude.

"It is absolutely necessary that I speak to either Adjunct Ministerial Assistant Kov or Minister Kuvak. The matter is urgent," T'Pol was telling the self-important twit.

"Neither of them are available," he informed her superciliously. "If you will leave a message stating your identification, you business, your purpose in calling, your-"

"Listen you stuffed shirt," Trip leaned over T'Pol's shoulder, cutting the young man off in mid-word. "You wanna keep that job? The woman you're talking to is T'Pol, daughter of T'Les, one of the people who found the Kirshara. Ever hear of it? One call from her to Chief Minister T'Pau and guess who's in the basement pushing a broom? Now cough up a connection to Kov. If you really can't, and you better have a damn good reason why not, then connect us to Kuvak. Do it now, or I may just come down there and deal with you myself. And I promise you, I am one crazy Human who does NOT follow the way of Surak."

"I-" The Vulcan youngster looked punch drunk.

"This is my adun, Charles Tucker III," T'Pol told him in a somewhat subdued voice, glancing over her shoulder at Trip in embarrassment.

"Tucker?" The young man's eyebrow's rose. "You were the one who-"

"Yeah," Trip growled like a hungry dog. "I was the one who drove my ship between two fleets and dared them to shoot at me. Want me to come down there?"

"Minister Kuvak and his son are not in the city at this time," the young man started talking at warp speed. "They have retired to the sanctuary of Lonet-quor. I do not have any information as to their estimated return date. There is no modern communication facility at the sanctuary."

T'Pol's shoulders slumped. "Noted. Your assistance is appreciated." She killed the comm and turned to look at Trip.

"Do you know where this sanctuary is?" Trip asked her.

"Yes," T'Pol told him, "but it will do no good. Access to such places is limited to members of the designated clans who are authorized to use them. No one else would be admitted. Nor would messages be passed inward."

Trip turned toward the guest bedroom, suppressing a smile. "I promised Anna that I would wake her up if we made any progress. At least we can give her all of the information we have."


Kuvak watched unhappily while Kov was being prepared. His clothing was carefully wrapped and placed in storage for later use, while a thin robe was offered as a replacement. Even so the sweat continued to drip from Kov in steady sheets. His son had waited too long. The blood fever was beginning.

Kuvak murmured a vague reassurance that he doubted Kov even heard, and stepped out into the corridor. One of the priestesses stepped forward and offered the ta'al.

"Greetings, Minister," she told him, "I am Priestess S'hrel. I will be assisting your son."

Kuvak returned her greeting with a tangle of mixed feelings. Certainly he was grateful, deeply and sincerely grateful to this generous woman for saving his son's life. But he was also a touch disappointed. S'hrel was obviously one of the most experienced priestesses that the sanctuary had, no doubt because of his rank. His son would be well cared for, and Kov would survive. That much was effectively certain. But there was virtually no chance that a pregnancy would result. Not that Kuvak would necessarily wish for such a thing. Not ordinarily in any case.

But if he was never to have a grandchild any other way, perhaps...

Kuvak sternly took himself in hand and determined to spend the entire remaining time at the sanctuary in meditation. Kov would live, and this woman would save him. That was all that mattered. He determined to arrange a significant personal contribution to the upkeep of the sanctuary when he returned home, as well as researching S'hrel's clan affiliation and arranging special assistance for any of her immediate family that might still be alive.

"Minister." Kuvak turned at the sound of a shaky whisper. A very frightened looking young woman stood before him. She looked distressingly close to surrendering to her fear altogether. Plainly this neophyte had not been admitted to the sanctuary very long before. From the corner of his eye Kuvak saw S'hrel giving the girl a look of stern disapproval.

"Minister, Priestess," the girl spoke nervously. "There is a disturbance at the main entrance. The guards have been... attacked."

"Attacked?" Kuvak went to battle mode. His personal guards were off-duty while he and Kov were at the sanctuary. No one was supposed to be able to get past the patrols. How had enemy agents made it this far? Irrelevant. The fact that they had was sufficient. "How many? What species?" he barked.

"Hu-Human," the girl chattered. "One Human. Female. One Human woman. She attacked the guards. Then, when acolyte T'ue opened the door to check them, the Human woman leaped through the entrance and threatened her with a weapon, demanding to speak with your son, Kov."

Kuvak stood for a moment, digesting this information. Then he told her, "Lead me to this woman. I will speak with her."


Anna materialized at the mouth of a narrow canyon that was hotter than the Enterprise engine room at Azati Prime, when the coolant lines ruptured and the warp core came within two minutes of containment failure. The Vulcan sun felt like a pulse rifle drilling into the top of her skull, with the pain flashing higher every time her heart beat. She took a shallow breath and coughed.

"I owe Bill a batch of oatmeal cookies," she muttered. "Gotta remember that." It certainly paid to have friends in high places. Like in high geosynchronous orbit. Especially friends with access to transporters. Most especially when you had other friends who themselves had friends who had once been shown how to bypass Vulcan planetary defenses. Since they already had standing clearance to beam to and from Shi'Kahr, spoofing the destination signal had been simplicity itself. It was amazing how similar codes could be when you understood the underlying algorithms.

At least the sanctuary that Kov's clan used wasn't on top of a mountain. Anna didn't think she would be able to climb very high in this climate. It would have meant stealing an aircar, then probably being forced to shoot her way down and maybe even smash a wall to get in. Not a good entrance, she decided. Much better to simply walk up to the door and ask politely.

“If that works. Which I doubt. But they are NOT keeping me away from him, I don't care what that bitter old hag is trying to do.”

Anna grimly checked her concealed phase pistol again. She hoped to get away without hurting anyone. But she was going to talk to Kov and get this settled once and for all. And she wasn't going to put up with any more runarounds.

The stone entrance loomed around the next bend. A huge carved arch framed a door that looked like a single slab of granite with a pair of crossed lirpas embossed on it. A pair of young Vulcan men stood outside. Both of them wore dark masks and were holding some kind of curve bladed axes. Anna locked her jaws and advanced. She reached the foot of the steps and they crossed the blades in front of her.

“My betrothed, Kov, son of Kuvak, is inside. I am going in,” she told them in the clearest Vulcan she could muster.

One of them, it was impossible to tell which one because of the masks, replied, “Kov, son of Kuvak, has been admitted to the sanctuary and is being aided by a priestess. No one will enter.”

“Priestess?” Anna said slowly. “You mean one of those women who... You mean that they... I don't THINK so!”

She yanked out the pistol and fired two shots in a single sweeping motion. The second guard as falling before the first one had time to hit the ground. She leaped for the door and twisted the handle. It was locked. Anna cursed and looked around. There was a small visitor's gong beside the door, next to a sliding view panel. She hit the gong several times rapidly and then flung herself to one side, out of viewing range. In a moment the panel slid aside and someone gasped. The door opened and a young woman wearing a ceremonial robe stepped out in the direction of the fallen guards.

Anna hit her like a linebacker trying to kill the quarterback. The woman staggered backward through the doorway and ended up slamming into some kind of tapestry adorned wall in a high ceilinged entryway. She jammed the pistol under her trophy's chin while the sound of running footsteps faded into the distance.

“Don't give me any attitude,” Anna growled. “I've had a bad week and I'm not in the mood. We can do this peaceful. Or I can wade through this place, shooting every Vulcan I come across until I find Kov. Which way do you want it?”


Kuvak strode through the corridors, following the attendants. It seemed that Anna, if indeed it were she, had experienced a change of opinion. But it was rather late in coming, in Kuvak's opinion. There were still numerous questions to be answered.

“There you are.” He stopped when he heard Anna's voice. She emerged from around the next corner, pointing a Human phase pistol in a menacing manner at the back of a young attendant. “Where is he, Kuvak? What have you done with him? I have to talk to Kov.”

Kuvak took a deep breath. “Before I can permit that, I -” The phase pistol blast seared the air adjacent to his head and set fire to a priceless weaving behind him.

“I have had enough!”Anna stopped her scream abruptly and caught her breath. More calmly, “I have been disrespected, insulted, and ignored. No more. I want to talk to Kov. You can take me there. Or I can stun you and walk over your body. I mean it old man. Don't mess with me.”

Kuvak considered her disheveled appearance, flushed countenance, and wild-eyed stare and decided to humor her. There was no point in risking the destruction of additional antiques. “This way, follow me. Please refrain from setting additional fires.”

“That depends on you,” she retorted in an unrepentant tone. Kuvak waved the attendants away. They complied, reluctantly, while giving the Human woman many uneasy looks.

“Minister, are you certain that you should be alone with this... person?” one of them whispered softly.

“Your concern is noted,” he told the young man. “But I am in no danger. Cast out fear.” The attendant nodded doubtfully and stepped back, leaving Anna plenty of room to pass.

The lower corridors darkened and cooled as the floor sloped downward into the caverns beneath the sanctuary. The air dampened and rare droplets of visible moisture even showed themselves on some of the more brightly polished sections of stone. Kuvak was gratified to notice that Anna's breathing was becoming less labored. If her physical condition improved, perhaps her emotional condition would become more stable. She was plainly delusional, perhaps due to the heat. Charles and T'Pol had once explained that long exposure to typical Vulcan temperatures often had a deleterious effect on Human thought processes. Perhaps she would agree to accept medical assistance once she had seen Kov.

Kuvak stopped at the door to Kov chamber. “He is here. I must warn you, the Pon Farr has advanced. He may not be fully rational.”

“I don't care,” Anna told him. She shoved past Kuvak and pushed the door open. Kuvak summoned up all his discipline and followed her inside, preparing himself for what he would see.

It was just as bad as he had expected. Kov was flushed and shaking, covered in sweat and moaning. At first he did not even acknowledge their presence. Anna stood staring in shock. Her phase pistol was apparently forgotten, as Kuvak watched it slowly slip out of her hand to the floor. “Kov?” She said softly. “Kov? Honey? It's me. Anna.” She approached him with her hands out.

Kov looked up at her. His lips moved silently at first. “Anna?” He blinked. “You came? But... you left me.”

“No! No. Never!” She rushed over and hugged him tightly. Kuvak raised an eyebrow and regarded the pair thoughtfully. “Why did suddenly stop answering my calls? You never showed up for dinner, then you didn't answer my calls. But nobody would tell me anything. It was that witch, wasn't it? That dried up old bat Laritkla. She always hated me, just because I'm Human. This was her fault, wasn't it?”

“What? Laritkla? No,” He shook his head. “It was the new man.”

Anna pulled back and looked honestly puzzled. “What new man? What are you talking about, Kov?”

“Yours,” Kov said. He jerked to his feet and staggered to the sink. He turned on the water and pressed his face into the flow, gulping it down in great mouthfuls and letting it flow over his hair. Anna followed, looking back and forth from Kov, to Kuvak.

“What is he talking about, Kuvak?” she demanded. “Did that conniving bitch try to come up with some kind of lie about me?”

“It was no lie!” Kov smashed his hand on the sink in rage. “I saw him! With my own eyes! I was coming,” he stopped and choked. Tears began to flow. Anna pushed up to embrace him, only to find herself shoved backward. She stared in shock. “I was coming to meet you. You said you had a surprise for me.” He laughed bitterly. “I was surprised when I came earlier than you expected me. I saw you embracing him and kissing him. In public. Both of you were standing there, hugging and kissing each other openly.” Tears began to fall freely.

Anna looked up at the ceiling and vented an inarticulate sound. The last time Kuvak had heard anyone make a similar noise, his wife had been at the peak moments of childbirth. “You idiot! You fool! You- you- MAN! That was my brother, Eric!”

Kov stood perfectly still. “Your brother?”

“Yes, my brother.” Anna sighed and rubbed her face. “Do you mean to tell me that all of this - all this time of you refusing to talk to me, all this time of NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS GOING ON... all of that was because you saw me hugging and kissing my brother? The one that made a special trip to Vulcan so he could meet you? The one that I hadn't seen since Enterprise launched?”

“Anna.” Kov looked helpless. “I am sorry. I do not know what to say. I do not know what to do.”

“Well, I learned one thing,” Anna said ruefully. “Never try to plan a surprise party for you. I was so happy about Eric coming that I wanted to share it. But it looks like catching you by surprise is not a good idea.”

“I am so-” He groaned and buckled over. Her expression changed. Kuvak hurried over to help Kov back to the bed. The door opened and the priestess S'hrel entered. She paused in surprise, looking over the situation.

Anna clarified it for her. “Get out. Now. He's mine.” S'hrel nodded and reversed course. “Kuvak,” Anna continued, “I will need triox. Otherwise, if this sink and bathroom has plenty of water I should be ok. At least it's a lot cooler down here. Some high protein rations wouldn't hurt I guess, but I can do without them if I have to.”

“I will see to it,” he told her immediately. “Is there anything else?”

“I have no idea,” Anna said. “I guess if something comes up I can yell for help.”

“Do so,” he told her. “Loudly and incessantly until help arrives. Someone will be listening.” He headed for the door.

As he left the room he heard Anna telling his son, “Oh well. At least I'll get a hundred years of useful ammunition out of this one.”


This story has a sequel: "Vahklas"

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