Rating: PG-13 for sexual situations
A/N: Any resemblance to the classic SF movie “Charley” with Cliff Robertson, (based on the equally classic short story “Flowers for Algernon” by Daniel Keyes) is purely intentional. (Youngsters… Go look it up and read it… You won’t regret it!) For those of you old enough to remember how that story ended… Don’t panic… Just trust me, okay?
T’Len completed breakfast preparations, and then went in search of her charge. The Professor had just left for the day after her usual cup of chamomile tea and a bowl of plomeek broth. Through the open window, T’Len could hear the low rumble of the ground transport vehicle she drove to the Science Academy each morning as it traveled across the estate grounds to the main gate. As expected, the boy stood in the courtyard, watching the vehicle as it retreated into the distance. He was still in his sleeping robes, his unruly blonde hair uncombed, and his blue eyes fixed on the cloud of dust kicked up by the vehicle as it traveled.
T’Len gave a mental sigh. No matter how strictly she enforced his meditation schedule, she had thus far been unable to discourage the quite obvious emotional attachment the boy demonstrated for the Professor. The attachment was understandable, but not appropriate. She was, after all, not the boy’s mother… merely his guardian.
The child’s unnatural origins still disturbed the old Vulcan woman, but when the Professor had contacted her and had asked for her services again after so many years, she considered providing her assistance to be the most logical course of action. She still had quite clear and pleasant memories of serving as nurse to the Professor herself when she was a child. Caring for children was her life’s work, and she felt gratified to be of service.
The child, however, was proving to be the challenge of a lifetime. The fact that he was human was, of course, a complicating issue. From the beginning, however, T’Len had decided that she would not allow that fact to change her usual child-rearing practices. It was disconcerting to wake each morning to find that the boy had apparently aged several months overnight, but the Professor had informed her that the child’s accelerated growth rate was a part of the cloning process, and that as long as T’Len continued to administer the maturational retardant agent in gradually increasing doses as the dosing schedule required, the boy’s growth rate would eventually stabilize. T’Len had briefly met the Denobulan physician responsible for the boy’s creation and for the development of the drug which would eventually allow him a normal lifespan. She still did not understand why anyone would wish to create an intelligent being in this manner, but the decision had been made long before she had become involved, and it was not her business to second-guess her employer.
“Come, Charles,” she told the boy. He turned to look at her, startled by her silent approach behind him. “It is time for the morning meal.”
He nodded, his face deliberately solemn because he knew she would disapprove of a smile.
“Will she come home for lunch today, T’Len?” he asked hopefully in his high-pitched, childish voice.
“I believe that her schedule requires her to remain at the Academy for the noon meal today,” replied T’Len. The boy’s face fell.
“She asked me to give you this this morning,” added T’Len. She pulled a small recording device from the pocket of her robe. “The Professor believes that a first-hand account of your experiences may be of scientific interest at some point in the future when it is safe for your existence to become public knowledge.” She handed him the device. “Now that your language skills are advanced enough for you to dictate a coherent narrative, she would like you to begin a personal log.” The boy nodded solemnly, briefly studied the device, and then placed it carefully in the pocket of his robe. He didn’t play with it or attempt to take it apart the way he would have done only a few days before. T’Len nodded in approval. Although his physical appearance was that of a ten year old human child, his maturity level and self control were progressing well even for a Vulcan child of his apparent age.
“You may begin your log after the morning meal and before we begin your studies this morning,” she told him as they walked into the house.
T’Pol pulled her transport vehicle into the parking area reserved for instructors at the Science Academy. She was an hour early this morning, but she’d needed to leave the house to escape from Charles. His eerie resemblance to Trip… and to Sim… became greater with each passing day, but what disturbed her the most was the fact that his developing personality seemed nothing like the personality of the man she’d been married to for over six years. The child was his own person, in his own right, and T’Pol felt very uncomfortable in his presence. She closed her eyes as she sat in the vehicle and rested for a moment. The mental effort and emotional turmoil of the previous thirty days were taking a tremendous toll on her. She was physically and mentally exhausted… rapidly approaching the breaking point… and she could see no ethical way out of her current situation. She examined her feelings on the matter. Her predominant emotion was remorse. She should never have convinced Phlox that creating yet another clone was an acceptable solution to the dilemma she found herself in after Trip’s death. Even with the maturational retardant that the doctor had developed, creating another intelligent being to serve as host for Trip’s katra had not been an ethical decision. In the month since the child had been decanted from his incubator, T’Pol had had increasing difficulty dealing with the potential consequences of her decision.
It’s time to get another opinion on the matter, she decided. I can’t spare him forever. He will eventually have to become involved.
T’Pol decided to discuss the issue with Trip that evening during her meditation session. With decision made she felt somewhat better, and got out of the vehicle, walking toward her office in the Academy’s main building. She was scheduled to teach her first class of the day in twenty-seven minutes. It was time to prepare.
“Seventh Ta’krat, Stardate 6007.07… This is the personal log of Charles Tucker the Fourth…”
He paused the recording. The boy sat on the bench in the courtyard in his day robes. He stared off into the distance through the open gate, collecting his thoughts as he watched the sand blowing in the desert wind. He reactivated the device, recording his thoughts in fluent, unaccented Vulcan.
“Today is my first entry. It is also my one month ‘birthday’,” he began. “Every morning when I wake, I have new memories of Earth. T’Len says they’re the memories of my tissue donor, but they sure seem like mine.” He inhaled deeply, then exhaled.
“Today I woke up remembering a birthday party… my tenth one, I think…” He closed his eyes and smiled slightly in recollection. “Lizzie was there, and my parents… I mean, his parents… and there was cake and ice cream… and lots of presents…” He opened his eyes, his face becoming impassive again.
“I asked T’Len if Vulcans celebrate birthdays. She referred me to the cultural database. I guess getting older doesn’t mean as much when you live for over 200 years. T’Len says I might live that long, too, since the rate I age depends on how much medicine I take and not on the natural human aging process. I guess that’s a pretty good trade-off… but I’d still like to have a birthday party of my own… someday.” He cleared his throat.
“T’Len says I should put my daily schedule in this log, too… So everyone will know my ‘developmental history’.” He paused the recording again to organize his thoughts, and then resumed.
“My day begins with meditation. It helps me to organize the memories that I get from my tissue donor so I don’t get too confused. I usually meditate with Professor T’Pol…” He sighed, with a disappointed look on his face. “Only this morning she left early and I had to do it by myself.” He breathed deliberately in and out, his face returning to its usual calm state.
“After meditation…,” he continued, “I dress and have breakfast. In the morning, I study the Vulcan language, history, and culture. After the noon meal, I study Earth history and culture, science, and mathematics. English just comes to me without study, but I’m trying to become familiar with various cultures on Earth and learn Earth history so my memories will make more sense. When Professor T’pol returns home from the Science Academy, she instructs me in Ketarya. She says that the practice of martial arts encourages physical and mental discipline. I like martial arts the best.” He paused, a genuinely human smile gracing his face for the first time that morning.
“Professor T’Pol is… amazing! Sometimes she tells me about her time on Enterprise… about her away missions and her crewmates. Someday, I’m going to serve on a starship just like she did. She told me that my tissue donor was the best engineer that ever lived, and that once I’ve gotten all of his memories, I’ll be able to be an engineer too… I can hardly wait!” He paused the recording, a broad grin still on his face, and then caught sight of T’Len staring at him disapprovingly through the kitchen window. He wiped the smile off his face and continued.
“After martial arts, we have the evening meal, followed by meditation again. I usually meditate with T’Len in the evenings. Professor T’Pol goes to her room to meditate. I asked her once why she doesn’t stay with us, and she told me that sometimes a person needs private time. T’Len says that’s when she speaks with the katra of my tissue donor. I’m not sure if I believe all that katra stuff, but it’s right there in the cultural database, so I guess it’s true. The Professor never talks about it, though. T’Len told me not to ask her. She said it would displease her if I asked, and that the Professor would discuss it with me when she was ready.” He paused the recording again, unsure of how he should complete the entry.
“I guess that’s it for now,” he said finally. “It’s time for me to do my Vulcan grammar lesson… end log entry.” He turned off the device, put it in his pocket, and entered the house, heading toward the study where he pursued his daily lessons under T’Len’s close maternal… at least maternal in a Vulcan fashion… supervision.
T’Pol sat alone in the meditation chamber on the southern end of the house. Three candles flickered in the dimly lit room. She sat on a cushion in the center of the floor. The memory of a conversation she’d had with Charles that day replayed in her head, disturbing her concentration. He’d been endearingly eager to please her that evening, focusing on his martial arts lesson with unwavering concentration. As they were walking back to the house after the lesson, he’d asked her, in English, “Are you displeased with me, Professor?”
T’Pol, who was at that moment reflecting on how much his dedication to perfecting his skills reminded her of Trip, was surprised by his question.
“Of course not, Charles,” she replied in the same language. They often conversed in English to give him the opportunity to practice, as T’Len spoke only Vulcan. “Your progress thus far has been more than acceptable.” She turned her head to look at him, suddenly realizing that he was now almost as tall as she was. “Why would you believe that I am displeased with you?” she inquired curiously.
Charles shrugged. “I dunno,” he replied. His mannerisms became more like Trip’s when he spoke English. He even had a trace of Trip’s southern accent. “I guess I thought you were avoidin’ me, since you haven’t spent much time with me for the past few days.” He glanced sideways at her with an embarrassed look, trying hard not to show how much she’d hurt his feelings, and not succeeding at all. His words, and the look on his face as he said them, reminded her painfully of her early years on the Enterprise, when she had hurt Trip so deeply by pushing him away.
I am hurting this child in exactly the same way, she thought with shame. It is not right to make him suffer because he reminds me of what I have lost.
She turned to Charles, stopping at the doorway and placing her hand on his shoulder. “I have been too occupied with work,” she told him, justifying the lie by telling herself that from now on she intended to make up for her neglectful behavior. “Tomorrow morning, we will meditate together as usual, and I will arrange to return home for the day at noon. We will spend the afternoon on an excursion to the Fire Plains,” she promised. Charles had smiled broadly before catching himself with an embarrassed look. The smile had caused a tightening in her chest. He so rarely smiled these days that she’d forgotten how much he looked like Trip when he did so.
“Thanks, Professor,” he’d told her sincerely.
She’d simply nodded, and followed him in to dinner.
T’Pol sighed. Although she was not Charles’ mother, she was responsible for his existence, and, by extension, for his emotional well-being. If she wished him to grow up with a healthy ability to relate to other intelligent beings, she would have to spend time with him despite her discomfort in his presence. She was more determined than ever to ask for Trip’s help in this regard, but was not entirely sure how to go about it, considering the fact that Trip was not aware of the boy’s existence. She decided that the direct approach was the most logical one, and focused her attention once again with determination. She was finally able to enter the white space.
Opening her eyes, she was confronted with a door … the mental construction she’d created to symbolize the barriers she’d erected to separate Trip’s katra from her conscious mind. The barriers were the only thing which preserved her sanity. Without them, her identity would begin to blend with Trip’s after a while. This was something she wished to avoid, as it would mean the end of his existence as an individual consciousness, and would very likely drive her into a permanent psychotic state.
T’Pol stepped up to the door… a perfect replica of the door to Trip’s quarters on Enterprise… and entered his security code. The door swished open to reveal a warm, tropical paradise. The sea breeze caressed her face. The sky was cerulean blue, with a scattering of fluffy white clouds. A pristine white beach extended in either direction as far as the eye could see. Waves softly washed up onto the sand in rhythmic succession. The whisper of the waves and the occasional cry of a gull were the only sounds that broke the silence. A small cabin with a thatched roof was set back a short distance from the beach. She stopped to remove her shoes and walked toward it in the sand. She began to walk faster as she saw him exit the cabin and jog toward her with a broad smile on his face. They met midway in an exuberant embrace. He took her face in his hands and kissed her passionately.
“I’ve been waitin’ for ya, darlin’!” he whispered. He took her by the hand and led her to the cabin. They left their clothes at the door.
“It’s still hard for me to believe that none a’ this is real,” said Trip softly as he lay on the bed in their cabin with T’Pol in his arms. Her head was pillowed on his bare shoulder. His fingers trailed idly through her hair and gently caressed the tip of one ear.
T’Pol sighed in satisfaction and buried her nose in the crisp, curly hair in the center of his chest.
“This is as real as you want it to be, t’hy’la,” she whispered. She wrapped both arms around his abdomen, gave him an affectionate squeeze, and then sat up with determined look on her face, looking Trip directly in the eye.
“You know that I cannot maintain this illusion indefinitely,” she told him matter-of –factly. “Have you thought any more about our discussion regarding a host for your katra?” Her eyes met his with a hopeful, questioning look.
Trip smiled at her and shook his head. “Darlin’… however long this lasts, it’s better than the alternative. Let’s just enjoy our time together, and let tomorrow take care of itself, okay?”
T’pol looked at him in consternation. “I can’t do that, Trip!... Very soon I will have to make a choice between my sanity and your continued existence. You’re putting me in an impossible position!”
Trip sighed and placed a hand on the side of her face. “T’Pol, if you’d had the time to explain to me exactly what would happen to you when you took my katra, I probably wouldn’t have allowed you to do this to yourself…” His tortured expression wounded her. “What’s done is done… but you’ve gotta realize that eventually you’re gonna hafta let me go!”
“I’d rather die with you!” she told him stubbornly.
Trip looked at her with a bleak smile. “You know you don’t mean that, darlin’… You still have more than half of your life left ahead of you!”
She gave him a frustrated look. “I still don’t understand why you won’t even consider finding a host for your katra! I’ve already explained to you that the host personality will simply be integrated with yours… You won’t be ‘taking over’… as you’re so fond of saying! I can’t believe you would throw away your life like that.”
Trip gazed back at her stubbornly. “I don’t have a life to throw away, T’Pol… I’m dead, remember? Freeloadin’ on somebody else just isn’t right!”
T’Pol sat up and moved to the end of the bed. Clothes reappeared on her body, and she stared at her hands as she sat with her elbows on her knees. She refused to meet Trip’s eyes. He sat up, suddenly very worried.
“What’s wrong T’Pol?” he asked with a look of dread on his face.
She swallowed, and then said softly, “I’d hoped to convince you to accept the idea of a host for your katra before I told you… but I need your help with him, so I must tell you now.” She looked at him then. He could see the fear in her eyes.
“I’ve deceived you, Trip,” she said reluctantly. “After I discovered that the barriers I’d erected to protect your katra enabled me to hide my thoughts from you, I realized that I had the opportunity to create the ideal host for your katra despite your objections.”
Trip’s eyes widened. “No, T’Pol!” he cried in a horrified voice. “Please tell me you didn’t do what I think you did!”
T’pol closed her eyes. When she re-opened them, tears threatened to spill. Somehow, she managed not to cry.
“Dr. Phlox and I created another clone from samples of your genetic material approximately one week after your death,” she whispered. Trip’s eyes filled with tears and he looked away from her, too upset to meet her eyes.
“The doctor has perfected a maturational retardant that is working thus far to slow the clone’s growth rate… Eventually we will be able to control his aging quite precisely,” said T’Pol in a pleading tone. “If you join with the clone, we can be together for as long as we both live.”
Trip gave no sign that he’d heard her. Still refusing to look at her, he asked softly, “What’s he like?”
T’pol looked at him for a moment with a pained expression.
“He’s just a boy…,” she said finally, searching for the words Trip needed to hear. “He’s a month old today… That’s already twice Sim’s projected lifespan… and he appears to be about ten human years old.” She paused, thinking. “He’s very intelligent and physically coordinated.” she added.
“Is he happy?” challenged Trip angrily, finally making eye contact.
T’Pol returned his gaze somewhat guiltily. “Actually…” she began reluctantly, “… the reason that I told you about him today was that I have noticed recently that he seems to require something from me that I am not providing.” She looked at Trip in resignation. “I need your assistance with him. I am concerned that he is not getting everything he requires to develop normally.”
Trip’s lips twisted bitterly. His eyes left hers as he looked angrily off into the distance. She could see that he was absolutely furious.
“Of course he’s not gettin’ what he needs to develop normally!… He’s a human kid in a house fulla Vulcans!” he exploded. He got up from the bed, grabbed his shorts from the floor, shoved his legs in one at a time, and then walked out the door of the cabin, leaving T’pol alone with her guilt. She sat on the bed with her face in her hands, waiting for him to return. Thirty-two minutes later, she left the cabin to find him.
Trip sat on the sand beneath a huge palm tree about a hundred yards from the cabin. He sat with his back against the trunk of the tree, staring out over the ocean. T’Pol approached him cautiously and sat down quietly beside him. They sat silently side-by-side for several minutes.
“I want ya to start bringin’ him here to see me,” Trip told her, as he continued to gaze at the surf.
T’Pol’s eyes widened. “Bringing him here would require that I perform a mind meld with him, t’hy’la,” she protested softly. “I have many memories which would not be appropriate to share with a child.”
Trip laughed bitterly. “You’ve gotten really good at hidin’ stuff, T’Pol. I’m sure you can figure out a way to shield him from the things ya don’t want him to see!”
He looked at her then. The hurt and betrayal in his eyes pained her more than his anger ever could. T’Pol reached out a hand to stroke his brow. “I will find a way to bring him to you.” she promised him. She searched his face, looking for any traces of the joy and love that he’d seemed to have in endless supply before she’d revealed her deception to him.
“Is there anything I can say or do that will allow you to forgive me?” she whispered. Her eyes filled with tears for the second time that evening. This time, a single tear escaped and rolled down her cheek. Trip caught it on one finger and wiped it away before it reached her chin, and then drew her to his chest in a tender embrace.
“I love you, T’Pol,” he said softly into her hair, as he laid his cheek on the top of her head with a resigned sigh. “I don’t approve of what you’ve done, but that doesn’t change the way I feel about you.” He held her securely for a moment, then sighed again and sat back, trailing his fingers along her cheek. “I’m just gonna need some time to figure this out… that’s all.” His eyes met hers, asking for understanding. He had a small, sad smile on his face.
T’Pol nodded, and grasped his fingers in her hand as they left her cheek. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and released it. Then she stood up and walked away. The door appeared in the air before her, and she disappeared as she passed through and shut it behind her. Then the door vanished as well. Trip leaned back against the tree trunk once again and gazed thoughtfully out over the water.
T’Pol lay in her bed after her meeting with Trip. Despite her exhaustion, sleep refused to come. All she could do was relive the look of betrayal on his face. The pain in her chest had no discernable organic cause. Her realization of this fact did not lessen its severity. She curled in a ball beneath the sheet with a pillow grasped tightly against her chest in a vain attempt to fill her empty arms. Finally, she slept… and dreamed.
”Commander, sensors show intruders on E-deck!” Malcolm Reed’s customary cool British tones contrasted with the urgency of his message.
“Tactical alert, Lieutenant Commander,” replied T’Pol from the command chair. “Lock phase cannons on the Rigellian ship and send a security team to E-deck, then see if you can locate the captain,” she ordered in cool, measured tones.
Turning to Lieutenant Sato at communications, she said, “Open a channel to the pirates’ vessel.” Hoshi reached for her controls, and then nodded at T’Pol.
“This is Commander T’Pol of the Enterprise,” said T’Pol in an authoritative voice. “We have phase cannons locked on your engines. Recall your boarding party or we will fire upon your vessel. You have three minutes to comply.” She looked meaningfully at Hoshi, who severed the link, and held her earpiece to one ear, listening carefully.
“There’s no response, Commander,” she told T’Pol.
T’pol turned to Lieutenant Commander Reed. “Where are the intruders now?”
Malcolm studied the internal sensor readings. “They’re in the main corridor on E-deck…” He looked up at her in alarm. “The Captain and Commander Tucker are with them.”
T’Pol suppressed her sudden surge of concern. There would be time enough for worry after the job was done. “Where is the security team?” she asked.
“They’re setting up an ambush at the end of the corridor,” replied Malcolm. He continued to follow the progress of the group down the corridor. He looked up again at T’Pol. “They’ve broken up into two groups, Commander. Two of them have stayed behind with the captain. The rest seem to be following Commander Tucker down the hallway… It looks like he’s leading them in the direction of the security team.”
T’pol breathed a sigh of relief. Trip must have guessed that the team would be there waiting. She closed her eyes briefly and tried to contact him telepathically to make certain that he knew that security forces were waiting, but found that her lessons in mental shielding had been perhaps a bit too thorough. His concentration on what he was doing was so intense, and his shields were so firm, that she was unable to reach him. She opened her eyes and exhaled. She was just going to have to trust him not to do anything stupidly heroic. The thought did not inspire her with much confidence.
“It’s been two minutes and fifty-seven seconds since our communication with the Rigellian ship,” said T’Pol to Malcolm. “Prepare to fire phase cannons on my command.”
Malcolm nodded, his fingers poised over the controls. T’Pol turned to face the view screen. “Fire,” she said dispassionately.
Her expression remained unchanged as she watched the pirate ship’s port nacelle disintegrate. “Lock on to the ship’s starboard nacelle, Lieutenant Commander.” She glanced at Hoshi. “Open another channel to the Rigellian vessel, Lieutenant.”
‘The pirates are firing torpedoes, Commander!” cried Malcolm.
“Evasive maneuvers, Lieutenant Mayweather.”
They all held on tightly as Enterprise’s gravity plating was strained to the limit by Travis’ deep space aerobatics. T’Pol turned to Malcolm as the tremor of weapons fire shook the ship. “Alter your target, Mr. Reed. Disable their weapons. Fire at will.” Malcolm nodded, made the proper adjustment, and once again fired the plasma cannons.
“Damage report,” T’Pol said brusquely, after watching the entire undercarriage of the Rigellian vessel explode in technicolor.
“We’ve got damage to the hull-plating near D-deck, but nothing serious, Commander,” replied Malcolm, exhaling in relief in the aftermath of the firefight.
“The pirates are hailing us, Commander,” said Hoshi. “They’re requesting our terms for their surrender.”
T’pol nodded in satisfaction. “Open a channel…”
She gasped in mid-sentence, suddenly incapacitated by the sensation of searing pain in her hands, chest, and face. She tumbled forward from the command chair and curled in the fetal position on the floor with her eyes closed and a rictus of agony on her face. Malcolm Reed rushed to her side, his face a mask of horrified concern. He searched her body for the source of her pain.
“T’Pol!... What’s wrong?” he asked in quiet apprehension, formality forgotten in his distress over her uncharacteristic display of weakness.
T’Pol’s eyes opened. She checked her hands and chest visually, and felt her face. She could feel no injury. The burning pain was still present, but was slightly reduced in severity, as if her mind was instinctively blocking the worst of it. T’Pol realized then, with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, what the source of her discomfort must be.
“I am uninjured,” she said reassuringly. Then she sat up painfully so that her face was inches from his. She placed her hand on his arm and gazed at him with piercing intensity. “Find Commander Tucker, Mr. Reed,” she told him urgently under her breath. “I need to know where he is.”
Malcolm stood with alacrity and returned to his station. As he searched the sensor readings for the location of the Enterprise’s chief engineer, Hoshi reported, “Commander T’Pol, Commander Tucker’s been brought to Sickbay… He’s been injured.” She met T’Pol’s eyes with a look of sympathy and understanding.
T’Pol rose to her feet, steadying herself on the arm of the command chair. “You have the bridge, Mr. Reed,” she said in a strained voice through clenched teeth. “If the pirates call again, stall them until the captain or I return to negotiate. If they attempt to run, destroy their ship.”
“With pleasure, Commander,” replied Malcolm with grim enthusiasm.
T’Pol staggered toward the turbolift, traveling as quickly as her condition permitted toward Sickbay. As the turbolift came to a halt, she could feel Trip slipping away from her. She headed down the corridor at a stumbling run, palming open the Sickbay doors, and charging into the room with a wild look in her eyes. Captain Archer and Dr. Phlox both turned to her with identically agonized looks on their faces.
“Where is he?” she demanded.
Phlox stepped aside, nodding at the hyperbaric chamber.
“Open it!” she ordered brusquely, stepping forward to place both palms on the chamber door as if she were trying to touch the man she loved through the metal.
Phlox stepped up behind her and said softly, “His lungs are badly damaged, Commander. If I remove him from the hyperoxygenated environment of the chamber and expose him to room air, he will die.”
T’Pol turned to face him. “He’s dying anyway, Doctor,” she replied with brutal honesty. “Open the door.”
Phlox sighed, nodded his acquiescence, and palmed the control. The table on which Trip lay was slowly extruded from the wall. He came out feet first, his legs motionless, but otherwise reassuringly normal-appearing in their black boots and regulation blue coveralls. Then the odor of charred meat hit the air. His blackened hands appeared, followed by the raw open ruin of his chest. Skin was peeling in sheets from his reddened face. He was, fortunately, quite unconscious. As soon as his head cleared the threshold of the chamber, he began to reflexively gasp for air, his respiratory rate doubling, and his heart rhythm becoming erratic from lack of oxygen.
T’Pol, oblivious to the horror of his appearance, realized that there would be insufficient time to do what she was trying to do if she did not immediately return him to the hyperbaric chamber. She began to climb onto the table with him.
“Close it!” she shouted to Phlox.
Phlox demurred. “Commander, the chamber is designed for only one person!”
She gave him a determined look and said adamantly, “I need more time!... Close it now!”
She lay on top of Trip’s charred and motionless body, pressing her cheek to the ruin of his face, the fingers of her right hand taking up mind-meld position on his left temple as the chamber closed on the two of them.
“Your mind to my mind… Your thoughts to my thoughts…,” she whispered.
Abruptly she found herself standing on a white sandy beach. Gulls called overhead, providing counterpoint to the rhythmic susurration of the waves. She looked out over the sand, and caught sight of Trip preparing to enter the surf. She called to him.
“Wait for me, t’hy’la… Don’t go!”
Trip paused at the water’s edge, waiting for her as she ran to catch up. When she reached his side, he gave her a small, sad smile.
“I’ve got to, darlin’… It’s time,” he told her.
She placed a hand on his arm, breathless from the effort she’d exerted to reach him in time. “You don’t have to go… You can come with me,” she said, gazing into his eyes… by sheer force of will trying to convince him to agree. She took his hand and tried to lead him away from the water.
Trip looked back at her in surprise. “I thought that katra stuff only worked with Vulcans!... What makes you think it’s possible for me to go with you?”
T’Pol took his other hand. “Do you trust me, t’hy’la?” she asked with an earnest look.
He smiled at her gently. “Completely!” he replied.
“Then come with me and we’ll try,” she said.
Trip turned to look toward the horizon, where the sun was just beginning to set over the water. It was so beautiful. The sight drew him. Then he looked down at her sweet face, and deliberately turned away from the glorious sunset to look into her eyes. Suddenly, they were both standing together in the white space.
T’Pol searched his face for an indication of his wishes. “Were you at peace when you were on your beach?” she asked him.
“I always feel at peace on the beach,” he told her with a smile.
She closed her eyes in concentration. A door appeared beside them… an exact duplicate of the door to Trip’s quarters on Enterprise. She opened it, and they stepped through into a re-creation of the refuge that Trip had created in his own mind as he lay dying. The illusion was perfect… down to the smell of the ocean breeze and the soft sounds of the surf.
“You will be safe here,” T’Pol reassured him. She pulled his head down to hers and kissed him gently on the lips. “I must go now… but I’ll be back soon.”
She stepped out of his embrace and returned through the door, maintaining eye contact with him until she could no longer see his face. The white space surrounded her, and then she abruptly regained awareness of her surroundings. The thick, nauseating odor of burned flesh filled her nostrils. She fought to maintain her composure as her gorge rose. Trip’s body was cold and motionless beneath her, and she felt moisture on her chest as the serous fluids leaking from his burned chest saturated her uniform. The walls of the hyperbaric chamber were closing in on her as she struggled with the sensation of being buried alive…
…and woke with a strangled cry in her bedroom on Vulcan. T’Pol lay for several minutes trying to slow her heart and respiratory rates. The dream, which she’d had nightly for several weeks after Trip’s death, had become less frequent in recent days. Undoubtedly, it was her argument with Trip that had triggered it once again. Most nightmares contained at least a small amount of imaginary exaggeration of factual events. Unfortunately, this one was entirely realistic. There was no need to imagine horror when reality was quite horrifying enough. After futilely attempting to fall asleep again, T’Pol arose from her bed and sat on the floor. She meditated until sunrise, then wearily rose and began to dress for the day.
Charles stood at the mouth of a cave in the cliff wall overlooking the splendor of the Fire Plains. T’pol watched his face as he stood entranced by the fiery beauty of the lava flow. He smiled in amazement, and then, glancing guiltily in her direction, wiped the smile from his face.
“Fascinating,” he said… in an almost comical imitation of T’Len’s cool, emotionless Vulcan delivery.
T’Pol raised a brow at him in bland amusement.
“You are human, Charles. It is perfectly acceptable for you to smile when you are pleased by something,” she told him.
Charles looked at her in surprise. “T’Len says smiling demonstrates poor emotional control,” he told her seriously. “She has forbidden me to smile in her presence.”
“I’m not offended by your smile,” T’Pol replied, looking out over the plain. “You may feel free to smile in my presence whenever you choose.”
As she said this, she glanced at his face. He was grinning at her… the trademark Tucker grin that had always melted her heart. She was unable to prevent her hand from reaching out to brush the boy’s tousled bangs away from his forehead. He looked away from her, suddenly blushing and bashful.
T’Pol dropped her hand to her side and turned toward the plains, remembering the time she’d stood here with Trip… the day she’d told him she was marrying another man. He’d been so noble then, stepping aside to allow her to do her duty. Now he was insisting on being noble again… volunteering to be his young clone’s human role model despite his ethical misgivings.
“Charles, I have a question to ask you,” she said. The boy looked at her inquiringly, his face, by reflex, assuming a mask of Vulcan neutrality.
“Your biological tissue donor would like to meet you. Is the idea acceptable to you?”
Charles looked at her in confusion. “I thought he was dead,” he replied.
“In a manner of speaking… he is,” answered T’Pol matter-of –factly. “And yet, he also still lives, in a way, because I carry his katra,” she explained. “If you will allow me to do so, I can arrange for the two of you to meet. It is his opinion that contact with another human would be of benefit to you. I agree with his assessment.”
The boy considered her statement thoughtfully.
“I would be pleased to meet him,” he said finally.
T’Pol nodded, relieved that Charles appeared unafraid of what she proposed. “After we have completed our tour, we will return to the house and prepare for a mind meld. I will attempt to introduce the two of you this evening.”
“Can we see the Fire Plains Museum first?” asked Charles eagerly… more interested in the amazing sights before him than in the prospect of a mind meld with his guardian.
“Of course,” replied T’Pol indulgently. Acting on a sudden impulse, she extended her hand. After a moment of hesitation, Charles took it in his. “Come with me,” she said. “I believe you will find this quite interesting.”
“My mind to your mind… my thoughts to your thoughts…” murmured T’Pol. She and her young charge sat facing each other in the meditation chamber with their legs folded beneath them. They were both dressed in the loose, flowing robes that Vulcans commonly used for casual wear around the house. Three candles burned on the table beside them, but they were focused on each other… each of them with their right hand extended to the left temple of the other with their fingers on the mind meld contact points.
T’Pol felt the first stirrings of mental contact with the boy. She sensed his intense curiosity, as well as an element of shyness, with not a small amount of affection and hero-worship for his guardian mixed in. T’Pol was somewhat taken aback at first. She’d had no idea of the degree of admiration and affection that Charles held for her. His feelings were almost worshipful, as if she were an ideal he could never hope to attain. He admired her achievements, and wanted to be like her. It was a rather humbling experience. It was also quite alarming. Unless she could maintain her shields, the young man was in for quite a let-down. No living being could possibly live up to the expectations he had of her.
T’Pol focused on the present moment, suppressing all memory of past events and setting barriers around them to shield the boy’s impressionable young mind. She projected acceptance and approval. Opening her eyes, she found herself standing in the white space, facing a very surprised-looking young human.
“What is this place?” he asked, as he turned in place to gaze at the white emptiness extending in all directions.
“This is a construct within my mind, Charles,” T’Pol replied. “This is where I come to meditate… my place of peace.”
“Seems kinda dull to me,” said Charles. Realizing suddenly how his comment must have sounded, he looked at her guiltily and hastily added, “…no offense, Professor!”
“None taken, Charles,” replied T’Pol with an amused expression. “Trip used to say exactly the same thing.”
“Trip?” asked Charles in a puzzled voice.
“Your tissue donor, Charles Tucker the Third, prefers to be called by his nickname… ‘Trip’.” explained T’Pol.
“Why would he choose to be called by a name that is not his own?” asked Charles with typical Vulcan logic.
“I have asked him that on several occasions,” replied T’Pol. “He has yet to provide me with a satisfactory answer… Perhaps you should ask him yourself.” The boy raised a considering brow.
She turned away, and a door appeared before her. “Come, Charles,” she told him. “Trip is expecting us.”
He followed her through the door, and then stared around them in wonder at what he was seeing.
“I remember this place!” he said in amazement. “This is the beach in Destin where Dad used to take me… I mean him… fishin’!” He’d switched to English from Vulcan instinctively as his memories of the place became clearer, his accent becoming progressively more southern as he spoke. The boy’s eyes widened and his smile broadened as he caught sight of the ocean and the gleaming white sand which extended along the shoreline endlessly in either direction.
T’Pol noticed Trip walking up the beach with two fishing poles propped on one shoulder. He was dressed in a well-worn pair of khaki shorts and an unbuttoned shirt in an eye-poppingly loud floral print. She led Charles across the sand, and soon they stood face-to-face with Trip, looking somewhat out-of-place in the tropical setting wearing their flowing Vulcan robes.
Trip greeted T’Pol with a smile, dropping the fishing poles on the sand beside his bare feet. He took her hands in his.
“Hey, darlin’,” he whispered, and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek, ignoring her subtle disapproval of his affectionate gesture in Charles’ presence. Charles stared at them both with his mouth open, shocked by Trip’s inappropriately familiar behavior… and equally shocked by T’Pol’s apparently nonchalant acceptance of it. Then his mouth snapped shut, and his face assumed a Vulcan immobility.
Trip released T’Pol’s hands and, turning toward Charles, extended his right hand with a half-smile, as if he expected that the boy would refuse to shake it.
“I’m Trip Tucker,” he said.
At first, Charles looked down at Trip’s hand as if it might bite him. Then his memories of Earth kicked in. He grasped Trip’s right hand firmly in his, made eye contact, and said seriously, “I’m Charles Tucker the Fourth, sir… It’s nice to meet you.”
It was Trip’s turn to be shocked. He gave T’Pol a disbelieving look… waiting for an explanation. She realized then that she’d never told him the clone’s full name.
“It was the logical thing to call him,” she explained matter-of-factly. “He is, after all, your descendent…in a manner of speaking.”
Trip smiled at her ruefully and shook his head. He stepped back and looked Charles up and down.
“Well… You’re a good-lookin’ namesake, at any rate,” he told him with a chuckle. He looked at T’Pol inquiringly. “Can you do somethin’ about the…?” He gestured at Charles’ clothing. T’Pol raised a brow, and Charles’ Vulcan robes were transformed into a pair of khaki shorts and a shirt in a considerably more conservative print than Trip’s.
Trip gave her an amused look. “That’ll do, I guess,” he said. He looked back at Charles with a thoughtful expression.
“Now…,” he said musingly. “What am I gonna call you?” He rubbed his chin with his fingers as he considered the possibilities.
“My name is Charles, sir,” the boy reminded him helpfully.
“I know that, boy!” he told him in exasperation. “But a human kid needs a nickname… You’re already too Vulcan for yer own good!”
Charles simply raised a brow at that.
Trip looked at T’Pol in consternation, gesturing wordlessly at Charles with a comical ‘See what I mean?’ expression on his face. T’Pol’s lips twitched in an almost-smile.
“You look like the pictures I’ve seen of my Grampa Charlie when he was a boy… real serious,” said Trip. “I think I’m gonna call you Charlie,” he announced with a decisive nod.
Charles considered the nickname thoughtfully.
“Are you certain that every human boy is required to have one of these… ‘nicknames’?” he inquired.
“Absolutely!” confirmed Trip with a straight face.
“Then you may call me Charlie,” the boy conceded.
Trip grinned, slapped his hands together, and rubbed them briskly. Then he picked up the fishing poles.
“Now that that’s settled… Let’s go fishin’!” he said with enthusiasm.
T’Len arose before dawn to prepare the morning meal. The kitchen counters were spotless and gleaming. There was no sign of the meal she’d left on the counter the night before. She nodded in approval. After hearing the boy in the kitchen at all hours in the middle of the night for three nights running, she’d decided to start leaving food for him on the counter for a middle of the night meal. His caloric needs had tripled since his adolescent growth spurt had begun. During the previous week, she’d been advised by the Professor to offer him meals six times daily. The Professor had also recommended adding animal protein to the boy’s diet to accommodate his rapidly increasing muscle mass. To T’Len’s secret relief, Charles had found the idea of eating animal flesh unappealing. They had compromised by adding whey protein supplements to all of his meals.
The boy’s dishes were neatly placed in the dishwashing unit next to an empty pot which, only the night before, T’Len had used to prepare the week’s supply of plomeek broth. T’Len sighed and checked the stasis unit. It contained two bowls of plomeek broth… one, she assumed, for the Professor’s breakfast, and one for hers, that Charles had set aside before consuming the remainder. The stasis unit was otherwise completely empty. It was apparent that she’d need to leave him larger quantities of food for his nocturnal meals if she expected there to be food remaining the next morning for the rest of the household. She pulled the can of protein concentrate out of the cabinet and began to spoon it into a pitcher. She was stirring vigorously as Charles entered the house, breathing heavily from his morning run. She poured a glass of the gelatinous beverage and handed it to him wordlessly. He nodded his thanks and reached for the glass with a large, muscular hand reddened by the desert wind. He gulped it down with a slight grimace. He was more than a head taller than she was now, with hands and feet that appeared too large for his lean, muscular frame. His face retained some of its boyish smoothness, but his voice had dropped from its childish soprano to a smooth baritone.
“I will go to the market today to replenish our food stores,” said T’Len. “I will be able to offer you a proper meal then.”
He nodded, his face impassive. “I am honored by your efforts,” he replied.
She handed him a hypospray, and he self-administered his morning dose of maturational retardant into the side of his neck.
“Will you be accompanying the Professor again this morning?” asked T’Len.
Charles nodded. “At the meeting I attended yesterday with Professor T’Pol, the Dean of the Science Academy gave me permission to audit several classes which the Professor believes I might find useful,” he told her. “There is no need for you to concern yourself with my meals today until this evening. I will be dining at the Academy.”
T’Len nodded in acknowledgement of the information. She should logically have been relieved to be spared the additional work, but she found herself wondering how she would occupy her time alone all day in the huge house. It had only been six weeks, and already she’d grown accustomed to his presence.
“I will prepare your protein supplements for the day,” she told him. He nodded in solemn gratitude and left the kitchen to change out of the sweat suit he’d worn for his run and into something more appropriate for class.
T’Pol entered the kitchen as T’len placed a bowl of warm plomeek broth and a mug of chamomile tea on the table. She acknowledged T’Len’s presence with a nod, and then sat down to eat. Her face was thin and drawn, and she appeared fatigued.
“Are you well, Professor?” asked T’Len. She allowed no concern to enter her voice. Her question was simply a request for information.
“I am not ill, T’Len,” T’pol replied, sipping her tea with obvious enjoyment. “I have merely been exerting a tremendous amount of mental effort recently. It has been somewhat tiring.” She closed her eyes as she held her tea mug in her hands and inhaled the soothing aroma.
T’Len made note of T’Pol’s poor emotional control. Even Charles now seemed to have better control than her employer did.
“Perhaps you should spend more time in solitary meditation,” suggested T’Len with thinly veiled disapproval. The fact that T’Pol and Charles now meditated together for several hours almost nightly had not escaped her notice.
T’Pol opened her eyes, put down her tea mug, and began spooning up her plomeek broth. “That would undoubtedly be of benefit to me, T’Len,” she agreed. “Unfortunately, it has been necessary for me to focus on other things… for Charlie’s benefit.”
T’len raised a brow at her. “Is there a reason why he has chosen to change his name? I find it difficult to use the new appellation. It does not suit him,” she said.
“Since his first meeting with the katra of his tissue donor, when he was informed that all human boys had ‘nicknames’, he has insisted that I call him by the diminutive of his given name,” replied T’Pol as she ate. “I do not believe it suits him either, but he is human… he can choose what he wishes to be called,” she told T’Len firmly. “We will honor his wishes.”
T’Len nodded, and then took T’Pol’s empty mug and bowl away. “Yes, Professor,” she said. T’Len knew when to disagree with her employer and when not to do so. This was evidently a topic about which there would be no further discussion.
T’Pol pushed back from the table and picked up the small bag she brought with her to work. It held the PADD containing her lecture notes and a small container of chamomile tea bags… a rare commodity unavailable on the grounds of the Science Academy. She turned as she heard footsteps approaching, and froze, her heart in her throat, as she saw him there… dressed in slacks and a shirt of the same dark blue as the Starfleet uniform. For a moment, Trip stood before her, alive and well. She blinked… and Charlie walked up to join her. She nodded a morning greeting, not trusting herself to speak. T’Len handed Charlie an insulated bottle filled with his protein supplement. As they exited the house and left T’Len’s domain, Charlie shed his Vulcan demeanor like a second skin and gave T’Pol a brilliant smile.
“Good mornin’, Professor!” His excitement was palpable.
“You appear to be pleased with our plans for the day,” she told him dryly as they took their places within the ground transport. He’d learned to drive a few days before. He enjoyed the experience so much that she allowed him to drive whenever they traveled together.
“These classes I’m auditing are gonna be fascinating, Professor,” he told her with enthusiasm.
“And you’re having quite a lot of fun, aren’t you?” she asked him ironically.
He gave her a reluctant grin. “Well… yeah, I guess I am,” he admitted.
T’Pol nodded. “There is no shame in admitting that fact to me, Charlie. I do not disapprove of your enjoyment of the acquisition of knowledge.”
He glanced at her delicate profile as she focused her gaze on the road ahead of them. Trip is certainly correct, he thought proudly. She’s definitely not your average Vulcan.
Trip reached the small wooden platform anchored in the cove seconds ahead of Charlie. He grabbed the edges of the rough boards and hauled himself up onto the platform with a mighty heave of his muscular arms and a kick of his legs. He rolled over onto his back, laughing aloud, the water streaming from his head and bare chest. Charlie heaved himself up beside him, breathing heavily.
“No fair!” panted Charlie with a good natured smile. “You cheated!”
“Did not!” retorted Trip.
“Did so!” Charlie insisted. “You started first!”
“I’m just a better swimmer than you!” Trip countered.
“Well, I wonder why, since you’ve been swimming for years, and I just learned last week!” joked Charlie.
“Don’t worry, boy…,” Trip told him in mock reassurance. “No matter how much you practice, you’ll never beat me. I’ve got a special deal with the creator of the laws of physics in this place!”
Charlie looked at him with an expression of mock outrage on his face. “I knew you were cheating!” he said, laughing.
They flopped side-by-side on their backs on the small floating deck anchored roughly 100 yards from the beach in the shelter of the reef. Charlie put his hands behind his head and looked back at the beach, where T’Pol sat motionless on the sand in her Vulcan robes with her eyes closed, legs crossed, and back absolutely erect.
“Trip?” he asked idly.
“Yeah, Charlie?” answered Trip with his eyes closed.
“Why do you treat the Professor the way you do?”
Trip cracked one eye open and turned his head to look at Charlie quizzically. “I dunno...,” he answered in a puzzled tone. “How do I treat her?”
Charlie paused, searching his memories of Earth for an appropriate comparison. “You know…,” he said finally, “… like a girl.”
Trip looked at him in utter amazement, and then laughed out loud.
“Charlie!...” he protested, still laughing. “Just look at her!... I woulda thought by now you’d be old enough to figure out the answer to thatquestion!”
Charlie grinned sheepishly and blushed. He turned back to the beach, propped himself up on one elbow, and gazed at T’Pol as she sat on the sand.
“She is very beautiful, isn’t she?” he whispered softly. He watched her for a moment, and then turned his head to catch Trip looking at him with a strange expression on his face. Charlie immediately looked away, avoiding Trip’s gaze.
“That’s not exactly what I meant,” he clarified. “I mean… she may look like a girl,… but she sure doesn’t act like one.”
Trip sighed. “Charlie…” he began thoughtfully. “…the thing you have to realize about a woman like T’Pol is that she’s spent her whole life tryin’ to deny the fact that she needs anybody… She’s got all these feelin’s all bottled up and suppressed because she’s been taught that that’s the only way she can be a worthwhile person.” He rolled onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow to make eye contact with the young man.
“If you can ever convince a woman like that to trust you… to admit that she needs you for anythin’… then you should hang on to her and never let her go.” Trip’s face lit up in a wistful smile. “Once you can get her to spend even a little a’ all that affection she’s been savin’ up on you… Let me tell, ya, boy… there’s nothin’ like it! No eye-battin’, cheek-kissin’, hang-all-over-ya woman’ll ever be good enough after that!”
Charlie looked at Trip wide-eyed, silently digesting his words. He lay back on the deck again with a thoughtful look on his face.
“Thanks, Trip,” he said softly. “I’ll remember that.”
The two combatants faced each other and bowed slightly, then took positions with knees bent and fists raised to protect their faces and bodies. They both wore loose-fitting light-weight cotton drawstring pants and short jackets with overlapping panels that fastened with a sash like the longer Vulcan robes they wore for everyday wear. The young man was lean, muscular, and very fast. The slightly older appearing woman was noticeably smoother in her movements and more skilled, but seemed fatigued and slower moving. She crouched low on her rear leg, sweeping her forward leg in a rapid semicircle along the ground in an attempt to sweep him off his feet. He nimbly avoided the sweep, and then stepped forward, swinging his outside hand in a blindingly fast arc to deliver a ridge-hand strike to her left temple. For the first time in his experience, his opponent failed to block his strike. The instant he realized that his strike would make contact, he pulled it back, but not before the side of his hand struck his opponent a glancing blow on the temple, knocking her to the ground.
Charlie dropped his guard and immediately fell to his knees beside T’Pol. He reached for her face, attempting to ascertain the extent of the damage. She sat on the ground, slightly dazed. When Charlie’s fingertips came in contact with her face, he felt a sudden surge of profound weariness and embarrassment that was not his own. T’Pol’s eyes widened, and she jerked her head back as if his fingers had burned her. The stark terror in her eyes lasted only a fraction of a second, and was then replaced by her usual calm, neutral expression. She rose wearily to her feet, ignoring his offered hand, and gingerly fingered her left temple.
“I apologize, Charlie,” she said, avoiding his eyes. “I am not a worthy opponent today.”
“Are you all right?” he asked in a concerned voice. “I’m so sorry I hit you… Why didn’t you block?”
“I must be more fatigued than I realized,” she told him evasively. “I’m afraid I’ll need to cancel our meditation session this evening… I need to get some rest.” She had a strange, distracted expression on her face as she turned and walked into the house.
Charlie stood looking at her retreating back in consternation. He shook his head… disgusted with himself. I’ve offended her, he thought. I should never have touched her face without permission.
T’Pol’s mind was a morass of confusion as she entered the house and proceeded directly to the meditation chamber.
I cannot believe I have allowed this to happen again! she thought in stunned disbelief. I should have anticipated this and taken precautions!
Exactly what precautions she could have taken, she was not at all sure of, but she was certain that she should have done something to prevent her present predicament. With her next Ponfarr less than eleven months away, of course her traitorous subconscious mind would not settle for a bond with a non-corporeal spirit! A mate with a physical body was necessary to supply her needs. The mind melds had been a mistake. She should have sought the help of a priest instead of taking matters into her own hands. Now she was bonded to this boy…
Well… not really a boy anymore, she thought. Now that his body was physiologically equivalent to that of a twenty-one year old human male, he was fully physically mature and quite capable of satisfying her needs…
T’Pol deliberately suppressed that line of thinking, horrified by the direction her thoughts had taken. She was quite fond of Charlie… perhaps even more than fond. His strong physical resemblance to Trip and his own unique personality made it impossible for her to be objective when she thought of him. The fact that her feelings for him were so tangled up in her feelings for Trip that at times she had trouble distinguishing the two did not help her current situation in the least.
T’Pol knelt in the center of the room and closed her eyes. Despite her agitation, her desperate need to see and talk to Trip enabled her to reach the white space almost immediately.
She walked through the door and began to run across the sand. Trip caught sight of her and ran to meet her, noticing the look of distress on her face.
“What’s wrong, darlin’?” he asked her in a very worried tone.
Without a word, she wrapped both arms around his neck and kissed him desperately, her lips devouring his as if she were starving and he was the only food in the universe. After several moments, she broke off the kiss and whispered huskily in his ear. “Make love to me t’hy’la!” she begged.
He swept her up into his arms and carried her to their little cabin by the beach… where he was only too happy to oblige.
Charlie sat in his bedroom. He had showered and changed into his sleeping robes, and was seated on the floor attempting to meditate. He was unable to do so. His thoughts kept returning to the moment during their workout that evening when he had touched her face. He was puzzled. He had touched her face before. He did it almost nightly as part of the mind meld ritual which allowed him to visit Trip. There had been something about the touch during the workout that had been different, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Perhaps it had been because the touch was spontaneous… done without permission or preparation. He was certain that for a moment, he had experienced what the Professor was feeling. It was different with the meld. In the meld, he often had the impression that he was experiencing only what the Professor chose to have him experience. This time, she’d been unguarded. He craved the sensation. He wanted more of it. He needed to know what she felt… what she thought of him.
Charlie took a shaky breath and exhaled. He wasn’t sure when or how it had happened, but he’d recently come to the conclusion that he was in love with the Professor. He thought about her constantly. He dreamed about her… embarrassing, exciting, impossible dreams that woke him in the night, trembling and sticky with sweat and… other things. Only the Vulcan disciplines that T’Len had taught him prevented him from revealing his feelings during their daily mind meld. He’d taken to meditating for an hour before the meld, applying his limited knowledge of Kolinahr to calm his emotions and tuck them safely away. They always reasserted themselves even more powerfully than ever a few hours later, but thus far he’d managed to continue his visits to Trip without embarrassing himself with the Professor.
I should at least go and apologize to her, he thought. Perhaps then I’ll be able to meditate.
He got up from the floor and walked silently in the darkened house toward the meditation chamber. He entered without a word, and found the Professor in the center of the dimly lit room in deep meditation. The three candles on the table before her cast a reddish shadow on her lovely face. He moved forward as if to join her, and then stopped as she made a small sound. He looked at her more closely. Her skin glistened with a fine sheen of perspiration. Her lips were slightly parted. As he watched in fascination, her head tilted backwards, elongating her graceful neck, and she gasped softly. Her respiratory rate was more rapid than was usual for a meditative state. She’d removed her jacket in the warmth of the room, and wore only a thin t-shirt with her workout pants. Her back arched slightly and he could see her erect nipples through the fabric of the T-shirt. She gasped again, more loudly this time, and Charlie realized abruptly what he was seeing… She was with Trip.
He backed hurriedly out of the room… unbearably aroused, horribly embarrassed… and hopelessly jealous. He returned to his bedroom. Meditation was no longer an option.
This Denobulan is a strange-looking fellow, thought Charlie as he stood outside the courtyard gate. He’d stopped to catch his breath after his morning run. He could see the Denobulan doctor in the courtyard, drinking tea from a mug as he sat on the bench. He couldn’t see who the doctor was conversing with, but he had a pretty good idea who it was.
“You’ve got no reason to be concerned, T’Pol,” the doctor was saying. “The scans I did of him yesterday show him to be in perfect health. We had a nice discussion, and he told me that he would prefer to arrest the aging process at an apparent age of 25 to 30 human years.” He pulled out a PADD. “Last night I prepared a new dosage regimen for the maturational retardant that should achieve that goal… It can, of course, be adjusted to allow further aging if he changes his mind,” said the doctor helpfully, handing her the PADD.
“I am grateful for your assistance, Doctor,” T’Pol’s voice replied. Charlie couldn’t see her from where he stood. He’d taken a step toward the entrance, uncomfortable with the idea of eavesdropping on their conversation, when the doctor spoke again.
“I must tell you, T’Pol, that I am concerned about you,” said the doctor with a worried expression. “The scans I did of you yesterday evening were most definitely not normal.”
The doctor’s words caused Charlie to pause involuntarily, waiting for T’Pol’s response.
“I don’t recall giving you permission to perform any scans of me, Doctor,” she replied coolly. “You are here to evaluate Charlie.”
“I apologize for the invasion of your privacy T’Pol, but you looked so tired and ill that I couldn’t in good conscience leave here without evaluating your condition,” said Phlox in a concerned voice. “You are malnourished, significantly sleep deprived, and emotionally fragile. Your neurochemistry is even more abnormal than usual, and your stress hormone levels are tremendously high. In short… you need help!”
“I appreciate your concern, Doctor, but I have the situation well in hand,” T’Pol reassured him.
“You know you can’t carry his katra forever, T’Pol,” said the doctor reasonably. “When are you going to transfer it to Charlie? After all, that’s what he was created for.”
Charlie stopped breathing. The doctor’s words shocked him to the core. He’d always known he was a made being, artificially grown and unnaturally endowed with memories that were not his own. Until that point, he had not known that his life had a specific purpose other than to continue in the footsteps of his tissue donor. He’d been prepared to be a credit to his origins, but the knowledge of his true purpose was an epiphany.
“Trip and I have discussed it many times,” T’pol was saying. “We have concluded that Charlie has the right to live his own life and be his own person, without further interference from us. We have decided that I will bear Trip’s katra for as long as I am able.”
“Even if it results in madness… or your death?” asked the doctor incredulously.
“I am willing to take the risk, Doctor,” replied T’Pol with calm assurance.
“Charlie is very fond of both of you, T’Pol,” said Phlox. “You should give him complete information and allow him to make his own decision.”
“Charlie is too much like Trip for me to allow that, Doctor,” said T’Pol firmly. “He is very likely to feel obligated to end his existence as a distinct individual simply to please me. He is too young yet to make that choice.”
Phlox sighed and shook his head. “You’re a very stubborn woman, T’Pol!” he said ruefully.
“Thank you for your assistance, Doctor,” replied T’Pol dryly. “You are welcome to stay and see the sights of Vulcan before you return to your ship.”
The Denobulan smiled his eerily broad smile. “Thank you for the invitation, but the Columbia needs her new medical officer,” he answered.
Charlie coughed and scuffed his feet, then rounded the corner and entered the courtyard.
“Ah,… Charlie!” said Dr. Phlox with a smile. “Did you have a good run?” he asked, eyeing Charlie’s dry clothing and slow respiratory rate questioningly.
Charlie smiled. “It was too hot to run… so I walked instead,” he replied. He extended his right hand to the doctor, who shook it firmly.
“I want to thank you for all of your help, Doctor,” Charlie said sincerely, making eye contact with Phlox, his voice full of gratitude. Phlox’s brow wrinkled a bit. He seemed slightly puzzled by Charlie’s enthusiasm.
“You’re quite welcome Charlie… It was my pleasure,” he replied. Charlie nodded and entered the house with a businesslike expression on his face. He had a lot of research to do.
Charlie sat in the ground transport with the engine running, waiting for the Professor to join him. She was running quite uncharacteristically late. In the week since the Denobulan doctor had dropped his bombshell, Charlie had done a significant amount of research on the traditions associated with the katra. Along the way, he’d come across some interesting information on the Vulcan mating bond… information which explained, in part, the odd circumstances that had led to the unlikely pairing of a Vulcan female and a human male. He was actually looking forward to acquiring Trip’s memories of his time on Enterprise. Perhaps in that way he’d be able to understand the strange bond between his two closest friends. He wasn’t sure how he was going to deal with the memories he’d certainly receive of intimacies between them, but at this point he was ready to admit that he was so in love with the Professor that being with her second-hand was better than not being with her at all. She’d been behaving very strangely since the night he’d intruded on her time with Trip, finding every excuse imaginable to avoid their daily mind meld. Charlie was beginning to despair of ever seeing Trip again. That was a serious problem, as his plans for the future hinged on Trip’s cooperation.
Charlie caught sight of T’Pol as she exited the house. She walked slowly to the transport with a mug of tea clenched in one fist. He got out of the driver’s seat to open the door for her. She sat heavily into the passenger’s seat, put her head back on the head rest, and closed her eyes. Her face was thin and pale. She had dark turquoise circles under both eyes. Charlie just stood there with the passenger side door open for a moment, studying her face.
“This is ridiculous!” he exploded. He slammed the door shut, got back in the vehicle, and drove it right back into the garage. T’Pol opened her eyes when she felt the vehicle come to a halt.
“What are you doing, Charlie?” she asked, in a voice that was hoarse with fatigue.
“What I should have done a week ago when I decided it had to be done, instead of waiting like a child for Trip’s approval,” he told her harshly. “Come with me.”
He opened the passenger door and took her by the hand, pulling her up from the seat in one motion and spilling her tea. He took the empty tea mug from her and marched her toward the house. She could feel his anger and frustration clearly through their bond. She wanted to argue with him about his high-handedness, but was too exhausted to try.
As they passed through the kitchen, Charlie handed T’Pol’s empty mug to T’Len and told her, “Call the Science Academy… Tell them that Professor T’Pol is ill and will require a substitute for her lectures today.” He pulled T’Pol through the kitchen without another word, leaving T’Len gazing after them in secret relief.
If Vulcan logic cannot convince her that she is destroying herself… Perhaps human emotion will, she thought
Her eyes followed them both as they proceeded down the hall to the meditation chamber, and Charlie slammed the door closed behind them.
They stood facing each other, alone in the dimly lit room.
“Sit!” he told her, indicating the meditation cushion in the center of the floor on one side of the low meditation table
She raised a brow at his abrupt tone, but did as he asked.
“Now…,” he said with his arms crossed on his chest, towering over her as she sat on the floor, “We’re gonna discuss what you’re doin’ to yourself and how we’re gonna fix it!”
T’Pol simply sat and stared. In his anger, he’d reverted to English. Standing there with his arms crossed on his chest and a look of aggravation on his face, he was Trip come to life again.
“I am open to suggestions,” she said finally.
Charlie stuck his tongue in one cheek and looked at her in disgust. “For starters…How about lettin’ me in on the fact that I was created to be the host for Trip’s katra!” he told her bitterly.
Both of T’Pol’s brows went up at that, and then she looked down, avoiding his gaze. “That was the case… at first...,” she admitted in shame, “… but then Trip and I decided that you should be allowed to live your own life.” She raised her eyes to his again. “We would never use you in that way, Charlie.”
He looked at her in frustration. “You don’t understand!” he told her. He paused, searching for the proper words, his eyes roaming the room, looking everywhere but at her. Then he made eye contact again, tears spilling over onto his cheeks.
“I love you!” he admitted in a voice choked with emotion.
T’Pol’s chest tightened. He was doing what she feared he’d do.
“I can’t stand by and do nothing while you destroy yourself!... You’ve got to let me do what I was created to do!” he pleaded.
T’Pol sighed. “You’ve assimilated Trip’s memories of his time on Enterprise, haven’t you?” she asked him softly. It was the only logical explanation for his sudden declaration of undying affection.
Charlie looked at her in surprise, and then realized what she had assumed. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for several seconds. His face became tranquil and impassive. Then he opened his eyes and smoothly folded his legs beneath him so that he was comfortably sitting on the soles of both feet, a position that Trip, despite six years of daily meditation, had never been able to assume with such ease. He faced her across the meditation table and spoke to her in flawless Vulcan.
“My affection for you has nothing to do with Trip… It is my own,” he told her with emotionless Vulcan intonation. “My decision to host Trip’s katra is also my own.” He met her eyes solemnly, attempting to impart to her with logic what he had failed to impart through emotion. “You have said many times in the past that I am human… and that I may choose…” He exhaled and swallowed. “I have chosen,” he said with finality. “Can you accept my choice and allow me to do what I must do?” Charlie’s face remained expressionless, awaiting her response.
T’Pol stared at him, undone by his logical argument, presented in a way so unlike anything that Trip would have said to her. Then she sighed in resignation.
“You will have to convince Trip of the wisdom of your decision,” she told him reluctantly. “I will agree to the ritual only if you can convince him to agree also.”
Charlie nodded. He reached out a hand, looking questioningly at her for permission to touch her face and begin the mind meld ritual. Instead, she extended two fingers toward him. He gave her a puzzled look.
“Our repeated mind melds have initiated a bond between us,” she told him matter-of-factly. “It is no longer necessary for us to meld in order for you to speak with Trip.”
Charlie extended two fingers to touch hers. He could sense her fear and profound fatigue. He looked at her in confusion.
“But you’re bonded to Trip!” he protested.
She met his gaze evenly. “Trip lacks the attributes necessary to fulfill my needs during my next Ponfarr. My subconscious mind was evidently aware of that fact, and acted accordingly.”
Charlie blushed. “You mean you can feel my…” He paused and cleared his throat. “… what I’m feeling?” he finished with an embarrassed look.
“I have been aware of your physical desire for me for some time, Charlie,” she responded gently, “...but I was not aware of the extent of your feelings for me until a few moments ago.” He felt sympathy and affection in the bond, and a stirring of physical desire that he was almost certain was not entirely his own.
She looked at him as if she couldn’t quite figure out what to do with him, and then shook her head slightly and closed her eyes in meditation. Charlie closed his eyes as well and breathed deeply, focusing on the sensation of her fingers touching his, and trying to sort his emotions from hers in the confusing tangle of feelings he was receiving through the bond. When he opened his eyes again, he was in the white space, sitting across from T’Pol.
“The door is behind you,” she told him without opening her eyes. “I will remain here and focus on maintaining the illusion. I am no longer strong enough to interact with both of you and also maintain Trip’s sanctuary. Come and find me here when you have spoken with Trip. I will be waiting.”
Charlie turned to find an open door. The view through the door filled him with a quite illogical sense of loss. The endless beach was gone. The small beach cabin existed at the center of a 100 yard square island of white sand and tropical vegetation in the center of a featureless sea of white. Although he knew that the beach existed only in T’Pol’s imagination, he still felt as if he’d lost his childhood home. He crossed over the threshold and went looking for Trip.
“She didn’t seem sick the last time we were together,” said Trip in bewilderment.
“She only shows you what she wants you to see… Haven’t you noticed how this place has changed?” replied Charlie. “She’s too weak to maintain it! If you could see what she really looks like, you’d be just as worried as I am!”
Trip ran his fingers through his hair, and then rested his elbows on his knees. The two of them were sitting side-by-side on the bed in Trip’s beach cabin with identical expressions of frustration on their faces.
“She said she had to cut back on the illusion to give us more time…,” said Trip helplessly, “…but I had no idea things had gotten that bad!”
He looked at Charlie for help. “What did she say when you told her you wanted to go through with the ritual?”
“She wasn’t happy with my decision,” admitted Charlie. “She’s afraid that I’m doing it out of a sense of duty, and that really makes her feel guilty.” He laughed ruefully and shook his head.
Trip looked at him in astonishment. “She told you that?” His face reflected his amazement that T’Pol would discuss her emotions so openly with anyone.
Charlie realized then that he’d known the Professor’s feelings about the ritual because of their inadvertent bond. “Um… well… not exactly,” he admitted.
Trip’s eyes narrowed. “You’re in love with her,” he said. It was not a question.
“Enough to give my life for her,” replied Charlie matter-of-factly.
Trip shook his head and laughed in resignation. “Welcome to the club!” he told him.
He sighed and looked Charlie in the eye. “So what do we do now?” he asked.
“She said she’d do it only if you told her yourself that you wanted her to go through with it,” said Charlie. “After that, it’s a simple matter of seeing the priest.”
Trip nodded thoughtfully. He caught Charlie’s gaze and held it. “Are you absolutely sure you wanna do this?” he asked. “Ya know there might not be much of you left after we join… I’ve got about thirty-six more years of livin’ under my belt ta add to the mix.”
Charlie exhaled in frustration. “I wish both of you would just trust me to make my own decision!”
He looked down and thought for a moment. “Just look at it this way…” he said, looking back up earnestly at Trip. “I get to save the life of my best friend and spend the rest of my life with the woman I love, and all I have to do is share a little brain space… It’s a win-win situation!” he said with wry humor.
Trip laughed and shook his head. “Well… when you put it that way, I suppose it’d be downright mean of me to say no!”
He clapped Charlie on the shoulder and looked him in the eye. “You’re more than just a friend, Charlie,” he said. “You’re like my little brother… and I can’t think of anybody I’d rather share a consciousness with!”
He paused for a moment to review what he’d just said with a strange look on his face.
“That has gotta be the weirdest statement that I’ve ever made!” he said with a wondering laugh.
Charlie laughed. “That’s okay, Trip… this is a weird situation.” He smiled at Trip fondly, and then wrapped his arms around him in a huge bear hug. Trip returned the embrace, fighting back his tears. Charlie released him and got up from the bed.
“I’ll just go get the Professor, then… and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Yeah… see ya tomorrow, Charlie,” replied Trip with a wistful smile. “Thanks, buddy.”
Charlie returned his smile with a bright, reassuring one of his own. “Don’t worry, man… It’s really okay,” he told him. “I know we can make this work.” He turned and left the cabin.
Trip lay back on the bed to wait for his wife. He only wished he shared Charlie’s youthful optimism. Their chance of success in attempting a katra transference between two humans was iffy at best, but as long as the ritual got him out of T’Pol’s head, Trip would be content… assuming he’d still be around to feel that way.
Trip and T’Pol were cuddled cozily on the bed in the beach cottage. The white space was just outside their door, for T’pol was now unable to maintain the elaborate outdoor illusion. It made no difference to Trip. He was exactly where he wanted to be.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were havin’ so much trouble, darlin’?” he whispered to T’Pol as he held her securely in his arms with her head pillowed on his chest.
“I tried to… in the beginning,” she said softly, rubbing her head on his chest as if she were trying to burrow inside, and wrapping her arms more tightly around him. “…But then we decided to let Charlie live his own life, and I thought it would be easier for you to bear if you didn’t see what was happening to me.”
“I’m very upset with you for not telling me, you know.” Trip’s gentle voice belied his words. He kissed her softly on the top of her head. “You should be very grateful to Charlie for telling me how sick you’ve been getting.”
“Charlie was very insistent that I allow him to tell you,” replied T’Pol. “He was quite stubborn about it.”
“Charlie’s in love with you…,” Trip told her, “… and you’ve bonded with him.”
T’Pol’s breath caught in her throat. She sat up and looked Trip in the eye. “He told you?” she asked in disbelief.
“Not in so many words,” Trip replied. “He just knows too much about the way you’re feelin’ not to be feelin’ it for himself.” He smiled and pulled T’Pol back into his embrace to reassure her. “It’s not like it’s that surprisin’, T’Pol. You’ve been mind meldin’ with him almost daily for over a month now, and I’m sure not gonna be any good to you at your next Ponfarr in my current condition,” he said reasonably.
“It was an accident, t’hy’la,” she told him softly. He felt her concern that the knowledge of her bond with Charlie would cause him pain. “I am very fond of Charlie, but I am not in love with him. I promise you that we have not engaged in any… physical demonstrations of affection.”
Trip laughed. “I know that, T’Pol!” he said with a smile. “He still calls you ‘Professor’!”
T’Pol nodded, satisfied with his answer, and laid her head back down on his chest. They rested like that for a while.
“Charlie and I have come to an agreement,” said Trip into the silence. “We’ve agreed that it’s best for all of us if we go through with the katra transference ceremony. We’d like to see the priest tomorrow.”
T’Pol sat up again. “What changed your mind?” she asked him softly, searching his face and emotions for any signs of dissatisfaction with his decision.
“Charlie did,” he replied matter-of-factly. “He’s sure of what he wants, and he argued for it so convincingly that I couldn’t think of a single reason to tell him no.”
T’Pol nodded. “His logical reasoning skills are quite impressive,” she agreed. “He convinced me in the same way.” She sighed and looked Trip in the eyes. “ I will arrange to meet with the priest tomorrow,” she said.
Trip smiled at her. She laid her head back down and closed her eyes. They rested again.
Once again, Trip was the one who broke the silence.
“T’Pol,… can I ask you somethin’?”
“Yes, Trip… anything,” she replied sleepily.
“Does the idea of bein’… intimate… with Charlie bother you?... I mean… you’ve raised him like a son…”
T’Pol considered his question with a puzzled expression.
“I have affection for Charlie…,” she said. “…but I don’t think of him as a son.” She paused, attempting to explain the unexplainable. “When he was a child I didn’t think of him as a potential mate, of course,… but as he grew older and his resemblance to you became unmistakable, it is quite obvious that at least my subconscious mind considered him a good candidate for ‘intimacy’,” she told him in helpless bewilderment.
Trip nodded in satisfaction, and then took a deep breath, as if to prepare himself for a difficult task.
“I hope you won’t get upset by this…,” he said hesitantly, “…but I have a favor to ask you.”
T’Pol tilted her head back to look at him, raised a brow, and waited.
“Every man deserves at least one evenin’ alone with the woman he loves,” said Trip.
T’Pol’s brow wrinkled slightly in puzzlement, and then her eyes widened as she realized what he was suggesting. “Trip!...,” she protested, “I cannot possibly…!” He laid his fingers lightly on her lips.
“Hear me out, T’Pol!” he insisted. “You don’t hafta do anythin’ you’re not comfortable doin’, darlin’… I just want you to spend some time alone with him, is all… give him somethin’ special to remember just in case there’s nothin’ left of him once we join.”
T’Pol sighed, and then looked at him in puzzlement. “I fail to see why you would be willing to allow me to ‘spend time alone’ with another man.”
“T’Pol, the boy is head over heels in love with you! The least you can do is let him have the chance to show you the way he feels before he gives up his entire life for us! Don’t ya think we owe him at least that?”
T’Pol still appeared unconvinced.
Trip reached out his hand to gently caress her face. “If it’ll make ya feel any better, darlin’… think about it this way… any beautiful memories you give him tonight will be my beautiful memories in the mornin’.” He smiled at her gently. “I’ve never met a man who’s been given the chance to be with the woman he loves for the very first time twice in one lifetime… have you?” he asked her softly.
T’Pol searched his face. “Is this truly what you wish?” she asked him in utter amazement.
Trip smiled. He remembered clearly the last time she’d asked him that question. His memory took him back to their wedding day as they stood together on the sands of the Kunat-Kalifi arena. She’d been just as amazed then, and he’d been just as certain that he was doing the right thing. He gave her the same answer that he’d given then.
“Yes,” he said simply.
T’Pol raised a hand to Trip’s face as well, searching his emotions for confirmation, and found, to her surprise, that he was telling her the truth. Her face reflected her conflict over his request. He smiled at her wistfully, and she realized then that he was prepared for death, and was trying to prepare her for the possibility that a katra transference between two humans would not be possible. He wanted her to be happy with Charlie if he did not survive… and he truly wanted Charlie to be happy as well. Tears began to well up in her eyes. She steeled herself to be strong. Her face regained its Vulcan composure. Logic dictated that she should be willing to comply with what very well could be his last request.
“If it is truly your wish, t’hy’la…then I will give him a night to remember,” she promised him solemnly.
He lowered his mouth to hers and gave her a gentle kiss of gratitude. She returned the kiss with more urgency, as if she were saying goodbye.
Reluctantly pulling his lips from hers, Trip rose from the bed, pulled T’Pol to her feet, and turned her toward the door.
“You should go now before I change my mind and keep you here so long that you won’t have time for this memorable night you’re plannin’,” he said jokingly.
He led her to the door and opened it to the white space. T’Pol opened her mouth to say something, but he laid his fingers on her lips again.
“It’ll be all right, darlin’… don’t worry,” he said with a reassuring smile. “I’ll see ya in the mornin’.”
Then he pushed her out the door. She gazed silently into his eyes until he gently closed the door in her face.
Trip walked slowly back to the bed and sat down heavily, resting his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He lowered the barriers that he’d so painstakingly erected around his grief and apprehension.
“I can’t believe I just did that!” he said miserably.
He raised his head and sat staring morosely at the wall for a while.
“I guess I’ll find out tomorrow if all a’ this was worth it,” he said ruefully.
He thought for a moment, and then a small smile of anticipation appeared on his face.
“’A night to remember’…,” he whispered, his smile widening to a grin. “I can hardly wait, darlin’… I can hardly wait!”
Charlie heard a tap at his bedroom door, and rose from his meditation to answer it. The Professor stood in the hall. Instead of her usual sleeping robes, she wore a human-style blue silk wrap-around garment that tied at the waist. He couldn’t be entirely certain, but judging from the way the fabric clung to her body, it was doubtful that she wore anything beneath it. Rather than extending to the floor as proper sleepwear should, the flimsy garment ended at the knee. Her feet were bare. She was absolutely stunning. Charlie just stood there staring at her.
“May I come in?” she asked politely, one brow raised at his dumbfounded expression. He smiled slightly in embarrassment and stepped aside, gesturing for her to enter. “Please do,” he said.
She walked into the room. It had changed very little in the two months that he had occupied it. At the moment, it was illuminated only by the three lit meditation candles on the low table in the center of the floor. The small single bed in the corner was now too cramped for a man of his size. The full-length mirror against the back wall had belonged to her mother. It was rarely used, but the room was a convenient place to store it for future needs. There was also a dresser, and several large cushions placed on the floor near the meditation table. There were no decorations on the walls, but a small desk in the opposite corner from the bed held a small boy’s personal mementos… a piece of lava rock from the Fire Plains… a model of the Enterprise in her heyday… and an antique hardback copy of Tom Sawyer, given to him at Trip’s request.
She turned to look at him. “Trip has agreed to the ritual,” she told him with a neutral expression. “I plan to notify the priest in the morning.”
Charles nodded. “It is fortunate that he has agreed so easily,” he told her evenly, his face a model of Vulcan propriety. A slightly awkward silence ensued, as neither of them were particularly skilled at small talk. The Professor looked away from him for a moment, almost as if she were gathering her courage, and then met his eyes again.
“Are you concerned about the ritual tomorrow?” she asked… looking at him with a strangely intent expression.
“I have meditated,” he told her. “I am hoping that I will be able to sleep. I was having difficulty earlier,” he admitted.
“I, too, have difficulty sleeping when I am faced with a situation which causes me concern,” replied the Professor. “If you wish, I can teach you a method of improving your sleep quality in such situations,” she offered.
“I would be interested in learning more of this method,” replied Charlie, his curiosity piqued despite his efforts to maintain his emotional control.
“I will demonstrate,” said the Professor. “Please sit down.”
As there were no chairs except a small desk chair in the room, Charlie sat down on the bed.
“The art of neuropressure is an ancient one,” she said. “Have you encountered any references to it during your recent research?”
Charlie’s eyes widened. She was planning to do neuropressure on him! When he’d accidentally come across illustrations of some of the more advanced postures during his eclectic studies of all things Vulcan, they had been the focal points of some very interesting dreams for several nights afterwards.
“A few,” he replied evasively.
The Professor sat behind him on the bed.
“Your back must be bare if I am to apply the proper technique,” she told him.
He swallowed. Then he unfastened his sleeping robe at the neck and, pulling his arms out of the sleeves, lowered it to his waist. He held his breath as he felt her smooth, warm hands come in contact with his mid-back and press firmly on either side of his spine. The skin-to-skin contact allowed him to feel her curiosity… and a surge of sexual desire that surely must be his… it couldn’t possibly be coming from her!
“… using the thumbs, pressure is applied firmly on either side of the spine at the space between the fifth and sixth thoracic vertebrae,” the Professor was saying. “It is important to continue to breathe in the same fashion as one breathes while meditating.”
Charlie focused on his breathing… anything to get his mind off of the sensation of her soft, strong hands pressing into his back so firmly that it was painful. As she continued to press, the pain began to lessen, and the pressure began to feel quite wonderful. It finally culminated in a sudden, intensely pleasurable release of muscle tension which relaxed him completely. She removed her hands slowly from his back, her fingers lingering perhaps a bit longer than was strictly necessary. He took a deep, shaky breath.
“I will require your assistance,” said the Professor calmly.
Charlie turned. She had taken a seat on the end of his bed with her back to him. As he watched, she pulled the silken robe off either shoulder. It dropped to her waist, leaving her back entirely bare. She crossed her hands over her chest for modesty. Charlie swallowed, extended his shaking hands, and placed his thumbs in the correct position on either side of her spine. Once again, he felt an unmistakable surge of sexual desire. It was becoming very difficult to maintain his emotional control.
“Press harder,” she instructed.
Charlie pressed with all of his might, staring at the back wall of the room instead of at her back, hoping that doing so would help him keep his mind on what he was doing. As his eyes focused on the wall, he saw the Professor reflected in the full-length mirror. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were slightly parted as she breathed deeply. She looked like someone who was having an intensely pleasurable experience. Her eyes opened and he made eye contact with her in the mirror. Gazing forthrightly at him, she deliberately dropped both arms to her sides, giving him an unobstructed view of her lovely breasts. His breath caught in his throat. She closed her eyes again and arched her head back with a soft gasp. He felt her entire body relax under his hands. He removed his hands from her back, but was unable to take his eyes off of the incredible sight in the mirror.
The Professor turned toward him then, and stood up. Her silken garment fell to the floor, leaving her entirely bare.
“Professor!” he protested. “What are you…?”
“Charlie…,” she interrupted him, as she took him by the hand and pulled him to his feet, causing his garment to fall to the floor as well. “…I believe that, given the circumstances, I would prefer that you call me T’Pol.”
Charlie, wide-eyed, nodded and licked his dry lips.
“Okay… T’Pol.” he said in a strangled whisper.
T’Pol sighed. The boy was obviously frightened out of his mind.
“You have an amazing aptitude for neuropressure,” she said gently, approaching him until their bodies were only inches apart. “I was very… satisfied… with the outcome of your first lesson.” She lifted both hands and softly stroked over his shoulders from the base of his neck to his forearms, admiring his strong, young body. This time, Charlie was certain that at least some of the sexual desire he was sensing was coming from her. She looked him in the eye. “I would very much enjoy discovering whether you also have an aptitude for other forms of intimate physical activity…Would you like that, Charlie?”
Instead of answering her question, he completely gave up trying to control his emotional responses. Grasping her face in both hands, he began kissing her with considerably more enthusiasm than skill. When she responded by placing both arms around his neck and pressing the full length of her naked body against his, his hands began to roam her body frantically, trying to touch her everywhere, all at once. He devoured her mouth hungrily until he was forced to come up for air, and broke off gasping and trembling.
She raised a brow at him in amusement, and slowly stroked the backs of two fingers from the corner of his mouth, along the line of his jaw, and down the side of his neck to his bare chest. He shuddered at her touch, still trying to catch his breath.
“Breathe, Charlie,” she whispered with an almost-smile. “There is no need for haste… We have all night.”
She stepped back and pulled him down with her to the meditation cushions on the floor, so that they were lying head-to-foot with his entire body within reach of her hands and mouth.
“Allow me to demonstrate,” she told him softly.
She started with his feet… but she didn’t stop there.
Several hours later, Charlie lay wide awake in bed, his body still tingling in the aftermath of his first incredible sexual experience. T’Pol lay securely wrapped in his arms, sleeping the dreamless sleep of complete satisfaction and utter exhaustion. Still unable to keep his hands away from her, he traced a single finger over the smooth curve of her bare shoulder. His feather-light touch traveled up the side of her neck and along her jaw line. When he reached the tip of her ear, she stirred slightly, rubbing her head on his chest and letting out a small, contented sigh. He smiled sweetly at her, remembering the surprised look on her face when he’d accessed Trip’s memories of youthful college sexual explorations in order to please her. Her presence in his arms still seemed unreal… like a dream. He frankly could not believe that she’d chosen to spend this last night of their independent existence with him instead of with Trip, but her presence in his bed was concrete evidence of her choice.
I am the luckiest man in the known universe! he thought, with a wondering smile on his face. He laid his head down next to hers on the pillow, settled himself more comfortably around her, and closed his eyes, trying to get at least a little sleep before dawn.
Admiral Jonathan Archer pulled the rented ground transport up to the gate, and checked the vehicle’s GPS. These were the coordinates T’Pol had given him. He stepped out of the vehicle into the hot, dry Vulcan air. It felt like stepping into an oven. Archer pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat off his face. He’d come prepared this time. He pulled a water bottle from the holder on his belt and took a swig, then looked around for the occupants of the house. He heard voices in the courtyard, so he stepped through the gate.
Two robed figures stood conversing quietly in Vulcan in the center of the courtyard. One of them was an elderly Vulcan woman. She looked upward at her taller companion with an attentive expression, then nodded and turned to go back into the house. The taller Vulcan stood absolutely still and erect, watching her go. There was something familiar about him, but Archer couldn’t recall ever seeing a blonde Vulcan before. The man turned, and his impassive, serene face broke into a broad smile.
“Jon!... You’re here!” he said enthusiastically.
Archer couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Trip!” he said incredulously. “I don’t understand… I saw you die!”
He stood frozen in place, his face ashen with shock.
The blonde man approached him and took his arm, leading him to the bench in the courtyard. “You look like you need to sit down, Jon,” he said with a sympathetic smile. He lowered his friend to the bench and sat down beside him.
“I’m sorry we couldn’t tell you sooner, Jon… but T’Pol and I decided to wait to make sure the process worked before we told anybody. We didn’t wanna risk it becoming public knowledge if it failed. Dr. Phlox’s career was at stake.” He looked at Archer with an apologetic expression. “Now that we know it works, though, I’m betting Phlox will be the most sought after doctor in the entire Federation of Planets! Too bad he’s sworn never to do it ever again… he could really make a bundle,” he said jokingly. “At least he’ll be a hit on the lecture circuit!”
“Hello, Jonathan,” said a soft voice from behind them. Archer turned to greet T’Pol. She was dressed in Vulcan robes as well. She looked rested and vibrantly healthy. Obviously, teaching at the Science Academy agreed with her. He watched as she extended two fingers to the man in the robe in a gesture that Archer recognized as the greeting between Vulcan spouses.
The couple stood with fingers touching for mere seconds, gazing solemnly into each other’s eyes. Neither of them smiled, but somehow their love for each other was a palpable thing, exchanged in a single touch as they stood oblivious to his presence. Then they dropped their hands and the moment was over.
T’Pol turned to Archer. “Welcome to our home, Admiral,” she said formally.
Archer grinned. “So what happened to ‘Jonathan’?” he joked.
She raised a brow at him and ignored the comment. “Please come into the house,” she said. “The heat must be unpleasant for you.” She looked at her spouse in mild reproof.
“He had to sit down when he saw me, darlin’,” came the hasty reply. “He did think I was dead, y’know.”
Archer looked at him more closely. He appeared to be in perfect health… and seemed even younger than the last time that Archer had seen him nearly five months before.
“I’m sure I’m missing something important here, Trip…” said Archer, shaking his head with a puzzled smile. “… but you certainly look great!”
“Well… about that, Jon,” replied his friend reluctantly. “You’re right about one thing… Charles Tucker the Third is dead,” he told him. Archer just looked at him blankly.
“This body…,” he gestured toward himself. “… is the Fourth… and since we all kinda decided that ‘Quad’ is a really stupid nickname, I’ve had to change it.”
Archer looked so baffled at this point, that his friend took pity on him, and stuck out his right hand. “It’s nice ta meet ya… again,” he said with a teasing grin. “The name’s Charles Tucker the Fourth… but my friends just call me Charlie.”
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