"A Tour of the Firecaves"
Author's Notes: Just something easy, before I return to my big epic drama. And this time I'm using my powers for "good" and not "evil." I acknowledge the enormous talent of all the Star Trek writers, whose scripts I've cut up and pasted back together to make this fic.
Trip could hardly believe he was here—with T’Pol, on Vulcan. All it had taken was a downcast look. “Poor me, no place to go,” and she’d invited him along. No longer her lab rat, he’d been upgraded to stray puppy.
T’Pol’s mom might have preferred Porthos on her doorstep. Trip had watched in amazement as T’Pol argued with T’Les over her right to have him stay. After that, nothing could ruin Trip’s mood.
He grinned as T’Pol passed him on the walkway to the firecaves. Though T’Pol would never return his smiles, she had her own way of making him comfortable. Enterprise, or anywhere, with T’Pol at his side— It DID feel like home.
Sixteen light years from Earth, Trip felt freer. He’d called T’Pol a “snazzy dresser” and she’d flared up beautifully. On this vacation, anything that ran through his head might pop out. Here, on Vulcan, where everyone is supposedly so repressed, he’d actually admitted his feelings for T’Pol—to T’Les. Soon he’d speak with T’Pol, but there was no rush. He had her all to himself for the next couple of days.
“I’m loving the view,” he called up the stairs, and T’Pol turned abruptly. Trip now gazed at the smoky plains over the railing. Lacking proof that Trip had been viewing her behind, T’Pol descended two steps to join him on the overlook. Though games between the pair continued, it was mostly out of habit. Their mutual attraction was now impossible to deny.
T’Pol seemed annoyed, and Trip guessed it wasn’t primarily his teasing. “Your mother driving you crazy?”
T’Pol turned to her friend. “I commend you on your ability to win her approval. It’s more than I could accomplish.”
“Ah, it was easy. You shoulda fixed her stasis unit. Instead you had to go and say nice things about Earth.”
T’Pol seemed tense. There was one sure way to unwind, but that was on hold for the duration.
“She went to her sculpture class this morning.”
“Damn.” A missed opportunity. T’Pol made no comment. She was missing the neuropressure too. These days they seemed to read each other’s minds. And that being the case. . .
Trip decided to come clean. “T’Pol. I should tell you something. When I fixed the stasis unit, it was for you. When I fixed the food synthesizer, it was for you. . . I . . . I think . . . I would do anything for you.”
He met her eyes, and she stared back with interest. “You have always been generous.”
It was a surprising response and, belatedly, he felt nervous. He waved a hand at the phenomenon before them. “So, you’re the geologist. How does this work?”
She took a breath and began the lecture. “The fire caves are analogous to the geysers of Earth. Heavy gases pool in the depths and are periodically ignited by magma. There is nothing of the kind on your planet.”
“In Pennsylvania, an old coal mine caught fire. It burned for ten years.”
“That is hardly comparable. Though it does illustrate the primitive state of human technology in the mid-twentieth century.”
“It happened near Carbon Creek.” Trip realized. “Where your grandmother crash landed during World War II.”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow in warning.
“I believe ya!” he assured her, with a smile.
“Yes, but we should not discuss First Contact in a public setting.” They stepped onto a viewing platform. The few spectators stood a distance away, involved in their own conversations.
“Why not?” Trip countered. “I doubt many of these people speak English. For once, we can say whatever we want.”
T’Pol assessed the small crowd before speaking. “I do have a question of a personal nature.”
Trip nodded his consent.
“You used to play football?”
“Yeah, I played defense.” She looked at him blankly, so he clarified. “We tried to knock down the players on the other team . . . stop them from running the ball downfield. . . And NO, we were NOT try’n to kill the quarterback.”
“I was going to ask if you were able to defeat your opponent.”
“Yeah, I was able to defeat my opponent . . . on occasion.” T’Pol was studying him up and down, apparently assessing his physique. Now she frowned. “Course I was bigger back then. . . .. Why ya askin’? Ya want me on your football team?”
“Were you able to defeat your opponent without weapons?”
“Yeah, without weapons. What’s this about?”
“I am aware the conventional wisdom about football is in error, but legends are often based on fact. Why would Vulcans think the object of a football game is to kill a player on the opposing team?”
“Damned if I know. The game is dangerous, but not that dangerous. With the padding like it is today no one’s gonna break their neck. Used to happen ev’ry once in a while.”
“So you played this game wearing protective gear.”
“Of course. Coach made sure of that. No game’s worth dy’n for.”
“On Vulcan there is an ancient game called the Kalifee, the fight to the death. It is a high-stakes game. It is played with a slings and spears—to win a woman. “
“Well, that’s embarrass’n. I can see why you Vulcans keep that one a secret.” Trip laughed, and then a burst of flame drew his attention.. When he turned back to T’Pol, she was staring at the ground, dejected. Somehow, he’d hurt her.
He scrambled to recover. “Don’t feel bad. You already told me the Vulcan past was violent. Look . . . we had the same thing on Earth. Like 2000 years ago. There were these slaves . . . of the Romans. They were forced to fight tigers and lions in a big arena to entertain crowds. Anyway, that’s what I heard.”
She looked up with an expression so sad he wished he could put an arm around her. “History’s kinda depress’n. On every planet,” he said instead.
T’Pol nodded in apparent agreement and her usual stoic expression returned, much to Trip’s relief. “Anyway, you were going to ask me a personal question,” he reminded, “Is it about Koss? I saw him poking around.”
“I now have the answers I need,” she stated enigmatically.
They turned back to the staircase and began climbing. Ahead, the staircase disappeared into a cave. T’Pol marched towards it, several times glancing back to check her friend’s progress.
Trip stopped to catch his breath and grinned apologetically at T’Pol.
“It is a strenuous climb,” she said.
“No . . . . But we should slow down. Enjoy the day.”
“The best view is up ahead.”
They entered a dark tunnel, illuminated only by a sunset-colored sky at the other end. They glanced towards one another in the dark. She stopped and turned to face him as his vision adjusted to the dark. She searched his eyes for something—he had no idea what.
He knew he shouldn’t, but he touched her shoulder to break the spell and steer them out towards the orange glow. They emerged out on a rock ledge. It was spectacular. Eight monolithic statues, giant hooded figures, presided over smoldering fire pits as far as the eye could see.
He whistled his amazement, and then turned to his host.
“When we get back to Earth, I’d like to show you some sights. Return the favor.” He couldn’t bear to see Florida, but he’d exaggerated his predicament. There were other places for him to go, other beaches—Hawaii, . . . no Cancun. He and T’Pol could watch the waves, para-sail, see a pyramid.
“Trip, there’s something I need to tell you . . . “
A moment later he was back in the cave. He’d left T’Pol behind on the ledge. I just lost her. Incredible. Trip paced aimlessly, in frustration. They’d been discussing trivia moments before—then this announcement. It’s over. What’d he say wrong? What could he have done differently? He wanted to go back to the bottom of the stairs, to the beginning of the day, before she’d shut him out.
T’Pol came up behind him. She seemed as distressed as he. “I thought there was another way,” she told him, “but I was wrong.”
Trip turned to her angrily and stopped. She obviously believed there was no way out. And maybe she was right. Despite his best efforts, he still didn’t understand this culture.
He’d accept her nonexplanation. He’d try not to blame her. But for the moment he couldn’t be around her.
“I’m gonna see the rest of this place. Look for me at the bottom.”
That night Trip tossed and turned in the huge guest bed. The day had been surreal. He’d spent the morning touring firecaves with his de facto girlfriend. He’d spent the evening trying on clothes for her wedding to another man.
His sleep was restless. T’Pol’s stricken face floated through his dreams:
“My mother’s job. . . . It is complicated . . . Trip, I have to do this..”
T’Les interrupted, “You should tell her how you feel. She needs to have all the facts.”
He had nothing to lose. He proceeded to beg: “T’Pol! Don’t let them do this. It just isn’t right. We should be happy. Just run off with me. Your Mom and Koss will forgive you . . .”
He floated through time. He’d been called to Jon’s office. With great apprehension, Trip stepped through the porthole.
“Cap’n?” The door slid shut. Jon starred at the stars.
“It’s about T’Pol . . . . She’d dead, Trip.”
Stunned, he opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“It was SUICIDE . . TRIP!”
Picturing her sprawled on the floor, Trip felt he’d throw up. Now Jon turned to deliver a final punch to his stomach: “She’d still be alive if you’d just let things be!”
“You knew they were aliens!”
“But they just seemed like people.” Trip stood stiffly, almost frozen. Now he slowly raised a hand to his face. “Where. . . c . . can I see her?”
“She’s out there in space.” Jon waved towards the window.
They’d ejected the coffin? “But I woulda been there!”
It didn’t make sense. It MUST be a dream
And . . . T’Pol can’t be DEAD! Trip fought with the blankets and opened his eyes. And there she was. Alive, and standing in the doorway.
“What time is it?” he asked.
“It is late. Be quiet or my mother will hear us.” T’Pol walked up to him and knelt beside the bed. Trip sat up.
“Why are you here?”
“I had a disturbing dream,” she explained. “It woke me, and I wanted to be certain that you were all right. . . .”
He was silent. This time he wouldn’t interfere.
“You were playing football. Your opponent was a Vulcan. You attacked him . . . to prevent him from running the ball down the field. He pulled out a spear and killed you.”
“T’Pol . . . !”
“I know it sounds illogical. However, most Vulcans are unaware of the rules of football.”
She got up and turned to leave. “Also, I forgot to tell you . . . . and it is my last chance to do so . . .”
He prepared himself . . . for anything
“. . . tomorrow we should not prepare breakfast. It is a custom that we fast until the wedding.”
“I’ll mind my manners,” he told her gently. “I promise.”
It was the right thing to say. She seemed relieved.
Holding onto to that look of relief, he finally drifted off to sleep.
I’d do anything for you, he thought. Including this.
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