"The Le'Matya Sleeps Tonight"
Rating: R for some graphic violence and mature topics.
Originally written 2 August 2008
How many Vulcans does it take to replace a lighting diode?
Twenty-two: One Minister to submit the proposal to the High Council, three Subministers to distribute documentation in triplicate, two Academy Scientists to review the data methodically, seven interns to categorize all findings, four Defense Corps officers to interfere on suspicion of treason, one Security Operative to recommend further consideration, three Adepts to meditate on the logical merit of such an action, one Priestess to sanctify the event, and one more Vulcan to get off his lazy meditating ass and switch out the diode.
AV 8464, Stirk
T'Pol's father went on assignment. It was not unusual, but almost two tosri had passed. One morning, her mother gave a sharp cry, dropping a bowl, before sitting at the table without retrieving it. She sat for several ritark, as if meditating, before resuming the daily routine. Four days later, her mother received a transmission that her husband was dead. His shuttlecraft malfunctioned during a routine docking procedure, the approach vector out of alignment, a warp nacelle struck the docking arm. There was a cascade event resulting in an intense chemical fire. The authorities assured T'Les that a full investigation had been completed. It was a deeply unfortunate accident and they grieved with her. She accepted their condolences.
That evening, T'Pol could not meditate, though she tried, and went outside. Spotting his owner, C'wem grumbled softly and shuffled across the scrub lawn to greet her. She pulled on his tusks, prompting the sehlat to lay beside her. There she sat cross legged on the ground, stroking his tangled golden fur, and watching the stars.
When her schooling was complete, she was offered a minor position in the Science Directorate, as an assistant to a laboratory worker. Her duties would consist chiefly of data management. She contented herself with the knowledge that applying her efforts diligently would be rewarded with greater responsibility, even if there were no windows in the facility to prevent damage to organic samples. Her mother congratulated her graduation and choice of career path, then broached the subject of her betrothal to Koss. Having accomplished an education and chosen a vocation, there was no reason to delay marriage. T'Pol remembered her second foremother, exploring foreign worlds in a fleet survey vessel and meditated on the stars. She considered living with a man she had met once as a child, for a year, possibly bearing a child and taking on the required duties of such an eventuality. The next morning, she submitted for officer training in the Defense Corps Spacefleet.
AV 8506, Snir
The smell of burnt meat permeated the air, but in the darkness, only the Andorian bodies were visible as pale shadows. Hunched low, SubLieutenant T'Pol stepped over a fallen colleague, unable to identify the body. Mixed with the char was acrid smoke from chemical bombs and she struggled not to cough, for if she started, she would collapse from near asphyxiation. She knelt beside a surviving member of Defense Force unit and he jerked his head around, inner eyelids firmly in place, phase rifle wavering. His hands shook. She knew she appeared the same to him. The Andorians claimed sneeringly that Vulcan eyes were as blank as their souls, but at this distance, in the flashes of the dying fire-fight, only the occasional shout of pain was heard. Other Vulcan survivors, seeing their movement behind the rubble, joined into a group. She asked where Lieutenant Wopen was. They looked at each other, stating names and rank, until they were all looking at her.
She protested, "I am a science officer. Who is the most senior command officer?"
They glanced about, again before one man she did not know, bearing the insignia of SubAltern said, "We are all enlisted crewmen and science officers. Except for him," he pointed at another. "He is a technician."
The survivors looked at her again and she experience an irrational urge to tear off her rank insignia and throw it into the bloody mud and wreckage. She had joined a survey ship, not an active combat military vessel. She should not be here, but it seemed that survey ships and combat vessels were interchangeable when ground forces required reinforcement. She took several, shallow breaths and checked the load reading on her plasma rifle. "Gather what ammunition is available. We will rejoin the regiment at the third barricade."
Later, as they sat wearily in the transport shuttle returning to the Ju'ipmu, the rotting stench of blood saturating the recycled air, T'Pol submitted a request for transfer.
She was promoted to command.
Admittedly, Soval was not expecting Commander T'Pol to enter when he answered the door chime to his private quarters at the Vulcan compound, in San Francisco. Nevertheless, a significant component of his duty as ambassador was to know the minutiae of, not only his colleagues and associates, but the daily routine of any local individual of influence. Understanding motives frequently allowed him to predict actions, regardless of species and his former aid's unannounced visit suggested both haste and a desire for privacy.
T'Pol glanced at him long enough to see he was still in formal attire, minus the ceremonial outer robe, despite the cup of tea steaming on the table beside a Kal-Toh tower. "I am not disturbing you?"
"I am not easily disturbed," he demurred, now curious to know what could be of such urgency, hoping he would not hear a warning to beware an enemy or some other tedious political machination. "I have not yet begun this game," he offered.
She hesitated. "I regret, I cannot stay."
"I see." Keeping a sedate pace, Soval went back to his seat at the table, calculating the reasons T'Pol might have to limit her time. From what he knew, she had no pressing duties at either Starfleet or the High Command. Indeed, she had no pressing duties at all. "Will you be accepting the position as associate instructor at the Academy or the position as advisor in the Science Directorate?"
T'Pol gave no indication she was surprised and he would have been somewhat disappointed in her forethought if she had been. "Neither."
He puzzled briefly over this answer. "Starfleet has offered another position?"
"No and it is unlikely they will, for all they laude praise on me for demonstrating the feasibility of a unified fleet, I am a Starfleet Commander in rank only." She circled the table, examining the board. "They possess few warp five capable ships and, as such, few openings for first officers. My appointment, though expedient at the time, was disruptive."
He raised an eyebrow, slightly. That was apparent to most anyone attentive to the matter, but he was surprised to hear T'Pol make the capitulating admission. "You have been urged to resign?"
"Admiral Gardner, despite his own achievements, continues to irrationally resent Captain Archer for his." She appeared to consider elaborating on this hostility but added, instead, "He also persists in believing the rumors that my professional relationship with the Captain is, in some way, less than appropriate." True to her warning, she did not sit, pacing in a slow circle.
Soval asked baldly what a Human would not, "Is it?"
T'Pol sent him a withering glance, not appreciating his levity. "He is my superior," she denounced. "I value him greatly as a trusted colleague but, I will not be permitted to serve on his ship." She ceased her agitated motions, pausing tensely in front of the open terrace doors, studying the horizon.
Soval considered this statement of intent for a time. Wishing to discuss truncated career prospects would not bring her to his door at this late hour. "It is curious that you would prefer continued military service despite the opportunity, after so many delays, to assume a scientific position on our planet. I recall a scientific course was your intention before your choice to enter the fleet."
She canted her head in acknowledgment. "My personal interests have not changed, but my time on Enterprise, in meditative isolation if not true solitude, allowed me to reflect. I cannot fail to notice that the honorable positions offered to me both restrict me to the planet, with little opportunity to travel or otherwise involve myself with the High Command's activities." She finished her explanation with lidded eyes and he did not contest her assessment. T'Pol slid her gaze obliquely in his direction, away from the setting Terran sun, illuminating the sprawling city below. "I cannot, in good conscience, watch from a distance as my colleagues blunder in ways that could be avoided."
"Ah." He inclined his head. Loyalty was pragmatic, though some might argue it was motivated by emotional factors. He had become overly accustomed to indirect Human styles of communication. "You cannot stay," he repeated her words. "Perhaps Admiral Gardner would allow you to serve on one of the new vessels Starfleet is constructing?"
T'Pol hesitated. "Perhaps. It is likely that many of the Enterprise crew will be distributed amongst the less experienced."
He leaned back, steepling his fingers. She must already know and have been offered. Otherwise, she would have answered with a more direct negation. It would seem T'Pol had another direction in mind. "If you seek my counsel as a mentor, I would advise you to accept either position on Vulcan. You are young and opportunities to advance your career once this current... fervor and unease has passed, will undoubtedly present themselves." He raised his brows in an overtly comforting gesture. "In the meantime, you may devote yourself to private studies and perhaps even find a suitable bond-mate."
She flinched, before settling an implacable stare. "Regretfully, I did not come to seek your counsel though I do value your esteem." She tipped her head away in what passed for reproval. "You must know that I am already bonded, as put forth in the Kir'Shara, if not by current law."
He took a measured breath, for she had spoken in the present tense. Commander Tucker's funeral was too fresh in memory. "I suspected due to the persistent rumors surrounding your behavior, as well as certain inattentive comments made by Captain Archer, but I did not know." Admiral Gardner had listened to the wrong rumors, it seemed. As his position so often required, he gambled. "I grieve with thee."
T'Pol did not so much as blink before answering, as smoothly as before, "It is unnecessary." She clasped her hands behind her back, slid her gaze in his direction, and then away again.
In another member of his people, he would have taken that to mean the emotions were mastered, but he knew this one too well. When he looked at her, her eyes were focused with grim intensity on the horizon. A slight furrow was growing between her prows and he suspected, not from pain or anguish, but the fierce determination that had always characterized the somewhat volatile daughter of T'Les. Nor did time allow him to forget his own experiences as an intelligence officer, serving the Ministry of Security's cause in military action. As a scientist was drawn inexorably toward the truth, so was any competent security agent. He released a slow breath, a hiss of air lost in the breeze. The absence of those emotions, he reasoned, had a cause.
"I see. You will pursue a fully independent course, then?"
"Do I have a choice?"
If she did not wish to remain with Starfleet, or accept a position at the Academy or in the Science Directorate, there was one abandoned path left to her. "The Ministry of Security-"
"Remains corrupt," she declared with cold finality.
Involuntarily, he tightened his lips. Corruption from within could only be effectively countered by equal bolstering from the honorable. It would no resolve itself if ignored for a sufficient length of time. He recalled the Human idiom, that someone had to do the dirty work. T'Pau could not restructure the Directorate without assistance, which required both willing and capable volunteers. He folded his hands and said nothing.
"Perhaps it was different, when you served," she conceded, but her expression remained troubled and remote. Her head twitched to one side, as if she heard a faint noise in the distance, or had caught a glimmer in her peripheral vision. She stared into space, frozen for a moment in some memory he could only imagine.
He remembered how often the Ministry indirectly instigated continued conflicts with Andoria, in the past. He could almost taste the paranoia that had suffused the ranks, stifling conversation in his presence. He remembered the violence and unjustifiable bloodshed. He wondered what T'Pol could remember, if she could remember her time serving the Directorate at all, for the Adepts at P'Jem were most skilled. He squelched the surge of satisfaction over the monastery's destruction. "It was not."
She ducked her head in acknowledgment. "In which case, I will contact Section 31."
He met her eyes, searching for doubt, duplicity or even humor. There was none. He had not believed the organization existed, outside of gleefully whispered speculation. "How?"
Easily. Yes, of course, for she had no cause for grief. Leaning forward, he picked up the cooling mug of tea, sipping. A feigned death was a time honored practice amongst covert agencies, however new one might be. He bit back an impulse to forbid her action, then admitted to himself what the urgency he felt implied. There was no dishonor in loyalty to a bondmate, and she was trusting him with what must be sensitive information. "Though re-acceptance of melding technique is recent, intensive research was begun promptly and much of the lost knowledge was merely concealed and suppressed." He saw that her face had already become set, but continued, "The bond may be severed."
T'Pol looked away again. "While its development was unprecedented, it does not cause me distress." Walking back to the table, she picked up a game piece, then set it down. "Severance comes with great risk of neural instability and you might understand why I would prefer to avoid that choice, unless it becomes necessary."
"And you are aware that your Human superiors will likely expect you to serve as a counter-intelligence agent?" He moved a game piece, taking two of hers.
"Undoubtedly," she murmured laconically, studying the Kal-Toh board.
He felt his nostrils flare and took a moment to calm himself. Her strategy was logical, though her motivation, he believed, less so. Her mistrust of the High Command should no longer be justifiable, though it was likely that select individuals of V'Las' cabal remained in office. He had been as much a target of their corruption as she had. "How do you expect me to respond to such... logic?" He weighed the final word with open contempt.
The corner of her mouth crooked, almost imperceptibly. "Gracefully."
"Your career and standing with the High Command, over a single Human?"
"What career? What standing?" She raised an eyebrow, before dismissing the question. "You have not accepted the teachings of the Kir'Shara? Do curiosity, compassion, exploration and the embracement of diversity for its own sake remain unacceptable motivations?" Again, she did not wait for his response, before changing tack. "I also find it difficult to ignore the Rihannsu forays beyond its borders. I can understand Starfleet's hesitation to take action, for they lack experience, but has our government already forgotten its border war with the Star Empire?" She was looking hard into his face, knowing that he was old enough to have known the veterans from that conflict. "I cannot stand back," she repeated.
"That war is over," he insisted softly.
"Is that what the instability in our government has revealed?" Leaning on the table, she reached for one piece, changed her mind, and moved another. "Do you expect me to believe that the Rihannsu infiltrated the High Command while our own intelligence agencies remained completely oblivious?"
He found himself torn between diametrically opposed responses and met his unwilling protegee's eyes. T'Pol was not seeking his counsel but bidding farewell before being declared, with finality, an expatriate by the High Command. He remembered when she had first come into his service, effectively discarded by her commanders, sent from rehabilitation. Her records had contained the derisive label 'maverick'. To borrow a Human colloquialism, there was no time like the present. "Ministers Kuvak and T'Pau will wish to speak with you."
She blinked at him.
"We share your judgment of the Security Directorate's covert actions. With military defenses in disarray, the High Command without an Administer and the recent Coalition pact restricting our forces, we have been left regrettably vulnerable to covert attacks." As was Earth, he silently admitted, then folded his hands on the table. "We have been sorting the honest from the dishonest, but all levels of our government were affected by the cabal."
T'Pol had cocked her head to one side, interest glittering in her eyes, this new puzzle already drawing her focus. "The rumors of assassination attempts on Council members are true?"
"Yes." He leaned forward. "We have been fortunate but luck cannot continue and it is only a matter of time before one of those rumors becomes a formal report."
"Do you wish me-"
He held up a hand to forestall her. "The situation is more complicated and requires a more thorough solution."
Though she had trained in the Science Academy, T'Pol had served as a science officer in the Defense Force where, precision, attention to detail, patience in the collection of data, and interpretation were as requisite as in a laboratory. As a commanding officer, she had gained experience in complex management, delegation and resource allocation, in times of peace and conflict. Though her records as field operative remained inaccessible - he suspected many actions the Security Directorate had taken would never come to light - she had been trained to serve as an intelligence operative. The result had been unfortunate, but he had little doubt that she was of sound mind, despite her negative experiences. There was no reason not to exploit the combination of skills, if the subject were willing.
Moreover, even the most senior of the trustworthy operatives remaining in both the Security and Intelligence Ministries could not claim to have direct, unbroken experience working with the Humans. Indeed, she had accomplished much without aid - often against hindrance - from the High Command. It was an ironic fact that almost one hundred Terran years of diplomatic process had leapt forward in a single day when the Terra Prime extremist faction made a simple, gross, miscalculation of cultural mood. The group had planned to exploit xenophobia and fears of genetic variation amongst their own people, history demonstrating the merit of the tactic. Instead, the crew of the Enterprise fanned a spirit of unity and the Humans, with their maddeningly illogical tendency to ascribe meaning and portent to simple, random events, changed their collective attitude toward Vulcans. Even though most had no knowledge of the affectionate relationship between the Commanders - as he had overheard crew members refer to them - they speculated over why the leaders of the faction had chosen those two particular individuals' genetic material and came to the invariable, obvious conclusion: Their people were not so different, after all.
The surviving Council might claim that T'Pol had acted without Vulcan's sanction, serving as a Starfleet officer, and that she had no part in determining public mood, but they readily reaped the benefits. Under such provocation, combined with her justifiable mistrust, he concluded it was likely that she would defect as threatened. Fortunately, he was among the few charged with the duty of offering compromise on behalf of his government, for the purpose of mutual benefit. Having come to a decision, he moved a piece on the board, taking two more of hers. This game would end quickly.
T'Pol gave no response. It was possible she had intended to sacrifice the two pieces, but it was more likely her attention was otherwise occupied. He said, "You asked if you had a choice. It is within my purview to offer you one."
She bowed her head. "You do not require an aid," she rejected without due consideration.
"No, but many of our ministries are now under-staffed and partially disabled. I will need to confer with Minister T'Pau and supporting Council members, but I believe you are qualified to serve within a recently vacated post of some sensitivity."
He watched her puzzle over the vague offer.
"As you are aware, I began my career as an intelligence officer -"
"Within the Security Directorate," she interrupted coldly, making it plain again she had no interest in resuming her service within that ministry, regime change or not. Catching her own anger, she bit down, straightening with a long breath. "Forgive me. Meditation was not all I accomplished on Mount Seleya."
He found he was holding his breath. "You recall?"
"Yes." She did not offer to discuss what the Adepts had revealed in her mind. Settled again, she nodded. "Continue."
"I was a liaison from the Ministry of Intelligence," he corrected. "When the Security Directorate began to employ its own intelligence operatives, it exceeded its mandate." He waited, almost feeling a disconcert uncertainty. "It usurped the Ministry of Intelligence, no doubt a deliberate crippling maneuver, meant to confound its operatives from discovering the Rihannsu infiltration."
It only took her a scant moment to infer his meaning. Her lips thinned and she looked away. "I would be unsuitable for such a public office."
He held her eyes when she began to dissemble. "It would be both unfortunate and detrimental to the state of the Coalition if our respective governments entered into covert conflicts while attempting to maintain outward alliance. It would be foolish to repeat the former regime's errors. Regardless of your motivations, you do intend to enter into covert operations." He stood, evincing a casual manner, while drawing back his shoulders, knowing it were not his robes that established his presence. "It would be preferable for you to serve and represent T'Kashi and I offer you the means to do so legitimately."
Her shoulders dropped, though she attempted to conceal the disheartened reaction by shifting her weight. It was not the offer she wanted. "I cannot divide my loyalty in such a fashion."
"Determining loyalty would be your duty."
A mercurial as he remembered, her mood shifted again, and she watched him with a speculative gleam in her dark eyes, perhaps now understanding that she underestimated his offer. She resumed pacing in front of the terrace, head low, glancing at him once as if to calculate his mood. "And if the repercussions of my actions displeased the Council?"
He did not state the obvious fact that the Council must first learn that those repercussions were related to her potential actions. "There must always be a balance of power," he demurred. "An abuse such as the one perpetuated by the Security Directorate cannot be permitted."
T'Pol tucked her hands into the tippets of her robe, circling again. "T'Pau will not approve it."
"She is not the Administer."
Soval followed her to the terrace. "She holds you in considerable esteem for your refusal to cooperate with a corrupt regime and role in recovering the Kir'Shara. She also trusts my judgment and you have yet to fail me."
T'Pol went still, then blew softly in disgusted negation. "T'Pau holds me in contempt for my association with the Humans. She found my motives were irrationally idealistic and often emotional in basis. I doubt her opinion has changed and I cannot say it is invalid."
As he had not been the one to meld with T'Pau, he did not contest the veracity of her statements. He inclined his head. "Yet she is logical and you are qualified."
"Others are qualified."
"Others are not as trustworthy." He took a deep breath of the chilly Terran air. "In this period of instability, a record of honesty and forthright action is highly valued."
She was looking down at the polished tiles and some shadow of unpleasant emotion rippled across her face. Her face set as she reined the conflict. "It is not a decision to make lightly," she prevaricated A muscle in her jaw ticked She looked back at him. "Nor I do not seek such power." Her tone held exhausted dismissal.
"Yet you are displeased when denied it." He allowed his fondness to imbue her initial complaint. "You seek knowledge and you would encounter a great deal of it, while simultaneously in a position to grant assistance to our allies." Soval stepped backward before turning away, seeing no need to remain in the cold. "Consider my proposal."
She padded back into his living area, away from the darkening terrace. "I am not certain I wish to become a politician."
"Ah." He nodded. "Yet, you became one the moment you resigned your commission with the High Command."
He heard her sigh, yet again. It seemed her time amongst the Humans and their reliance on expressive mannerisms continued to influence her behavior. "I was seeking to distance myself from their dishonorable behavior," she said.
He flickered a wry eyebrow in acknowledgement. He himself had not sought to become an ambassador, but had merely demonstrated a persistent tendency to seek resolutions over a violent course. It had become his natural path and he did not resist. "Did distancing work?"
T'Pol glanced at him before sitting opposite the table. "I am no longer a child to require such lessons."
He returned to his earlier seat, having spent most of his day standing or walking. "Perhaps not, but you still play Kal-Toh has if you were a child." With that courtesy, he removed the final piece of any value from her defense.
She eyed the board. "I have always preferred particle analysis."
"This skill has value, as well."
She mimicked his earlier wry gesture. "I moved my pieces randomly," she confessed.
He folded his hands on the table, accepting his routed victory, as consequence of deliberate experiment. "Your strategy is tiresome."
She ignored his complaint, studying the board through steepled fingers. Lines were forming at the corners of her eyes, as she hunched in thought. "Perhaps we should begin anew."
AV 8529, Srerk
T'Pol craned her head to look up at the Klingon towering over, refusing to lean backward. She kept one hand on her phase pistol, the other loose at her side. He bared his teeth in a wide grin, spreading his arms out, saying to his friends in equally vast amusement, "The Vulcans send us a very small Lieutenant!" His companions laughed, apparently unperturbed by the squadron behind her. "There is one problem," he nodded solemnly at his men, "the Vulcans have already come." It was her only warning before he struck her so hard she was thrown to the ground, before a jagged boot connected with her side.
She clasped her side, breathing in time with each agonizing heart beat. "Then you are a fool," she grunted in their language. She held up a palm to belay her own troops from entering into combat with the well armed Klingons, knowing it would draw excess attention from Station Management. T'Pol drew herself to her feet, standing straight again. "You have been deceived."
"Oh?" He questioned with open sarcasm, then thrust a long blade in her direction. "You have been deceived." He bared his teeth again. "I did not think you Vulcans were so disorganized." He lunged.
That ended with her standing on the chest of laughing Klingon, pointing his blade at his mid-section. She was breathing hard from the exertion, for he had not been an unskilled opponent. "When did the other... Vulcans come?"
"Two days past." He smiled up her, though she did not return the gesture, and rolled his eyes up to peer at her armed guard.
She stepped off him, throwing his blade to one of his companions, jerking her chin at her men. She wondered which agency had beaten them to the information drop. Her superiors would be displeased.
Rigtip slapped his palms against the deck plate saying to his men, "I like her." He held up his hands, cupped in the air. "Very nice."
His men laughed and T'Pol holstered her pistol. At least the report would be brief and require little time to write.
"Come, we must discuss this awkward situation," the Klingon said, with a positively smarmy smile.
T'Pol looked at the group of very large and heavily armed warriors, dubiously.
She considered Klingon social customs and body odor. It would be most beneficial to cooperate, at least temporary, with their cultural rituals, as a gesture of good faith. This was not, after all, a Vulcan station. Beside her, the squadron appeared equally dubious, but just as aware that they were not in a position to bargain. She nodded.
High Command was displeased that an unknown party, parading as Vulcans, had stolen the Andorian troop movement data from under the Fleet's figurative noses, but was mollified when Rigtip said he would be glad to work again with the small lieutenant. Tactfully, no one mentioned her retching when, in the midst of 'discussion', blood wine had been thrust toward her without sufficient warning. It was not relevant.
The second time Trip dreamed about T'Pol, he welcomed her with a smile, recalling their last shared experience fondly. That expectation lasted for about a nanosecond before the woman dressed in a starfleet uniform launched herself at him, grabbing him by the proverbial throat. The only type of naked he got was her fury as she lashed him with a stream of Vulcan accusations. As real as it wasn't, he felt her fingers biting into his throat, felt the burning in his lungs and scrabbled at her arms.
Teeth still bared in rage, eyes narrow, she dropped him, sidling away for a moment, her shoulders hunched.
He started to ask what was wrong.
She threw a left cross that left him on the ground.
He tried to will himself awake, spitting imaginary teeth into his palm.
She jogged toward him, reaching toward his collar and mercifully froze, staring at the red blood on her hand. Her face contorted as she looked at his face and back at her hand, breath ragged. She either made a noise or said something in snarled Vulcan.
He felt at his nose, reminding himself this was all just a dream. A really bad dream. When she remained motionless, he decided it couldn't really hurt to ask for clarification. "Y'know, T'Pol, 'grrr' ain't a word."
She caught his eyes with her own and abruptly blinked out of existence. He awoke to a pounding headache and dry mouth, feeling at his unbroken nose and unmarked skin. This dream hadn't been nearly as fun as the last one.
AV 8574, Snir
Sixty-eight officers sat in a room. Instructor Homral was saying, "You have been chosen by your respective commanders, having demonstrated great dedication to Vulcan security, without hesitation or error, to become guardians of our people. Many will depend on your integrity and sacrifice."
He did not explain what they would sacrifice.
In the first month, they began with simple khy'lan they all knew and wehk-pukan, testing each other. In the second, having grown accustomed to each other, they began t'hy'vaj and a'sum'i. In the fourth month, they began suus mahna. Those who excelled were separated into another group and began k'a'sumi until finally only nine remained to learn ancient ke-ta-yatar and its fatal strikes.
Instructor Homral demonstrated the tal'shaya on a simulated organic form. By turn, the nine practiced the swift grasp, the rigid grip and swift twist. To make the lesson more challenging, he ordered them to imagine it were a soldier, pirate or traitor, to emulate actual conditions, in a crude fashion.
On that evening, T'Pol could not meditate. She could sit still for a time, study the candle before her, calm her breath and her heart, yet inside she continued to churn as if in illness. She noticed her hands were beginning to curl again, grasping at the air. She forced them flat against her knees. The candle hissed and popped softly, due to a slight impurity in the wax. A muscle in her shoulder spasmed.
T'Pol leaned forward, blew out the candle and stood, watching the smoke curl in the dim quarters. She would do what she had as a child and use the field of stars as a focus. Replacing the candle and its dish on the shelf, she exited her quarters in the direction of the communal meal room. There were windows there, but as she padded along the deserted hall, she heard displaced air, cloth and measured breaths from the dimly lit weapons training area.
She changed her path and stepped into the room. It was Jossen, moving through the khy'lan, his lirpa whirling in constant motion. She wondered why he had not raised the lighting levels, but reasoned he did not wish to disturb those who were sleeping. His choice to practice was not her concern and she began to leave.
"You could not sleep?" Jossen asked.
"I could not meditate," she corrected, pausing.
"I could do neither," he admitted. "There is too great a conflict to resolve in a single night's meditation and rest."
She queried, silently.
His eyes flickered, noticing her lack of ready agreement. "We learn skills here that would appall any follower of Surak."
"We are not any; we were selected by our commanders for our dedication to duty, for our capacity to excel at tasks that would challenge and overcome others."
"Our capacity to murder, you mean?"
She closed her eyes. "Is it murder to remove the le'matya that wanders to close to the city or strays within a preserve? If it were within my power to prevent a battle with a single motion, I would." She preferred not to raise memories of her time aiding in border resolutions. Here, she was only required to learn.
"To remove, I would have no conflict," he said. He jerked his chin back toward the hall. "He was not teaching us unique methods to strike down an opponent who was seeking to kill us. If we strike first, through subterfuge, then we are the attacker. We are at fault." He seemed to notice the rising edge in his tone, for he stopped abruptly, taking a breath.
She motioned toward the lirpa in his hand. "Would you expect me to wait while you struck me down, or defend myself at the first motion of your hand?" She did not wait for his answer. "The Ministry protects all of Vulcan from its dishonorable enemies who would secret their attacks. Our capabilities are a service to our people and we must do what is necessary - what others cannot - for our nation's benefit."
Jossen remained silent for a time before setting his lirpa carefully on the weapon rack. "If your faith is so great, why could you not meditate?"
She could not answer that she preferred the stars, so she said, "I have had difficulty meditating since I was a child."
"Then I must conclude that, if you were in a state of conflict similar to mine, it would be more evident."
Once he left the combat training room, T'Pol picked up a lirpa, grasping the handle with unnecessary force. She forced her grip to ease and began khy'lan.
The third time Trip dreamed about T'Pol, he said, "Oh crap," and backed away, warding at her with his arms.
She sat cross-legged, dressed in heavy brown and burgundy robes, and watched him calmly, making no hostile move. She waited until he stopped backing. "I apologize for disturbing you."
"You aren't gonna try an' pound my face in again, are you?" He risked a look around, noticing more clearly that they were in the 'white space'. The last time that happened, T'Pol had been meditating while he dreamed.
She ducked her eyes fractionally. "I regret my aggression toward you, but I cannot suppress my emotional responses here as competently as I do my outward expression in waking." Her lips tightened. "I was aggrieved by your deceit."
"Yeah, I kinda figured that from the ranting."
"Perhaps more so by your friend's."
He bit his lip. "It was my idea. Jon and Phlox were just doin' what I asked."
"Yes, I assumed as much. Nevertheless, I did not appreciate when Doctor Phlox implied I was suffering from delusions spurred by grief and denial." Creases had formed at the edge of her nostrils, her face taking on a glower, but she smoothed her expression. "I have difficulty tolerating such bald lies."
"Okay, okay." He held up a palm. "I get it. You're sorry you tried to kill me in my sleep."
"It is unlikely I would have succeeded."
"You gave me a headache," he countered.
She jerked her chin, parroting "You gave me a headache." He saw a muscle work in her jaw and then, curiously, sweat beading on her forehead. She bowed her chin, breathing in long, slow measured pulls. Her image flickered. "This is...."
"Hey, c'mon, where you goin'? We were just getting to the communicating part."
His protest went unanswered, because T'Pol disappeared, the glowing white around him wafting away into dreamless darkness. He woke to see the beams of his bulkhead cubbyhole where he shot through deep space in a Rigellian transport. It was dim in the auxiliary lighting and he fingered the rough burlap of his stowage blanket. He thought about the bond T'Pol had briefly explained to him, the sheer distance the link apparently covered, and wondered when scientists would explain that Vulcan magic trick. All he could feel now was a faint tickle at the back of his skull, a creeping sensation at his temples and the unshakeable belief that he had, in fact, spoken with her. Maybe it was nothing but a long-held spiritual belief, as she had alternatively suggested.
AV 8574, Stor
They were summoned for training but the room contained no weapons, no advanced surveillance equipment and no texts. Instructor Rekal sat cross-legged on a mat, wearing only his trousers. His tunic was folded neatly and set on the toes of his boots, against the wall.
Hoyvet dared to ask what new fighting technique they would learn that day.
Rekal inclined his head, as if amused and said, "I will teach you the v'shan, to manage pain from injuries, emotional strain when under duress and to manipulate the neural pathways."
"We know v'shan."
"You know the strikes. I will teach you the rest." He raised his chin. "Disrobe as I am."
The nine looked at each other, wondering which would be brave enough to go first. Hoyvet looked at Jossen, ducked her head once at Rekal and removed her tunic. Everyone followed suit.
Rekal said, "Choose a partner."
Everyone balked. None had realized the exercise would require direct physical contact.
The instructor explained, implacably, "Bodies are different. Theory cannot teach what practice and experience can." He glanced between them, then beckoned to T'Pol. "Choose a partner," he repeated. "I will demonstrate."
When he pressed his thumb into a seemingly innocuous point below her shoulder blade, she could not suppress the wince of pain as her arm went numb. She clamped her teeth hard, too aware of the watching eight, knowing it should not concern her. It hurt.
Rekal chided, "You must relax."
"Your mind," he amended.
No one asked for clarification and no one complained when each woke the next morning with bruises and cramped muscles.
While her husband had served in the Army Corps of Engineers, Elaine was the mathematician of the family, but it wasn't until three weeks after her son's memorial service that she realized something didn't add up. Something didn't fit the pattern that inexplicably swirled around that woman with whom her son had become involved. It was a pin-prick in her grief, breaking the momentum of knowing she had out-lived two of her children. That something created a puzzle with a missing piece.
She sat on the front porch, in the midst of humid, almost sub-tropical weather, watching one of the barn cats laying on the lawn. The cat, Rufus, averted his head slightly from her, squinting peacefully, a paw out-stretched in her direction. She kept watching him and he turned his head, meeting her eyes with his wide, direct feline stare. The tip of his fluffy orange tail flipped up, slapping the grass once. Rufus blinked at her, slowly, deliberately. Elaine winked back him, just as deliberately, and he shut his eyes, looking away in contentment.
Her husband insisted he preferred the direct appreciation of dogs, but Elaine found that both animals were equally direct when they desired attention or affection. Cats were simply quiet about it. She set down her lemonade, so it and her hands no longer occupied her lap. She waited and when Rufus turned to look at her again, noticing the change in circumstance, he rose, stretching in a leisurely manner, before ambling up to the porch and hopping into her lap.
She petted the cat and considered the puzzle. Her son was dead. Though his body had been interred in space, there had been a ceremonial coffin, a Starfleet flag draped over it. Jon had delivered the eulogy, as he had the official notice of Trip's death. The Denobulan doctor had her sign off on several medical documents that she had skimmed briefly. Admiral Gardner, Ambassador Soval, their bevy of flunkies and the crew of the Enterprise had attended, except one. The one she had been certain would attend, whether it was her people's custom or not. Surely it was, for Soval had attended but Commander T'Pol deigned only to hand her a suitcase of her sons's personal items before rudely disappearing. Elaine rubbed Rufus under his chin, wondering if such a gesture was also a snub in Vulcan culture. They could be so abrupt and tactless, sometimes.
When Jon had sent his first letters back, telling her what adventures his crew and her son were having, he had mentioned T'Pol infrequently. She was the unwanted chaperone, thrust upon him, usurping his own chosen XO. It wasn't long, though, before his stories began to include humorous examples of Trip and T'Pol, whom she was given to understand, were often required to work together due to their respective ranks and functions. Jon confided, once, that he always knew when an away team was in danger because the commanders would stop bickering. He had laughed.
Elaine had laughed, then pulled up SubCommander T'Pol's service record which, as a lowly civilian Human, was the only information she could access. Not that she was surprised, the Vulcans were notoriously private, to the point of secrecy, despite their claims of promoting honesty. The truncated record hardly filled the viewscreen. It contained a birthdate, that left Elaine in consternation, for beside it was an image of an exotic woman with a deceptively youthful appearance. Beside the image was a list of dates and service history. It wasn't that she intended to interfere in her son's romantic affairs, but she had learned to keep abreast of such developments ever since that first time he had come home crying that girls were mean. As far as she could tell, he attracted the mean ones.
All she could glean from it was that this woman had attended a science academy, joined the Vulcan Defense Corp, serving in their space fleet, and rose quickly to her current rank. There was a single year marked Ministry of Security and beside that, a notation marked "classified". After that was a hodge-podge outside the military, in something called the Minister of Information where she occasionally served as a liaison to the Defense Corps, followed by service on a deep space scientific exploration vessel. After that, she had been transferred to the Vulcan Embassy on Earth to serve under Ambassador Soval. She was sitting at her table that evening, musing over what her son would find appealing about a Vulcan pencil-pusher, when Charlie came up to study the screen over her shoulder.
After a moment, he had grunted, tapping the viewscreen. "She's a damn spook."
Elaine had contested his hasty assumption at what "classified" could infer, but her husband shook his head grumbling that with all those old movies their son loved to watch, he ought to know better than to get involved with that sort of woman, no matter how fine she looked. Elaine had given her husband that look and he had waved a grizzled hand at the screen in defense, saying he wasn't blind. Still, she had no reason to assume Jon's stories were more than entertaining crew gossip, until Enterprise came back successful, having averted all out war with the Xindi. For a moment there was that sharp twinge in her chest as the thought of those aliens and their determination to destroy humanity brought back memories of her daughter's grave. Then it was gone, back into the past. Rufus twisted around to grab her hand, which had gone still, wrapping his paws around it to regain her attention. She scratched him under his jaw and he purred loudly.
Her son hadn't used his leave to spend time with his family, to visit his sister's grave, or any of his former acquaintances. He had gone to Vulcan, with that T'Pol woman, and met her mother. Elaine had to assume Vulcan customs were quite different from Human ones when Trip wrote back telling her that T'Pol had married some architect. This was accompanied by a disjointed explanation that involved T'Pol's mother losing her job at a science academy, as punishment for T'Pol's compliance with Starfleet, something about a childhood betrothal and how the architect could undo that damage because his father was some muckity-muck in the High Command. All Elaine got out of it was that her son was obviously besotted with a cold-blooded woman who married in open machination.
That seemed to be the end of it. Jon didn't tell any more silly stories about the two commanders and Trip didn't mention her name. He even transferred to the Columbia. Then that xenophobic madman and his lunatic group publicized their genetic experiment, a hybrid child. The way Jon told it, both Trip and T'Pol had been ready and willing to assume guardianship of that child, despite being nothing more than unwitting, involuntary, genetic donors. Whatever her son hadn't been writing in his letters was serious enough that Jon gave them both bereavement leave and off they went to Vulcan again. Trip told her the child was buried in T'Pol's family tomb. He told her that she'd climbed up some mountain, to some temple and stayed there for two weeks. Then, he didn't mention her name again.
She asked Jon what had happened, at the funeral, what really happened. He said, "He was a real fighter." He sounded so very serious and sympathetic, looking at her face, but not quite meeting her eyes.
She had asked him where T'Pol was and he had said, "She resigned her commission with Starfleet. You'll have to ask Soval."
Elaine had answered, "I meant, right now."
He glanced away, clearing his throat. "An important message arrived for her." He might have said more, but several dignitaries and guests used their conversation as an opportunity to corner the hero of the day.
Elaine decided, setting Rufus on the floor, which he protested, that she and her husband needed to visit Vulcan.
AV 8575, Stirk
Captain K'Lav gathered T'Pol, Tewvis, J'Treyub and Vaken. He told them that a Syrranite terrorist cell had captured a minister's aid who had been transferring sensitive information. The melders would, no doubt, attempt to forcibly extract the information from their victim. A security operative had already been sent, but had not returned. He was presumed captured or dead. K'Lav warned them not to allow the melders any physical contact, for even a light touch could disable any member of the team.
They descended in darkness, into the foothills of the Llangon mountains. The Syrranites were not expecting so few in such precision. They could not have, for T'Pol saw her comrades dart into the caves as easily as she had. Reaching her instructed position, she attached a proximity mine to a structurally unsound portion of the rock face. Checking quickly, for surveillance, she went deeper into the cave, following the directions she had memorized. She was to retrieve the missing operative, Wakfur, if he was in the same location as his sub-dermal identification unit indicated.
Ahead of her was a junction, where it ought be, and past it, a dimly lit chamber. Within it, she could see a man sitting cross-legged. His hands were bound behind him, but he seemed unharmed. His head was bowed. There were no guards. She stopped before reaching the junction, holding a phase pistol ready. Agent Wakfur raised his head and, with no expression on his face, shook his head once in warning.
T'Pol turned and ran, breaking comm silence to warn her captain that the Syrranites had laid a trap. She reached the exit in time to find shelter behind a rock pile, before initiating the destruct sequence. The others heard and, one by one, set off similar charges. Against her back, the stone vibrated, dust billowing from the collapsed cave tunnel, blowing sand into the desert night. She fell into a low slung run and rejoined her team, suppressing any urge to calculate whether or not Wakfur had survived..
K'Lav was neither pleased nor disappointed. He said that a competent agent was not so easily captured by a group of disorganized, emotional, cowardly misfits. He marked their records as satisfactory and, for the first time since the remaining nine had entered into Security training, gave them leave.
T'Pol went home. She had been in regular communication with her mother, but there were matters that could not be discussed through remote transmission, not without being overheard. T'Les met her at the doorway, wearing an inexorable expression.
She looked hard into T'Pol's face and asked, "You are well?"
"I progress in my training." T'Pol glanced around her childhood home, seeing what had changed, what had not, and a dusty traveler's pack laying in the hallway. Her mother followed her gaze.
"I was on a botanical survey and have returned recently."
T'Pol began to say, "I have been...." before stopping herself. "I participated in a field operation."
Her mother turned away, walking further into the house, her head bowed. "Yes. I was informed. It went well?"
Glancing once more at the lone traveler's pack, T'Pol followed her mother. She considered how T'Les had been informed, why K'Lav would make such a courteous effort. She answered, "Yes."
Malcolm Reed dismissed his class of Security recruits, waited until each had filed out of the room, and gathered his course materials. He reminded himself that he was not being punished with bloody boring paperwork, repetition, idiotic questions and naive cadets. It was a promotion and his duty while Enterprise was being refitted. He leaned on his desk, releasing a breath, resisting the urge to sit in that damned uncomfortable office chair. The battle was always ninety-percent waiting.
Instead, he made for the door, exited and closed it, before looking about. It was Starfleet HQ, after all, so little threat existed over which he needed to be alert. Three individuals registered, standing patiently like marionettes along the hallway.
He looked at the center Vulcan. "Commander. Fancy meeting you here."
"That is no longer my title," T'Pol corrected him mildly. "Lieutenant Commander, if you have a moment?"
Reed studied her two companions, each in an identical paramilitary uniform, bearing identical sidearms, wearing identical looks of frank curiosity mixed with fierce attention. The only significant difference between the two was that one man had the soft young features of a youth and the other had sprinkles of gray in his hair. T'Pol herself was armed, though more discreetly, her pistol tucked into a closed pouch, hidden partially by the formal bureaucratic stole. Reed smiled blandly. "If I said I didn't?"
"Your cooperation would be appreciated." She blinked, rather slowly.
Her tone was so even she might be stating that she preferred milk with her tea, but with a Vulcan, that might be just as likely, 'and then I shall vivisect you for the purpose of scientific study'. He politely ignored her lackeys. "Ah, yes, but if we could continue to the mess? I've only forty-one minutes to spare before my next class." He began moving in that direction and the three Vulcans turned neatly on heel, T'Pol falling beside him. She didn't even glance at him - a polite manner he knew she had absorbed from her time amongst the Enterprise crew. Vivisection it was, then.
"I wish to speak with your superior."
He pursed his lips, frowning. "Well, I'm sure Captain Archer wouldn't turn you down, so if it's Administer-"
She cut him off with a penetrating stare, nostrils flared and pupils dilated. Of all things, she blew at him, bullishly.
The skin on the back of his neck prickled. He hadn't been wet behind the ears for a few years, now. Drawing a breath, he hesitated. He didn't know much about her new role in the restructured Vulcan government, but that she had resigned her commission with Starfleet rather suddenly and gone back to her home planet. He had assumed it was something that passed for mourning or grief, as Captain Archer had implied. He suspected that was wrong.
"Contact your superior," she said in a low voice, "and inform him that the V'Shar possess the means and unique ability to assist his organization."
Reed stopped walking, straightened his back and swallowed. This was a very public hall in which to have this discussion. He wondered whether Archer or Phlox had told her about his involvement, why they had, or if she had been more perceptive than the predicted. "This might not be the best time and place, ma'am."
"We are not currently vulnerable to surveillance."
He looked in the direction of a concealed security camera.
She flicked her eyes to it and made a nearly indiscernible gesture of negation.
It told him a great deal about her role, but now how well she fit it or how much he could trust her. He nodded at her badge of office. "Odd job for a former science officer."
"One might argue that being a science officer was an odd job for a former diplomat." She offered no further clarification, but resumed their previous direction down the hall. To be honest, he didn't need it. He had checked her service record as soon as he discovered the High Command was placing one of their men on board his ship as an unofficial overseer. She had a point.
They were almost at the main junction, and he slowed, giving her his attention. "I'll let you know what he says."
T'Pol inclined her head. "Thank you." She pivoted neatly, taking the opposite direction, the two subordinates not missing a beat.
AV 8575, Njan
She followed at a surreptitious distance, testing her skills. T'Pol had developed no close colleagues amongst the nine, or remaining trainees within the Security training compound. As a result, she had leave and no use for it. So, she followed Jossen into the city. He broke off once, having detected surveillance, and she doubled back, likewise, waiting until he exited the shadows. He looked back into the streets, where she hid in a doorway, and rather than use a scanner or other monitoring device, he stared intently as if he could will her revelation.
She continued to wait.
He resumed his journey and she followed.
He entered a private establishment declaring itself a trade and import merchant. She pulled her hood low, and feigned interest in some local textiles that had been put on display. They were of poor quality. Jossen ducked into a lightly curtained side room where he joined another. Though it was dim, and her vision obscured, she could not mistake the second individual. It was Hoyvet, another of the nine.
Jossen and Hoyvet looked at each other for a moment, until Jossen closed his eyes, shoulders sagging. Hoyvet rested her forehead against his chest, raising a hand, fingers outspread, to the side of his face. He mirrored the gesture, his face going slack. Neither moved, caught in a moment of peace.
T'Pol backed silently away from the sight. She was halfway out of the city before she had the sense to alter her return route. She said nothing of the incident.
AV 8576, Stark
Instructor T'Iiozen was in the midst of a lengthy explanation of Orion mating behavior and its sublimation into the pirate society's political system when Captain K'Lav entered the room, unannounced, accompanied by three soldiers. One held back to guard the door, the only exit in the windowless room. K'Lav paced slowly around the seated nine, studying each in turn as if memorizing each face, each manner, each reaction. He reached T'Iiozen, flanked by his soldiers.
"Do you know why I am here?" he asked the instructor.
T'Iiozen was breathing hard, glancing from one soldier to the other other, then the door, which was blocked by her students. "You are mistaken," she answered. She looked at the students, a spasm of emotion crossing her face. Her mouth worked. "You are mistaken," she repeated emphatically. "Are you such a blind fool you cannot recognize corrupt propaganda? Surak himself-"
K'Lav put a hand on his phase pistol. "Filth," he hissed. "Here, in this classroom, poisoning the finest minds." He leaned toward T'Iiozen, who leaned away. "What have you to say?"
T'Iiozen did not say anything. Eyes wide, she wheeled abruptly, lurching through the group of students. There was no sense in her attempt to escape, no room for her to maneuver, no reasonable exit and no hope as the arc of light struck her back. She fell unconscious in their midst, and each student stepped back to allow K'Lav's approach. His men grabbed T'Iiozen by each shoulder, hauling her up, her feet dragging on the floor.
K'Lav waited, watching and nodded at the students. "That," he flicked his eyes in T'Iiozen's direction, "is a melder. She looked like you. She behaved like you. Yet, she is not like you. Her mind has become perverted, infected by Pa'nar, her actions bring dishonor to her family and, as you all witnessed, she lacks logic." He clasped his hands behind his back, stepping forward. "Remember it."
The students knew better than to look any direction but forward, but T'Pol asked, "What will become of her?"
K'Lav only glanced at her mildly. "She will be rehabilitated."
It was all over the newsfeeds. The Vulcan Minister of Agriculture was dead. The reporter repeated what little information the High Council would offer, Minister T'Pau having come forward almost forty-eight hours after the incident to release a statement. Her image appeared on screen, a young, well-groomed woman wearing an ornamental filigree, her hair wrapped into a bun of sorts. She repeated that the incident did not concern Earth and was an internal matter.
Charlie threw a derisive glance. "That'd be Vulcan for 'no comment'."
Elaine shrugged, inured to the repeat broadcasts and her husband's attitude toward political stone-walling. T'Pau's interview switched back to the reporter, and then the illicit footage repeated, of the ill-fated Council meeting.
The Council members were seated in the round atrium, and the Minister of Public Works was droning on about municipal projects, in the center, when the wide double-doors were pushed open in the background. In stepped the recently appointed Chief Inspector of Intelligence, followed by five detectives, who fanned out into the atrium. The Inspector continued toward the center, until she stood beside the now silent speaker. The stunned Council quickly responded with unintelligible protests, some rising from their seats.
Elaine watched peripherally as the former Commander T'Pol interrupted, "I apologize for the intrusion, but Minister Kaipu is a difficult man to corner."
"This is an outrage. You have no right to be here!"
"On the contrary," she answered soothingly, "this is a government facility, and therefore falls within my jurisdiction." She pinned the Minister with a level stare. "Unlike your personal estate."
Kaipu stood. "Leave before I have you and your men forcibly removed."
She did not respond to his threat, looking down at a datapadd in her hand. "Minister Kaipu, formerly Motgar, you stand accused of the following charges: treason, conspiracy, sabotage, embezzlement, illegal trafficking, falsification of documents, forgery, evading tariffs, bribery, assault in the second degree, assault in the third degree, accomplice to homicide, accomplice to larceny, accomplice to -"
Kaipu levered himself over the counter, launching himself bodily at T'Pol. He never reached his target, for one of the detectives, an older woman intercepted him physically, and there was a flurry of blows between the two. Kaipu fell to the ground and when he rose, prepared to fight again, the two youngest detectives flanked him, their hands outstretched curiously. Kaipu visibly blanched, backing away. When he turned, he froze, an expression of blatant fury on his face. Another detective held a phase pistol on him.
T'Pol clasped her hands behind her back. "Enough."
The two young ones drew back, standing at ease.
"We have genetic evidence. You will be placed into custody, with the additional charge of resisting arrest." She punched a rapid entry into her datapadd.
Minister Kaipu, whom she had called Motgar, stood ramrod straight, breathing harshly through clenched teeth. He looked around, seeing now that the entire Council stood, watching him. His face twisted again, as if he could not control himself. "You believe this whelp over my good standing?"
To a man, each minister looked at T'Pol, to T'Pau and Kuvak, then back at Kaipu.
T'Pau spoke for them, "She was chosen for her qualifications."
Kaipu seemed to hunch on himself, his face taking on a mottled olive tinge, before he snarled something the translator could not parse. He bored his gaze at T'Pol and hissed, "Death before dishonor," before falling suddenly.
At this moment, the camera image jerked, going temporarily out of focus, shaking, as the detectives rushed to the Minister. The younger woman rolled him over, shaking her head at T'Pol. "He is dead."
"Very well. Take his body to forensics for a complete autopsy and..." T'Pol cocked her head to one side, listening.
The camera operator began to zoom in on Kaipu, getting close enough to to show the trail of blood tinged spittle on his cheek, his eyes frozen open.
"...and secure the unauthorized recording device." T'Pol looked directly at the camera. With that meager warning, the image fluctuated wildly, the room careening to an odd angle, focus blurring until it ended in a blur of static.
AV 8576, Nhrur
They were awaiting the space dock release authorization when K'Lav charged onto the bridge of their small transport. He looked sharply at each of them, hastily, impatiently, his face taut. His eyes were dark and bright as he paced in significant agitation from one side of the bridge to the other. Checking a datapadd in his hand, he threw it aside onto his seat.
He looked again at them. "I must return to Da-Leb."
J'Treyub cocked her head, from where she had craned around in her pilot's seat. "We are set to depart for the Orion Sector."
"I must return to Da-Leb," the Captain insisted. A muscle in his jaw worked. He studied the small group, coming to a decision. "Vaken, you are in command. I will take the shuttle back."
Vaken stepped forward from his tactical station. "Sir, do you require assistance?"
K'Lav, who had been turning away, swung back. His face was drawn, a sickly puce. "I cannot order...."
T'Pol checked with the final team-member, Birok, raising an eyebrow briefly. After a considerable pause, he nodded once.
"We will assist you, sir."
In his haste, K'Lav by-passed the Shi'Kahr port, flying the shuttle low and fast over the steppes. The landing was rough, but no one lost his or her footing. The Captain was freeing his sidearm from its holster before the door was open, preparing to spring out the hatch.
"Orders, sir," requested Vaken.
K'Lav halted, his expression distracted, as if he were surprised by their presence. "Yes." He twisted the phase pistol in his hand. "We are at my home. There are two entrances to the main residence, one directly ahead, the other to my right. The livestock shelter must also be checked for intruders. I...." He stuttered uncharacteristically. "T'Pol, with me."
They did not ask how or why he knew there were intruders at his home, or why such a concern should detour them from official orders. If he saw fit to request this, it was no imposition. Following his example, they darted close to the ground, despite the midday light, scattering each to his or her goal. Vaken broke off to the right, J'Treyub and Birok made for the livestock shelter. T'Pol followed K'Lav toward the front entrance.
It was ajar. He scampered along the wall, craning up to check through a window. There were none on her side, so T'Pol waited until he signaled and they filed into the home. It was silent, in the hall, the shared room and the sleeping quarters. It was silent until they reached the kitchen. They could hear flies buzzing.
K'Lav closed his eyes and his lips worked, but he said nothing to her. He only swallowed, rolling forward on his feet, entering the final room, pistol first. Because he blocked her view, T'Pol did not see at first what caused him to stand slowly, or why he stood with his shoulders bowed. Releasing his grip slowly, K'Lav dropped his pistol and stepped forward haltingly, then jerked forward, launching himself to the ground.
T'Pol was in the room, crouched, bracing her pistol before she understood his reaction.
K'Lav was hunched over a woman's corpse. Blood was already drying to a mossy green film, crusting around chunks of bone and gray pulp. Though part of her face was missing, he obviously knew her, for T'Pol saw tears drop to the floor. She backed away. K'Lav was shaking, making an incoherent noise. She looked away from him, following the line of the woman's outstretched arm. Hidden partially by a partition was a smaller body.
The buzzing of the flies was drowned out by the animalistic noises K'Lav began making. T'Pol stumbled backward, searching for the exit hall. Reaching it, she nearly collided with Vaken. She grabbed his shoulder, dragging when he initially resisted. He followed hurriedly and they stood outside the home. When Birok and J'Treyub arrived, reporting no one was on the grounds, Vaken barred them from entering the house.
He said, "The Captain is not well."
They waited nearly a full ritark for the captain to emerge before J'Treyub spoke for them all. "We must resume our mission."
They looked at Vaken, who promptly looked at T'Pol. The other two, unsure of what had occurred, did likewise.
She said, "It is likely he will stay to make funeral arrangements."
In agreement, the four returned to the shuttlecraft. Inside, Vaken picked up the discarded datapadd, examining its contents, a peculiar expression developing on his face. He put the padd in a belt pocket, and said, "Proceed to spacedock."
J'Treyub, back at her station asked what they all wished to know. "What happened?"
"I do not know. There is nothing in his padd except our orders to the Orion Sector."
Well, he was fucked. Sure, there was more to it, like being locked up in a tiny, miserably hot cell. He was thirsty but that was ignorable, compared to the jabbing pain in his ribs, the shoulder he couldn't fully rotate and the swollen wrist. Only one of the injuries had been obtained during the initial fight. He wondered when the Romulans had made him, in the past three weeks. They had got him good, though, even having their dupes shoot one of their own to convince Trip he was truly a persecuted minority, willing to sell information on munitions facilities.
Trip scooted back harder against the corner, using the wall to prop his shoulder. The guards had searched him thoroughly enough to remove the small capsule concealed in a back molar, so even that escape was denied. Not that he was particularly convinced of his ability to poison himself - perhaps if he were actually being interrogated or tortured, but not alone in this cell. He hadn't eaten since his capture and his captors had neglected to bring him water for over two days. He couldn't be certain it was malice, per se, so much as he didn't seem to warrant immediate attention.
He could count on one hand, without using up all his fingers, how many people knew he was alive and cared enough to pull his fat out of the fire. Either Harris would send someone to get him out of this cell, Archer would find out from Reed, or he would die here. Trip closed his eyes against the featureless darkness. There was no reason to drain his nerves on top of his flagging stamina. There was no way out. Either someone would come or they wouldn't.
He knew he was dreaming when T'Pol appeared. In a schedule that had become largely arbitrary, this was almost reassuring in its routine. He waited for her to speak. The weird part wasn't the maddeningly regularity of seeing a woman he couldn't have. The baffling part was when her clothes changed from the regulation Starfleet uniform she had adopted, to something he had never even seen her wear. Here she was again, in that beige, belted tunic, loose pants and high, black boots. She wore the stole, too, a deep burgundy, trimmed with bronze, embroidered with script he couldn't read on her right, and that strange emblem on her left. The symbol was nothing but a swirling arrow super-imposed over a geometric shape, practically a nonsense glyph.
Dream T'Pol began the conversation the same was she always did, "Are you well?"
He had to wonder why his brain didn't cook up a more sympathetic and emotive version of her, or one that wore less clothes, for that matter. Then again, this was the white space and she always seemed to be in charge here.
As if he had voiced his desire aloud, T'Pol cocked her head slowly to one side, adding to the effect with a caustic eyebrow. "No."
He sniffed. "Sooner or later, you're gonna fall asleep in a good mood, the same time as me and your 'no' won't mean a lick."
She lifted one shoulder in a shrug, but did not contest his implication.
He shrugged back at her and answered her rote question, "Still rotting in this cell."
"They have not interrogated you further?"
"They quit as soon as they realized I was Human. Ran off in a tizzy. I think they're waiting for someone to get here."
"Good." T'Pol glanced abruptly to one side, face attentive, and her form became semi-translucent in the white glare of this specific dream space. "I must go. We will arrive shortly." She disappeared.
As he drifted back off into dreamless sleep, Trip thought, it was a nice fantasy.
AV 8576, Srork
Instructor Homral was dressed strangely. He wore a metallic tunic composed of small pearlescent plates, a yellow stole over one shoulder, close fitting black trousers and high boots. His hair was styled as curiously, into a point over his forehead. He commended their progress. He told them there was one crucial skill left to learn and the nine puzzled over this, for what was left? Homral waited until the group's attention was once more upon him, relaxed his stance into a carelessly informal, almost slovenly posture. He leaned on his desk. He bared his teeth into a grimace, a smile, and chuckled.
In reflexive politesse, T'Pol looked away from the obscenely juvenile display of deliberate emotion. Adults did not behave in such a manner. She saw that her teammates had reacted similarly, a few even demonstrated distress bordering on horror.
Homral said, "You cannot learn if you do not look. You will master your discomfort, to serve against the Rihannsu. If you do not learn, you will be identified and captured by the enemy."
Each overcame his or her discomfort.
The next morning, neither Jossen nor Hoyvet reported for duty. Homral told the remaining seven that the defections would be dealt with in an appropriate manner. J'Treyub was assigned to retrieve them.
The instant they stepped out of the spaceport at Vulcana Regar, the intense midday heat rolled over them in a suffocating wave. Elaine found a shaded bench and sat down, glad for the insulated cooling vest the transport authorities had required them to obtain. They had also been warned not to spend more than twenty minutes in the direct sunlight, or forty in the shade, when outside. She took a moment to gather herself against the oppressive weather while Charlie said, "At least it's not humid."
Elaine summoned a ground transport asking the pilot, in English, knowing it would be understood in this tourist oriented city, to take them to the Headquarters of Intelligence. She hoped she had said the native phrase correctly. He raised no surprise at the request, merely turning the small craft southeast. She knew when they were approaching their destination when the ornate spires of the government building came into sight. Vulcans, for all their spartan virtues, seemed to have a great love for the baroque. She thanked the driver as they exited. He nodded once in acknowledgement.
Charlie asked, "Are you sure we shouldn't go to the hotel first?"
"I wouldn't be able to sleep, now that we're here."
He sighed, slinging their travel pack onto his shoulder as the transport vehicle departed. He had voiced his opinion of her intuition quite a few times, already.
The guard at the door requested their identities. He gave no sign of recognition, but Elaine didn't expect any. On this planet, they were not the parents of the Warp Project's most famous engineer, they were nobody. Inside, they identified what appeared to be a central information kiosk, manned by a single, dour man who asked how he might be of assistance.
Elaine took a fortifying breath. "I want to speak with the Chief Inspector."
The man blinked at her. "She is occupied and will be in appointments until the office closes. You may sched-." He stopped, head cocking to one side. He blinked again. "You will be escorted."
"Well," Charlie said, raising both eyebrows at the ceiling.
An armed guard appeared, identifying himself as Triu. He led them to a turbolift, accompanying the two as promised, up the central tower, and down a hall. She saw a door open and two well dressed Vulcan dignitaries, by the decorative appearances of their robes, exited. The two made for the turbolift. One of the old men sent a narrow look in their group's direction before Triu caught his gaze. The dignitary looked away. Triu escorted Elaine and Charlie to the same doorway, before bowing slightly from the shoulders, and stepping back.
They took the cue and stepped into the room. Seated at a bureau piled with datapadds, at an angle to a large monitor, was Chief Inspector T'Pol. Behind her, most of the outer wall was composed of a window that opened into a view Na'nam's eastern coastline.
"Please, be seated," she said by way of greeting.
Elaine saw Charlie bite the inside of his cheek. "You didn't have to evict them on our account."
"They will reschedule." T'Pol folded her hands on the table. "How may I be of service?"
Elaine took her second fortifying breath of the day. It was glaringly obvious that not only had their identities been duly noted and transmitted, but T'Pol had expected them. She tried to summon the words she had practiced, but it was difficult, meeting this woman for the second time. The cool distance of their first encounter was absent. She was so utterly still and attentive, without being haughty as Elaine expected, while clearly demanding a response.
Elaine raised her chin, reminding herself that Vulcans preferred a direct approach. "You weren't at his memorial. You just gave me that suitcase and disappeared. Why?" In her peripheral vision, she saw Charlie wince.
"I had no reason to attend the commencement speech or memorial service," T'Pol answered without inflection.
There was a strangling sensation of hope in Elaine's voice that she couldn't suppress. Vulcans always did things for reasons and, likewise, didn't do things for reasons. She remembered her son's unusual demand to have his funeral in space despite the ship's proximity to Earth. She remembered Charlie declaring this woman a "spook". She remembered all those little, accidental facts Jon had revealed about Enterprise and her missions. Mostly, Elaine remembered every occasion Jon and her boy had concocted one scheme or another that usually ended with Starfleet issuing a letter of warning and demerits.
Charlie looked at her with that sympathetic understanding and she knew he was about to say something about wild goose chases.
Elaine went with her gut, "What did you people do with my boy?"
T'Pol answered harshly, almost in a growl, "My people did nothing." The literal statement was loaded with more anger and disappointment than the defensive tone Elaine expected. She had little time to process the nuances before T'Pol keyed a series into the datapadd mounted on her bureau. With frightening speed, shutters slid hard and fast over all the windows and Elaine heard the vents hiss shut, the subtle movement of air ceasing.
Charlie was poised to jump from his seat, anger on his face, his hand reaching toward Elaine.
Before he could raise an outcry, T'Pol said, "There is no need for alarm. This is a security precaution, to ensure privacy."
"So you can whisk us off, too?"
T'Pol cocked her head to one side, raised a bemused eyebrow. "You are in no danger." She returned her attention to Elaine. "I am pleased to have confirmation that Trip's perceptive capabilities were, indeed, the product of genetic inheritance." She inclined her head in a slight bow. "But I cannot tell you where he is."
The weight that had bowed her shoulders, the pain that was chewing in her gut, eased. Elaine felt with her hand for her chair and sat in it. "Where-" she began, then prevented herself from repeating the question T'Pol couldn't answer. She closed her eyes, breathing. Opening her eyes, she saw Charlie. He was staring, with his mouth open. He hadn't believed her when she had said that Vulcans always did and didn't do things for a reason, that this woman's blatant inaction had mattered. He said that those pointy eared bastards just didn't care like that. She was surprised when T'Pol broke the silence, first.
"I apologize for any distress his deception caused you."
It was a very Human condolence to offer. Then again, she remembered Soval at the funeral saying, with disturbing sincerity, that he grieved with her. He didn't even know her. Elaine asked, "Can you tell me what he's doing? Why?" She raised a hand, but didn't know what gesture to make, dropping it to her lap.
"I am uncertain. He did not confide in me before assuming his current direction."
She looked sharply at T'Pol, startled. "If it's not too personal a question, speaking as his mother, why weren't you talking?" She recalled her grandparents who bickered right up to the deathbed. Literally. She had been five years old and hadn't understood why her mother was laughing and crying at the same time. There were some people, in her experience, who simply loved to argue with each other. As Jon had observed, those people didn't stop unless something was wrong.
T'Pol closed her eyes, averting her face for a moment. "I was grieving, in my people's way. I could not..." She faltered, composing herself. "I did not have the strength to process both his grief and mine. He misunderstood the purpose and cause of my withdrawal."
Elaine would have asked for clarification but Charlie interrupted, with open suspicion. "If you weren't talking and he didn't tell you, how the hell do you know he's alive?"
There was a sudden, almost comical, similarity between T'Pol and Ambassador Soval, a subtle twist in her face and posture, as if she struggled to explain an awkward fact. She settled for averting her face again. "Are you aware of our restrictions against casual touch?"
"What in tarnation does that have to do with anything?" Charlie crossed his arms.
Her next words were halting. "Vulcans possess... unique mental capabilities that are.... We are only coming to understand them again after a period of... intellectual suppression."
Elaine swallowed the information as fast as she could. She heard T'Pol take her own fortifying breath.
"When we touch, we may feel what the other feels or thinks. There may also be long-term consequences." Whatever she intended to say after that was drowned out.
Charlie exploded in outrage. He stuttered several times, "You people got even more psychic powers? All this time you're talking about being honest and there's even more?"
Because he was too busy shouting to pay attention, he didn't see what Elaine saw. By the time she finished speaking, mumbling might be a more apt description, T'Pol had flushed a distinct shade of olive green from the tips of her ears to her neck. Her gaze remained averted and her hands, no longer relaxed on the table top, were clenched together.
Elaine looked up at her husband. "Charlie," she reprimanded.
He was shouting some demand about how he wanted to know, right now, where his son was before he committed an act of assault. Which was not how he phrased it. He leaned forward, face red, "You readin' my mind, right now?"
Elaine watched Charlie for a moment. This was odd. Humans had long since encountered alien races that possessed unique telepathic abilities, enough so that the reality was widely accepted, sometimes even resented. On top of that, anyone who watched a newsfeed knew about Vulcan's recently blown secret about how commonplace mind-melding was. What a horrible brouhaha that had been, with their government bombing and attempting to exterminate its own people for practicing something that was, if the recent reversal was to be believed, perfectly natural and publicly acceptable. Elaine looked back to T'Pol who was still struggling with her surprising embarrassment. She took a deep breath and shouted, "Charlie!" then punched him in the kidney, though not too hard.
He stopped ranting, looking down at her.
She motioned with a finger across her lips.
He thrust his chin in the air.
She said, pursing her lips, watching T'Pol regain her earlier composure and nonplussed air, "I don't think it works that way."
"Suddenly you're an expert on those mind melding things they do?" His voice remained belligerent.
Elaine looked at her knuckles, reminding herself that Charlie was her husband and an intelligent man despite his current ill-mannered behavior. She repeated, slowly, in a more deliberate tone, "I don't think that's what she was talking about."
Charlie stared at her blankly before developing an uncomfortable string of light coughs. He rubbed the side of his nose and looked at the floor. He sat down, though his face was still red, and took great interest in his shoes.
Elaine took a deep breath and smiled brightly. "I'm sorry about that. We've both been on edge and it's been a long trip. I don't want to be presumptuous, but it's all so new to us and it might be helpful if you could explain a bit what you mean by consequences." She bit her lip. "Will it hurt him?"
T'Pol drew back, eyes widening briefly. "No. My understanding is limited and," she twisted her lip wryly - an open gesture for her guest's benefit, "he is Human. There is no model to establish precedence, but it is considered beneficial. It should not cause him harm."
"What's 'it'?" grumbled Charlie.
T'Pol twisted her shoulders and Elaine saw her start to go hot under the collar again. "The word in my language is 'tel'. The closest approximation in English is 'bond' or 'bound'." He eyes flickered back to Elaine, her gaze dropping. "It is typically permanent."
"Why the hell would you do something like that?" Charlie cocked his head to one side, holding his hands out in mock supplication. "I mean, no offense, but that sort of mind melding hoodoo sounds damn foolish."
"It is not a meld," T'Pol muttered through clenched teeth, before taking a deep breath. "Telan results from an involuntary, unconscious process."
Charlie made a face, twisting his lips to one side, leaning back in his chair. He scratched the side of his nose again. "So, what you're sayin' is, oops?"
T'Pol blinked at him, placidly.
He grunted. "Usually that punch line ends with a kid." He must have realized his tactless error because he jerked his feet to the right as Elaine made to kick him. "Sorry," he mumbled.
Elaine settled for glaring at him, before slouching back in her own chair. She rubbed her forehead, formulating an appropriate response. Looking up, she saw that T'Pol evinced absolutely no expression at all, which in Elaine's experience with Vulcans meant that she didn't dare let anything out. "I'm sorry," she repeated her husband's words. "Sometime he talks before his brain catches up."
T'Pol released a slow breath. "You were not at fault." She raised a swept eyebrow at Charlie. "Nor was I." Without warning, she turned her attention to the central computer, typing for a moment, pausing, and typing again. "One moment, please."
"Yeah?" said Charlie, changing gears in sudden interest. "Thought you said this was a secure room."
"This is an encrypted priority transmission." By the time she finished speaking, T'Pol had folded her hands back on the desktop. "Is there anything else you need to know?"
"Well, if you could check on him and," Elaine hesitated, "give a cryptic word or two, when you get a chance, if it's in your power...." She drifted off. She reminded herself to take solace in knowing her son was alive, even if he was out of her reach. It was better than believing she had buried two of her children.
"It is," T'Pol said simply. "I can do it now."
Elaine looked at Charlie and realized she was holding her breath. "Please?"
Rather than reach for any piece of equipment, padd, console or data port, T'Pol curled her hands loosely on the table. Her head and shoulders fell, as if she would slump onto the surface, but she remained seated. She looked at an invisible point, straight ahead, and after several silent seconds passed, the nictitating membrane slid over her eyes. The effect was unnerving corpse-like.
Charlie leaned over to her, wrinkling his nose and mock disgust, sticking out his tongue.
Elaine kicked his shin.
T'Pol inhaled abruptly, blinking, regaining both poise and focus. "He is well."
"That's it?" asked Charlie.
"At such a distance, it is difficult for me to know more. I am not yet skilled," she admitted, "and he is awake. His attention is focused outward."
Elaine nudged his leg with her foot, but kept her attention on T'Pol. "Thank you. We should probably go rest up a bit." She looked at her husband, who was chewing absently on his knuckles. "We need to sort some things out."
Charlie grunted. "I'm gonna tar that boy."
Flickering her eyes meaningfully at T'Pol, Elaine smiled, a giddy relief finally hitting her like a brick wall. "You might need to get in line."
He snorted, leaning down to pick up the travel bag. Lifting one shoulder in a shrug, not quite making eye contact, he said to T'Pol, "Sorry about that, earlier."
"It is forgotten. If you require assistance during your stay, it will be provided."
Charlie waited until they were out in the hallway and the automatic door had closed before saying, "Guess Trip thought she was pretty damn fine, too." He grinned unrepentantly.
She punched him on the shoulder, in realization. "You mortified that poor woman!"
He put an arm around her shoulders. "Hon', I can't very well help if it she's a damn prissy spook."
They were both mollified to discover that their travel expenses had been discreetly compensated for, even if Triu insisted on following them everywhere. The errand to Vulcan turned into a vacation, though both agreed it was pretty damn hot.
Later, as they ate dinner in an astonishingly accommodating restaurant, Charlie hemmed and hawed. He poked at the noodles in his plate, picking out the meat that resembled chicken. He made several odd faces, tapped his fork against his plate and fidgeted with his glass of water. Finally, he leaned back, pointing his fork at Elaine. "Y'know, I ain't never been good with works and these folk," he waved the fork around, circling the room, "give new meaning to obfuscating, and I don't rightly know all their ways, but...." He pursed his lips, falling silent.
Elaine cut into a mysterious patty that tasted a bit like sweetened rice.
Charlie said, "Did that girl tell us that her an' Trip got themselves some sort of common law marriage?"
Elaine raised both eyebrows, gave him a pained smile and shrugged.
"Ah... damnit." Charlie stabbed a piece of not-quite-chicken.
"We could ask Triu."
"Hell no, he'll blab it right back to her." Charlie shook his head, sighed in exasperation and muttered, "Some oops."
AV 8576, Nhrar
J'Treyub activated her emergency beacon. Under Vaken's command, the remaining six infiltrated the space station Nana' mir, but the beacon had gone silent by their arrival. It was agreed they would wait and observe from concealment until either Jossen, Hoyvet or J'Treyub were seen.
They waited and T'Pol learned the intricacies of fuel pump maintenance, Tewvis filed data as a maintenance inspector, Vaken feigned an interest in exotic dancers, T'Niv feigned an interest in chemical novelties, Birok insinuated himself amongst the narcotic traffickers, and L'Pao maintained a vigil as a deck vagrant at the central junction. They waited until one day Birok appeared at the door of Vaken's quarters, sweat beading on his forehead, face flushed.
He apologized. He raged. They locked him in a supply closet. Vaken conferred with T'Pol and she spoke with T'Niv and L'Pao. They could not risk being discovered. As both she and L'Pao were betrothed, T'Niv was chosen.
She looked at Vaken, one hand clenched in a trembling fist.
He closed his eyes, dropping his shoulders and turning away. "We have no choice."
T'Pol studied the two, but it was not her place to make unwelcome observations. Vaken and L'Pao departed. She said nothing, scanning through arrival and departure logs on a datapadd, keeping vigil on a metal bench set outside the closet. When the two within struck the door with such force it vibrated, she moved to the opposite end of the bench.
Three shifts passed. She was struggling to free a feeder chuck-key when Tewvis ran up to her. He had abandoned his disguise.
"Vaken has found him. Come."
T'Pol released the hose. "Where?"
Tewvis hesitated, eyes tight at the corners. "He has formed an association with a Tellarite crew."
She fell in behind him as they loped out of the maintenance dock, into the maze of tunnels wrapped through the station. She signaled to her remaining teammates, but received only comm silence. She tried again, as they rounded a corner and Tewvis motioned for her to lend cover.
He saw what she was doing. "I have tried as well." Cautiously, he stepped around the corner.
T'Pol heard the whine and smelled the burn of phase fire as Tewvis grunted, sliding down against the corner. She grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back out of the junction. He rolled into a ball, clutching at his stomach, gasping in an effort to control his breathing. When she tried to peel his arm back to check the extent of his injury, he batted at her arm.
"Vaken," he hissed. "Tellarites." He pulled himself up into a sitting position, propped against the bulkhead wall, pistol gripped in one hand across his lap. Sweat began to bead on his upper lip as Tewvis motioned with his chin toward the junction. "With Jossen."
"Vaken?" She asked for confirmation.
Tewvis curled his lip. "Find the others."
T'Pol doubled back, using a maintenance tube to reach the central junction. Spotting L'Pao, sprawled in her corner, she went directly to the other woman. When L'Pao gave no sign she noticed her approach, T'Pol tapped the woman's shoulder. She fell over and did not move. In that moment, others took notice and T'Pol stepped away hastily to avoid incrimination. There was no time for delays. She found Birok mutilated in Vaken's quarters and stayed only to arm herself further.
As she crossed though the area known for its illicit trade, a hand scrabbled at her tunic.
She turned to see J'Treyub wearing decorative, flimsy clothing and a collar of unforgettable design. She could not speak past her surprise.
"Vaken said the whole team was here," J'Treyub was looking over her shoulder, speaking rapidly. Orion guards were already closing in on their escapee.
"Vaken betrayed us," T'Pol said. "Tewvis holds him, but he is injured. I must..."
J'Treyub started to choke, a dribble of spit forming, eyes dilated. T'Pol caught her as she started to fall, unable to assist J'Treyub as she clawed at the immobile collar. The agent grabbed her arm and met her eyes. She recited an alpha-numeric sequence before an Orion clubbed her on the back of the head. He raised his mace, stepping forward and she saw several more guards arriving. She could not risk falling in battle.
T'Pol memorized the sequence and told herself that J'Treyub would persevere. She could not let Jossen escape, so she ran back toward Tewvis, making no effort to conceal her weapons, barrelling over and past any who blocked her path. This was no longer a time for subtle tact. Reaching the prior junction from the rear, she shot the first Tellarite she saw before the second could turn on her. Ducking Vaken's return fire, she rolled two small disks down the hallway. He saw, but not before the magnetized pulse snapped both remote mines to the corridor walls. Tucked against a support strut, T'Pol glanced back once to gauge his position, and set off the charges. The second Tellarite fell forward, shrieking, rolling on the deck plating in an attempt to extinguish the napalm.
T'Pol rolled back into the hallway, jumping over his body, pinning her pistol on Vaken who lay curled against a wall. He was badly burned, a portion of his face blistered and peeling, but he bared his teeth at her ferally.
He fumbled with his own pistol, face twisting further. "It should have been you."
She did not give him a chance to shoot, stunning her commander first. Once he fell, she saw the fourth immolated body, sprawled in the docking bay airlock. T'Niv had been caught by the full force of the blast. Behind her, in the distance of space, a Tellarite craft was at full burn. After a moment, T'Pol holstered her weapon and went to check on Tewvis. His fingers jerked on the trigger of his weapon, but it was spent. He did not waste his energy apologizing and she checked his vital signs with a scanner. He would live.
She gave him the extra weapons and spare cartridges, then said, "Jossen has escaped, but J'Treyub was able to contact me. I must restrain Vaken. If I do not return promptly, she entrusted me with an encryption code. Can you focus?"
He nodded and she repeated the alpha-numeric sequence. It was, presumably, related to J'Treyub's records on Jossen and Hoyvet's activities and the need to conceal the data suggested she had been discovered by her intended targets. Of course, that was not the only evidence of misfortune.
Tewvis took a shallow breath. "She is well?"
T'Pol averted her eyes. "She is enslaved. I will attempt to locate her before the Orions move."
"May the winds blow in your favor," he murmured, his own eyes closed. "I will inform the authorities of what has occurred, in your absence, SubCommander."
T'Pol went back, but could not find her teammate, nor any record of her. She had neither the funds nor authorization to bribe anyone sufficiently. So she collected the bodies and began filing the mission report. After she retrieved the data that J'Treyub had concealed, after they returned to T'Kashi, after she watched Vaken taken away to be tried and sentenced, after she watched Tewvis be admitted for medical treatment, she went to her quarters and fell to her knees. No one could see, here. She could only stare at the meditation candle and watch as it burned lower. In the end, she leaned forward until her forehead touched the stone floor, gasping, one fist hovering over it, shaking.
She requested a transfer.
She was promoted to senior field agent and sent on retrieval.
He was meditating when the sound of the door opening drew his attention. A man entered the cell, a phase pistol dangling from his hand, pointed loosely at Trip. "I am Major Rituiyt and you," Trip saw the gray outline of teeth bared in a grin, "are one stupid Human. We will have a discussion," he promised too cheerfully. His tone went from happy to harsh, "Stand."
Blessing the small mercy of dissipating trance, Trip stood and, following the motion of a pistol barrel, walked ahead of Rituiyt. His ribs protested the movement and he blinked through spots of light. The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end and he started to look over his shoulder. His vision cleared, he saw there were two more Romulans waiting outside. Rituiyt gave him a firm shove between the shoulder blades and Trip resumed forward motion, taking carefully restrained looks at the two women.
One was young and the other middle aged. The elder had graying hair, a disfiguring scar, partially concealed by an ornate eye patch, a token of bizarre vanity. She walked with a slight hitch to the left and a rank insignia identified her as a colonel. Below it was an emblem that seemed to be a falcon or hawk, mantling its wings protectively around two glyphs. She noted his study and cut him a chilly, dismissive look with her remaining eye. He told himself he was only imagining the lack of mercy in it. At least old and slightly disabled worked in his favor.
The lieutenant to his left, on the other hand.... He did a quick memory match against her height, weight, facial structure. Even the gait was similar. She met his eyes and inclined her head slightly, not quite smiling. Trip stopped breathing, then fought to conceal his burst of premature success and relief, because they were both grounded on his Romulan colony. Still, the odds were better than they had been minutes earlier. He wondered whose arm T'Pol had twisted to get clearance to come here or if Jon or Mal had sent her. It didn't really matter right now how badly his cover must have been blown in the process. He realized he was smiling back. How typically, implacably stubborn of her.
He was taken down several halls into another room, this one more spacious, but also filled with an alarming amount of technical equipment. He had half expected some whips, chains and maybe one of those archaic racking devices that were used to tear apart joints. Instead, there was a chair, over which hung a contraption that reminded him too much of a cranial surgical restraint for his comfort. The Romulans had a way around their one handicap compared to Vulcans. He darted his gaze to T'Pol and she canted her head. Without direct cause, he felt tension melt from his body. He had forgotten what it was like to have her moods rub off on him.
The colonel strolled past his other side, killing that mood without a single word or gesture. She eyed him silently, taking a chair and leaning on the table. She rested one arm on the bare table and the other dangled loosely beside her honor blade.
Rituiyt nodded at Paonet then, "Paonet, strap him in." At Trip's bewildered look, he added, "You didn't think we would be uncivilized, did you?" He turned his back, aiming for a comfortable looking chair. "We'll kill you after we've finished extracting everything you know."
"About what?" Trip ventured. No doubt T'Pol would leave the restraints insecure.
"About anything. I look forward to discovering more about your Starfleet and its intention to expand."
Paonet guided him by the shoulder. "Perhaps we might try less intrusive methods, first? He's Human, after all. It might simply destroy his mind and, it would be such a shame to waste this opportunity to learn more about his species in... accurate detail."
Rituiyt, his hand on the back of the chair, stopped to consider this, his lips in a grim line. He met Paonet's eyes, with calculating speculation. There was no mistaking his subordinate's rapacious tone. He smiled.
Trip stood, holding his breath.
"Your suggestion has merit," Rituiyt conceded.
"Excellent." Paonet sidled past him, turning to face him obliquely, saying in carefully pronounced English, "You are too far from your Coalition to be rescued or escape, Tucker. You may struggle and do yourself harm or you may cooperate." Her gaze was frank and her smirk hardly subtle. She cocked her head, "We believe in rewarding obedience."
Unlike most of his people, he'd seen Romulans but he wasn't used to how Vulcan they looked, yet. It invariably made him wonder what was behind that stoic Vulcan restraint, if behind those stiff upper lips was this same gleeful predatory urge. He resisted the impulse to step back from Paonet as she invaded his personal space. It was just T'Pol, doing a damn good job of being Romulan, enough to fool Rituiyt, while alerting him that the enemy were connected enough to know his true identity. The stakes had just gotten higher; Harris would drop him like a hot potato, so this was his one chance out.
Rituiyt clasped his hands behind his back, slinking more than walking, his head low, as he passed Trip and Paonet. He gave the woman a stern but meaningful glance, looked through Trip as if he were insignificant, then motioned his chin at the nameless colonel. The older woman balked, eyeing his remaining captor with blatant suspicion. Paonet threw up her chin, raising an eyebrow in challenge. The colonel bowed her head, gave one last glower of warning, and turned to follow Rituiyt.
Trip capped the flood of relief. They weren't out of the woods yet, not even close. Aware that the walls had ears, he said one thing while his tone of voice said another, "You know he could come back at any minute."
"Not unless I call for assistance." Paonet snorted at the idea. "I'm sure I can manage a single, unarmed, bound Human." She pivoted languidly, toward the door. "Follow me."
It slid back open, but as Paonet stepped through the exit, a yellow light hissed, arcing through the air, catching Paonet square in the temple. With one convulsive jerk, she simply crumpled to the floor. Trip stumbled backward, searching instinctively for cover, knowing there was none in the barren hall and unwilling to trap himself in the room. He looked, identifying the shooter, a dull weight settling in his stomach, followed by a lancing pain in his head. He grabbed at his temples, gasping, slipping down against the wall. He felt for the entry wound, but found none. It was a migraine.
"Nghopen!" Rituiyt shouted in shocked anger, peeling around the corner "what's the meaning of this, you miserable old woman?" He had arrived too late, to point his own pistol at her.
"Mind your tone," she warned him mildly, apparently unconcerned by his threat. "Major," she added belatedly, emphasizing his subordinate rank.
"No need. You just murdered one of mine, you fool. Once this blunder comes out, I'll call you whatever name I want."
"You mean that Vulcan imposter?" She waved her pistol at the floor, then nodded at Trip. "Look at him," she drawled derisively.
"If you had bothered to consult with me, you'd know Paonet wasn't." His sneer became a snarl. "She was selected precisely for her appearance which was, apparently, close enough to trick even you."
"Look at him," she repeated, impatiently. Nghopen smiled thinly, her teeth bared slightly, before chuckling in a way that reminded Trip nothing so much as of the hyenas he had seen in a Terran Zoo. He supposed she was right to show little concern over his possible escape attempt. He could barely think.
Trip took shallow breaths, fighting the nausea, clambering up to his feet. He swayed, looking at T'Pol's body. He tried to speak, but the effort left him shaking and he put a hand against the wall. He closed his mouth, when he realized it was hanging open. He looked at the body again.
Rituiyt came closer, looking Trip in the face. "Did you shoot him, too?"
"No. I believe he is suffering psychic trauma. Guess which kind."
Rituiyt cocked his head, developing an expression of wonder. "Fascinating," he announced, looking down to nudge 'Paonet' with the toe of his boot. He glanced at Nghopen. "With a Human?" He snorted in amusement, drawing back to cross his arms, grinning widely. "They really will mate with anything."
"This is hardly a time for humor. You underestimated Vulcan deception and cowardice." Nghopen sauntered to the body of 'Paonet', crouched and withdrew a hypo-injector from her tunic. Setting the tip against the jugular, she drew the chamber full of murky green blood, before tossing it carelessly to Rituiyt. "Check it. Then show some competence and clean up your mess before we do it for you."
Rituiyt scrabbled to catch the hypo, which he studied with a demeanor that lost its aplomb, his face growing puce with horror. His lips worked as if he would say something, but he only stared at Nghopen, then at the corpse. "Yes. Yes, of course."
Trip was still fixated on the body when Nghopen grabbed his collar to propel him forward, and he staggered with incomprehension. Not only had he failed to courier the data crystal, failed to avoid capture, failed even to retain his saving grace, he had survived. Now there was this and he hadn't expected to feel as if a solid wall bracing his back had collapsed, leaving him to fall under his own weight. It was surreal. The sensation reminded him of standing too quickly, after laying down. Then the migraine, stabbed dead center between his eyes, forming a knot at the back of his skull, vision blurring. He gagged, forcing out the word, "Poison," in accusation.
Nghopen heard and corrected him with a snort. "A broken bond. Show some dignity and walk, or I'll carry you," she warned icily.
He stumbled forward, craning his head to check, irrationally, again that T'Pol was still dead. "What are you going to do with her," he demanded, though he knew with futility.
"Perhaps we will send her back to Vulcan in a cryogenic pod with a falcon etched on her gullible face. Though," she chuckled, "from what I hear, her own people would hardly regret the loss of their favorite human-loving pariah. Why, even her husband didn't want her, though that is understandable." She chuckled again.
"You don't know nothing about it," he muttered, attempting to twist his arms free to strike her. She countered by raising his arms into a lock, while pinching his ear and twisting it viciously. It almost helped counter the grinding in his head.
"You would be surprised by our similarities," she answered gleefully while he whined involuntarily in pain. "March."
Shortly beyond the first corridor, they were joined by two Romulan soldiers who brought up the flanks, one man, one woman, in silent obedience. They too wore the emblem of the mantling falcon. Trip looked for a convenient blunt object or, at the very least, a sudden and fatal area for a tragic fall. There were none, but it was possible the soldiers would kill him if he attempted to escape. He didn't want to die, screaming or worse, drooling incoherently.
They were almost outside. Taking slow breaths to combat the relentless nausea, he waited until the grip on his ear eased, then used a joint break to twist free. He picked a direction and ran only to come to a staggering, clumsy halt, changing direction as another Romulan guard appeared from the darkness, phase rifle raised. He froze, but not because of the gun.
The first Romulan guard, who had chased Trip following his escape, continued past to assault the newcomer. It seemed he wasn't as skilled a fighter, for he fell backward onto the gravel as the new guard over-powered him. Or so it appeared. When the newcomer started to lean back, to bring his rifle to bear, Trip's guard raised both hands, fingers spread, to the sides of the his assailant's face.
In the shadows, the darkness, all Trip heard was the second man's gasp of shock, a choked cry of anger, and a blur of motion as he fell to the ground. He was not unconscious. His body jerked and he foamed at the mouth, eyes wide open. Trip looked at his guard, now returning to his previous duty, and raised his arms.
Someone grabbed his shoulder.
AV 8576, Mit
SubCommander T'Pol's gloved hands were shaking. She stood in front of Commander Yunig's desk and she could not stop the involuntary motion. Her breath was shallow and she shook her head slowly, fixated on the polished gray tiles of his office. It would not stop. From her evac shuttle off Risa, the entire return journey back home to T'Kashi, if she tried to so much as think of his name, her hands would shake.
"Where is your weapon, SubCommander?"
"I cannot," she whispered.
"Where is your weapon?" Yunig repeated forcibly.
"Dropped," she stuttered, for even her breath shook.
"I see. You left evidence at the scene." It was not a question and she could not bring herself to look at her commanding officer. She heard him slap down the blank report padd she had been unable to complete. "Did you apprehend and retrieve the targets?"
"Apprehend?" she repeated blankly.
She remembered Jossen crouched in the dark jungle, biting his lip, shaking his head at her. He held out a hand to her as Menos took the opportunity to flee into the vegetation. He said something, but she hadn't heard it past the blood pounding in her ears. Menos was escaping and she hadn't the time to tolerate seductive talk from traitors. He was shaking his head at the barrel of her phase pistol and in that moment his expression went from gentle into twisted outrage. She shot him, but as his body fell, she was blinded.
A white hot surge of anger, rage as if it were a physical force bowled her back into the bushes. She had flung out her arms to ward off the invisible attack. Falling to the ground, she clutched at her heart, gasping mutely, vision blurred. Yet, when she was able to look, Jossen lay where he had fallen. He had not moved. He had not struck her. It hadn't been necessary, for he was a melder. She had crawled away, activating her emergency beacon, trying to understand the irrational hallucination.
"Did you apprehend the targets?" Yunig stood. "Look at me," he barked.
She looked up and began shaking her head. "Menos escaped," she murmured and tried to list the second name. She felt her hands spasm and something warm trickled down, along the edge of her lip. She licked at it. Blood. She tried to explain but was only able to repeat, "I cannot."
Yunig was leaning close, staring into her eyes. He swore softly, and did not ask any further questions. Sitting down, ignoring her, he typed on his communication panel. He spoke to the monitor, "Commander Yunig, Security Directorate. Give me Poi."
There was a pause.
"Commander," acknowledged the voice from the comm unit. "How may I be of service?"
"A senior field agent. Katra." Yunig looked at T'Pol briefly. "Emotional instability." His terse, fragmented statement made little sense to her, but Yunig did not seem concerned by her attention.
There was no answer from the comm unit, but Yunig nodded in satisfaction. He stood, coming around the desk to T'Pol. "Sit down," he ordered. When she stared at him, he propelled her by the elbow to one of the available chairs. "I do not wish you to fall." She wondered what he meant. He reached for her shoulder and she grabbed his wrist, but it was too late.
When she awoke, she was bound and facing a priest, judging by his unadorned white robes. The old man sat patiently, his hands in his lap, watching her. He took a measured breath, rolling his shoulders and said to her, "I am Poi. You are at P'Jem." He gave her time to look about, digest the veracity of his statement and discover that she could not move. "Do not resist."
"Why am I here?"
Poi cocked his head slightly. "You have been injured. I will treat you. Please, do not resist," he repeated in almost kind politesse. He raised both hands, fingers out-stretched to her temples. "My mind, to your mind," he began, but where he touched, it burned and she resisted.
Trip woke up as the shuttlecraft was lifting off ground. His hands were free and he cautiously rubbed his neck. Two and a half sets of eyes looked back at him.
"He is awake," said the first Romulan guard.
"Truly?" retorted a woman, the second guard, in an arch tone.
Nghopen glanced at the pair, now trading arched brows, before speaking to Trip. "We hadn't the time to examine you for injuries. I gave you a field unit hypospray that should counter basic pathogenic and toxic vectors. Are you well?"
Trip stared, remaining supine, studying each perfectly sober face, in turn. "You're not Romulan?"
Nghopen sighed almost imperceptibly, before rolling her visible eye slightly upward. "Trip," she said.
He kept staring. "You...." He pointed a finger, feeling his face twist into anger. "Nice try, but I ain't dumb enough to fall for your tricks more than once. Broken bond, right?" He shook his head minutely. "She's not there anymore. I can feel it."
Nghopen made a noncommittal noise, reached over to the mantled falcon emblem on her tunic, popped it off and toggled a hidden switch.
He lurched as the migraine evaporated. He sucked in a deep breath of the recycled shuttlecraft air, and felt anxiety, irritation and... amusement? There wasn't anything funny about this. They were deep in Romulan space, would soon be chased by far superior craft and his cover was blown. So why was a smile tugging at his lips? What explained the relief sagging his shoulders, slowing his pulse?
"The neural suppressor was necessary both to avoid detection and to ensure a convincing response from you, in front of Rituiyt who might otherwise have summoned the compound's security forces on us." 'Nghopen' continued in an even tone. "I sincerely regret any distress my subterfuge caused you."
He sat up, taking measured breaths, focusing his gaze on an invisible point in the air. "You regret any...." He bit back the rest, opting to change the subject, rather than accuse her of being a damn vengeful bitch. It might not be the best thing to say right now. "Section 31 sent you, right?"
"No," answered the first soldier.
His stomach tensed, sour suspicion in his throat. Then it was gone, again, replaced by an overwhelming calm. He blinked at himself, several times. That was going to get damn irritating.
"We represent the Vulcan Ministry of Intelligence," clarified T'Pol, removing her eyepatch and peeling away a false dermal layer from her eye. She took a deep breath, sighing in blatant exasperation. "Trip, you are being tedious. Do you not recall my message?"
He bit the inside of his cheek, pursed his lips, scooted back on the floor and pointed at her. He couldn't say anything, and looked at the deck tiles. "Okay," he said. "All right," he jabbed a finger in the air in blessed anger, "Those are just dreams, they aren't-" He came to a screeching halt, because both soldiers and the previously inattentive pilot, had become a rapt audience. All three of them wore identical raised eyebrows, before trading cryptic looks amongst each other. He sure as hell wasn't going to give her confirmation just so she could gloat over it.
T'Pol, not some Romulan named Nghopen, didn't bat an eyelash. "We will discuss your dreams, later."
Trip looked at the back of the pilot's head. They would not discuss it. He refused. In his peripheral vision, he saw T'Pol raise a pointed eyebrow as if she had heard his mental declaration. He changed the subject. "So the Cap'n finally persuaded you to see things our way?"
"No. Captain Archer maintained his claim that you were dead until you forced him to reveal the truth."
Oh, of course. "The Cap'n ordered you-"
"I resigned my commission with Starfleet forty-three days ago. I have not spoken with Captain Archer since then."
He was stymied. She wasn't with Starfleet? Which meant, she might be back at the Embassy, if she was back to working for Soval, if she hadn't resumed a normal life on Vulcan. It was worth a shot. "I'm surprised Soval let you go."
This time, he heard the unmistakable trace of humor in her voice and inexorable curiosity that had driven him to solve every puzzle he found, since childhood, drew his attention. He did the math. "Shit. Don't tell me all those times we accused you of being sent to spy on us, we were right?"
He penetrating gaze never wavered. "I will remind you that I resigned from the High Command precisely to avoid such a conflict in duties."
She hadn't actually answered his question, he noted. He knew that trick, and took a blunt tactic. "Did it work?"
"Only the names change," he muttered, reciting part of an ancient colloquialism. Trip released his anger in a long sigh, before she went and did it for him, again. So, she was back with the High Command, past crimes forgotten. Then again, the Vulcans had allowed a former terrorist leader to become a Minister, so it wasn't that big a surprise. He looked around the shuttle again, unwilling to discuss water under the proverbial bridge. "Some trick you pulled with the laughing."
"The Security Directorate's training was... thorough," T'Pol explained.
"Ruthlessly soul-sucking?" he countered.
"Inspector, we're breaking orbit."
"Continue to the rendezvous point."
It was Trip's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You just gotta keep one up on me, don't you?"
"An elevation in rank was necessary to facilitate my duties." She gave him that perfectly prim look, the one that always made him want to needle her.
"Uh huh." He wondered how she would react if he swooped forward to grab her up right here in front of everyone. He saw her eyes go wide and didn't bother to suppress his satisfaction. He might not know exactly how that bond of theirs worked, but it was apparently a two-way street. Instead, he stood, careful not to pull or strain anything, studying the screens facing the pilot
Everything was in Romulan. He saw his reflection, distorted by the image on screen. There were faint differences in facial structure, the slight convex forehead ridge, the matching style but he knew the average Human would see no difference at all between Vulcans and Romulans. He hoped for the Coalitions's sake the inexorable war machine, creeping forward centimeter by centimeter, didn't swallow everyone in what could only be a millennium old race war.
He looked down at the man piloting the craft. Unlike the other two lackeys, he was dressed in a snappy beige, belted tunic, complete with sidearm. Over his left collarbone was a very familiar emblem, that damned swirly arrow. A crawling sensation trickled up Trip's spine and he bit his lip. If he started to get curious, he would stay curious. "We meeting with Harris?"
"No. Lieutenant-Commander Reed will accept you into escort."
So Reed got bumped up, too. Absently, he rubbed the corner of his lip with the pad of his thumb. How the hell had she figured out Mal's connection with Section 31? He muttered, intending it to be to himself, remembering too late he was in a room full of pointy ears.
T'Pol cocked her head. "You told me."
He pursed his lips at her. "In one of those..." He waved a hand.
She rolled her head to the other side. "Yes."
Those badges, uniforms and ranks indicated this was an official, sanctioned outfit. A few months ago, he chaffed under similar restrictions, forbidden from taking the obvious, necessary action because his superiors wanted to engage in some feel-good politics. He had thrown away his uniform, but now he wondered who had his pips. He imagined they were tucked in a small box, hidden away in his mother's hutch cabinet.
Trip studied T'Pol's officious stole, surreptitiously as possible. The ornate cloth of rank was slung incongruously over her Romulan tunic. It must be nice. He wondered how long Starfleet Intelligence would keep its collective head buried in the sand before taking a lesson from the Vulcans. Then again, with that tether cut, he might be stuck out here working for Section 31, under its self-declared, unacknowledged authority, at the mercy of an agenda that might or might not favor Earth, until he really died. The difference was, if T'Pol died out here, her people would drag the corpse back to bury it on her home planet. His would rot in space.
Swallowing, he looked away. He had worked hard for those pips. "How about, instead of rubbing it in, you tell me who your friends are?"
The two "soldiers" who had been, to all appearances, ignoring the conversation, promptly snapped around to look at him.
"I am SubLieutenant Repek and this is my bondmate, SubLieutenant N'ruion." She inclined her head in confirmation.
"And I am Commander Tewvis," supplied the pilot.
"Bunch of new guys, eh?"
Repek favored him with a politely quizzical look, "Not all of us, and we accomplished our mission."
The implied rebuke stung. "I guess we Humans just don't have as much practice at intergalactic espionage."
"That is-" started Repek, only to be interrupted.
N'ruion sniffed. "Commendable. We regret the necessity of our tactics, but wish to create a more beneficial environment for both our peoples. I am told you would agree."
Trip remembered vividly the forced meld he recently witnessed. Repek's eyes were shuttered, the nictitating membranes drawn briefly, and he gave no ready answer to his bondmate's bare truth. Trip suspected that, perhaps, he too was remembering his actions. As were they all. He frowned a bit, noticing that T'Pol still wore her sidearm. Knowing her, it had probably been set on 'stun'. It was little consolation.
He went back to his designated location, sat cross-legged and resolved to say nothing further. Instead, he watched as T'Pol slowly and tidily removed the remainder of her disguise. When she narrowed her eyes, in response to his constant watch, sliding him a brief, irritated look, he studied the floor. "How close are we to the border?" So much for resolve.
There was no point in asking a Vulcan crew to speculate if 'they were going to make it'; he would receive a useless statistical calculation, at best. He didn't know how long he had been unconscious, but it wouldn't take long for Rituiyt to discover he had been duped and send his forces in pursuit. A single stolen shuttlecraft had no chance against even the smallest Romulan cruiser. "It ain't gonna be long before they catch up with us," he prodded.
"It is unlikely they will follow," T'Pol said evenly. "We are almost at the rendezvous point."
"You can't seriously believe he didn't send someone to chase us down after Paonet came to and they found that other guard drooling on himself."
"Paonet is dead and the unfortunate guard concealed." He must have looked shocked as he felt because she added, "As you concluded, a ruse would have resulted in pursuit. Our only avenue for success relied on avoiding detection."
He bit his lip. Necessity was a pretty ruthless idea, the way Vulcans used it. Sometimes, it wasn't hard to see how the Romulans had come from that culture. He wanted to refute her logic, but the truth was, he couldn't throw stones in glass houses. War had made murderers of them all and that's why he was officially dead and doing this. Sometimes, doing a little bit of a bad thing could prevent a worse thing. The needs of the many, and all that, he told himself.
Tewvis toggled the controls and two ships appeared on the small viewscreen. One was an unmarked cargo vessel. The other, a small Vulcan cruiser. Trip figured the first was his ride home and the second was the Vulcans far more official version.
The comm unit hissed into life. "Salan to Romulan shuttlecraft. Identify yourself."
Tewvis punched in a series of codes, rather than speaking.
"Confirm," responded the voice from the Vulcan ship.
Tewvis punched in another series of codes. After a brief pause, the Salan ordered them to dock with the cargo transport to transfer shipment.
Trip joked, "You should have put me in a box for that convincing effect."
T'Pol ignored it. "We have little time to waste."
Rather than relief, Trip balked. He squeezed his shoulder, gingerly, knowing that just because he couldn't feel the pain through the injection she had given him, didn't mean something wasn't torn and swollen all to hell. He was careful not to put strain on it, as he rose up against the bulkhead, mentally sorting and memorizing. He wanted to ask her what those dreams really were, but not in front of an audience. He looked at her, but T'Pol looked down - no, away from Repek and N'ruion. Her eyes flickered briefly in their direction, but she must have duly noted his mutinous expression. She stood, coming to face him directly and because he was looking at her face, he wasn't prepared when she grasped his right wrist with her left hand, held it steady and touched two fingers of her other hand to his own.
His arm was on fire. Sucking in a hard breath, he yanked his hand away, shaking it as if he were a wet dog. He would have danced back, but his heel hit the bulkhead as he looked down at his hand, trying to see what she had done. It still tingled, not burning he realized, but as if his arm had fallen asleep. He snapped his attention to T'Pol, taking another breath to demand an explanation but was sapped by... despair? He sagged in place, inexplicably sick to him stomach, shame curling his shoulders, which didn't make any sense at all. He wasn't said or upset; he was fucking furious. He wasn't.... Oh, right, a two way street.
T'Pol was wearing one of those perfectly flat expressions, and looking at his shoulder but because he had known her for years, looked her in the eye so many times, he saw the harsh tension. It was plain as day in the hunch to her shoulders, flexed muscles she couldn't quite force herself to relax. He saw her jaw work and knew that it was clamped shut so hard she couldn't speak.
He remembered the gesture. He had seen it at her wedding to Koss, but assumed it to be ritualistic. Obviously, it wasn't. He straightened up, closing his eyes and relaxing his hands from fists. When he looked again, he saw all three members of the audience staring in what could only be described as horrified fascination. He narrowed his eyes and all three looked away. He looked down in time to see T'Pol start to back away, gaze still averted.
"I apologize for any discomfort," she began to say in that ice-cold voice.
"Shut up." He grabbed her wrist. It got her nonplussed attention. "You took me by surprise, is all." He could still feel her jitters, even if not one bit of it showed on that mask of a face. He wanted to ask how it worked, why she hadn't told him, if she had known. He remembered wanting to lean on her after the baby's funeral and the way she had frantically evaded his mere touch. Just when he thought he had it all figured out. He mimed her earlier gesture, holding out two fingers. "But tone it down this time," he warned.
She did. It only took a moment for the torrent of relief, anger, frustration, loneliness and at least a dozen other emotions to hit him and stop. She drew her hand back, ducking her eyes.
He heard the docking clamp and the shuttlecraft shuddered. When he hesitated, T'Pol reached past his shoulder for the exit keypad.
"Uh," he said, to stop her. He wasn't up to having a personal discussion in front of the Vulcan clown posse.
She met his eyes. "Yes?"
He made a face, something that was trying to be a polite smile, but failed. "I know it ain't much, but I didn't want to drag you down with me. After everything you've been through...." He sighed. It would be harder to apologize for his well-intended deception than he had anticipated. "I didn't want to involve you all this." He hadn't thought she wanted to be involved with him, if he were honest with himself. Why would she pass up a nice, orderly life, absent from violence or conflict, maybe studying space squid and funny colored nebulas? She liked those things, yet here she was.
"I was involved in 'all this' when you were but a child," she rebuked him mildly.
He winced. "Sure, mom." He did remember Jon telling him once about T'Pol being some sort of secret agent, but they had both been drunk and laughing at the time. He hadn't taken it seriously, especially not when Jon had ducked down, pretending to creep around his quarters, shooting an imaginary phase pistol, before tripping over Porthos, while describing some hush hush mission to the moon of Pernaia Prime.
She did not seem to take offense at his remark, changing the subject. "Speaking of parents, I would be remiss not to inform you that your father intends to coat you with heated solution of decomposed hydrocarbons."
Trip blinked several times, baffled. Hydrocarbons? "You spoke with my parents? You told them -"
"You underestimate your mother's intelligence."
Hydrocarbons? He almost asked how his parents were doing, what they thought about all this, what they had sad to her, but there was that damn posse. Wait, he had it. "Did my dad say he was gonna tar me?"
T'Pol wriggled an eyebrow at him.
"He ain't gonna really tar me."
"I know." She reached into an above compartment to produce a small datapadd. She held it out to him. "This is the data your superiors assigned you to obtain."
He heard the hatch open behind him and forced himself to keep ignoring the polite audience, "Be seein' you around, then?"
"I am often stationed in the Consulate on Earth, but my administrative quarters are in Vulcana Regar," she said.
All three of her crew gave her equally reproving looks, over what Trip suspected was an overly bald invitation. He doubted it was any slip of the tongue that she had referred to the administrative offices in the possessive. "The Raal spaceport, right?" Though Shi'Kahr held the honor of being Vulcan's capital and home base of the High Command, Regar was the largest city. Regarded as more as more honest place of business than most, it was like all other trade and tourist ports, an easy place to visit. It would be no challenge keep a low profile and disappear into the bustle of commerce.
"I have an excellent view of the Voroth." Her offer was implicit.
In his peripheral vision, he saw Repek twitch an eyebrow. He couldn't quite suppress the smirk he felt, curling the corner of his lip. It seemed he would have no need to be concerned with the authorities in Regar, as it were. "Harris is gonna have a shit fit, you know that, right?"
T'Pol's expression became arch in denial. "There is no cause for alarm. The V'Shar is merely a bureau of internal security. Your employer is welcome to raise his concerns with the Minister of Intelligence, at any time."
He pursed his lips. "An' Section 31 doesn't exist."
"It is merely a sensational myth," she agreed.
He finally gave in to the urge to laugh, more a puff of breath than a sound. He almost told her to be careful, but was conscious of the three strangers memorizing his every gesture. Besides, she already knew what he thought. "Guess I should thank you for coming out all this way to save my ass."
"It is my duty," she demurred, tucking the datapadd into a pocket of his shirt.
AV 8588, Nhrut
T'Pol wondered why her colleagues persisted in referring to her military title, as she sat at her desk and compiled data. There was a stack of pads on the left side of her terminal and a smaller stack on the right side. For each padd, she opened a new entry field, checked the contents of the padd for completeness, linked it to the computer, then confirmed that all data fields had been transferred. The newly centralized file was then grouped into an appropriate category.
She did this every day and told herself that serving in the Ministry of Information was a well-deserved respite from active duty in deep space. There were no hostile Andorians, mocking Klingons, Tellarite pirates or Orion slavers in the windowless communal office. She had since discovered she could enter data at any pace she preferred. The intermediate administer would neither praise nor reprimand, merely accepting whatever she accomplished with a nod.
T'Pol stared at the terminal screen, making out her own reflection. She was slumping in her chair. She stopped typing, hands resting idly on the entry padd. None of her colleagues so much as looked in her direction. She began reading the data field, though it was an unnecessary and not, technically, an aspect of her duties. It was a medical supply requisition from the Defense Corps ship Ju'ipmu.
She began reading all the datapadds, which slowed her progress considerably, but still the intermediate administer said nothing. One day, she sat at her desk and stared at the screen for her entire duty shift. There was no consequence, so that year she requested a transfer. It was denied four years in a row.
She was reading a botanical report when she saw the intermediate administer walk into the communal office. Beside her, keeping pace, was a military officer.
The administer said sharply, "SubCommander T'Pol."
She stood to attention, welcoming the opportunity to stretch her legs.
The officer approached her, his gaze openly assessing.
Administer Torren said, "You are assigned to accompany Captain Yunig on a mission of some sensitivity. You will submit a full report to us upon your return."
T'Pol found herself staring intently at Yunig, a prickling sensation running along her spine. She felt a fleeting, wholly irrational conviction that she knew this man, but that was impossible. She would have recognized him when he first entered the room.
He nodded slightly, handing her a compact padd. "Report this evening to the Karatek."
In a characteristic ambush, three Rihannsu warships had destroyed a Vulcan research facility on the third moon of the gas giant Tomed. T'Pol stood by her captain, knowing she would be sent to attend the security forces once their ship was within firing range of where the Raptors were suspected to be hiding. The attack occurred more swiftly than anticipated and she ran to the lower decks. Major Tolak had already begun dispatching the fighter crafts and they divided the duty before she returned to the bridge, as the ship rocked under heavy fire. Their ship was larger, but as such, more difficult to maneuver as the Raptors circled, in an out of the asteroid belt surrounding Tomed.
The captain ordered shuttlecraft loaded with charges, requesting volunteers to pilot them. The Karatek fired in a wide spread to occupy Raptors, for the shuttle pilots' benefit. Two Rihannsu vessels were struck and the third captain announced himself, snarling over a comm link at the Vulcans irrationally, accusing them of deceit and murder. His ship self-destructed and T'Pol once again stood beside Yunig as they approached the Tomed facility, maneuvering carefully through the belt..
A sensor scan revealed a crater where the research station had been and a large civilian transport vessel, still in the launch area. Incongruously, there were passengers and she would have queried her captain, but he had risen to check the sensor readings personally. After a moment, he straightened crisply, returning to his seat. "Target the transport vessel and fire at will."
When the master gunner hesitated, turning to look at Yunig.
"The suspected bio-weapon we were sent to retrieve is located in its hold." He met the assembled eyes of his bridge crew. "Is is the Rihannsu who willingly doom their own, on this day. We cannot let them escape."
He voice droned on but through it, T'Pol heard another from her childhood. Ambassador V'Lar was in a room filled with children and she was speaking of gaining peace through understanding, accepting the differences in other races without judgment and urging study and cooperation. The central viewscreen continued to record the fallout from the Karatek's strike, black smoke and debris clouding the image.
Upon their return, T'Pol requested a transfer into the Science Directorate. It was finally granted.
In the morning's message queue, Soval noted that the Salan had docked at the central Starfleet station, during the earliest hours of the day. He checked with his aides that there would be no schedule adjustments. He had no significant openings throughout the day, but there was no need to eat alone. As there was no pressing need for discretion, he did not waste time searching through recent quarters assignments, but hailed the Salan directly.
His monitor flickered, revealing the Captain's face. The twin scars on her neck, where she had once forcibly removed a restraint, using the broken internal wafers of a datapadd, bespoke her identity. She carried her recently appointed promotion well and there was no evidence of the Information Ministry data clerk, where she had been shuffled off by her former superiors, deemed unfit for service. She greeted him with a swift nod, "Ambassador. How may I be of assistance?"
"There is no need for such formality," he reassured. "I wish to speak with T'Pol."
"She has been assigned 2E. If that is all...?"
He nodded and the monitor went blank, the signal cut short. He alerted Tos and was unsurprised to find the man waiting to escort him through the Embassy. Reaching the quarters reserved for visiting officials, he dismissed Tos with a nod. His aid, knowing already whom Soval was visiting, did not protest. There was no danger to the Ambassador from the Chief Inspector of Intelligence.
The door opened and T'Pol raised her eyebrows in brief surprise. "It is early."
"I will be occupied the remainder of the day. Will you eat with me?"
She canted her head toward the terrace. Partially concealed by the doorway, he could see a table bearing a partially consumed meal. She motioned him inside. "You may join me."
Once he reached the terrace, he also saw the half emptied bottled of translucent blue liquor. He could not quite suppress his consternation. "An odd choice for morning meal," he commented.
T'Pol resumed her seat at the small table. "I keep irregular hours. It is midday for me and," she shrugged laconically, "I have no immediate business to attend."
He compressed his lips, but she only picked up a small tumbler, pouring herself a glass. "You are welcome to share," she offered. "It would be inconvenient if anyone were to find this in my quarters."
"You could claim it was confiscated evidence, related to smuggling." It had been many years since he had served near enough to the Romulan border to see an entire bottle of ale, outside of such circumstance. He considered. It was morning and he had upcoming engagements that would require close attention, but this opportunity would be lost by evening.
"I could," she agreed. "It was."
He reached for the bottle, as there was no other beverage container. Though it was now approaching empty, T'Pol seemed alert, which suggested it had been opened and most the contents drunk at an earlier date. He sniffed discreetly, testing its intensity. It was a mild variation and he judged it a tolerable risk. Regardless, the bottle needed to disappear before the service staff appeared with his meal.
T'Pol did not eat, waiting for his food to arrive. "You have news for me?"
"Yes." Soval removed a small padd from a pocket in his robes, sliding it toward her. "There has been an incident at a fueling depot also, you have been seen in the company of an unusually light haired Vulcan called T'Ker."
She paused from her examination of the padd's content. "I have many associations with such private merchants. Is it cause for concern?"
"Simple curiosity," he confessed. He sniffed past the overwhelming sweetness and unpleasant burning of the Romulan Ale. He should have eaten before drinking. It had been too many years, after all. "I find it eminently unremarkable." He took a deep breath, attempting to clear his head. "Your duties are satisfactory?"
Leaning back in her chair, resting one arm on a support, holding a tumbler in the other hand, T'Pol watched the sunrise with veiled eyes. "They are," she said.
AV 8615, Srork
When Dasnev fell deathly ill, without apparent cause, Soval requested a more suitable aid for his frontier outpost. A death amongst his staff would result in a diplomatic incident and the High Command might go so far as to withdraw from the Terran Embassy. It would be a waste of his work and effort. Consequently, he pointedly met Captain Voris at the docking bay, when the Seleya arrived, to greet his new aid in person.
He was not prepared for how closely she would resemble her mother, T'Les, at the similar age. Then again, it was with her appearances that the resemblance ended, for this young woman had the stiff shoulders, straight back and balanced stance of a soldier. A satchel lay beside her feet. She was ostensibly the Deputy Science Officer aboard Voris' ship, but anyone with military experience would recognize otherwise.
He bowed his head in formal greeting. "SubCommander T'Pol."
She looked past his shoulder, hands still clasped behind her back. "Ambassador." She glanced to her left at her captain.
Voris proffered a padd to Soval. "The transfer," he explained perfunctorily, before stepping back.
Soval took the padd, finalized the document and returned it to the captain. He looked at T'Pol. "My staff have prepared your quarters and will transfer any personal items you have." He turned and began walking away from the docking bay. As he expected, she quickly took the cue and followed.
"I have only this," she answered, with the satchel slung over a shoulder. She still did not look at him.
He was not expecting such open hostility. "You do not wish to be here?"
"I did not request a transfer."
"Consider it a promotion," he answered, narrowly. T'Les has neglected to inform him that her daughter had an ill disposition, even if T'Pol's service record had indicated that she was frequently rebellious.
"If I am not qualified for this position..." Her tone faltered and he looked in time to see her jaw clench. "I have no diplomatic training."
He had misjudged; she had not been informed by her superiors and was naturally wary. Few individuals sent for rehabilitation were rewarded, rather than demoted. Her unease was understandable. "You replace an aid that was almost certainly poisoned in an attempt on my life. Perhaps your background will allow you to be more successful in averting such a fate."
"I would not question your judgment, Ambassador, but I joined the Science Directorate to escape our nation's border conflicts." Shoulders stiffening further, she added, "I found the violence unsettling."
He nodded in private satisfaction. "It destroys all that it touches. If you understand that, then you will understand why I requested you to replace Dasnev. Humans possess an alarming capacity for self-annihilation and, while I abhor such tactics, I cannot lead our people to mutual trust and cooperation if I am dead."
Her expression eased. "I understand."
He rather suspected that she did not, but now was not the time to tell her that her mother had requested his intervention, that he had served with her father in the Defense Corps, that he had overridden the High Command's recommended choice. Instead, he provided some direction. "There is no reason to limit this opportunity. I would recommend that you study the Humans, and learn their common languages and customs." When she puzzled, gauging the depth of his request as an order, he amended mildly, "I did not begin my career in diplomacy, either."
She took his advice, initially shadowing his every move, following at several paces, keeping silent when she could not understand what was spoken. In the process, Soval discovered an unexpected benefit of the newest aid. She was several things most Humans had not encountered, things considered irrelevant in his native society. On one occasion, her intense study of Admiral Forrest caused the middle-aged man to begin stammering, until he coughed, clearing his throat. While it was especially convenient that, in his distraction, he neglected to argue his point effectively, Soval warned her later not to stare so pointedly at the males.
She explained, "He turned pink."
"You embarrassed him."
"I did nothing."
Walking measuredly down the hallway, Soval considered explaining the vagaries of Human behavior but compromised with, "You did not need to. They are not accustomed to young women." He knew when she took his meaning, because T'Pol veered, taken quite literally aback.
"Their fascination is not my fault," she declared crisply. "And I fail to see how I might compensate when Humans make so many odd expressions that vary in meaning between individuals."
He raised a wry eyebrow at her. "Try," he said.
So she did and Soval did not pry when he became aware of her excursions into San Francisco. It was refreshing to have a diplomatic aid who showed genuine interest in being diplomatic. Unsurprisingly, it was not long before one day, T'Pol came to his quarters and set a discharged hypospray on his desk.
She said, without preamble, "He has been taken into custody by the Terran police but," the corner of her lip pulled slightly, "he is gravely ill." Beside the hypospray, she placed a datapadd.
Soval picked up the empty hypo, studied it, then set it down again. The padd would contain a report of her surveillance and his would-be attacker's identity. His prior aid had lacked the necessary cultural sensitivity to successfully interpret and predict Human behavior. It would not concern him that some had begun referring to T'Pol as his le'matya, with impropriety manner. That tone would change, now and he would no longer be forced to curb his own actions out of concern for retaliation.
He inclined his head and said, "Your service honors me."
Because she was waiting for it, Elaine saw the Vulcan shuttlecraft approaching the grounds before the other guests recognized anything more than another passing vehicle. Rising from the porch swing, she wiped her palms against the folds of her long skirt, then waved to get Charlie's attention. She pointed and he looked, taking off his cap, batting in on his leg and putting it back on.
While a few of the more curious relatives followed the pair, most hung back from the baldly foreign shuttle, with its dull copper hull and pointed nose. Elaine chewed on her lip, but forced herself to quit that nonsense when the hatch opened. T'Pol exited first, followed by several other Vulcans.
Charlie crossed his arms. "You didn't say she was bringing all her henchmen."
Elaine cuffed his arm. "We have enough for everyone."
Hearing the exchange, T'Pol paused and her team traded inquisitive looks. "If I misunderstood," she began.
"It's fine. You're always allowed to bring friends." Elaine catalogued the Vulcans present, noticing they weren't random lackeys at all. There was the young pair from that newsfeed, the older woman who had defended T'Pol from that villainous Minister, the older man and Triu. There was only one she didn't recognize, hovering silently, his face largely concealed by the gray hood of his plain robes.
T'Pol bowed slightly. "I am honored to be invited to your family gathering."
She almost brushed off the formality but Elaine decided that this entire affair must seem strange to her guests and a little bit of home wouldn't hurt. She inclined her head in a polite nod. "I'm pleased you accepted." That done, she smiled. "Feel free to wander, but there's a gazebo over by the fish pond and some benches out past the swings if all this gets too much for anyone."
T'Pol looked at each of her team members, nodding curtly and they dispersed, albeit cautiously. The man in gray remained by her side, trailing behind her as she followed Elaine toward the collection of long tables covered in various foods. She found the nearest available seat and took it, leaning back bonelessly, her hands draped loosely over the arms. For a few seconds, she bowed her head, chin resting on her chest, eyes closed. There were circles under her eyes, but Elaine saw the woman's shoulders move with a deep breath and she came back to attention. She began studying the assembled family.
"Would you like something to drink? We have punch, lemonade and beer." Elaine kept an eye on the man in gray, but he didn't make a peep and T'Pol made no move to introduce him.
"Punch? The sweet fruit juice?"
"Lemonade is the bitter one," supplied Elaine.
"That one," accepted T'Pol.
Elaine sent Albert to fetch the drinks, raising her eyebrows when he balked, until he dutifully did as asked. She sat in an adjacent deck chair and watched the Vulcans creeping almost nervously about the grounds, amidst the far more raucous Humans. The youngest two, the man and woman, moved in an uncanny unison. In her experience, her new guests wouldn't initiate small talk, so she pointed discreetly at the other young couple. "Those two seem to be a pair."
Albert returned with the lemonade, sending one last suspicious look at the silent man, before departing.
T'Pol took a sweating glass in her hands, and the cue. "They are bondmates. They were both Syrranites in T'Pau's cell."
"Ah," Elaine chuckled. "Have to make nice with your boss?" Peripherally, she studied the strange man.
"Make nice with...." T'Pol cocked her head. "They are both competent melders and I reciprocate the trust granted in me."
"That's what I said." Elaine smiled. "You're comfortable with that?"
Elaine flapped a hand. "That they're married. That is what it means, right?" She bit her lip. "It seems like they have such dangerous jobs."
T'Pol raised both eyebrows. "N'ruion is married. Her husband remains on Vulcan."
"I... wait." Elaine closed her eyes. "But they're bondmates?"
"Yes. That is what I said."
"I... hm. Well, I don't mean to be rude but, I didn't think your people did that sort of thing." Beside her, she saw T'Pol twitch a rueful eyebrow.
"There is a certain of scandal but, historically, marriage among my people was based on the mating bond. It why we have such a reputation for monogamy and why the same word may be used for both." She sighed as if in fatigue. "Unfortunately, due to... complex influences, social custom diverged from biological function. Our laws are adapting with the necessary corrections but some remain irrationally stubborn and resist change."
"You mean, her husband?"
"He refuses to accept that she is bonded to another, without fault or intention, and will not dissolve their union."
Elaine frowned. Apparently there were some pretty big gaps in what customs the Vulcans revealed to Humans. Frankly, it sounded like those laws needed to change faster but, well, it was Vulcan. "She can't?"
"No." T'Pol's face settled into hard edges. "There is a ritual by which a bride may contest a marriage, but once done...." She looked down at the ground for a moment, then straightened, smoothing her features. "Repek and N'ruion seem content with their arrangement. If las'hark shines on them, her husband will not prove a complication."
For a moment, Elaine had the urge to say something about husbands and complications, but bit her lip. She wanted to ask who the strange man was, but they were all here to be civil and enjoy the day as much as possible. Nevertheless, she saw T'Pol watching her, saw her wince slightly and look away. So, she asked, "Would you like some more lemonade?"
"I should not."
"You all seem to like it."
T'Pol made a vague noise, leaning back in her deck chair. "Oh, yes. It has a pleasing flavor but, it is also very sweet and I have not eaten."
She almost asked why that would be a problem and then remembered. "Oh. Oh dear." She double-checked and, indeed, every Vulcan present had managed to seize a glass of lemonade at some point. "Don't tell me you all drank it just to be polite."
T'Pol craned her head around, eyes wide, in denial. "We are not on duty."
Elaine could swear the woman was beginning to sprawl in her chair, though her diction remained clear. She saw N'ruion slap at Repek's hand when he reached for the drink bowl. Meanwhile, the man Tewvis, if she remembered correctly, was sitting very carefully with his back against a tree. The younger man, Triu stood but also leaned against the same tree. In a surreal gesture, he picked a leaf off the branches and dropped it on Tewvis' head. He didn't notice. The only one who seemed unaffected was that fierce looking Captain J'Treyub, who stood stock still watching the children play.
"Oh dear," she repeated. "Perhaps I should get some unsweetened tea, instead?"
"That would probably be a good idea," drawled the final Vulcan of the group, in a very familiar twang. He put a hand on T'Pol's shoulder and grinned, while pulling the half empty glass out of her hand. Leaning over, he looked her in the face and to Elaine, it looked like a staring contest, but something was obviously communicated. He stood, looking at Elaine, expelling a nervous breath between loosely parted lips.
Elaine couldn't speak, so she leaned on the back of her deck chair, gripping it tightly. If she tried to say anything right now, she might scream at him. Or throw the chair. Maybe both.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, tentatively.
She wheeled toward the house. "Inside."
By the time she reached the kitchen, the explosive feeling had drained away. She sat in lonely wicker chair, the one with the uneven leg and looked at her son. He didn't look like the Trip she remembered, not any version of him. He looked like a stocky, indeterminate Vulcan with an odd brow ridge. After a moment, he made a face she recognized, not in feature, but expression.
He started telling her about some people called the Romulans, how they wanted to wage war, how he helped, not enough, with Coridon Prime, how he wanted to keep his family safe from retaliation, how it was okay because after he was done he could work at spacedock, but along the way he began stuttering and ended with another apology.
Charlie found her hugging her son, using those silly Vulcan robes of his to dry her tears. He said, "Uh?"
Trip said, without releasing the embrace, "You try and tar me an' I'll wire the stasis unit to the bathroom."
"Huh," said Charlie, turning away for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck. He was hiding his face.
Elaine bit her lip, finding a pile of napkins and handing one to Trip. "Someone gonna help me get that tea before we have a mess of drunk Vulcans to keep in line?"
They arrived back outside just in time to witness a gaggle of children shoving each other around in some sort of juvenile conspiracy. Brody broke from the group, ran flat out toward J'Treyub, who watched his approach in bemused attention. The boy skidded as close as he dared, reached out with one hand, and poked her one the thigh before dashing back to the group. He jumped up and down gloating, "I did it, I did it! Toldja I could do it."
J'Treyub was staring at her leg, shoulders drawn back. She looked at the children and took a single, decisive step forward. The entire knot of them scattered across the lawn, screaming and shrieking.
Jacey raced around the deck chairs shouting in girlish conviction, "She'll kill us! I told him! I told him she would!"
T'Pol snapped an arm out, grabbing the girl by her shoulder. "Be quiet," she ordered. "J'Treyub will not kill you." Holding Jacey still, she leaned over the arm of her chair. "Not unless I order her to."
Jacey screamed and T'Pol released her.
"T'Pol," Trip hissed in appalled reprimand, setting down the tray of drinks, hastily.
Elaine watched the children resort to throwing pine cones at each other, in argument, in the encroaching dusk. "I'm not giving that evil woman any more lemonade."
"She's not evil. She's a bit..." He shrugged gamely, "temperamental."
"I am not temperamental," mumbled T'Pol.
Charlie sniffed loudly. "You sure we shouldn't just give her more lemonade?"
Elaine stared at her husband for a second, and threw a glass of tea at him. He wiped with futility at his shirt, stalking off to find a towel, while Elaine sat back down and Trip followed suit. They both ignored the entire scene. Trip pulled his hood back up, explaining it was to keep everyone from gossiping about that Vulcan who grinned too much and Elaine sighed. It wasn't worth complaining about. She supposed it explained why T'Pol has brought her entire team of senior detectives, as well. Well, as long as they acted like guests. Instead, she asked her son to tell her more about what he was doing, as night settled in.
Their quiet discussion was interrupted out by the loud protests of several children shouting to be 'let go', 'put down' and 'I'm telling'. Everyone except T'Pol looked at the source of the commotion.
J'Treyub was walking toward them, one child under each arm and a third dangling precariously by the back of shirt, from a hand. Behind her trailed several parents wearing very cross expressions, all converging on the Vulcan woman. J'Treyub stopped, attempting to come to attention, judging by the way her back straightened and chin raised. "I have captured these children. They neglected to tell me what I need to do next."
Elaine looked at her son in query, but he shrugged unhelpfully. "Why did you need to catch them?"
"I was 'it'. The children claimed I needed to catch them. They were very insistent, but I could only carry three."
"I see that." Elaine bit her lip, only a lifetime of patience with various grandchildren granting her the self-control not to flail about with muffled laughter, as her husband and son were doing. "I think you may have been playing 'tag'. You're not supposed to actually catch them - you touch whichever one you can catch-up to, and it's their turn to chase everyone."
"Oh." J'Treyub set down the wriggling children. "I misinterpreted the instructions."
Brody, Felipo and Kysha glared up at her.
"You cheated," declared Kysha.
"I did not. You were unclear."
By this time, the children's parents had gathered near enough to overhear the exchange. They traded dubious glances, though several settled for frank amusement, becoming a rapt audience.
"You can't pick more than one!" Insisted Felipo.
Brody agreed, "You have to pick someone to be it."
Elaine bit her tongue, holding her breath.
J'Treyub cocked her head to one side, considering this new information, giving it serious thought. She opened her mouth, then closed it. Rather than speak, she bent over slightly to tap Kysha on the shoulder.
Brody and Felipo charged off in opposite directions, shouting to the other children that 'Kysha was it'. In response, several of the parental audience members shook his or her head, wandering back to their respective groups, discussions, meals or monitoring the playing children.
J'Treyub sighed pointedly. "Does the game serve a purpose?"
"It's fun," said Trip.
"Fun is not -"
Elaine cut off the, no doubt, tiresome Vulcan dismissal. "It's good exercise and keeps them occupied and teaches them cooperation and delegation." That sounded suitable.
Charlie, who had returned with a dry shirt, butted in, "Someday, one of you guys will have to do something for no reason at all and the world will end."
"That is unlikely," J'Treyub answered flatly, transferring her attention to T'Pol. "Is she asleep?"
"Let it go," said Trip. "She's been up nearly four days straight. I'd say that gives her a pretty good excuse."
J'Treyub raised an eyebrow briefly. "Perhaps if you had not contributed to-"
"You don't stop there I'll tell Tewvis you've agreed."
"That would be a lie."
Trip wriggled an eyebrow right back at her, drawing the corner of his lips into a smirk. "I'll bet I could get those two to believe it."
With one last glower at T'Pol, then Trip, J'Treyub headed for the picnic table where Tewvis, Triu, Albert and Mike were discussing some matter with great animation.
Elaine busied herself arranging napkins underneath tea glasses. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Rufus slink around the legs of the chair but didn't think anything of it until she heard a woman's sharp gasp of surprise.
T'Pol was blinking at the cat, who sniffed at her robes, sat on her and 'mew'ed in greeting. Apparently, he had found an empty lap. T'Pol held still, watching warily as the cat resumed investigating her clothing, stretched up to lean on her shoulder, pull back again, walk around in a circle and lay on her lap. He started purring.
Trip made a noise. "You've been catted."
"I see that."
Elaine waved a hand at him. "Get him off her," she whispered frantically.
"There is no cause for alarm," T'Pol murmured. "The noise the animal is making reminds of my childhood sehlat." True to her word, she touched Rufus tentatively on his head, petting him gingerly when he craned his neck out.
"Sehlat?" Elaine repeated, riffling through everything she had learned about Vulcan culture. "Are those the ones that look like bears?"
"Bears?" It was T'Pol's turn to identify the animal. "Yes, but with larger canines."
"They seem dangerous, especially for children."
T'Pol looked at her sidewise. "I forgot to feed C'wem in a timely manner once. Fortunately my mother became aware of the situation quickly enough to stun him." She held out her arm, studying her sleeve. "The cat's fur is sticking to me."
Elaine winced. "It does that, but at least Rufus hasn't ever tried to eat me."
Trip leaned over, scooping the cat out of T'Pol's lap and setting him on the ground. "Yeah, that probably won't come off without a wash."
T'Pol stopped picking at her robes. "You should have woken me earlier."
"Nah, you might have spoiled the fun." He grinned, swiftly straightening his face into proper sobriety. "Your captain tried to play tag with the kids."
T'Pol craned her head around to where J'Treyub was looming over the seated figures of Tewvis and Triu, who both leaned back. She raised her eyebrows and said, "She does like children. Why is she shouting at them?"
Elaine picked up a glass of iced tea, nodding toward Trip. "He claimed he would tell those two boys that she agreed to something and off she went in a huff."
Her gaze snapping back to Trip, T'Pol said reprovingly, "That is a lie."
"Yep, but she was takin' pot-shots at you for napping."
"You should not interfere."
As Trip and T'Pol began bickering over whether or not he ought interfere with personal affairs, Elaine sipped her tea and studied the scene at the picnic table. Albert and Mike hadn't fled the table, but were following the mysterious conversation with rapt attention. Tewvis scooted over on the bench and J'Treyub sat beside him. Different race or not, Elaine decided to go with her gut. "Tewvis and her are bondmates, too?"
Trip and T'Pol stopped arguing and blinked at her in unison.
T'Pol spoke first, "No. He is bonded with Triu."
Trip added, "It's complicated." Scrunching up his cheek, popping with his tongue he admitted sheepishly. "I probably shouldn't interfere."
Charlie, who had maintained a silent though attentive vigil behind Elaine's chair snorted loudly. "Complicated? Complicated ain't the word you want, son."
Elaine shushed him and decided that Vulcans did a great many things they claimed not to do, but that was neither here nor there. She rested in the chair, drinking tea and listened to Trip and T'Pol as they resumed bickering. She watched the children exhaust themselves playing, until several sat beside Repek and N'ruion, imitating the Vulcans' meditative postures. Tewvis discovered that corn on the cob could be speared from both ends by small utensils, demonstrating the trick of etiquette to his comrades. J'Treyub did not frighten any more children. Eventually, Trip dozed off in his chair, one arm dangling over the armrest of T'Pol's chair. Elaine saw her touch the back of his hand, brushing crooked fingers against his knuckles. She mentally added it to the list of things Vulcans did but supposedly didn't.
That was how it came to be that, on one balmy Terran Memorial Day, six Vulcan covert agents, one Human covert agent, and thirty-seven more related Humans, gathered together in northern Florida, for a block party. At least, that's the story passed down amongst one Vulcan clan.
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