No money made from this work. Writer works solely for his own amusement and the entertainment of others, and in no way intends any copyright infringement. It would be illogical to sue.

STE

"There is a memorial planned in three days for the families of those who lost loved ones at the Gronti Nebula and in the ensuing aftermath," T'Pau's image told T'Pol. "You and Captain Tucker are requested to attend."

Many of those who had perished at Gronti had been bonded mates of other Vulcans, a large number of whom had shortly thereafter followed their mates into death. It was one of the worst parts of the bonding of two people. Close bonds rarely saw one survive the death of the other.

"I do not believe that to be appropriate," T'Pol said evenly. "Captain Tucker will doubtless be the object of a good deal of blame because of the events at Gronti. Many will hold him personally responsible for the deaths there, as well as the resulting aftermath. I do not think it would be wise for him to be present at such a ceremony. Nor do I believe he will wish to attend."

"That is understandable, but his presence is almost a necessity as he was instrumental in the overthrow of V'Las," T'Pau replied. "The two of you are expected to be there."

"I am sure by now that you are aware that my husband does not, in fact, answer to Starfleet, nor to the Earth government," T'Pol's voice betrayed the slightest irritation at T'Pau's 'insistence'. "And you may rest assured that the days of my own service to Vulcan have ended. I will not serve a people who turn their back upon their own people, or those who call them allies."

"That time has ended, T'Pol," T'Pau told her flatly. "There is a new government on Vulcan, as you are well aware. The High Command itself has been completely disbanded. The Fleet now answers directly to the Council, with the High Minister, Kuvak, as Commander-in-Chief. A model taken from the humans, in fact."

"Regardless of any changes made by yourself and others, the fact remains that the Vulcan I served was perfectly willing to allow me to perish rather than treat me for a disease that was the result of a violent attack," T'Pol's voice was firm. "And you certainly need no reminder of how I was being blackmailed for my actions at P'Jemm. Nor in Vulcan's disgraceful refusal to assist Earth in their time of need. Another thing I was to be 'punished' for, if you will recall. You will find sympathy and support for Vulcan in any form, new or old, in short supply aboard this ship, Minister."

"You will need friends, T'Pol," T'Pau noted. "There will come a time when you need friends somewhere. It would not be unwise to cultivate such friends here on Vulcan."

"What do you believe that you can offer one such as I, Minister?" T'Pol almost sneered openly. "For that matter, what do you believe you can offer my husband? He has zero interest in Vulcan politics. He counts a handful of Vulcans as friends and colleagues but otherwise it would not be possible for him to care any less about what happens to Vulcan, or those who live there. As for me," T'Pol's head lifted slightly, "I am all too aware of my Romulan heritage, and what those on Vulcan will think of me. Do think of me, for that matter, even without such knowledge. No, I think there is little to no reason for us to step foot on Vulcan again, barring open warfare with the Romulans."

"You will turn your back on your home and family then?" T'Pau asked.

"It was not I who first betrayed Vulcan, Minister," T'Pol's voice became frosty. "Even my own mother was willing to sell me into Romulan slavery if it furthered her needs. I owe Vulcan nothing. My husband owes them even less."

"No, it is we who owe you," T'Pau acknowledged. "I do know that your mother would welcome the opportunity to speak with you. To try and put things right between you."

"When I think of a way she can atone for trying to force me into the hands of a man who meant me physical harm, at best, I will let you know and you can forward that information to her," T'Pol said flatly. "Will there be anything else, Minister?"

"Has Captain Tucker made a decision on whether or not he is willing to assist us with our joint building program?" T'Pau asked.

"He has, and he will not," T'Pol replied evenly. "He is of the opinion that you do not require his assistance to develop new ships and does not wish to place himself at a disadvantage with either Vulcan or Earth. That decision is somewhat final, I believe," she added.

"That is regrettable," T'Pau said just as evenly. "It will almost certainly lead to pointless and senseless deaths should open warfare with Romulus become a fact."

"You have learned well from Captain Archer already it seems," T'Pol did openly sneer this time. "Your attempt to invoke guilt for events that have not occurred is illogical, Minister. It is also beneath someone of your new rank. Perhaps you have attained such rank at too young an age."

"Perhaps," T'Pau's face darkened at that barb. "I see no logic in continuing our conversation, T'Pol. Live long, and prosper."

"And you, Minister," T'Pol did not return the ta'al as she ended the transmission.

"Well, that went well," Trip said from where he'd listened out of T'Pau's sight.

"Her insistence is intolerable," T'Pol allowed some of her displeasure to show. "It is absolutely ridiculous for her to expect our presence at a memorial for people we helped to kill. Our presence would be an insult to those still grieving the loss of loved ones. She knows that as well as I do. I have no idea what she is thinking even proposing such a thing."

"We won't be here anyway," Trip shrugged. "We'll be leaving soon. Got a line on an Orion base of operations near a place called Castor. Agreeably not far from Risa, since I promised the crew leave there. We'll head to Risa tomorrow, probably, and from there move on to Castor. Time to start killin' Orions again." His voice took on an edge at that.

"Very well," T'Pol nodded. "Risa is an appropriate place for what you would call a honeymoon, I believe," she added with just a hint of a smile.

"Hadn't even considered it," Trip said straight faced until he lost the battle with his grin. "I already had reservations made for us. As Captain, I'll be spending the whole five days on leave," he sniffed importantly. "The other mere mortals will likely have to make do with seventy-two hours."

"A gross abuse of power, Captain," T'Pol raised an eyebrow.

"I'm an abusive Captain," Trip's grin stayed put. "Ask anybody, they'll tell ya."

STE

"I told you he wouldn't come," Jon reminded T'Pau as she did the Vulcan equivalent of a sulk.

"I did not get to speak with Captain Tucker," T'Pau replied. "If I had I believe I could have persuaded him to attend. I was unable to get past T'Pol, however."

"I like T'Pol, but I know Trip," Jon shook his head. "You may not have seen him, but you can bet he was listening. And she didn't tell you anything that he didn't or wouldn't agree with."

"Be that as it may, it is most improper for them to refuse to attend such a ceremony."

"T'Pau, is it really?" Jon asked reasonably. "Trip did kill most of those who died in the battle. And honestly, as badly as he despises Vulcan for the way they've treated T'Pol, you might not want him there as much as you think. Trip is nothing if not blunt. There's not a diplomatic bone in his body. At least not that he's willing to spare on Vulcan," he amended.

"I was unaware that he possessed diplomatic skills," T'Pau's eyebrow rose.

"Ah, that was my way of saying he doesn't," Jon admitted. "Trip negotiates from a position of power if he negotiates at all. The Xindi literally cowered at the mention of his name, T'Pau. Their name for him is Destroyer."

"He is not a suitable mate for a woman of Vulcan," T'Pau almost muttered.

"She's not a Vulcan," Jon shrugged. "Not entirely anyway. And Vulcan hasn't been very good to her, either," he pointed out.

"That is in the past, Jonathon." She almost added 'Archer' out of habit, but caught it in time not to. "We must look to the future."

"It's in the past for you because you didn't experience it," Jon reminded her. "For T'Pol, and now Trip, it's still right there," he tapped his own forehead. "And will be for a while I'm certain. Let them go," he advised. "You can't really stop 'em anyway. And there's no sense in antagonizing either of them. Let some time pass and then we can try again to approach them about. . .well, about all of it. Any of it."

"In the meantime, we have much work to do," T'Pau nodded. "Admiral Sopek wishes to move ahead with the joint ship building program as soon as possible. Because of V'Las' actions, the Vulcan fleet is much depleted."

"True," Jon nodded, frowning. "My people will be willing to work right away, that's for sure. We need to start building ships as soon as we can. Atop of that, we have to start training crews to man them. We need qualified people ready to man those ships as soon as they're ready."

"That will be for others to over see," T'Pau said, moving to a subject she had been avoiding. "The Vulcan High Council has a proposal for you, Jonathon. Jon," she amended.

"Oh?"

STE

"Sir, I admit I'm a bit surprised at this."

"I'm sure you are, Jon," Forrest nodded. "Your girlfriend was pretty insistent on this, however, and Kuvak backed her. I hear the President endorsed it whole-heartedly. May have been because of a nasty rumor I've been hearing," he grinned.

"I'm sure," Jon chuckled, letting the 'girlfriend' comment slide. This time. "And it wasn't a rumor, though I guess it is on hold, now."

"Just the threat seemed to have been enough to start things moving in the right direction," Forrest shrugged. "I'm glad for it, but losing you and the Enterprise both is a hard blow."

The 'proposition' was for the Enterprise to become a diplomatic vessel of sorts, ferrying Archer and T'Pau around to various potential allies as Earth and Vulcan tried to prepare for the threat of the Romulans. Enterprise would be escorted by a Vulcan cruiser for protection and her MACO detachment would be doubled. One cargo bay would be devoted to housing for the platoon size unit, freeing up current quarters for an upgrade to allow for diplomatic quarters for Soval and an as yet unappointed UE diplomat to assist Archer. Probably a lawyer.

"My crew?" Jon asked.

"Sorry Jon," Forrest shook his head. "You'll get to keep Sato, since her skills will be priceless to you, but many of the rest will be coming home. You'll get a few Vulcan crewmen as well."

"I'd like Reed to take command of Enterprise," Jon asked.

"Not happening, Jon," Forrest was adamant. "He's slated for a command, but not Enterprise. He'll be taking one of the new ships out as soon as they're finished. He'll have that long to select and train his crew."

"Then who will we get?" Jon asked.

"I'll send you a good young XO candidate and you'll maintain command," Forrest told him. "You can train people up fairly quick as you travel and we need people, Jon. Enterprise will be getting a refit, and part of that will include a slight mod to allow more berths. Take maybe two months they tell me, with the work being done on Vulcan. You'll have that long to work things out with Vulcan on how things will go." He leaned in, smiling.

"That will also give you and Minister T'Pau some personal time. Use it well, though, because I suspect it will be in short supply afterward for some time."

STE

"So what happens to me?" Reed asked, frowning.

"You're going to get command of one of the new ships, Malcolm," Jon replied. "It should be ready in a year, maybe even less for all I know," he shrugged. "You'll have that long to ready a crew and prepare them, and yourself, for possible action against the Romulans."

Malcolm considered that in silence. He had not anticipated being offered command of anything by Starfleet after what he had gone through with Forrest, Black, and Gardner. Because of that, he had been seriously considering taking Trip, or at least Janos, up on the offer to join their fleet. The thought of serving on one of those magnificent vessels, let alone commanding one, was somewhat of a happy thought to be sure.

What to do?

"Something wrong, Malcolm?" Jon asked, seeing the look on his XO's face.

"I'll need some time to consider this, sir," Mal said at last. Surprise registered on Jon's face.

"Think about what?" he demanded. "This is a great career move for you, Commander. I admit I tried to get Forrest to place you in command of Enterprise, but that was because I wanted someone I could trust in command, not because I wanted to deny you a shot at something more."

"I appreciate that sir," Reed said sincerely. "And had that happened I would have gladly accepted it. But. . .the truth is, I was already considering a move of my own. I still am, to be honest. I wanted to see this latest mission through before I made any kind of decision, and now I have. Seen it through, I mean," he added.

"Mal, you can't seriously be thinking you won't take this offer," Jon's voice was incredulous.

"Sir, with due respect, my trust in Starfleet Command isn't all that great," Mal admitted quietly. "They were prepared to imprison me not too long ago, if you'll recall. There's nothing to say that won't happen again at some point. It might be better to cut my losses now and move on."

"Malcolm, don't make any hasty decisions you'll regret later," Jon cautioned.

"My decision is in no way hasty, sir," Mal shot back. "I've had since before the Expanse to consider it."

"Look, if you don't want a new command, at least give me the chance to hit Forrest again for you to be given command of Enterprise," Jon tried again. "Give me something to work with, Mal. We need men like you, now more than ever."

Malcolm thought that one over briefly before nodding.

"I would be more likely to consider staying in Starfleet under those conditions," he said finally, thinking of a certain linguist. And the unresolved issues between them.

"But not certainly?" Jon couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"I'll have to get back to you on that, sir. First, let me ask you a delicate question. I will have to depend upon your discretion in this matter. . . ."

STE

Hoshi was surprised when Malcolm Reed walked into the mess aboard Enterprise, not having realized he was back on board. She was shocked when Reed, tray in hand, headed for her table, where she was sitting alone reviewing what she knew of the Cordian language. As Commodore Archer's interpreter, she had to be fluent on all languages of the worlds he planned to visit with Minister T'Pau.

"May I, Lieutenant?" he asked properly.

"Of course, Commander!" she rushed to say, blushing at how she sounded. Reed took a seat and began to prepare his meal.

"Sir, I wanted to formerly apologize for-" Hoshi began.

"Unnecessary Lieutenant," Reed cut her off, his voice in no way unkind. "In point of fact, it is I who owes you an apology."

Hoshi blinked at that. Twice.

"I should not have reacted to your statement in the way I did," Reed admitted flatly. "In all honesty, I must admit to you that I am attracted to you, Lieutenant, and have been for some time. Your. . .accusations, let's go ahead and say, caught me by surprise because I had thought that my infatuation with you was apparent. It did not occur to me at the time that I had been so subtle that you might not have recognized that attraction."

"You insinuation made me angry because of the inherent unprofessional conduct it implied on my behalf. That I would make command decisions based on some kind of emotional or physical attachment to someone under my command. It quite honestly wounded my professional pride in a way no one else has ever managed to accomplish."

Hoshi lowered her gaze, face reddening.

"Added to that was the implied betrayal of yourself, which I may have imagined being a part of your tone," he admitted.

"On the planet, I had time to consider a great many things," Mal continued before he lost his steam. "Among them, why you would make such an accusation, if not questioning my professionalism. I could fathom only two reasons. Firstly, that you wanted to be included on the away team and were disappointed that I had chosen to allow Evans to accompany us instead." Hoshi raised her head to object, but an upraised hand stopped her. "I decided against that because of your reluctance to be a part of away missions in the past. You have shown very little interest in being included in off-ship missions, and even though this mission was on Vulcan, it was a decidedly non friendly visit, to put it mildly." Hoshi nodded but said nothing, waiting.

"The other reason, the reason I hope to be true, was that you were hurt, even jealous perhaps, at the thought that I had entered into a clandestine relationship, even a merely physical one, with Evans. That you were lashing out because of that hurt or jealousy." Hoshi's face darkened more.

"I have been offered a new job," Mal went on. "More than one, in fact. I could consider it three, I suppose. What I do, Lieutenant. . .Hoshi, will depend a great deal on how this conversation concludes. I have a narrow opportunity to remain aboard Enterprise. There is no guarantee that I will be allowed to stay, merely a chance. That opportunity will mean little to nothing if I am wrong about how you feel towards me. As the Commodore's official diplomatic interpreter, you will no longer be in the Enterprise's direct line of command. As such, the fact that I am in command will in no way make a relationship between us, assuming that you would want one, either improper or outside of regulations."

"I am quite taken with you, Hoshi Sato," Malcolm admitted, as honest at this moment as he had been in some time. As a security operative, lying was as natural to him as breathing. It wasn't something he thought about, he merely did it. But not this time.

"If there is no chance of our attempting such a relationship, then there is, quite honestly, no reason for me to remain aboard the Enterprise," he laid it out flatly. "I'm afraid that my future is in your hands, Miss Sato," he ventured a small smile, full of warmth. Something few besides her would ever see.

"As the Yanks are fond of saying, the ball is in your court."

The last few minutes notwithstanding. Hoshi Sato was actually quite difficult to surprise. She would often show surprise at things, but it was as likely to be feigned as real. Hoshi was the very definition of 'wild child' and it took a great deal to shock her.

Right now, she was shocked. The object of many a late night fantasy in her quarters had just sat down beside her and declared that he was 'quite taken' with her. For a reserved Briton like Malcolm Reed, he might as well have made a ship wide announcement declaring his undying love for her.

There were many things she could have said at this moment. Things she could look back upon years later in fond memory, even share with her friends or possible children at some point in the distant future.

But then her 'wild child' took control. Instead of those memorable, romantic things, she decided on something much bolder. Something to shock Reed as much as he had shocked her. Something to feed her fantasies with, just a little. Just in case.

She leaned in to him, eyelids lowered, face in a deep blush, and said;

"That depends Commander," her voice was breathy and husky. "Do you own any handcuffs?"

STE

"I got a question," Trip said as soon as Janos answered his call.

"Of course you do," Janos frowned. "And you just had to ask it at," he looked away, then back, his frown growing, "three fifteen in the bloody morning!"

"Yeah, sorry 'bout that," Trip waved off what he considered to be an irrelevancy. "Anyway, here's the thing. If we aren't going to help them build ships, should we be building any more?"

"What?" Janos blinked, sitting back slightly.

"If we ain't gonna help this new, coalition, I guess, between Earth and Vulcan build ships that can take on the Romulans, should we maybe build a few more ourselves? I mean, there's gonna be a war, sooner or later. That's a guarantee."

"I had not thought about it," Janos admitted. "Surely five ships such as yours are enough to protect the Earth, Charles. And we have ten more of the smaller 'corvette' models you designed either under construction or already in service escorting merchant ships. That was a good idea, by the way," he added, smiling. "They are already paying for themselves, and our own ships are traveling at cost. We're showing a tidy profit I'm told."

"That's good to hear," Trip nodded, meaning it. "But you see what I mean?"

"Yes, I do," Janos sighed. "So our choice is to spend more money on our own vessels, or perhaps sell some of the design to the new coalition. Is that what you're saying?"

"Well, I aint' so much saying it as asking," Trip admitted. "We can't just sit in our corner and let things go the Romulan's way. If we wind up all alone then we still lose, really."

"True," Janos mused.

"And there's the problem of our crewmembers, too," Trip went on. "The Vulcan and Earth security services won't hesitate to abduct some of our people in order to torture our 'secrets' out of 'em."

"That would cause me to be angry," Janos' frown was much different this time. Predatory even.

"Me too, but it would still happen," Trip nodded. "Thing is, if I agree to help Jon and his gir-Minister T'Pau," he corrected with a quick glance around him, "then I can insist that any 'treaty' or whatever include a stipulation that our people are off limits, and that any evidence that even suggests that one of our people has been taken by either group will not only mean that the deal is off, but that I'm gonna start tearing hell outta their new navy. Which I will," he added firmly.

"Quite so, too," Janos supported readily. "I had not thought of these things. I am used to operating in the shadows. Taking one of our kind would be impossible for them."

"Yeah, but all our people ain't. . .well, our people," Trip pointed out, thinking of Tala among others.

"I'm open to suggestions," Janos said at long last. "So long as we are not put at a disadvantage, then I'm listening."

STE

"I resent the hell out of that!"

"You wanna reel that in, Jon," Trip growled back and T'Pol was alarmed to see a ripple along her husband's forehead. "You know as well as I do that it happens. Don't it, Commander?" he turned to look at Malcolm Reed, who Trip had insisted be present for this meeting.

"Mate, I. . ." Mal hesitated, then sighed.

"I'm afraid Trip's correct, Commodore," he admitted. "While Minister T'Pau will be unlikely able to confirm it, I'm sure the Ambassador there can confirm that Vulcan has been guilty of the same thing," he nodded to Soval. The old Vulcan's expression never changed.

"I would have no knowledge of any such-"

"You most certainly would," T'Pol cut him off, almost showing anger. "You were an agent of the V'Shar long before you were a mouthpiece for V'Las."

Easy, ashyam, Trip sent to her through their bond. Don't allow him the pleasure.

As you say, she returned as she schooled her features.

"Don't bother denying it, Ambassador," Mal almost smirked. "It's a well known fact among Earth intel services."

"And how would you know that?" Soval asked.

"Classified," Mal smiled thinly.

"Let's get back on point, here," Jon looked at Soval. "Is it true?"

"Yes, Commodore, it is true," Soval gave the Vulcan equivalent of a sigh. "All of it."

Jon looked back to Reed's set face, then looked at Trip, somewhat crestfallen.

"I. . .I didn't know," he admitted.

"I know," Trip said gently. "But you wanted to know why I had trust issues. This is why."

"I don't blame you," Jon nodded. "And I'll certainly include it in the agreement."

"You cannot put such things in writing," Soval insisted. "No sane government would agree to sign such a thing."

"You had better, if you want my help," Trip shrugged. "And just so we're on the same page, gentlemen and lady," he leaned forward and Jon had to fight not to pull back from his friend's presence, "if there's even a hint that one o' my people went missin' because of something one of your governments did, I'll make you regret it."

"Threats are unproductive, Captain," T'Pau said from her seat beside Archer.

"Wasn't a threat," Trip promised. "For starters, if one of my people disappears and I think you had something to do with it, I'll cook your shipyards."

The alarm on Archer's face was almost comical.

"You wouldn't!" he almost shouted. "How could you do something like that? Even think it?"

"Same way I thought about destroying the Xindi race," Trip shrugged easily. "Unlike some of you, I'm loyal to them that's loyal to me. I think either government is taking and torturing my people, you won't have to worry about the Romulans any more. They won't find anything but ashes when they get here."

"I do not believe you would go so far," T'Pau replied. Trip merely leaned on the table, allowing the small Minister to look into his eyes.

To her credit, T'Pau held his gaze for several seconds. Those seconds would be enough to give her nightmares for the next two weeks and she finally lowered her gaze.

"Sure 'bout that?" Trip taunted. "I'm trying hard to like you, Minister," he said a bit more gently. "In large part because of the company you keep," he nodded to Archer, who fought to hide a smile. Despite the changes in his friend, some things were permanent. Trip was still his friend, regardless of the threats he was making.

"And in spite of other company you're keeping," Trip spared a death glare for Soval who, in spite of his neutral face, flushed in anger.

"But you've used about all the patience I can spare ya," Trip concluded. "Don't keep pressin' me. I'm doin' this because y'all need help. I don't have to do it."

"We appreciate it, Trip," Jon interjected, fighting his own urges to protect T'Pau. One because he knew she didn't need it because he knew Trip wouldn't attack her. The other was because he knew that it would do no good, anyway.

"I know," Trip sighed, leaning back again at pressure on his shoulder from T'Pol. "Anyway. I'm willin' to sell you the hull alloy I developed, as well as the shield technology."

"Which was based on Vulcan technology anyway, according to the wavelengths," Soval just had to add.

"Your people aren't the only folks who can use those frequencies, Grumpy," Trip shot back. "And I'm giving you the shifts, variances, and waves that let me shrug off a coordinated attack by over a dozen of you best combat cruisers. Might want to keep that in mind."

"Indeed," T'Pol's voice was frosty.

"What about weapons?" Jon asked.

"You don't need it," Trip shrugged. "Between you, you have excellent weapons, and the know how to develop more. Put it together in your own collection. You may not want what we use, anyway."

"Your torpedoes have a substantially larger yield than Vulcan weapons," Soval reminded him.

"They sure do," Trip smiled unpleasantly.

"This will be a great help, regardless," Jon replied, trying to head off another confrontation.

"I've got one more thing to offer," Trip said, looking at Malcolm. "Are you gonna be the Enterprise's commander when it starts this diplomatic journey?" he asked.

Reed looked at Archer, who shrugged.

"I haven't gotten an answer, yet," he admitted. "I'm trying."

"Well, this might sweeten the deal," Trip leaned forward. "I'll give you a ship, Commodore. No, not like Reaper, that won't ever happen. But I've ordered a custom built yacht on a freighter hull, complete with a superior sensor package, boat bay with an armed shuttle, and a weapons compliment that would keep a Vulcan cruiser at bay, including the same shields I just offered you. I'll also provide some of the crew for it, including the very capable body guards I assigned you on Vulcan, and engineers who can keep her running at peak efficiency."

"If Malcolm is given command," Jon grinned, seeing where this was going.

"If and only if," Trip nodded. "I trust him not to turn that ship over to anyone else. Or to allow it to be dissected. The two of you," he pointed to Archer and T'Pau, "are important. Just your presence is enough to keep the UE and Vulcan governments on the strait and narrow. It's worth it to me to make sure you're well protected."

"I'll be sure and forward that to Forrest," Archer nodded.

"I will so inform Minister Kuvak," T'Pau agreed.

"I'm flattered, mate," Mal said quietly.

"Captain's quarters are soundproof," Trip whispered with a wink, causing Mal's face to turn a deep red, though no one else could hear.

"Why would that be important?" T'Pau inquired.

Almost no one else, Trip sighed.

"Sorry man, I was just teasin' ya."

"Quite all right," Malcolm nodded, managing not to cough. "And I will get you back. Somehow."

"Well, we are headed to Risa in a day or so," Trip said with a grin. "I guess we could haul you and a few others along, then drop you off to pick up your new ship." Malcolm looked at Archer.

"If I can get Forrest to agree with this, I'll approve it," he nodded at once. "I like this idea. I much prefer the idea of being able to focus solely on our work with the charter."

"What charter?" Trip asked.

"We're trying to form a coalition among all the planets that stand in the path of the supposed Romulan invasion," Archer replied. "I expect it to be hard work to say the least. I'd rather not have to concentrate on running a ship and convincing other governments to throw in with us."

"Glad I could help out, then," Trip smiled.

STE

"This is tantamount to blackmail," Forrest complained. "You know that, right?"

"Yep," Archer grinned. "It is."

"I thought Tucker would remember where he came from," Forrest sighed.

"You think he doesn't?" Jon frowned at that. "Hell, Max, the fact that he does remember where he came from is both the reason we're getting what we are and that we're not getting more. Let's be honest, here. When has EarthGov given any of us a reason to be trusting. Or Starfleet for that matter," he added with a barb. "How many times have you lied to me, Max? I don't care what the reason was," he raised a hand to forestall any excuses. "I don't even really expect an answer. Just saying that for thought."

Forrest nodded silently, acknowledging the hit.

"Hayes says that even he and his MACOs can't hold a candle to what some of Trip's people are capable of. He's thrilled at the idea of having even a handful of them aboard for additional security. This deal also give you Enterprise back," he added. "It gives us a safe diplomatic vessel that isn't Earth or Vulcan in design, too. And all he's asking in return is that Malcolm Reed be given command."

"Because you want him," Forrest almost accused.

"No, actually," Jon surprised him. "It's because Trip trusts Reed. You want him to help, then we need to start building some trust with him, Max. It really is that simple. And I have to admit I like the idea of knowing someone like that is on our side, and that his very capable people will be protecting T'Pau."

"You're really taken with her, aren't you?" Max asked, smiling. A friendly smile this time. A happy smile for a man he considered a friend, 'lies' aside.

"I. . .I think so," Jon nodded. "We'll see," he added.

"All right," Forrest sighed. "I'll sign off on it. Under protest, but I'll keep the protest between you and me. And I won't promise that I won't have to yank Reed out of there at some point in the future."

"If you do he'll resign I'm pretty sure," Jon warned. "Just so you know. You'll want to discuss that with him before you make the decision. Just a heads up, that's all," he added.

"Fair enough," Forrest nodded. "Starfleet clear." The screen went dark and Archer leaned back.

"There's no way negotiating with other people will be as difficult as 'negotiating' with our own," he told T'Pau, who say just off screen.

"You think so?" she asked, ignoring his statement. "You think you are taken with me, Commodore?"

Jon suppressed a groan. She only reverted to calling him Commodore when she was pissed.

"Now, T'Pau, it's not like that. . . ."

STE

"So, it's a done deal," Archer said over the screen. "I've got it all in writing, too," he waved a sheaf of papers in the air. "I'll have to ask that you keep this a complete secret, Trip," he added. "It was all I could do to get it signed. But both parties agree, though with the standard clause of not admitting to having done any such thing in the past."

"I don't care what they admit to," Trip shrugged. "Just remember what I said, Jon. I'm not playing. Even one of my people comes up missing, someone's going to pay. You want to make sure it's not you or Vulcan, cause the payment will be steep. Make sure you understand. I consider the people who work for me family. You'll remember what I did the last time a member of my family was murdered. You might want to make sure the Vulcans understand it that well."

Jon paled visibly as the full realization of Trip's threat finally hit home.

"I'll make sure," he nodded. "But I don't want you holding us responsible for some rogue action by someone like Terra Prime, or some other outfit, Trip. That's not fair."

"Better make sure there ain't a connection for me to find, then," Trip refused to back down. "That's your responsibility, Commodore. To make sure there aren't any 'rogues' in your operation."

"Fair enough," Jon agreed. "We're still putting the diplomatic staff together and preparing positions to present to others. Our first stop will be Andoria."

"Call Shran and tell him you're coming then," Trip suggested. "He can probably help smooth the way for you, at least a little. May want to leave that Vulcan cruiser at home for that one, but he can tell you one way or another I guess. I'm sure they won't be afraid of one ship," he smirked at some private joke.

"I'll keep that in mind," Jon nodded. "We'll see you in what. Two months?"

"Give or take," Trip nodded. "We'll escort your new ship back here and then be about our own business."

"Fair enough," Jon nodded. "Thanks for everything, Trip."

"Take care, Jon."

STE

"This is some ship," Hoshi noted as she and Malcolm reported aboard, followed by three ensigns and eight enlisted crewmen who would be part of the new ship's crew. All vetted by more than one security check and then screened by Reed himself.

"So it is," Reed nodded. He was about to have second thoughts about turning Janos' offer down when an image of Hoshi Sato, in a most indelicate position, flashed through his mind, pushing the regret away.

"What's on your mind, Commander?" Hoshi asked playfully.

"You'll know soon enough," he promised as Trip and T'Pol appeared down the passageway coming to meet them.

"Welcome aboard, folks!" Trip grinned, hugging Hoshi tightly. "How are you, Hosh?"

"Still pissed at you," she admitted. "But happy to see you alive, you jerk. T'Pol, it's great to see you again," she smiled, but resisted the urge to hug the older woman.

"It is likewise agreeable to see you, Lieutenant," T'Pol nodded. She and Trip had decided that T'Pol would continue to 'play' the full blooded Vulcan, at least for now. They would like as not share her heritage with Reed and Sato later on that evening, but it was not for public consumption.

"Dru'hak will see you all to quarters," he pointed to where the towering Klingon XO of the Reaper was standing back at a respectful distance. "He's my exec, and he'll be appointing a crew member to liaise with you while you're on board. Need anything, just ask. Armory and Engineering are off limits, but the rec areas, mess, observation dome and other area are accessible. We'll walk you two to quarters ourselves," he told Malcolm and Hoshi. "This way."

"Seeing this beast never gets old," Reed said wistfully, walking down the passageway.

"Second thoughts, Commander?" Hoshi asked, looking up at him.

"No, luv," he shook his head. "No second thoughts."

Behind them, Not Actually an Ensign Evans heard that exchange and almost frowned. So Sato was the reason he had chosen to remain behind. She wondered what July would think of that. Or Janos for that matter.

"This way, Ensign," Dru'hak's voice interrupted her train of thought at that point.

"Yes sir," she replied, following dutifully. Reed had made good on his promise to ensure that she was included in his assignments. She would be stationed aboard the new vessel as a sensor technician. Her mission remained unchanged, she'd been informed.

Malcolm Reed was to be protected at any costs. All costs.

She would make sure that happened.

STE

"We'll be on Risa for five to seven days," Trip told Malcolm. "After that, we can take you to the yard, or we can let you guys tag along while we take down an Orion base. Up to you."

"I'd actually like to see that," Mal admitted. "If you think we have the time," he added.

"Ship won't be ready for trials for at least five weeks," Trip shrugged. "Not much you can do until then. This is information on all the systems," he said, handing over a PADD. "And I've arranged training sessions with the people you brought aboard while we're enroute. They'll be able to hit the ground running when you take command."

"What are you calling her?" Malcolm asked.

"Don't know yet," Trip shrugged. "Figured I'd let Jon and T'Pau think on that. Or you, for that matter," he added. "Don't matter to me either way. Now, we're getting under way, and I'm hungry."

"You hungry, Malcolm?"

STE

"So our gambit has failed."

"I'm afraid so, Admiral," the Tal'shiar agent nodded. "There was some limited success in damaging the Vulcan fleet, but. . .diplomatically, their relations with both Earth and Andoria seem to have been strengthened."

"And this information on my daughter," Taobok raised the report. "You are certain of it?"

"I am, sir," the agent nodded respectfully. "She is mated to a human male. Charles Tucker, of Earth, though he apparently no longer calls Earth home."

"Interesting," Taobok mused. "Were it not for Kovan and his idiot son, my daughter might now be with me, safe from what is to come. Or better still, at my side, as is proper."

"She is a formidable woman, my lord," the female agent agreed. "And her chosen mate is more so."

"Yes," Taobok lifted the report again. "Defeated Kovan's moronic offspring in single combat. Handily so, it appears."

"And later killed him in secret, my lord," the agent added.

"Even better," Taobok nodded firmly. "Hope is not lost if my daughter is mated to such a man. We shall see what the future holds." He turned to face the agent.

"Begin preparations for the next stage. The failure to ignite war between Vulcan and Andoria is a setback, but not insurmountable. We will yet return to our homeworld and see it shrouded in the shade of the Raptor's Wings."

STE

And here we are at the end of another adventure. I plan, at some point this year, to write the final stage of this little opera, Lord willing I live and am able. That will likely be my last foray into Fanfic of any kind, as my original work is beginning to demand all of my time as my publisher wants my efforts concentrated on that, and rightly so.

If you want to see examples of my original works, as well as a few fanfics that haven't been loaded here, be sure and visit my blog, . If you follow, there are always announcements of new works posted there as well as whatever I happen to be ranting on at the time, lol. My next original release is the original character that my Firefly fanfic character, Shade, was based on, Stormcrow.

Thank you, all of you, for your reviews and your encouragement over the years. I really appreciate it.

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