Disclaimer#1 I don't own any of them, Paramount owns the series, but if I could just have one of them, make it the Chief Engineer!!!
Disclaimer#2 None of this is for profit so don't sue me.
A/N:- the words in 'italics' indicate thoughts.
Malcolm ran his finger around the neck of his dress uniform. It felt like it was going to choke him. They
didn't wear them very often, not having too many formal occasions out here in space, and the material
was stiff and irritating. He looked at his fellow crewmembers who were also dressed up like dogs'
dinners. T'Pol and the captain were the only ones not fidgeting. The Sub-Commander's dress uniform was another elegant cat suit, this one in shimmering gold. Malcolm admired the way the colour warmed her face and eyes, giving them a healthy glow. Dragging his eyes reluctantly away from her, he looked ruefully at the man standing next to him. Commander Charles 'Trip' Tucker III, Chief Engineer and fast becoming a good friend, was pulling at the neck of his uniform as if it was alive.
"Trip, if you rip that uniform, you'll be staying on board. Desist, that's an order!" Captain Jonathon Archer whispered menacingly from the engineer's other side.
"I can hardly breathe in this, Cap'n. How long we gotta stay dolled up to the nines?" Trip's southern accent seemed thicker than usual. Maybe he really was being choked.
"President Coren very kindly invited a landing party to visit, and the least we can do is dress for the occasion. And that also means our best behaviour, Commander."
"What's that supposed to mean? Why didya pick on me? Heck, Malcolm's as likely to start a fight with a stranger as I am."
"Commander, you are whining. The Captain is merely pointing out that you appear to attract the attention of the wrong type of person. They either wish you physical harm, to use you as a bargaining tool, or as a romantic diversion." T'Pol seemed to take satisfaction from her speech.
Trip's face took on an unhealthy shade of red. He whispered through clenched teeth, "You gonna let her away with that, Cap'n?"
"Everything T'Pol's said is true, Trip. Down on this planet, you don't even smile at a female, and if I see you picking a fight with anybody, you'll be back on board before you can draw your next breath. As soon as the presidential guard has finished inspecting us, we'll be taking the shuttle to the planet surface. So 'can' the complaints and let's show these people that we can act like civilised beings."
Having passed the inspection, the away team made an uneventful journey down to the planet they were currently orbiting. Trip sat pondering the looks some of the guards had given him. He had been on the point of asking them what their problem was, but he thought back to the Captain's lecture, and figured that would be just the excuse they'd need to leave him on board with Porthos, the Captain's beagle puppy.
'Maybe my reputation's preceded me. Heck, I hope they didn't hear about the pregnancy…' he thought.
"Cap'n, you notice any of them givin' me queer looks?"
"Can't say that I did, Trip. You feeling uneasy about the mission? You can always go back to the ship."
"An' pass up on some relaxin' shore leave? Nah, it was probably nothin'. But for a minute, there, I was sure their leader was about to say somethin' to me, like he thought he knew me. Daft, huh?"
John clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Probably just your imagination, pal. Maybe you've a bit of cabin fever. It's been a while since we got to stretch our legs on real soil. But just in case, don't go wandering off on your own. You and 'trouble' are old acquaintances."
Trip merely nodded, which made John look more closely at his friend. Trip was definitely fretting over this, and the captain hoped it wasn't going to brew into a problem.
Malcolm landed the 'pod and they disembarked into bright sunshine. The warmth of the day seemed to lift Trip's mood as he whirled into 'official photographer' mode. When he'd finished, they clambered aboard the waiting transport which took them to their rendezvous point, the Presidential Palace. The guards had landed before the Enterprise crew, and were now lined up on the steps, in an ascending V pattern, with President Coren at the apex. He warmly greeted John, bowed gallantly to T'Pol, and shook hands with Malcolm, then stopped, open-mouthed in front of Trip.
"See?" Trip muttered to anyone who would listen.
Coren was speaking. "My men told me of this young man, but had I not seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it. It's truly uncanny."
All eyes swivelled onto the president and chief engineer, and Trip reddened under the scrutiny. John had been introducing his people and was astonished by President Coren's reaction.
"President Coren, may I introduce my Chief Engineer, Commander Charles Tucker III." 'Perhaps Trip's uneasy feeling wasn't so far off the mark!'
"Is something wrong, sir?" Trip stammered.
Coren became aware that the commander was speaking. He gave him a non-committal smile. Raising his head, he welcomed them all to Mycros and assigned his housekeeper to show them where they could freshen up. As the crew moved away, Coren turned to his personal bodyguard.
"Have a feast prepared for tonight. Get some entertainment arranged for our guests, and be sure my son attends. I can't wait to see his face."
"Now, did anyone else think that was kinda weird?" Trip asked.
T'Pol was typically the first to reply. "President Coren appeared to recognise you, which is highly unlikely. It is more logical to assume that you reminded him of someone else. Once he heard you speak in your unique way of chewing the language, he realised his mistake. I fail to see why you should try to read anything further into the matter."
"T'Pol's right, Trip. Forget about it and let's just enjoy the hospitality. It makes a pleasant change from being shot at. The housekeeper told me there's to be an evening of entertainment, so let's just relax." John tried to defuse the atmosphere building.
Trip honed in on T'Pol like a hornet around a honey pot. "What was that crack about my chewin' the language? What's wrong with the way I speak?"
"I am sure it is perfectly acceptable in your home state, Commander, but it does tend to place extra strain on the Universal Translator."
"Who do you think you are, getting' off tellin' me how to speak? You got some nerve, lady!"
John stepped in, literally, between the warring parties, before a full-scale row broke out.
"Ok, people, let's act like grown adults, here. Trip, why don't you take a look around the grounds, get some fresh air?"
'In other words," cool it," you're sayin' to me, don't think I don't know, an' don't think this is over, either!' Trip mused. "Yeah, ok, anythin' would be better than sittin' here getting' elocution lessons from somebody who's first language isn't even English! See ya later."
John had watched the sparks flying between his two most senior officers, and wondered would they ever tire of antagonising each other. Sometimes he felt like he was a teacher in charge of a class of unruly five year-olds.
Trip stormed out of the room, nearly taking the door with him. John let him get clear for about 10 seconds before turning to his tactical officer.
"Keep an eye on him, Malcolm, but for pity's sake, don't let him see you!"
Trip was furious, partly with T'Pol for getting under his skin and annoying him, but mostly with himself for letting it happen.
'The way this'll look to the Vulcans, it's just another example of how we humans can't control our tempers, and shoulda' stayed in our own back yards…I shouldn't let her get me all riled up, the Cap'n deserves better.'
He felt better, calmer, having debated with himself, and the fact of creating some physical distance between himself and T'Pol helped him to see things more clearly. He resolved to go back and apologise to her and to John, just as soon as he had got some of that fresh air he'd been ordered to take. Wandering aimlessly about the grounds, he spotted a bench and stretched out on it, luxuriating in the warmth of the sunshine, letting it permeate his very soul.
Malcolm followed at a discreet distance, noting the tension in his friend's shoulders dissipate. He sympathised with how easily Trip lost his temper with the Sub-Commander, but he recognised that there was a similarity to their personalities, which caused the sparks to fly. He knew Trip would scoff at the very idea of being compared to "the ice-maiden" as he often referred to her, but to outside observers, the likenesses were there. He just hoped that neither of them would end up being hurt by their constant wars of words.
Wandering, and thinking about his colleagues, he was almost upon the Commander before he realised Trip had stopped to sunbathe. Sinking deeper into the shadows, he kept a watchful eye.
His eyebrows rose when he spotted someone entering the clearing from the opposite direction. Preparing to step from his place of concealment should the need arise, he was astounded to hear a young woman let out a delighted squeal, and rush towards the recumbent figure on the bench.
She threw herself onto the unsuspecting engineer, smothering a very startled Trip Tucker in hugs and kisses. He attempted to surface from the attack, feeling as if he was in the grip of an over-amorous anaconda, such was the fierce grip the girl had on his neck. Gently, but forcefully, he managed to extricate himself from her clutches and sit up.
"Darlin', I'm just sorry I'm not who you think I am, if this is the welcome you always give him."
He grinned amiably at the embarrassed girl in front of him, who, on hearing her beloved Yoffi speak in an unusual accent, realised her mistake. She put a trembling hand to her mouth, eyes widening in amazement. Tentatively, she reached forward and touched Trip's cheek.
"This is unbelievable, you're his double…but who are you, and where are you from?"
Trip reached up and took the trembling fingers touching his cheek. "Call me Trip. My friends and I are just visiting President Coren for a day or two. We're…not from around here. But tell me more about who you thought I was, 'cos this is beginnin' to bug me."
"You mean you haven't met him yet? Yoffi Coren…the President's only son? Oh boy, this is going to be fun!"
T'Pol was experiencing a surprising emotion, and the very fact that she was experiencing any emotion would not be shared with anyone. It couldn't be denied, however, that she was feeling regret for having goaded Commander Tucker into losing his temper. She enjoyed their verbal sparring matches (yet another emotion to suppress) but her own self-control should have kept the situation from getting out of hand. The commander seemed able to breach her defences, gnawing away at her stoicism and leaving her emotions bare and exposed. Daily contact with the irrepressible human resulted in many extra hours of meditation for her.
T'Pol didn't like tension between herself and her senior colleagues, so she resolved to find the commander and apologise to him.
"Captain, if I may be excused, I too will take a walk."
"Sure thing, T'Pol, but if you see Trip, leave him alone for a while, until he simmers down."
She nodded to the captain, in acknowledgment of his advice, even though she didn't intend to follow it. Stepping out into the fresh and fragrant air, she set off in a random choice of directions, unsure of where she might find her target.
As luck would have it, she hadn't gone very far before she saw the commander reclining on a bench, seemingly engaged in an amorous exchange with a young woman.
'How typical of his thoughtlessness. Whilst I am troubled with thoughts of regret at the way I annoyed him, he has no such concerns, and embraces the first female he sets eyes upon.'
T'Pol moved across to where the commander and the young woman were now sitting facing each other, him holding the girl's hand. Her shadow fell across them, causing them both to look up at her.
"Commander Tucker, I believe the captain warned you against making contact with the females of the planet, and yet here you are, in direct violation of that very order."
Trip's temper, which had vanished, roared back into existence. "Now you listen to me…"
"Actually, Sub-Commander, Commander Tucker wasn't to blame on this occasion. I believe the young lady mistook him for someone else." Everyone was startled at the sudden appearance of the Armoury Officer.
Trip's mouth closed shut as he looked askance at his friend. He was certainly relieved to have corroboration for his side of the story, but how had Malcolm known the facts, and where had he sprung from?
"Malcolm, you spyin' on me?"
Lieutenant Reed blushed furiously at his slip. "The captain asked me to keep an eye on you. When you're in a…mood, you'd pick a fight with your own shadow…with all due respect, sir. As Security Officer, it was my responsibility to protect you." He trailed off, noting Trip's glare.
"I can look out for myself, thank you very much. An' I'm not in a mood. Just 'cos T'Pol gets me all riled up, y'all think I'm gonna pick a fight with the first person I see? Well, this charmin' young lady's the first person I've seen, an' I don't think what we've been doin's called fightin'. He turned back to the girl, whose hand he was still holding.
"The shifty-looking character's Malcolm Reed, an' the frosty vision in the cat suit's T'Pol. You'll have to excuse her, she's Vulcan."
The girl smiled nervously at the newcomers.
"I'm Uzle. I'm very sorry if I'm responsible for causing any trouble, but I really did think Trip was Yoffi."
"You didn't cause any trouble, Uzle. Just 'cos some people have nasty, suspicious minds…anyway, now that I know why people have been starin' at me ever since I arrived, I can't wait to meet Yoffi."
Uzle took his arm in hers, like it belonged there.
"Be patient, Trip, and savour the moment. Not everyone gets the chance to meet their double, and I guarantee when you do, it'll be electric!"
John had expected Trip to be furious with him for having Malcolm baby-sit him, but his friend was too fully into recounting his meeting with Uzle, and the explanation about his double. He laughed at Trip's incredulous expression.
"Well, now you can relax and stop fretting. One thing, though…did your dad ever tell you he'd a cosmic bicycle?"
Trip looked puzzled for a few moments until the meaning of John's words sank in.
"Ha! Very funny. You know full well my Pa's a one-woman man. Boy, I can hardly wait to meet this guy. Can you imagine it…two faces the same, light years apart? I'd bet even T'Pol'd have trouble workin' out the odds of that happenin'. By the way, where are they?"
Trip had come back on his own, the other two prudently keeping their distance from him.
"Knowing T'Pol and Malcolm, they're probably patrolling the grounds, looking for spooks and enemies under every bush."
Trip and John shared a grin, imagining the suspicious Science Officer and paranoid Tactical Officer quizzing everyone they met.
Still dressed in their uncomfortable formal dress uniforms, the four Enterprise Officers presented an elegant picture as they were ushered to the guest table at the head of the room. President Coren greeted them cordially and introduced his wife, Bel. Her eyes widened in surprise when she came to Trip, and he smiled down at her.
"Can't wait to meet him, Ma'am," he grinned, his smile infectious.
Mrs Coren smiled back into his warm blue eyes, so amazingly like her son's. She took a firm grip of his arm, steering him across to the table.
"Come sit with me, young man. I want to hear all about your life aboard a starship."
John watched his friend being "corralled" by Coren's charming wife, and smiled. 'How much trouble can he possibly get into with someone the same age as his mother?'
As the party took their seats, Trip warmed to the delightful woman sitting next to him. She reminded him of a favourite aunt, and he found himself leaning towards her, sharing amusing stories and anecdotes. Her laugh filled the room, cheering all around her. She was a popular first lady, contributing greatly to her husband's success.
John looked across the room, noticing new arrivals. Had he not known better, he would have sworn that the couple now approaching were Uzle and Trip. This had to be Yoffi, and even though he'd been prepared, John gasped at the likeness. He looked at Trip's face, and could totally understand why his friend's jaw was slack. It was like looking at identical twins.
Unfortunately for everyone concerned, Yoffi hadn't been forewarned, and the look of disbelief on his face was unrivalled. He stared at the doppelganger sitting next to his beloved mother, and he felt anger swell in his throat. Through a red mist he saw his mother laughing and touching the other man's arm. His rage boiled over into violence as he launched himself at this 'pretender' wearing his face. In a mad scramble of arms and legs, he dragged an unsuspecting Trip to the floor, landing a solid punch to the engineer's jaw, rocking his head against the floor. John and Coren managed to pull Yoffi off his opponent before he could inflict any more damage.
John bent down and offered his outstretched hand to the dazed man. Trip gingerly sat up, feeling his head whirling a little.
"Are you ok?"
Trip tried his jaw experimentally before nodding.
"Well, it would appear that you share tempers as well as faces." John couldn't suppress his grin.
"What's wrong with him, haulin' off an' clobberin' a total stranger?"
"You know, you're absolutely right, there's just no excuse for fighting with yourself."
Trip looked at his friend, hearing the irony in his voice. He supposed he did create problems for himself from time to time, but no-body could blame him on this occasion. He watched, warily, as the president talked to his volatile son. It appeared to be having the desired effect as a humbled Yoffi turned back and approached him.
"Commander Tucker, what can I say? My parents have explained everything to me, and now I feel like a fool. Please accept my apology. It was just such a shock to see you sitting there, as if you were trying to take my place…I suppose I was more than a little jealous seeing you beside my mother." He tentatively held out his hand towards Trip, who grinned and seized it in his own.
"Nice to know there's two such good-lookin' guys around. An' ya throw a mean punch, Yoffi."
Collectively-held breaths were released as the moment of tension passed. Yoffi's mother slipped a hand around each of their arms.
"Darling, why don't you sit beside Commander Tucker? I'm sure you must have lots to talk about." She turned her sweet smile onto Uzle.
"Uzle, you look enchanting tonight. Why don't you, T'Pol and I all sit together? We can let the men bond while we have a girly chat."
John and Malcolm managed to stifle a strong urge to laugh at T'Pol's slightly 'trapped' expression as their host's wife led her off. Somehow, they didn't think a girly chat would be high on the sub-commander's list of things to achieve.
The meal was a sumptuous feast, with course after exotic course, and even Trip, who had his reservations about alien cuisine, was enjoying it. Enterprise had a wonderful chef, who prided himself on his expertise, and the meals were usually very well received, but rarely did the crew eat any more than 3 courses at one sitting. Here, the away team found themselves, six courses later, feeling as if they might never want to face food again. The exception was T'Pol, who had daintily declined most of the proffered food, stating that she was a vegetarian. She looked at her fellow crewmen with disdain as they lounged back in their seats, languor settling over them.
A show of dancing was taking place before them, a very energetic item involving 6 people and a musical band. The music was accentuated every now and then by loud firecrackers and great plumes of smoke as the dancers whirled and spun, building in speed and volume to a great frenzied crescendo. Suddenly the room was filled with dense black smoke, the remaining firecrackers exploded simultaneously, and the music screeched loudly before stopping completely. Through the smoke, people clapped enthusiastically, unsure of what was happening, but appreciative of the entertainment delivered. T'Pol could make out the shapes of the dancers and musicians leaving the arena.
A sudden gust of wind behind her caught T'Pol's attention and she noticed that one of the patio doors was open. It hadn't been open earlier, and this registered with her as being slightly odd. The inrushing air helped to clear the smoke and the conversation started up again, only to be interrupted by Yoffi's raised voice.
"Captain Archer, have you seen Commander Tucker?"
John looked in surprise at the empty space at the table.
"Not since just before the last dance. He was between you and the president. Maybe he's just stepped outside for some air. It did get a bit warm, with all the smoke."
"Perhaps you're right, but he must have left in a hurry. His drink's spilled and his chair's overturned. Do you think he's ill?"
John felt the first niggling worry. It wasn't like Trip to leave a party early. He hoped his chief engineer was merely taking a break before resuming his partying. Still…
"Malcolm, T'Pol, you search outside, I'll check the palace. Let me know if you find him."
Trip had been taken totally by surprise during the dancing. He'd eaten too much, and certainly had drunk more than he was used to on board, and the dance had been almost mesmeric. So when the smoke had got denser and a thick bag had been thrown over his head, he'd been caught off guard.
He felt himself being bundled out of his seat and manhandled out into the night air. He tried to fight off his attackers, but only received a sharp blow to his right knee for his troubles. The blow numbed his leg and he would have collapsed had he not been held between two people. They hurried him on relentlessly and he raised his voice to shout.
"Hey, I need some help here…"
That's when his evening ended abruptly, as pain exploded inside his skull and complete darkness descended. His attackers scooped up his unconscious body and threw him unceremoniously into the back of their truck. The musicians were already on board, congratulating each other on a successful mission. The bandleader, Orial, looked from the crumpled figure of the engineer to the men who'd arrived with him.
"Apart from him yelling, none. We gave him a tap on the head to shut him up."
Orial nodded, and felt Trip's wrist for a pulse. Satisfied, he spoke to the driver and the truck moved off.
"We'll let Coren stew for a bit before we contact him. The more he frets, the easier it'll be to put the squeeze on him."
"Commander Tucker's nowhere to be seen, Captain. Sub-Commander T'Pol and I have turned the grounds inside out. And the only vehicle to leave all evening was the musicians'. They signed out as scheduled at the gates. Since then, nobody's been in or out." Malcolm was a little out of breath from running back to report.
John rubbed a hand wearily over his face. The search indoors had failed to find Trip, either. They'd tried his communicator, only to find it sitting on the table, where he'd taken it off during the heavy meal. John flipped open his own and contacted the ship.
"Hello, Captain, are you all enjoying yourselves while we poor ensigns mind the ship?" Hoshi teased.
"Not exactly, Ensign. Run a scan for Commander Tucker's biosigns."
Hoshi and Travis Mayweather exchanged concerned glances. Captain Archer didn't refer to his bridge crew by their ranks very often, preferring relaxed informality. And was Commander Tucker missing? That didn't sound like the friendly away mission they'd expected. Hoshi moved across to the science station and ran the scan.
"The commander's biosigns are some distance away from the rest of the landing party. He's moving fairly swiftly, presumably in some sort of land vehicle. Is something wrong, Captain?"
"You could say that! Can you get a lock on him and use the transporter?"
"Are you sure you want us to do that, Captain? It's been acting a bit temperamental, lately."
John sighed. This is what happened when you left Ensigns to mind the shop. "Hoshi…just do it!"
Hoshi's eyebrows rose at the tone of the captain's voice, and she lost no time in sending the commander's biosigns to the transporter room. At the controls, Crewman Rostov tried valiantly to bring his Chief Engineer back on board, but the signals just bounced back at him.
"Bridge, this is Rostov. I can't get him, something's jamming the signal, but I'll keep trying."
Hoshi could feel the hairs on the back of her neck tingling. She didn't like being in the command chair when things went 'ape'. She looked across to the tactical station, wishing fervently that Lieutenant Reed was there instead of Crewman Johnston. He felt her gaze falling on him, and looked up from his console.
"There seems to be some sort of dispersion field. It's just appeared, like somebody down there threw a switch. It's covering the entire city, I'll doubt you'll even be able to raise the landing party, now."
Hoshi's sweet face took on an unhealthy pallor as she realised that the entire landing party were effectively cut off from the ship, and may be in trouble. It was at times like this that she regretted agreeing to Captain Archer's request to be his linguist. She could still have been teaching language anywhere in the world, safely away from violent aliens and missing crewmembers, but instead, here she was, sitting temporarily in the captain's seat, with her hands as good as tied!
John tried again to raise the ship, but the communicator stubbornly remained silent. President Coren watched his efforts, and then offered an explanation.
"I regret that this had all the hallmarks of a terrorist faction, Captain. We have a defensive dispersion field that we can use when the need arises, and it would seem from your inability to get through to your ship, that the field has been activated. What mystifies me is what this all has to do with the disappearance of Commander Tucker."
"We can safely assume that Trip's vanishing act and this interference is no co-incidence. Whoever's taken him must have known that we'd scan for him and try to transport him out. So now we're blind, and like it or not, we'll just have to wait for them to make the next move."
Trip wakened slowly and painfully, the thudding of his headache making him long to go back to sleep. He was aware only that he was lying down, and the 'bed' was very hard.
'Must have been SOME party, I don't even remember getting' to bed!'
At first he thought it was still night as he couldn't make out any light or shapes. Then panic set in as he wondered was there something wrong with his eyes. He tried to raise his hands to his face and discovered they were tied behind his back. Moving his head, he felt thick material scrape against his chin, and vaguely remembered the heavy bag that had been thrown over his head. Gradually, the other events of the evening filtered back to him: the dancing, the music, being snatched and hit over the head…
All he could do was to wait for an explanation. He'd only been on Mycros for one day, and hadn't even stepped outside the palace grounds, so as far as he knew, he couldn't have annoyed anybody THIS much…well, maybe T'Pol…He heard voices approaching and decided to play 'Possum'.
"He should have wakened by now. You must have hit him too hard."
"I don't think so. How do we know he's not trying to fool us?" The second speaker delivered an experimental kick to the prone figure on the ground, and unprepared as Trip was, he couldn't stifle the gasp of pain as he felt his ribs protesting. He felt his uniform being grabbed and his upper body was jerked upright.
"So, you're awake. Took your time, but now its time to earn your keep. We've a call we need you to make…"
Strong hands pulled him roughly to his feet and he was led along, still blindfolded. After several twists and turns he knew he'd have no idea of how to get away, should he have any chance of escape. A chair hit him sharply behind the knees and pressure on his shoulders forced him into a sitting position.
The first voice spoke. "Ok, call Coren. Let's get this started."
Trip heard distant, tinny voices as a communications link was established with the presidential palace. He heard Coren's querulous voice.
"What do you want?"
"We demand that you sign the release papers for Ardos Teal and Pieter Favor. And just in case you don't feel co-operative, we have a little persuader here." The speaker whipped the sack over Trip's head off, making him squint painfully in the dazzling glare of a light being shone directly into his face.
"If you don't co-operate, we'll send your son back to you…in a body bag!"
John was standing beside the president when the video link came through. The figures on the screen were in shadow, but as double security, they wore masks. A bright light shone directly onto a seated, hooded figure and John's gut instinct told him that he didn't need to learn that person's identity: he already knew it!
As the kidnappers spoke, John watched Coren's face pale in anger. At the mention of his son he had looked worried, and when the sacking had been removed from Trip's dishevelled head, understanding flooded the awareness of everyone in the palace, watching the link.
Coren looked relieved and began to speak. "But that's …"
"President, don't you think it would be wise not to say anymore until you have spoken to your advisors?" John interrupted. He had broken into a cold sweat at how close Coren had come to finishing his sentence:
'But that's not my son, you've made a mistake!'
That would certainly have sealed the fate of Trip Tucker. The longer his kidnappers thought they'd genuinely grabbed Yoffi Coren, the longer they'd keep Trip alive, and the more time it would give the landing party to find him.
Coren nodded, realising his error. "I'll have to get back to you. Let me know where you can be reached."
The man on the other end of the video snarled. "I don't think so! We'll call you in one hour, and for your son's sake, you'd better be ready to make a deal."
Coren turned away from the video screen, visibly shaken.
"Captain Archer, I'm so sorry I've got you and your crew involved in our shabby little problems. This faction has, to all intents and purposes, been inactive for 18 months. Those two men who were mentioned, Teal and Favor, were the brains of the organisation, and when they were incarcerated, it seemed to fold. Or so I thought. If anything happens to Commander Tucker, I'll never forgive myself."
"As long as you don't reveal his identity to them, hopefully we can get a trace on his whereabouts. But for everyone's peace of mind, I'm going to suggest that Yoffi pays a visit to Enterprise. That will eliminate any further risk to him and Commander Tucker. Agreed?"
Coren nodded. "It's for the best. Yoffi isn't much of a fighter, and it's a terrible thing to say, but I'm glad that it isn't really him with those men."
Trip was only mildly surprised to discover why he was in his current predicament. Ever since he'd set foot on Mycros he'd been mistaken for Yoffi. The very fact that he'd been sitting next to President Coren at the table had probably added to the confused identity thing. The irony of the situation didn't escape him; one minute he was enjoying the very warm embrace Uzle had given him, the next he was suffering what should have been Yoffi's treatment in these men's hands.
Of course, he was only human, and more than a little concerned for his own neck, but he felt certain that John would be working on the situation.
'Probably wishin' he'd left me with Porthos, right about now!'
He reckoned it would take no time at all for Enterprise to get a fix on his biosigns, and whisk him out of there. He had no liking for the transporter, but there were times when a man just had to have a little faith!
In the meantime, it was in his best interest to maintain the illusion that he actually was Yoffi. He knew only too well what would be the likely fate of unnecessary witnesses.
Thinking was about the only luxury he was afforded, right now, so he let his mind wander back to the last argument he'd had with T'Pol, and how she'd really got his goat by accusing him of chewing his words. In the cold light of day, well, still night if he wanted to be totally accurate, she was right. He knew his accent annoyed her to a degree, and when he thought it would achieve the desired effect, he laid the southern drawl on with a trowel! But right now, that very drawl could be his downfall, because as soon as he opened his mouth, the terrorists would realise their mistake. The fact that they spoke the universal language meant that they might try to get him to talk, so he was determined that that wouldn't happen.
'Reckon I'm gonna end up with more than my share of bruises before this party's over.'
He'd been thinking all of this while still sitting in front of the video-link. One of the two men he'd been aware of shoved the sacking down over his head again, plunging him back into darkness. He was dragged to his feet and marched out of the room, their journey repeating the twists and turns, until they stopped and he was thrown to the floor. Being blindfolded, and with his hands bound behind his back, he'd no way of breaking his fall and the ground rushed up to meet him, bruisingly.
He heard the door closing and he lay winded and dazed, straining to hear if anyone was in the room with him. Satisfied that he was alone, he rolled until he came to a wall, and then struggled up to a sitting position. The sacking over his head was smelly and thick, making him very hot.
'Why do I always seem to end up either too hot or too cold in these situations? An' I thought that Engineerin' would be a safe vocation. It's not as if I'm the Tactical Officer; he should be the one to be getting' whacked over the head, not me!'
Bending his legs, Trip leant his head forward and managed to catch some of the material between his knees. Gently, oh so gently, he tugged, and eventually he felt the heavy material starting to lift off his head. After an eternity, he struggled free and looked around at his surroundings. One small window, high up on the wall opposite him showed the night sky and the bright glow of Mycros' twin moons. The window was both too small and too high to be of any use as far as escaping was concerned, and his tethered hands would have seriously hampered him, anyway. Struggling onto his knees, then feet, he limped across to the door, only to discover it was locked. With a sigh, he settled onto the floor again, the opportunity for flight not yet available.
"Malcolm, you and T'Pol take Yoffi back with you to Enterprise. See if you can get communications opened again, and a lock on Trip. Send Travis back with the shuttle, and if you can't get through on the 'com, come back down with a security detail. We'll try everything we can to get Trip back without bloodshed, but…"
"Aye sir," Malcolm nodded, and the three moved away to the shuttle.
John found the president again.
"The hour's nearly up, and they'll be back on, again, very soon. Have you come to any decisions about releasing those men?"
"I don't need to point out that it's the middle of the night, and these things always take longer, then. I'm not happy to be forced to release these prisoners, but naturally I'll do everything I can to get Commander Tucker back in one piece. Are you still out of contact with your ship?"
"Lieutenant Reed's going to try to locate the source of the signal disruption. If he can take that out, we should be able to contact each other, and locate the commander. In the meantime, stall them, make them promises, no matter how outrageous, you hopefully won't have to go through with them. If all goes well, you'll be able to add a few more terrorists to those already behind bars."
Trip heard the door being unlocked and mentally prepared himself for the sacking being put over his head again. He had no way of tracking time, but he was surprised that the hour was up already. He couldn't have known that it wasn't, and that his captors had simply decided to pay him a call.
The man who opened the door wasn't expecting to find his prisoner squinting up at him. Blind rage filled him as he threw himself at the defenceless man on the floor, kicking and punching at him, viciously. Trip thought ruefully that even had he tried to speak, the force of the blows on his body had driven all air from his lungs. The sounds of the assault brought Orial into the room. He pulled his companion off the bruised and bleeding man on the floor.
"Take it easy, we need him alive for a while. What's got into you, anyway?"
Trip rolled away from his attacker, curling up into a defensive ball, gasping for air and fighting to stay conscious. His protagonist was breathing heavily from his exertions.
"He took off his hood, he'll be able to identify us! When I saw what he'd done, I just lost it."
Orial shook his head. "Ok, it's not as if we're going to actually let him go! Look, it's nearly time, bring him out and we'll see what Dad's come up with."
Trip felt himself being grabbed under each arm and dragged from the room, unable to stand. His body was a sea of pain that he couldn't localise to one spot, although from the kicks, he was certain he'd a few cracked ribs.
Once again he found himself sitting on the hard-backed chair in front of the video. Such had been his pain, he hadn't taken in the journey to reach the room, and his head drooped listlessly. He noticed that his abductors had again donned their masks to conceal their identities.
'Not from me, I'm a dead man!'
He squinted into the harsh light being directed at his face, and heard President Coren's voice on the link.
Orial responded. "You've had your hour, President. We trust our friends are enjoying their first freedom for some time, as requested?"
"You must know that nothing is straight-forward in the middle of the night. Progress is being made, but it's slow. Yoffi, are you alright?"
Trip's befuddled mind took a moment to clear, and he realised that the president was addressing him. He barely managed a nod, and Coren's mouth tightened in anger at the commander's dishevelled appearance.
"You have assaulted my son. I won't stand for this behaviour. I'm doing everything I can to effect the release of your acquaintances, but if you harm my son any more, they'll be back behind bars quicker than they'll like. You can take that as my solemn promise!"
Coren's voice carried just the right note of parental concern, and John was impressed. Orial's voice was filled with venom.
"You're missing the point here, President. We're the ones holding all of the aces…we can give you your son back in whatever state we decide, and you'll do anything we ask." He looked at the clock on the wall.
"It's now 3am. I'll contact you again in 2 hours, and for your son's sake, you'd better have good news for me. And to prove my point…" he struck Trip violently across both cheeks with his balled fist. Trip's head jolted back under the blows before he lost consciousness.
John had barely contained his rage when he'd seen Trip on the screen. From his friend's appearance it was obvious that he'd been beaten, and just before the link had been severed, he'd witnessed the viciousness of the men they were dealing with. He'd had been on the verge of yelling at them, and had only just managed to still his tongue. Trip's abductors might have wondered what business any of this had to do with a starship captain, and he didn't want to draw attention to himself in case they suddenly noticed that he was dressed the same as their hostage. But it horrified him to think of his friend with those sadists, knowing there was little he could do to help.
Coren checked with the prison authorities to see what progress was being made, and John tried fruitlessly to raise Enterprise. He hoped T'Pol and Malcolm were having better luck.
"Sub-Commander, I believe I've pinpointed the source of the disruptor field. I could probably disable it from here, but I feel it would probably be in Commander Tucker's best interests if we took it out at source."
"I concur with your logic, Lieutenant. Prepare your tactical team and return to the planet. Ensign Mayweather can take the second shuttle and inform the captain of your plans. I will remain on board and attempt to transport the commander once you have disabled the equipment."
Ten minutes later, John was listening to Travis explaining Malcolm's plan. The Lieutenant had a 6-man team with him and they were on their way to knock out the disruptor. John could visualize T'Pol glued to her scanner, waiting patiently for Trip's biosigns to become readable. He just hoped his friend could hold on.
Trip had been taken back to his holding cell before he regained consciousness. Now that he was awake, he had no idea how long he'd been out, but he just wanted to be left alone, to try to regain some strength in his battered body. Every movement made him hiss with pain, his ribs crying out for clemency. How little time had elapsed since that brief encounter on a sunny garden bench, but how much had actually happened. He decided that if he got out of this mess, he was going to swear off away missions for quite some time.
He lay as still as possible to avoid aggravating his ribs any further and kept his breathing shallow as it hurt too much to breathe deeply. Lying on the floor, his mind went back over the last communiqué between his abductors and President Coren. Because of the light that had been shining directly into his face, he hadn't been able to see anyone on the other end of the link, but he was certain in his guts that John would have been there, right by Coren's side. It wasn't in the captain's nature to abandon a crewmember, and Trip knew he meant more than that to John. So, he would simply have to wait to be rescued.
'Two hours between transmissions, but I don't know how long I was out for,' he thought. Laying his head down, he tried to conserve his flagging energy, but when he heard the door being unlocked, he knew he wasn't going to get any respite. Orial and Bown, his accomplice, entered.
"We're tired of waiting, thought we'd come and have a chat, find out some dirt on the president, something we can use to our advantage. Daddy's precious son's going to sing like a songbird."
Trip looked up with trepidation at the two men looming menacingly over him. He figured the odds of actually getting away from them, and knew he stood no chance at all, but he wasn't going to go without a fight. Biting down the protests from his injured body, he swung his legs in a scything movement at the men standing in front of him. The action caught the Mycrosans off guard and they crashed to the floor, cursing. Trip struggled to his feet and threw himself at the open doorway, but his opponents recovered quickly and hauled him back. They were breathing a little harder than normally, but not enough to handicap them.
"So you want to play games? Suits us just fine, but I don't think you're going to like the rules," Orial growled, lashing out with a balled fist at Trip's face. The Engineer saw it coming and ducked, taking a glancing blow to the top of his head. Bown circled behind him, and Trip frantically tried to keep both men in sight, but after two crippling blows to his kidneys, he knew the fight was lost. He felt consciousness slipping out of his grasp as he fell under the assault, and his last thoughts were of sadness, that he hadn't got to say goodbye to his friends.
Malcolm and his team approached the grey building cautiously. The scanner showed that this was definitely the source of the disruption field, but before they could disable it, they had to be certain that Commander Tucker was inside. If they merely knocked out the equipment whilst the Engineer was elsewhere, they'd be placing him in grave danger. Malcolm flipped open his communicator, thankful that ground contact was still working.
"Captain, how are the negotiations coming along?"
"President Coren's releasing the prisoners within the hour, Malcolm, but I don't think Trip's abductors have any intention of letting him go…he looked in a bad way, Malcolm, so as soon as you're ready, take out that blasted jammer!"
"Aye, Captain, we're about to enter the building now. If we're successful, you should soon know. Reed out."
As silently as wraiths, the team slipped inside the building. Malcolm trained his scanner, hoping to find a human biosign. The figures on the dial jumped as he detected seven heat sources, and thankfully, one of them was Commander Tucker's. Dispatching two of his team to destroy the equipment, Malcolm and the remaining men crept on towards the heat sources. They could hear the sounds of relaxed voices and laughter coming from straight ahead. Setting their phase pistols to stun, the Enterprise crewmen peered cautiously into the room. Four Mycrosans sat drinking, totally unsuspecting a rear attack. Malcolm thought it very unsporting to shoot without a warning, but under the circumstances, he squashed his morals. Four blasts rendered the room's occupants unconscious, and Malcolm was moving on before the last man had landed on the floor.
'Now for the other two, and Trip' Malcolm thought to himself.
He read the scanner again and followed the indicated direction to another floor of the building. As they rounded a corner, an open doorway ahead of them revealed the horrific scene. Trip lay bloodied and beaten on the floor, unconscious, whilst two large Mycrosans were systematically kicking the life out of him. Malcolm was tempted to alter the setting on his phaser, but controlled his temper.
"Where we come from, that's called 'grievous bodily harm'!"
He took immense delight in dropping the two men where they stood, and rushed towards his injured friend. His fingers scrambled for Trip's neck, desperately seeking a pulse, and he sighed with relief at the dull throbbing he could feel. Carefully untying Trip's hands, he cradled the commander in his arms. The other crewmen found bindings and secured Orial and Bown, and then stood guard at the door, casting worried glances at their officers. Malcolm's communicator chirped, startling everyone.
"Lieutenant, the dispersion field is down. Am I to assume you have located the commander?" T'Pol asked.
"Yes, lock onto my signal and transport us both back to the ship. Have Dr Phlox meet us in the transporter room; we've a medical emergency. And would you inform the Captain?"
"Ok, T'Pol, that's great news. I'll let the president know immediately. Keep me posted about Trip's condition. I'll be coming back to the ship very soon. Archer out."
Coren shook his head in relief at the news John brought him. He wasted no time in reversing his orders for the prisoners' release, and if, some way away, two smug men suddenly found themselves being whisked back into custody, not too many people were going to lose sleep over that.
"Captain Archer, Mycros is in your debt. Without your assistance, and if it had really been Yoffi, I'd have had no choice but to let those men go, back out to poison our society even more than it already is. That's the last thing anyone around here wants, but I'd have crumbled under the pressure."
"Any father would have felt the same, President. Don't be so hard on yourself. You do an impossibly difficult job, every hour of every day, and the pressure must be unbearable at times. We're all allowed an off-moment or two, but maybe next time, run a more thorough check on the 'entertainment'."
John needed to part company from this likeable man on good terms, but he was impatient to get back to Enterprise. Travis was already in the shuttle, with the engine idling.
Coren cleared his throat, nervously. "Would it be alright if I returned with you to your ship? I'd really like to see Commander Tucker, before you leave."
John clapped the other man's shoulder." Sure, why not? I'm kinda anxious to see him, myself."
T'Pol and Phlox were in the transporter room when Malcolm and Trip rematerialized. T'Pol's mask of indifference slipped momentarily as she regarded the condition of her colleague. She felt concern for his condition, but steeled her self-control to remain calm. Phlox examined the unconscious man briefly, tutting over his condition, then indicated to the orderlies to ferry him to sickbay.
Malcolm had gone straight to the bridge, reassuring himself that the captain had been brought up to date. Malcolm knew the Captain cared for all of his crew, but he looked upon the chief engineer like a younger brother, and the worry he'd gone through in the last hours would give him nightmares for some time. Malcolm could empathise with that worry; it would be a long time before he forgot how his stomach had lurched when he had seen Trip's battered body, fearing that his friend's life had been snuffed out.
Phlox had refused to give them any information, in spite of badgering on Malcolm's part.
"You will know when I know, Lieutenant. Now if you'll excuse me, my patient need's my undivided attention," was the last that Phlox had said.
That had been three hours ago, and now John was back on the bridge, with President Coren in tow.
"What's the news on Trip?"
"Dr Phlox has refused to give us any information, Captain. Maybe now that you're back, we can find something out." Malcolm sounded more than a little peeved.
John looked at the strained faces of his bridge crew, men and women who faced death and danger at every turn, and he knew how important Trip was to them. He wasn't just the most gifted engineer John had ever met, he was the self-appointed morale officer, prankster, charmer…he ran out of adjectives.
"Ok, I'm heading to sickbay, and I'm not leaving until I get some answers. President, perhaps you'd like to wait in my ready room. I'll get someone to fetch Yoffi for you."
Coren nodded in understanding of the man's need to check on his officer, as John stepped into the turbolift and made his way to the sickbay doors.
He steeled his resolve to face whatever lay behind those doors, and entered. Phlox was bending over the still form on the biobed, adjusting sensors. As John approached, he looked up, a half-smile on his normally jovial face.
"Ah, Captain, it's good to have you safely back on board. I've just this minute finished working on the commander. It took longer than I anticipated, because I had to operate. He was quite literally bleeding to death…his spleen had been ruptured, beyond anything I could treat without surgery. I understand the commander was quite badly beaten, and any one blow to the abdomen could have done the damage."
"Will he be ok?"
"I've stabilised his condition, replenished his blood volume and patched up his ribs and many abrasions. He can consider himself a very lucky young man. Had Lieutenant Reed not found him when he did, Commander Tucker would now be with his ancestors."
John looked down at the battered face of his friend. What skin he could see was black and blue. Both eyes were swollen shut and Trip's lips were cut and swollen, too. His arms lay limply on top of the sheet, and they, too, were heavily bruised. John knew without needing to check, that Trip's entire body would match those bruises, and he shuddered at the thought of the beating.
"Are you sure he's going to be ok?" he asked, needing the Denobulan's reassurance.
"Commander Tucker is young and strong, and keeps himself fit. Those attributes will stand him in good stead for recovery. What he needs is time to heal. For now, he requires uninterrupted rest. I'll call you if there is any change in his condition."
Three hours later, John was reading in his ready room, alone, when the call came through from sickbay.
"My patient is showing signs of awakening, Captain. I thought you'd like to know."
"Thanks, Doc, I'm on my way." John walked onto the bridge where President Coren and Yoffi were listening intently to explanations of Enterprise's finer qualities. They looked up, expectantly, as John entered. He nodded to them before speaking.
"He's coming round. I'm heading down to sickbay, and thought you'd like to come with me."
As the three men made their way through the sickbay doors, John could hear Trip's voice mumbling softly in an effort to speak, and Phlox responding soothingly.
"You're going to be fine, Commander. Just as soon as the captain gets here and reassures himself that you're back to stay with us, I'll give you something for the pain."
John stepped up to the bed. " Go on ahead, Doctor, I just wanted to be sure that he was ok. Trip, if you can stay awake for 5 minutes, President Coren and Yoffi have waited to say goodbye."
Trip turned his head slowly from John's face to watch the two men approaching, somewhat abashed. John looked at the two younger men, remembering how surprised he'd felt at their close physical similarities. Those similarities were gone now, with Trip's face so battered and bruised. He could see that Yoffi was visibly shaken. He reached down tentatively and touched Trip's hand. The engineer tried to keep his bruised eyes open, and greeted them with a pale version of his usual 1000watt grin.
"Glad to see that one of us is still handsome," he managed to gasp.
Yoffi's breath caught on a half laugh at this brave human, who in spite of his injuries could still manage a quip.
"I needed to thank you personally, Commander. I know your abduction instead of me was just bad luck, but if you hadn't been sitting next to my father…if it had really been me that had been taken…I couldn't have endured what you went through. I'm not a brave man, and my father knows it. My lifestyle allows a certain playboy status, and I'd have caved in, shouting for my father to give them whatever they wanted. So you see, Commander, all of Mycros is in your debt."
President Coren had listened with a degree of pride to his son's confession of guilt. Secretly, he felt Yoffi would grow from this experience. He waited anxiously to hear the human's response, and they could all see that he was fighting to remain conscious.
"You're welcome. An' don't go worryin' 'bout me, I'll be fine as hog's hair…an' Yoffi, don't go runnin' yourself down, you live with the threat of bein' kidnapped every day. Don't reckon I could do that. Just have a good life…an' give your Ma a kiss from me."
The following day, Trip was feeling more inclined to receive visitors. Hoshi had been amongst the first through the doors, stunned to almost silence by the sight of his poor, bruised face. Travis had stopped by to bring him a few titbits of ship gossip, and Malcolm had, in his reserved English way, fervently welcomed him back to the land of the living.
But now, his only visitors were the captain, and T'Pol. They stood by his bedside as Phlox helped him into a more comfortable sitting position. Trip gave them a weary smile, still well below par.
"How are you feeling, Commander?" T'Pol asked.
"At the risk of bein' accused o' chewin' my words, I'll just say 'battered', Sub-Commander."
T'Pol's eyebrow arched at the unmistakeable jibe towards her. Even when he was seriously injured, she inwardly marvelled, he could still get a rise out of her. John sensed a row brewing.
"Easy, folks. Trip, I don't think you're quite up to a sparring match, just yet. Doctor, how's he doing?"
"Commander Tucker's injuries were quite extensive. He had concussion, bruising to both kidneys, fractured ribs, multiple cuts and abrasions, and of course, a ruptured spleen, which I've already told you about. All things considered, he's doing remarkably well."
"Doc, could you stop? You're makin' me feel worse, recitin' my injuries like some medical encyclopaedia." Trip had turned even paler at hearing how close a shave he'd had with the grim reaper.
"Indeed, Commander, but you're well on the way to recovery. I'll be happy to release you to your own quarters in 3 days."
"Three days! Doc, I can't go lyin' around for three days, I've got work to do." Trip protested, attempting, unsuccessfully, to rise from the pillow. His efforts broke a sheen of sweat on his brow, and all three men were surprised when T'Pol reached forward and restrained him.
"Mr. Tucker, your Chief Medical Officer has said that it will be three days before you are released. If you do not co-operate, I will, with Captain Archer's permission, use physical restraint to keep you in your sickbed. Are my words clear enough?"
John turned his face away from Trip in an attempt to hide the huge grin that was breaking out. Trip's expression had taken on the look of a small boy who'd been grounded for a month. Expecting an outburst from his volatile friend, John turned back to observe the engineer giving T'Pol as assessing look. Trip laid his weary head back onto the pillow and grinned.
"Clear enough, T'Pol, but only if you're offerin' to do the restrainin' yourself."