AN: Krag with a K. Darn you, spell check!
Also, please rest assured, I will finish this! I really appreciate the nice sentiments and comments encouraging me to finish, but no one has to worry about this being completed. Sorry it took so long. I've been struggling with this chapter well … since the last one.
Lastly, this is a weird chapter. I tried to rewrite it multiple times, but think this is probably the way it has to be written.
Jonathan Archer awoke to see a starbase drift into view. The base was ice-blue, spinning slowly, dancing and sparkling, lights flickering, as if thousands of people were up enjoying all that the station had to offer.
Large spires rose up along many of the hubs activity – decoration, something completely unnecessary. And yet the twisting columns themselves spoke to the culture of Andoria: awe-inspiring in its beauty.
Ships, a variety of sizes and colors – large like the red Vulcan ring ships and small brown Tellarite scout ships – were docked and zipping around, swarming like bees around a beehive. This station wasn't a Vulcan monolith brimming with logical efficiency, a stocky Tellarite base that looked similar to a mud hut, or a small Earth outpost shining with a pioneering spirit. This station, Talon Station, was brimming with the beauty, energy and life of Andoria: illogical, technologically advanced, and happy with its status in the universe.
A giant, robotic arm extended from the station as the Panama inched forward to begin docking procedures. It was routine, Jon knew, or he would've been up on the bridge to oversee the operation. Jon awed at the dance between the vessel and the station and gave a silent nod to the pilot who managed to dock without as much as rippling the water in his glass next to him.
A beep quietly chimed at his console near the bed and he answered, his voice still husky with sleep.
"Archer," Jon said.
"Sir, we've just docked at Talon Station," he said.
"Thanks for notifying me. Archer out." He looked over at his sleeping wife. Immediately, she stretched in bed and slowly opened her eyes.
"I've never known you to sleep more than six hours," he teased.
"I am catching up on rest." At the grin that threatened to overtake his face, she said, "It is not uncommon for Vulcans to sleep longer after Pon Farr. Rest is more necessary after Vulcans expend more energy during that time."
He chuckled as she pushed herself up until sitting. She asked, "Are you prepared for your meeting with Sav?"
Archer shrugged. "Just like my meetings with Shran, I really have no idea what to expect."
"Shran often brought the unexpected," she agreed.
The two were silent as they watched the starbase before them. After a few minutes, she spoke up.
"I have asked Skon to start making arrangements so that we may return to Vulcan. However, I wanted to stay for as many of the funerals as possible."
Archer nodded as if already aware of her thoughts. "I'm glad you're staying for Mel's funeral."
A thin eyebrow arched and she tilted her head. "Her nephew mentioned that it is more a party than a funeral."
Archer smiled sadly. "Many cultures on Earth want the living to have fun, and remember them through laughter and stories. I wish we'd done something like that for Trip. But his death …."
She closed her eyes as if to understand the feelings in the bond and finally spoke. "Yes, the more tragic the events, the less likely there is to feel mirth." She opened her eyes. "Captain Vega did not die tragically?"
"She died heroically. It was tragic, but I think this war helps put it into perspective. Trip's was … unexpected."
"Like Admiral Forrest's."
"Yes," he agreed. And then he settled back down with his hand behind his head. "You know, maybe when we get back to Earth we can have a party for Trip." He produced a sad smile. "Maybe we can have it in Miami."
"His parents would, no doubt, appreciate such a sentiment."
He agreed and took her hand in his. She followed his gaze out the window.
"You think Talon Station is aesthetically pleasing," she commented.
"I do." He then turned his gaze to her. "I've never seen an Andorian station quite like this one."
T'Pol nodded. "They have built others that look like this one, but from what I understand the Andorians created this and so close to Vulcan as a reminder of their presence in the universe."
Archer chuckled. "Kinda hard to forget them."
"Yes. Andorians are not easy to forget."
"Why didn't Vulcan ever attack this station?" Jon asked.
"We only asserted ourselves over territory we believed we owned," she said.
He furrowed his brow at her, as if he knew better and she ignored it. "I remember when I met the Andorians." He paused. "I also recall you being unhappy to see them."
"Unhappy? That is an emotion." Before he could counter that he knew that was the emotion, she amended her statement. "Possibly the same emotion you felt when you found out I was assigned to Enterprise."
A laugh erupted from his belly and he nodded his defeat. "Touche. Although to be fair, I changed my opinion quickly." His eyes twinkled at her. "I guess a lot has changed since then."
T'Pol's eyes shone. "Yes, I would say so."
Before he could seem too pleased with himself, his wife spoke again. "Though Commander Sav seems like an ally, I am … relieved Travis is joining you tomorrow."
"Me, too." His grin wilted for a moment. "Although, Travis seemed eager to come with me. Very eager." He paused. "I'm glad he only has a couple of days of leave. Seems like less opportunity for him to get into trouble."
"Your request for the Andorians to contact you if crewmen become rowdy was perceptive," T'Pol said.
"Not perceptive," Jon said. "Let's just say I've been twenty seven before." And then he sighed. "But God knows these people deserve a little rest and relaxation."
Archer waited at the airlock, along with crewmen who had been released to Talon Station, including T'Var and Levy. Jon stood at the door making small talk as the final procedures were completed. Nudging a few buttons in his communicator, he started the translation program that would ensure he and the Andorians would be able to understand each other. As he typed in the commands, he thought about Hoshi Reed who had devised the program as well as making it available on all handhelds.
An Andorian, only visible through the portal of the airlock, waited on the other side. An engineer with a crew cut and thick neck punched in a few commands in then thumbed the comm.
"Talon Station, we've got an air seal," he said in an Australian accent.
An Andorian voice, buzzed and then translated.
"We also have a seal," an Andorian voice said over the speakers. "I assume you may open the door unless you've made an error."
The Australian rolled his eyes as the door slid open and Archer took a deep breath, too. A sudden bust of cold air rushed in, a temperature much lower than the comfortable 22 degrees Celsius in which most Earth ships operated. The human crewmen lined up and shuffled through as the thick-necked crewmen holding a PADD checked off names on a PADD – those assigned to specific duty or allowed leave.
Several Andorians waited on the other side, all with black leather outfits and the insignia of their homeland, gawking at the Terrans and then talking to each other almost whispering. The communicator in Jon's hand buzzed with only occasionally phrases. Most of them, he noted, were comments about how hairy the Earth people were or what pink skin some of them had.
Travis frowned at them and then leaned over to his commander. "I don't think they like us, Admiral."
Archer watched and responded, "Actually, the strange this is — I think they do."
As everyone headed off in different directions, Mayweather and Archer continued down one hallway after another, moving from the extended arm of the space station into the facility itself. The minute they crossed the threshold, they were greeted by something that resembled techno music and low-lighting. Firearms, ranging from blasters to percussion grenades, lined many of the carts as Andorian men and woman attempted to get the admiral and Mayweather to view their wares. A few sold what Archer guessed were drugs – small red gelatin pills that promised outrageous beauty – as well as food-like substances that were promised to bring amazing hallucinations.
Clothing, mostly black leather, was sold as well as small animals, including tiny white and brown puffballs that cooed quietly as they were stroked. The seller promised these small creatures would make any meeting tranquil.
Food carts served various types of raw animals and ale. Most of the food looked like what Archer guessed would be seafood, squirming and wriggling with tentacles occasionally slithering out of the aquarium.
Scantily clad Orion women danced near many of the kiosks as if to allure men. It worked, already a few crewmen were queued up. Archer noticed in mild interest, less affected by the pheromones thanks to his psychic connection to T'Pol, as he tugged Mayweather's arm to help him dodge the green women's scent.
An Andorian woman, much taller than both humans and dressed in a black binkini sauntered up. Her voice rumbled low, at least an octave lower than Mayweather's.
"You looking for a good time?" she asked.
Mayweather leaned into Archer and said, "These must be the zhen I've heard so much about."
Archer answered to the Andorian, "Uhm, we have some place to be."
"I am zha, yes," she said to Mayweather and then the woman's antennae whirled. Leering down at Archer and Mayweather, she grinned. "I have wanted to experience Terrans for some time."
Archer's mouth fell open and he coughed into his hand while shaking his head to walk on. Mayweather frowned as he walked behind his commanding officer.
Finally making it to one of the many elevator banks, Archer searched for a group of symbols – patterns that looked almost like a cross between Egyptian hieroglyphics and Arabic – until he found one that made his hand-held buzz.
"Femut," Archer said and punched the button next to it.
"I guess you're going down the rabbit hole," Mayweather said.
Archer smirked as suddenly the elevator lurched and sent them hurtling to the floor. Eventually both men got to their feet as they wound down one tunnel into another. The plastic tubing allowed them to see everything, dizzyingly. Shops, restaurants, bars, and more fled by at astonishing speeds. And just as suddenly, the elevator came to an abrupt halt sending both humans sprawling again.
"This is worse than the rides at Coney Island," Mayweather said getting to his feet again. "I feel sick."
"I suppose it helps to have the Andorian sense of balance with those antennae," Archer said getting up a little more slowly. He closed his eyes attempting to let equilibrium restore itself.
When the admiral's eyes opened and focused, he could see the only door on that level – one with a big sign that flickered above them larger than the screen in New York City's Times Square. The sign had large blue symbols, words, which scrambled suddenly to form an animal that looked something like a tiger with two giant horns.
Jon held his PADD aloft and it buzzed again. "This is it."
"Kind of weird," Mayweather said. "Most levels have a few other things."
Archer started to walk to the door, halting when he heard a question.
"You sure you're going to be okay?" Mayweather asked.
"Sav wanted to see me alone."
"You told T'Pol I was coming with you, didn't you?" Mayweather scolded.
"Well, she's a wife. She worries."
"She's a Vulcan."
Archer admitted, "She worries in a very Vulcan way."
"You carrying a phase pistol?" Mayweather asked.
"It's against regulations." Although Jon didn't think it made sense now, knowing that so many black market weapons were sold in the station. And then smiled a little more broadly. "You should go and enjoy yourself."
Travis said, "I can wait here for you."
"I'll be okay."
When Mayweather didn't move, the admiral spoke up. "I'll tell you everything that happened tonight at Mel's wake."
Travis finally agreed. "You comm me if anything happens."
Archer waved his device as if to show it would always be by his side. Travis took a deep breath and then begrudgingly entered the elevator again and disappeared. When Archer turned around, instead of seeing a door, he saw a tall, fat Andorian, squished into black leather, blocking the entrance.
The Andorian took out his blade and gnashed his teeth.
"I've been asked to meet Commander Sav," Archer said as his PADD buzzed and hummed. "I'm Archer."
The Andorian's voice squeaked and the communicator translated into a high-pitch voice almost sounding feminine.
"Wait here," the giant said before vanishing behind the door.
Archer thought about opening it, but decided to do what was asked. Pulling up a book he'd been wanting to read, he started to look at his device again when he heard the same voice before.
"Come with me," the high-pitched voice said.
Before Jon could agree, he felt himself being pulled inside.
Music that sounded like fingers against a chalkboard with a base thumping every second filled the room and the human gritted his teeth as he walked inside. The bar was huge, taking up the entirety of a deck. Andorian men and women danced on tables, barely wearing any clothes, along with Orion women. Neon looking concoctions filled various drinks, changing colors along with the music. Off to the side, Jon could see a man smoking something like a hookah, looking a little like the caterpillar in Alice and Wonderland.
Patrons of the bar viewed the sights, drank, and talked. A few vendors, providing what looked like illegal substances that would "enhance the libido," offered Jon a few items as the fat Andorian continued to push him forward.
"Come with me," the high-pitched voice said again.
Jon was about to tell the large Andorian behind him to stop pushing when he went through another door. The room he entered was much smaller. Immediately he saw the man he'd met from the view screen claiming to be Shran's brother. Sav stood, separating from a crowd of people. The earring in his ear flashed different colors, and the Andorian reached over and clapped his arms in what Jon remembered was the Andorian greeting. He did the same before he was ushered to sit at the only table in the room.
A few Orion women, Andorians, and a creature that reminded Jon of a cross between a dog and pig were sitting at the table all to admire Sav. The Andorian shooed one of the taller Andorian women away, her red eyes batting sadly, and patted the chair.
"Pink Skin, have a seat," he said.
Jon gave an uncomfortable smile and then sat in the chair proffered as ale was served in front of him, sloshing over the goblet's sides. An Orion woman hung behind his shoulder, her body pressing into his, and an Andorian man shorter than Shran showed up at his elbow.
"I should start by saying thank you," Jon said.
Sav nodded. "You should."
Jon's face fell and then he coughed. "Very well. Thank you. We were in a tight spot, and your vessel coming when it did saved nearly one hundred and fifty crewmen."
Sav grinned and then slapped him on the back. "We will get to your debt later."
Jon was about to inquire what the debt was when another Andorian man next to him sniffed the air, his antennae appearing to do the same. Archer turned to him with irritation and the Andorian frowned.
"He's covered in the scent of Vulcans," he informed Sav.
"Probably because I'm married to one," Jon replied. "And as I recall, you have a truce with them so we can fight the Romulans together."
Archer could tell that didn't sit well with the people surrounding Sav, but Shran's brother held up a gloved fist. "The Pink Skin is right. We may've been at war with them for hundreds of years, but apparently we're all friends now."
The aliens at the table laughed and Archer furrowed his brow.
Sav said, "Don't make your skin go pinker. We have an uneasy peace with the Vulcans now, but it's peace all the same. Although my people are unsure whether their newest minister, T'Pau, will let the peace between us linger. She is young and may have a taste for war."
The aliens surrounding Sav laughed at his joke and Archer eyed the man sitting next to him, still sitting too close and watching every move he made.
Archer scoffed. "She may be young, but I can assure you she is not a proponent of war."
Sav's antennae reared in surprise. "You've met her?"
"Who don't you know in this universe, Pink Skin?"
The aliens at the table laughed again and Archer studied them before turning to Sav.
"You have quite the entourage," Archer said.
Sav explained, "Andorians enjoy the company of friends." Gesturing to them with his palm, his antennae following, Sav bellowed, "These are my friends." He pointed at the man who sniffed him. "His name is Thiel, and he is Bishee."
Archer turned again and noticed his skin was paler than Sav's or most of the other Andorians at the table. Sav explained. "I am Thallassan."
"Regions of Andor?" Archer asked.
"Close enough." Sav smirked. "My friends were very interested to meet you, Pink Skin."
"Why me particularly?"
Sav chuckled, "You have quite a reputation. Thy'lek said you were the only pink skin he'd ever met who could swallow goblets of Andorian ale, resist the temptation of an Orion female, out-logic a Vulcan, and out-argue a Tellarite." The Andorian's antennae withered slightly. "But I have to admit, I am a little disappointed."
Archer scoffed as the Andorians and Orions at the table chortled at his expense.
Sav continued, "You are much hairier than I expected. Older. Shorter."
"Nobody's perfect," Archer quipped.
The people at the table laughed again and Sav leaned back in his seat. Archer waited, feeling the eyes of everyone on him.
"We should drink. To good health," Sav said.
Archer sipped his ale and noticed frowns. Sighing, he decided to down the last bit as he knew an Andorians would. The action met with cheers as he felt the affects already enter his bloodstream, his cheeks turning pink.
"Now that is the Pink Skin I have heard so much about," Sav said.
Archer tried to smile, but it didn't quite reach his eyes. Another ale appeared before him and just as the Andorian male beside him was about to speak, Archer turned to Sav.
"You asked me to meet you here to talk, not to drink."
"Pink skins have no patience," the Andorian huffed. "We have family business."
He said a few words which the translator didn't catch and everyone at the table left as well as the caterwaul, the music blaring overhead, stopped. A light hum began and when Jon furrowed his brow, Sav explained, "Jamming device."
Sav reached for the ring around his antennae and punched a few buttons. It turned into a something that resembled a communications device, with a hologram rotating above it. In the hologram were images of another Andorian male and two females.
"These are my lifemates," he said. "They were chosen for me by my clan when I was of age. It is the Andorian way, one Thy'lek will never become a part of."
Archer asked, "Why not?"
Sav said, "Thy'lek entered the Vulcan war after our littermate was killed in an attack by them – our littermate's name was Ty'ran. As the oldest, Thy'lek was the one who would avenge our family." His antennae drooped. "He entered the military and distinguished himself, so was chosen to serve in the Imperial Guard. And now because he has been a thief, he is ostracized and his duties of protecting our family and clan fall to me. I am the second eldest."
Archer's waited, listening.
"Although Thy'lek would never tell me, I believe he was ordered to disgrace – to become a jewel thief. That disgrace has tarnished the name Shran."
"You are angry with your brother?"
Sav slipped the ring around his ear again. "For many reasons."
"You're right, from what I understand, Shran was asked to pretend to be a gem thief to help-"
"Yes, my government," Sav said. "I am mostly angry with them, Pink Skin."
Before Jon could say anything the Andorian continued. "Andoria is on the verge of civil war. There is mistrust of our leaders. Peaceful protests have recently turned violent. As of two days ago, there was an uprising on the coast of Trul, and General Krag fired on civilians."
"I hadn't heard," Jon said, sitting straighter in his seat. "I thought the queen's word was final, part of your religion to accept her word as divine law. To rise up against her would be blasphemy."
"Yes. All true. But hundreds have been killed in her name and my people are restless. To put an end to this, I believe blasphemous we will be."
"And treasonous?" Archer asked.
"I am not speaking of myself." Sav's antennae drooped, "It is not a matter for treason or blasphemy. What I say truth. Yes, I will raise my blade to defend her, but there are those who are displeased with her. And they are growing in number. I hear that we will have another uprising in Tulan next week. No doubt Krag will fire on them as well."
"You believe civil war has already begun."
"I do not believe; I know. Many of our cities have instituted curfews and our females have been asked not to roam the streets or hold firearms, for fear they will rebel."
"I'm human. What happens on Andoria-?"
"Our queen will be overthrown because of Krag."
"Who will lead in her absence?" Jon asked.
"I believe Krag himself."
Archer furrowed his brow. "There hasn't been a male lead Andorian since the Great Thaw –"
"I know the history of my own people, Pink Skin!"
With that, Sav took out his blade as Archer started to stand up. Instead, the Andorian cut into his own thumb, blood spilling out to reveal a small metal device. The Andorian explained it was the best way to hide information, even evading bio scans should they be given. Digging into his skin, something that made Archer wince, Sav retrieved a metal disc and placed it on the table in a puddle of his own blood.
Sav said, "My family is in danger. And as the second eldest, I am here to protect our family before I am forced to avenge them. My home world is in grave danger and so is our queen."
"If you're asking for my help—"
"I have evidence that General Krag isn't what he seems," Sav said.
"The allies have relied on him without hesitation."
"And yet he has not shared our political situation with any of the leaders, including yours."
"No," Jon admitted. This gave the admiral pause.
"I have evidence here," Sav whispered nodding to the device, "that he is … Orion."
Archer's mouth fell open and he shook his head. The accusation as ludicrous as it first sounded started to make sense. The facts were coming together. The first delegate sent to Earth to represent Andoria turned out to be Orion. Krag had personally sent Shran to get the dilithium crystals, where he was deemed a gem thief. Key allied positions, including Columbia's destruction, were known only at the highest levels of command.
The more he thought about the coincidences that ended in defeat for the council and the allies, the more he realized that Krag was involved in every one of those decisions and every communication. Personally.
Sav watched and then smiled sardonically. "You believe me, don't you?" The Andorian grabbed Jon's hand and forced the device in his hand, staining his skin blue.
Jon couldn't help but look at the device. "I'm not certain what to believe."
"I have irrefutable evidence."
"Yes. Bio scans and more." Sav leaned back in his chair and brought ale to his lips. "Pink Skin, ever since my littermate was disgraced, our family disgraced, I have paid people to keep their antennae on Krag. I knew he was behind Thy'lek's trouble."
"You mean you paid men to spy."
Sav's antennae whirled at the accusation. "Call it what you will, but they have given me proof that Krag is against us. That he has lied to the queen. That he has given away key positions of the allied fleet." The Andorian licked his blue lips. "The evidence involves you; it suggests Krag sent the Arali to find the dillithium crystals aboard Enterprise."
"The Arali killed a senior officer," Jon said. "Commander Tucker."
"It doesn't end there, Pink Skin. Krag provided information about Columbia and the Excelsior."
Jon's face reddened and Sav smiled, saying, "You see, Pink Skin, you are already involved."
Before the admiral could speak Sav said, "Krag now plans to kill my littermate."
"He claims it is for telling the allies of our plans with the dilithium crystals, but … he is planning on using Thy'lek as a scapegoat."
Looking at his hand and considering all the information given, Archer asked, "What do you want me to do?"
Sav said, "Repay the debt you owe me."
"I can bring the evidence to the council, but-"
"If you do, our entire way of life will be turned upside down – civil war, rising up against our queen, maybe even old clan-feuds resurfacing."
"What do you suggest?" Archer asked, skeptically.
Sav smiled. "You must take the evidence to the queen herself."
Archer scowled. "What?"
"You must deliver this to the queen herself."
Archer drank more of his ale. "Why not you?"
"Because I am the littermate to Thy'lek. You are the arat to Thy'lek's children – you may speak on his family's behalf without disgrace tarnishing your reputation. You are the Pink Skin."
Archer recalled the birthing songs, which seemed to go on for hours, as well as the birthing chair with nest, Phlox's favorite mating stories, and many cups of coffee to try to stay awake. Nodding, confusion riddled his features.
"And why will she listen to me?"
"You are the arat. You are the only human who defeated an Andorian in combat, brought Vulcan hypocrisy to an end, led fellow aliens into war, and you can drink Andorian ale in one gulp." Sav smiled, his teeth looking a deep shade of blue like his tongue. "Although you are an off-worlder, you have a good reputation among my people. A good reputation is hard to earn, especially as an off-worlder."
Jon thought about the consequences, how he would need to plan a trip to Andoria right away. As if to further sway him, Sav spoke again.
"You owe me, Pink Skin." His antennae pointed to the blood-smeared device in Archer's hand. "And you owe the officers you served with in Starfleet as well as Thy'lek."
Jon felt his face redden again. If Krag was to blame for what happened to Trip and Erika, possibly Mel, as well as killing many council members – almost murdering Gral, Shran, and T'Pol – he would kill Krag himself. The rage he felt couldn't be calmed by his bondmate, and he swallowed deeply as he realized for all the pain and suffering caused, he might be able to kill Krag with his bare hands.
"You owe me your life and the life of your Vulcan wife's," Sav said. "It wasn't the Andorians who saved you. It was me. I have ceased receiving orders from Krag for sometime and have been acting on my own authority." The Andorian gave a grin.
"How did you gain clearance for us to dock here?" Archer asked.
"Through my channels." Sav raised his eyebrows and scratched his white hair. "One of my lifemates still has access to military channels. She risked her life to get you here."
Archer considered the information.
"Review what I gave you." Sav stood. "I have already booked passage for you tomorrow aboard a cargo vessel. I can ensure you reach Andoria safely. From there … you are on your own."
Archer also stood. "You aren't concerned about anyone at the bar today? They probably know what we're discussing."
Sav laughed. "They believe we are talking about my littermate. That is all. I have kept Krag's secret safe, for fear it would kill whomever had it."
"You kept it even your family?"
Archer said, "My bondmate already knows our discussion."
He scowled. "I heard the Vulcans had started engaging in mind tricks again. But my understanding is that your Vulcan is also an arat. If my littermate trusted her, I … have no choice but to do so as well."
Archer stood and Sav grabbed his arm. "Even if you are not swayed by your debt to me, Andorian civil war, war with the Romulans, or even what happened to your fellow humans and council members, consider what will happen to Thy'lek and his family. Thy'lek will be killed. His wife, an Aenar, may be tortured. His children will also be poked and prodded by doctors who see them as oddities, scientific anomalies, of how Andorians and Aenar mate. His family will never feel the ice flow beneath their feet or the chill of a cool north wind on their faces. They will never meet lifemates from Andoria, matched to our ancient clans." Sav pointed his antennae at Archer. "If you are the Pink Skin I believe you to be, you will never let that happen to Thy'lek's family. You and my littermate are friends. And human as you may be, I believe that means something to you."
"And if I were to say yes, how do I see the queen?" Jon asked.
"I already explained, you are the Pink Skin. You can merely request it." Sav smiled.
Archer narrowed his eyes.
Sav continued, "She knows who you are. She will see you."
Jon nodded. "I'll review the information."
"You'll do it!" Sav's antennae whirled in excitement. "If you see Krag, you must make it clear you are only seeing the queen because you are the arat."
Sav punched a few codes. Immediately, the aliens he saw before streamed back in. Archer immediately placed the metal device covered with blood in the chest pocket on the left-hand side.
"Let's drink to the Pink Skin," Sav cheered.
Everyone cheered and an Orion slid onto his arm. Archer gave a tepid smile, but continued the act, finishing his drink and setting an empty goblet on the table.
Sav smiled, his antennae twisting as the grin widened. With that, and the knowledge that Archer had a deadly secret in his pocket, he got up to leave. The giant Andorian who greeted him as he entered appeared again, as if from nowhere, and then grabbed his Stafleet uniform's collar and walked through the bar again. The techno music had gotten louder and lights flickered on and off with the sound.
When they got to the door, the Andorian squeaked to him, "You've got blood on your hand, human."
Archer's fist clamped. "So I have."
Without stopping, suspicious of what would happen next, he continued to the elevator and before the man could question him further, punched the button and got into the bank. Not caring where he went, he jabbed a knob and suddenly the clear plastic tube hurtled him to places unknown, he thought how dangerous the situation was.
A million considerations flooded his brain and his mind raced to catch up to every thought. If Sav was right, civil war would break out on Andoria and the blue people could overthrow their queen, a woman central to the Andorian's religious beliefs. Completely overturning deep-seated ideas, could destabilize the planet and the region. Archer knew enough history to understand a complete change in paradigm like this usually led to religious wars. Wars, with an "s," being the operative word; wars over religion usually carried on for centuries—one skirmish melding into the next.
He wondered whether Sav would deceive him and what the Andorian would gain from such a lie. Did Sav become a pirate, an outcast, and this was his revenge on the Andorian that put him there? Perhaps after Shran had dishonored the family, Sav had made it his duty to see Krag punished no matter what.
As much as Jon hoped this was the case, he knew it wasn't. Though Shran and his family had suffered, all the information tied together too neatly. Nearly every mission since the war began had turned out badly—that is, every mission that Krag had been aware of.
Jon immediately considered Earth. He thought about whether to contact Prime Minister Pelletier directly, believing he could at least prevent the general from learning military secrets that could jeopardize the war. If the Vulcans or Tellarites learned about Krag, it could further destroy whatever chance the council had at succeeding. Additional fractures could very well mean the dawning of the Romulan Empire, and the enslavement of the allies.
And then he lighted on what was going to happen to Shran and his family, now at the mercy of the general's greatest war ships and trained assassins. Jhamel, Tallah, Shras, and Shran were doomed.
He thought about the deaths of friends and the near-death of T'Pol. Again anger made his heart beat faster and his breath quicken.
His eyes closed. Letting the information rummage around in his gray matter was unnerving. When he opened his eyes, dizzy from the elevator ride and the information flooding his synapses, he found himself by sheer luck on the same deck he'd entered on. Steeling himself, he tapped a few commands on his PADD and saw the way back to ship. Something made him want to run back there, but instead he strode as quickly and purposefully as his limbs could carry him. He didn't want to tip off the Andorians he had a datachip in his pocket that implicated Andoria's top military official.
The market still bustled with Andorians buying goods, techno music harangued from overhead, and the squawk of a rusty-sounding squeezebox barely rising above the music. This time a peddler shoved a blue fist in his face.
"It's all the rage. You'll feel as light as the winged zerberan on Rigel X," a white-haired man confided. "I offer free samples."
"Not interested," Jon mumbled.
His pace quickened, dodging the wares sold at the bazaar — the drugs, Orion women, black market weapons, and more. Adrenaline surged through his body, a vein at his temple jumping to the beat of his heart. Within less than a meter left to go, Jon felt a hand on his arm.
He turned to see the zhen from earlier, smiling menacingly. She was clad in a bikini-like outfit and holding on to a blade at her hip.
"Pink Skin, I believe we should engage in a transaction," she whispered.
"I already told you – not interested," he said.
"What did Sav want?" she asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," he hissed.
"Come with me," the zhen said, the blade suddenly wielded in her hands.
The admiral dodged as she swung the weapon at him, sucking in his stomach to avoid contact from the blade. Instead, his uniform ripped at the middle completely through the two layers Starfleet personnel wore.
Swinging around she tried again, her hand meeting his kick, hoping to dislodge the weapon from her hand. But Andorian females—especially zhen—were faster and stronger than human males. Recovering quickly, she slashed at the air again and this time made contact with his left bicep, cutting deep into his flesh. Jon screamed out and hit the deck hard. Hoping someone would intervene, he gazed up at the marketplace realizing it continued on almost as if they didn't care what was happening.
Still on the ground, Jon reached for his PADD before seeing it kicked away by a black boot.
T'Pol had been reading over the history of Coridan, according to Vulcans, written by a prominent political xeno-historian who taught at the Vulcan Science Academy. It was accepted text among Vulcans.
After reading the Coridan version of their own history, T'Pol noted that the Vulcan version lacked some of the significant details that provided context.
For example, in the Vulcan version, the logicians came to Coridan to assist and provide structure to a government in chaos, one that had been fighting what seemed like an endless civil war. But having been to the planet, she knew from her own experience that the structure and order brought was unwanted by the Coridanites. Had the civil war waged on, it would've concluded with a government that focused on home world issues first before reaching out to the stars or other civilizations. Instead of Vulcans being welcomed as peacemakers, they were seen as oppressors.
The Vulcans' action caused Coridan leaders to ally themselves with the Andorians, which further distanced them from the Vulcans. Instead of discussing or negotiating with the Coridanites, she knew the Vulcans became resolute, steadfast in the beliefs they had saved the civilization.
This is what I must argue and debate if I am to win reparations for Coridan.
Silently, T'Pol mused that no matter the Vulcans' intentions, nearly every race they met loathed them. With the Andorians, the Vulcans provided technology. The Andorians cursed the intervention wishing they could seek their own way in the world. With the Tellarites, the Vulcans created the blueprints to further their race without actually building the technology. The Tellarites were angry they were not allowed to innovate themselves. With the Coridanites, they tried to bring peace, but were seen as imposing their will. And with the Terrans, they allowed peace to be sought first and waited as humans attempted to build technology. Humans, like her husband, were angry that the Vulcans would keep technology and innovation from them.
T'Pol knew she was unique in her understanding of both sides - what Vulcan believed it had done and what the native races believed Vulcans had done. She alone could appreciate both sides of the equation.
As Jonathan would say, Vulcans saw the world in black and white. Vulcans were well-equipped to understand and comprehend facts. Perspective and context were much more difficult. Creative thinking and problem solving was not their strong suit. It made her race exceptionally analytical, but lacking imagination—something the humans had an abundance of and helped them with improvisation.
T'Pol knew the word improvisation did not exist in Vulcan – there was no translation.
She thought Soval might better understand perspective and context, having lived among the humans for years, but that Minister T'Pau would not.
As she stared back down at her PADD making notes on the History of Coridan, she felt a tug in her bond.
Jonathan had become more skilled at controlling his emotions and thoughts. After Pon Farr, they had meditated together where she helped with rudimentary control. He proved to be better than she would've supposed. His focus was remarkable, something she wondered if helped by sharing Surak's katra.
Closing her eyes, she allowed their bond to hum and tingle wondering if he had something urgent to share. Ideas and images flowed easily, each one knitting her eyebrows further: her husband had evidence that General Krag betrayed the alliance. Just as she understood the significance, she felt her stomach turn and she stood.
Instantly, her eyes shot open and she hurried to the nearest comm.
She croaked, "Bridge, Admiral Archer needs a security detail on Talon Station immediately."
The man at the helm asked, confused, "Ambassador?"
"Yes," she said, hoping her voice lacked the annoyance she felt. Instead she breathed through the emotion and provided her husband's location.
After that, she rose and walked to Jonathan's closet. There she saw a lavender catsuit, one she had worn many years ago when she a science officer. Looking at the garment, she felt the place where once Enterprise's insignia was located before removing her ceremonial robes of ambassador.
Through her bond, she her husband a message: help was on the way. She got into the suit quickly, prepared for hand-to-hand combat if necessary.
The battle had waged on. Jon fell again against the deck again, his back complaining and blood running down his arm, before being picked up. He'd earned a bloody lip and was wondering if he'd cracked the same molar he'd injured in a fight with A.G. Robinson. Pausing for a moment to run his tongue along it, he panted.
The bikini-clad Andorian circled him and laughed. "You are old, human."
Too old to do this, he thought.
As the Andorian danced closer, Archer tried to throw a punch, one that swung in the air without hitting the target. Instead, the female nimbly grabbed at his neck for a tarak-hold — something Andorians used for capture. He then felt a blade come to his neck and knew it was pointless to break it.
"Eh sevat sanaa-sul'at," she whispered to him in Andorian.
With his PADD kicked across the room, he couldn't understand her words, but guessed what she wanted. Swallowing, he felt his Adam's apple nick the blade and a cool liquid, what he believed was his blood, trickle down his skin.
He couldn't fight her, the hold too tight, too expert, and he couldn't struggle less he cut his own throat. As intended, his vision became limited as he was on the verge of losing consciousness.
The Andorian repeated herself. "Eh sevat sanaa-sul'at!"
"Let him go," said a familiar voice, behind him, one Archer couldn't quite place.
Suddenly the Andorian's words were translated quickly into English. "We were conducting a transaction," she complained.
A figure appeared before him – Captain Stiles. The captain narrowed his eyes and pointed a phase pistol at the zhen. Archer flattened his lips wondering what Stiles was doing with a phase pistol when an armed security guard made up of Andorians and humans appeared almost directly behind him. The zhen dropped her blade and scowled at Archer.
Jon blinked, taking in as much air as he could manage. The makeshift market selling a bevy of illegal wares suddenly vanished, disappearing like cockroaches when a light was turned on. As he marveled at how quickly that had scattered, he saw another surprising sight: his wife approaching in her old uniform, minus the patch to indicate she worked for Enterprise.
"What-?" he asked, in disbelief.
Instead of answer, she inspected Jon's arm to Vulcanly fuss over it. The admiral smiled down at her in response. She wasn't exactly throwing her arms around him in relief at him being okay, but in his mind, he knew she was doing the Vulcan equivalent.
"I'm okay," he said. With the arm left unscathed by the fight, he moved his hand up to cradle her face. Their eyes locked and he gave her a small wink. Thanks for sending the rescue squad.
T'Pol's eyes glimmered and he put his hand down as she looked at the guards and Stiles. "Thank you for helping him."
The Andorians ignored T'Pol as they murmured to the zhen that selling herself to anyone, including a human, was against the station regulations.
"He engaged me," the zhen said. As if to explain why, her antennae poked over to T'Pol. "No doubt he needed an outlet if he is sharing his mating bed with a Vulcan."
Stiles laughed as the Andorians joined in.
Let the comment go, T'Pol thought.
But Jon thought it was time to put these jerks in their place. Red-face, he gathered T'Pol into his arms, even as his injured bicep complained, and leaned her over for a kiss – a deep one that held passion. After a few moments and what Jon considered was enough of a display to shut them up, he withdrew. T'Pol took a few stumbled steps away as if dizzy.
In this mind he could clearly hear T'Pol admonish him.
They don't know the half of it, Jon projected through the bond.
Stiles winced and the Andorians laughed harder. The leader said, "Only the Pink Skin would have the stakak to be with a Vulcan."
Stiles shook his head. "I don't think it's moxy—it's something else."
Jon was about to retort when T'Pol spoke up.
"Not many Vulcans would have the … stakak … to choose a human," she said flatly.
This made the Andorians laugh harder and one slender woman slapped T'Pol on the back, lurching the Vulcan forward by degrees. After the guards took the zhen away, Stiles turned to the admiral.
"What the hell happened?" Stiles asked.
Archer felt his pocket unconsciously, sighing in relief that the datachip was still in his buttoned pocket. "It's a long story."
"I've got time," Stiles countered with annoyance.
T'Pol spoke up, "I have contacted the medical facility aboard the ship. Perhaps the recounting of the tale can wait until my husband has been seen."
Stiles put his weapon in its holster. "I'll make sure to drop by."
T'Pol took Archer's good arm and made her way through the station back to the ship. During each step they took, Jon heard her mind speak ad nausea about how he should be more careful – specifically that he should've asked Mayweather to stay – and admonish him about the affectionate display in front of the Andorians as if to satisfy his pride in her.
"I'm only human," he said, throwing her a wink.
Although he could tell she was unamused, she displayed two fingers, which he met with his good arm.
She said, "Vulcans are much more private about our affairs."
He sighed, "I know."
"Then next time, you should allow the comment to remain undisputed. I do not care what others believe to be true about our marriage. We know otherwise."
He nodded, although he was pretty sure if someone said something like that again, he would deck them. As they crossed the threshold to of his ship, Jon turned to his wife.
"Honey, you have to understand, it's human to feel pride," he said. He could feel her about to continue the debate, when he switched gears. "Maybe you can we can discuss this later. Right now, I need to see what's on that datachip."
As he turned to walk down the hall to his cabin, T'Pol took his arm. "No. Right now, you should see Sickbay."
He was about to argue, when he looked into her eyes – they held worry as she gazed up at him. Studying her in the uniform she used to wear, minus the patch claiming she worked for Enterprise, he sighed. She had only worn this uniform assuming she would enter the fray and battle for her husband's life.
"Okay," he conceded.
Nodding, as if pleased to have won that argument, she let go of his arm. "You listen to me as your wife much more than when I was your first officer." An eyebrow poked up at her own comment.
He could feel her amusement and chuckled himself, even if he knew in his heart that he always listened to her even when he didn't want to. As they reached Sickbay, he turned to her and unbuttoned his pocket to fish the datachip out.
"In the meantime, could you take this and verify what Sav told me?"
"I will," she whispered. "If what he says is true … I will need to verify it many times over to ensure authenticity."
"If what Sav told me is true …."
"Yes, Adun, but you will need to control that anger."
He felt his breath stutter as he wondered if he could control it. Jon thought for a second if he saw Krag, rather than bring the general to justice, if he would kill on sight. After all, Krag was responsible for killing thousands, including – according to Sav – some of his own people. Worse, Krag had killed people close to Archer personally. For that, he wasn't sure Krag deserved a trial.
"That line of thinking is dangerous and unlawful," T'Pol said.
Jon looked down the corridor and determining no one in immediate eyesight, leaned over to give his wife a peck on the lips. When they broke apart, he said, "I'll see you at home."
T'Pol reached the cabin, removing Andorian blood stains from it, and then slipped the disc into the computer at her husband's desk. Instantly information displayed – a bio scan on what clearly seemed to be General Krag indicating his Orion ancestry – as well as communiqués where it seemed he knew about the attack on Enterprise that killed Trip, the destruction of Columbia, the outcome of those aboard Excelsior, and the location of Panama itself.
Each layer of betrayal seemed to cut deeper than the one before. General Krag had helped orchestrate the attack on the Vulcan embassy in Shi'Kahr, killing Admiral Forrest, and seemed to be in cahoots with V'Las.
Immediately, she felt her cheeks flush and worked to quiet her thoughts and beating of her heart.
Among his misdeeds, he has helped to kill my mother.
She ran scans on the chip to determine the points of origin of the information, to confirm the validity of what existed. Each confirmation, she knew, would take some considerable time and in the meantime she knew she needed to exercise and meditate to calm the ancient Vulcan emotions that threaten to overcome her. Much like her husband, she too felt the need for vengeance – revenge.
Changing, she stepped into a jogging suit and grabbed a towel before securing her mate's cabin with a password she shared through their mindlink, an extra precaution necessary due to the sensitive information inside.
Then she ran to expel the anger, much like her husband did, before sitting cross-legged on a mat and trying join tranquility and peace.
When Archer returned to his cabin, entering the password settled into his mind by his wife, he saw her on the mat with candles lit. By the state of her mind, he knew she was only somewhat successful at the meditation.
As he approached, she opened her eyes.
"How many stitches did you require?" she asked.
"Twenty four," he said. "Skon said it would be sore for a while."
"I did not realize Skon had given those to you," she said.
"You can imagine my delight." He grabbed his bicep flexed it. "But he seemed to do a good job."
A quiet beep sounded at his desk and immediately T'Pol got up to check on the findings with Jon following behind her. The two looked at the results and Jon swore.
"One hundred percent validity," she whispered. "I will of course confirm these results."
Jon said, "Then I'll leave tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" she asked.
"I will accompany you," she suggested.
"And what about Coridan?"
"I believe my aide can argue—"
"You said yourself Skon was not as well prepared to understand the plight of Coridan." He countered, "Besides, I doubt the Andorians would welcome a Vulcan on their home world."
"T'Pol, believe me, I don't want to leave you, but I think you'll be safer on Vulcan."
"As safe as Admiral Forrest or my mother?"
He drew her into a hug and held her tightly. "Safer. Sav said he couldn't guarantee what happens on Andoria. And if that zhen that attacked me is what awaits …."
"All the more reason for me to accompany you," she said, almost hotly.
He backed away to study her and she bowed her head. "My meditation has been … somewhat unsuccessful."
"I would never forgive myself if something happened to you," he told her.
"And the same is true if something happened to you."
"Having you safely on Vulcan, a planet close to Andoria, would be better should I need help." And then he leaned his head against hers. "It's more logical."
She seemed unconvinced and her mind scoffed at his use of logic.
Jon asked, "You had already made up your mind to go to Vulcan, even when it meant I could be re-assigned to the front. What has changed?"
She gazed up at him. "Our world."
"When I am done, we'll get married on Vulcan and honeymoon there if you want."
"Jonathan, General Krag may already know what Sav has."
"All the more reason to leave as soon as possible," he said. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, my love. Coridan and the war needs you. Shran and the war needs me to talk with the queen."
Jon tapped a few controls on his desk and took a deep breath. The information he was going to deliver his commanding officer would take a certain finesse, and he wasn't sure he quite had the diplomacy for the day.
A face appeared on the screen, Admiral Matt Gardner. His gray beard seemed shorter and his eyes still had a purple hue to them as if he hadn't slept.
"Jon, this is a surprise. Something happen on the station?" Matt asked.
"Did you hear from Stiles?" Jon asked, his face fallen.
Matt rolled his eyes. "Well, I did get a report from him. I'm not sure why he felt it necessary to tell me, but I take it everything worked out?"
Jon agreed, "It's a long story, Admiral, but it's partially why I'm contacting you."
"Go ahead," Matt said.
"I need to take a leave of absence."
Matt sat down, his jowls sagging at the news. "What?"
"I need to take a leave of absence," Jon stated again. Before Matt could ask, he added, "It's personal."
"You want to take a leave of absence in the middle of a war?"
"With personnel to reassign, ships to coordinate with, and a tow vessel showing up in less than a week?"
Matt wiped a hand over his face and tried to take a deep breath. "Look, if it has anything to do with what Captain Stiles told me – hey, you were off duty as far as I'm concerned and—"
Jon wanted to laugh. "I don't know what Stiles told you, but I doubt it's related. It's personal. I would share more if I could."
"Does it have something to do with T'Pol?"
"No," he responded.
Matt frowned. "You're not giving me much to work with, Admiral."
"I owe a favor to Ambassador Shran."
Matt shook his head. "Jon, I'd like you to be able to return a favor, but now? We just can't afford to have you gone."
Jon frowned, too. "Admiral, if my request is turned down, I'll have no choice but to abandon my post."
"Go AWOL?" Matt growled. "Jon, if you do this, Starfleet will never welcome you back. We'll find you and we'll drag you back to Earth in irons. You understand that?"
"Matt, I'm not sure I have much of a choice."
"We've put up with a lot from you, mister. You've been with someone who's as a security risk, possibly sharing confidential information with her. You didn't even bother to tell me until that relationship had already happened – something that the Prime Minister and I asked you about."
"At the time you asked, there was no relationship." Jon steeled himself and then continued. "I know I'm asking a lot, but this is important."
"More important that the war?" Matt griped. "You've got to run off and do something for Shran, something that may enable the Romulans to win?"
"I know I'm asking a lot, but … trust me. There's no other way."
"You've asked for a lot of trust in the past, and I've always given you the benefit of the doubt. Now? I'm sorry, Jon. The answer is no."
Archer took a deep breath and leveled his gaze at his commanding officer. "Matt, I know I've asked a lot from you, but … this means a lot to me."
"I already told you my answer."
Archer got the idea guards would be posted outside his room if he continued to press the matter. So instead, he nodded as if in defeat. "I had to try. Shran's brother, Sav, contacted me and asked for my help on a personal matter to help out. But … I suppose it'll have to wait."
Matt sighed, "I understand you and Shran are friends, and from what you've told me, Commander Sav saved the crew. I can appreciate you want to help him, but we just really can't afford to lose you right now, Jon."
"Of course," Jon nodded. "I understand."
"Listen, after you have the bulk of personnel moved, maybe in a few months, I can approve for you to be gone for a few weeks."
"I'd appreciate it."
Matt smiled. "Good, I'll talk with the other admirals and get their input." Seeming to relax, he scratched his nearly bald head and asked, "Now you going to tell me what happened on Talon Station, or you going to let Stiles' version hold water?"
Jon forced a laugh, "I'm sure his version makes for a much better story."
Matt only got a little serious, "Your wife doesn't have anything to worry about, does she? I've never known you to be the type to jilt someone. And I like the ambassador."
This time a genuine smile spread across Jon's face. "Admiral, I can honestly say that being married to T'Pol has completed me in ways I never knew were possible. Sounds corny, but it's true. I would never jilt her – it would be impossible anyway."
Matt grinned back. "Well, I'm glad to hear it. I'd hate to see her hurt over a stupid thing you'd done."
"Wish everyone at Vega's gathering well tonight. And please know she'll be in our thoughts over here."
Jon agreed, "Will do. Thanks again."
"Any time," Matt said. "And let me know when the tow ship arrives."
"You bet," Jon said.
When the view screen faded, Jon's mouth turned down as his jaw clenched. Slowly, he pushed himself away from the terminal and started packing. It was important that he kept his leaving to himself, lest Starfleet find out about it and haul him to jail before he had time to meet with the queen. In the meantime, he'd have to keep up appearances, so no one – outside of T'Pol and Sav – knew he was leaving.
"I can only asking Matt in advance helps in the sentencing phase," Jon said to himself.
Sav sent a message about having a vessel leave at 0625 a.m., a cargo vessel bound for Andoria's main city, the one where the queen was located, Terat. On the ship's manifest, he would be listed as cargo – his identity completely anonymous to even the captain of the vessel himself. And he was told what to bring with him to Andoria, including a heavy coat as it was winter in his home world.
The party was set up by Westing in an area near the airlock with Talon Station. The party proved to be a good one with many crewmen volunteering to play instruments in Captain Melanie Vega's behalf. As "When the Saints Go Marching In" blasted, T'Pol noticed Skon enter in traditional Vulcan mourning robes – blue material with gold lettering embroidered. Although his face looked serene to those less skilled at noticing Vulcan emotions, T'Pol could clearly see confusion marring his features.
Dressing in dark brown, somber Vulcan robes, T'Pol smoothed the material of her formal attire and walked to him.
"I studied human grieving rituals, but did not see this in the database," Skon confessed.
T'Pol watched a few crewmen talking about Vega, laughing and telling jokes about things she'd done, including punching an Orion female who had boarded their ship. She'd heard that particular story at least three times in the last hour.
"Humans sometimes prefer to celebrate life than mourn a colleague," she said. "They want to recall the good times more than remember the loss of a fallen comrade."
Skon poked an eyebrow at the idea. Finally accepting the information, he reached over for a glass of water.
"Where is Admiral Archer?" he asked.
Her eyes traveled across the room to her husband, beer in hand, telling a few cadets about how Vega had saved his life.
"He came to the medical facility today because he had an altercation with an Andorian," Skon said.
"He did," she agreed.
"He declined to tell me what the altercation was over."
"I would presume so."
Skon poked an eyebrow at her, confused at her answer. "Ambassador?"
T'Pol breathed deeply and then turned to her protégé, avoiding an answer. "I would like to move up the schedule to leave Talon Station."
"Oh?" he asked.
"I would like to leave at oh six twenty five," she told him.
"Why move the schedule forward in time?" he asked. "Would that not limit the amount of time you have with Admiral Archer?"
She shifted slightly. "He will be joining us, although by the looks of how much he is enjoying himself, he may not be much company tomorrow morning."
Skon seemed perplexed.
"During celebrations of life, humans tend to over imbibe," T'Pol explained.
Skon watched the admiral tilt back a beer, and the Vulcan narrowed his eyes. "That is highly illogical."
"It is, and yet it is true," she whispered. "Humans use this time to reflect, think on fond memories, and try to avoid painful ones."
As if on cue the band ended a set, putting down their instruments when Archer got up on stage. The man reached into the pocket of his navy pants and pulled out a PADD. He stared at the words for a few minutes and as the murmuring died down, the smile on his face wilted.
"I came up to thank you all for coming and recall a couple of funny stories about Mel, Captain Vega, but …." He placed the PADD back in his pocket, his smile vanishing. He paused, one that seemed to last nearly a minute as the room became even quieter, so still that no one dared move. Finally, the man before them furrowed his brow.
"We've lost too many good people in this war—friends and family." He searched the crowd as if hoping to land his eyes on as much of the Panama crew as he could, his last nod to T'Pol. "I think we all know entering this war was the right thing to do, but … knowing this war is just doesn't lessen the pain or keep us from missing those who've passed on."
T'Pol watched as he bowed his head for a moment and she knew he was thinking of all the others who perished—those from Dr. Phlox's reports of the dead as well as council members and Trip.
"Panama, you've lost an excellent captain. Someone I counted as a friend," he said. "I've been in tough situations with her, even some that could've meant her death, asking her to trust me really beyond reason. Beyond sanity. I won't say she agreed blindly," he said with a sad smile, "but she always gave me the benefit of the doubt. I'll miss Melanie Vega—her stubbornness, her curiosity, her feistiness, her heroism, and her company."
Someone shouted, "To Captain Vega!"
Archer picked up the beer he'd deposited on the stool next to him and nodded. "To Captain Vega and her crew."
Everyone drank and then Archer spoke again. "I wanted to give a chance for everyone to come up at your convenience and say a few words about those we've lost."
He exited the stage and though T'Pol wanted to comfort her husband, she knew he, instead, wanted to provide comfort to those around him. He wanted to seek out crewmen of Panama and hug people and listen.
The Vulcan closed her eyes and remembered he preferred it that way. Vulcan-like, he hated processing unpleasant emotions like grief and had ever since he was a boy; he retreated when dealing with the deaths of his father, Robinson, Forrest, and even Trip.
Although she knew it was the role of an admiral to be those things, to be more of a father and listen to others' pain, she knew it was part of his DNA. She closed her eyes, thinking that for such an emotional man, a human of great sentiment, he could be so Vulcan-like, refusing or discounting his own emotion. It was a trait she'd recognized long before he encountered Surak's katra.
The Vulcan stood a little straighter and also walked around to talk with the crew, to share her own recollections, but more importantly to listen to others. This wasn't merely the role of an ambassador, but was the duty of a friend.
The night wore on with a few funny stories about her—a mishap with a Klingon when she was at the Academy that led to a barroom brawl, her penchant for red licorice, and an unrivaled adoration for Elvis, a rock and roll icon of the 20th century. There were sad stories, too like those who saw her on the way to the armory before she lost her life or heard her last orders.
People came up to talk about the other crewmen, how a cadet named Zeke was a prankster who died much too young and a lieutenant with two children at home and a husband perished saving someone else.
T'Pol watched the battle with her husband begin to ebb and flow with the tales told. And the more the stories continued, the more the crew seemed to drink, Jonathan included. Finally somewhere around eleven, she decided to approach him.
"I am retiring for the night," she told him.
He looked down at her and then produced a small smile before engaging the Starfleet personnel he was speaking with.
"I suppose I should, too," he said, slurring slightly. He clapped one man on the shoulder and then wound his fingers around his wife's hand to walk with her.
T'Pol wandered down the hall, leading her husband, passing by several crewmen to say her condolences as the admiral chimed in his. Jon stumbled once as Phlox suggested maybe providing him something to help him sleep. T'Pol graciously accepted the canister as Phlox said he understood and would be willing to ask that he report later to duty or have the day off. The Denobulan commented that the crew had been under tremendous stress and needed tonight. Even he seemed unusually puffy, his hair beginning to stick out, as if the emotions of the evening got to him.
"You will keep this confidential?" T'Pol asked.
The Denobulan smile turned exaggerated. "I am his physician first, T'Pol. More than that, I have served with Captain Vega and helped many of the crew members involved. I see it as a moral imperative."
Although both Jon and T'Pol seemed embarrassed, they thanked the doctor and wandered back to their room. When they finally reached their cabin and the door slid closed, T'Pol watched her husband fall onto the bed.
"You had a significant amount of alcohol tonight, Jonathan," she said.
"That was the plan," he slurred. "You think I'll be okay in the morning?"
She tilted her head and poked an eyebrow up in the air. "Most certainly. The Osmatic eel I purchased at Talon Station earlier will certainly remove all traces of inebriation within an hour."
"Hard to believe one eel can do that," the admiral said, his hand running through his graying hair.
She pulled out a slug-like creature from a small terrarium. It wiggled in her hands before she offered it to Archer. Instead of accept it, he held his hand over his mouth.
"You sure it's safe to swallow?" he asked.
"You have done this before," she said.
"I know. I just … I don't remember it wriggling as much." He sighed at it and then nodded and took the creature, stuffing it into his mouth, without further comment.
The man shivered and then looked at his wife. "And I definitely don't remember it being this disgusting."
Her eyes twinkled at him. "It should pass through without incidence."
He didn't seem comforted by that fact. "Best not to say 'should,' T'Pol when talking about what gets passed."
The Vulcan then went over to a small black bag and retrieved a few instruments. Archer continued.
"You told Skon to expect me?" he asked.
"Yes. I believe we have set in motion enough doubt to your whereabouts it will be hard to find where you have gone for at least the short term." She paused. "Although, talking with Admiral Gardner may help them determine your location more quickly."
He shrugged. "Had to try."
She agreed and then took out a few instruments before turning to him, tools in hand. "Are you ready to begin?"
"Best to start now while I still have a buzz," he said.
"Then we will prepare your disguise for tomorrow." T'Pol held the tools aloft and asked her mate, "Let us begin removing your gray hair."
Archer sighed and sat up, nodding, waiting for his disguise to take shape.