Postcards from Deep Space One

Chapter 7

The group went back to work, piecing together the bits of the computer program that they hoped would defeat Cutter. T'Pol had sent a runner to sickbay to get Phlox. Trip had protested that the doctor's presence wasn't necessary, but T'Pol had used his own arguments against him. Total immersion systems were dangerous. It didn't help that she was quite capable of digging out all the terrible stories that he'd heard about total immersion systems from his own memories.

Sevak returned from his errand to the docking port, seeking out Trip in the poor light of Main Engineering. Sevak handed Trip a padd. It detailed all the work that they'd just done, patching into the Bolian ship's power supply.

"We have left it unconnected, but done all the work required. I believe Cutter will notice this connection and attempt to cut it off if we connect it too soon," Sevak had written. "Ensign Turner is awaiting your order to make the connection."

"Good work," said Trip, handing the padd to T'Pol so that she too could read the information there. He used their bond to communicate his idea for how they should proceed. "We should get everything set up here and then we'll make the connection to the Bolian ship. Hopefully Cutter won't notice that we're stealing their power until it's too late to do anything."

T'Pol agreed, but spent the next few minutes typing out instructions to everyone that didn't have the benefit of a telepathic bond for their communications. There was also some argument about exactly how long they might have after the power had been connected. As far as Trip was aware the computer, although severely corrupted, was still capable of functioning, but Mim Kathar was doubting of this. To be honest, it didn't really matter if the computer was completely down because then their plan would stall before it even got a chance to begin. They just couldn't do this from a few networked padds, they needed the power of the main computer.

Archer's communicator beeped at him. Athena were probably just checking in to see what was going on. "Archer here, go ahead."

"Admiral, we've just detected Excalibur on our long range sensors. It looks like they've turned around and are heading back this way."

Archer caught Trip's eye and they exchanged a surprised look. "Have you had any communication with them?"

"No, they're not answering hails."

"Cutter's in control," Trip wrote on a padd, holding it up for Archer to see.

Archer nodded, talking into his communicator once again. "What's their ETA?"

"About four hours," replied the voice from Athena.

"Captain, we think this virus has control of them. Don't let them near the station, take out their engines if you have to."

"Yes, sir. Athena out."

Trip happened to be facing Reed as Archer gave the order to take out the engines, and could see a look of desperate worry pass across his face, but he quickly turned his attention back to the padd he was working on with Mim Kathar. Trip had to admire his ability to keep up appearances, but he knew that Reed must be tearing himself apart inside. Excalibur had only just recovered from a very close call and it didn't need another one. Not to mention that Reed had made it quite clear earlier how he felt about being stuck on Deep Space One while his ship was in trouble.

All his thoughts brought Trip right back to square one. He'd had enough of watching his station die by degrees. They had to rid themselves of Cutter before anymore life was lost or damage done. He called over a couple of his engineers and gave them their final orders. They had to be ready to do this now, and as much as he hated it, the quickest way was going to be to use the Bolian interface device. He watched as they scurried away to inform the rest of the engineering staff, passing padds around to ever increasing numbers of people before he was sure that everyone knew his intention. T'Pol had already registered what he was doing as he approach Mim Kathar.

"Give me the interface device," said Trip, aloud.

Mim Kathar blinked a couple of times in surprise, but said nothing as Trip took the device from him and headed towards the computer that had been set up to receive input from the interface. T'Pol was waiting to intercept him as he walked the final few steps.

"We are not ready," T'Pol thought to him, putting a hand out to stop him in his tracks.

"Sure you are," replied Trip, telepathically. "I know you'd like to do more testing and make sure all the bugs are out, but we're kind of short on time."

T'Pol knew this. She had calculated exactly how long it would take to perform the tests and set up the device. Trip knew that her calculations indicated that they would be cutting things extremely fine, and he was very aware that T'Pol had worked that out too.

"The total immersion interface was to be an option of last resort." Her thoughts were swift and hard hitting as they reached his mind. It was completely clear to him that she did not like him doing this. The words that formed in his mind were only half her objection as well, he was once again getting his own words thrown back at him, accompanied by pictures and source data.

"I think we're there, t'hy'la. We don't have time for any more testing." He gestured using his hands from force of habit, even though his lips hadn't formed any words. Telepathic arguing might be faster, but it was just as fierce in places.

"Your mind will be directly interfacing with this program. It is very important that it works correctly." T'Pol's eyes were flashing with disguised worry and half-suppressed anger. Trip feared that it was obvious to everyone around them that they were currently engaged in a heated telepathic discussion. The crew really didn't need to see the Command staff disagreeing at a time like this. He could see Archer already breaking off from a conference with Kathar to come over to them, probably to break it up.

Trip played his final card. "I've just given Sevak fifteen minutes until we make the connection. He's already using the runner network to inform Ensign Turner when to make the connection. I've sent the message, we have to do it now."

T'Pol was angry with him now. He could definitely feel it, and it wasn't often that T'Pol let him feel one of her supposedly suppressed emotions quite so clearly. It surprised him a little and frightened him. The anger was so bright and vivid, almost burning him to be near it. He then actually experienced the process that T'Pol went through as she buried an emotion, another unusual occurrence, and suddenly she was completely calm once more. The absence of her previous emotions was almost deafening to his human sensibilities, and almost more alarming. Her eyes were hard, though, an echo of the harsh emotion that he'd just felt behind them.

T'Pol spoke aloud softly, the hint of a threat behind her words, and it carried to him easily in the relative quietness of Engineering. "I do not appreciate you forcing my hand." He wondered if this meant that she didn't trust herself to use their bond and not lose her emotional control, or perhaps their telepathic connection was just malfunctioning again. Her mental shutters were well and truly in place, so it was impossible for him to tell.

Trip replied in the same manner. "It's either this or Excalibur destroys the station."

Archer obviously heard these two sentences as he approached and paused before coming nearer. T'Pol glanced in his direction briefly, before fixing Trip with a serious look. "Very well, we will proceed." She strode away towards Reed and Kathar, a padd in her good hand ready to give them their final instructions.

Trip shook his head, at least partially because he hated going against T'Pol.

"She'll get over it," said Archer.

Trip gave a sigh. "Maybe." He then tapped out a rough explanation of what he and T'Pol had argued about for Archer to read. He gave Trip a rather exasperated look.

"I agree with her in parts," said Archer.

Trip grimaced. "Great. Well the two of you can compare notes later. Right now, I've got work to do."

He placed the container that held the total immersion device on the workbench beside the main computer. He opened the box and inside were the various components. He had seen one of these before and in fact even tried it out once, something that he hadn't wanted to pass on to the others. He'd found one in an alien market town whilst on shore leave and couldn't resist giving it a go, his curiosity getting the better of him. Even then he'd known the risks, but gone ahead anyway. He'd ended up with a killer headache for his trouble but at least he'd gained some experience which might help now. He certainly would never have willingly put on one of these devices again, if he'd actually had options.

The total immersion device consisted of a headset, with various pads that would be placed on his head to transmit signals directly into and receive signals from his brain, and a pair of goggles that showed him a visual representation of the computer interface. The other part of the device was a set of ten thimble-like pieces of metal that fitted onto each of his fingers. This was why the device required two hands to make it work. The thimbles would transmit the relative position of his hands and how they were orientated, allowing him more ways to interface with his environment.

Mim Kathar arrived beside him and indicated that he would help put the equipment on him. Trip was very obliged for the help, since he didn't want to get anything wrong at this stage and blow their plan before they even got started. Phlox suddenly appeared from across Main Engineering and started scanning him, no doubt to give himself a baseline comparison before they began.

"I would have preferred to have done this in sickbay," said Phlox.

"This is where the action is, Doc," said Trip, flippantly.

"Let's hope not too much action," replied Phlox, ruefully. Trip had to acknowledge that he'd had his fair share of illness and injury recently.

One of Trip's engineers brought a chair over for him so that he could sit down whilst using the interface. This wasn't a piece of furniture normally found in Main Engineering so it must have been brought from elsewhere. A quick check with the engineer told him that it was T'Pol who had ordered this new addition to the room, however he wasn't upset with her. Normally he hated his weaknesses being shown up in front of his staff, but today he could have kissed her. He hadn't been joking when he'd told Reed earlier that he'd happily have fallen asleep on his bed, but for the moment he had to keep going.

Kathar finished off the last adjustments to the head set and finger pieces, declaring Trip ready to proceed. Wires led from the headset down to the computer in a complicated arrangement that he didn't entirely understand, but at least the Bolian seemed sure of himself. Trip found himself surrounded by people, some of whom were monitoring him, some of whom were monitoring the computer in front of him (using conventional means), and everyone was waiting for the power to come back. T'Pol had taken up position on his left, with Archer and Reed hovering to his right. Trip positioned the goggles on his forehead, in preparation for the return of power.

"If you experience any discomfort then you must stop," said T'Pol. She could feel his nervous tension at the wait and was trying to calm him.

Trip just nodded, not really trusting himself to speak or use their bond coherently at the moment. He had no intention of stopping unless it looked like his life might be at stake. T'Pol knew that and they were both aware that his duty was to protect the station and the people on it at any cost, including his life. Hopefully it wouldn't come to that, but neither he nor T'Pol had fooled themselves into thinking that this was going to be easy.

"Cutter's being suspiciously quiet," said Reed.

"It's probably putting all its energy into staying in contact with the piece of itself on Excalibur," said Archer.

"Five minutes," said T'Pol.

"I'm beginning to wish I'd given Sevak and Turner less time," said Trip, wanting to get this over and done with.

"We're still loading the final pieces of the program onto the datachip, so I'm glad we've got a few more minutes," said Reed, bending down to check on something. "It should be done in a few more seconds."

Trip pulled down the goggles over his eyes. "As long as it's all done in time."

He then heard Reed say "oh hell", and suddenly the headset activated and he had barely a second to realise that Cutter had decided to turn the power back on – on his own terms.

Trip found himself in a black room lit by bright blue lights that sped across the wall in little circles. He looked down at himself and found that he had materialised a body that looked remarkably like the one that he had in the real world. He felt out with his mind in much the same way that he used when trying to establish a connection with T'Pol and found that he could detect the flow of information around him. He was inside the computer, standing amongst the data streams. In front of him, he could see a floating shiny red sphere, slightly larger than a baseball and the consistency of coloured glass. It was labelled with the words "anti-virus".

"Good job, Malcolm," said Trip, as he grabbed hold of the sphere. "Okay, what do I do with it now?"

There was the sound of ominous laughing. "They sent you and didn't tell you what to do."

Trip recognised the voice. He looked around the room but didn't see anyone. "You like games, don't you, Cutter?"

"Games are for children in your world. You're in my territory now, Captain Tucker. Everything here is controlled by me and nothing is a game," said Cutter. Suddenly a dark, shadowy shape appeared. It was like all the shadows from the corners of the room were being pulled into coalescing into the shape of a humanoid and it made Trip very worried indeed.

Trip felt out with his mind. "T'Pol, now would be a really good time for you to give me some advice."

"She can't hear you. But I can," said Cutter, his shadowy form becoming more defined by the second. "Telepathy, an interesting development. It doesn't work when you're connected to the Bolian total immersion system. Perhaps Mim Kathar forgot to mention that."

Trip ignored Cutter and tried again. "T'Pol? Come on t'hy'la, I could really use your help." He hoped that Cutter was bluffing about the telepathy issue, but it was looking more likely that he could be telling the truth.

"Have you ever considered that she doesn't love you?" asked Cutter, circling around Trip.

"No, never," said Trip.

"Liar," proclaimed the virus. He was now fully formed and about the same size and shape as Trip himself, but still trailed shadows as he moved. "Your mind is interesting."

"Get out of my head," said Trip, angrily. He concentrated on putting up his mental shields in the hope that it would block out Cutter, but the virus didn't seem to be connecting telepathically. This was a direct electrical connection with his brain and Cutter was a computer virus who seemed to have no trouble tearing down his blocks.

"You invaded my domain. I feel I'm within my rights to poke about in your head while you poke about in my mainframe," said Cutter.

"It isn't your mainframe," said Trip. "It's mine." He looked down at the sphere in his hands. He tried twisting it, as if he could unscrew it like a jar, but that didn't seem to work.

"You have very little experience of total immersion interfaces," said Cutter.

"I'm a fast learner," said Trip, defiantly, but he was missing the link with T'Pol. It felt like he'd lost a piece of himself and he had no idea how to get the anti-virus program running. This was really not going according to plan.

Cutter reached out a shadowy hand and placed it on Trip's arm before he could react and move away. Pain shot out from Cutter's touch and Trip stepped back quickly, letting go of the anti-virus sphere as he did so.

"The brain is just a complicated computer and it doesn't take long to discover how to program it. I can stimulate your pain receptors just as easily as I can read your thoughts as they run across the surface of your mind." Cutter held out the palm of his hand and showed Trip the blue electricity that ran across it. It reminded Trip of the effect that he had first seen when he and T'Pol had been trapped in the science lab. "I don't even need to touch you."

Suddenly blue lightening arced from Cutter's hand and hit Trip with a tremendous force, full in the chest, throwing him back against the wall. It didn't seem to make any difference that this was a virtual world, the impact still hurt. However he was able to shake it off much more easily than he could have in the real world. He pulled himself to his feet, leaning his back against the wall. The shadows swirled for a moment and coalesced back into a figure in front of Trip.

"If you can't even protect yourself, how do you plan to protect this station?" Cutter's voice came from the direction of the figure but it seemed disembodied all the same, echoing eerily in the room.

Cutter once again touched Trip's arm and this time he held on, allowing the sparks to flow across his body as Trip writhed in agony. He tried to pull away, but the shadowy hand had an amazingly strong grip. Eventually Cutter let go and Trip dropped to the floor. His whole body felt bruised and sore.

Trip put a hand on the wall, at first to provide a bit more support for his aching virtual body, but he felt a hum beneath his fingers. He instinctively knew that this was the pulse of the computer and he reached out to touch it in much the same way that he would have reached out for T'Pol. He could hear the information running through the walls and more importantly he could tap into it. This was how it was supposed to work. He spotted the small red sphere of the anti-virus program, once again floating in the air. He managed to stagger to his feet once more, again seeing shadows swirling around that suddenly came together to make Cutter's chosen image.

"You can't win this, so why are you even trying. My mission was for the Bolians. Give them to me and you can all leave."

"You expect me to believe that?" said Trip.

His mind was racing, trying to remember all the mental exercises that T'Pol had taught him. He desperately needed some of her mental abilities now. In particular he was trying to dredge up everything that she'd ever taught him about the art of "defensive telepathy", or what to do about someone trying to access your mind when you didn't want them to. Putting up mental blocks was one way, but there were other more sophisticated techniques that he'd never really expected to need. The only person who ever wanted to access his mind was T'Pol and he'd never had much reason to refuse, nor had she ever tried to push past blocks that he had erected. Blocks didn't seem to be working to well here so he needed a new tactic. He remembered how Cutter had spoken of his thoughts moving across the surface of his mind and he began to recite the trigonometric functions. It had to be something that he didn't have to think about too much, something he knew so well that he could recite it easily while he got on with other things.

"You can believe what you like," said Cutter. "Handing over the Bolian traitors is still your best course of action to avoid the loss of every life on this station and, of course, the ship coming towards us. Even your Admiral Archer can't save you this time."

"If we die then you do too," Trip pointed out, stopping his recitations for a moment.

"It doesn't quite work like that for me," said Cutter. "My original program never left Romulus. I am merely a child of that program, as is my own child aboard Excalibur. If I am able to escape I will return all my knowledge to my parent, but it is no great loss if I am destroyed with this station."

"Great, a suicidal computer virus," muttered Trip, as he resumed reciting and began to assemble the tools that he needed to put the anti-virus program into operation. He isolated systems and changed the data flow of others, just by thinking about it. It was an exhilarating feeling in some ways, to be able to manipulate the computer at such a base level with such ease. He was almost ready to start the anti-virus program, when suddenly Cutter spoke.

"What are you doing?" asked the virus. The tone was one of academic interest rather than threat, as if nothing could harm it. To a certain extent Cutter was right. Trip ignored the question his concentration divided already between surface thoughts of trigonometry and deeper thoughts on how to get the anti-virus program running. Trip reached out for the virus sphere, willing it to come towards him and he was very surprised when it flew into his hand. Before Cutter could do anything, on a desperate hunch, Trip slammed the sphere into the wall, where it dissolved and disappeared. The shadowy figure put its head on one side. "Your faith in your technology is impressive and misplaced. The Bolians' program will not stop me."

For a millisecond, Cutter's body flickered, a bit like the lights when the Bolians had first come aboard.

"I wouldn't bet on that," said Trip. "We made a few changes."

Cutter flickered and then became solid. "Not enough changes. I can still defeat it, but not while I'm wasting time with you. It's time to stop playing games, Captain Tucker, and do away with all impediments to the completion of my mission." The beam of lightning struck Trip and he fell to his knees in agony, desperately hanging on to conscious as he tried to fight past the pain and find a way to attack Cutter. There had to be a way. None of this was real. He just had to find a way to manipulate his environment to his advantage. If he could just be free of the pain for a moment then he might be able to think.

He cried out the name of the one person who could help him. "T'Pol!"

T'Pol heard Reed say "oh hell", a couple of seconds after she saw the start up sequence light up on the reactor. The backup generator kicked in and suddenly the computer had power once more. She had no time to warn Trip, the realisation of what was happening had taken her fractionally too long and all she could do was watch as he suddenly went rigid in the chair. The interface had pulled him into the computer as soon as it had been powered up, something that she had not anticipated.

"What happened? We haven't run the program yet." Archer was looking confused.

"It was Cutter, he turned the power back on before we could. He's giving himself the only advantage that he can, one of surprise," said Reed.

Trip was turning his head and, most likely, looking around at his virtual environment. His fingers were moving, probably navigating his way around as Mim Kathar had told him to.

"Trip? What's going on?" asked Archer.

Trip didn't answer and when T'Pol attempted to use their link she found it missing. That alone was almost enough for her to lose her carefully erected emotional control.

"I don't think that he can hear you, or at least he's unable to process the signals at the moment," said Phlox.

"I cannot reach him either," said T'Pol. Her tone sounded flat, but Archer caught her eye, and she was certain he had some idea how much the total loss of contact with her t'hy'la was affecting her.

"Kathar, you didn't say anything about not being able to talk to him," said Archer.

"It doesn't affect Bolians in this manner and you didn't mention anything about a telepathic connection," said Kathar. "It must be something to do with differences in our biology."

Phlox looked at his scans. "It is possible it could be an artefact of his human make up. I would have preferred to examine the device more thoroughly before we connected Captain Tucker to it, however given the circumstances, there wasn't the time. We shouldn't let him stay in too long, his heart rate is elevated and I'm seeing some changes in his brainwave patterns that shouldn't be allowed to continue."

Archer nodded. "Let me know when you think it's become a problem and we'll pull him out."

"Of course," said Phlox.

Suddenly Trip seemed to be in pain, he twisted in his seat as if trying to get away from something.

"Trip?" asked T'Pol, crouching down by the chair. The lower half of his face, not covered by the headset,

"His blood pressure and heart rate are up," said Phlox.

"He is being attacked by Cutter," said T'Pol. "It is the only explanation." She wasn't getting absolutely nothing across her bond, but it was just impressions. The loss of contact was disturbing her more than it should and she could feel static creeping into the edges of her thoughts in the same way that it had been disrupting their bond. She shoved it back, telling it firmly that now was not the time. She concentrated on the little that she was getting from Trip. Mostly is was confusion and pain. She closed her eyes briefly trying to get deeper, but it wasn't working.

"Can we help him?" asked Archer.

"Maybe," said Reed, going to the computer console, "it depends how much of the system Cutter is controlling and how much of his attention is being taken up with Trip." Lieutenant Armitage was staring intently at screen beside Reed's and seemed to be assessing the damage to the computer's core systems.

Trip had relaxed a little, but he was still breathing quickly. It didn't last long. A moan escaped his lips and he was obviously hurting once more. A battle seemed to be raging in the virtual world and T'Pol had no idea if Trip was winning.

"I can manually repair a few of these systems," said Armitage. "If the virus is still present then it won't last long, but it could be enough to help Captain Tucker out of a tight situation."

"Do it," said T'Pol.

Armitage gave a swift nod and then got down to the task at hand, helped by Lieutenant Reed. T'Pol watched them for a few seconds before turning back to her bond mate. She felt a piercing shaft of pain lance through her brain and she dropped to one knee, using her good arm to prevent her from pitching forward onto the deck. She looked over to Trip to see a dribble of blood begin from his left nostril. It was stark red against his pale skin. Then she heard one word that blocked out every other sound in the room. Trip had telepathically called her name and it had pierced through the interference caused by the interface device.

Archer had moved over to her at some point and was now supporting her. She knew there was only one course of action to be followed. She edged forward across the floor, unable to get up because of the pain transferred to her from Trip. Archer helped her, seeing what she was doing. She stopped when she was crouched at Trip's feet and grabbed his hand in hers. She was careful not to dislodge the sensors that were attached to his fingers, but still made sure that she had a good grip.

She turned to Archer. "What I'm about to do is very dangerous for both of us. Don't try to stop me and don't try to break the connection."

Archer didn't have time to ask what T'Pol was going to do, because she had already begun to recite the mantra.

"My mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts, my heart to your heart, my soul to your soul. Hear me, t'hy'la, and let me in." T'Pol screwed her eyes shut tightly and blocked out everything apart from the small thread of Trip's consciousness that she felt.

"T'Pol!" shouted Phlox in alarm, obviously aware of how dangerous a mind meld was in this situation. She ignored him and continued.

Trip was lying on the virtual floor, wrapped in agony and most likely dying. Cutter wasn't playing this time. Suddenly a bright, white light appeared, formed itself into the shape of T'Pol and knelt down beside him. She took his hand and Trip felt his strength return. He could sense his mental blocks strengthening and T'Pol seemed to be keeping Cutter out of his head. She turned towards the black shadows and her light seemed to make them dissipate until they were dispersed around the room.

"Hi, T'Pol," said Trip, breathlessly. "You have no idea how pleased I am to see you."

"Actually I have a very good idea," said T'Pol. "In order to make a connection with you, I had to perform a mind meld."

Trip just looked at T'Pol for a second. "Wasn't that kind of dangerous?"

"Yes, but it was necessary. I suggest we discuss this later after we have dealt with the immediate threat. I was only able to disrupt the virus's abilities temporarily."

As T'Pol finished her sentence, Cutter's shadows began to creep back together again.

"Want to defeat the bad guy?" asked Trip, with a smile.

"Always," replied T'Pol. She helped Trip to his feet. "I assume you have a plan."

"Whilst he was busy trying to kill me, I did a bit of poking about in his head. Well, his code, anyway. I found a couple of weak points and I tweaked the anti-virus program. It should work now, but we'll need to keep him occupied."

T'Pol nodded. "We should be able to turn his own weapons against him."

Cutter was back together again. It was still a shadowy figure, but definitely not so affected by T'Pol's light now. It was then that a large, red dog, who seemed to be made of a shiny, transparent material, emerged from the wall to their left. It looked around, seeming to sniff the non-existent air, and turned it's red eyes towards Cutter. The dog barked once, then pounced, and was thrown back by the sudden appearance of some sort of energy shield around Cutter. He wasn't exactly sure why the anti-virus program should appear as a dog but it did seem appropriate in some ways, and he wouldn't have wanted to meet this dog on a dark night if he was computer virus.

"I think we need that distraction now, T'Pol. The anti-virus program just found Cutter's core programming." said Trip. Before the words had left his head, T'Pol was transmitting instructions for what they needed to do. He composed his mind and did what she suggested, he threw back at Cutter all the hurt and pain that he had caused him in the form of electrical signals. White light shot out from his hand, the visual embodiment of his actions, and beside him T'Pol was doing the same. The light ate through the energy shield, piece by piece. It was enough to overload Cutter's processes and allow the anti-virus program time to pounce once more. The dog bit down on the rough position of Cutter's neck and the shadows writhed and swirled.

Cutter flickered for a few seconds as it struggled. It flickered again for longer and then it let out an electronic wail, the like of which Trip had never heard before. It was pitiful and pained, whilst still managing to be horribly menacing. It filled the space that they were in and Trip covered his ears, abandoning his attempts to continue to distract Cutter. He noticed that T'Pol was doing the same, it was probably worse for her sensitive Vulcan ears. He turned towards her, pulling her into the wall away from Cutter. He suspected that the virus was about to end its program in a spectacular fashion. They both sheltered against the wall, more from force of habit than from any real fear that this could harm them.

The scream reached a crescendo and then there was an explosion of darkness, coating the room with black, as the shadows were more like paint. Then they receded, disintegrating and disappearing as everything began to brighten. Trip turned around to see no sign of Cutter and a very smug looking dog sat in the middle of the room, wagging its virtual tail.

"Good dog," said Trip. The dog wagged its tail even faster, and Trip did a double take. "Did we just create an intelligent anti-virus program?"

"Perhaps a very limited type of intelligence," said T'Pol.

Trip went over to scratch the dog behind the ears, which it seemed to respond to. "I hope you're house trained."

The dog gave a short bark, and Trip gave it a long look. Had it just answered him indignantly or was it his imagination? He shook his head. He'd been in here too long, inanimate objects were seeming to take on a life of their own, it was time to go.

"I'll break the connection through the mind meld first. I wouldn't want it to interfere with you when you exit the computer. I have no idea how a mind meld might affect that process," said T'Pol. Trip noticed that she seemed to have picked up a slight Southern twang to her voice, and it made him smile.

"I don't think anyone has ever melded with someone who was using a computer interface like this one," said Trip.

T'Pol's eyes twinkled with humour. "I was not aware that you knew the history of mind melding so well, but I suspect that you are correct and this was one of my reasons for suggesting it."

"My thoughts to your thoughts, remember?" replied Trip. "I know what you know."

"Of course," replied T'Pol. "I was not sure how well the meld would work. I do seem to be pickin' up some of your traits however."

"Did you just say "pickin'"?"

T'Pol looked a little disturbed. "I should most definitely end the meld before I pick up any more of your less desirable personality traits."

"Hey," said Trip, indignantly.

"I will see you in the real world, t'hy'la," said T'Pol, and she faded into transparency, then vanished.

The dog put its head on one side, and gave a whine. "Don't worry she's just gone to wait for me. I'm sure she'll come back and talk to you another day. It's time for me to go too."

He closed his eyes and concentrated on exiting. When he opened them again it was to the inside of the headset, which was now dark, and a killer headache. He put up a hand to remove the headset and realised that it was shaking. It was a few moments after that he became aware that he felt like something the cat had dragged in, and probably played with a bit after that just for good measure. He pushed the headset up and blinked at the bright light. It made him feel queasy and his stomach began to rebel. Someone shoved a bowl into his hands, for which he was very grateful, this was going to be embarrassing enough without him puking his guts up on the floor. He deposited the contents of his stomach, which turned out to be very little, in the bowl and followed that up with a series of dry heaves. Another unidentified person put a cup of water in his hand once he seemed to be done and he rinsed his mouth out.

"Feeling better?" asked Archer. His tone was concerned but not overly so.

"Not really," said Trip. "I've got the headache to end all headaches, but give it a moment and I'm sure I'll be fine."

"I think you should let me be the judge of that, Captain Tucker," said Phlox, who had just snapped his scanner shut and was preparing a hypospray. He felt the cold of the medication against his neck, not even bothering to ask what it was. He trusted the doctor to give him something that would make him feel better.

He was finally able to look at the ring of concerned faces around him. T'Pol sat on the floor at his feet, her legs crossed and a smile on her face. He looked back at T'Pol. "You're smiling," he said, completely surprised.

"That's because I'm damn glad that you're okay," T'Pol drawled, and then she uncrossed her legs, got to her feet, reached towards him with her good arm and kissed him passionately. He could hear the shocked intakes of breath around him, as he kissed her back. They eventually had to come up for air and broke apart.

Trip smiled back at T'Pol. "You do realise what you've just done? As much as I enjoyed it, I'm not sure that demonstrating your affection for me in the middle of Main Engineering was the best idea."

"This is very touching," said Reed, "but we do have a rather more pressing concern."

Trip nodded. "Yeah, the virus on Excalibur. The copy on board Excalibur is like a child of the one here. The program we created should be able to defeat it pretty easily. Just make a copy of Fido and upload it to Excalibur's computers."

"Fido?" asked Reed.

"Your program sort of took on a life of its own. We've got ourselves a virus watchdog in the system, and I mean an actual dog. I guess it was looking for a form to take and my subconscious sort of decided that it was a guard dog. The heuristic algorithms that we took from your simulation, combined with the Bolian anti-virus program have given it some measure of basic intelligence."

"Now you're sounding like T'Pol," said Archer.

"It is possible for mind melds to have that effect," said Trip. He noticed that the inflections of his answer were definitely T'Pol's.

"It should fade with time," added T'Pol. Her brief smile had disappeared. "My apologies for my earlier actions. They were inappropriate for the commander of this station."

"Apology accepted, Captain. I think we all understand that mind melds complicate things. Perhaps you and Phlox should take Captain Tucker to sickbay. I think we can handle things from here." Admiral Archer indicated the computer.

T'Pol gave the Admiral a tilt of her head in acknowledgement.

"I said I was fine," said Trip.

"Yeah, and we all know what that means. Get out of here, Trip." Archer didn't seem to be in the mood for Trip pulling his usual tricks to get out of going to sickbay, so he gave in.

Trip sighed. "Come on then, the sooner I go, the sooner I can get some sleep."

Deep Space One had lost the air of menace that had been all pervading while Cutter had been in control. With the lights back on, it was suddenly their home again. Engineering were going to have their work cut out for them, but at least they'd dispensed with the threat and could now get on with the repair work.

Sickbay was once again brightly lit and a couple of the beds were curtained off and occupied with sleeping individuals. Mostly the room was empty however and things were quiet. Phlox helped Trip onto a biobed near the door, since Trip was rather shaky on his feet and a bit light sensitive. He lay down gratefully and draped an arm over his eyes to block out as much light as possible. Thankfully Phlox noticed and turned the lights down in his corner of sickbay.

"Thanks, Doc," said Trip.

"You're welcome, Captain," replied Phlox, as he examined the readings from the scanner once again.

"While we are here, I would like to discuss another matter with you, Doctor," said T'Pol.

Phlox closed his scanner. "Captain Tucker seems to be responding well to treatment, so I don't see why not. What is it, T'Pol? Would you prefer to discuss it in private?"

"This concerns Trip as well," said T'Pol. She looked a little uncomfortable for a moment and then obviously decided that she should get to the point. "We have been having difficulties with our telepathic communication."

Phlox frowned. "What sort of difficulties?"

"Trip will have to give you his own experiences but for me it has manifested as a difficulty in establishing contact and in maintaining that contact. It has been very distracting and my normal mental control has slipped."

"She's been worried, Doc," said Trip. Vulcans weren't supposed to worry because that wouldn't be logical but when it was something like this it was hard not to. T'Pol would probably never have said that she had been worried. "I guess you could say it's like getting a bad connection on a com link. I try to contact T'Pol and it takes more work or I can't hear her at all. Except it sort of seems to get better, especially when we're in trouble and really need the bond link. All this stuff with Cutter, and we didn't have a flicker once, except when I was actually plugged into the computer."

"How long has this problem been going on?" asked Phlox.

"A few days," said Trip.

"Four days," corrected T'Pol.

"You should have told me the moment that you experienced trouble. My research on Vulcan bonds, such as I was able to do, suggests that problems with a bond can be an early indicator of several types of illness in one or other of the bond mates. In fact, it can indicate other conditions as well," said Phlox, a thoughtful look on his face. He opened his scanner once more and ran it over T'Pol.

"Just as I suspected," Phlox looked back at T'Pol. "To be honest, I'm surprised that you haven't guessed yourself what is causing the problems. The symptoms are quite common in bonded Vulcans."

Trip pushed himself onto his side, looked rather confused. "Doc, what are you talking about? What's wrong with T'Pol?"

Phlox smiled broadly. "Nothing is wrong. T'Pol is pregnant. Let me be the first to offer you my congratulations."

"That is not possible," said T'Pol.

Trip's mouth had dropped open and he was just staring at Phlox. He shook his head as if to shake himself out of his daze. He regretted the action immediately, but soldiered on with what he had been about to say. "Now wait a minute, you told us that if we wanted kids then it would require genetic manipulation to create a viable embryo. T'Pol's right. It's just not possible."

"I assure you, it is and T'Pol is indeed pregnant. Looking at this scan, I would estimate about eight weeks. The disturbance to your telepathic link is an immature telepathic mind, your baby. As you know, Vulcans are touch telepaths. I believe once the baby is born, then your bond will return to normal."

There was silence for a moment as everyone concerned took in the news.

"You're absolutely sure?" asked Trip, still unwilling to believe that such a miracle could have happened.

"See for yourself, Captain." Phlox transferred one of T'Pol's scan images from the handheld device onto one of the big screens and it clearly showed a tiny embryo.

T'Pol was looking the closest to shocked that Trip had ever seen. Her mind was a chaos of questions. It probably wasn't helped by the pieces of his own personality that remained resonating in her head.

"But how could this have happened?" asked T'Pol.

"Erm, t'hy'la, I would have thought that was pretty obvious. We haven't exactly been taking precautions because this wasn't supposed to be possible."

T'Pol now positively glared at Trip. "I am aware of how children are produced. I am asking the Doctor if he has a scientific explanation for how we have been able to create a child when all medical science up until this point has suggested that intervention would be required." Her mind had also given him the mental equivalent of a snarl so he decided to let Phlox answer.

"It is a good question and one that I have some trouble answering. However, I have noticed some small changes in Captain Tucker's DNA ever since you performed the healing link."

Trip just stared at Phlox. "What? You're just telling me this now?"

"The changes are very small and I hadn't thought it worth mentioning, to be honest with you. It is my belief that when T'Pol used your bond to heal you, she imprinted some of her DNA on you. I suppose that subconsciously she was repairing your body using her own Vulcan blueprint, if you will. It really is a fascinating insight into the Vulcan marriage bond…." Phlox seemed to notice that neither Trip nor T'Pol were looking particularly happy or fascinated in his extended enthusiasm for research into Vulcan mental abilities. "Anyway, it seems to have been enough that you were able to conceive a child. Admittedly it is still an amazing occurrence and one that could be considered a chance in a million."

Trip just stared at the image on the screen, and slowly a smile spread across his face. "I'll be damned. We're going to be parents, T'Pol."

"Yes, ashayam, we are," said T'Pol, thoughtfully, and Trip could detect the current of happiness that was underneath her thoughts. She was just as pleased as he was.

Trip only stayed in sickbay a few hours. It was long enough for he and T'Pol to begin to get to grips with the idea that they were going to have a baby and for Trip to start to feel more like himself. Unfortunately their good news meant that they were stuck with a slightly malfunctioning telepathic link until the baby was born. Phlox had also mentioned a few other side effects that Vulcan women experienced during pregnancy, mainly due to changing hormones, one of which could explain T'Pol's loss of concentration whilst he had been in the shower. In fact the pregnancy would also seem to explain T'Pol's problems sleeping, so that was another mystery solved.

T'Pol persuaded Trip to go back to their quarters to get some sleep, while she returned to C and C. Trip had argued that T'Pol should rest as well, but she had pointed out that she was still in command of Deep Space One and had responsibilities. She didn't intend to shirk her responsibilities just because she happened to be pregnant. Trip quashed his instinct to protect her, and made do with her promise that she would be back as soon as she had dealt with the immediate aftermath of Cutter's infiltration of their systems. The anti-virus program, or Fido as it was now being called, had made short work of the copy of Cutter on board Excalibur and the ship was now safely docked once more at Deep Space One. Trip hated to think of how much of their repair work had been undone, and Reed had raced off to find out and check on his crewmates.

Athena had gone to investigate the ship that their sensors had detected. They had found the remains of a Bolian ship, which had been destroyed by an explosion and a considerable amount of cloaking radiation that had a signature very similar to the one given off Romulan technology. From that they had concluded that there had been a Bolian ship there, but one that was equipped with a Romulan cloaking device. It backed up Kathar's claim of a Bolian alliance with the Romulans. T'Pol suspected that they had been sent to monitor Cutter's progress and retrieve the virus once it was successful, but it seemed that no confirmation would be forthcoming now.

Trip had just finished showering and getting ready for bed when the door bell rang. He threw on a t-shirt and opened the door to see Admiral Archer.

"Hi Trip," said Archer. "Sorry to come by unannounced but I wanted to say goodbye before I go."

Trip ran a tired hand through his slightly damp hair. "You're leaving already?"

"The Bolians are a bit anxious to leave Deep Space One. Athena's going to be taking them back to Starbase Two with me and hopefully we'll be able to thrash out the details of their defection." Archer was looking almost as tired as he felt.

"Come on in. I think I've got a bottle of scotch around here somewhere," said Trip, turning to go back into his quarters to find some glasses and the bottle. "T'Pol wouldn't approve, but she's busy in C and C."

Archer sat down in one of the dark blue armchairs that sat in the living area of Trip and T'Pol's quarters. "I guess she'll let you off just his once. Did you get over your differences about using the computer interface?"

"Ah, I think she sort of forgot about it when Phlox…" Trip trailed off as he poured two glasses of scotch and brought one over for Archer.

"When Phlox what?" asked Archer, accepting the glass from his friend.

T'Pol's voice resonated in Trip's head. "You can tell him. He is our friend and we will be needing his services as "best man" shortly."

Trip couldn't help but smile at T'Pol's words as he replied. "This isn't the middle ages, we don't have to get married just because you're pregnant."

"No, but there is no sense in delaying now that the entire crew are aware of our relationship."

"Good point," said Trip. He took a sip of his scotch and then took a deep breath. He looked up at Archer and spoke aloud, unable to contain his grin any longer. "T'Pol's pregnant."

Archer's glass stopped on it's journey to his mouth. He grinned back at Trip. "Congratulations, that's fabulous news. I'm really happy for you, Trip. We should be celebrating."

"Hold your horses. For the moment we're going to keep it quiet. We need a bit of time for it to sink in, and think through all the consequences. T'Pol's going to need maternity leave, then there's where we go once the baby's born, and probably a whole load of other stuff too." Trip took a large mouthful of scotch from his glass.

"Sounds wise. I don't need to tell you that there are people back on Earth who won't be too happy about the idea of a Vulcan and a Human having a child together, but then, we're a long way from Earth out here."

Trip's good mood evaporated. The memory of Elizabeth, the baby that Terra Prime had created using his and T'Pol's DNA, had leapt to the front of his mind. They were about to bring another child into a society that hadn't moved on far from that point. Terra Prime still existed in some form, although not as powerful as it had once been. He wasn't sure that the Vulcans would welcome the news either.

"We knew having kids wasn't going to be easy for us," said Trip.

Archer seemed to understand where Trip's thoughts had taken him. "We've got nine months to work things out. I'll help you in any way I can."

"Thanks Admiral, I may well hold you to that. Although actually you've got about ten months, Vulcan pregnancies are twelve months long and T'Pol's already eight weeks gone. Of course that assumes it'll be the same for a baby that's half human."

"I'm sure Phlox will take good care of both mother and baby," said Archer, finally taking a sip from his own glass.

"I hope so because I don't have a damn clue what to expect. I've got no idea about human babies, so god knows how I'm going to cope with one that's half Vulcan."

"You're going to be a great father, Trip," said Archer, sincerely. "You and T'Pol can pretty much handle anything together. You'll be fine."

"Yeah, I guess we will," he said, and in his head he could hear T'Pol's agreement. Life was going to be getting interesting, and he'd have T'Pol there to share it with.

The End

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