And the conclusion...
The screen on Vehlen's padd lit up and Vehlen's voice came out of it, speaking in English. "I told you I had my limits. I strongly suggest that you get off the ship, if you're still on it, before it blows up. You have less than five minutes." After a moment's hesitation, he added, "Good luck."
"You bastard," Kendra muttered, even as part of her admired him for getting the job done.
Ikeda had her communicator out, but a transporter beam took them both before she could say anything. She and Kendra materialized in Jupiter Station's main transporter room, along with various other dazed members of the intelligence team. At the station, it was a Starfleet alarm that was blaring.
"Where are Trip and T'Pol?" Kendra demanded.
The young officer in engineering stripes turned to her. "Commander Tucker is trying to stop the auto-destruct sequence."
Commander Garcia said, "And Commander T'Pol is moving the ship further away from the station. Don't worry, we should be able to get them both in good time, if we have to." He turned to the engineer. "How the hell did this happen? Did you touch something?"
"No sir, I swear!"
Ikeda exchanged a haggard look with Kendra. She said, "I tried to upload one of the Romulan's padds to our computer. Apparently that triggered something."
She handed it over to him. Kendra could see files flashing rapidly across the screen. Garcia cursed. "It's reformatting itself. This guy was pretty thorough. I hope he didn't find a way to blow the whole station up, too."
"He wouldn't do that," Kendra said.
Garcia frowned at her but said nothing.
"What about the bodies?" Ikeda said, and turned to the transporter tech. "Can you beam out any of the bodies in the cargo stasis unit?"
The transporter tech looked bewildered. "What am I supposed to lock onto?"
Garcia sighed and shook his head. "That entire cargo area was shielded by sensor baffles. I want you to stay locked on Tucker and T'Pol." He tabbed the comm. "Commanders, status?"
"Momentum will continue to carry the ship. I suggest you beam us back now," T'Pol said, but Tucker interrupted, "Give me a little more time!"
In the background, the alarm was still blaring. Kendra still had Vehlen's translator in her hand, and it was warning, "Auto-destruct in two minutes thirty-two seconds ... WARNING ... Auto-destruct in two minutes thirty seconds ..."
"Get T'Pol," Garcia said, and she soon materialized. "Where's Commander Tucker?" she said.
Garcia lifted his hand in a 'wait' signal. "Status, Commander Tucker?"
Trip's voice was frantic. "There's got to be a way to stop this. I don't know why the master code isn't working. I've pulled every connection I can get my hands on... Maybe I should just try to disengage the cloak, somehow... You could try to beam it to a safe location..."
"And if it's booby-trapped?" Kendra said. It seemed to her that Vehlen's warnings had an unfortunate tendency to be accurate.
Trip didn't respond. T'Pol shared an alarmed look with Kendra and then closed her eyes, though whether it was in despair or frustration or simply to focus, Kendra couldn't tell.
Over the open comm channel, Kendra's translator picked up "WARNING... Auto-destruct in one minute sixteen seconds ... WARNING ... Auto-destruct in one minute fourteen seconds."
Garcia said, "Commander, I'm not sure we really have a safe location. Not if that thing could blow up."
T'Pol hovered over the comm. "Trip," she said.
"I still have a minute!" he responded.
T'Pol clenched her jaw and waited as the countdown moved inexorably down to thirty seconds and beyond. Suddenly a different alarm started blaring in the background and small explosions could be heard. Trip said, "Damn it!"
T'Pol yelled, "BEAM HIM UP NOW!"
A moment later Tucker materialized, still all in one piece, and they turned to the view screen. The short nacelles on either side of the cargo ship were beginning to dance with energy. Ten seconds later, a white-hot explosion ripped through the entire ship, blowing it to bits. Moments later, the station bucked gently.
Garcia was the first one to speak. "I should have known it was too good to be true."
Trip scowled at Kendra. "I guess he really didn't want us to get our hands on that cloaking device." Then he turned to T'Pol and said, "I had to try."
T'Pol stared back at him, her eyes wide.
He gave her an odd little smile and lifted two fingers to brush the back of her hand so quickly that Kendra wasn't sure anybody else in the room even noticed it, or would think anything of it if they had.
"Hopefully that translation device will still be helpful," Ikeda said, and held her hand out to Kendra. She gave it up without protest.
It was over.
x x x
Kendra spent the next month in the rabbit hole that was Starfleet Medical, being poked and prodded and counseled and debriefed and prescribed by the tiny group of doctors who had been cleared to discuss her adventures with her. Every once in awhile, a new group would show up, either from Starfleet Intelligence or from Internal Affairs, which indeed wanted to know more about what had happened to the Romulan crew.
She wasn't under arrest, but it was clear to her that they expected her to stay on base, keep quiet, and cooperate.
She had seen Trip and T'Pol occasionally during the first week. Trip's face was often stormy, and T'Pol also looked tense. Kendra was consulted exhaustively about Trip's injuries and conduct; clearly, there were concerns. Then the two of them disappeared. She didn't try to initiate any communication. She feared Internal Affairs might think they were conspiring, but no charges had been brought.
On the morning she woke to a request for an afternoon meeting from Commander Tucker, she tried not to feel she was getting away with something by rearranging her schedule to see him.
Kendra was pleased to see that T'Pol was with him. They both looked much better and were fully groomed and uniformed, so apparently they had been cleared for active duty. Maybe nothing was going to happen, then. Maybe it was just as T'Pol had said.
"How's debriefing going?" Tucker asked.
"Awful," Kendra said. "They think I'm nuts. Mating bonds don't hold a lot of weight in modern Human psychiatry. So clearly I'm, you know, suffering from some combination of Stockholm Syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, magnified by unresolved grief over my family's loss. Which makes me an imminent danger to any starship crew unlucky enough to have me." She knew she sounded bitter: she was bitter.
"Perhaps I could ask a Vulcan physician to speak to them," T'Pol said.
"I already suggested that. I think they don't want to have to explain to any Vulcan physician why his or her knowledge would be the least bit relevant."
T'Pol turned to Trip. "Perhaps we should talk more to them about the nature of mating bonds."
He grimaced. "I can't say I fancy that idea. I wouldn't worry too much about it, Kendra. They can't afford to hold back even halfway qualified people right now. Gardner will yell at somebody and they'll clear you for duty. You'll probably get posted back out there sooner than you want to be."
"And you two?" Kendra asked. She turned to Trip. "Are you now in charge of getting the fleet spaceworthy?"
Tucker and T'Pol exchanged glances. "That was never Starfleet's plan," Trip said. "Admiral Jefferies is in charge of that effort. T'Pol and I each have our own ships to get manned and ready. We get our official commissions next week." He frowned. "Of course, they're not the same ships we would have gotten if we'd been available earlier."
"Those ships have already been lost," T'Pol observed. "Ironically, our captivity may have saved our lives."
Trip said, "Far too many good people have been lost. We need to get out there, already, and stop those bastards."
Kendra said, "Aren't you concerned about not serving together?"
Tucker said, "Yes, of course. But the needs of the many..."
"...outweigh the needs of the few, or the one -- or the two," T'Pol finished.
"You're not planning to take inaprovaline for the duration?" Kendra asked Trip, a little aghast at the thought.
"No, no," Tucker said. "You're the one who said maybe a full bond would be better than an incomplete one. Apparently we completed the hell out of it." He smiled affectionately at T'Pol, whose eyebrow went up in silent commentary at his way of putting it.
"Most bond mates function quite well even at vast distances," she said. "We have experimented and now believe we can do the same."
"Oh, good," Kendra said. She wondered how they'd found time to do that. But then, she'd been fully submerged in debriefing hell.
T'Pol said, "Doctor Gonzalez, my ship will need a physician. If you are returned to active duty within the next few weeks..."
"Hey!" Tucker said.
"You are free to attempt to recruit her as well," T'Pol said, a touch frostily.
"Well, I'd love to serve with either of you, if they'll let me." Privately, she knew she would choose T'Pol -- if only because she suspected the Vulcan could use a friend more than Tucker, who made them more easily.
She frowned as a new thought occurred to her. "So Vehlen was wrong about Starfleet's war plan. Or did they change it?"
T'Pol looked uncomfortably at Tucker, then said, "Lieutenant Remley was not who Vehlen thought she was. In fact, she was an experienced intelligence officer. She had determined early on that Vehlen was not human, but she erroneously believed he was a Vulcan agent. Starfleet fed him false information in the hope they could follow the trail back to elements in the Vulcan government who had been associated with V'Las. And it did help them identify some operatives who we now realize were Romulan. Unfortunately, they committed suicide before they could be interrogated." She added, "Needless to say, all that information is classified."
Kendra nodded. "Yes, of course." She was glad these two trusted her, even if Starfleet Medical didn't.
So Remley hadn't just been some pathetic victim of Vehlen's machinations. "I'm glad he never found out," she murmured. "He would have hated to be wrong." Indeed, she doubted he would have helped them at all, if he thought he'd given his superiors inaccurate information.
"Actually, there's a reason we came to see you," Tucker said. He looked at T'Pol.
"Trip has asked me to marry him," T'Pol said. "And I have accepted."
Kendra grinned. "That's wonderful! Congratulations to both of you."
"Enterprise is too far away for any of our friends there to make it," Tucker said. "My parents are coming, but T'Pol doesn't have any family here. We were hoping you could come and be our witness."
"I'd be honored," Kendra said. "When is it?"
"Tomorrow at 1000."
Kendra's jaw dropped. "You're not wasting any time."
T'Pol looked perplexed. "Why would we wish to?"
Trip grinned. "Vulcans don't take honeymoons, but I want a few days off with my bride. So... it's tomorrow morning. At the chapel on base. Nothing fancy, we're just getting it done."
"I'm sure I can rearrange my sessions. I take it Starfleet knows?"
He nodded. "Yeah. But they're going to keep it quiet. If the identity of the Romulans ever gets out to the general public, it could get a little dicey for me and T'Pol, not to mention Earth/Vulcan relations. I'm sure they've already emphasized that over and over to you." He scowled. "I can't even tell my parents the real story. They just think we were captured by Orions. And I can't go into any detail about that, either -- not that I'd want to." His face clouded.
Kendra nodded. "Yeah, I know the feeling."
They all looked at each other for a moment, as if conscious that they were each other's only witnesses to all that had happened. It occurred to Kendra that they might never speak of it again, even amongst themselves.
But they would know.
And that was something.
x x x
The next morning Kendra stood in Starfleet Chapel in one of the rectangles of light pouring in through the great bank of windows that seemed to march up to the stars, and watched as Charles Tucker III of Earth and T'Pol of Vulcan exchanged the simple words that would legally bind each to the other as husband and wife.
They were all three in uniform, as were the Starfleet chaplain and Admiral Gardner, who apparently had invited himself to stand at Tucker's side. Fortunately, Trip didn't seem to mind the last-minute addition to the wedding party. He looked tall and resolute and serious, every inch the ship's captain he was about to become. T'Pol was her usual impassive self, except that her eyes, when they met Trip's, softened into something that Kendra guessed might be gratitude, or relief.
His parents sat in the front row of the nearly-empty chapel, looking solemn and anxious. It was understandable, Kendra thought: their son had just returned from one horrific adventure and would soon head out into a terrible war. And they had already lost a daughter. But she was pleased to see them smile broadly when the chaplain pronounced the couple man and wife, and they both looked appropriately teary-eyed when T'Pol indulged their son in a quick public kiss. Kendra decided they would cope just fine with a Vulcan daughter-in-law.
After the ceremony Gardner shook her hand and said, "I've heard good things about you, Doctor Gonzalez. I suspect you'll have your choice of postings soon -- that is, if you really want to get back out there after what you've been through."
"I do, sir," she said. "I want to do my part."
"Then your ... relationship ... with Mr. Vehlen hasn't lessened your interest in fighting the enemy?"
"No sir. I think I understand better than most that we must fight them."
"I know he told you that he thought we would lose this war," Gardner said, cocking his head. "What do you think?"
"I think Vehlen was wrong about many things."
"Yet you don't harbor any hatred for him." Gardner was clearly doing his own quick appraisal of her fitness for duty.
"No sir," Kendra said. "I eventually came to understand that he was a good man by his own standards. But I would never want to live under Romulan rule. We must not allow that to happen. It would not be good for us -- or for them."
"For them?" Gardner said, clearly a little taken aback. "You care about them?"
Kendra grimaced, thinking of the smiling faces of Vehlen's dead children. "To the extent that he could not have been the only man like him in the Romulan Empire, then yes, I care about them. And to the extent that I care about the welfare of any sentient beings, then yes, I care about them. But don't worry, Admiral. My loyalty lies with Earth, and Starfleet."
Gardner nodded approvingly. "Well, then. I'm sure they'll have a few more hoops for you to jump through over at Starfleet Medical, but frankly, I think you can expect to be cleared for duty very soon. Right now we need any capable hands we can get -- and I would consider yours far more battle-proven than most."
"Thank you, sir."
After all the requisite hugs and congratulations had been exchanged, Kendra excused herself so she could go back to jumping hoops. It was comforting to think there was actually some point to it now.
She slogged up the path toward the Starfleet Medical building. After relatively little time in space, her body was finding San Francisco's hills much fiercer than usual. She stopped to catch her breath and looked back down just as Charles Tucker II snapped a photograph of his son and his wife standing side by side in front of the chapel.
Trip and T'Pol looked so small and vulnerable standing there in the larger landscape that Kendra felt a chill of foreboding. Their respective ships would be infinitely tinier in the vast expanse of a brutal interstellar war.
She dearly hoped these two would survive the war and get to live happily ever after, bickering and debating and fighting and coming together again in that profoundly electric way of theirs.
Beyond them, San Francisco Bay sparkled under a blue sky studded with clouds. What was it Vehlen had said? "Such a lovely planet. All that open water."
She sighed, suddenly keenly missing him -- and Ruben and Hector and Gabriela -- so profoundly that her eyes filled with tears. She was alone in the universe.
But Earth was still here, and all of humanity.
So she turned back to the path, and went on.
Thanks for coming along with me on this long, freaky ride. A review at this point would be much appreciated.
Thanks again to my betas Escriba and especially JustTripn. I should also express my gratitude to some web sites consulted in creating this story (which I won't bother to give you links to, since this site will strip them out):The Star Trek Wiki - Memory Alpha, Central Institute of the Romulan Language, and Chrissie's Transcripts Site.