11. Casus Belli

Authors Note:

This story picks up 4 months after the Events of "The Betazed Mission".It's not meant for minors as mildly erotic content is part of it.

Trip nails together Shran's first Starfleet ship and our favorite couple makes a short comeback in space, when it is time for the trial runs. Not everybody is awfully happy with that. The Romulans certainly hate the idea.

Another big thank you goes to aadarshinah for proof-reading this behemoth of a chapter. Sifting her way though chapters 10 and 11, she has beta'ed no less than 47 pages of writing for me today. You go girl!

Act 1 : Flashback

A lot had happened, since Trip and T'Pol had returned from Vulcan, after learning just how taxing an experience it can be to be invited to a wedding. As T'Pol had predicted, the relations between Vulcans and Betazoids had undergone a substantial change. Embassies for both species had been established on each other's home worlds and Betazoid scientists had provided valuable material about telepathy, giving new insights into mating and parental bonds of Vulcans. The pointy-eared guys had provided help with ship technology to make Betazoid cruisers capable of standing a chance against more substantial threats. The Betazoids were a peaceful race, but the threat from the Romulans grew by the day and a step up in ship weaponry was unavoidable.

Trip and T'Pol learned the hard way that adopting T'Pau was not all positive, especially for Trip. Like any human father would, Trip started missing his little girl badly after several weeks and it wasn't like he could just jump into a hover car and drive over either. His little girl was on a different planet and forced to play big boss all day. The conflict with increasingly aggressive Romulans that was almost inevitably coming made any thought of leaving the post for a visit to Earth impossible.

The bond between them was maturing well. T'Pol was needy as ever and Trip had no ideas of becoming celibate either, so consummation was a frequent event. T'Pol had become very fond of human mating practices; she had in fact started to get quite experimental, since the human way gave her a much better payload of emotional pleasure than the Vulcan, effective and quick style. Trip had made it customary though, to once in a while let her stew for 4 or 5 nights before awarding her a night long seeing-to of sometimes double digit bouts of Vulcan style speed mating, full program with one or two trophy bites. He was not only hell bent on making sure that she didn't become too un-Vulcan, he also wanted to prepare himself for the speed mating marathon that would be her pon farr.

Two months after leaving Vulcan, Trip had started to receive his first crude indications of their bond. It was very confusing at first, since it took him some time to learn how to filter out his from her emotions. He was pretty much in the same position T'Pol had been in when they married. Only strong emotions could wash over to him, but it was an encouraging start and it lessened T'Pol's worries that he could never really experience their bond because of his missing natural telepathy.

Betazoid scientists had checked out Trip and started a joint human/Vulcan/Betazoid research program on human reactions to telepathy. They considered it a good will gesture for Trip and T'Pol's attendance at the wedding, despite their difficulties. First results had shown that the human brain's ability to adapt or train certain regions to take over from injured regions,made it possible to make a human at least minimally receptive to telepathy. Betazoid scientists had been working on a training program that would allow telepaths to reach certain human brain regions and stimulate adaption. That program had been initiated on Roxanna's orders. No doubt her husband Travis played a role in her wish as well.

Work on Challenger had been progressing very well, especially since T'Pau had ordered 10 of Vulcan's finest engineers, including Professor Solan, to haul their behinds over to Earth and help the humans with both expertise and logic. This move was very welcomed by Starfleet Command and the Vulcans, who had a very high respect for the human who helped their leader through a very tricky mission, bounced off many ideas on improving the engines even further. An agreement between Earth and Vulcan made Challenger the first human ship to be equipped with Vulcan shielding technology.

The true nature of T'Pau's connection to Trip was not common knowledge on Vulcan or Earth, as both thought it was not anyone's business, but news had gotten around on both worlds that he had volunteered for that rather touchy business on Betazed for her sake and this had earned him a lot of respect on both worlds. T'Pau had offered to give him access to their Warp 7 design data, but he had declined. He wanted Earth to achieve that on their own, rather than being granted the leap through personal relations. She had accepted his views, but extracted the promise that he would accept it if any indication was ever found that the Romulans would be capable of more than warp 5. The encounters that had been so far, had never shown them faster than Warp 4.5.

The coalition between Andoria, Coridan, Earth, Tellar, Vulcan and Betazed was working well. Joint patrols were flown, mostly by Andoria and Vulcan. The Tellarites had handed over two space docks to Earth to churn out more NX-class ships. They also helped build a new space dock near Saturn. Saturn station was planned to start building the new prototype Warp 6 Constitution-class ship. Trip was scheduled to switch to that project once Challenger would be handed over to the blue guy. If everything went according to schedule, he would be test driving Challenger as temporary Captain, with a very familiar Vulcan first officer, before Challenger would be officially commissioned and put under the command of Shran. She was about to become the first Starfleet ship to be commanded by an alien officer permanently.

Before that, a Coalition conference was planned on Earth where Vulcan and Andoria would present their findings from their joint patrols and a strategy against the increasingly aggressive Romulans was to be worked out. Roughly 1 month after that the test flights of Challenger were to begin.

Act 2. Bayside Manor/Banya

Trip came home from the space dock about half-an-hour late, since on his way out, Solan, had presented him with a solution for the installation of the new type of plasma injectors. They had been stumped by that problem for almost a week and, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, he took the extra time to review Solan's proposal and happily gave the orders to go through with it.

As he closed the front door, he noticed with a gasp that his wife nervously paced the dining room, stark naked. Darn, 6 days was definitely one too many! he thought. Seeing her in that state was definitely a 'no grope' warning. Not too long ago, before a night of Vulcan-style fun, he had groped her from behind, while she was shedding the last piece of clothing, ready to set out for their love nest out on the beach. Feeling the long yearned for contact, she had thrown him forcefully on the table, crushing it in the process and had mounted him relentlessly on the spot for the rest of the night, leaving her mate with the embarrassing task of explaining wooden splinters in his back and no less than 13 bite marks on his shoulders and biceps to a Starfleet medic the next day.

If she was up-and-ready then, seeing her pacing the room stark naked, skin in Orion mode, caused him to make a mental note, never again to let her stew 6 days before a Vulcan-style date. Knowing what was at stake, he practically jumped out of every piece of clothing and grabbed their 'Vulcan mating toolbox', a bag that contained a Tri-ox hypospray among other essential tools for a Vulcan date, and quickly followed his panting wife as she darted out of the terrace door. It would be a long night…

X X X

Lovingly, T'Pol wiped the blood stains off her mate's shoulder after having disentangled herself from him the next morning.

"It was not my intention to injure you," she said softly when she noticed his eyes opening.

"I know. But I'm sure as hell not going to stop you bit'n, it's part of your nature."

"I experience pain in my legs when moving. Did I fall?"

"Nope darlin', what you have is probably just the Vulcan counterpart of a hefty muscle ache. Riding yourself up and down on me is a hefty workout for your legs and you went for 15 rounds last night. I thought I'll never wake up again. T'was a big mistake to wait that long. I don't wanna become the first Starfleet officer to die by excessive copulation."

"It was unwise to wait that long. But your endurance during the process proves your exceedingly agreeable quality as a mate, Ashayam," she said before kissing him with a massive manifestation of the giggle brow.

X X X

Cleaning up the dishes after the evening meal, T'Pol looked back at the day's events. Both she and her husband had endured a rather taxing day. Due to her first ever bout with sore leg muscles, she had trouble maintaining a somewhat dignified way to walk without getting any inquisitive looks. The fact that pleasure central was sore as well, didn't help at all. Her husband had almost choked during the meal, when she bluntly reported that her primary delicious part suffered from signs of excessive friction. Ever the loving husband, he had promised to do something about that later.

Putting those events aside, she was bracing herself for the emotional onslaught, that was about to come. It was one of those evenings, which Trip spent endlessly talking with his lil' one. Separated from her for over 4 months now, he was badly missing her and his emotional nature did not help at all. At more than one occasion, he had started to cry after having to end the transmission.

Although she had spent every day with him for almost half a year now, T'Pol still could not understand how that strong man, who would lead an engineering team with grim determination, who had stood up to V'Lon in the High Council with a composure that would have honored a Vulcan, could fall into such an emotional distress when faced with loss or grief. When it came to things concerning his wife or T'Pau, he was capable of experiencing emotions of frightening magnitude and, on several occasions, T'Pol had had to yank up the shields to stabilize the bond.

T'Pol gasped loudly and swung around, as a massive jolt of joy hit her unexpectedly though the bond. She was prepared for the now-familiar wave of sadness that followed Trip's long-range conversations with the woman whom his love for was only second to his affection for his wife, but such a hammering of pure joy could only have one logical conclusion. A massive bear hug accompanied by a kiss that took 'passionate' to a whole new level yanked her from her thinking process. After what seemed to be an eternity, they broke the kiss and she scanned his face. Tears were running down his face, but a grin, that would require heavy mining equipment to wipe it off again, was a sure sign that these tears were a manifestation of massive joy.

"When will she arrive?"

"You knew?"

"Trip, you have been crying for almost an hour after your last conversation with your daughter and I had to shield myself from your strong distress, which was transmitted through our bond. The force of your most recent transmission, exceedingly strong joy, was most unexpected and almost overwhelmed me. It was therefore the only logical conclusion that your ordeal would soon be coming to an end by her visiting or us going to Vulcan."

"Infallible logic as always," he beamed before melting her mind again by a long kiss with an extra passionate bum groping.

"We shall be careful not to tempt ourselves. After last night's events I am in no condition to provide relief for any… arousal."

"I know, neither am I. I'll smear some nice balm into your sore delicious part later, so you'll be ready for action again in a few days," he said softly with a very mischievous grin.

"Will T'Pau participate in the Coalition talks?"

"Yep. And she didn't request any quarters in the Vulcan embassy," he grinned.

"Requesting accommodation at the embassy would be illogical. She may not express it, but she has been missing your presence as strongly as you missed hers. It is logical to assume, that she will make sure to reunite with you most expeditiously."

X X X

T'Pol was positioned on her back, on the bench in the heated up Banya with her legs spread apart, exposing pleasure central completely.

"Ok, darlin', think about something scientific, calculate Pi to 100 digits or whatever, I'll try ta balm up ya strained parts, ok?" A nod was the answer as she closed her eyes. She did blush slightly and her breath became slightly heavier, when he was done coating her the outside of pleasure central, but she was quick to recover again.

"Ok, turn 'round, I'm gonna massage your wrecked muscles, ya legs are stiff as a rock."

As he started massaging her sore muscles he made sure to apply more pressure than during a more erotically targeted massage and carefully avoided any accidental contact with pleasure central.

"Darlin', I was meaning to ask. The lil' one will not get to the conference for the first 3 days. Is our bond strong enough so that we could be separated for two days without zoning out?"

"I believe yes, if we were separated no longer than 48 hours and I would refrain from meditating. A longer period would, however, be detrimental to my emotional stability and spontaneous daydreams will grow more likely. Are you foreseeing a period of separation?"

"I'm planning one. I was meaning to go on a mountain tour with T'Pau, before she goes to that conference."

"Does the exclusion of my presence have a particular reason?"

"Well, someone has to stay on Columbia, darlin'"

After a few more strokes on her sore muscles he playfully gave her a light slap on the bum. "Get up darlin' let's go for a swim."

X X X

"Will you explain the reason behind this tour?" she asked as they swam alongside each other slowly in the moon light.

"It's an earth custom that father and son or father and daughter go on a trip together. Reason is that human children usually have a stronger connection to their mother than their father. Those trips are meant to intensify the connection to the father by spending time alone. I know that T'Pau doesn't need any intensification, she'll be plastered to me for hours, but I also want her to see something of Earth. She's seen nothing beyond our estate so far. I know she'd be happy enough just lying around on the beach, but that can't be the purpose of the exercise."

"A very agreeable plan."

"I noticed that you experienced concern, when you spoke about T'Pau's attachment to you," T'Pol stated as a request for explanation.

"Well, I'm worried that my being human wrecks her standing on Vulcan."

"Why would the fact that you are human have a detrimental effect on her? Most Vulcans have a great deal of respect for you."

"It's not my existence that I'm worried about. It's some of the human habits she's picked up. She makes jokes, she likes lying on the beach cuddling up to me and she almost became an impulsive nudist by the time we had finished that damn training for Betazed. I can see it in my head, what happens when she comes here. She'll hug me, then she'll make a beeline for the beach, jump out of her clothes and go for a swim. Afterward she'll expect me to be her pillow and if I don't say anything, she'll not even bother to cover herself up for it. That's 5 things, which for a good Vulcan are usually a no-no. I don't wanna turn her into a human, she's a Vulcan and she should stay that way."

"Trip," she interrupted his verbal self-flogging. "You are not causing harm to her. It is a great source of contentment that you allow her to do all, which you described."

"But Vulcans aren't supposed to hug and they surely aren't supposed to like lying on a beach butt-naked. Hell she even drank a beer last time."

"She explained all that before. Since you are human, Vulcan gestures of affection would hold absolutely no appeal for you. You are restricting our public contact to the Ozh'esta for my sake, but I know that it unsatisfactory for you. That's why I kiss and hug you, whenever we are out of public view. Those gestures are satisfactory for you and not at all unpleasant for me either. T'Pau merely follows the same reasoning."

"Yeah, but that doesn't explain the knack for naked sun tanning that you both have."

"Trip, on Vulcan the two suns would burn our skin in a matter of hours. That's why nobody ever tried it. Without it ever having been tried, no Vulcan could have known the agreeable nature of such activity. Humans engage in such activities on public beaches. That would be completely unacceptable for both T'Pau and myself. Our beach is the only place in which we would allow ourselves to do that. You have nothing to reproach yourself for. On the contrary, you are a most agreeable father and, according to Soval, T'Pau shows no signs of improper conduct in public except for the occasional joke when she is in private conversation with him."

"You've been discussing T'Pau's behavior with Soval?"

"As her maternal En'ahr'at, it is my duty to care for her well-being. Soval was a friend of my father and he is to me what humans would call a godfather. My father tasked him with the care for my well-being before he died."

"That explains some things. Good to hear that T'Pau's behaving herself. I would really hate it if she would do something improper and I'd be responsible for it."

"What?" he asked, seeing a pronounced giggle-brow on T'Pols features.

"Soval only said that she behaved properly in public. He is not privy to what happens, when she is alone in our home," she answered with an amused eyebrow still firmly heading north.

"You just said the sun would burn your skin," Trip asked – a suspicion forming in his mind.

"A lesson that she will surely have learned," T'Pol answered amused.

"Wouldn't you have liked to be a fly on the wall, when she had to explain the first ever sunburn in Vulcan history," Trip laughed as he realized what T'Pol tried to say.

"I have started research on a protective substance, so that she will not find herself in that predicament again."

"Inventing Vulcan sun screen, you're something else darlin'," he proclaimed, still laughing.

He submerged, dove below her and gave her nipples a suck and a short twirl of the tongue, before returning above water level on the other side of her. Slightly panting, she mock scolded him and reminded him of their temporary celibacy.

"Just an appetizer for when you're not sore anymore," he teased.

The reference to food, when it came to intimate matters, lit up a light bulb in her mind and the giggle brow almost fell off.

Act 3 : NX-03 Challenger

"Captain, Commander, welcome aboard Challenger," T'Pol nodded.

"Thank you Commander. Starfleet blue?" Archer asked at seeing T'Pol in a standard issue blue uniform.

"I am of the belief that my usual uniform was detrimental to the efficiency of the crew. Since changing to... this design the performance of the male crew has increased significantly."

"No doubt commander," Shran said without his usual smugness.

"Why didn't Trip come along, isn't he aboard?" Archer inquired as they made their way toward the half finished bridge.

"Captain, we are on a ship that is not in a finished condition and when I checked for the last time, my husband was still an engineer, did you realistically expect him to wait for you at the airlock?"

Both Enterprise officers laughed heartily at T'Pol's improving attempts at humor.

"So he's in engineering?"

"No he is making modifications to the bridge. My latest proposal was to... paint the captain's chair blue."

"Very funny!" Shran mock-pouted, while Archer doubled over in laughter.

"Damn, T'Pol, Trip's really been rubbing off on you," Archer said still sniggering.

When they reached the bridge, they found Trip crouched by the captain's chair, working away at a side panel.

"That's the first time I see a captain rigging his own chair," Shran exclaimed with a laugh.

"Not my chair Shran, don't worry. I'll just keep it warm for you, when I test drive her. You two seem pretty amused about something," Trip commented when he offered Archer and Shran a handshake.

"Well your wife has been keeping us quite entertained. Never knew she's started to joke like a pro," Archer laughed.

"Well, it's one of those instances when she allows herself to be in what passes on Vulcan for a giddy mood. And the lil' one's coming for a visit, too. She doesn't want to look too pale, when the short stuff starts joking like the best of 'em. And I can tell ya, when these two conspire to yank my chain, oh dear..." Trip chuckled, while T'Pol stood by heavily giggle-browed.

Looking at her he knew exactly where that mood came from. She had announced, bluntly, over the morning meal, that a specific body part had seized to be sore and with that, implicitly, the plans for the evening where considered drawn up, discussed and ratified - effective immediately.

"So, how's things on my ex?" Trip asked in reference to his former ship, as he directed them to the captains mess.

"Well, looking not too pretty," Archer started. "We ran into some damn troubles with the Romulans again. We were conducting a patrol near Coridan space, when a warbird decloaked and opened fire on our Andorian escort ship. We had him a sitting duck in a joint fight, just about to start scanning, when suddenly they blew themselves up and a few of their pieces went right through our hull. We're stranded for at least 2 weeks. Starfleet engineering is working day and night, so we're ready to escort you on your second trial run. For the first one you'll have to make do with the Andorians."

"He will get over it, captain," T'Pol delivered deadpan.

"If it took two ships to disable them, they must have been doing quite some progress in defenses. That doesn't sound good. T'Pol says they are sneaky bastards and don't get aggressive until they're sure to have a big advantage. If it takes two ships to bomb them, the shit has already started flying and it's not a long ride to the fan anymore."

"And they seem to know about their vulnerability, too. They always kept the underside away from us."

"Nothing a good helmsman can't take care of."

"Well, our good helmsman is now a Prince on Betazed," Archer sighed. "The new ensign hasn't much experience. If it wasn't for my duty in the big chair, I'd have flown myself."

"So how is my ship coming along?" Shran asked.

"Pretty well. We fell behind a bit 'cause of the damn new injectors, but one of them Vulcan engineers finally whipped up a way to install them without having to redesign half of engineering. He could give Kov a run for his money."

"Well, then he'd have to be really good. Kov's doing a great job. On our last shakedown flight, he staged an emergency training. He tried your 2 minutes restart routine and found it 'most disagreeable' that he needed 2:05 to do it."

"Seriously," Trip said with a concerned stance. "Don't let him get anal about this stuff. When I did that stunt with T'Pol back then, she knew what to do instinctively. And Anna can't get the matrix up as quick as T'Pol, even on her best day. Human brains can't do such quick calculations, even if we try. The fact that they did it only 7 seconds slower shows that they're a damn fantastic crew. Send Kov my greetings and tell him that I was proud like hell of him that he managed to do it that quick, but he mustn't let his competitiveness get the better of him. That procedure is still dangerous as hell."

"I will tell him that. Anyways, we need to go, there's some holes to plug in our hull," Archer said as he and Shran made their way back to Enterprise.

Act 4 : Bayside Manor

T'Pol left the space dock towards their home, while Trip was staying behind for an hour or two. He would spend this time making the rounds of the ship, talking to engineers and sifting through reports. They had their own cabin on the ship - double sized with a double bed. After the turnover to Shran it would become the guest quarters. They had spent only one night there - last night - since they were both working overtime in engineering and were too tired for the ride home.

The Vulcan engineers and the regular crews were repeatedly glancing over to them in wide eyed amazement of how flawlessly and harmoniously they worked together. When their ways crossed a graceful, ozh'esta was exchanged or a quick kiss when not too many people where in sight, but it did nothing to impede their work. A point that was decisively hammered home when they raced through the standard start-up routine in just a little over half the time, that it used to take the regular engineering crew, and those people beat Starfleet's recommended time by a considerable margin on any day.

"How the hell do they do that?" Lt. Greenfeld wondered, "They've just wiped out or time record by 4 minutes and still had time for 4 of them Vulcan kisses."

"Agreed," Solan droned. "Breaking one's workflow for untimely demonstrations of affection is not logical, but they nonetheless outperformed our best effort."

"They didn't break their workflow; they've just integrated those kisses in it. Bet ya anything, they wouldn't make it that quick if they were forbidden to do that," Greenfeld said and went back to his injector relays, shaking his head in disbelief.

Today, however, Trip was headed for their cabin before going home for a different reason. He had seen the intimate greed in her eyes and a strong impish vibe had washed over through the bond. That Vulcan wife of his was up to something and if the horny look was anything to go by, she wasn't planning to challenge him to a game of chess.

Considering that she had been involuntarily celibate due to friction damage for 3 days, he was less than surprised. Planning for the worst case scenario - that she was pacing the kitchen naked again - he decided it would be prudent to take a shower before going home.

When he came home, he found no naked wife was pacing around, in fact, no wife at all was to be seen and the door was locked. Punching in the code, slightly confused, he called out for her, but got no answer. Considering that 20 minutes ago, she had called him on the ship to tell him that she was waiting with dinner, he was slightly confused. A jolt of excitement and longing hit him through the bond. His eyes fell on a PADD with a text message

I await thee, Ashayam, at the beach. The meal is served. There is no attire required.

"Get ya ass to the beach. I'm waitin' with dinner. And get the hell naked," he translated her message to drawl, while following her orders by 'disrobing' laughingly and set out to the beach. When he came out of the forest, he stopped dead in his tracks. "Holy shit!" he whispered at seeing the meal, it was an eclectic mix of both Vulcan and human snacks all neatly laid out ... all over his naked wife's body. That gave a whole new meaning to 'yummy'...

Part 5 : Starfleet Headquarters

Captain Jonathan Archer of Enterprise, Captain Erika Hernandez of Columbia, Captain Charles Tucker III, currently of Challenger; Commander Shran, Challenger's future captain; and Admiral Gardner formed a high-profile meeting in one of Starfleet's briefing rooms.

"So, Captain, have you completed the plans for the test runs?" Admiral Gardner asked.

"Yes Admiral," Trip started. "I'm planning two extensive test runs. We'll be working with both the Vulcans and the Andorians. The Imperial Guard has dispatched two light battle cruisers as an escort. While Jon and Erika play taxi and get them dignitaries home, we'll do the first run. It'll be in and out of warp and we'll try to give her the beans for 24 hours at 5.5 towards Andorian space."

"I've read your mission proposal and I think it is good for the run," Gardner nodded. "I would like to add some navigational training though. I read you planned that for the second run, but I think it would be better to stage that during the first test and add simulated battle training for the second run."

"Sounds good to me, Admiral, I'll change the proposal and get it back to you. Anyways, for the second run, we'll go together with Jon and Erika, after sorting out any glitches from the first test. We'll make a beeline for Vulcan at whatever Kelby and Kov can give us. Once we get there, we'll stage the battle training you just proposed. I'm sure the lil' one can give daddy two or three Vulcan cruisers to play with as well."

Erika and Gardner looked at him dumbfounded.

"Damn, I really need to stop making that slip up's," he sighed. "Well anyways, it's not public knowledge, but T'Pau has lost both her parents as an infant and Vulcan's have a way to protect themselves in that case. They can be adopted by a mind-meld. T'Pau and us had such a thing without really knowing. So now we're her en'ahr'at, sorta like stepparents, if ya will."

"I hope she doesn't start to say 'damn' on every occasion," Erika giggled.

"No, but she can joke with the best of them," Archer explained with a laugh.

Gardner shook his head. "Captain, you propose marriage to a Vulcan right before the High Council, the next thing I learn is you've adopted their leader as your child. Do you have more in store for us?" Gardner sighed good mannerly.

"Well, I could try to become their high priest."

Act 6 : Bayside Manor

Trip paced the kitchen nervously.

"Ashayam, your walking back and forth will not expedite her arrival," T'Pol mock scolded softly.

"Well, neither did your running back and forth here 'expedite' my returning home. Yet you did it and you were stark naked at the time, darlin'," he teased back.

The door chime yanked them out of their banter and T'Pol opened the door. Wordlessly a petite Vulcan figure darted inside and launched herself at Trip, embracing him in a passionate hug, which was gently returned. They stood for a while, silently, while T'Pol collected their guest's luggage that was still standing outside.

Breaking, the silence, Trip whispered softly. "I was missing ya too, hon." He stroked her hair gently and continued. "Don't ya think we should finish the greetings?"

"You are correct father," she said, returning to her serene Vulcan face. "My behavior was incorrect. It is agreeable to see you mother."

"It is agreeable to see you as well. Your behavior is understandable. You experienced the same distress about your long separation as Trip did. Do not concern yourself."

"I wish to visit the beach. Will you accompany me father?" T'Pau asked.

"Go ahead, hon. I'll come down in a few moments. Gotta discuss something with T'Pol."

"As you wish," she said and wandered off.

"Your prediction of her course of action appears to be most accurate."

"She's not that difficult to predict."

"I believe there is an expectant child waiting for her father at the beach. I will prepare the meal," she said softly.

"Get me one of your gray two-pieces, darlin'. I want her to keep at least a bit of modesty."

After taking the outfit from T'Pol, he took off his shirt and left towards the beach after kissing his wife. True to his expectations, T'Pau had already completed the layout of her favorite cuddle spot by laying out the big blanket at the beach, with a shed Vulcan robe and two towels on it. A scraggly haired Vulcan head, peeking out of the water, changed direction towards the beach as soon as Trip came into view.

She handed him a towel and turned around with the unspoken request to have her back toweled off. He did so, while she dried the front.

"Best we keep a minimum of modesty. There's enough skin left," he smiled as he handed her the pants and the top of T'Pol's training outfit.

"I shall comply to your wish, father," she answered with nod as she stepped into the soft fabric.

A short while later she lied down beside him, slinging her arm around his muscled midriff, while her head rested firmly on his chest and both drifted into the reassuring calm of their favorite and so badly missed form of meditation.

When T'Pol approached an hour later, T'Pau gently got up.

"Did he rest unwell last night? He fell asleep most rapidly."

"He has been most emotional during the last days, in anticipation of your visit. He does not sleep well if he is in such state. As soon as he became content with your presence and your touch, he fell asleep."

"I wish to gain your deep understanding of him. How did you learn to comprehend his language? I often fail to do so."

"I learned to decipher it by comparable deduction. Recently your father referred to the inevitability of conflict with the Rihanssu by an Earth expression saying 'the shit will hit the fan'. At first this appeared illogical and in no way connected to the described situation as there was no such device in the vicinity. After some time I realized, that the event of airborne excrement colliding with a rotating device is a most uninvited and disagreeable event that is both imminent and unavoidable, exactly like his perception of conflict with the Rihannsu. He assessed the situation by referring to a comparable situation."

Trip had to use all his strength to stop himself from laughing or giving away any indication of having been woken up by his wife's stilted explanation of one of Earth's riper metaphors.

"Will you accompany me for a bath?" T'Pau asked. "I wish to continue our discussion and I do not wish to disturb father's rest."

"Agreed," T'Pol answered and the two women shed their attire before walking towards the water.

Trip opened his eyes slightly and smiled at the sight of two cute naked Vulcan bums wiggling away towards the sea, before he drifted back to sleep.

X X X

A trickle of cold water on his chest ripped Trip out of his sleep. His eyes flew open and he caught a glance of T'Pau, who emptied the contents of her cupped palm over him. His wife stood by and both females wore an expressed variant of their respective giggle brows. Obviously they had had quite some time to discuss, since T'Pol joined T'Pau in positioning herself right in front of him and turning around in the unspoken demand of a good back 'n bum rub. Always the committed husband and father, he dutifully delivered and T'Pol got a nice cheek grope on top of it as well. Afterwards, the two ladies covered themselves again and the family finally set out to enjoy the meal.

Act 7 : Colorado Mountains/NX-03 Challenger

"Father? I meant to ask. What is the purpose of taking this route to the top of the mountain? I saw in your charts, that a westerly route would have been exceedingly less demanding," she continued while climbing alongside a heavily breathing and sweat soaked Trip.

"Well, that's one of those illogical human things," he pressed as his muscle contours became even more pronounced, when he pulled himself up on the rope. "One of Earth's early explorers was asked why he climbed Mount Everest. There wasn't much to gain by that. And that guy answered 'because it was there'. "

"So the existence of the mountain made it necessary to get to the top of it? I do not understand."

"We humans... have a knack to prove our worth, even without necessity. It gives us a kick, a rush of positive emotions. That guy knew nobody had ever managed to climb that mountain, so he did it to be the first and to prove himself."

"So you chose that route because you wanted to prove that you can conquer the mountain's difficult route, instead of taking the easier option, to prove your own quality?"

"Exactly. Humans need that sort of reassurance. For instance. T'Pol's pon farr will soon arrive. We've got no problems in the mating department, mind you, and we have decided not to try for a child, not with the danger of war around the corner. So the logical thing would be to ask Phlox to just yank a hypospray into her and sedate her. But I chose to rough it out, to prove that I can do it, even if she's afraid to hurt me."

Trip still found it weird to be discussing such things with an adoptive daughter that had almost 40 years to go before her own mating drive would hit, but she was the most logical source of advice on the matter.

"You want to prove your quality as a mate. Is that why you have striven to acquire such most agreeable muscular appearance?"

"Wow!" Trip gasped a bit flattered "I knew T'Pol digs it, didn't know that you do too."

"Dig it?"

"T'Pol likes it. Yes, I did work out heavily to be able to make it through that mad week. T'Pol's very demanding. But I also did it for her. She likes to look at me and that's why I've kept up my regime."

"That is not the only reason. She does also... likes it, because it is an outward manifestation of strength. That gives her... and me as well a most agreeable assurance, that you can protect us, if the need arises."

"Well hon, ya look awfully petite, but you have a lot more strength than I do. This climbing business is hard for me, you're barely breaking a sweat. I don't think I'll be much use to protect you," he said with a badly hidden hint of sadness.

"I do not talk about combat, father. When we ... are in contact, it elicits a strong sense of protection and security in me. Your muscular and most heavyset physique amplifies that sensation."

"You really have a knack of getting me embarrassed, hon," he sighed.

"I regret that I caused you distress. Does my bathing in a disrobed condition cause such distress as well?" Obviously T'Pol had broached the subject during their swimming excursion.

"Nope, don' worry. That's a normal thing, well, maybe not for Vulcans, but for humans. It's no problem. You really grew to like that, didn't you?" he teased.

She only nodded silently. "We shall continue our ascend."

"Yep, it's gonna be dark soon," he said as they resumed their climb.

"I regret the absence of suitable bodies of water on Vulcan. The act of bathing and swimming provides a great deal of regeneration."

"Well, hon, I was meaning to build a swimming pool on T'Pol's estate anyways. Vulcan heat is pretty hard on me and I need it to cool down once in a while. Problem will be to get hold of any water on that darn hot planet o' yours."

"Synthesizing water is not a problem. We have most extensive underground hydrogen reservoirs and oxygen can be extracted from many forms of ore. If you would prepare sufficient plans, I could order Vulcan engineers to erect such structure coupled to a water synthesizer."

"I didn't know you like swimming that much, hon," he laughed and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek.

"Damn," he laughed. "You Vulcans sure like kissing, yet you think it is inappropriate. You have no idea what you're missing out on," he giggled, when T'Pau returned the gesture with a blush.

Shortly after that, they reached the top of the mountain, which featured a small grass covered plateau. Trip sat on the ground, with T'Pau sitting between his spread legs, enjoying the embrace from behind as they ate their evening meal that T'Pol had prepared. Cheek on cheek they enjoyed the glorious sunset, while Trip was telling her the story of how he and his wife were down on a planet with an intoxicating atmosphere on one of their first missions, how he had threatened to 'split her in half' and how glad he was never to have acted on that promise.

T'Pau spoke about her time in the Forge, how she experienced the Surak indoctrination at a young age as 'most taxing' and how agreeable it was for her to be allowed to act like the young girl that she was, when nobody was able to see her. She also explained how she shed all expectation and responsibility along with 20 years of age, once she was alone with her adopted parents. She now and then planted a shy kiss on his cheek to 'improve her technique'.

It was dark night when they were settling for sleep. Having foreseen her wishes, Trip had opted to bring a double sized sleeping bag instead of two single ones and as the night settled, he and his adopted daughter drifted into sleep below the stars, entangled in a loving embrace of a happy and proud father and a daughter recovering from months of overwhelming responsibilities in the arms that were protectively slung around her by her En'ahr'at.

X X X

Trip awoke to the sight of T'Pau's head on his chest. She was watching the glorious Earth sunrise, idly brushing through his chest hair. She was used to the gloomy double sun spectacles of Vulcan, but Earth's sunrise was a much more intense experience.

"Don't yank anything out there, T'Pol's gonna count 'em," he teased at seeing her fascination with his sparse chest fur.

A very elevated surprise brow manifested itself as she looked up to him.

"Just kidding, hon, g'mornin'," Trip laughed before giving her a peck on the cheek.

"Did you rest well father?"

"Yep, slept like a log. And if that giggle brow 'o yours is anything to go by, you had a nice sleep yourself."

"I did," she said and crawled out of the sleeping bag to prepare their breakfast.

X X X

Continuing their trek after the morning meal, the unlikely pair of father and daughter continued their conversations. For a head of planet, she surely was chatty, once she dropped out of leader facade into little girl mode. This change was good however, since in just 2 days time her leader half was to be called up again to represent Vulcan at the Coalition Conference. Walking down the easy western route, the two of them traded stories from space or the Forge respectively. Trip had also shown off some of his Vulcan language knowledge. She had giggle-brow'ed at hearing her native language mixed with a good lick of southern drawl, but also inwardly admired her father's dedication to learning the language. It was not only the learning of words. The Vulcan's stilted way of speaking was a result of their language's structure. So he had not only to learn the new words, he also needed to learn their way of stilt speaking in the process. That was a most impressing feat for someone who used to speak in a very colorful manner.

Once they reached the foot of the mountain, they continued their way along a broad pass with a cliff to the right and a steep gradient to the left. The appointed place, where one of Columbia's shuttlepods would collect them at 1300 was still a good 10 kilometers away.

Trip was still grinning from one of T'Pau's patented jokes, when a grumbling sound yanked them out of their banter.

Looking up and then back to a puzzled T'Pau, he realized, what happened.

"NE'! TEHNAT MENAL!" (down! against the wall!) he shouted in Vulcan.

T'Pau crouched down against the cliff and Trip squatted down in front of her and wrapped himself protectively around her when rocks started bombarding his back.

X X X

T'Pol was overseeing the work aboard Challenger as the ranking officer during her husband's absence. With years of experience of using it, she overlooked the installation of the science station. With just a month to go until the first test flights, the construction was nearing completion, but a lot of loose ends were still to be tied.

Suddenly a brutal onslaught of panic, searing pain, protectiveness and fear slammed square in her mind through the bond, causing her to crouch down and yank the shields up. Regaining her composure as all personnel looked at her, she carefully lowered the shields again, ready to yank them back up at any time, but she noticed how the bond had gone silent, only his faint presence was there.

"Ensign McCormack, emergency channel to Enterprise and Columbia!"

"Channels open, Commander."

"Enterprise, this is Commander T'Pol. This is an emergency. Scan for a Vulcan and a Human biosign in close proximity. The target area is 30 kilometers around Telluride, Colorado. Transport them aboard. Immediately! Prepare for a possible medical emergency. Columbia, scan for transporter or weapon activity in the same area. Scan orbit and surrounding space for any irregularities or ship movements. Enterprise, send a shuttlepod to Challenger."

"Understood Challenger," came the simultaneous reply of Archer and Hernandez.

"Lt. Goto, you have the bridge," T'Pol said and sped off towards the airlock.

"Aye, Ma'am," the Japanese tactical officer replied.

X X X

Lt. Commander Kov pushed up the transporter controls and a Vulcan-Human pile materialized on the transporter platform of Enterprise. They were closely entangled and collapsed to the floor when they had finished materializing. Trip was literally wrapped around the petite Vulcan figure and his back was bleeding badly. His shirt was torn and his back was covered in open flesh wounds. A faint Vulcan groan announced that one of them was conscious.

"Doctor," she croaked in Vulcan.

Half an hour later, T'Pau was sitting beside a biobed in sickbay. Her father was lying on his stomach as Phlox suturated some of the more severe wounds. T'Pau had only an abrasion on her right cheek and a small wound on her right temple. Trip's sturdy frame had kept her out of danger almost completely.

"He has suffered a mild concussion, severe flesh wounds, a fracture of the right shoulder blade and a partially fractured tail bone. He shall be OK in a couple of days. He is not in a critical condition, thanks to Commander T'Pol's quick reaction," Phlox assessed the situation.

"Archer to Shuttlepod One. T'Pol, they're both alive and out of danger."

"Thank you Captain. Is it possible to meet with Captain Hernandez in two hours? I believe this was no ordinary accident."

"I'll inform her," Archer confirmed, not asking about her sudden suspicion.

"Minister, I understand your worry, but I must ask you to let go of the Captains arm. I cannot get a coherent scanner reading, while you are holding him."

Nodding, T'Pau finally broke contact with his lifeless body.

"I'm having a strong sense of déjà vu," Phlox sighed with a glance to a smiling Archer. Both remembered earlier instances of the troublesome work of trying to separate this particular pair of creatures.

As Phlox finally got his scanner readings, he gave the final diagnosis. "Captain Tucker is physically very fit. His recovery will be fast and if he hasn't changed his usual behavior, he will be demanding to be released from sickbay by the evening."

T'Pol had come in moments earlier and went straight for his biobed as Phlox covered Trips back with a big bandage, fixing it to his skin with tape.

"Your assessment has merit Doctor. I will make sure that he recovers properly and reports to you, before he is allowed to return to duty. Our daughter and I will tend to him, meanwhile. Are you well?" she asked T'Pau.

"I am. Father protected me. He risked his own life for mine," she answered in a weak voice.

"T'Pol, maybe you can help us with the scans? Shran is not much of a science officer," Archer interrupted.

"I shall assist," she said while leaving with Archer glancing back at Trip and T'Pau.

X X X

"Sorry, hon", Trip whispered in a weak voice. Almost two hours after the rock fall he had regained consciousness.

"For what?", she asked, happy to hear his voice again.

"Guess there'll be no beach meditation for a while," he explained with a weak smile.

"That is no concern of mine. You are alive, that is important to me.", she whispered and softly kissed him on the temple.

Act 8 : Enterprise Briefing Room

"Ah, Erika, come in."

"Captain, Commanders," Erika greeted, shaking hand with Archer and Shran. A nod to T'Pol finished the introduction as they all sat down to discuss the events.

"T'Pol. How could you know about all that? We did not receive any distress signals from the surface," Archer opened.

"I was almost rendered unconscious by an exceedingly strong transmission through our mating bond. Sensing the emotions were both of painful and protective nature led me to the conclusion that there was a danger and it extended to both of them."

"Well obviously, your logic was flawless as ever," Archer said in admiration. He was interrupted, when the door hissed open.

All eyes went wide and an eyebrow shot up, when two uninvited guests appeared. Trip was still naked from the waist up, his head bandaged and he had his uninjured arm slung around T'Pau's neck for support. Slowly hobbling to a chair, T'Pau gently turned it by 90 degrees, so he could use the backrest to lean his good shoulder on. She sat beside him on a second chair. Erika marveled inwardly at his amazing physique. Noticing Archer's shocked expression, T'Pau provided the explanation.

"I do apologize, Captain Archer. Father insisted..."

"It's ok, hon," Trip took over "Well, I was sorta there, when whatever it is happened, so I guess it makes sense that I get to hear what the hell went on."

"Why am I not surprised?" Archer smiled at his friends trademark stubbornness.

"Well, I'm sure the female crew enjoyed your insistence," Erika smiled good-naturedly, but a familiar sharp inhale cut through the room.

Trip went stiff, groaning from the pain that followed his sudden movement. Archer quickly jumped to shield Erika, but T'Pol had already regained her composure, while Erika looked in shock.

"I know, ya were only joking Captain, but please don't yank ma wife's reflexes by any untimely compliments," Trip said softly, to make sure she noticed that he wasn't angry. His face was still a pained grimace.

"I'm sorry Commander T'Pol, I didn't know," Erika apologized.

"I am not offended. Your approval of my husband's appearance is reassuring. Unfortunately Vulcan nature does not react well to human compliments. Feel free however to indulge in any dreams, they will not trigger my reflexes," T'Pol Vulcan-joked to ease the tension, while Erika blushed a lovely shade of purple.

The room broke out in laughter, which Trip paid the price for with another pained wince.

"Back to topic," Archer started. "T'Pol seems to have a point. We've sent a team down there. The rock fall seems to be induced artificially. We've found traces of particle weapon fire. Somebody wanted to get rid of either Trip or T'Pau and wanted it to look like an accident. Fortunately they made some mistakes, mainly underestimating T'Pol's logic and Trip's protectiveness."

"What are you talking about?" Trip asked.

"Someone made a lot of effort to collect a lot of rocks and positioned them at the top the cliff. They were actually transported there. We found traces of transporter activity. They were faint, but thanks to T'Pol's quick instructions, we found them just before they dissipated. How did you know all that, T'Pol?"

"I did not know it, I deduced. My husband's record on outdoor activities and away missions is less than exemplary. If we look back at his time aboard Enterprise, he proved an unfortunate habit of getting abducted, injured or ...impregnated... on away missions. On my insistence, he had chosen this particular region for his tour because it was the most unlikely mountainous region to expose him to dangers like rock falls or avalanches. He was also using most sophisticated safety equipment for the climbing. So when something happened to cause such a violent emotional condition, despite our cautious planning, the logical conclusion was that there was an outside influence. Scanning for such influences was the logical course of action."

"Did you find out who transported the pebbles?" Trip asked

"No," Shran continued "the signals were too weak and your wife tried to calculate where it came from, but it only led to a dead end near Mars. The calculated target was empty space."

"The space might not have been as empty as you thought," Erika jumped in "We found residues of a warp trail leading away from Mars. There has been no record of ship activity in that region for days. We were not able to match it to any known class of ship. The closest match we found was the signature a Vulcan Suurok-class battle cruiser."

"Why didn't Mars' sensors pick it up? And what's a Vulcan warship doing here?" Trip asked, looking at T'Pau.

"I do not know Father. Before I left Vulcan, all but four battle cruisers of the Suurok class were conducting patrol missions with the Andorians. The Ni'Var and the Sh'Raan are in orbit around Vulcan. The Ti'Mur is in Earth orbit. The newest ship, the T'Karah, is Admiral V'Kars ship and currently investigating reports of suspected ship movements near Corridan space. And as Captain Hernandez explained, it was only similar to a Suurok class signature, not matching exactly."

"We do not have a power signature to analyze, but it would be a logical possibility to consider, that this might have been a cloaked Romulan drone ship. Since it was obviously a planned act of aggression, I would recommend, that my husband and I as well as T'Pau stay aboard Challenger. We might be vulnerable to another attack, if we return to our home on earth."

"Makes sense T'Pol," Archer nodded "We'll send all data down to Starfleet security. They will investigate the case. I'll alert Gardner to increase the security measures around Earth, we do not need another attempt on Minister T'Pau's or Trip's life."

Act 9 : NX-03 Challenger

"Welcome aboard Challenger, Commander"

"You speak Russian?" Commander Nadeshda Bresinskaya asked wide eyed, as Trip welcomed her at the airlock.

"Only a bit, my Great-Grandfather was from Russia. Providenya Bay. We used to visit that place sometimes when I was a kid. They call me stubborn, but that guy was even too stubborn to die, he was 114 when he took the last check ride west," Trip laughed as he made his way towards the briefing room with the ships new chief engineer. All other participants were already waiting.

One month had passed since the end of the coalition conference. After the attack on Trip and T'Pau, security measures were intensified. Starfleet's investigation had yielded the results that T'Pol had deduced as well. A cloaked ship had transported a large amount of loose rocks onto the cliff and a phaser blast from a hand weapon had set off the rock fall at exactly the time when Trip and his daughter had passed underneath. This was no coincidence, especially since the weapon signature was Vulcan.

Trip had been very worried to let go of T'Pau to return to Vulcan since the attack indicated an assassination attempt from within Vulcan society. She had promised him not to go nowhere without a personal guard, but that had not helped much to calm him down. 10 days after the attack he returned to duty, both on the ship and bond-wise. The 10 days of forced celibacy had done no good to T'Pols condition and an emergency Vulcan date had to be conducted.

Challenger was ready for the first test drive and last preparations were made.

"Let's get the niceties out of the way," Trip opened the briefing. "I'm Captain Charles Tucker III, temporary captain of the boat. To my left is Commander T'Pol, the first officer. This is Commander Nadeshda Bresinskaya, the chief engineer. The two blue guys are Commanders Keval and Tholos of the Andorian Imperial Guard. They'll escort us during the tests."

"Captain, Commander, we are glad our meeting takes place under more amicable conditions this time," Keval returned. Both he and Tholos had been part of Shran's landing party at P'Jem, so they knew the two commanding officers of Challenger.

"The past is irrelevant. We are allied now. Do not concern yourself," T'Pol answered.

"Ok, we'll leave space dock in two hours. We'll start with several short trials of going in and out of warp. Afterwards we'll give her the beans at Warp 5.5 for 24 hours. You'll fall behind, but since you aren't exactly slow coaches, you should catch up with us in a couple hours after the test," Trip instructed the Andorian Commanders. "Once we've met up, we'll meet for a short briefing on the maneuvers we're going to practice. After that we'll do a continuous run back to earth at 5.1. Can you match that?"

"Our maximum speed is warp 5.2. 5.1 continuously is possible," Tholos answered.

"Any questions? ... Well, then, let's break 'er in."

X X X

The warp trials had begun very smoothly. Effortlessly, Challenger dropped in and out of warp and several sprints from impulse to 5.2 went with only minor problems. A few conduits had packed in and the Warp coil had to be recalibrated after Trip found a slight discrepancy on one of his frequent visits to engineering. T'Pol had insisted on his staying on the bridge, but had given up on the topic, knowing that keeping her favorite engineer away from his engines was a fruitless endeavor.

The ship was a good 14 hours into its endurance test and the Andorians had already fallen behind by about 2 and a half hours. The ship was slightly vibrating from being pushed to its limit. Trip was sitting at the engineering station, monitoring the readings. He returned to the captain's chair, studying a PADD with the latest reports from engineering when suddenly the ship started to vibrate hard and everything that wasn't nailed or bolted down, rattled from its position.

"Bridge to engineering, report!"

"The injectors are overloading, Sir."

"Nastya, shut down the engine immediately, I'll be down in a minute! Ensign McCormack, send a distress signal to the Andorians."

Turning towards T'Pol he ordered "Darlin' you have the bridge."

"Captain," she retorted sternly at his inappropriate address.

"Sorry, ... Commander." Turning to his bridge crew, he added, "Nobody heard that," and sped towards the lift

"Aye, Sir," came the slightly amused reply from the crew as he disappeared from the bridge.

"Commander T'Pol, a Vulcan ship is approaching. Suurok-class," a young Ensign reported.

T'Pol turned to him. "When will they arrive?"

"Less than two hours. Are they coming to help us?"

"That is likely. They will have received the signal we sent to the Andorian ships. I do not understand however why we did not detect it before."

An hour later a searing pain came through the bond and T'Pol yanked up her shields.

"T'Pol to engineering!"

"Bresinskaya, here. We had a plasma leak, the Captain's been injured. It's nothing dramatic. He'll return to the bridge after leaving sickbay."

"What is the damage status?"

"The injectors are damaged, most conduits have blown. I have no idea how that happened. No chance to repair that out here. Impulse is all I can give you commander."

"Continue to conduct any possible repair. Report back in 30 minutes."

"Aye, Commander."

A much disheveled Captain returned to the bridge about 20 minutes later. His head was bandaged; several plasma burns were covering his left side of the face. Smoldering marks covered his uniform.

"The engines are toast. And I'll be damned if this was a coincidence. What's the status up here?" he growled.

"A Vulcan ship is approaching. They have not hailed us yet. They dropped out of warp and will intercept us shortly. They have most likely picked up our distress call."

"On screen. Magnify!"

Trip looked at the approaching ship intensely. Suddenly he started to narrow his eyes and a wave of anger and shock raced through the bond.

"Captain," T'Pol asked

"Tactical alert! Polarize hull plating! Raise the shields! Prepare weapons! All hands to Battle stations!"

Everyone raced to his place and T'Pol shot him a questioning look.

"This isn't a social call and that's no ordinary Suurok-class I've ...," he was interrupted by jolt going through the ship.

"Direct hit to hull polarizer, shields are holding," Lt. Goto reported as the second hit rocked Challenger. "Shields down to 40%"

"Target their long range transmitters. Fire!"

"Their transmitters are down. They've lost long range communication. Our shields are down, hull plating at 90%"

"Ensign, get us upside down and beneath them. Lt. target these coordinates." Trip hammered a set of coordinates into the tactical console. "Fire as soon as we're in position."

A Torpedo from Challenger, which was diving below the Vulcan ship, hit it squarely at the desired coordinates causing several cascading explosions.

"They've lost shields and warp drive," the puzzled armory officer reported.

"Ensign, get the right side up again and resume normal battle stance. Lt. Goto target their weapon systems."

"Aye Sir. Hull plating offline!", Goto pressed as several hits rocked the ship

"The Andorians are hailing us," T'Pol reported. Trip nodded to her and T'Pol opened the channel.

"Keval, Tholos, take out their impulse engines and maneuvering thrusters!"

"Lt, have you got a lock on their weapons."

"Yes, Sir"

"Bomb 'em!"

Several Torpedoes hit the Vulcan cruiser. They had managed to hit Challenger's impulse engines and they were down to a quarter impulse, but after several more hits and a blast from the phase cannon the weapons of the attacker where useless. The Andorians had taken their propulsion offline and just for good measure they had blasted huge chunks out of the battle cruisers warp ring, causing plasma to vent from the wounded aggressor, who was now sitting duck.

"Keval, lock your tractor beam on us, drag us outta here. Nastya, take the engines offline. Tholos keep a lock on 'em, if they make any move, finish them off!"

"Understood captain."

As Keval's ship dragged the engine-less Challenger away from the Vulcan ship, closely guarded by Tholos' ship, Challenger was hailed by the Vulcans. As soon as the channel opened, V'Lon's blood stained face appeared.

"I could've sworn ya friggin' bastards had something to do with it!"

"I have underestimated you, human. Our brothers ...will not make the same mistake," V'Lon taunted coughing, while Trip looked on with narrowed eyes. "It is just a matter of weeks before we are reunited." V'Lon cut the transmission.

"What was that all about?" Trip asked.

"Captain, their long range transmitters come back online."

"Tholos!, give 'em the rest, target their war core! Total destruction!" Trip shouted.

Sevral hits from the Andorian vessel resulted in a huge explosion as the defenseless Vulcan warship disintegrated into a field of space dust.

A massive wave of shock and fear transmitted through the bond, from T'Pol to him. Knowing that this was most likely a reaction to his uncharacteristic brutality, he turned to her and addressed her in Vulcan, much to the bridge crews amazement.

"You will understand, later, Ashayam"

"Ensign, get me Admiral Gardner and the Vulcan High Council on emergency channels, transfer it to my ready room. T'Pol come with me."

"Aye, Captain"

X X X

"Father, you are injured!"

"Tell me something I don' know yet, hon. We were attacked ... by a Vulcan battle cruiser."

"The T'Karah," she said with a visible hint of sadness.

"She informed Starfleet yesterday that they had lost contact with V'Kars ship," Gardner filled in.

"We believed that the ship had been destroyed," T'Pau added.

"Well it is now, hon. I had the bastard blasted right ta fuckin' hell," he spat.

"You destroyed it?"

"Yes. We had toasted their engines, their weapons were offline and their shielding was gone and the first thing they repaired was the long range transmitters. That's a dead giveaway that they wanted to call home urgently and I doubt that they had Vulcan in mind."

"You think the Romulans are involved?" Gardner asked.

"I'm pretty sure even. V'Lon slipped something in that direction."

"V'Lon was aboard the ship?" T'Pau asked with a shock brow.

"Yep, hon. And the whole stuff makes a lot of sense now. His perpetual attempts to divide Humans and Vulcans or his attack on me 'n T'Pol, and that warp trail after we two were attacked, makes a whole lotta sense now, too. Thankfully he isn't very fond of logic, because he gave away his plans again. Thank god the Romulans picked a blithering idiot as a conspirator."

"I still do not understand how you knew they would be attacking us," T'Pol interrupted.

"What do you mean, Commander?" Gardner asked

"When my husband saw the ship approaching, he called for battle stations, seemingly without any reason." T'Pol explained

"Well, I've got eyes in my head. The lil' one has shown me the plans to the Suurok-class when she tried to convince me to take the warp 7 designs from her. That thing didn't have its inlet manifolds where they're supposed to be and the Suurok-class sure as hell hasn't got a Romulan cloaking device under its belly. I've seen those spikes before, when we jettisoned from that drone ship."

"Well, guess they didn't count on there being an engineering nut on the bridge," Gardner chuckled.

"When they attacked us, they went straight for our hull plating. That means they didn't know we got the shielding technology from the Vulcans."

"I did not make that public knowledge. As has been proven, I rightly doubted V'Kar's loyalty," T'Pau explained.

"That's why I think they were so eager to give their buddies a ring. For that reason I made sure that long range transmitters was the first thing we took out. I think they're gonna make the move on Vulcan. V'Lon made a hint at that and he spoke about it only taking weeks. It'll help if they think we don't have shielding. We should get Enterprise and Columbia upgraded and collect our forces around Vulcan."

"I shall recall all our forces. You have done a great service for Vulcan, father."

"I'll recall Archer and Hernandez. How long will it take you back to Earth?" Gardner asked.

"Few days, our engines are fried and the Andorians have to tow us."

"I'll send an engineering freighter on intercept course, Gardner out."

"So, with the Admiral gone, let's have a word with you, young lady," Trip addressed T'Pau sternly "Spill the beans about that stuff with Romulans and Vulcans being brothers. And why do they look a helluva lot like you guys. I have dang good eyes. It was only half a second, but some guy ran through the picture and he had some ridges on his forehead, but the rest looked Vulcan. And don't gimme any shit. Pants down, hon, or I'll ask Starfleet about it. And that's not even counting the spanking ya'll get from daddy if ya bullshit me!"

"Your father expects you to truthfully explain why V'Lon had referred to a Rihanssu that your father saw for a fraction of a second as a brother. He also decisively warns to not indulge in any deception, because in case of that he considers himself forced to report his findings to Starfleet. He also threatens to perform a human punishing ritual, if you do not reveal the full truth," T'Pol translated after getting a puzzled and shock stricken brow from T'Pau about her father's immense agitation and the accompanying undecipherable drawl.

"I did not mean to deceive you father. Those that you call Romulans are known as the Rihanssu. They are those who walk beneath the raptor's wings."

"I heard that before, when Jon told me about this Syrran fella. Could you get a tad more specific, hon?" Trip said softening up, but still stern enough.

"They left our world at the time of Awakening. They did not accept Surak's teachings."

"So they're actually savage ex-Vulcans that left some 2000 years ago?"

"Yes."

"No wonder you didn't want us to know that. I'll not tell Starfleet what I know, don't get your knickers in a twist, hon. And watch your back. Those guys gonna come round for a visit soon."

"Thank you. I will make sure that my... undergarments do not become disheveled," she teased shyly.

"Ok, hon, gotta work here. love ya," he said and threw her a kiss.

"As do I, father," she whispered after the transmission had been closed.

Part 10 : NX-03 Challenger in Vulcan orbit

After the Andorians had towed Challenger back to Earth, it took two full weeks to undo the damage to the engines. Trip had headed an inquiry team that took a look into the reasons of the engine damage. The overloading injectors had caused a cascade of failures, which crippled the ship. After a long research, they had found that one of the 10 Vulcan engineers, Korel, had a loyalty problem. He was found to be a V'Lon supporter after a very upset Professor Solan had mind melded with him. The brilliant Solan, his ingenious solution to the injector assemblies having been exploited to cause the cascading failures, wore himself out by working restlessly to undo the damage that his corrupted colleague had done.

As soon as the ship was repaired they had raced towards Vulcan. Trip had kept Nastya busy by pushing the engines to the limit. First skirmishes had been reported near Vulcan and more Romulan forces had been detected in approach on Vulcan. When they reached Vulcan orbit, they joined the scene of an all out space brawl. 6 Suurok class battlecruisers, Enterprise, Columbia and 8 Andorian Kumari-class cruisers faced off against 20 Romulan warbirds.

They arrived not a minute too soon, as they saw two warbirds tearing into Enterprise.

"Dive below Ensign, Lt. Goto target their cloaking device, go for the spikes under their belly, get back round afterwards!" Trip shouted.

Challenger turned upside down while diving underneath the warbird, delivered a blow to the cloaking device that triggered the same cascading explosion that they saw with the T'Karah and reappeared turning up on the other side. "I owe you pink skin!" Shran praised through the com. "Finish 'em off, Shran!" Trip retorted.

"Same with the next one!" Trip ordered, while Enterprise killed off the recently crippled warbird. The news about this maneuver was quickly relayed from ship to ship across the whole Coalition fleet. Especially the nimble Andorian Kumari class fighters were ideally suited to exploit this weakness of the Romulans. The attackers quickly noticed who had brought the unfavorable news and 3 warbirds tore into Challenger.

A massive round of hits rocked them and Trip was sent flying, crashing into the helm console. Ensign McCormack had sunk to the ground with a scream of pain, severely injured, and Trip tried to regain his composure. A big cut above his eye released a small stream of blood over his face. Two MACO's collected the lifeless body of McCormack and carried him away towards sickbay. T'Pol took the helm control

"Roll it darlin', Goto spank 'em! Y'got only one attempt!" Trip shouted

T'Pol rolled Challenger upside down and swooped them below two of the attacking warbirds in an amazing curved upside-down maneuver. Goto delivered two torpedo volleys that crippled the attackers with an accuracy that would give Malcolm a wet dream. The third warbird was kept busy by Shran. To turn the ship upside down again, T'Pol yanked Challenger into a half looping and they ended up right behind the two crippled warbirds.

"Goto, target their warp core, Fire!"

"Go to hell!" Goto croaked as he delivered two rounds of torpedo fire, accompanied by the phaser cannons and over a hundred Romulans met their creator when two warbirds exploded into massive fireballs.

"I'll buy your helmsman an ale!" Shran shouted through the com link, as Enterprise delivered the final blow to the third attacker.

"My wife doesn't do booze," Trip laughed back, shooting T'Pol an admiring glance.

A few hours, the loss of two Suurok- and 3 Kumari-class cruisers later, the Romulans were down to 8 ships. Captain Archer had been severely injured early in the fight, but Shran had made good use of his years of experience in the Imperial Guard. Both Enterprise and Columbia had taken a heavy beating and both Kov and Kelby had their hands very full to keep their systems running. Challenger was far from pristine condition herself, but the new shields had protected them long enough to keep them in the race. Engineering was busy after several hits to the impulse engines had left them at half impulse. Commander Bresinskaya made a fantastic job of keeping things together. Considering who was the captain, she had a high standard to live up to and the Russian lady dutifully delivered.

Now outnumbered hopelessly, the Romulans were dealt with in a matter of 2 hours. While the Suurok cruisers stopped any Romulan ships from escaping, herding them back to the battle scene, the nimble Kumari-class ships of the Andorians dove below the warbirds to cripple them with the neck bite blow to the cloaking device, a move that would become known as the "Tucker dive," while the three NX-class Human ships and 4 smaller D'Kyr-type vessels, which had joined the battle after having been recalled from Patrols, shredded them to space dust.

"Phase cannon! Target the warpcore!" Trip shouted. Blood still ran down his face. Stubborn as ever, he refused to leave the bridge after face-planting into the helm console. A blinding explosion on the screen meant the destruction of the 20th and last warbird.

A long silence followed. As the pressure fell off, Trip went over to the com console and opened a channel.

"This is Captain Charles Tucker III of the Starfleet vessel Challenger. To all fleet. YEEE-HAW, well done everybody!" he shouted before he went back under the whoops and cheers of all the bridge crew, except for his wife. She settled for a very elevated giggle brow."

"Ashayam, I did not know, that you are such an agreeable pilot," he drawled in Vulcan as he plopped back heavily in his captain's chair.

"I have a great deal of talents, my beloved," she shot back with a very pronounced giggle brow and a look that told him to save some energy for the night.

Act 10 : Starfleet Headquarters

"Well, Cap'n keep an eye on 'er," Trip said, patting Shran solidly on the shoulder as he handed over the command of Challenger.

"Thank you, I will," the blue-skinned man shot back.

After fending off the massive attack on Vulcan, with 44 casualties for the Humans, more than 300 for the Andorians, 212 Vulcans and more than 1500 Romulans the immediate danger had been averted. Earth and Vulcan had declared war on the Romulan Star Empire, shortly after followed by Tellar and Andoria. According to Vulcan intelligence – who, after all, were best suited to infiltrating their distant brothers – there was no imminent action to be expected. Not knowing that their Vulcan accomplice V'Lon had not only failed his mission of ridding them of Trip and the Challenger, but also given away their plans to attack Vulcan, the Romulans had committed all but 5 of their available warbirds to the invasion fleet.

The lost element of surprise coupled to a weakness of their design, found out by an eager engineer and exploited by brilliant helmsmen had forced their fleet into a humiliating defeat. For days, debris burned up in Vulcans atmosphere. The Romulans were in no condition to conduct any more surprise attacks in the immediate future. They barely had enough ships left to prevent an all out attack by the Coalition fleet. Vulcan operatives within the Romulan Star Empire had delivered reports that the Romulans calculated it would take 15 to 24 months to rebuild their fleet.

After the fight, all commanding officers of the Coalition fleet were summoned to the High Council, where they received decorations for their merits in the fight for Vulcan. When it was Trip's turn to be decorated, T'Pau decided to throw all protocol over board and she hugged her father with a kiss on his cheek, right in front of all members of the High Council, shooting every Vulcan eyebrow very far north.

While the Andorian ships headed home, the three Human ships left for Earth to lick their wounds. Jonathan Archer, who had been severely injured, survived and returned to duty 3 weeks later, barely in time to lose his next first officer as Shran took over the Challenger from Trip. The first couple settled back to their home on Earth. T'Pol had requested a change of job from Gardner. Granting her wish, she changed from teaching at the academy to engineering research on Saturn Station, incidentally the same site a certain engineer was ordered to, as construction of the new Constitution class prototype started.