A Fine Mess by Chianna

DISCLAIMER:  Paramount is master of this universe, my little corner is mortgaged to the hilt so don't sue me.  I'm just taking these characters out for a little ride and I promise to return them with no dents or dings. 

First Time Fan Fic Writers Lament:  Though a fan for years, a canon to me is just something you shoot – any violations are completely unintentional and I appreciate any suggestions.  Email at oceans63@swbell.net.

Chapter 1  - Something's Burning

I'd be equally as willing/ For a Dentist to be drilling/Than to ever let a woman in my life. – Prof. Higgins in My Fair Lady

Working on one of a series of burned out relays after their latest "encounter" with a less than friendly first contact, Charles "Trip" Tucker decided that there really was not much to this diplomacy thing. He had already formulated a theory that he was more than willing to share with Subcommander T'pol.  The aliens they encountered seemed to have only 3 basic agendas:

1.   Help us please, since we can't help ourselves.

2.   Help us please, but did we happen to mention that we have a hidden agenda and you're not gonna like it?

3.   Who the hell invited your sorry asses over here?  Does anyone have a firing solution locked on 'em yet?

"Maybe, I should design a sensor net that analyzes alien intentions. I could beta test it on T'pol," Trip grumbled to no one in particular.

Speak of the devil, he thought, as it seemed just thinking of her seemed to materialize her in front of him faster than a transporter beam.

As T'pol approached, she fixed Trip with an assessing glare, "The Captain has asked for me to assess your progress on getting the sensor array and transporters back online." 

Come to think of it, mused Trip, have I ever seen any other look on a Vulcan's face, but an "assessing glare?"  Trip fixed the Vulcan with a lopsided grin.  "Well let me see, we have twenty-seven fried relays.  I have three teams work'n on repairing 'em and they've taken care of fifteen in the last 3 hours.  This one here would make sixteen.  So, hmmmm, if I fall back on my elementary algebra…we should have this all wrapped up in less than 3 hours."  

"Commander,"

Wait! Was that a flash of exasperation, on T'pol's face?  Well, I have managed to tweak at least one emotion from her consistently, he wryly concluded. 

"Your mastery of rudimentary mathematics is not presently at issue here.   We are currently occupying a seemingly hostile area of space and the scanner's functionality is critical to assessing our tactical exposures.  Is there anyway to expedite your efficiency?"

Trip exchanged glare for neutral stare for a moment.  I guess the old adage "if you can't dazzle 'em with intelligence, baffle 'em with bull shit" does not apply in the Subcommander's case, he thought. 

"We'll prioritize sensor relays.  There's certainly no place 'round here anyone would care to beam down to anyway.  Tell the Capt'n, he can count on the sensors up and run'n in the next hour. 

"That shall be adequate Commander," replied T'pol.  She gracefully turned and glided out of view leaving a frosted Chief Engineer holding a spanner in a way that it was not designed and contemplating potential uses that surely were not identified in the tool's initial design specs. 

"Your welcome, your royal Vulcan princess…She is the most piss-tercating female anything I have ever had the misfortune to…" mumbled Trip, he thought to himself.

"Talk to?  Have you ever contemplated why she seems to bring out the worst in your sorry excuse of what you loosely refer to as communication?" injected Reed as he rounded the corner leading to engineering.  "By the by, that panel seems to be smoking behind you."

Trip spun and sighed as he contemplated life, smoking relays and his penchant for being the human equivalent of a comic straight man for the universe.  "Are you here to help or to further point out my failings as a Chief Engineer?  Right now I don't need hecklers in the cheap seats."

Malcolm shrugged, adding "As Armory Officer I have a vested interest in seeing the sensors up and running.  So the Captain said that I could lend you assistance.  But if you'd rather I didn't…"

"Stop right there, Mister Reed.  Consider yourself drafted into Engineering – with my thanks."  Tapping the comm panel, Trip notified the other engineering teams of the sensor relay repair priority. He turned, smiling to himself and thought, maybe, just maybe my luck is finally turning. 

The universe had other ideas.

STSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTST

Captain Archer surveyed the bridge and its inhabitants with obvious relief and pride.  They had weathered another crisis that further tested his team's mettle.  No casualties this time.  He could sense the after effects of a successful mission on the team.  A mild euphoria, common after the adrenaline rush of dealing with a survival situation was transforming into the shaky exhaustion that often followed events like these.  The next bridge shift was due soon and the rest would be welcome for the whole team. 

STSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTSTST

Chapter 2  - Communication Is Everything

Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah… did not miss the boat.   - Mark Twain, commonly revered by current-day Vulcan philosophers.

Captain Archer surveyed the bridge and its inhabitants with obvious relief and pride.  They had weathered another crisis that further tested his team's mettle.  No casualties this time.  He could sense the after effects of a successful mission on the team.  A mild euphoria, common after the adrenaline rush of dealing with a survival situation was transforming into the shaky exhaustion.  The next bridge shift was due soon and the rest would be welcome for the whole team. 

Archer sensed T'pol just behind him and to his left browsing intently through the science station screens.  After the past couple of months, he has come to appreciate the quiet competence and unflappable calm of his first officer. 

Sure, it can be annoying to be excited, angry, elated or frustrated and face T'pol's slightly canted eyebrow in each situation.  But he could swear that he was beginning to sense, if not emotions, at least shifts in the diminutive subcommander's moods.  The captain could almost swear that T'pol relished putting the chief engineer in his place – at least certainly reminding him of some of his less than fortunate dealings with alien life forms. 

"T'pol.  How long until we reach the Kirilian binary system? I'm looking forward to surveying gravitational impacts on planets subjected to the twin pulls of the system's two suns."

"At our current rate of warp 2.4 we will reach the edge of this system in 37 hours, 17 minutes. "

Flushed with satisfaction, Archer couldn't help teasing the Subcommander.  "Could you be more precise?"

"I can provide you with alternate arrival times at changes in Warp factor, if you so desire.  At current speeds, we will reach the outer planetary body Kirilian 8 in 38 hours, fine minutes, Kirilian 7 in an additional 2 hours, 3 minutes.  Kirilian 6…" droned T'pol.

"Uncle. T'pol."

"Captain, I fail to see matriarchal or patriarchal sibling relationships as having any bearing on estimated arrival times."

"Uncle is a way humans say that they retreat in the face of a formidable foe or equally formidable statistics." 

T'pol focused directly on the Captain, adding, "Human colloquialisms are quite confusing and non-representative of their definition.  I may consider asking Ensign Sato to assist me in researching and adding them to the Universal translator database.  Commander Tucker may find these enhancements useful, since his communications seem to be overly populated with these phrases."

Archer was sure that he heard a rather indelicate snort coming from a certain Ensign located at the comm station.  T'pol certainly can hold her own, he mused.  "Not a bad idea, Subcommander.  I'm sure that the Commander will appreciate your efforts."

A tone rang throughout the bridge, snapping everyone's attention back to Hoshi at the comm.  She tilted her head, listening intently.  Switching off the comm for a moment, Hoshi relayed the latest communication.

"Captain Storek of the Vulcan exploration vessel Moons of San'jeen is requesting Enterprise's assistance, Captain.  We have audio and visual."

Archer raised both eyebrows high enough to do a Vulcan justice.  "A Vulcan Captain is requesting our assistance?  This, I've got to hear.  Hoshi, put the good Captain up on the screen and let's see how we can aid out Vulcan friends"

STSTSTSTSTSTSTTSTSTSTS

Chapter 3 – Once More Unto The Breach – Shakespeare, of course!

"Walk softly and carry an armored tank division." – Jack Nicholson. A Few Good Men

Captain Archer turned back to the main viewing screen.  "Hail the San'jeen, Hoshi."

Captain Storek's formidable face filled the screen. His composed countenance belied his surroundings.  From what the Enterprise crew could make of the background scene, San'jeen had taken heavy damage.  The bridge was bathed in a crimson glow typical of secondary emergency lighting.  Plumes of smoke were visible from a station to the left of Storek's shoulder.

Archer's lighthearted mood evaporated faster than a Texas rain shower in August.  No amount of frustration with the Vulcan's could prevent his empathy with fellow Captain at dealing with such damage to his ship.


"Captain Storek, this is Captain Archer of the Enterprise.  How may we be of assistance?  Our ship is at your disposal." 

"Captain Archer, we were on a mission to a planet called Aviaria in the Solkan system .5

light years from our current position.  We received distress signals from the planet reporting a pandemic that crippled the planet and is defying attempts by medical personnel there to discover a cure.  Data transmitted by the Aviarian government leads us to believe that this disease is related to a particularly virulent strain of Rigilian fever that we have dealt with before.  Casualties exceed over 50,000 in the last four days.  Data collected so far has confirmed a 100% casualty rate within seven days of contracting the disease."

"We're attacked four hours ago by three small ships that seemed to be set to ambush us as we passed an asteroid belt just prior to entering the Solkan system.  We were able to assume a defensive position, but the ships seemed intent on targeting our propulsion systems.  Our warp drive is offline and we have only limited impulse capabilities.  It is imperative that the medical supplies and equipment that we have are delivered to Aviaria in all haste."  The Vulcan captain finally concluded leaving the obvious request unasked.  Maybe it was Vulcan pride at asking such a favor from an earth ship or he simply decided that the need was so obvious that he felt that making the request was redundant. 

Archer felt no need to respond with unnecessary information.  While the comm link was still open he directed himself to the conn.  "Travis, get a fix on the San'jeen.  Archer to Engineering."

"Engineering here, Capt'n" drawled Commander Tucker. 

"Trip, we're going to blow the carbon out of the engines today.  Just wanted you all to be prepared.

"We'll give ya all she's got Capt'n and maybe a little more."

Archer turned to the conn again and could see that the young ensign was keyed up at the promise of this new mission.  "Travis, warp 5 on my mark.  All engines full, now"

Archer turned back to the screen.  "Any sensor reading on hostiles still in your area?"

"Regrettably, our sensors are not working at optimal specifications.  We seem to be alone according to short-range scans.  We are transmitting all intelligence data that we have on the three ships.  We have no previous record of their existence."

"Captain Storek, we will be at your coordinates in just under two hours.  Archer out."

Archer had heard his armory officer working feverishly throughout the communication.  He smiled knowing that Malcolm might have broken comm protocol to ask Storek for particulars on the attack if the Vulcan had not beat them both to the punch with the data download.  Malcolm was fiercely protective of the ship and crew which made him an excellent tactical officer – uh, though a less than tactful diplomat.

"Malcolm, I need for you & T'Pol to analyze the data from the Vulcan ship.  Prepare to give a briefing to senior staff in 30 minutes, we do not have much time to prep for this mission and we need to be prepared for anything."

Malcolm's handsome, normally reserved face, was pinched in concentration.  As he reviewed the data on the San'jeen's battle with the three smaller ships, he found he could readily draw some basic conclusions.  San'jeen was, for all intents, an exploration vessel.  Probably not very armament heavy, he concluded.    Individually, the three unidentified ships did not have superior firepower.  But, what they did have were "pack" tactics.  Wolves would snap at the legs of a fleeing deer, disabling it, until one or more could come in for the kill.  But these wolves didn't serve up the final coup de grace."

 "…so what are these bloody bastards after?" Malcolm murmured to himself.

Archer smiled and added to Malcolm, "That, Mr. Reed, is what I hope that you & T'Pol can enlighten us on, in about twenty eight minutes."

There cannot be a crisis next week.  My schedule is already full.   - Henry Kissinger

Chapter 4 – Time & A Plan

They had all gathered in the Captain's ready room, Archer, T'Pol, Tucker and Reed. 

Archer barely nodded at his exec officer.  T'pol did not miss her cue, launching into a succinct review of Lt. Reed's and her own conclusions.  "The Lieutenant and I have reviewed the data from the San'jeen.  The attack itself could only have three objectives:  destruction, acquisition or delay.  Since the unidentified ships broke off before destroying the San'Jeen and no attempt was put forth to board her, we must assume, given the current data, that delay was their ultimate motive."

Malcolm pressed a button on the display and specs for one of the marauders flashed on the screen in front of the team.  "Though the scans lack detail, we can extrapolate some rudimentary information on this ships armament and defensive capabilities." 

"They seem not to be as technologically advanced as the Vulcan ship.  But what they lack in sophistication, they more than make up for in fire power."

"You're not kidding.  Looks like almost a full third of that ship houses their weapons and related systems.  Floating armories if you ask me," piped the chief engineer. 

Malcolm's face grew grave as it often did when discussing Enterprise's weapon's systems.  "And speaking of weapons, we are having some problems with power fluctuations to the phase cannons.  We repeatedly ran tests over the last twenty-four hours.  Two of the test results are suspect but inconclusive as to the origin."

The Commander drew up straighter in his chair, concern etched on his face.  Before Tucker could start to grill Malcolm on what the delay was in informing him, Malcolm beat him to the punch.

"The first problem yesterday was barely even a ghost on the system's sensors.  We ran three more tests yesterday and five more today.  Only the last two completed just prior to this meeting recreated the power drain."  Malcolm turned and addressed his next comment to the Chief Engineer.  "I didn't want to escalate the problem until I could confirm it.  The Engineering team has had their hands full with other repairs."   Tucker sat back a bit in his chair and nodded toward Malcolm.  Reed knew how the Commander took all system's performance personally and was relieved to see the Engineer relax a bit. Unquestionably, he felt the same about the ships weapons and knew how he would feel if his teams performance was put in question.

"Guess weapons just moved 'ta the head o' the line Captain, if it's fine with you?" posed Tucker. 

"Took the works right out of my mouth, Trip.  We will meet with the San'Jeen and help if we can, or rather if they will let us."  Archer had lost a little of the bitterness that he had in talking about Vulcan's in previous months.  He just knew he had to be realistic.  He could offer their top engineer's services and the ship's resources. But there were only two likely outcomes.  Either, the Vulcans would refuse their help on the grounds that their technology was restricted to humans or point out that the human's "inferior" knowledge would be of little help. 

Well, he wasn't in the space business to stroke his ego.  Every interaction with the Vulcans seemed to reinforce that point, mused the Captain.

"We'll make one more communication with the San'Jeen.  Scrambled, of course.  Then, I want to have radio silence after that.  Let's not draw any unwanted attention to the rendezvous.  If we end up following through on the San'Jeen's operation, I'd like to approach the planet without anyone associating us with the Vulcan's or their mission."

"T'Pol, I want you to analyze the data Lt. Reed has gathered on our phantom power drain.  See if you can pin down the source.  Trip, run system diagnostics.  We need to nail this down, pronto.  Dismissed" 

The team filed out of the meeting.  Tucker always acted the southern gentleman, but as he stepped aside to let T'Pol exit before him, he had an ulterior motive. 

"Looks like the Captain doesn't expect that your pals on the San'Jeen 'ta be int'rested in our engineering expertise?"

T'Pol wondered at the human need to vocalize questions for which they already had determined the answer. They referred to it as "rhetorical," but in her opinion, should more accurately be termed "pointless."  Her eyes narrowed slightly.  Knowing humans as she was beginning to, this discussion was likely to lead in a direction that was unrelated to its origin.

"There are protocols for interaction with humans when dealing with our more advanced technologies that any Vulcan captain could not ignore."

"Hell, T'Pol, I know that only too well.  Actually I'm kind'a impressed that the captain of the San'Jeen contacted us at all."  T'Pol fixed him with an assessing gaze. 

Why's she looking at me that way, Tucker thought?  Wonder if she thinks I'm setting her up?

"I mean it.  But you know it's frustrating to us to be treated like kids that need to be sent to their room before the party starts.  It's just that Captain Storek managed to have a conversation with the Captain without your people's annoy'n habit of put'n us in our place." 

"Is there a point to this conversation?"

Tucker, in any interaction with T'Pol, seemed to have an uncanny knack for putting his foot in his mouth.  He'd meant to compliment the captain of the San'Jeen, not insult her entire race. 

"I guess not.  I just wanted you to know that if I was needed, I'd be glad to help – I'd do it anyway but I just…"  Trip's words just tapered off.  He looked at her, shrugged and turned down the corridor that led to engineering.  Well that went well, Trip. Maybe you should try the Universal translator next time, he contemplated without much enthusiasm. 

T'Pol's eyes followed the Commander as he walked down the passageway.  Of all the humans she had dealt with on the Enterprise, the mercurial Chief Engineer was the most illusive for her to understand.  As humans would put it, Mr. Tucker often seemed to "wear his heart on his sleeve."  Not a particularly attractive picture that thought bought to mind.  How do human's come up with these phrases? 

In the next moment the Commander could also show an almost Vulcan single-mindedness to solving an engineering problem.  He was, without question, good at what he did.  He exemplified humanities' amazing knack for adaptability.  Maybe Vulcan's discount humankind's rapid assimilation and development of new technologies because their progress seems so unlikely for a race so unlike themselves in regard to logic and discipline.  They are determined to "catch up," as the human's would put it.  What would Vulcan's do when humans were unquestionably their equals, at least in terms of technology?

What indeed?

T'Pol put her ruminations on human nature and the Commander's, for that matter, aside and proceeded to her station to review the weapon's test logs.

Spoilers – Just a wee one for "Shuttlepod One"

Chapter  5

The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth. – Albert Camus

As Malcolm approached engineering, he spied Commander Tucker at one of the engineering stations.  Tucker was muttering and shaking his head.  As far as Malcolm could tell, the keys that Trip seemed to be hitting were rather random. The problem Tucker was chewing on, apparently, was not related to the screen in front to him. 

"Don't even ask Lieutenant." 

Malcolm was impressed.  I'll have to remember that trick of seeing someone approaching in the reflection on a station screen.  Excellent defensive maneuver, he thought. 

And as contrary as a mule, Tucker launched right into the problem that he had just the moment before told Reed not to ask.

"Do you think that T'Pol goes out of her way to misunderstand everything that I say?" Malcolm opened his mouth as if to reply but should have realized that he had ventured into a soliloquy and not a dialogue. 

"I actually try to say something nice for once and she manages to take the most negative interpretation of what I say.  'Course once I said it, I knew…  Aw hell, can't she give a guy credit for trying?"  

"It was the "bum" comment that I made when we were stranded on the shuttlepod, wasn't it?" Malcolm was finally able to interject.

Trip's head whipped around and he finally made eye contact.  His mouth fell open, completely dumbfounded.  Malcolm thought for a moment that the commander resembled a rather confused guppy.

"Right.  Until I made my alcohol influenced observation, your feelings about Vulcans in general clouded your ability to see the sub-commander as an individual much less a female.  How often have your eyes descended to some of the… 'er, sub-commander's let us just say… assets, lately?"

More fish impressions. 

"Well you might have caught up with the sparks coming off you two like a Roman candle.  However, no one has clued T'Pol in to your change of heart, so to speak."  Malcolm hazarded a look at the commander and noted that his mouth had shut back up again like a bear trap.  "Looks like you've just realized a few things yourself." 

Malcolm did not often get the last word on the fast talking southerner, but Tucker was beginning to realize that whenever he did, it was normally a humdinger. 

"Alright Lt. Reed."  Tucker favored him with a sickly, rather strained smile.  "Do you think that you could use you amazing powers of observation to help me tackle the phase canon's power fluctuation?"

As Malcolm and the commander settled in to review the data spooling down the screen, Malcolm added, "Of course, just as with your Yank superheros, I only use my powers for good."

Chapter 6  - Problems Left Unsolved Can Come Back and Bite 'Ya…

Tucker had tried just about everything he could.  He and Malcolm had been up and down every inch of the relays and power grids for the three phase cannons.  They just had to be missing something.  Enterprise had experienced two more power fluctuations and the intensity of the power drain was increasing. 

He distractedly wiped the sweat that was threatening to run into his eyes.  At times like this he felt like a tunnel rat crawling around the cramped Jeffries tubes. Chasing down these phantom fluctuations like looking for some elusive cheese.  Malcolm was not in much better shape.  It was fairly easy to tell when the Lieutenant was getting to the end of his tether.

Malcolm…would…start…to…talk…in…very…clipped…precise…sentences.  Trip could almost hear his friends voice in his head.  Wait.  Nope, he thought, I think that's the real thing coming.

"Bloody…Damn… Hell…  Haven't you found the problem yet?  We'll reach the rendezvous point in less than an hour." 

Tucker realized that Malcolm, pushed beyond the point of "clipped & precise," had achieved just plain caged-bear-poked-with-stick irritated.  Probably not good to get caught with the stick in his hand.  Probably better to play this straight - the whole, empathetic caring senior officer bit.  Maybe he could avoid let'n Malcolm in on the fact that he was at his wit's end too.

"Mmmm, actually no such luck.  I take it there's no clue in the system's diagnostic reports?"  Trip questioned as he inched his way back down the tube to the opening near engineering.  He'd willingly follow any clue now.  He was flat out'ta ideas himself.

Malcolm heard the exhaustion in the chief engineer's voice.  He felt even worse when Tucker backed out of the tube opening and faced the armory officer.  His hair was stuck in sweat-wet spikes to his forehead.  Dark circles were evidence of the commander's relentless pursuit of the problem. 

Frustration and commiseration were more the order of the day, Malcolm reflected.  He took a deep breath and reviewed the exasperating path of his and T'Pol's lack of progress. 

"We simply can not find a common denominator.  Sometimes the engines are accelerating or decelerating, or maybe we're changing heading.  And the combinations of ships systems being utilized are never the same.  One time the environmental system had kicked into an air purifying cycle, the next time it was when we opened the shuttle bay doors to deploy a sensor buoy.  It defies any logical explanation"

"Don't tell me T'Pol said that?"  Trip quipped.  He'd smile if he didn't think it 'a make his face hurt like the rest of him.

"No.  Actually she said that once we eliminated all the impossible, whatever remained, however improbable, must be the truth."  Malcolm could see Trip's grin widen.  The lieutenant followed this up with exaggerated annoyance, which earned him a tired chuckle from the commander,  "Can you believe that she quoted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to ME?" 

"Hell." Trip replied.  "If Sherlock Holmes could find a clue to what's wrong, I'd gladly hand him a spanner and tell him to have at it."  Drawing his hand shakily through his hair, Tucker added,  "I'm gonna get cleaned up a bit.  Meet ya' on the bridge to look over those reports.  Maybe what this problem needs is a few irrational human-type leaps in logic." 

On the bridge, Ensign Mayweather was checking sensor readings.  The captain had ordered reduced speed so as to not draw any unwanted attention to their approach.  Travis estimated that they were about ten minutes away from meeting with the San'Jeen.  Hopefully the Vulcan's would pick up on why the Enterprise chose to approach without the customary hail. 

Soon, the San'Jeen was picked up on the bridge's view screen.  Archer could not hold back a whistle of shock at the condition of the San'Jeen.  They were obviously still venting plasma from one of the warp propulsion units.  Scorch marks were starkly evident on the rust red hull of the Vulcan science vessel.  The evidence was plain that the smaller vessel had put of a valiant defense.  It simply was not designed for a fight. 

As Travis smoothly pulled even with the San'Jeen, Archer noted that Trip had returned to the bridge and was making his way to the remote engineering station.  Archer sent a wordless query to his friend who replied with a simple resigned shake of his head. 

Damn, Archer thought.  They had yet to nail down the phase cannon problem.  Events were moving too fast right now.  They'd have to concentrate on what the San'Jeen's captain needed them to do.  He'd take Trip with him to the San'Jeen, even though they might refuse his services.  Malcolm and T'Pol would have to carry on until at least they were underway again toward their final destination.

Archer briskly requested over the comm  "Archer to sickbay."

"Phlox here, Captain"

"Dr. Phlox, I'd like you to join Trip and I in the shuttle bay.  I'm think'n your expertise will be called on before we've left the San'Jeen.  Archer out."

"Acknowledged, Captain."

Trip waited until they were off the bridge before he questioned Jon.  He had occasionally challenged the Captain and when thinking it over worried sometimes that he took advantage of their friendship and more often then not, the captain's patience.

"Capt'n, don't ya' think that T'Pol would be more appropriate than me, ta' go over to the San'Jeen?"  Trip had seen T'Pol's raised eyebrow when the captain had named his team.  Course, she rarely ever interrupted or questioned Jon's decisions.  Maybe she concluded that I couldn't do any more damage to the Vulcan ship than what had already been done, he mused.

Archer's reply interrupted Trip's thoughts on the subcommander's motives.  "Trip, you're my chief engineer.  We'll make the gesture even if it's not appreciated.  Besides, if we're ever going to prove to the Vulcan's that we've grown up, we can't always use T'Pol as our buffer." They proceeded to their destination, little aware that events were leading them to a rescue of planetary, rather than simply ship, proportions. 

Chapter 7 – The Game Is Afoot

Shuttle Pod 2 docked without incident to the Vulcan ship.  Tucker was just relieved that he did not cut it close and nick the paint.  Though, he reflected, the San'Jeen had less than a factory-finish quality to her outer hull at the moment.  He was, and had always been, impressed with the elegant design of Vulcan ships.  Now he could add durability to the list of attributes. 

If he could only get his hands on the design specs for this baby, he could really tune up the Enterprise.  Wonder if the Vulcan's ever heard of Santa Claus, he sarcastically mused. 

As they emerged from the airlock, the three Enterprise officers were greeted by the captain and first officer of the vessel. 

Without preamble, Captain Storek led them to a conference room.  Archer had been on Vulcan ships before, though not on a science vessel of this type before.  Maybe it was his imagination, but this ship did not seem quite so sterile and Spartan as the diplomatic vessels that were the lion's share of his experience. 

The Captain was a bit of surprise too.  Storek did not quite fill the bill of the long, lean forbidding Vulcans that seemed to overrun Starfleet headquarters.  Point of fact, Tucker and Archer were a good half-foot taller than Storek.  As he took a seat in the small conference room, he was pleasantly surprised to see some artifacts hung on the walls.  Maybe they were there for study, but Archer could not help thinking that their presence relieved some of the institutional feel common in Vulcan ships. 

Following Archer's glance about the room, Storek commented, "As you can see we are typically geared for anthropological research.  We were assigned to pick up the medical supplies needed for Aviaria and transport them immediately."

Storek paused for a moment.  "We did not anticipate anything other than a relief mission. In light of our current status, we had reason the revisit some of the background information and we have noted irregularities that you must be appraised of before proceeding."

Trip saw that Jon seemed to straighten just a little in his chair and his eyes narrowed at the mention of "irregularities."  Knowing Vulcans as he was beginning to,  "irregularities" was probably better interpreted as "we thought it was just a normal patch of space but found out that, yes, in fact, what we have here is a class nine worm hole.  Did I mention that it seems to be sucking us in?"

Storek manipulated the padd in his hand and a representation of the Aviaria was on the screen in a world map cut out representation.  Tucker noted that population centers were highlighted, with the largest on a continent near the center of the map and in the southern hemisphere. 

Storek's second in command, T'Pulan, a tall, spare Vulcan female, stood next to the screen and started to review the data collected after the first distress call.  "On the screen, you will note the spread of the disease in four hour increments starting with the first reports seven days ago."   Small hot spots dotted every continent as the scenario started.  As time elapsed, each of the small spots seemed to radiate like suns going supernova.

At this point, Dr. Phlox interrupted.  "What I am seeing here is the disease appearing for the first time, simultaneously, over all of Aviaria's continents?"  The tone of his query led Tucker to believe that this development was not normal.  The Captain had caught on too.

"Doctor," Archer asked pointedly.  "Are you saying that there is something significant about spread of this disease?" 

"Undoubtedly Captain."  Phlox had thoroughly reviewed the data when the San'Jeen had first contacted them.  "This particular strain of Rigilian fever had never been reported in Aviaria.  As a matter of fact, Aviarian's up to this point did not seem particularly susceptible to it, ever." 

"In your own history, you might remember that many outbreaks of disease can be traced to a "patient zero" such as your "Typhoid Mary" of the early 20th century.  Diseases tend to radiate from one area and then are transported and repeat the process – increasing exponentially… but at a slower rate than what we are seeing here."

"Indeed" remarked T'Pulan.  "In the aftermath of the attack, we have come to believe that the disease may have been seeded to major population centers in order to maximize infection rate."

Archer rounded on the first officer.  "What you are talking about here is the intentional murder of millions of sentient beings.  What evidence do you have to back this up?"  Tucker sensed that his commander had already bought what was presented to him, but his comments reflected his utter disbelief of the horrifying notion of what could only be termed global murder.

Twin planetary maps replaced Aviaria on the screen.  "With these statistics in mind we have uncovered two similar outbreaks have occurred in neighboring systems."  The time lapsed progressions of the disease played out on both planets to gruesome effect in front of them.  T'Pulan added, "These planets also have something else in common.  Besides being prosperous, heavily populated planets, these planetary systems are rich in Dilithium crystals and many valuable metals." 

Phlox also posed, "There is possibly another common denominator.  What you are saying now helps me make sense of some of the virus's unusual attributes.  The only explanation is that it has been engineered to be particularly virulent to the Aviarians." 

"That was our conclusion, as well, upon reviewing the data from the other two planets.  The epidemics seem to have been engineered specifically for each unique genetic population," replied the Vulcan Captain. 

He continued, "Vulcan High Command is apprised of the situation, however our nearest ship to this sector is a supply vessel.  They will rendezvous with us to assist in repairs in a day and a half.  We need you to complete the mission to deliver the supplies.  They have dispatched two armed Vulcan starships from Starbase Alpha 3, however their estimated time of arrival is in three days."

"So basically we're it until the cavalry shows up," Tucker stated rather than asked. 

Archer asked about the transfer of medical supplies and equipment and the details were ironed out.  "Can we assist you in repairs or supplies in anyway?"

Storek admitted, "We have much of the supplies that we will need to complete the repairs we can until further assistance arrives."  He turned his attention to the Chief Engineer.  "Regrettably, we are unable to accept your assistance due to limitations imposed by our High Council.  Historically, I have been impressed with the human capacity for engineering improvisation."

Tucker blinked.  He looked at the Captain who showed a similar reaction.  That was a compliment. Tucker was sure of it… not just one of those subtle jabs that the Enterprise crew had grown accustom to.

"However, Commander, I would appreciate it if you meet with our chief engineer to review the specifications of the matter resequencers that we are sending down to duplicate the antivirus.  You may not be familiar with the model that we are currently using and with the spread of the illness, they may need your assistance on the planet to maintain their performance." 

This was a major concession and seemed to have no strings attached.  I'm really beginning to like this guy, Trip considered.  He could almost taste a pecan pie made with the more advanced Vulcan technology.  Heck, he'd even share a slice with T'Pol. 

After a brief consultation with the Vulcan engineer, they boarded the shuttlepod and headed back to Enterprise.  All of the supplies were beamed into a storage bay and secured. 

It was decided that upon approach of the planet, shuttlepods would be launched to the planet and the Enterprise would pass by the planet but act like it was continuing a basic survey of the system.  With any luck, the Enterprise would keep the attention of any unwanted eyes while the shuttlepods proceeded unnoticed to the planet.  T'pol, Trip and Hoshi would proceed to a continent in the western Hemisphere that was most densely populate.  Travis, Dr. Phlox and another crewman would head toward the capital.

Captain Storek believed word of their mission might have been leaked from the planet's surface by agents related to the marauders that attacked San'Jeen.  Archer believed with any luck, Hoshi might be able to intercept a transmission planet-side that Enterprise might not because the ship would be keeping it's distance for now.  

Trip was not thrilled about leaving the ship with the phase cannon's problems not yet resolved.  At least Malcolm would continue the search.  He'd have to settle for that and go where he was most needed. 

Chapter 8 – The Quality of  Compassion

Hoshi was amazed as they stepped out of the shuttle.  They had seen the city on approach.  The buildings were magnificent.  They rose on spindly spires that were capped by white disks that seemed to be trying to rival the clouds.  The sky was violet and seemed to reflect a warmth on the all the terrain.  So it was a visible shock to bring their gaze down to the valley below and see the seemingly endless tide of tents and other makeshift shelters. 

"We shouldn't be surprised.  They said that they had run out of public space and had to try to get the sick out of the city to quarantine the contagion," Hoshi said as much to herself as to her companions. 

Trip was a little breathless as he observed, "I'd seen this movie once.  I think it was called Gone With the Wind, 'bout the aftermath of the siege of Atlanta, and there was this one scene.  It was… this is worse." 

They were met by the expected welcoming party as they approached the camp with their supplies,.  Hoshi had made contact with planetary and city officials when they entered the atmosphere and explained their mission.  Maybe under different circumstances their motives might have been questioned.  But seeing the relief on the faces of Aviarians washed away any concerns the landing party had about the greeting they would receive. 

The Aviarians were quite striking.  Tall and slim, Trip thought that they did resemble the name that the Universal Translator had picked for their home world.  Instead of hair, their heads were covered with a close-cropped sprinkling of feathers.  There was no uniformity to their coloring.  One of them, either the leader or just one bolder than the rest, stepped forward to greet T'Pol.

"Salutations.  My name is Rana.  We thank your people and your friends here for your assistance.  Come down with us to the camp so that we can immediately set up your work space."

T'Pol acknowledged the greeting and started to organize the party, "Rana, we have need of assistance to bring the rest of the supplies from our shuttle down to the camp."  Rana started to motion to some of the others to assist as T'Pol and continued. "Hoshi, show them where the shuttlepod is and work with them to bring down all of the equipment. "She will need to set up a communication's center when she arrives back at the camp. This is Commander Tucker.  He is our Chief Engineer.  He will need a secure place to set up the matter resequencers that will make the antivirus."

Tucker smiled what he hoped was his friendliest, I-just-want-to-stay-out-of-trouble-and-not-offend-anybody smile.  "Don't forget that I'll need the folks that are going to be flying some of these resequencers around the planet to work with me so that they will be able to set this up as well."

The welcoming party seemed healthy to Trip, but as they approached the camp, he was reminded of all the reasons why he tried to stay away from sickbay and all hospitals in general.  There was a distinct odor to sickness and death that defied the more obvious differences in species.  And then there were the sounds – bustle, confusion, shouts and tears.  The camp was so overrun with the sick that pallets were placed outside the tents on the ground in any shaded spot.   Once again the enormity of the crime being perpetrated on these people seemed almost incomprehensible.

Later in the day, Trip found himself making his way back to his improvised engineering department.  As he approached a tent he overheard T'Pol taking care of the diplomatic needs of the moment.  He could tell as the voices ebbed and swelled that news of the Vulcan's conclusions was not well received.  Things started to simmer down and Trip was sure that T'Pol's cooler head would prevail.  All their energies had to be focused on creation and distribution of the antiviral serum, Trip overheard T'Pol saying.  She continued to say that once that was established, more focus could be put on getting at the root cause and coordinating communication surveillance.  Good plan honey.  You've talked me down a time or two.  Just keep at it an' Vulcan logic will prevail.

He started back to his tent, where several were helping him to prep the resequencers and ready them for shipping.  They were quick and already earlier volunteers had taken over explaining the workings of each machine.  All of the people in the camp had been inoculated.  They were currently working on making more of the antivirus agent for those in the city as well as programming the Aviarians own resequencers so that they too could make the serum. As he started to make a quick trip to the communications center to see if Hoshi needed his help, a small brown blur ran right into him, bounced off and fell bottom first into the dirt in front of Trip.

For a moment, man and boy were too startled to do anything more than stare.  Trip got hold of himself first and made introductions.  "Hi.  My name's Trip, which I guess is pretty appropriate for the situation.  Sorry ''bout that.  Are you okay? Did 'ja hurt yerself?"

The little fella shook his head rather gravely.  Trip could now see twin paths of tears running down his face.  He didn't look much older than a 4-year-old human child.  In place of the feathers that the adults sported, he had light brown downy fuzz.  Trip checked around for any adults that might be looking for the little guy, but nobody seemed to be paying them much attention. 

"What's your name big fella?  Where are your folks?"  As he asked, Trip extended a hand and the boy reached up and took it, righting himself. 

With the contact of their hands it was as if a dam had burst in the little one.

"My name is Rook.  My mommy and I came here 'cause she's sick.   They told me to go out and play while they took care of my mommy and now I can't find the tent she is in.  They all look the same to me.  Do you know my mommy?  Is your name really Trip?  Do you go 'round tripping other people?"  Seemed that some universal truths hold water in any galaxy.  Tears often clear up when troubles are shared with someone you think can help. 

Trip aimed to cover all points.  "Pleased ta' meet cha' Rook.  Nope, I don't know your mommy, but I'll help you find her.  Yep, ma' name really is Trip - Charlie "Trip" Tucker.  Just Trip to all my friends, so guess that makes you one now.  Nope, I don't go 'round tripping people.  I've a hard 'nough time not tripping ma'self."  Most 4-year-olds could identify with that final declaration and Rook smiled up to the tall, funny man with the fine, shiny yellow feathers on his head. 

"Hey, I know a lady that can help you find your mommy.  Want 'ta ride up on ma' shoulders?  That way you'll be the first to spot her."  This last stroke of genius bonded the friendship and drew a big full smile and eager nod.  "She's small and just a touch greenish with pointy ears.  Some folks might even say she's kind of pretty.  You can tell me what you think when you spot her."

Rook saw T'Pol before Trip had spied her.  As they got closer, Rook spoke in what most kids would call a whisper – which it absolutely was not.  And of course, Trip already knew that T'Pol had keen hearing. 

"Looks just like you said.  I think she's pretty, too."  T'Pol shot an eyebrow in his direction.   If she could, she would have probably made a comment about his working even faster than usual when coming in contact with new species.  

Instead, she fixed him with a steady gaze and informed him, "Most cultures find kidnapping a serious offense." 

Taking a deep breath, Tucker said, "He's lost.  I told him that you would know the people that could help him find his mom.  Rook, this is T'Pol, T'Pol, the big guy here is Rook."

Parroting his new hero, Rook stuck out his hand and responded,  " Pleased ta meet cha' T'Pol."

T'Pol sighed and contemplated that the Vulcan diplomatic corps might have their hands full explaining the introduction of southern grammar to Aviarian society.  "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance as well, Rook.  I think I know someone who can help us find your mother."  Before she turned away, she considered the pair before her.  The resemblance between them was quite disarming and it was more than just their lopsided smiles.  In moments like this she could almost make out with her Vulcan reasoning why the rest of the crew was so attached to the easy charm of this human.  She could sometimes feel it herself - though admitting it did nothing to comfort her.  She may have to meditate tonight for an undetermined amount of time to reconcile these thoughts. 

The Aviarians were quite an organized society.  In short time, one of the administrators had cross-referenced Rook's name and found his mother.  They proceeded to the tent she was.  The news was not good.

When they approached the pallet where Rook's mother was, Trip could see that things were not looking good.  They had been told by the Vulcans that the serum would only reverse the disease in those that were in the first stages of the illness.  Rook's mother looked to Trip to be well beyond any help the serum could provide.  From the look on her face, Trip noted, she knew the truth as well. 

Rook knew that something was terribly wrong, too.  He put his hand in his mother's and held it gently.

"Well Rook, I hear that you found the people that came with the medicine to help us.  Leave it to my little hawk to fly right into the thick of things.  Have you been a good boy?"  Rook nodded solemnly.  Trip saw that the chatty little imp had disappeared and was replaced by the solemn little fellow that he had first met. 

She looked at the couple that had brought her child back to her.  "Thank you for your indulgence of my son.  You're arrival has saved his life."  She paused for a moment to catch her breath.  Trip looked at a nurse hovering nearby and saw her shake her head sadly.  She only confirmed what Trip had already suspected.  Finally, Rook's mother was able to continue, "Bless you all." 

"Rook, how would you like to stay with your friends for a while longer?"  Simultaneously, she looked at the two aliens behind her child.  T'Pol nodded at the unspoken request.  Trip looked at T'Pol and was overcome by an urge that he could not resist - placed his arm around her shoulder and squeezed it gently.  She did not shrug off his gentle hold on her.

"Mommy, can't I stay with you?"

"Rook, baby, I love you with all my heart.  I'm going to see your daddy soon and I need to rest for a while.  These people need help from all of us.  So you go on and see what you can do to help them."  For a moment, her eyes left the face of her son and fixed on the couple behind him.  Her words were meant to comfort her child as well as to seek help from the couple behind him.  "They'll make sure that you are well taken care of."  Tucker met the pleading eyes of Rook's mother.   He knew that she did not want Rook's last memories of her to be of her death. 

Tucker gave her the answer she sought in the only way he knew how.  "Come on Rook. Let's let your mom rest.  I'll keep you out'ta trouble if you promise T'Pol that you'll do the same for me."

"Okay."  Rook bent over and kissed his mother.  T'Pol was surprised as the small boy placed his hand in hers.  What should she do, she thought.  She simply gave the little hand a slight squeeze and led him out of the tent. 

Trip stayed behind a moment, saying what he could not before.  "His father is dead as well?"  Rooks mother nodded.  Trip looked at the ground for a moment and when he could, finally said, "We'll make sure that he is well cared for.  You have ma' word."  He reached for her hand.  Blue eyes met brown for a moment.  She saw the compassion in his eyes and knew she could trust this man.  She smiled one last time and he caught it, turned and walked out of the tent. 

Chapter 9

It had been one hell of a long day.  Rook had stayed valiantly at the Commander's side counting various parts that Trip told him were critical to the proper installation of the machines that they were working on. He took Rook to the mess hall to eat and then they went back to his tent for a short while. 

He had convinced the boy to stay in the nursery that night by telling him that he would come by first thing in the morning to pick him up for duty in the engineering tent.  The nursery was one of the few shelters that had heat and Trip wanted to make sure that the little guy was warm and safe. 

His plans went up in smoke when he saw T'Pol at the entrance to his tent that night.  His eyes met hers and he knew the news that she had brought.  A moment later Rook saw T'Pol and ran to her.  She knelt down to his level and spoke softly to him.  Trip couldn't hear exactly what she said but it didn't matter.  All at once, the boy threw himself into T'Pol's arms and buried his face.  Rook's voice took on the mournful cry that reminded Trip of the lonely sound of a hawk screeching as it chased the air currents in canyons that he had visited so long ago on earth. 

T'Pol lifted the child and sat in the chair next to the camp table holding him tightly as he rocked in her arms.  She did not speak tender words as some humans would at a time like this.  Trip thought that what she offered might prove even more comforting.  He felt less than useless as he looked at both of them from across the table, so he stepped out for a moment to clear his head. 

Soon, the mournful sounds from the tent had quieted.  As Tucker reentered the tent he noted that his tiny friend clung like a barnacle to T'Pol.  And he had fallen soundly asleep, exhausted by his grief. 

"Do ya' want me to carry him to the nursery tent?"

T'Pol shook her head.  "I promised Rook that I would stay with him tonight.  I would not break that promise.  We will not bother you."  As Tucker stepped closer he realized how cold the tent was.  Even with Rook in her arms, he thought he could see her shivering.

"I have a better idea.  Hope you took those nose drops of yours."  Tucker left the tent and soon returned with another sleeping bag.  He pulled his sleeping bag off the cot and moved the cot out of the way.  Then unfolding the sleeping bag, he laid it flat on the ground and opened the other sleeping bag and laid it on top, folding it back.

"Tada."  He said softly.  "Quite the engineering fete, if you ask me.  Warm bed for three." 

He could see T'Pol measuring his intentions as she looked, first at him and then at the bed.  A moment later she met his eyes again and struggled to get up with Rook still in her arms.  Trip took two steps across the tent and deftly picked T'Pol and her tiny burden up into his arms. 

T'Pol did not relax into his arms, but she submitted with out protest. Even with the boy, she felt no heavier than a child herself.  It had been a long day.  Maybe she was too tired to be disagreeable. 

"Ya' know that southern gentlemen live for moments like these,' he softly quipped as he slipped to one knee. 

"Yes, I recall that you often practice being a 'perfect gentleman'."  Trip choose to be amused by the reminder of his past unfortunate dealings with aliens of the female persuasion and smiled benignly at T'Pol.

Rook barely even stirred as T'Pol tucked him into her right side.  She almost let a sigh escape her lips as she contemplated that after a day such as this, she regretted not having made time for her nightly meditations.  Tucker took off his jacket, dropping it near the head of the bedroll.  He settled down next to T'Pol on her other side. 

T'Pol noted that his position provided a barrier between her and the cold outer wall of the tent.  She leaned forward to check one last time on the child next to her.  As she lay back, T'Pol found that her head hit the crook of the commander's shoulder, under his outstretched arm.  She was too tired to contest this arrangement. And she reasoned to herself, Mr. Tucker made a better pillow to recline her head on than the ground. 

Tucker held his breath as T'Pol settled into his side.  No complaints or snide remarks?  The sub commander must really be exhausted.  Even knowing this he could not help himself. 

"T'Pol?"  Tucker asked in a hushed tone.

"Yes, Commander."

"You were good with the tike today.  I'm not sure what I would have done without you."

"You would have managed."

"Maybe.  But I think he needed a woman's touch tonight.  You kind of surprised me."

There was a pause.  And for a moment Trip thought that he had been dismissed.

"Studies show that most humanoids respond to touch in a positive way."

"I guess I just didn't expect…" Trip trailed off.

Not unkindly T'Pol added, "Vulcan's have children too.  Our instinct to protect is no less developed then that of humans."

"Mmm. I never thought of it that way.  It reminds me of somethin' my Gran'dad used to' say about guitars &. violins."

Tucker sensed rather than heard the question.  "Gramps was a good ole boy, raised in a small town near lake Okeechobee.  He had a gift for gab, gears and guitars.  With a little luck and a lot of work he managed to get into MIT and got an engineering degree.  That's where he met ma' Gran'ma Viv.  She was a couple years older and a second seat violinist with the Boston Pops.  And it was love at first site."

"Gran'dad Charlie said that Vivian was a fine lady, eastern born and bread.  He said that they were just like their instruments of their choice.  You see when you play a guitar, you hold it close and put your arms around it.  You play it with both your hands, in direct contact with the strings.  You play a guitar well, and people just tend to come along and join in. Gran'dad's personality was just like that."

 T'Pol thought that the grandson took after his namesake.

"Violins are all about precision.  No frets like on a guitar to guide your fingers.   You make sound by drawing the bow over the strings.  And the only contact you have with the instrument is that hand that holds the neck and the body that it is tucked under your chin. 

The music a violin makes goes straight t' your soul.  When I hear a violin played solo, I pause and close ma' eyes where ever I'm at.  If you're still, you can feel it fill in the empty places inside. It resonates. Gran'dad said his girl was just like that.  Quiet and fine.  He was fond a' say'n, in her quiet way, she filled all his lonely places."

"I loved Gran'ma Viv, but never could understand how two people that were so different could be so devoted.  Gran'dad would just say for all their differences, guitars and violins shared more than they didn't.  I didn't get what he was really talk'n about 'til I was much older"

"I was pretty little when my Gran'ma died, but I still remember a song they'd play together. The guitar and violin would ebb and flow till by the end you didn't know where one sound began and the other ended.  Gran'dad would still play the song on his guitar years later as he sat the porch alone near the lake, but it never sounded quite complete.  I can hear them play it when I think 'bout sitting on that porch by the lake.  I have a recording that I listen to and it sends me right back home with them every time."  As Trip wound up his story his voice had gotten softer and more faraway, but soon he came back to the present.

"Guess it's just a 'round about way of saying that I think that you've shown me that Vulcans and Humans have a lot more in common that we can sometimes see on the surface.  Maybe one day we'll each learn to stand our differences and willingly admit to the similarities"

For a long moment there was silence.  Trip thought that he had bored T'Pol right into a coma.

"Someday, I would like to hear this song, Commander." 

Someday, I hope you will, thought Trip.

Chapter 10 – Hoshi's Gunfight at the OK Corral

The next morning, Hoshi was up bright and early.  Something about the transmissions being relayed between the capital city and their camp just didn't feel right.  Her sensitive hearing had picked up background noise that she just couldn't place. 

She went back to the communications tent and did a separate recording of background noises as camp personnel went about relaying messages to various planetary locations.  After identifying all of the individual noises, she could not isolate the noise that she had heard when she eavesdropped on the transmissions using Enterprise's comm equipment. 

There has to be a correlation she thought.  Quickly she started cross-referencing the messages that had the background static with the transmitters being using in the tent. 

Ah ha, she thought.  All the transmissions with the troubling static came from one set located in the far back corner of the tent.   Hoshi moved back to her temporary station and listened in on the conversation taking place at that transmitter.   She noted the operator earlier only because he was generally smaller and darker than many of the other Aviarians.  He had seemed oddly solitary given the natural warmth with which everyone else had greeted the enterprise landing party.

It was the same static in the background.  Well let's run this message through Enterprise's decryption filters and see what we've got here.  Hoshi was in her element and when finished, found that her worst suspicions were indeed verified.  Hoshi stepped out of the tent.

"Hoshi, to T'Pol."  Hoshi murmured quietly into the communicator.

"Yes, Lieutenant"

"I think that you and the Commander need to get to the Communication tent right way.  Someone here has been piggy-backing encrypted transmissions on some of the outbound messages."

"Understood.  I will contact Mr. Tucker to meet us there.  Maintain surveillance until we arrive.  T'Pol out."

Hoshi, stood outside the tent, trying with only limited success, to look like she was just hanging out.  She saw the Commander and T'Pol closing from two different directions when she saw movement on the far side of the tent closest to Tucker.  She yelled out a warning to the Commander, but she could see that he did not know where the threat was coming from.  She knew that she would not be fast enough.  In that split second, she regretted that Malcolm had not come in her place. 

Before she was able to fire, she saw a blur knock the commander to the ground.  T'Pol had made a flying tackle just as a beam passed neatly through the air where Tucker had been standing just a moment before. 

T'Pol rolled and ducked behind some crates for cover, pulling her weapon in one fluid movement.  Hoshi was running to the sub commander's position trying to stay under cover. 

"Trip, Trip.  Did you fall down?"  Rook was running to the place where T'Pol had flattened the chief engineer just seconds earlier.  

"Oh Shit!  Shit, Shit."  Tucker spied the boy running to him at full tilt, right into the crossfire.  Trip took off like a sprinter out of the blocks, trying to keep as low as he could.  He scooped Rook up and tucked him under his arm like football.  He heard the whine a phaser and hit the ground covering the boy with his body as the bolt shot harmlessly past them. 

As one, Hoshi and T'Pol stepped into the open, firing at the enemy when he exposed himself to take the shot at Tucker. 

Their aim was dead on.  The false Aviarian fell to the ground.

Taken by the moment, Hoshi bellowed in Klingon "Heghle'neH QaQ jajvam."

"You did admirably, Ensign, but I do not think that saying 'It is a good day to die' is accurate in this situation.  Our weapons were set on stun."

"It's the only Klingon battle cry that I know… so far.  And it sure felt good to say it."  Hoshi was not in the least bit apologetic.  All she could think of was seeing the look on Malcolm's face, when she told him about her duel between the tents. 

Trip was dusting off the boy who was no worse for wear and seemed to think that this was all great fun. 

He hollered back to his two shipmates.  "Hosh, you can holler anythang yor little heart desires so long as you get my back like ya' just did."

Hoshi smiled.  She'd come a long way since her first mission.  "I was calling you to check out the gear this one," pointing to the unconscious spy, "was using.  Guess we already have our answer.  I'd like to transit the information that I have on the piggyback signal so that the Aviarians can track any other encrypted transmissions to the source and apprehend the spies."

"An admirable plan ensign.  Proceed."

"Commander, you need to take a look at the message. I think that they were trying to order their ships to attack Enterprise so that they could make their escape without being exposed." 

Trip scanned the message and passed it to the sub commander.  "We need to get back to Enterprise ASAP, T'Pol, before all hell breaks loose.  Let the planetary authorities take care of the spies.  We need to take care of our own now."

"Agreed."  T'Pol turned to Hoshi.  "Contact the Doctor and tell him to meet us on the Enterprise."

Trip felt a tug at his pant leg.  "You and T'Pol leaving me?"  Trip could see storm clouds threatening all over the little fella's face. 

"Hey there pard'ner.  You don't think I'd take off without inviting you for a first class inspection of the Enterprise now, did 'ya?"

"No."  Rook's answer didn't sound too confident.

"Well now then, ya got my promise as an Officer an' a Gentleman," he gave T'Pol a quick wink, "that you'll see every inch of engineering – top ta' bottom.  Is that clear Cadet Rook?"

"Cadet?  I can really be an cadet?" 

"Why when I tell the Captain how ya' ran ta' help me… It might even be worth a medal or two. You're in charge here 'til we return."

Hoshi hid a smile behind her hand as the Commander saluted his little comrade.  Mimicking Tucker, the little boy gave the salute right back.  Rook turned and ran back toward the nursery. Trip had no doubt that

Rook would have things ship shape in no time.  Heaven help 'em, he smiled to himself.

Chapter 11 – One Mystery Solved

As the two shuttle pods completed landing procedures, the armored doors to the bay sealed. The call to stations by the Captain came across the Comm. The Enterprise shook with the opening salvo to the battle that that they had all expected. They did not need any further incentive to hit the ground running.

As Trip, T'Pol and Travis ran onto the bridge, the well-rehearsed ballet of the junior officers making way for the senior officers to take their stations occurred. Though not a military vessel, the maneuver transpired with clockwork precision.

"Travis, I need you to run evasive maneuver delta six. Malcolm, fill the commander in on the current weapon's situation."

The enemy craft were light, fast and maneuverable like the World War II Japanese Zeros of mid twentieth century history. The Enterprise seemed to have superior construction and weapon's systems to its advantage. Before Malcolm had a chance to recap the armory teams lack of success, another barrage hit mid-decks on the starboard side of the ship. Though the laser cannons and torpedo controls remained lit on Malcolm's Armory screen, the phase cannon's controls blinked out. And this time, stayed out.

"Captain, the phase cannons are off line - again. That should do for the recap, sir."

"All right. Let's bring the laser cannons to bear then. Trip?" Any further information was not needed as the long-time friends could just about read each other's minds. At least when it came to situations like this.

"Got it Capt'n. Running diagnostics. Since this power drain seems to be holding longer, I think I can back track through the relay systems to pinpoint… Got it! There seems to be a broken connection in sector 5, on D deck. Just outside engineering. Whoa…" What is the correlation, Tucker thought? He reviewed repairs made in that sector.  He hit on the damage made by the unidentified vessel a few months earlier that had dogged them.  Destroying two subspace buoys that they had deployed, the ship had cut them off from aid and then proceeded to play cat and mouse games until, Malcolm and Trip had come up with an ingenious plan involving the currently wonky phase cannons. He had remembered reviewing the outer bulkhead damage, telling the captain that if it had hit just a little more to the…well he and much of engineering would have been vented into space. But there were no power conduits along the outer hull.

Malcolm interjected, "Whoa, indeed. Captain, we just got power back to the phase cannons. What the hell is going on?"

Travis had just taken a sharp turn to port and banked the ship when Tucker saw the phase cannon power grid light up like a Christmas tree in front of him again.

As the Chief Engineer was completing his examination, T'Pol was analyzing the smaller ships' attack strategy.  "Captain, in each of the attack runs, it seems that they are only willing to risk one ship in close attack proximity.  The other two maintain some distance to provide cover fire. This strategy may work to our advantage…if we are able to get the phase cannons on line for a length of time necessary to fire at both cover ships simultaneously.

"I think I know, where you're going with this, T'Pol." Archer glanced at the Armory Officer.

"I concur sir. It adds the advantage of surprise, since they have not seen us use our longest range weapons. They may be lulled into a false sense of security."

Just as Malcolm finished outlining this strategy, the ship took another series of hits to the starboard side. The phase cannon system went down once again. Malcolm informed the Captain.

"Alright people. You've presented me with an excellent plan but how can I stress enough that we need one that will actually work?"

Tucker whipped around and stared at the Captain for a moment. "Ohmygod, that's it, Cap't - stress. That's just got to be it!"  He whipped around to his station.

"Tucker to engineering."

"Engineering here, Commander."

"I want a metallurgic scan of D deck from the point of the bulk head patch we made a few months ago all the way to the high bay in engineering. I need it like yesterday. Got it?"  Within moments data started poring in to the bridge engineering terminal in front of the Chief Engineer. Tucker looked up for just a moment at the sub commander. Her stance during times of attack always amazed him. If he didn't know better, he could swear that she could have been a naval officer on a man o' war from old earth history. She always looked like she could withstand a full broadside if it came her way and still keep her feet.

As Tucker's attention returned back to his terminal, T'Pol noted, "Plating efficiency is down by over fifty percent. Permission to reroute power from secondary systems to boost polarization."

"Permission granted," replied Archer. "Trip, what do we have on the report from engineering?" Archer did not like the byplay earlier about "stress" but figured his friend was only holding back a little 'til he had the rest of the story.

"Your not gonna like this, Capt'n." Tucker was glad that his friend was looking toward the main viewer. If he turned around, he would certainly see Charles Tucker the third turn a much lighter shade of pale. "When we took that hit a few months ago, you know that we took damage to the outer bulkhead. What I didn't catch was the damage that was caused by their weapon to the interior decks. Looks like as the energy dispersed, it weakened the structure of the metal it passed through – at the submolecular level."

"How could we not see the damage or at least a burn pattern?"

"That might just be what the intention is.  Even if they loose the battle, with a weapon like this, at a later date they could win the war.  Out here I'm guessing we're gonna see a lot of different types of weapons. We only noticed the power fluctuations because the damaged paths acted like fault lines that moved when different stresses were applied. The connections would remain aligned until a structural stress would occur."

"That's the pattern we were looking for…going to warp, direction changes and now enemy fire."  Malcolm than posed, "Is there anything that we can do to guarantee the phase cannons for even just one go?"

Tucker's eyes never left the screen in front of him as he replied, "I think I've got a plan, Lieutenant.  Capt'n, with your permission, I like to reroute almost all functions to secondary engineering stations and evac the starboard side of engineering." 

Trip was already reaching under his station to grab one of the emergency tool kits that he had squirreled away for a rainy day.  This was looking like hurricane season off the Keys for sure.  He continued, "If I can get down to the damaged junction, there's a good chance to redirect the power."

Malcolm offered,  "Captain, I'd like to also volunteer to assist Commander Tucker.  I can get Ensign Cruz to cover for me here."

Archer noted this as the enemy vessels were lining up for another run.  Before he objected to his senior weapons officer leaving the bridge, Trip put in his two cents. 

"Malcolm, I really appreciate the offer."  Malcolm thought for a moment that he saw a flash of regret in Trip's face. But it was soon replaced with a rueful smile.  "It's not like it's a Jeffries tube built for two.  I've got it covered.  Ya' might only have a shot or two before starting to fry out some relays since my reroute will bypass the buffers in engineering.   I'm think'n if I'm mak'n the effort, I'd like to have our crack shot on the job."  Malcolm accepted this without comment.

"Captain, can T'Pol take over monitoring the engineering station while I'm gone?"

"T'Pol, cover the station and give me updates.  Trip, keep me posted on your progress.  Keep the comm open."  T'Pol had moved over to Trip's station.  She looked down at the readout.  Everyone else's attention was taken by the view on the screen and the strafing shot that rocked the bridge.  She scanned the report and looked back up to Tucker as he was stepping away.  He could discern no emotion on her face, yet somehow he knew that she questioned his decision to not fill the Captain in on all the details of his repair mission.

Trip simply shook his head and walked off the bridge.  T'Pol saw the logic in his decision.  There was no one better suited to complete the task.  Discussion would have only delayed this inevitable conclusion.

Chapter 12 – What Cost Victory?

Heroism feels and never reasons and therefore is always right.   - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Trip had walked out calmly from the bridge, but the moment he was out, he was running hell bent for engineering.  As he closed on the starboard section of D deck, he realized that he was running against the tide of his team moving out of the area.  They were carrying every piece of equipment that was not nailed down from engineering – and out of harm's way.

Some greeted him with a nod or shout but no questions were asked.  They were well aware of the Commander's mission – probably better than anyone else in the ship.  They did nothing to delay him or themselves.  Trip was not sure that he had ever been more proud of his team.

The deck shuddered as another hit had found it's mark on the Enterprise's hull.  Trip hit the wall and the emergency tool kit flew out of his hands.   Smoothly he reached down and scooped up the gear. Tucking it under his arm, like a running back recovering a fumble, Trip was almost at the end zone.  He stopped short and pulled out one of the tricorders and examined the old patch on the hull and the surrounding outer bulkhead.

At least here all looked well.  He then scanned the path above his head in the corridor and immediately found the damage that he had feared.  Radiating like multiple lighting strikes, the micro fissures passed over the deck and disappeared into engineering.  Located overhead was the Jeffries tube that conducted the phase cannon power from the buffers in engineering.

He took a few steps down the corridor and climbed up one of the access ports to the tube.  As his head pulled up even with the floor of the tube, Trip let out a whistle.  The damage was more evident here.  The last few hits had compounded the problem.  Branching out from the fissures were cracks in the metal that were likely the result of metal fatigue.  Once the fissures appeared every twist of the ship had put a strain on the surrounding metal structures. 

Just like an egg squeezed in your hand, one of nature's great engineering marvels. The eggs unique structure dispersed the energy and was almost impossible to break.  But just one crack in the egg… try that maneuver again and it's omelet city. 

"Tucker to the Bridge."

T'Pol's perfectly modulated tones responded.  "Yes, Commander."

"I need you to shut down main power to the phase cannons, ASAP.  Once I go to work, I don't want to turn Mrs. Tucker's fair-haired boy into a crispy critter."

"There would be no crisp involved, Mr. Tucker – you would be vapor.  Proceed."  On hands and knees, Trip looked up for divine guidance and then just hung his head and shook it for a moment.  How the heck did he ever find himself attracted to the universe's answer to the ultimate straight…person, Vulcan, oh hell - whatever?

T'Pol had done her job and Tucker resumed rerouting the relays.  "T'Pol, I need you to reroute power to the port conduits from your station.  Once you give me the heads up, I'll make the final adjustments.  Then it's up to y'all."

T'Pol signaled to Tucker and Trip made the final adjustments. 

On the bridge, Archer was watching the screen.  The attacking ships had become bolder now, sending in two ships on this attack run. 

"Plan B, Malcolm.  Target the cover vessel and one of the approaching ships as well."

"The moment that I have a system to target, sir."  There was no sarcasm in Reed's reply.

Come on Trip, Archer pleaded to himself, you've never let me down.  You can pull this one out of your engineering bag o' tricks.

"Tucker to Bridge.  Fire at will."

Malcolm's board lit up and without a moment's thought, or waiting for the captain's command, he brought all three cannons bear and let loose a fearsome barrage.  Simultaneously, one of the enemy ships let loose a volley that connected with the Enterprise's starboard side.

Tucker had begun crawling out of the Jeffries tube when the ship shuddered from two powerful blasts arriving in quick succession. 

He flattened to the deck of the tube and covered his head with his arms.  Suddenly a rending sound surrounded him, so loud that it seemed to pass through him.  The tube tilted crazily, breaking through the wall of engineering just below the high bay.  There was no coherent thought or plan.  The only thing that Trip could do was hold on.

Malcolm's aim was deadly.  The first hit had exploded the nearest attacking vessel.  The second had also found its mark.  Though the starship seemed relatively intact on the screen, sensors showed that it was venting atmosphere.  There was no sign of life. 

The third ship, having gotten off two rounds, cut off its attack.  It veered and looked like it was going to make a quick retreat. 

Damage reports were coming in from all decks.  There was no question that Enterprise would not be putting up a pursuit.  Vanishing with the departing vessel was their best chance of knowing who was behind the sabotage of the Aviarian home world. 

Suddenly an image filled the screen as it screamed forward from behind Enterprise in pursuit of the ship.  At once they all made out the lines of a heavy Vulcan Cruiser.  And, oh boy, thought Archer.  What a beautiful sight.  The entire bridge was on its feet as the Vulcan ship closed, throwing out a tractor beam that seemed to engulf the smaller ship like an insect in amber. 

Malcolm and several of the crew let out whoops that would have made Tucker proud.  Archer then realized what was missing.  They had not heard from the commander and T'Pol had been eerily quiet as the rest of the bridge crew was patting itself on the back.

Arch looked back at T'Pol.

"T'Pol?"

"Minor casualties to report.  Serious internal structure damage to deck D, starboard section – engineering."

If T'Pol had poured ice water over them all, the effect could not have been more immediate.  The silence was deafening. 

"Archer to Engineering."


"Archer to Tucker." No answer. Come on Trip, Archer thought. Answer me.

Dead air was his only response.

Chapter 13 - The Other Shoe

"Trip, where are you?"  The final communication was not from captain to officer but a plea from friend to friend. 

Trip fumbled through his repair pack that had fallen at his side with his right hand. I know that I have a communicator here somewhere. Ah, Gotcha!
"Captain, it's Trip. I'm sort'a in Engineering."

"Trip, what are you doing there? I was told that you evacuated Engineering." Concern laced Archer's voice.

"Well I wasn't exactly in… Engineering. I kind of fell back in. Made the final connections to reroute the power matrix for the photon cannons in the jefferies tube. Last hit we took collapsed… collapsed it through the bulkhead in Engineering."

Archer noticed that Trip's voice sounded halting and breathless. "Trip, what's going on? What's the damage report in Engineering?"

"Hard 'ta say Capt'n. Seem to be trapped by girders and debris. Can't see much of anything."

"For god's sake, why didn't you say something sooner? Malcolm, transport Mr. Tucker out of engineering, ASAP.

"Belay that, Capt'n." Archer could sense something was terribly wrong from the tone in Trip's voice."

"Trip?"

"Have you ever seen bugs displayed in a case? My situation is, uh… somethin' like that. I'm…" how could he put this?   "…pinned to the bulkhead by titanium conduit. Transporters weren't 100% before this. With this stick'n in me, I'd hate to end up in sick bay look'n like Dorothy's Tin Man."

"We're coming, Trip. Archer out."

"Bridge to Dr. Phlox."

"Captain. I'm already on my way."

Archer looked around at his bridge crew. Many were already half out of their seats, anticipating his next order. In some ways, Trip seemed to be the heart of this ship - in more ways than just making sure that it held together. "T'pol, Lt. Reed. You're with me."

Chapter 14 – Damage Assessment

Trip looked around him at what he could see of Engineering. Aw hell, this is going to take forever to clean up, he reflected. With my luck I will make it outta this only to have to get everything all ship shape again.

Emergency lights were on and the air around him looked murky with dust and other floating particles. He'd seem damage like this before and always wondered at how dust seemed to materialize like a powdery shroud from what was once pristine workspace.

Guess it's time to check out the damage a little closer to home. Deceptively delicate looking, the rigid conduit that had him pinned to the bulkhead seemed to be wedged against a portion of the collapsed ceiling about 6 feet away. It passed through his right side somewhere below his ribs. But there wasn't a chance in hell that he was going to move to see it better. Odd that there didn't seem to be more blood, Trip thought. He'd already realized that moving a little too far in any direction would send a shaft of pain though his right side all the way down to his toes.

He was pretty sure that his left leg was broken and oddly it seemed to hurt more than his side. Trip's arms were the only parts of him that he seemed to be able to move freely. He lifted his hand to his neck and felt the sticky presence of blood, tracing the wound to just above his right ear. Not bad, all in all. His head didn't feel too bad and his thinking didn't seem any fuzzier than usual.

Thanks for small favors.

"Commander, Are you there?"

"Didn't have anywhere better to be Dr. Phlox… so thought I'd… stick around." Trip chuckled at his own morbid humor but found that the laughter changed to a more painful cough.

Trip ran down his situation to the Doctor. Unbeknownst to the Doctor or Trip, Archer, T'pol and Reed had arrived, overhearing with growing anxiety the list of injuries while surveying the vast amount of wreckage between them and their injured crewmate.

"Trip, if you wanted a couple of days off, asking would have been a whole lot easier than this," said Archer with forced levity.

"Hi Capt'n. I'll...have to remember that for next time."

"I've got T'pol and Malcolm here. We're going to work with the Doctor to figure a way to get you out."

Malcolm was already devising a list of supplies on his PADD that he showed to T'Pol. She nodded, adding, "I concur. Ensign Mayweather seemed to want to offer some assistance before we left the bridge. I seem to remember him mentioning his skill with a plasma torch."

"Malcolm, we'll also need braces to prevent the wreckage from shifting." There was no reason for the Captain to add what the possible consequences would be if this occurred.

"Consider it done Captain. Trip, I'll be right back with the cavalry, my friend." Malcolm took one more penetrating look at the wreckage. What he wouldn't give for some bloody superhero powers just now.

"Counting on it, pal."

Dr Phlox returned from scanning at the edge of the collapsed wall and reported his findings. "Captain, I've been able to do limited scans on the Commander and I don't like what I am seeing. Besides blood loss and possible internal injuries, my most immediate concern is that the Commander is exhibiting signs of shock. We need to get to him as soon as possible."

In the meantime, T'pol had been doing scans of her own. "I may have a solution for our immediate concerns. My scans indicate a path to the commander with an aperture of approximately of .57 to .45 meters at its narrowest point."

"Subcommander, that is a very narrow space."

"Yes, but a crewman of adequate size could work their way to Mr. Tucker. And possibly take some first aid supplies to help stabilize his condition. Ensign Sato and myself are of appropriate stature, however my human anatomy studies may prove to be advantageous."

The Captain almost immediately regretted the relief he felt knowing that T'pol could bring assistance to his long-time pal. Was it right to risk another crewmember's life while the situation was yet so unstable? "T'pol, I don't doubt that you have analyzed all of the options, but are you sure that you want to take this risk?"

If possible, the Subcommander drew herself up even more erect. Archer suddenly thought T'pol bore a striking resemblance to a rendering of the fiercely striking Amazon Queen Hippolyte that he had once seen in a museum in Chicago.

"If our positions were reversed, would not the Commander offer me the same assistance - regardless of the risk?"

Archer allowed himself a small smile. "I believe that Trip would steamroll me if I tried to prevent him from doing just that. All right T'pol, you're in charge. You had better take a plasma torch with you in case you run into a snag.

"Hey, what are y'all cooking out there?" Dr Phlox frowned noting that the commander's voice sounded weaker.

"Trip, listen carefully. It may take us a while to get to you. T'pol has come up with a plan. She's mapped out a route to you. She's bringing medical supplies and a tricorder so that she can relay your condition to the Doc and make you more comfortable.

"Nothing doing, Captain. This stuff could come down on her at any time. You tell her to… to stay put, damn it."

"Commander, as I told the Captain, I attempt nothing that I know you would not do if you were in my place, so "shut up & sit tight" as you would say and I'll see you in approximately 5 minutes."

The Captain heard grumbling, but nothing he could make out. Knowing Trip, the language he was probably using would make a sailor blush.

Chapter 15 – T'Pol Assets

Malcolm returned to engineering with supplies and more help. The Captain was already covered in dust and grime. He was in the thick of the mess carefully choosing wreckage to remove. As he approached with Travis, the Commander gave them a weak smile.

"Captain, I have to suggest that as our commanding officer, you should withdraw to a safe distance."

"Malcolm. You know that's not an option." Archer failed to fill in that now that his father was gone, loosing Trip would be like loosing the last connection that he had to the kid that used to launch model starships with his dad on the beach.

Malcolm contemplated that though the captain was sometimes more "spontaneous" than he preferred, it was this and his dedication to his crew that made him a superior officer in more ways than one. Watching his efforts to free his fellow officer, Reed knew that he'd follow this man to hell and, if any one could do it Archer could – back again.

T'pol made her way, mostly crawling and sometimes pulling herself gingerly through the debris. The plasma torch had been useful, as some smaller pieces of debris had to be removed. Some of the wreckage, snagging on her uniform, seemed to try to pull her back. She would have to look into replacing this uniform when she was finished.

"Commander, I'm within three meters of your position. There is some interference with the tricorder, so could you keep talking for a moment so that I can get a fix on your position?

"Sure. How's this? You're nuts if you think that I'd crawl through this mess to save your sorry ass."

T'Pol found the commander and took in the situation. The commander did not overstate his predicament, T'Pol contemplated. "Really Commander, just a moment ago I heard you mumble that you would gladly kick my lovely ass from here to Alpha Centori - if you got your hands on me." She then added, "The inconsistency of your evaluation leads me to believe that we may need to be more concerned about your head injury than we have been thus far."

Tucker's direct gaze and smile took the sting out of his next words, "My what big ears you have sub commander…"

Ignoring the commander's attempt at humor, she injected him with a hypospray that Dr. Phlox had said would ease the engineer's breathing.

For a moment, there was silence and then an odd keening noise that sounded like whale song. The chief engineer knew what that sound meant. It was the song of metal straining under stress.

Chapter 16 – The Dearest Thing

There was a shout. Sounded like the kid, Travis, Tucker thought wearily just a nanosecond before T'Pol covered him with her body to protect him from harm. More dust drifted from the girders and wreckage steepled above them. She tried to avoid bumping in to him, but under present circumstances, her attempt proved futile. She heard a sharp intake of breath. The commander's lips were compressed and white as he tried to ride out the pain. For the first time, she contemplated what the Enterprise and her world would be like without this maddening and oddly endearing human.

"Wait, we've got the strut in place,' shouted Travis. "Is everyone OK?"

Tucker finally was able to look up into T'Pol's face. If they lived through this, he'd have to get up the courage to tell her that it was quickly becoming the dearest thing he'd ever seen.

T'Pol studied Tucker's eyes. They were veiled now. He could barely lift his lids up. Instead he tipped his head against the bulkhead. Looking at her through his lashes, he managed a watery smile. Trip's face was an unhealthy color for humans. A sheen of cold sweat covered his face. She had feared that any jostling would cause him more pain. In fact, now she had her answer.

"Go 'head and tell 'em we're doing fine. I don't have the shout left in me right now."


T'Pol answered that there was no damage. She could not bring her self to say that they were fine. That would be inaccurate in the extreme. She ran another scan and contacted the doctor. Phlox did not need to interpret the readings for T'Pol. She knew that the commander was slipping through her fingers and Dr. Phlox did not recommend using the hypo spray again to assist the commander's breathing.

********************************************************************

Malcolm held the brace in place as Travis put a weld that would secure it to the deck. Reed could tell that the young man was shook up. The boomer had let on that he was never quite at home on a planet, so his time at Starfleet Academy must have been doubly challenging.

Being on Enterprise was probably the closest thing to replacing the 'family' that he left behind to enter Starfleet. A loss in the family would be difficult for Travis. And Mr. Tucker had a way with the less experienced crew. He made them believe that they had what it took to get the job done. He'd even managed to penetrate Malcolm's cynicism – no mean task, thought Reed. Especially when he had resigned himself to what he thought was inevitable when they were marooned on the shuttlepod a while back. Well maybe I can borrow a page from Mr. Tucker's book.

"We're going to get this job done and Mr. Tucker will be fine. Can you even begin to imagine our Chief Engineer being able to rest in peace with engineering looking like THIS?"

For a moment, Travis contemplated the question seriously and then realized that a major leg pulling was happening. For the first time in a while the handsome young face broke into a grin. "Maybe we shouldn't tell him everything yet. He'd have a stroke if he knew that you had blown out every relay that he had repaired before this whole mess had begun."

Malcolm pulled a face. "You had to remind me? Maybe I can bribe the engineering team into leaving a few pertinent facts out of their report?" Travis just shook his head and laughed. This bit of levity worked, Malcolm reflected. Even he felt a bit better. The weight of the load that both men carried in the real and abstract became lighter as they forged on with the task at hand.


T'Pol could offer no further medical aid and in her frustration she reached down and gently brushed the damp hair from Trip's forehead.

He felt her soft touch, warm and dry, on his skin. In some way it was more effective than the medicine. It seemed out of character for her until he remembered how T'Pol had been with Rook. "What do 'ya think you're doin' T'Pol?"

"As I have informed you once before, in my studies of Human anatomy and physiology I have read that touch can have a healing and relaxing effect. After your care of my person last night, I can see the logic in this theory. I was cold, tired and had not meditated for over a day. You held me and I was able to rest. For a moment her faced seemed to soften just as he remembered when he watched her sleeping. "I regret that given present circumstances I can not do the same, but I would hold your hand if you would allow it."

Trip imagined being held as he had held her, with his head pillowed on her chest, "Ya'll never know how much I regret that too, but I'd gladly settle for the substitute." Her hand closed on his.

Chapter 17 – Where All My Journeys End

"We're almost there T'Pol. Trip, buddy, hang on for just a little while longer. Just another 15 minutes and you'll be tucked into a bed in sick bay safe and sound." Archer waited for an answer from his friend.

Instead T'Pol replied, "The commander is now unconscious. His condition is worsening. Please progress with all haste."

Archer recognized T'Pol's use of the word 'please' as quite a singular event. It added gravity to her typically understated comments. They redoubled their efforts.

This human's heart rate was over 130 beats per minute. T'Pol found it in true human character, instead of slowing as one would guess under these circumstances, even the organs of the human body would put forth a greater effort to fight to live. She was running out of options.

Then she remembered her ill-advised attempt at a mind meld with the renegade Vulcan, Tolaris. After that, she had reviewed all documentation on this new procedure. It had some success with treating elderly Vulcans with a rare form of emotional control dementia. They seemed to be able to regulate mental as well as some related organic systems. Maybe thus she could maintain the commander until help arrived.

She saw that they had very little to lose, though she knew that the commander had exhibited some squeamishness about intimate involvement with other aliens. Well, he was in no condition to pose an argument.

T'Pol cleared a small area where she could sit closer to the chief engineer. She held her hands out cradling the commander's head. Her head sunk toward her chest and she closed her eyes.

"My thoughts to your thoughts. Your thoughts to my thoughts…" Suddenly she was surrounded by a host of memories that she was not sure that she could either catalog or comprehend. As the swirling thoughts coalesced, she found herself on the shore of a large lake. The air was heavy, but a faint breeze, perfumed with oleander and jasmine, stirred the tall grass and cattails on the edge of the lake. The sky was pink and purple, red and gold - an unimaginably striking sunset. And then she saw the cabin on the hill overlooking the lake. The porch covered the entire front of the house.

She now knew that Trip had come home. Odd that she now thought of him as "Trip." It normally seemed improper aboard ship. Here, she could not consider thinking of him as anything else. And thinking of him was enough to bring him to her side.

He was barefoot in cutoff jeans and a faded T-shirt with the sleeves cut off that had the Florida State logo. He looked relaxed and at peace in this place. T'Pol was mildly confused.

"You expected that I'd be running around in circles, chasing my tail or somethin'?" T'Pol looked at him, but did not immediately reply.

Trip added, "Your thoughts to my thoughts. Remember?"

"I did expect that the prospect of possibly dying would cause more…turmoil. Your mind right now seems to be a… surprisingly serene place."

He smiled and T'Pol marveled at how clear and bright his eyes looked. In her mind's memory she saw only the pain of a few moments before.

"Well, it looks like you still have a few things to learn about humans. On the bridge before I left, I could tell when you saw the damage reports that you knew what I was getting myself into. And you know that I was aware of the risks."

"Sure, when the unexpected happens, humans can be caught in turmoil, denial or worse. But I was lucky enough to be given choice. And knowing that my actions saved my friends, how could I have any regrets?"

T'Pol understood the concept of duty, but realized that possibly she was witnessing something more than that. Trip held out his hand, and after a moment's hesitation, T'Pol place her small hand in his. It felt warm and firm in her grasp. There was also an odd sensation, as if the connection had just amplified itself.

"I have a promise I'd like to keep. I told you that I would play that song for you." On the porch a couple appeared. An older man with dark hair, built like a battleship, sat on a chair with what T'Pol surmised was a guitar. A woman, with hair shot through with more silver than the original gold, stood next to the man. She leaned lightly on the back of his chair. Even at this distance, T'Pol could make out the same striking blue eyes as that of her companion. Tucked under her chin was a violin. Without any prelude, the couple began to play. The old man had a remarkable, tender tenor as the words to the song swirled around them.

**Oh, I've longed for you**
**And I have desired**
**To see your face, your smile**
**To be with you, **
**Wherever you are.**

T'Pol's face looked thoughtful as she listened to the song.

"Ya' know, I wasn't quite truthful about not havin' regrets." For a moment, Trip did look dazed as he tried to put his feelings into words that would not put off the Vulcan. "I have, despite my better judgment, grown quite...fond of you T'Pol. I would have deeply regretted not telling you this. And I guess I'll regret that I might not be with you, even if it's just as shipmates… as friends."

**If you think of me**
**If you miss me once in a while**
**Then I'll return to you**
**I'll return and fill that space in your heart**

T'Pol had sensed Trip's deeper feelings that he seemed loath to put into words. She could not help pointing out to him as he did to her earlier about the nature of their current link.

"Your thoughts to my thoughts. Remember, Commander?" T'Pol sensed his confusion and dismay as he realized how much she probably understood. She reached out her hand and smoothed back a stray lock of his hair as she had done in the engineering bay.

**Remembering your touch, your kiss, your warm embrace**
**I'll find my way back to you**
**Please say you'll be waiting**

"You spoke of your grandparents favorite song quite accurately. It lacks the overblown emotionalism of many earth songs while portraying a bond and devotion admirable in any pair of lifemates. It is quite pleasing."

**If you wait for me**
**Then I'll come for you**
**Although I've traveled far**
**I always hold a place for you in my heart**

Trip couldn't help himself. He threw back his head and laughed. He felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest. Somehow she understood and accepted his blundering verbal and mental declarations. Suppressing the urge to grab her and twirl her around, he instead put his hand under her chin, tipping it up just so. He leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to her lips. T'Pol looked back at him with her unblinking, unfathomable eyes. And Trip thought to himself and he guessed to her as well that, this could be enough. Almost enough. And almost, just almost - no regrets.

Soon T'Pol heard the song continue, but with another voice. A stronger, more youthful version of the old man's crooning. When she looked back at her companion, she realized that the grandson had carried on with the song to the accompaniment of his grandparent's music.

**Together again**
**It would feel so good to be**
**In your arms**
**Where all my journeys end**

**If you can make a promise**
**If it's one that you can keep**
**I vow to come for you**
**If you'll wait for me**

From some distance they thought they heard voices. Captain Archer seemed to be telling someone that they got them or something like that. Trip listened harder. Looks like she's using a Vulcan mind meld, he thought he heard the doctor say. Trip overheard the captain's concerned response. Archer seemed to remember the negative consequences of T'Pol's first experiences with the mind meld. Trip felt T'Pol withdrawing from him as his mind's eye closed.

The doctor worked feverishly as he explained, "On the contrary captain, until she broke the link, T'Pol seemed to be maintaining and strengthening Mr. Tucker's metabolic rate. Undoubtedly, he would not have lasted this long otherwise."

T'Pol was slightly dazed and gentle hands, Mr. Reed's to her surprise, guided her to the side as a medical team enveloped the commander, blocking her view.

For a moment, Trip's eyes opened. He seemed to be viewing the scene above him from a distance. Whether he was able to express his concern out loud or the Captain just read his thoughts, he wasn't sure. But he got the response he needed nonetheless.

"She's fine Trip. Exhausted, but fine. We'll be taking her to sickbay with you." Trip tried to focus, but everything started getting so far away. He heard Archer repeat urgently to stay with them. He felt himself slipping away and his last thought was of T'Pol… back in his arms, as the darkness enveloped him and finally took him in its embrace.

(OK, it's the author for a moment  – now I have to admit that this whole story was inspired by this one marvelous song that was given to me with the billing that it might be "the most perfect love song ever written."  I, being the twisted Star Trek junkie that I am, saw a song that would not offend a Vulcan's sensibilities and – yes, Dan - maybe the most perfect love song ever written.  So for those of you that emailed or wrote in a review that you'd like to hear it - pull out a CD of Tracy Chapman's called New Beginning and play #7.)

The Chapter 18 - The Promise

T'Pol held the blond head to her shoulder and her arms tightened reflexively around the one now in her care.  They sat on a covered patio. The house was built into a rugged hillside over looking a very alien landscape.  The red sky was dipping to maroon as another day was coming to an end on the Vulcan homeworld.

"Hush now Charlie, there is no need to cry."

"He's such a baby, Grandmother.  You'd think by know he would know how illogical it is to fuss about this story."

T'Pol looked over the head of the small boy in her arms, to her granddaughter.

"Vivian, you too should know that impatience is not an overly attractive emotion. And this is the first time he's heard this story."  The harsh words were tempered as she held out her arm and Vivian gracefully sat on a cushion at her grandmother's feet. 

Vivian looked into the face above her.  She had seen pictures that Trip Tucker had taken all over the house and the woman in front of her had little changed from the one of the story from so long ago.  Maybe her dark hair was shot through with some silver if you looked closely and her step just a faction slower.  Grandmother T'Pol now taught at the Vulcan Science Academy. From time to time she would get a faraway look in her eye and Vivian knew that in a few weeks there would be an announcement of an expedition to some far off colony. 

Calmer now, Charlie looked up into T'Pol's eyes for reassurance.  As she met his eyes T'Pol was amazed yet again at blue that so reminded her of another.  His small face was stamped with the inherited features of two worlds.  Beneath his tousled light hair peaked two small pointed and decidedly Vulcan ears. 

"But Grandma, what happened to the commander?  Was he hurt bad?  Is he gonna be okay?  Did you really save him…" 

"All right sprout. 'Nough pestering for one evening.  Who's wanting some pecan pie?"  Both children looked expectantly, but waited until the older man had placed the pie on the table and started slicing a piece for each of them.  The years have taken a greater toll on the human but T'Pol saw the figure before her with different eyes. 

"Now Charlie, don't I look fine to you?"

"Yes Grandpa."

"And you know that Grandma rarely ever fails at what she puts her mind to.  Right?"

"Right!"

"So how could you doubt that she saved me?  I'm standing right in front of you – living proof.  So there's nuthin' to be scared of little guy."  

Vivian added, "And don't forget that Grandfather made a promise too."  Charlie frowned at his sister.  She liked being a know-it-all and he had a sneaky suspicion that she knew more of the story than she let on.  Big sisters are such a pain.

"I sure did.  I told your Grandmother that I'd come back to her if she'd wait for me.  And you know your Grandmother, infinite patience under infinite circumstances.  And believe me, I've tested that patience more than a time or two."  Trip reached his hand across the table and held out two fingers to T'Pol.  T'Pol's fingers met his and curled around his.  For just a moment the children were forgotten and only memories of the past and contentment in the present existed for them.

Okay, Charlie thought, enough of the mushy stuff already.  With just a touch of the bellyaching that his granddad had polished to a fine art, Charlie whined, "But I wan'na know what happened after the Vulcan's caught the bad guys.  Did you and Gran'ma get married right away…  and, and what happened to Rook?"

"It is past your bed time.  Tomorrow night, Charlie."

"Awww, grandma. I'm not tired yet."  A yawn that almost unhinged the youngster's jaw escaped before he was fast enough to hide it. 

Only Trip saw the smile that T'Pol could hide from everyone but himself.

T'Pol picked up the little boy, who was more than half asleep already, and whispered, "Tomorrow night Charlie.  You'll have to wait until tomorrow night."

The End. 

Sort of…

For everyone else older than Charlie:  You only have to wait until I start the next story.  You see, I think that I'm having so much fun with this that "A Fine Mess" might just be the start of a series of stories.