Disclaimers, etc. in the Teaser.
And now for the exciting conclusion…
Author's note: Thanks so much, reviewers; I really appreciate your generosity in making that effort. At this point I'm not entirely sure whether to try to squeeze another episode in or return to the missing scenes series, so you might want to keep an eye out for either.
"Actually, I believe Belal sent us to find Merat," T'Pol said quickly.
"Oh," Merat said, apparently easily accepting this explanation. He waved his device in front of Trip's neck. "And you're not showing up! That lazy son of a nera needs to put you little shits into the system faster. No matter. Act up, and we'll just give your comrades a nice change from the gruel."
Trip kept his head down and tried very hard not to reassure himself by sticking his hand in his pocket to feel for Malcolm's weapon.
"You were heading in the right direction, at least," Merat said. "Keep going," he bellowed, and pushed Trip so hard he sprawled onto the floor. Merat laughed as Trip scrambled back to his feet. "I said MOVE!"
x x x
"What was that I was saying about it being too easy?" Shran complained, on the view screen.
Jon held on to his chair as Enterprise made yet another swooping turn. Four more Tholian ships had turned up. T'Pol had programmed the strategy she and Malcolm had developed to accept unlimited adjustments as the Tholians increased their numbers, but there would reach a point at which ships and crews were simply not capable of executing the pattern any longer. As it was, there had been increasingly frequent blaring proximity alerts.
It was fortunate that the Tholians appeared to have no imagination. They kept trying to construct the same webs – more pieces of them in more places, yes, but nothing different, nothing faster. Apparently, they had no other moves.
And what had once seemed fun was becoming vaguely nauseating.
x x x
Merat marched them down the wide central corridor and then up into a narrower umbilical corridor. Occasional view ports revealed the graceful Ares towering impressively above everything, though Trip thought he also spied some smaller ships docked in the great bay. They walked through an open air lock and through the decadently wide corridors of a Defiant-class starship. Those creepy imperial emblems were everywhere.
Trip had studied the schematics for the Ares obsessively, so he knew they were in the center of G deck when Merat pushed both Humans into what had obviously once been a sickbay. Medical monitors and other equipment hung half-detached from the walls, and drawers and cabinets sat gaping as a ragged crew of workers slowly emptied them into cargo containers. "Fresh meat, Scheral," Merat said.
Scheral, a much smaller Orion, turned and scowled. "More Humans. Why me?"
Merat chuckled. "See if you can keep them in line this time, or our mistress might decide to treat you as disposable labor yourself. And no, Belal hasn't gotten them into the system yet."
"What else is new?" Scheral said sourly, and gestured for the two to follow him. "I'll be more than delighted to make you tonight's ration if you give me any trouble. Or even if you don't. Any skills you'd care to share with me?"
Trip looked at T'Pol. Her expression offered no guidance. "I'm an engineer," he said.
"Is that so?" Scheral said. "See if you can get those monitors off the wall. And you?" he said, turning to T'Pol. His eyes narrowed as he did so, and Trip wondered anxiously if he was noticing T'Pol's greenish complexion or possibly just that she was damned attractive.
"I'm an assistant engineer," she said.
"Sure you are. By all means, assist. But you'd better believe I'll be watching both of you with eyes like a finkel!"
"Tools?" Trip said.
Scherat looked disgusted, but handed over a kit. "Don't expect anything high-tech."
Trip looked through the little kit and quickly agreed. They were primitive hand tools. He walked over to one of the hanging monitors, remembering only about halfway there that he was supposed to be shuffling in defeat. T'Pol followed him. "Guess we don't want to go messing with any finkels," he said.
"We don't have time for this," T'Pol murmured.
Trip murmured back, "It won't take long," then lifted a monitor and started figuring out how it was attached. "Is there power?" he called to Scherat.
"You tell me," Scherat said.
Checking his footing and carefully using only one hand, Trip sliced into a cable bundle.
Okay. A little further. Mrmrmrmrmrmrmrmrm! He jerked his hand back quickly. No wonder all this equipment was still just hanging. He showed T'Pol where the blade of the wire cutter he'd been using had just melted.
Scherat laughed. "Still with us? Perhaps you really are an engineer!"
"Do you try to electrocute all your new workers?" T'Pol asked icily.
Scherat's eyebrows went up, and he came over until he was standing menacingly over her. "Only the Humans."
"Why us?" Trip said, if only to take the focus off T'Pol.
"Two of your kind tried to escape us recently. They were quickly captured and killed, of course. And after what we did to the one who remained, I'm not too worried about the rest of this lot. But you – you didn't get to see what we did to the miserable shit. And I don't need any more trouble."
"Then there are no other humans remaining?" T'Pol said.
"Which means there's no one to miss you," he said, with an evil grin.
"That's good to know," Trip said. He had retrieved Malcolm's gun from his pocket and he fired. It took seconds instead of milliseconds, but the Orion finally fell.
The motley crew of other aliens turned from their work to stare in dull surprise.
"Will he be out for awhile?" Trip asked T'Pol, who had retrieved her scanner from a pocket.
She frowned at her readings. "Shoot him again."
"Now he will," she said.
Trip checked over the bewildered group of aliens quickly. No Andorians. One Tellarite. No other species he recognized. "You," he said to the Tellarite. "Would you like to come with us? We may be able to reunite you with your people."
The Tellarite backed away, hands up defensively.
"Suit yourself," Trip said, and left.
x x x
Soval hailed Enterprise. "I calculate that this strategy will fail in less than forty-five minutes, Captain," he said. "And that is without any additional Tholian ships arriving. Have you heard anything from your team?
"Not yet," Jon said. "Let's move to phase three and see if it buys us some time."
"Agreed," Soval said, and Archer had Hoshi send out word.
"Try hailing the Tholians," he said.
"They are not responding, sir."
"Very well. Broadcast a general retreat. We'll turn and head back towards the border at my signal."
x x x
"This is also taking too long," T'Pol said.
"Even in our universe, you don't make it easy for strangers to bypass the auto-destruct protocols," Trip said. "You're going to have to give me a minute."
She waited impatiently, just barely resisting the urge to start pacing. Was this higher-than-usual level of tension a result of their bond? If so, it was not very helpful.
"Okay, here it is," Trip said, finally. "I need the captain's code only – in his voice."
She brought up and played a recording they had pieced together in preparation for this moment. The console lit up with new options.
"That's it," Trip said. "Audible countdown?"
"Yes. Captain Archer wanted us to minimize collateral damage."
"Our remaining window to reach the rendezvous point is twenty-two minutes."
"That might give them too much time to figure out how to stop this. How about ten?"
"Are you sure we can make it out of the facility by then?"
"If we're lucky."
"We haven't been particularly lucky so far."
"Play his voice saying 'engage auto-destruct'," Trip said.
She played it.
Immediately, the warning klaxons started. A female computer voice began, "Warning! This ship will auto-destruct in five minutes and counting. Warning!…"
"Five minutes?" Trip said.
"I thought we agreed on twelve!"
"It must have defaulted to five. Maybe we should have used his voice for the time command."
"Can you cancel it?"
They stared at each other. "Escape pods?" she suggested.
"I have a better idea." Trip pulled her after him, running out the door. The corridor was hectic with running slaves and Orions. T'Pol wrestled her phase pistol out of yet another pocket in case anyone stopped them, but nobody was paying them the slightest attention; they were all intent on their own escape.
"Here…" he said, and jumped through a nearby door – like the others, it opened automatically – into a rather large transporter room. "Do we have power? Yes!" He scanned the controls. "Get up on the pad."
She didn't budge from his side. "Do you know how this works?"
"Warning! This ship will auto-destruct in four minutes fifteen seconds and counting. Warning! This ship…"
He muttered, "Coordinates, coordinates…" and his hands danced over the controls. He looked up. "Where's that homing device? I can't lock onto the cell ship because it's just not registering on sensors..."
She frowned and pulled out her scanner and showed him the device's location.
"Okay," he said, "But where is it on the ship?"
"Warning! This ship will auto-destruct in four minutes and counting. Warning! This ship…"
"I attached it to an interior bulkhead."
"Which interior bulkhead?" Trip said. "There's not exactly a large margin of error in there."
"Then put us just outside it."
"In the air lock, then… no, just outside it, in case it's not pressurized. All right, got it. Get on the pad."
"You, too," she said, stepping up on the pad. "That's an order, Commander."
"Warning! This ship will auto-destruct in three minutes forty-five seconds and counting. Warning! This ship…"
Trip said, "I'll be there in a minute," and she opened her mouth to tell him he didn't have a minute, only to materialize outside the air lock.
He'd sent her ahead, against orders. She took a deep breath and buried the rush of pure fury she was feeling, for it was not only un-Vulcan, but also very inconveniently timed. The once quiet area was blaring with the facility's own emergency evacuation alarm, which didn't have a countdown but did have excessive volume. Orions, occasionally with other species in tow, desperately pushed and jockeyed for escape into whatever vessel they could find through the various air locks. Fortunately, none appeared to have noticed her sudden appearance. She pressed open their air lock and headed in. Perhaps Trip would be right behind her.
Suddenly she was pushed aside with such surprising force that she dropped her phase pistol. "You found a ship?" a burly Orion said, eagerly checking for pressure on the other side. "Wait a minute! Son of a nera! How can there be atmosphere if there isn't any ship? You've wasted my time!"
T'Pol resisted the urge to tell him he was wasting hers even more and focused on retrieving her weapon. That was when Trip materialized just inside the air lock. The Orion's eyes bugged. So did Trip's.
T'Pol shot the Orion. "We have less than two minutes."
"I know!" Trip said, climbing over the man's hulk, and they hurried to board the cell ship. They both worked fast, ignoring the pre-flight checklist, trying to get under way before it was too late. "Oh, boy."
"Traffic jam … and no one can see us."
She decided not to even look at the tiny view screen. Sometimes it was better not to know. "One minute thirty-five seconds," she said.
"Hold on!" he said, and – two fairly minor bumps later – they were out of the dry dock and jumping to warp.
She was trying to raise Enterprise when Ares' detonation blinded her instruments. There was no way they could have achieved a safe distance yet. She barely had time to warn, "Shockwave!" before the little ship went tumbling, and them along with it.
x x x
"T'Pol?" she heard. She was lying against a bulkhead. "T'Pol?"
"Here," she said, sitting up painfully. Inertial dampeners had obviously not managed to fully compensate.
"You all right?" he asked anxiously, running his hands up and down her limbs as if to check for broken bones.
"I am. You?"
"I'm fine. But the cloak is down. And they're onto us." The tiny view screen on the control panel revealed at least three Tholian vessels arranged around them. They both felt a jerk as a tractor beam was engaged. "Great," he said.
"We can still handle this appropriately - unless, perhaps, you are planning to disobey a direct order again."
"Have you forgotten that a Vulcan husband has the prerogative to protect his mate?"
"Have you forgotten that a Starfleet officer is not supposed to disobey a direct order?"
They were both startled to hear the captain's voice suddenly emanating from the console. "Have you both forgotten that your comm. is open? Stand by."
They looked at each other.
And then, they were looking at each other in the transporter room of Enterprise.
x x x
"Malcolm?" Jon said.
Reed activated a preset control and on the view screen they watched the cell ship explode into tiny pieces. The tactical officer smiled and said, "Kaboom."
"Travis, get us the hell out of here," Jon said.
"With pleasure, sure," Travis replied, and Enterprise and her allies warped towards Tellarite territory – this time, without the slightest intention of doubling back.
x x x
The captain was pacing back and forth in sickbay, where Phlox had just cleared them both as having no more than bruises. He had then gone off to treat another crewman. "Congratulations on a successful mission," Archer said. "I'm glad you're alive. But I have to tell you that letting the whole bridge crew listen in on your lover's quarrel puts me in an impossible situation!"
While she could not entirely approve of his emotional demeanor, T'Pol could understand Captain Archer's frustration. Their behavior had represented a significant lapse of discipline.
"It won't happen again, sir," Trip said.
"Trip is correct, Captain," T'Pol said. "Especially since he wishes for us to leave Enterprise."
"What?" Archer said, turning to Trip. "Again?"
Trip said, "I just want to have a normal family life, Cap'n: kids, Little League, barbecues, a picket fence, a dog..."
"A dog?" T'Pol said. He was now adding a dog to his list of requirements?
Archer stared at Trip. He didn't appear to know whether to be concerned or amused. "If a dog is what you're missing, you're welcome to borrow Porthos."
"It's just… I think a man deserves his own dog. Don't you, T'Pol?"
Would there be no limit to her mates' exercise of prerogatives? Dogs smelled. Dogs licked one's hands and face. And what exactly about being a man made one deserve to keep a canine as a pet? "If that is what you require," she said, between gritted teeth.
Trip grinned and turned to Archer, "Can you believe what Vulcan men can get away with? She just agreed to put up with a dog, just because I claim I need one. Who'd have guessed?"
"Not me," the captain said.
She blinked at Trip, who was still grinning widely. "Your demand for a dog was not serious?"
"Of course not. I know you'd hate that." Trip turned back to Archer. "As for the rest… Look … if you can accept that we're together, I imagine we could stick around a little longer." He smiled at T'Pol. "I have the feeling we might be better off working out the kinks of this relationship here, where we both feel at home. Do you agree?"
"Very much," T'Pol said, greatly relieved.
Archer, however, looked pained. "Glad as I am to hear that, you can't do it openly. And if Starfleet gets wind of any of this… either from today, or from any future indiscretions…"
Trip said, "Then we're prepared to go. It's that simple." He turned to T'Pol. "If you agree, that is."
"I do," she said. "And not just because I have to."
x x x
In the captain's mess of Enterprise in a stationary orbit around Tellar Prime, four men from four different species lifted their glasses of Andorian ale. "To cooperation," Jon said.
Shran drank, but then he scowled. "Cooperation, my ass. You intended to destroy that cell ship from the beginning, didn't you?"
"Only because you were so interested in it," Archer said. "I haven't forgotten what you tried to pull with the Xindi weapon. Anyway, I think we all just got enough new technology dropped in our laps. And better that than the kind that allows us to sneak around."
Shran wasn't mollified. "How do we know you haven't already developed a cloak?"
Jon grinned. "If we had, I wouldn't have needed you for this, would I?"
Soval said, "A logical argument, unless you are more diabolical than we generally believe. We can only hope that you are not."
Graal said, "Not everyone in our command is persuaded we did the right thing in helping you, Captain. Or in agreeing to share this technology. But I told them your people simply aren't intelligent enough to be doing this as part of a master plan for galactic domination."
"Thanks," Jon said. "And I'm sure your people aren't smart enough to figure out all that technology on your own."
Graal snorted appreciatively.
Shran turned to Graal. "If you suddenly decide you're not going to share it, you'd better plan to hide it pretty damned well from us. We won't tolerate such an advantage in our traditional enemy's hands."
"Is that a threat, Andorian?" Graal snarled.
"Gentleman!" Archer said. "None of us would be here if we didn't think cooperation is better for our species than competition. I think it's time we formalized this relationship: some sort of coalition of planets. We'd enjoy all the benefits of open trade, shared information, mutual defense. What do you think?"
Soval said, "It might help keep any of humanity's imperial ambitions in check."
"I don't know," Shran said dubiously. "The Andorian Empire is very proud of its independence."
"My government would likely see the advantages of such an undertaking," Graal said. "Especially if the Andorians aren't part of it."
"We have a much stronger alliance with Earth than you do," Shran said. "Don't think for one minute that you're going to usurp that position!"
Jon smiled at Soval. "You know, I think this might just work."