Enterprise Virtual Season 4
Home (Part 1)
Rating:T due to occasional ripe language.
When Manny Coto took over as the mastermind of ST:ENT, the series really took off, but still the 4th season really rubbed me raw. We had some of the most fantastic episodes in S04, like the whole Vulcan arc, but the ridiculously contrived and drawn out Trip/T'Pol angst really made me push the hate-button repeatedly. So if you're looking for something that will turn your finger nails into a nice morning meal, may I humbly suggest that you read something that's written by the great Alelou? She's the master of the art and her "Commander Tucker proposes" will make a Klingon beg for mercy. I suck at both reading and writing angsty things, so there's going to be suspense and anxiety in my virtual season 4, but not too much TnT angst. There'll be a little – after all I cannot scratch Koss from history (or future, whatever) completely – but it'll come in small doses. Sorry.
The grammatically inclined will notice that my story is using British spelling. I just feel more comfortable with it and as a non-native speaker I mostly learned her Majesty's variation of the language and things like 'color' or 'honor' instead of 'colour' and 'honour' just seem wrong to me. Sorry again.
My story begins with my rendition of "Home". My major gripe with the original episode is that the insistence on T'Pol's marriage to Koss and the fact of using blackmail to achieve it, sounds patently illogical to me. Why did they blackmail her into 'honouring tradition', just to abandon it immediately by letting her return to the ship? Anything else but a poorly thought out excuse to create some artificial angst appears supremely implausible to me, especially since T'Les ended up as a fugitive shortly after, anyway and she must have known about it already.
X X X
T'Pol looked out of the pod's window as they were approaching the newly christened "Jonathan Archer Arena" in San Francisco. The venue, at which the Humans regularly staged their vicious sportive events called "football", was overcrowded with people, who were waiting to witness a much less violent event – the homecoming of Earth's first warp 5 ship from a successful, but deadly mission.
Looking down, she noticed that she had taken Commander Tuckers… no... Trip's hand and clutched it as if it were a life line. While such display of affection would have been a scandal on Vulcan, somehow she felt strangely invigorated by it, even more so since it was perfectly acceptable on a Human ship. She knew that he needed this reassurance, even if it made her uneasy to display such intimacy in blatant view of her shipmates. Of course, she had noticed the subtle, yet not so subtle looks that the other occupants of the craft directed at her and Trips hands, but she also noticed that they all seemed to find it rather agreeable, if their modestly shown facial displays of pleasure were any indication.
Looking at Trip she noticed an almost misplaced display of contentment, a facial expression that - after the loss of his sibling - had only very recently returned to his features. She wondered if he had entered the disturbing state of denial again that had almost devoured his katra while he was in grief over the loss of his sister Elizabeth. Considering the disquieting communication with his father, such a state would not be entirely impossible.
X X X
It was rather unusual for Trip to ignore the door chime and her worries grew by the second. After the fifth hail went unnoticed, she decided to use the override code that she possessed as the ship's first officer.
She entered and saw him in a severe state of emotional breakdown, while on the view screen an elderly male, which, due to the close resemblance, she suspected to be his father, showed equal signs of emotional distress and subjected him to a tirade of ill-tempered rage.
"I don't give a flying fuck, what you and Jon 'negotiated' with those Xindi bastards! If it wasn't for you idiots loitering around the galaxy, telling every run-down shmuck, where to find us, Lizzie would still be alive. Davy tries to drink himself to death, your mother has almost gone insane and you think we'd be happy to see ya? Forget it, we don' wanna see your face ever again!"
The connection was abruptly severed and Trip seemed on the verge of complete breakdown. She carefully approached him and let him grab her around the waist. He was still seated and rested his head on her abdomen. She felt his almost violent sobs.
"I submit that your parents are not reacting rationally," she offered in an attempt to comfort him, returning his hug by tenderly wrapping her arms around his head. "Implying a responsibility for your sisters death is not logical."
"Does it matter? My own family just told me to get lost," he lamented and T'Pol did not know how to react. She had seen him in severe distress before and was inclined to believe that her influence on him had been helpful, yet facing such an illogical and disturbing confrontation with his family left her clueless.
X X X
Jonathan Archer directed another thinly veiled glance at the scene that normally wouldn't be anything worth noticing, if it wasn't for the fact that one of the clasped hands belonged to a Vulcan.
He felt utterly tired and empty, yet this simple gesture gave him the strength to soldier on. Over the last months he had become a torturer, a pirate and played god by ordering the creation and subsequent death of Sim. The last thing he needed was being subjected to a heroes welcome in a stadium that was named after him – yet, that was exactly what awaited him in mere moments.
Somehow this simple, innocent hand-hold between his first officer and his chief engineer made him realize that at least something positive had resulted from the last year in the Expanse. But the moment of solace didn't last long as he remembered the night before, when a very disturbed first officer stood in front of his quarters door.
X X X
"Come in, T'Pol, you look like you've seen a ghost," he offered and noticed that the Vulcan was fidgeting, something he hadn't seen since she handed him a towel with shaking hands after the events at Azati Prime.
"Had I seen a 'ghost', I would know that it was a result of my imagination. Unfortunately my distress is real."
Jon did a double take. Did T'Pol just admit to being troubled without needing to be forced into doing it? "What's wrong T'Pol?"
"I just visited Tr... Commander Tucker. His father subjected him to a most disturbing and illogical display of emotion. I do not know, how to proceed. I wish to lessen his distress, but I am unsure, how to do so. I do..."
"T'Pol," he interrupted, his face an open display of worry. "What happened? For you to admit it so openly, I gather it must have been pretty bad."
"Commander Tucker contacted his family and his father accused him... and you... of all kinds of villainy in most vulgar terms. He also submitted that his family does no longer wish to be associated with him. Mr. Tucker declared him and you responsible for his daughters death. He was most irrational."
Jon hid his face in his palms and took a few deep breaths in order to calm himself. Of all the things to happen, the last thing he needed was Charlie Tucker to turn into a raging xenophobe. If the usually good-mannered southerner would go down this path, there was a disturbingly big probability that a lot of the less mannered people would be inclined to adopt the same mindset.
"T'Pol," he began in a very exhausted voice. "I'm not sure, but I think you and Trip are quite... close?"
She nodded almost imperceptibly, but he caught the moment.
"It's not my place to interfere, but I think you shouldn't leave him alone tonight. You and Malcolm are probably the last straws that keep Trip from flushing himself out an air lock. His family is everything for him."
"I do not understand. Are you not his closest friend? I harboured the hope that you might … talk to him. It appears to be an effective method to alleviate distress among Humans. "
Jon sighed deeply and was close to tears himself as he realized again just how distant – by necessity - he had gotten to his former best friend.
"No, T'Pol," he answered in a trembling voice. "We've been best friends for years, but the Expanse demanded its tribute. I had to distance myself, when I began to make the ugly decisions. That way at least it's only my conscience that's been tainted. I couldn't have put some of that on Trip. He was hurting enough from Lizzy's death."
"I submit that you incriminate yourself unduly and illogically, Capt... Jonathan."
Jon looked at her wide-eyed. For the first time in three years, she had called him by his first name.
"I agree that some of your decisions are morally questionable. Yet, had you not made them, Earth would now most likely be not existent any more. Vulcan could equally have been destroyed. It is only due to your ability and willingness to sacrifice your own good conscience that countless worlds have been saved from annihilation."
"Thanks for trying, T'Pol, I keep telling that to myself, but I'm afraid I'm not very persuasive. It'll take some time to learn how to live with what I've done," he sighed, before he remembered, that she hadn't come to listen to his self pitying.
"So, will you keep an eye on Trip?" he asked, changing back to the original topic.
She nodded wordlessly.
"This is the last thing he needs," Jon sighed again. "Dammit, I need to ask Max to keep him on the ship."
"What do you mean?"
"We've been ordered to Jupiter station for repairs and that means, the whole crew has to leave the ship for at least two months. I had hoped that his family would help Trip to get better. Now they've told him to get lost," he explained, shaking his head in disgust about Trip's dad. "He's lost everything now."
"Maybe I might be of help. I plan to visit my mother. While not as dire as for Trip, my own relations to my family are... strained. It has been my experience that his presence invigorates me. It is my belief that I may render the same assistance to him, if I invite him to accompany me to Vulcan."
Jon smiled. "Do you realize that you wouldn't have admitted that at gun-point a year ago?"
"I do not understand."
"T'Pol, you just called him Trip without thinking twice and you just told me he makes you feel better. For all the things that happened, just hearing that from you gives me enough will to plough on myself."
"If so, my momentary lapse might have yielded a positive result," she answered.
"So, how do you go about inviting him? You should come up with quite a plan, if you want to lure him off the ship to a desert planet," Jon pondered. "He's got nowhere to go, hates the desert and he doesn't trust other engineers with his engines."
"I require your assistance with that," she explained. "Even if your personal relationship has... suffered, you are still his commanding officer. If you order him explicitly to leave the ship, he will seek my advice as to how to proceed, even though he would never admit to such."
Jonathan started to smile, prompting an inquisitively raised eyebrow from T'Pol.
"Y'know, that sounds as if you're describing yourself a year ago. Of course, I'll help you with that."
X X X
Jon was drawn out of his thoughts, when Travis set down the Shuttle-pod on a dais inside the stadium. Thunderous applause greeted them, as Enterprise's senior bridge crew filed out of the craft to face the ecstatic crowd. Admiral Forrest greeted all of them one-by-one with a big grin of relief and pride. He motioned Archer to take centre stage and address the crowd.
Jon pondered the option of asking Forrest to spare him that unasked for duty, but finally, he decided that, if nothing else, the victims of the mission deserved to be mentioned.
"I've been told that people are calling us heroes. When it comes to my crew, you won't get any argument from me," he opened as another round of applause interrupted him.
"But I think it's important that we remember the heroes who aren't with us; The twenty seven crewmen who didn't make it back. Without their sacrifice, I wouldn't be standing here right now. None of us would. But I'm sure I speak on behalf of my entire crew when I say - it's good to be home."
Turning away from the microphone, before his emotions would surface for all to see, he registered the almost deafening noise of tens of thousands of hands being clapped together with relieved enthusiasm, as the crowd paid their tribute in a seemingly never-ending standing ovation. He stopped momentarily, when he noticed something strange. On a nearby VIP stand, several dignitaries where standing and applauding the returnees – one of them was none other than Ambassador Soval.
X X X
"Excuse me," Erika apologized to her current conversation partner, when she saw a tired looking Jonathan Archer stroll into the establishment.
"The bar's reserved for regular customers. Galactic heroes have to sit at a table," she greeted him smilingly after she had managed to wrestle her way to his side through the crowded room.
"I heard about your promotion. Congratulations, Captain," he answered and somehow Erika doubted that his returned smile was sincere. For someone, who had just been recognized as a living legend, he looked awfully miserable. The bruises on his face were a clear sign that whatever truce he had negotiated with the Xindi, it did not look like it was the result of an overly civilized discussion.
"Thank you," she returned, carefully hiding her suspicion behind another smile.
"Cheers," she returned his toast, before carefully trying to probe, what bugged him. "So what was it like in the Expanse?"
"You'll be at the debriefing tomorrow, won't you? I wouldn't want to spoil any surprises. Besides, I've got more important questions. Seen any good movies while I was gone?"
He's evading the question, she thought. We may no longer be together, Jon, but I can read you like an open book. Something is terribly wrong.
"Another World War III epic," she reported. "It swept all the awards. But you haven't missed much. Earth's been holding its breath for the past year, wondering if the Xindi were going to come back and finish the job."
"On the bright side, there have been more weddings and births than ever before."
"I don't see a ring."
"I'm married to Starfleet. Just like you," she answered – unsure whether it would be a good idea to mention that she would never have any man other than the one she was talking to.
"Maybe I should file for a divorce," he sighed, downing his drink and the sheer resignation in his voice made her shiver.
I must find out, what happened to him.
X X X
"Come in," she prompted, when the door chime announced the predictable arrival of Commander Tucker. The Captain had obviously fulfilled his part of the agreement.
"Well, it looks like you're taking enough clothes to last a year," he remarked and she could sense that he was not really interested in the amount of her luggage. He appeared to be, what humans called 'lost for words'.
"You wanted something?" she replied and immediately wanted to take it back, realising, how disinterested it must sound to a Human.
"I told the Captain I wanted to stay aboard and supervise the refit, but he suggested I take a break. More like an order, actually. Problem is, I'm not sure where to go. Lizzie's gone, my home town doesn't exist any more. Guess this is my home now."
She noticed that he hadn't even mentioned his estranged family, surmising that he was probably not yet ready to discuss this particular issue.
"You could come with me," she offered, hoping that it wasn't too obvious that she had planned to make that suggestion.
"To Vulcan?" he asked and T'Pol fought the reflex to snort. Where else would she go?
"The transport leaves at eleven hundred hours."
"Where would I stay?"
"There's a guest room in my mother's home," T'Pol explained, knowing quite well, what he would deduce from that information. After all, it had been herself to lecture him about the cultural ramifications of meeting someone's ancestors after he had allowed himself to be impregnated by a Xyrillian female.
"Oh, your mom's house, huh?" he asked and the suggestive tone in his voice told her that he had indeed come to the expected conclusion. "What does she know about me? About us?"
"I've never mentioned you," she answered truthfully and didn't realize the impact on a human, until she heard his insecure reply.
"So you'd introduce me as?"
T'Pol fought the urge to sigh. She knew that it probably was a mistake and would create a sense of uneasiness for him. She remembered Captain Archers remark that Humans did not like to appear somewhere unannounced, before they visited P'Jem. But informing her mother of his presence would only prompt protest. The only possible way was confronting her with his unannounced appearance, in which case T'Les would be forced by decorum to show hospitality.
"Commander Charles Tucker III," she explained. "You've told the Captain that you don't get to see as many alien cultures as you'd like. You've never been to Vulcan..."
"Eleven hundred hours, huh? I'd better start packing," he announced and turned to leave. Seeing his fleeting smile, she knew that he felt uneasy, but also grateful for the company.
She allowed herself a short indulgence in satisfaction. While the circumstances were not optimal, the ultimate goal of having him by her side for the journey to her native world had been thoroughly achieved.
X X X
Jon looked around the half completed Bridge of Columbia. Although he was wishing to get as far as possible from a star ship right now, he had agreed to accept Erika's offer of visiting her future ship, even though it would be a virtually exact copy of Enterprise. He needed some company before the upcoming meeting and with Trip and T'Pol gone to Vulcan, Erika was the only person, whom he felt comfortable with and his failed last ditch attempt at reconciling Trip with his family had convinced him that being alone would only result in a very intimate date with a bottle of Bourbon.
"What do you want Archer," the man, who opened the door, asked sharply and Jon prepared to be on the receiving end of a hard punch. "If you came all the way to plead Trip's case, you've wasted your time. I've said all there is to say and you better get lost, too, before I abandon my manners."
"I don't think you did, Charly. You forgot to explain to him, why his father has turned into a raging xenophobe. He's your son and he nearly died on that damn mission only to hear now that his family doesn't want to see him."
"Don't Charly me Archer. You should have thought about that before you told those damn Xindi where to find us. Lizzy would still be alive if you had listened to those damn pointy eared bastards and stayed here, instead of sticking your nose in other races business."
Jon felt an acute sense of resignation. T'Pol really had a knack for understatement. The man, who was practically yelling at him, wasn't irrational. He was stark raving mad. His own foul mood made him answer in kind.
"Listen, you bigoted idiot," he seethed back. "Those Xindi didn't even know that we had star ships, when they attacked. They would've come by even if we still lived in caves, but without us out there, we wouldn't have had the chance to stop them from finishing the job. "
"So, do I need to thank you, asshole?"
"You should thank your son. If it wasn't for him the ship would've blown up a few times over and this whole planet would now be a pile of dust. I really have better things to do, than hurling abuse at a grieving man, but you obviously don't understand anything else."
Before Archer could finish his tirade, he found himself on the ground with blood trickling out of his nose.
"Listen, Archer, you have 10 seconds to get the hell off my property, before I make myself clear with a plasma rifle. Get lost!"
The door slammed shut and Archer beat a hasty retreat. He started to wish he hadn't made it off the Xindi weapon before it blew up.
"We've tied these stations directly in the primary EPS junction." Erika's explanation tore him out of his funk.
"I hope you don't mind if I steal some of these improvements," he joked, but even to his own ears it sounded like a rather lame attempt at hiding his distraction.
"I won't say anything if you do me a small favour. My senior officer candidates. I'd like to get your opinion. You've served with a few of them," she replied and he took the small data chip from her with an affirmative nod.
"You might want to talk to someone about installing a lumbar support. You're going to spend a lot of hours in that chair," he explained, pointing at the Captains chair.
"We've improved hull polarisation by twelve percent. We'll be able to hang in a fire-fight a little longer."
"Ventral and dorsal torpedo launchers, pulsed phase cannons..."
"Upgrades you recommended," she reminded him. "What is it?"
Jon realized that Erika had seen through his pitiful attempt to appear calm. "I had an argument once with Captain Jefferies. He was one of the designers of the NX class."
"I'm aware of that."
"I told him I didn't want to be in command of a warship trying to make first contact with new species," he spat bitterly. "Jefferies was right. We needed those weapons, and a hell of a lot more."
Seeing Erika's worried face, he knew that she would try to find out, what troubled him. He had to get away from her – quickly.
X X X
Maxwell Forrest looked again – there was definitely a new bruise on Jons face.
"Did you get in a fight? You didn't have that cut when you came down," he asked, pointing at the injury in question.
"A little 'welcome back' from Trip's dad." From the sad undercurrent in Jon's voice, Maxwell knew that the reasons for that were unlikely to be good ones
"Charly slugged you?" he asked and indicated Archer to take a seat.
"He's gone completely berserk, Max. He blames Enterprise for the Xindi attack, saying that we go out there telling everyone, how to find us."
The Admiral sighed. "I've stopped counting how often I heard that idiocy. I should warn you. This is not the same planet that you left a year ago. The 'phobes used the attack to bolster their ranks and they had no problems to find willing listeners."
"Why would anyone listen to that crap? Charly told Trip to get lost. He disowned his own son."
"Jon, seven million people died. That's 20 million, if not more, looking for someone to blame for the loss of a loved one. How's Trip taking it?"
"According to T'Pol, not very well. She's taking him to Vulcan so she can keep an eye on him."
"T'Pol and Tucker? Something going on that I should know?"
"They're very close. He's probably the best friend she has on the ship. I don't know any specifics and I don't think it's any of my business to snoop around in their private lives. Besides, technically she's not a member of Starfleet."
"But she will be," Maxwell replied. "Before she went on leave, she put in her application and it looks like she'll go straight to Commander."
"I bet Soval was really thrilled to hear that."
"Believe it or not, Jon, he was the only one of the Vulcans, who supported it right away. Tos and the rest of Soval's posse was quite scandalized."
"Imagine that. Are we really talking about the same Soval?"
X X X
"The asteroids were loaded with trellium ore. We think the Vulcans entered the field in order to mine it."
Erika watched the scene with worry. While he seemed to be calm, she knew Jon good enough to know, that he was fuming. Not only were they going over each and every report in excruciating detail, Soval in particular seemed hell bent on pointing out each and every questionable detail and this mission sure had a lot of them. Jon was an outburst waiting to happen.
"Trellium?" Commander Williams, the main investigator on behalf of Starfleet, asked.
"It's an alloy that protects against spatial anomalies. Ships in the Expanse used it to insulate their hulls."
"Your log reflects that when you boarded the Seleya you found the crew in a... delusional, violent state?"
"They attacked us the minute we docked. The trellium had a toxic effect on the Vulcans. It damaged their neural pathways. They lost the ability to suppress their emotions."
"According to your log, the entire crew of the Seleya was killed when you triggered a reactor breach?" Soval asked.
There you go, Erika thought with worry. He's not going to take much of those implied accusations.
"The breach was an accident. We were trying to disable their power grid."
"As far as I can determine, you didn't try to save a single Vulcan crewman," Soval stated and Erika started to dislike Soval's tone profoundly. The Vulcan appeared to get in some very filthy shots.
"There was no point. They were too far gone."
"Is that your medical opinion, Captain?"
"Phlox made that determination."
"Our specialists have examined the data you sent back. It is far from certain that the neurological damage was irreversible."
"There was nothing we could do for them!"
"T'Pol was exposed to the trellium. She recovered."
"I couldn't help them!"
Erika pondered the wisdom of interrupting the proceedings to ask for an interruption. She doubted that she was the only person in the room, who saw how close Jon was to a major outburst.
"There's no need to get emotional, Captain. You spent several hours in the ship's auxiliary control room. In that time, did you try to access the internal sensors, or download the computer database?"
Now that's definitely a filthy one! She thought in disgust. If he says yes, he'll probably accuse him of espionage and if he says no, he'll say he's covering something up. I wonder if Soval realizes how close he is to getting choked, if he goes on like that.
Uh, oh. Single word reply. You've had it Soval.
"So in effect, we don't know what really happened aboard the Seleya."
I knew it!
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Because of this oversight, we'll never have a complete picture of the events that led to the ship's destruction."
"I just told you exactly what led to the ship's destruction."
Jon's openly hostile tone was probably the last warning before the crap took off on a trajectory directly into the fan and she started pondering if she would be quick enough to hold him back, if Jon tried to pounce on Soval.
"Captain!" Admiral Forrest interrupted sternly, but Erika knew that it was way too little, way too late. Jon had lost it and Soval had it coming. The best she could hope for was that he would keep it to a verbal outburst only. From what she heard so far about the mission, this Jonathan Archer was capable of more than just threats.
"I'm not going to sit here and be accused of murdering those people!"
"No one is accusing you of anything, Captain."
"Maybe that crew would still be alive if you'd been a little more helpful."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You did everything you could to sabotage our mission. I got more help from the Andorians than I ever got from the High Command!"
"That's enough, Captain!" Forrest interrupted again, but Erika knew, that he was not stopping now. She tried to hold him back, but he was too quick and raced over to look Soval directly in the eyes.
"This planet would be a cloud of dust right now if we'd listened to you!"
"That's enough! Captain, go to my office and wait for me!" Forrest ordered angrily.
She watched Jon storm out of the room, while Soval and the Vulcans in the audience wore a distinct expression of disgust. He had it coming, maybe it wasn't so logical after all to provoke an already stressed out man.
X X X
Jon was fuming. Of all the people in the room, Forrest had been the one he had counted most on to be on his side. And now this.
"How can you be taking his side?" he asked the Admiral, when he entered.
"I am not taking anyone's side. You were out of line."
"They don't lift a finger to help us and now I have to justify myself to that son of a bitch?" he spat back, furious over what felt was a betrayal by his friend.
"The de-briefing's on hold, indefinitely. I want you to take some time off to clear your head."
"With all due respect, Admiral, I don't need a vacation," he spat and walked out, still fuming.
"That's an order, Captain!" he heard Forrest yell after him, but he couldn't be bothered to acknowledge it.
X X X
Malcolm rounded the corner to see Phlox wrestling with what looked like every movable content of sick bay.
"Lieutenant. If you wouldn't mind?"
Malcolm rushed to Phlox's help, when the Denobulans attempts not to drop something became increasingly desperate. "Not exactly travelling light, are you?" he remarked dryly, while taking some of the luggage.
"Thank you. Why leave the comforts of home, when you can take it all with you?
"Okay. I trust you'll be taking the proper precautions on the surface?" Surely the Doctor had been informed of recent events?
"What do you mean?" Obviously he had NOT been informed of recent events, he realized and fought the urge to sigh indignantly.
"I'm surprised you haven't heard. An Andorian and two Rigelians were attacked."
"Attacked? Why?" Surely the good Doctor can't be that clueless, he thought.
"Apparently the Xindi incident has caused a degree of xenophobia. It's hard to believe in this day and age. I'm told the Vulcans are staying behind the walls of their compound."
"Well, I'm not going to let a few isolated incidents disrupt my vacation plans. I lived on Earth for many years before coming aboard Enterprise."
"I don't think this is the same planet you remember, Doctor. People are looking for someone to blame and they don't care who it is."
"I appreciate your concern, but I'll be fine. Would you?"
While opening the air lock for the Doctor, Malcolm couldn't decide if Phlox was naïve or brave. Most likely a little bit of both.
Acknowledging the Doctors gratitude with a nod, Malcolm came to a decision.
Just because the Captain ordered me to take leave, doesn't mean I have to leave the safety of the crew to a bunch of inept policemen. I must find out, where he's going. Wait, didn't Travis say he'd meet Phlox on the surface? I'm sure he knows.
X X X
Erika let out a sigh of relief. At least some parts of the Jonathan Archer she once knew still seemed alive. She had suspected that he would run off to the solitude of their old favourite climbing zone and she was pleased to see her assumption proven right.
He was currently busy checking the ropes, so she kicked a little pebble to make her presence known.
"Mind if I ask, what you're doing here?"
I'm happy to see you, too, she thought. "You know better than to go climbing without a partner."