"Want me to turn the headlight on again or something?" Romeo said, from the front seat of the truck.
"No. Battery's good." Trip said. "Is the key still on?"
"Check the fuel gauge."
"I checked that, Trip."
"Just make sure, Romeo." Trip said, clanking around somewhere beneath the hood of the truck down there. "Every time I have to go on the damned road to get someone started up again, they're out of fuel half the damned time. Nobody ever checks..."
"Well, I didn't think that grenade ate my fuel, Trip. But I checked. Half a tank, still."
"You not going with her, Trip?" Clover asked, from the cab.
Trip frowned. "Which 'her' are we talking about, Clover?"
"No." He said, irritably.
"Try it again, Romeo."
Romeo turned the key again. Nothing.
"She wants you to go, don't she?"
"I don't know, Clover. Romeo?"
"Nope." Romeo said.
"Why you don't ask her?" Clover demanded.
"Can we maybe focus on the damned truck, Clover?" Trip snapped. From somewhere deep down in the engine.
"Truck's drived." She said.
"Trip." Romeo said. "You sure it's not the starter? That's what it was last time."
"It's not the damned starter…!"
"Truck's drived." Clover said, louder.
Something banged around down there. And cursed.
"Hey! Don't take it out on my truck, Trip."
It was quiet for a moment.
"What, Clover?" Trip said.
"It's drived." She said again.
Frowning. Glaring down at the truck hood, where Trip was being so stupid.
"Romeo…this damned thing's an automatic…"
Romeo startled. And looked down at the gear shift.
"Oh." He said.
"Put it in park, Romeo."
It started right up.
T'Pol approached the truck as it pulled up, having spent the last several minutes working its way out of the creek bed. Waited patiently, with her hands folded at her back, as it stopped and the engine was shut down.
Trip jumped down from the passenger side then, where she waited.
"Hey." He said, once he'd come to stand before her.
And…she'd changed clothes. She was wearing some kind of alien uniform or something. Kind of rust red in color, with actual rank insignia at the neck.
Damn. She looked pretty good in that get up…
"Major Kov's team has nearly completed their work with the wreckage." She said.
"What are they going to do about the hull and the rest?" Trip asked, glancing around over the field. And taking another good look at how well that uniform fit when she turned to look over the field herself.
"There is little that can be done there." She said, looking around. Most of the actual hull remained intact, resting here and there in the field. "They have only enough parathermite to destroy those components that pose a risk…"
"Well, I'm salvaging all that stuff once you guys leave." Trip smiled, tucking his hands in his pockets. "That duranium stuff'll make some great armor."
"I doubt you would be able to work the metal with the equipment currently available to you." T'Pol said, looking back at him.
Trip shrugged. "I'll just have to come up with new equipment then, I guess."
They looked at one another for a while.
"I would prefer to stay, Trip." She said.
Which surprised him.
"Yeah." He said, softly. "Me, too."
Then he smiled and shrugged.
"Catch 22." He said.
T'Pol's eyebrow went up. As he'd expected it would.
"I've heard you mention 'logic' a few times." He said. "So I thought you'd appreciate this. I read this book one time. The main character, Yossarian, is a combat pilot or something in world war two. And…he doesn't want to fly combat missions, because they're dangerous. So he tries to figure out how to get out of it and he discovers he can ask for a psych evaluation. Be declared mentally unfit and be grounded. But Catch 22 prevents that from ever happening."
T'Pol considered that.
"How does Catch 22 prevent this?" She asked. Because he clearly expected her to ask.
"Well." Trip said. "See, the problem is that if you ask for an evaluation, that means you're sane enough to know you need one. So you're not crazy and can't be grounded. If you're crazy then you wouldn't ask for an evaluation in the first place. So you can't be grounded then either."
T'Pol nodded. "An example of circular logic."
"Right." Trip nodded.
Her eyes searched for the relevance, while he gazed at her.
"I cannot stay, Trip." She guessed. "Because our laws forbid any avoidable contamination of your pre-warp culture. And you cannot achieve warp capable status, without further such contamination."
Trip shrugged. "Well, not any time soon anyway."
She looked at him, uncertain.
"I mean…it's gonna take me a couple of decades to get up to the Phoenix. If that's all I do for the next couple of decades. Which...you can bet it will be."
"Only two?" She asked.
He kinda got the impression that sounded like good news to her. So…
"Well…maybe a little longer." He admitted, reluctantly. "Three or four, maybe."
He shrugged, helplessly.
"I see." She nodded. Disappointed.
Trip had to look away for a moment. And so noticed Major Kov approaching across the field. And the rest of the Vulcans beginning to move back toward the alien shuttle.
He frowned. "I guess your friends are done."
T'Pol looked over, confirming his assessment.
"We're not even going to get to have a decent goodbye here, are we?" He said, smiling wryly at her.
She wasn't sure how to respond to that.
"Subcommander." Kov said, as he arrived. "Our work is complete and we have rendered what material we could incapable of further contamination."
"That is acceptable, Major." She said, nodding.
"There remains, however, the issue of the subspace converter your Human associates recovered from the wreckage."
Trip took a deep breath. Then nodded.
"Right." He said, letting it out. "Got it in the truck."
He turned away to step back up into the vehicle. While T'Pol and Kov regarded one another for a moment.
Kov spoke first. "It is unfortunate that we are unable…"
"If your men are prepared, we will leave immediately." T'Pol interrupted.
She didn't really want to delay the inevitable any longer. That would be illogical. And...uncomfortable.
Kov simply nodded, as Trip jumped down from the truck again, the subspace converter held in both hands now.
T'Pol waited…until she realized he wasn't turning the device over to Major Kov with any haste.
"Trip?" She asked, after a moment.
He looked up. Still thoughtful.
"You guys need this thing?" He asked.
T'Pol and Kov glanced at one another again.
"It is not particularly required." Kov said. "However, it represents a possible source of technological contamination that protocol…"
"Right." Trip said. "But you don't need it. Your subspace comm's missing an antenna. Not a converter."
"Trip." T'Pol said, quietly. "Regretfully, we cannot allow you to retain the subspace converter. I'm sorry."
"Okay." He said. "What you got in trade?"
T'Pol stared for a moment.
"Excuse me?" She asked.
"Well." Trip said, looking at the device in his hands. "This here's a salvage site. And I salvaged this. So…according to local common law…this is mine now."
"So." He said, grinning at her. "You want it, you gotta trade me for it."
"Subcommander…" Kov began.
T'Pol spoke, interrupting again. "Trip, we have nothing we can trade you for the device that would not likewise pose as a contamin-…"
"We'll trade for service, then." Trip shrugged, still grinning.
T'Pol arched an eyebrow at him.
What were his intentions here?
"What service would you require in trade?"
Trip looked over at the Vulcan shuttle.
"Think we can catch a ride?" He asked.
Because…that surprised her.
T'Pol strode onto the bridge, where the bridge crew busied themselves with their duties. Monitoring the progress of the inhabitants of the planet below.
And in orbit nearby.
Captain Voris spared her a glance before returning his attention to his duties.
"Sensors, current status?" He asked.
"The vessel's warp engine is online." The sensor operator reported. "Power increases detected in all systems. No failures, as yet."
Voris turned to Subcommander T'Pol.
"Your Human engineer appears as capable as we hoped." He said. "I held some concerns, considering the age of the vessel."
"From what he suggested, the human, Cochrane, was a capable engineer himself." T'Pol said, folding her hands at her back. "When he was not intoxicated."
Voris nodded, turning to Communications.
"Open a channel to the Phoenix." He ordered.
With a tap at the console, the bridge speaker system responded.
"…not hard, Clover. Just watch the screen and tell me if one of them turns red."
"She's scared up here, Trip!"
"Romeo, would you pull on her tail, like I told yah?"
"You sure that works…?"
"Yes, please! She's scared up here!"
"It calms her down, Romeo! Just get over yourself and pull on it a little. Jeez!"
"Phoenix, what is your current status?" Captain Voris asked.
"Uh…yeah, hold on there, Seleya…"
"I can just sit on your tail, Clover. That work?"
"Yeah. Thanks! Hey, Trip, this one here's for the ship, right? In case it gets broke up?"
"Right, structural integrity. You're just looking for that to get any higher than the top line. Don't worry about the other ones. We ready, guys?"
"Got the warp core thing lit up, already, Trip. Want me to bump up the plasma?"
"Go ahead, Romeo. Give me a pressure reading…"
"Good to go, Trip. Pressure's good. According to this thing, anyway. Nacelles…charged and ready. Hit the gas…or, plasma, whatever…and let's get haulin'!"
"Alright. Seleya, we're good to go over here."
"Very well." Voris responded. "We will continue to monitor."
T'Pol stepped forward. "Communications, are you recording?"
She nodded. Then noticed Captain Voris looking at her.
"This represents a pinnacle moment in Human development." She explained. "High Command would prefer a full recording of the event."
"Yes, of course." Voris agreed.
"Trip, what's that?"
"Uh…oh, hey. That's a CD player…let's see…"
"Helm, bring us about." Voris ordered. "Prepare to match speed. Sensors, continue full sensor sweeps, report any changes."
"Hey, Romeo, you bring your charge?"
"Here, take this hippy crap. Probably can trade it for something. Pretty sure it was Cochrane's. Give me that."
"Alright, thanks. Here."
"Okay…we're rolling, Seleya."
"Captain." Tactical reported. "The Phoenix has increased in speed to ten thousand kilometers per second."
"Helm, match speed." Voris ordered.
"Warp field…looks good. Damn, gotta hand it to Cochrane. Look at that bubble. She's a beauty, ain't she? What's our speed?"
"Coming up on…twenty thousand kilometers a second now. That's pretty damned fast, Trip. Wow. Still climbing…"
"Just wait…you're gonna love this…let me know when we get over two hundred kilometers per, alright? Clover, what you got?"
"Not broke up yet, Trip!"
"Significant increase in speed, captain." Tactical reported. "Rapidly approaching critical velocity."
"Okay…come up on two hundred thousand, Trip."
"Alright…let's rock and roll…"
Something…raucous erupted across the bridge. Something rhythmic. And primitive. Causing most of the Vulcans in attendance to raise an eyebrow.
"Tactical, report." Voris ordered.
"No notable failures, Captain."
Captain Voris turned to T'Pol. What was wrong with the Phoenix, that it would generate such a noise…?
"I believe it is music, Captain." She said.
Voris raised an eyebrow. "Are you certain?"
"Indeed." She said. "This is Romeo's charge. Haulers…cargo transporters…are known to play music such as this when going into battle."
Voris considered. "Do the Humans expect to engage in battle?"
"I believe not. It is also a form of…emotional expression." She said.
"I see." Captain Voris nodded, turning back to the main screen.
"…Back in black! I hit the sack! I've been too long, I'm glad to be back…"
T'Pol hesitated but…
"If Communications continues to record, perhaps it is no longer necessary…?" She suggested.
"Close channel." Voris ordered.
"…from the noose, that's kept me-"
Relief was palpable on the bridge.
And it was quiet for a moment…
"Phoenix has achieved warp one, Captain."
Voris nodded. "Very well. Note the time in the mission log."
He turned to T'Pol then. "It appears your Humans have achieved their first manned warp flight, Subcommander. As predicted."
She nodded in return. "Indeed. That is gratifying. Further, it occurs to me that the Seleya is currently well positioned to make first contact. Which, I believe, falls under her mandate."
Voris stared, eyebrow questioning.
"Official first contact, Captain." T'Pol corrected. "And, further, having prior experience with the Humans of this culture, and those piloting the Phoenix…"
"Your diplomatic credentials are up to date I assume, Subcommander?"
"Very well." He said. "Communications, contact the shuttle bay. Inform Subaltern V'Len to prepare a shuttle. Subcommander T'Pol will require it when the Humans return to the surface. And have Major Kov form a diplomatic detail to attend her."
The Carolinas, Confederacy Territory
Well over three hundred humans, dressed in varying degrees of ragged, worn clothing, had already gathered to see who the hell had just parked a spaceship on the edge of town.
Trip was only just emerging himself, to find Clover and Romeo busy calming everyone down and keeping them from walking over to poke around curiously. By waving guns around, threatening to shoot anyone who did so.
And the crowd was just beginning to quiet down. Not due to the threats. That was not so uncommon as to cause them that much concern. They were turning their attention skyward…
Grinning already, he jogged down the short ramp and came around to look up himself.
A Vulcan shuttle floated down up there, angling in with barely a sound, aiming itself to come to rest about fifty meters away.
"Romeo, Clover!" He called out. "Don't worry about them. Come on!"
"They gonna mess with the ship, Trip!" Clover yelled back.
He almost stumbled to a stop at that. Almost.
But he kept going. Because he had to be there when she stepped out.
"Screw it." He said. "Let 'em. I'll fix it later."
So he was there when the shuttle landed. And the airlock opened, revealing a lovely Vulcan woman in very attractive, very official looking robes.
And he grinned. Probably as big a grin as he'd grinned in a good long time.
She stepped forward then. Regally, like a princess or something. Which was just perfect, he thought. And she put her right hand up, making some kind of sign at him, with her fingers spread apart just so.
"Live long and prosper." She said.
And her voice was just beautiful.
So he laughed a little. He couldn't help it. And he figured that must be some kind of official greeting or something, so he put his hand up, too. Spread his fingers like she was doing, and nodded at her.
Then stuck his hand out, eagerly. Happily. Feeling pretty damned good about things.
She regarded his hand for a moment. Then calmly, gracefully reached out to grasp it in return. Allowing him to shake hers slightly.
And, since it seemed proper to do so, allowing him to retain her hand for a time. For as long as he deemed appropriate, according to Earth customs.
"Right back atcha." He grinned.
And it would seem Earth customs allowed for extended contact in such circumstances. Because he didn't let go again for quite some time.
That's all, folks! :D