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Chapter 15 – There's Been No Mating!

Archer was beginning to get a handle on the information the doctor and Trip were sharing.  Lifemates?  He drew a hand through thick brown hair that showed a sprinkling of grey at the temples.  The Captain was certain that Trip was determined to see him prematurely gray before they concluded their mission.  He thought that Trip and T'Pol's relationship had progressed to a simple flirtation.  He took a deep breath. Lifemates. It was just like Trip to jump into a relationship in his inimitable damn-the-photon-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead style. 

Even as he thought this, he knew that he was being unfair.  It seemed more likely that events had spiraled from a mutual attraction that he had himself begun to sense into the potential diplomatic disaster.  Trip's passion for his job, the crew and this ship too often put him in the crosshairs of danger.  He could tell by the mix of intensity and nerves reflected in Trip's eyes - the enormity of the situation was not lost on the engineer either. 

The Captain sat down and leveled a gentler gaze on his friend.  "We're in this together, Trip.  You can count on my support."  He leveled a thin smile at the engineer.  "Let's hope the Vulcans' don't come to think of this as Archer's Revenge."

Trip favored the captain with a smile at his gentle attempt to relieve the strain between them.  "Glad to see I'm not alone in realizin' the implications of what should be something very private.  My personal nightmare is that the Vulcan's get wind of this and make T'Pol's life miserable."  Saying her name was enough to ratchet up the tension in the room.  The intensity of his engineer's azure gaze fixed upon Archer one more time.  "We have to find her Capt'n."

Jon did not need an empathic link to understand the underlying desperation in Trip's last statement.  "Do you have a link with T'Pol now?  Can you tell where she is?"

Trip hung his head for a moment, shaking it in the negative.  His hand massaged the back of his neck as if trying to ease the knots of tension might somehow help him concentrate.  He looked back at Jon and Phlox with a good deal of helpless frustration.

"I can feel…I don't know…a wrongness. But it doesn't work like a COM link - at least not at this distance.  We pretty much have to be touching for me to sense what she's thinking.  Distance…I don't know, I guess it just makes the link weaker."

Almost to himself, Archer muttered, "I was hoping you might be able to tell us where she is in the city."

Trip's eyes were closed, the index fingers of both hands massaging his temples, looking for all the world like he was wrestling with the mother of all migraines.

Phlox, who had been standing watching the human's interaction, leaned over Tucker.  "Commander, are you in pain?"

With his eyes still closed, Trip waved one hand to signal a negative.

"Jon, when you said city…I felt the…I guess I can't come up with a better word…wrongness.  It's like… " Trip looked up at Phlox and Jon and shook his head, "This is gonna sound nuts but…when I think of T'Pol I feel a heaviness.  Above me, around me.  Damp, heavy, closed in."  He shook his head again.  "I just don't know."

Phlox looked with concern at the younger man.  "What you are describing could be a natural psychological reaction to learning that your mate has disappeared."

Trip looked up at Phlox.  Archer could see the annoyance on Trip's face.  He was no more comfortable with this mate business than his Captain. 

"Doc, there's been linking, or whatever you want to call it.  But I'm tell'n ya' – there's been no mating.  Can we stop throwing around that particular word?"  Trip looked down at the table, seeming to examine an invisible flaw in the table, Trip muttered under his breath, "I haven't even kissed her yet."  Jon couldn't help himself.  He unsuccessfully tried to stifle a smile.  Trip saw it and favored his Captain with a sour look.

Oblivious to the previous exchange, Phlox attempted to reason with his recalcitrant patient.  "Now Commander.  We've already talked about this.  The Vulcan's mating ritual occurs on many levels – establishing the link is the first step in the process.  Why on Denobula, the pheromones are so critical in the mating process that for weeks the male and female mating pair wear each others…"

"Doctor!"  Archer exclaimed to get the conversation back on track.  Trip's eyes rolled up in silent thanks though his mouth remained in a taught grim line. 

Let's head back to the bridge Trip.  Maybe if you look at a map of the planet it will jog some more information.

Feeling better because there seemed to be a direction for action, Trip stood up and Archer joined him.  "Sounds like a plan Capt'n."

Suddenly stopping in the doorway, Trip stopped and turned back to Archer, his expression set in stubborn and determined lines that the Captain recognized so well. 

"Does this mean that you're gonna let me command the away mission?"

"No."  Archer could see his second officer stiffen.  He could see disappointment congealing into rebellion in the younger man's eyes.  He was surprised that Trip held his tongue.  Maybe this link with the more reserved Vulcan did have it's benefits for the normally opinionated engineer."

He further explained, "I'm commanding the away mission - and you're coming with me.  Now let's get to the bridge and see if we can figure out where our four crew members are being kept hidden from us."