Trembling and gasping for oxygen, Hoshi recovered from another private meeting with 'Mr. Bombastic'. The task she had taken upon herself, to provide a special UT for Trip and T'Pol, was 'satisfying' in more than one regard. It was the first linguistic job that routinely left her so aroused that she had to do something about it.

She staggered into the shower stall on weak knees and started to clean up the mess she had made of herself. It was apparent that T'Pol had rather sensitive nipples, but she suspected that it took still some considerable skill from the ship's engineer to make her climax just from a thorough boob licking. If the stream of utterances was anything to go by, it must have been sweet torture for her Vulcan friend to be in such a long state of build-up to what ended up being a massive climax. The recording had been over an hour long.

As her heart rate and breathing slowly recovered to normal levels, she started thinking about tonight's performances. The first one would be one she had done countless times, years ago, at the gambling weekends. It was a full striptease, so T'Pol had been nervous about it, as could be expected, but it was a routine that Trip had seen at least half a dozen times during their gambling days, so he wouldn't be paying much attention to it, especially since he would take her request to keep an eye on 'Goldie Locks' very seriously.

With T'Pol's apprehension somewhat eased about the first performance, she could think about the second one, which would basically be a T&A routine with the really naughty bits hidden behind a fig leaf made from silk. The real challenge would be to entice Goldie onto the stage. That would be a make or break moment. Just to be on the safe side, she had also choreographed a solo version as a backup.

=/\=

T'Pol stood behind the curtains, watching her Adun being picked up by a shuttle from the Vulcan Academy of Science. The now familiar buzz of deep contentment had settled over her mind, and she was almost disappointed that it would not last the day as she would spend most of it in meditation to prepare for the amount of restraint she would need during the evening, when they would visit Hoshi's public performance.

Intellectually she knew that Hoshi was no danger to their nascent bond, as she had no romantic designs on her mate; nor would there be any direct danger, as she would make sure they would be standing far away from the stage, their position most likely determined by the location and visibility of Trip's reconnaissance target. But the human physiology would still lead to a certain arousal in her mate and her Vulcan instincts were pre-programmed to react if she wasn't herself the reason for such arousal.

Of course tonight would inevitably lead to another intimate encounter as the foreseeable arousal of her mate would have to be dealt with lest the bond would be unsettled. They had, however, decided not to record it as it was likely to be a short, but intense one with little informational value for Hoshi. In the end these recording were an extreme measure and not meant to be an integral part of their intimate relationship.

When the shuttle had disappeared, she turned around and let the bathrobe she was wearing glide off her shoulders. She wouldn't need it for solemn meditation and she hung the garment over the back rest of a nearby chair.

=/\=

Professor Solan checked that his ear protector was properly aligned when the human initiated the starting procedure for the noisy craft. Out here in the vast emptiness of the desert the planned test runs would not disturb any local population, as there wasn't any, but the volume of the ancient engine would still be too dangerous for the Vulcan engineers in attendance.

He did not know what was to be tested, but since the human was wearing the safety device called 'parachute', it would appear that he was actually trying to take to the air. Their guest had also requested a medical shuttle to be on standby, plus an engineering barge. The latter, however, was supposed to serve as a mobile control center. From there they would be able to check the data readouts and communicate with the human pilot inside the craft. It would also enable them to work without the hearing protection, which was only necessary outside.

The Vulcan professor moved inside the mobile control center and took off the hearing protection. A young human female with long black hair, who would operate the communication between them and the pilot, handed him a small headset, which he accepted. He understood that she was a fellow officer of krei T'Pol and Commander Tucker.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental, cleared for take-off, wind five at one-eight-six, traffic pattern approved," the human commanded cryptically, and Professor Solan could easily correlate most of the information, seeing on his readout that the wind was indeed directed at bearing 186 at a speed of 5 knots, as the humans called their peculiar unit of measurement to which the sensors had been aligned.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental, cleared for take-off," the acknowledgment came over the radio equipment and even through the thick armored hull of the shuttle Solan could hear that the scream of the historic human engine increased substantially. Looking out of the window he could see that the human contraption started to move rapidly, speeding down the flat desert and accelerating rapidly within a rectangular strip that was marked by lights. Soon the small tail-wheel lifted up and moments later the whole construction started lifting itself into the air. The human device had indeed started flying.

"Holy shit, Hoshi, it works!" an excited voice announced over the communications system.

"Keep radio discipline, Trip, and concentrate. This isn't a game," the human female replied sternly, but seeing her wide smile, Solan knew she was as elated as the excitable engineer controlling the peculiar craft.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental, fly direct Victor-Uniform-Lima NDB climb three-thousand five-hundred."

Again the cryptic message seemed to convey all necessary information, but it took some effort to decipher it. 'Tango-November-Tango Experimental' was obviously the name chosen for the craft, although such a long distinct name seemed redundant considering it was the only one on the whole planet. 'Fly direct Victor-Uniform-Lima NDB' appeared to be the order to follow a direct path to a non-directional radio-beacon the humans had installed sixteen kilometers to the northwest for navigation purposes. It transmitted a series of beeping noises that formed the letter sequence VUL in a human code called 'morse'. The order to 'climb three-thousand five-hundred' was straight forward except for the fact that the unit was not the standard human meter, but 'feet', a unit based on the length of the average human foot.

"Climb three-five-zero-zero, direct Victor-Uniform-Lima," the order was acknowledged and Solan was slightly surprised by the way the human pilot had accepted the female's earlier admonishing, considering that the radio operator was an ensign while the pilot was a commander. He stepped outside, donning his head protector to be able to follow the craft's movements. Thankfully the headset was small enough to fit inside the cups of the hearing protection. Closing the hatch, he observed the flying vehicle.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental at three-five-zero-zero, turnin' crosswind runway one zero to land," the pilot reported and Solan could see that the craft was steered sharply left, now flying perpendicular to the direction in which it had started. It was remarkable that such a structure was not only flying, but obviously well controllable without the benefit of fusion drive or a computer. All movements where the direct result of the pilot's manual input."

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental, at three-four-zero-zero, descendin' two-five-zero-zero, downwind runway one-zero to land."

Seeing the craft turn another ninety degrees, Solan knew that the human was now flying in the opposite direction he had started from in order to get behind the point he started his flight from. The sequence of numbers meant that he was about to reduce his altitude by one thousand of the humans' illogically arbitrary units.

Although the craft was indeed flying, the Vulcan professor was surprised at how slowly it was doing so. Even in modern impulse driven craft such a slow flight needed heavy use of gravitational dampers, something the human construction did not possess. According to Commander Tucker's theoretical lectures it was doing so solely by manipulating air flow along the shape of its wings.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental at two-five-zero-zero, eight miles, on base runway one-zero to land."

Another ninety degree turn and Solan could see the craft move back towards the coordinates from which it had started. As the cryptic report said, it was a fair distance south from its takeoff point, and logic dictated that another ninety degree turn would follow and the distance would be used to descend for landing the construction.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental on final runway one-zero to land." The report came over the headset, surprisingly well despite the background noise of the engine.

"Tango-November-Tango Experimental, wind four at one-eight-eight, cleared to land."

"Cleared to land, Tango-November-Tango Experimental." The clearance from the human female was repeated by the pilot and the Vulcan observed the craft approach its original launching coordinates. The nose of the ungainly contraption was pointing down as it descended toward the ground. The propeller running at low revs created most fascinating optical illusion of changing the direction of rotation . With a final reduction in throttle input the craft glided in and with a puff of dust the wheels impacted the ground. Soon the tail lowered as well and the human device was back on solid ground.

=/\=

Hoshi ran out of the shuttle and launched herself at the pilot. "Man, that was crazy. It really worked, Trip!"

She could feel his chuckle as they hugged and with a bright smile she looked into his face.

"Now all we need is you makin' a soft landin' as well tonight, Hoshi." He winked.

She didn't know what to answer, so she just kept smiling at him.

=/\=

T'Pol opened her eyes, knowing that something substantial had happened. The sheer onslaught of joy and satisfaction she had felt through their bond could only mean that her mate had conducted a successful test. Unable to follow such an endeavor live without showing unseemly signs of emotional impact she had resigned herself to staying at home, knowing that Hoshi would be attending as a female voice of reason.

It appeared that the test had been successful and Hoshi would make sure her Adun would not forget his mid-day sleep. Granted, she would not have the same persuasive options at hand as in joining him, but T'Pol knew that the peculiar 'brother-sister' relationship between her best friend and her mate meant that 'big brother' would not dare to dismiss the word of his 'sister' especially since he knew she would be representing the wishes of his mate.

=/\=

"He's in his office, sleeping like a baby," Hoshi said and T'Pol acknowledged the information with an accepting nod.

"I take it the test was successful?"

"It was brilliant. Even the Vulcans were stunned by it. I can't wait to ride shotgun next time. Your permission pending, of course."

"You have my permission of course," T'Pol said. "But if I may make a suggestion. You should try to rest as well. Your 'test flight' is yet to come."

"I can't believe I'm actually nervous," she heard Hoshi admit. "I've never been that way before a performance. Are you sure you're okay to come?"

"I am," T'Pol agreed. "And we both wish you the best for your performance."

"Thanks," her human friend answered with a bright smile and severed the connection. Hoshi had been so excited, she had actually still worn clothes inside her quarters, something T'Pol had not seen for a while.

=/\=

Jon spluttered, and some of his drink dripped out of his nose and onto his uniform. Dumbfounded he looked at the screen, his mouth hanging open.

"Come again?" he requested. T'Pol's face was unreadable as always, despite the bomb she had just dropped – or at least he thought she had.

"I can assure you that 'things' have 'worked out' between me and Commander Tucker," she repeated. "Our marriage ceremony is scheduled nine days from today."

"I wouldn't have pegged you for one who goes for a shotgun wedding," the captain said, still unable to suppress his surprise at the turn of events.

"If you mean to imply that this development is somewhat rapid, I agree with you, but it is not impulsive."

"Well, impulsive is not a word that immediately springs to mind when thinking about you," he answered with a boyish grin. "May I ask how our Chief Engineer's project is going?"

"I have not yet had the chance to debrief him on today's test, but according to Ensign Sato, who was in attendance, it was a great success."

"That's good to hear. You have yourself a good time. It'll take us about two more weeks to pick you up."

"Are there any problems we should be aware of, Captain?"

Jon inwardly cursed his inability to hide his thoughts. T'Pol had seen right through him. But he could hardly tell her about the recent surge of xenophobia on Earth via subspace. That would be something to talk about in person, but he could hardly spoil her wedding with that.

"Nothing we can't handle," he lied. "A bit of bureaucracy delaying us. Nothing to worry about."

=/\=

She took the earplugs and dutifully installed them in her ear canals. Apparently humans enjoyed music at high volume and as a result any conversation between them amounted to shouting at each other. The whole establishment was filled with a cacophony of seemingly random noises, disguised as 'music' and humans screaming at each other. Once the earplugs had expanded, the pain subsided and T'Pol relaxed,

She carefully checked that her wig hid the tips of her ears properly. She had used it before on their visit to the Akaali planet and therefore knew that care had to be taken with its use. She had allowed Trip to take her hand even though they were in public, since it was the only way to keep up the pretense of being a normal human couple. Thankfully the warm air inside the establishment was not enough to inconvenience a Vulcan. The break-out of sweat would have made it visible that the up-swept part of her eyebrows had been shaved off and substituted by cosmetic measures to make them appear the more rounded human shape.

She sent Trip a grateful glance when he directed her unobtrusively to a relatively remote position at the back of the audience, pointing towards a figure with sand-colored hair seated in an out-of-the-way corner – his reconnaissance target, Hoshi's secret admirer. She felt a sense of familiarity about the stranger, but could not tell if those impressions were hers or Trip's feeding in through their bond.

The room fell silent when the announcer took to the stage.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have the honor to announce a performance that no doubt many of you came here for. A round of applause for 'Helen of Troy'."

Even through her hearing protection T'Pol could hear the raucous applause when Hoshi walked onto the stage in an elaborate wrapped dress, her hair draped in an elaborate fashion that must have taken a long time to prepare. It became obvious why she had left for the establishment almost two hours before them.

T'Pol's glance moved nervously towards her mate, but she saw that he was not even paying attention to Hoshi's suggestive movements. His stare was directed at the stranger, who she could see was quite captivated by the spectacle. To her surprise she felt great amusement suddenly surge through their bond, something she had not expected to encounter in this particular situation.

=/\=

At the end of the performance she felt a pang of rage when she saw Trip snatch a short glance at Hoshi, who by now was completely undressed and leaving the stage amid thunderous applause from the attending humans, but she quickly suppressed it as her mate dragged her unexpectedly back out into the foyer of the establishment.

She let him pick one of the earplugs out once they were outside, waiting for what was obviously important information he wanted to relay.

"You need to find Hoshi before her second act," she heard him say, his blue eyes deeply concerned. "She's gotta drop her idea of tryin' to get him to join her on stage."

"Do you foresee problems?" she asked, trying to adapt to the unfamiliar sensation of one-sided hearing,

"Huge ones," he answered. "She could wreck a chance in a lifetime."

"I do not understand," T'Pol said. "What chance?"

She could see that Trip was mentally debating with himself, but finally he looked her straight in the eyes.

"T'Pol, that 'stranger' is Malcolm."