A/N: This chapter takes place right after chapter three. It's from Trip's POV and reveals the events before his so called death.
Also, references are made to this story's prequel, The Captives. In that story the investigation of Terra Prime leads to a prison sentence for T'Pol and Hoshi sustains an injury that impairs her hearing.
Special thanks for EntAllat for being an awesome beta and PaulineM for all her help.
Disclaimer: see chapter one.
2161. Later that day, two weeks before Trip's disappearance.
White. Trip longed to be in the white space he had left behind. After their time together, he had gone to his quarters, taken a shower, tried to eat some breakfast and went back to work. It almost felt like this was one of those normal days. But it wasn't. The disappointment of the early morning hours still burned inside of him.
He focused on some repair work. It was not normally the sort of work the chief engineer should be spending his time on, but working with his hands always provided him with the necessary distraction. At noon, as he returned to his office for some paperwork, he received a notice from Archer. He was ordered to come to the captain's ready room to discuss a message received from Starfleet Command. Trip had no idea what it was about and, frankly, he couldn't have cared less.
He walked straight to Jon's office and buzzed the comm. Jon opened the door. "Thanks for coming on such short notice," the captain greeted him warmly. "Please take a seat."
Trip noticed two other men present as he entered. The first person had short, gray hair and broad eyebrows and gave him a stern look. "Commander Peterson, Starfleet Special Services," he introduced himself in the same impeccable English as Malcolm. He gave Trip a brief smile that didn't reach his eyes. The other man was tall with dark blond hair and, like Peterson, came across as confident and controlled. He held out his hand. "Dubois. Lieutenant Roger Dubois. Starfleet Special Services." His English pronunciation was good, but Trip could hear a twinge of an accent. In all these years in Starfleet he had never heard of a division called Special Services.
Trip sat down. He concentrated on the men who joined him at the table, trying not to think about the events of the morning and the dull pain of disappointment that had accompanied him ever since. Jon's face sobered when he started. "Commander, this meeting is off the record. You're not permitted to discuss the matters at hand with anybody. Everything that is said during this meeting is classified information."
A frown formed on Jon's forehead. Trip looked at him more closely. Lines of tiredness were written on his face, his mouth now a grim line. His shoulders seemed tensed up in defense; his hands were firmly placed on the desk. It was as if he suddenly carried the burden of the whole world on his shoulders. It reminded Trip so much of the captain during their time in the Expanse or, more recently, during the long battles in the war. He hadn't much time to think about it, because without hesitation, Dubois took the lead. "There are several events that have come to our attention, and because one of these concerns you, Commander, we would like to hear your comments."
"Go ahead, Lieutenant Dubois," Trip said. He wondered what this meeting was all about. He had the feeling it had to do with security matters. Wouldn't Malcolm be a much better choice, rather than the chief engineer?
"Four years ago we were told by the Tellarite government that Ambassador Gral would no longer be their representative. A few months later, rumors spread that he was wounded during a bar fight and had killed a man. It was reported that Gral was drunk at the time. For his actions he was expelled from his position as ambassador."
"I always knew those rumors were made up to smear Gral," Jon interjected, pushing his chair back to stand up. Dubois's eyes narrowed and his mouth tightened, annoyed by the interruption.
Leaving his place at the table, Archer started to pace. He stopped by a cabinet, studying a bottle of Andorian ale that had been standing there for years. Jon picked the bottle up and placed it down with a wry smile.
"Sit down, Captain," Dubois ordered and Jon returned to the table.
Trip shifted in his chair. A feeling of unease settled in him. On Enterprise, either on the bridge or his Ready Room, Archer always was in charge. He was the one who gave the orders, not an unknown guy like Dubois.
"A year later," Dubois continued in that monotone voice of his, "we were informed about the tragic death of Commander Shran, but only recently did we receive intel regarding the true events surrounding his death." Dubois pushed himself off the desk. "The commander was discharged from his position with the Andorian Imperial Guard without honor after his criminal activities were uncovered. There are rumors he faked his death."
Trip was flabbergasted. He knew Jon and Shran were good friends. The news of Shran's death had hit Archer hard. He glanced at Jon, but the captain only looked at him, waiting for him to reply.
"You want to know what I think about this?" Trip asked. He raked a hand through his hair, just to stall for time. "Everybody makes stupid mistakes," he offered. "I hardly knew Ambassador Gral; the story could be true, but it doesn't fit the man. As for Commander Shran," Trip shrugged, "I've known him to be a man of integrity and honor."
"I couldn't agree more," Jon commented, which earned him another stare from Dubois. Then, without a word, Dubois laid down a PADD. Archer glanced nervously in his direction. "There's also a case involving a Starfleet officer," Dubois said. "Before the war, the officer was charged with using a mind-altering substance while in command. The key evidence was in the officer's medical file that was stolen by a terrorist organization that Starfleet was investigating at the time."
Alarms went off in Trip's head. He pushed a feeling of panic down. He wasn't going to lose T'Pol. Not like the last time, after the events of Terra Prime. At that time every crewmember had been questioned, every file and document searched. The investigation had led to an intensive string of interrogations of him and T'Pol at a time when they were at their lowest, grieving the loss of their daughter. When T'Pol's use of trellium-D while being in command had been exposed, a stream of events followed which ended in T'Pol being sent to prison.
He hadn't been able to help T'Pol. Never had he felt so powerless and alone without her. He never wanted to be in that situation again. When she was released from prison, he had promised himself that nobody would hurt T'Pol any more. He would protect her, even if it was the last thing that he did.
"You may think that's in the past," Dubois continued, leaning slightly towards Trip as if wanting to convince him, "but recently we heard from a reliable source that this officer offered information about new technologies, developed by you, to the Romulans in exchange for information about the officer's father's whereabouts. This is supported by several pieces of evidence."
The minute Dubois brought it up Trip knew it couldn't be true. "You're talking about Commander T'Pol," he interrupted Dubois, calmly. He turned to Archer. "Are you aware of these charges, Captain?" he asked, hardly containing his anger. "You of all people should know that T'Pol has given everything to build the Coalition. She's been your XO for years and served you with all she's got. You know that T'Pol wouldn't do anything that would hurt Starfleet."
Jon straightened his back. "I am aware of the situation, Commander," he replied. His voice sounded authoritative, as the captain of Enterprise would, but there was a sense of despair in his look, a plea in his eyes for Trip to help him. Trip realized T'Pol wasn't the only one in trouble.
Understanding he wouldn't get help from Archer, Trip turned to the two other men at the table. "Your reliable source didn't have all the facts," he said. "Commander T'Pol told me what happened. About three years ago she received a message that her father was alive and that he would be released from prison if she provided the Romulans with information about our technology. She showed me the message, but she had already decided not to give the Romulans any information whatsoever."
"And you believe her?" Peterson finally spoke for the first time after the introductions. He had been taking notes, but the dark timbre in Peterson's voice, his stern expression and the way Commander Peterson radiated authority made Trip realize he wasn't a mere observer, but the man in charge.
"Yes, sir," he answered firmly, "without a shadow of a doubt." He leaned forward and stared at the two men, ready to tear down any accusation made against T'Pol.
"The evidence against Commander T'Pol is overwhelming," Peterson replied, hardly impressed. "We have copies of your blueprints, found in a Romulan base, and a recording of conversation between the Commander and a Romulan agent that our specialist in communication, Lieutenant Jubulaata, has declared authentic. This, plus several suspicious decrypted files in the commander's computer."
Jubulaata was Head of the Department of Communication at Starfleet Command. Trip wished Hoshi had been able to examine this so-called evidence, but Hoshi had been given a more background function in Starfleet after an accident in which her hearing was impaired during one of the first attacks by the Romulans. Jubulaata had continued a steady career in the field of communications with Starfleet. However, Trip trusted Hoshi and knew she had the intuition and skills to see beyond what was presented, qualities that Jubulaata lacked.
"I want that evidence examined again and again if we have to. I suggest you ask Hoshi Sato, who's an expert in these kinds of things. Those blueprints, that recording, and those files must be false," Trip replied. "And I will give you plenty of reasons not to believe those accusations." He breathed in slowly, the same pattern that T'Pol had taught him so many years before. "Commander T'Pol has been extremely loyal to Starfleet, Earth and Vulcan, serving us for many years. She lost her family connections and her status on Vulcan by doing so. As a Vulcan, her decisions would be based on logic, not emotions. She told me that her father had been declared dead decades ago, but if he was alive, he wouldn't want to be freed at the expense of thousands or maybe even millions of lives. Not to mention the effect on the Coalition and the future of all our worlds. She couldn't live with it and she certainly wouldn't betray me behind my back by selling my work to the enemy." Trip felt his anger rise up again. "You're chasing down the wrong person. It looks like a setup to harm T'Pol, and you're falling right into it."
Peterson didn't blink. "You seem to have gained Commander T'Pol's trust. You know her well." The suggestion in his voice was clear.
Trip wasn't surprised that Peterson and Dubois would know about his relationship with T'Pol. They had probably been waiting for him to defend her. Strangely enough, both men hardly seemed interested in what he had to say. So why had they invited him to this meeting?
"Yes, I am a good friend of T'Pol," he replied. "But you already know this. What's going on here?"
"Let's assume someone comes to you with the accusations made against Commander Shran and Commander T'Pol. What would you do?" Peterson asked in a more friendly tone.
It was like he heard the characteristic voice of his wife in his head: when events seem random, find the common factor. Suddenly Trip saw a pattern in the stories he had been listening too. "Ambassador Gral, Commander Shran and T'Pol are all supportive of Captain Archer, and have been of great value to the Coalition. They are also come from three different species, all of those that have joined the Coalition. This is a set-up to isolate Captain Archer and weaken the Coalition," Trip answered. "All these accusations should be investigated with the means to find who is behind this before our enemy succeeds."
Peterson smiled tightly. "That's why we asked for you, Commander Tucker. We also have seen a pattern and we have reason to believe Romulans have infiltrated us. To draw them out, we need you. You're the bait to catch the spy."
Dubois presented a PADD screen with a map of a star system. "This is the Dosa system, home of the planet Tikari. We have a Starfleet base on this planet, and from this base the evidence against Commander T'Pol was sent. Your orders are to go there, find the original source and study it."
"Meanwhile we are going to monitor every communication at Starfleet to see if anyone sends a message about your action, killing two birds with a stone," Peterson added.
Archer gave him an earnest look. "You're the only one who can do this job, Trip. Knowing your own work by heart, you could easily find if it has been tampered with," he said.
Trip tried to digest what just happened. He had expected that his idea of a set-up and his plea for an in-depth investigation of this so-called evidence would fall on deaf ears. But Peterson and Dubois had agreed with him. What's more, they had given him an order for a mission to prove he was right.
"Who's with me on this mission? What kind of section of space are we heading for? What if the Romulans intercept the mission team and capture me?" Trip asked.
"You're still operating in Coalition space, Commander. You will be able to communicate with us through a secret channel. At any sign of trouble we will come and rescue you," Peterson answered. He handled him a small device. "This device will allow you to communicate with us all the time. Put it behind your ear."
Trip picked it up from the table with two fingers. He studied it for a second. It was small and round like a patch. He should do as he was told. There was no way he could refuse this mission.
"Put it behind your ear," Peterson repeated. "Now, Commander Tucker. The operation starts within an hour. This device is the key for our success."
Reluctantly, Trip did like he was told and pushed the patch behind his ear. It attached itself to his ear right away. It left a burning sensation and he felt nauseous. For a moment he lost focus and he closed his eyes.
He felt a hand grasping him by the upper arm. "Concentrate, Commander," he heard Peterson say. "The device is necessary for us to keep in contact with you, but some people experience some side-effects during the first minutes it's activated."
Trip opened his eyes. T'Pol, he thought, I need T'Pol. I need to tell her what going on. He searched for her through the bond, but to his disappointment he couldn't contact her.
He hadn't time to think about the cause, because Peterson handed him a package. "In here you will find a protection suit. It's essential for the mission. You will put in on and leave this room. Then you have twenty minutes to go to the conduits storage at section B.10.40.C.3. You will reroute the power to reduce the current within the conduits in this section. You'll do it in such a way that the power reduction isn't detected. You will also have to adjust the conduits according to the specifications you will receive from us."
Trip frowned. The assignment was simple enough; he could do it with his eyes closed. He had done far more complicated missions during the war. But he hadn't expected to be leaving today. He never liked to be on a mission without T'Pol, but especially today he wanted to be close to her. On top of that, Trip couldn't deny the feeling of unease he still had about this mission.
Peterson continued. "After twenty minutes, an old friend of Captain Archer's will contact Enterprise, claiming he's in trouble and being chased down by criminals. Archer will help him and bring him safely onto the ship. On your return trip, you will go to section B.190.40.C.3. There, two of our agents will beam up to Enterprise, disguised as the criminals, pretending to be looking for the captain's friend. They will threaten Archer's life. You're going to save the captain by creating a distraction."
"Don't tell me. I have to create an explosion by pushing the conduits together," Trip interrupted, trying very hard to keep his annoyance out of his voice. He and the crew had fought and saved each other's tails during the war in far more creative ways. "No Chief Engineer would do that. This is a task for security. Will people not question that I didn't call for them?"
"People believe what they have been told. There's no risk involved. Due to the rerouting of electricity and the adjustment of the conduits there will only be a small explosion. Combined with the protection suit you're wearing, if you sustain any injuries, they will be minor," Dubois answered. "Medics will take you to sickbay and Phlox will put you in the imaging chamber. From there you will be transported to a cloaked ship that will take you to a Starfleet base. After that, everybody will hear you've been severely injured and transported to a specialized hospital, fighting for your life. That will explain your absence."
Trip's interest was piqued. A cloaked ship capable of warp at the same time? That he wanted to see. But Dubois's other remark about Phlox confused him. On one hand, the fact that both the captain and Phlox knew about the mission reassured him. On the other hand, Phlox knew about his private situation, trying to have a family with T'Pol, and hadn't even hinted to him about the accusations made against T'Pol or this dangerous mission.
His doubts must been evidently written on his face, because Peterson turned to him and pinned Trip down with a look. "We need to do this, Commander. Starfleet has been plagued by the Romulans far too long. This is our chance. You're our man: the engineer who has the ability to prove those accusations wrong - not only against Commander T'Pol, but also against your friends. "
In the corner of his eye Trip saw Jon stiffen with those last words. His mind was reeling. Ever since T'Pol had been sentenced to prison after the events of Terra Prime, the idea that someone had been after her had been a nagging thought. This was his chance to find some answers, to find the person behind this all. If he found out the truth, he could protect T'Pol and help Jon. If the traitor were found it would be the end of their troubles and the beginning of a new life with his wife, in peace. It was worth the risk.
"I want Lieutenant Reed on the team." Trip said. He'd feel more reassured with Malcolm with him.
The captain tapped with his fingers, but instead of him, Peterson answered "Dubois is going with you. He has more experience in this kind of missions. Also Lieutenant Sabin is part of the team. Sabin can crack any code and will monitor any communication that will give us a clue about the whereabouts of the traitor. Reed isn't allowed to know, and you're not to say a single word about this mission to Commander T'Pol. Keeping this mission a secret is of the utmost importance. If someone got wind that we are trying to smoke out the infiltrators, all our efforts will be for nothing, and people – good people who helped build the Coalition – are going to pay. Do you understand, Commander?"
Trip nodded slowly, but he felt like Peterson had just cut off his safety line. He wished he could tell Malcolm and T'Pol. He had to find a way to let T'Pol known that he was on a mission and not injured in a hospital. She had a hard time already without worrying about him. He had to do so without breaking his promise to keep the mission confidential and without putting his team at risk.
"Glad we understand each other," Peterson responded with a stiff smile. He laid down a PADD on the table. "Now about that "friend" of Archer. He wants to be part of our team, because he believes the person behind this is responsible for losing his position. In the next few days he will make a surprise visit to Enterprise."
For the first time during the meeting, Trip saw the captain's body relax. Whoever this friend was, he was good news for the captain. Peterson pushed a button at the PADD and the face of a well-known person with blue skin and two antennae's appeared.
"Commander Shran," Trip exclaimed in disbelief. "According to Starfleet reports, you died three years ago."
"Don't believe everything you hear, Commander Tucker," Shran replied.
Romulan space. Two weeks later.
White. White sparks flew off the console, smoke and fire was around them. Their small vessel shook under another blast. "Orion pirates!" Sabin yelled.
McKenzie, the latest edition to their team, turned the ship around and moved in the other direction. It was without any effect, because their vessel was hit again. A huge explosion followed, knocking every one off their feet. Quickly Trip helped Dubois off the ground, while Sabin helped McKenzie. Their pilot fled back to his place.
"How can they target us when we are cloaked?" Trip said aloud, but the only answer he got was another blast that set one of the consoles on fire. Dubois rushed to the site and succeeded in putting the fire out. Trip tried his communication device again, as he had before, but all he got was static.
The device on which this mission depended wasn't working. Starfleet wasn't nearby and wasn't coming to rescue them.
"I am detecting a torpedo heading towards us," Sabin reported. Within seconds a huge blast against the side of the ship knocked it around. The alarm went off. "Red alert! Warp breach in sixty seconds!"
"To the shuttle pods!" Dubois ordered.
"If the warp core explodes, the pods won't protect us from the blast," Trip shouted. "Go! I'll try to prevent a warp breach." While he ran towards the core, his mind flew towards T'Pol, of that last morning they had spent together. Ever since he'd started this mission, he hadn't been able to feel her in his mind. It was one of the emptiest feelings he'd ever known. At least he had been able to leave her a message he was on a mission.
His fingers flew over the warp core console. "Red alert. Warp breach in 10 seconds," the computer reported. Trip froze for a nano-second. He wasn't going to make it.
Continuing to work feverishly, he was up against all odds. Only a miracle could save him from dying in an explosion.
"Warp breach in 3 seconds."
Trip closed his eyes. This was it. He had failed. He was going to die, far away from home, his wife and friends. "Forgive me, T'Pol," he whispered, waiting for the end to come.
He felt his body being dematerialized in a thousand pieces, before he became whole again on a cold floor. A wild joy ran through his veins. He was alive! Starfleet had rescued him. He looked up, expecting to a smiling face of a Starfleet officer. Instead he stared into the face of an ugly Orion. The Orion raised his hand. Trip could see a phaser aimed at him. A burning, piercing pain ran through his chest and he crashed back on the floor, losing all consciousness.
He was still on the floor. His bones felt cold as ice. His head was pounding, his chest burning with agonizing pain. He could hear voices. A man. Two men. A female. Her voice was familiar. He had heard it before. He didn't have the strength to go up, before the world become dark again.
He opened his eyes. He was in a different place. His hands were tied behind his back. His feet were locked in a holding device in the shape of a block. He tried to sit straight up and looked around in a dimly lilted room.
Trip counted four other people. He recognized an Andorian and a Tellarite. Unlike other Tellerites Trip had seen, this one didn't have a beard. Both of them had bruises on their neck and arms. Their faces were swollen, and the Andorian had a large cut on his face. In the corner he saw a man and a woman. The man had gray hair and friendly features. He was clearly Vulcan, but there was something off about his face. He had also dark marks of bruises on his face and several scars. The female looked Vulcan, but her emotions of pain were so plainly written on her face, he doubted if she was an hundred percent Vulcan. Smears of dry green blood and mud were on her face, along with some bruises. She wore trousers above a long, dirty and bloodstained shirt that clung to her bulging belly. She was pregnant. Had she been a Human woman, Trip would have guessed she was five months into her pregnancy. Trip felt so sorry for the woman to be in this position. He whispered to her "Are you all right?"
The man next to her moved his upper body towards the female, as if he wanted to protect her. His hands and feet were tied like Trip's, but his eyes burned in a clear message "Don't come near." It wasn't until that that Trip realized what had been different in the face of the Vulcan male. His ear was deformed. The tip of his right ear had been cut off. There were no visible scars or marks to been seen around his ear, so it looked like it had been done a long time ago.
"Are you human?" the Andorian addressed Trip, both his antennae's bowing in his direction. "Of course he is!" the Tellarite mocked. "Look at his ugly hair and his horrible eye color." Before Trip could reply, there was a noise at the door. Two soldiers came in, looking nothing like Orions. They had the same complexion as Humans and ridges around their eyes. Trip had seen this species before, but he couldn't remember when. One soldier cut the binding on his hands and released his feet, the other started to shout: "S'tivh khumae-ute. Hallh'na!"
Trip raised his hands. "What do you want me to do?" he asked. He heard the voice of the Andorian, but couldn't figure out what he was saying. The soldier hit him full in the face, shouting with increasing volume. Trip hit the floor, tasting blood in his mouth.
From where he was on the floor, he heard a voice say "Put your hand on the device and say your name." The voice was dark, but warm and friendly and it took Trip a second to realize it had come from the direction of the Vulcan male.
Suddenly he became aware that one of the soldiers was holding out a device. In the heat and fear of the moment he hadn't seen it. He managed to get up and did as he was told. Trip realized that, given the nature of his mission, he couldn't give his real name. He searched for names for a few seconds, while the soldier holding the device started to grumble softly in impatience. Trip didn't know if it came from the pregnant woman next to him or that he wanted to be called by a hopeful name that reminded him of T'Pol, but before he knew it he said "Rokel. My name is Rokel."
That seemed to please the soldiers. They tied his hands together, but he was allowed to take a few steps. Trip was so glad he could finally feel the blood circulation in his legs and feet. He noticed that the Andorian, the Tellerite and the Vulcan couple were observing his every move, but stayed silent. The soldiers also didn't speak, just grabbed him again and held him still to scan him from all sides. Then they locked his feet again in the block and left. He was alone again with the other prisoners.
He turned to the Vulcan who helped him. "Who are they?" he asked.
"Valakian soldiers," the man replied.
"I thought they were going to hurt me. Thank you all for helping me out," Trip said. "You seemed to have taking quit a beating yourself."
"It's nothing," the Vulcan answered, his eyes shifting to the female next to him.
"Is your wife all right?" Trip asked the man, assuming the woman didn't speak English. For a second Trip saw the face of the man change, bowing his head slightly and staring to a point on the floor in the Vulcan expression of shame. Then he looked up again. "The mother of my child is hurt, but she says it's manageable. The child is in good health."
He straightened his back and adjusted his position. "You have an original name for a komihn," the Vulcan man remarked almost causally.
Trip didn't take the bait. "Thank you. What's your name?"
The Vulcan introduced himself as V'Ran. The Andorian joined in and said his name was Skrov. The Tellarite muttered his name, Gel. The female understood what was being discussed. She smiled and said "Mita". She had a beautiful, melodic voice.
"V'Ran, are those Valakians working for the Orions? What are they planning with us?" Trip wanted to know.
The three men stared back at him, clearly not understanding his question. "The Valakians are Romulan soldiers," Skrov explained slowly.
"But the Orions attacked my ship!" Trip exclaimed. "Did they sell me to the Romulans?"
"We have no knowledge of that, Rokel," V'Ran answered calmly. "We are all Romulan slaves. We have been sentenced, and our masters have been kind enough to send us to the Farel moon instead of having the executioner end our lives."
"We are going to a moon? What's there?" Trip tried to find answers.
"It's a Romulan mining facility,'' V'Ran explained. "Cold as ice, dark like a pit. You're going to work as a slave in the mines."
Trip swallowed. A slave on a Romulan planet. How was he ever going to finish his mission to prove T'Pol's innocence? And how was he ever going to get home?