Prologue

The first year of the Romulan war had not gone well for Starfleet. It had managed to refit twenty-five of the older warp 2 starships into warp 4 capable frigates, solid designs with nacelles under the saucer section and now weapon heavy ships, and the NX warp 5 starships were now down from seven starships to five starships. The Discovery and the Atlantis were destroyed and all crews lost against the superior firepower of the Romulan Warbirds. It now appeared that the Columbia was about to join the fate of the Discovery and the Atlantis. Good thing There was the rumor that six new NX starships were about to launch.

"Engineering report," called out XO Commander Charles 'Trip' Tucker III.

"Multiply hull breaches. Hull plating down to twenty percent and phase cannons offline. All we have are photon torpedoes," replied Chief Engineer Gill Santos.

Six months ago, Tucker had been the Chief Engineer and Gil was Trip's number two. Many in Starfleet Command considered Commander Tucker the best engineer in the fleet, but when Commander Hale died during an encounter with a Romulan Bird of Prey, Captain Hernandez convinced Starfleet Command to promote Tucker to first officer. She didn't want to lose him and knew he would make as brilliant a XO as he had been Chief Engineer.

"Lieutenant Holland," Tucker ordered, "weapons free on torpedoes. Fire as many as you can get off before you need to get to your escape pod."

"Escape pod?" she asked.

"Yeah, escape pod," barked Trip.

"Aye, aye, sir," the attractive tactical officer responded with a grim smile.

Tucker looked as a corpsman was working on the prone body of Captain Hernandez. She was injured when her command chair had an energy blowback after the initial attack of the Warbird. Her body was blown from the chair and slammed into then pilot/navigation station. This might not be what Erika would order but I see no choice.

He looked at the Bridge. It was a wreck. Parsons was lying dead at the engineering station. The Bridge MACO guard was dead from flying shrapnel. Hell, he even had a hunk of shrapnel in his side and was bleeding through his uniform. I should have stayed in bed this morning.

Tucker cleared his throat to get the corpsman attention. The young medic looked up at him.

"Yes, sir," he said.

"Toss me a Celox bandage," Trip said.

The corpsman rummaged through his medkit and found the Celox bandage then tossed one to Trip. He smiled at the young man then proceeded to unzip his flight suit uniform and apply the bandage to his side. The Celox would clot the wound for now and buy him some time, not that he needed the time considering what he was about to do.

Trip now looked over at the Damage Control officer at his station. Ensign Philbin looked like a scared teenager.

"Philbin, send out the abandon ship call," he ordered.

"Aye, aye, sir," he said then set off the abandon ship claxon.

A distinctive, ugly sound began to play throughout the ship. Every crewmember knew what it meant.

"Miriam," he barked, "give him ship wide then I want you to send out a priority one distress signal with details of our situation."

The Communications Officer Lieutenant Alison Miriam's hands flew across her console.

"Ready, sir," she said.

"This is Acting Captain Tucker. I am giving the abandon ship order. Proceed to assigned escape pods and get off this damned ship now. Abandon ship!" he ordered.

Trip ran his hand through his dirty blonde hair. He then looked to his Bridge crew. Holland was still firing off torpedoes. On the viewscreen, the Warbird was coming about for a kill shot. It was taking its time. The battle was over, so they could enjoy the kill of another Starfleet ship.

"Holland, help the corpsman get Captain Hernandez to the pod. The rest of you go now," he ordered then he stepped down from the command chair and then he walked over to the pilot/navigation station and relieved Ensign Chow.

"Time to go, Ensign," he said patting the young man's back. "I'll take it from here."

"But, sir," Chow started to speak.

He was twenty-one years old and had been with the ship for the past three months. So many of their crew was new replacing the injured, those rotated to another ships, promotions, and duties, and the dead. Trip had barely gotten to know Chow.

"That's an order," he said.

"Aye, aye, sir," said Chow.

Tucker knew the only chance for any of the pods to survive was for him to ram the Warbird with what was left of the Columbia. It had been a good ship, not the Enterprise, but a really good ship. He sat down at the station and began to set his course and speed.

"Sir, may I stay with you?" asked Lieutenant Eleanor Holland. "You need someone to continue fire torpedoes."

For reason he never understood Lieutenant Holland was loyal to him. She seemed to mark him as an officer she was willing to follow into hell, but he wasn't willing to have the company.

"They'll be no one in Torpedo Rooms to fill the tubes. Anyway, this is my hayride, Lieutenant," he said. "You get to fight another day."

"Yes, sir," she said with a voice filled with emotion.

Trip didn't bother to turn and watch his Bridge crew leave him. He kept his attention on the Romulan Warbird. A slight smile played on his lips. At least, they had done some damaged to the Warbird before it took them down. Now it was time to do more damage, maybe enough to save what was left of his crew.

Well, darling, it looks like my last thoughts are going to be about you and I haven't even seen you and seventeen months. I still dream about you, though. It looks like goodbye.

The Warbird finished coming around and was now facing the Columbia once again. Trip could feel the distinctive vibrations of jettisoned escape pods, as he readied to send his starship at full impulse into the Warbird.

Goodbye, T'Pol.

For some reason his mind drifted back to the first time he met then SubCommander T'Pol of the Vulcan High Command. It was the day they were launching the Enterprise. They had a mission to return and injured Klingon to his people and she was being forced onto them. He was sitting in Jonathan's Ready Room having a lively discussion with the Captain when she buzzed his door.

"Enter," Archer called out.

Just then, the most beautiful creature Trip had ever seen entered the Ready Room. She was wearing a skintight jumpsuit that made it hard for him to swallow. The woman looked unlike a Vulcan he had ever seen. She had the most sensual mouth, full lips and kissable, almond shaped eyes that were soft brown, and body that made him lose track of time even though he was at least a head taller than she was.

"SubCommander T'Pol, I'd like you to meet my Chief Engineer and First Officer, Commander Tucker," said Archer.

Trip tried to appear cool and nonchalant as he stood up, but damn if his heart wasn't pounding. She turned and looked at him.

"You can call me Trip," he said then he offered his hand for a handshake.

"We shall see," she said then turned her back to him without shaking his hand.

His heart stopped pounding at the moment, as she made him mad as hell.

STSTST

Goodbye, T'Pol.

T'Pol woke in her quarters. That was Trip's voice in her head. This was more than a dream but was one of their bond connections. For a moment, her sense memory kicked in and she remembered his scent. He was the only human scent that didn't offend her olfactory. She had touched his mind, but that was impossible. They had never lived with each for a year, so their bond must have weakened to the point of barely existing. As a matter of fact, she was sure that their bond had been growing weaker the past six months. It was now only a dull throbbing under her consciousness, a reminder of the Human who she had accidently bonded with and accidently fallen in love.

"T'Pol, to the Bridge," called Captain Archer over the intercom.

Wearing silk pajamas, one of the few luxuries she allowed herself to have, T'Pol got out of her bed then she went to her intercom unit and responded, "Is there an emergency, Captain?"

"We received a priority one distress call from the Columbia. It looks like they are on the losing end of a fight with a Romulan Warbird. At maximum warp we are six hours away," he told her.

She knew Captain Archer well enough to hear the stress in his voice. Six hours. In six hours, they will merely be in time to make note of the destruction of the Columbia. The Romulans don't take prisoners or allow survivors.

"I am on my way to the Bridge, Captain," she said in a calm composed voice, and then she closed the intercom link.

Trip. She hadn't said his name, or even thought his name in months. It was too painful for her. There was too much unresolved between them for him to die. Against the dictates of logic, she knew that she needed to see him again, to touch him, to smell him.

Her mind suddenly took her back to her first time in decon with him. He was angry as he thought she was going to recommend pulling the plug on the Enterprise and Captain Archer's first mission. She had been warned in private by Ambassador Tos and Ambassador Soval about Commander Charles Tucker. Even more than Captain Archer, who was notorious among Vulcans at the Embassy, Tucker was considered emotionally volatile and far too willing to disagree with Vulcan opinions. The most stressful thing about him was that he appeared to win some of those disagreements. Against logic, he proved to have a brilliant mind capable of winning arguments with logic.

He rubbed the decon jell into her skin. Against her will, she reacted to this human. She knew he was arguing for his Captain and their mission, but all she could do was feel the torrent of emotions as his skin pressed up against hers. As a touch telepath, she was able to feel his emotions through their skin on skin touch.

Yet, underneath his anger, underneath his desperation to convince her to believe in Captain Archer, she felt his desire for her. It was there buried far under the surface, but it was there. Little did he know it that she shared the same desire. There was something about this human that awakened something in her. It was beyond his commendable physique, handsomeness, and eve his appealing blue eyes, there was a depth to him that drew her to him.

He touched her ears to apply the jell and she knew then she had to suppress this unseemly desire for him. Commander Tucker would not possess her in that way. She was Vulcan and Vulcans could control themselves unlike Humans. Yet, he was right about Captain Archer and Enterprise's mission. She would give them her support.

Her mind returned to the present. Logic dictated her to accept the truth no matter how painful it was he did possess her. Commander Tucker was her bonded mate, even if they were apart.

STSTST

A volley of Romulan disruptor fire blew Trip out of his seat. He landed hard on the deck smacking his head hard enough to cause a serious concussion. His eyes blurred and his vision began to fail.

Suddenly, though, he felt strange. It was as if his body was vibrating and the world around him was fading out. He wanted to stay awake to see what was happening but he couldn't. His wounds were overtaking him and oblivion was calling. Blackness called him so he dove into it like it was deep water and he wanted to swim.

"Wake up, Pinkskin," a familiar voice called out to him.

Slowly, Trip opened his eyes to see Commander Shran of the Andorian Imperial Guard staring at him with a big smile. His antennae were moving in a sign of positive emotion. His blue skin and white hair finally came completely into focus.

"You are on the Lor'Vela, my temporary command," said Shran.

"What happened?" Trip asked in a hoarse voice.

"Before our particle cannon and your ship destroyed the Romulan Warbird, we transported you off the ship. Good thing you Humans gave us that transporter technology in a treaty," Shran smiled.

"The pods?" he asked.

"We and the Enterprise have collected them. I'll tell you more later about your crew," Shran said. "I am proud of you, Tucker that was a maneuver worthy of an Andorian. Using your ship as a weapon, I applaud you."

"When can I get out of bed?" Trip asked.

"A doctor who understands Human biology better needs to check you out. You are still injured. Be patient and sleep. You have earned it, as a warrior," said Shran. "When you are better we will toast with Andorian Ale and tell stories. Some of them will even be true."

Shran laughed at his own comment. Trip wanted to laugh but his eyelids were heavy, too heavy to stay open. He tried to respond to Shran but the blackness beckoned again, so he gave into sleep.

STSTST

Captain Jonathan Archer looked at his sometime lover with relief. Erika's body had gone through a great deal of trauma. Besides an electric current traveling through her, she broke three ribs and her left leg suffered a compound fracture. Dr. Phlox said she would make a full recovery, but she needed time and rest.

"How many did I lose?" she asked him in a weak voice.

"We picked up twenty-nine and the Lor'Vela picked up sixteen. The rest of your crew has been lost, Erika," he told her in a soft concerned voice.

Erika closed her eyes. So many of her crew of eighty-nine lost. Too many lost. She opened her eyes again.

"Trip?" she asked.

"He is on the Lor'Vela waiting for Phlox to get some time to check on him," Archer said.

"Good. He's alive," she sighed.

Jonathan felt a twinge of jealousy. Did Erika and Trip have a relationship he didn't know about? It had been seventeen months since he last was able to spend time with her, a long time and they had no real spoken commitment to each other. This damned war had kept them apart. He suppressed the thought. Now was not the time.

"Shran's arrival and Trip's actions saved those who survived," said Archer.

"He's my XO, the best," she smiled.

"We are headed back to Earth," he said. "Rest and I'll visit with you later. Shran has been given permission to take the survivors he picked up to Earth, so the Lor'Vela will be accompanying us."

"I just need a short rest," she said.

Jonathan leaned over and kissed her forehead. Erika closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Best XO. I didn't even know he was no longer a Chief Engineer. Damn, Trip, we were friends. What happened?

"Captain," Phlox interrupted Archer, as he stared at Captain Hernandez.

"Yes, doctor," he said without looking away from her.

"I am ready to go to the Lor'Vela," Phlox said with a inhumanely stretched grin cracking his Denobulan face.

"I'll arrange for transport and escort, Phlox," said Archer.

"Excellent," he replied. "It will be good to see Mister Tucker again."

"Give him my best, Phlox," said Archer.

"Of course, Captain," Phlox said.