“A Watched Kettle”
She’s reading, deeply absorbed in the handwritten journal of her second foremother T’Mir, when the comm signals a private, privileged communication from the Vulcan High Command. The tone announces that this is a highest level clearance, one which would circumvent normal ship’s systems.
There is only one logical conclusion.
T’Pol is aware that she doesn’t want to answer it; as though her refusal will change the fact of the call, and what it means. But, as she once said to Commander Tucker, what she wants is irrelevant. The needs of the many outweigh the desires of the one.
She speaks briefly with Minister K’Evel, certain that her manner is clearly betraying her unease, but unable to repress the physical responses, or the emotional discord that triggers them. Minister K’Evel gives no indication of it, but there is no way she’s missed the lack of control. Would it be beneficial or detrimental to allow her to believe that it is a result of living and working with humans?
The communication is thankfully brief, and, once it’s concluded, T’Pol moves away from her work station. Perhaps it would be wisest to begin reviewing the encrypted information that accompanied the transmission, but she will admit to herself that she is agitated at the thought of doing so. Instead she brings forth her table, her cushions, and her candle, and attempts to meditate.
Each time her eyes close, however, there is a sense of – of something. She can’t name the emotions she’s experiencing. Nothing in her training has prepared her to do so. She has been fascinated by the diverse range of words the humans she lives and serves with give to their emotional states; but she often doesn’t understand the emotions to which they are referring. Vulcan are conditioned, from infancy, to suppress emotion, to separate it from thought and action, rather than to label and define and allow it into every action and thought, as her human colleagues do.
Perhaps it would be useful to be a human now. A human could feel freely, and define the emotions. A human might also know how to deal with them. A human wouldn’t be compelled by duty to their world to pursue a fugitive they were frightened to pursue.
T’Pol is frightened. She doesn’t want to find Menos, face the man who escaped her. She has no interest in returning a man who doesn’t wish to return to Vulcan and live a Vulcan life. Seventeen years ago, she had never met a human. Her perspective was different; she did her duty simply because it was her duty.
Now, she questions. What is wrong, in Menos’ desire to live freely? Is it so different than her refusal to return home to be Koss’s wife, to assume her role as an adult upon her world, produce a child, and ensure the continuation of the species, and the stability of her culture…
How is Menos different?
Why does she fear facing him, as though everything she knows, everything she’s built, will collapse, if she captures him?
She sits until she can’t deny that the effort at meditation is a failure, that she is only becoming more agitated. She attempts to return to T’Mir’s journal, then showers, although she already has, this evening, and then goes to the Mess Hall, refusing to admit to herself that she’s hoping Commander Tucker will be there, because he will surely notice her unease, and offer solace even if he doesn’t understand it, and she can’t speak about it.
But he isn’t here, and, although she lingers, staring out the window at the stars, he doesn’t come. She return to her quarters, and begins to review the materials she’s been sent. She is only marginally successful at disregarding the unsettled emotions that will not be repressed, or even suppressed.
She can’t restrain the agitation. It grows in her, as she alternately studies the material, rises to pace restlessly around her room, then studies until the fear – yes, she will call it fear, although she’s certain that it’s more complex than this. Never before has she been so iexplicably resistant to completing a mission, and T’Pol can’t ignore the fact that it was the mission to capture Menos – this same man – that had led to her resignation from the Ministry of Security. She’s never completely understood that choice; only that it was necessary, that she could no longer perform the duties she’d been required to attend to.
Can she, now?
T’Pol stares into the flame, and sees only the shape of emotions she can’t fathom, emotions that are alive and moving in her, twisting her perceptions –
How do humans live, with this as their normal state of being?
Can she, if these unnamed and uncontrollable emotions won’t abate, won’t be repressed or even suppressed?
Meditation is not helping. It is 0530, still over 3 hours before her duty shift is scheduled to begin, and there is no logic in taking a third shower – but there is a solace she can’t deny in the hot water – something she never experienced before coming to Enterprise. She stands under the powerful spray, illogically willing it to drive the unwanted unnamed, uncontrolled emotion from her…
She stands until the alert says that she’s in danger of exceeding her hot water ration, and then prepares for duty. Perhaps it will help to speak to Captain Archer, to extend him the human courtesy of informing him, before he receives the call from Admiral Forrest, that Enterprise is going to be diverted and placed at the disposal of the Vulcan High Command. There is little she’s at liberty to say to him, and less she wants to discuss.
Perhaps, once she has informed him, she will be able to fully commit to the mission, and suppress the her unease…
Decided, she requests the meeting, but it’s awkward, and only increases the unsettled energy she’d hoped to alleviate. Captain Archer is displeased; he is illogically sensitive to what he sees as manipulation by her government. In human fashion, he focuses his displeasure on her. Twenty minutes after she leaves his Ready Room, she receives a message that she is relieved of duty until her mission, ‘whatever the hell it is’, is complete, and she’s been properly debriefed.
Relieved of duty, with nothing to focus on but the matter of retrieving Menos, T’Pol feels the upswell of emotions she can’t name, hints of memories that won’t resolve into her thoughts, where she can examine them. Surrounded by eighty-two other sentient beings, T’Pol retreats to her quarters, and, for the first time since she arrived here, feels completely alone.
Trip watches T’Pol while pretending not to – either he’s gotten really good at that game these last two years, or she’s too upset, and too busy trying to hide it, that she doesn’t notice. The way she’s hugging herself, seeming like she’s trying to hold herself together, and vanish in the mass of larger, blue-jumpsuited male bodies, says it’s not his covert Vulcan-watching skills.
She’s not just quiet, the way she usually is- she’s damned near silent. Withdrawn. Almost as though none of this has anything at all to do with her, rather than being her secret mission.
What the hell are they making her do, and why does she look like it’s a damned suicide run?
Why doesn’t anyone else seem to notice just how upset she is, how strained and miserable she looks? Can’t they tell how much this is bothering her? How ‘agitated’ she is?
But no one seems to. Trip pulls a quip or two out of his witticism toolkit, partly to shift the focus, partly to see if he can get anything more to go on than the non-information they’re getting from the Cap’n, and the non-anything from her. Mostly, though, to let her know that he’s here, and that he sees her. Sees that she’s -scared?
Cap’n asks her what she’ll need. “Cold weather gear, restraints, and phase pistols,” she says, and now Trip knows she’s scared. He’s scared, too, even while he covers for her by exchanging glances with Travis. Her voice is low and rough with a quaver that says she’s feeling way too much to be exactly rational. Finally, her eyes cut his way – but they never make it to his face.
Little Miss I’m a Vulcan; I’m Not Scared can pretend if she needs to. But Trip Tucker knows better, even if no one else does.
If only he knew what to do to make her feel better…or how to get her out of this mission…
She’s standing at the stovetop, staring into the steam from a whistling kettle that ought to have set this pretty, sensitive ears of hers on high alert. Instead, she’s just staring, her eyes vacant, as though she’s not seeing anything in the galley.
She’s shaking so hard she’s got her hands braced uncomfortably close to the heating element beneath the kettle, but she doesn’t seem to notice that, either.
The way she’s acting is starting to scare the hell out of him, too, and he tries again to break her out of it, before she hurts.
“It must not be true for kettles -”
She actually jumps, making a startled little squeak like a human woman who’s just seen a mouse, and she whirls into a defensive crouch, hands coming up to guard her face and belly, one elbow knocking into the tea mug he hadn’t seen till now, and the sound of it shattering against the deck plating makes her breath come hard and fast, her chest heaving, her eyes wide and still not here, not really.
“Hey, sorry – I didn’t mean to scare you. Just trying to make a joke – guess I figure that if I can tickle your funny bone – “
“’Funny bone’?” she echoes, and, even though it sounds involuntary, her breath starts to even out a little. She frowns and shakes her head. “Too loud -”
“I’ll buy that,” Trip agrees. “If I come over there and turn that off, you’re not gonna drop me, are you? Cause, for a small person, T’Pol, you pack a helluva wallop…”
She looks confused, her gaze flicking to him, then the screaming kettle, the door, the mug on the floor. “No,” she says, finally, in a faint voice – and her legs start to fold up under her –
“Hey – take it easy,” he says, jumping in to catch hold of one of her arms. Damn, she’s shaking so hard it’s almost like she’s in shock. What the hell does her damned government want her to do, anyway? “Lean on me. I’ll get you to a stool, okay?”
On the way past, Trip shuts off the stove, and the kettle promptly goes from an angry shriek to a lower-pitched cry, and T’Pol sighs in relief, and leans into him. She doesn’t say anything; he thinks maybe she’s still more somewhere else than she is here. He wants to know what the hell’s gotten her into this state, but this isn’t the way to find out. Besides, with the way she and the Cap’n were acting earlier, it’s damned near sure to be ‘classified’. Wouldn’t be fair to try to get it out of her this way.
“What were you trying to do, test the theory? If so, I think you got the answer.” He chatters to give himself something to focus on besides how good she smells, and how natural it feels to have her weight against him like this. He guides her to a stool, and gets her settled.
“Theory?” She answers, but there’s something hollow in the word, like she’s only going through the motions here, and most of her is busy with something else. Like that damned secret mission.
“You know – well, maybe you don’t. ‘A watched pot never boils.’”
“That’s illogical. The pot would not boil; it’s the contents that are intended to do so. Nor would being observed affect the process.”
“Ahh, so you are still in there. It’s not talking about the science of boiling points, T’Pol. It means that if you keep watching and waiting for something to happen, it seems to take a hell of a lot longer than if you just- you know – went about your business.”
“The water in this kettle boiled despite my observation.”
Trip went over to it, slipped on an oven mitt, and lifted the kettle. “I’ll say it did. If you still want tea, I’ll start some more. There’s not even close to enough left here for a cup.” He doesn’t mention that she must have been standing there for a long time, for the kettle to be so close to empty.
“I wasted water – “
“No you didn’t. The galley’s got humidity sensors. When it gets steamy, the extra vapors are collected and returned to the ship-s”
“You don’t understand. The first reality every Vulcan child learns is that water is the most precious resource. It must never be wasted.”
“That’s the first thing you learn? Before gravity, even?”
“Yes. Vulcan is a desert world. There are very few bodies of open water; it must be drawn from beneath the surface.”
“So that’s why you can go days without – I’ve always wondered about that. Mind if I ask why you didn’t turn this off? “ He doesn’t look at her while he fills the kettle with enough tea for two; she won’t ask, but he;s got the feeling she needs not to be so alone, so isolated, while she wrestles with whatever this mission was.
Are they sending her off to hunt down a serial killer? No, somehow he can’t imagine that phasing her in the least. This is something else.
“I was watching the steam. It reminded me of – of home.” He voice is so soft, he can barely hear her., and he’s sure she was about to say something different.
He doesn’t let on, though. Instead, he gets the small broom and dustpan Chef keeps handy, and cleans up the broken pottery, The smell of loose leaf chamomile wafts up, mingling with the scent of T’Pol on the air, and saves him needing to ask what she’s drinking.
“Wanna know something? Sometimes, I borrow Porthos from the Cap’n. We’ve all changed some, out here, but a dog is still a dog, no matter where he is – or at least, Porthos hasn’t forgotten he’s an Earth beagle. I take him down to the cargo bay and let him sniff out bits of cheese- maybe don’t tell the Cap’n that part, OK? Beagles, you see, are famous for their noses – and that sound they make, too. It just makes me feel better, when I’m a little homesick, to play with a dog again.” She doesn’t say anything, but, when he stands up to dump the mess into the resequencing bin, he takes a quick peek, and she seems a bit calmer, anyway.
He doesn’t have to wait long; the kettle was close was boiling by the time he gets to the end of the cleanup. He ducks out, grabs two mugs, gets back just as the kettle starts to sing. He lifts it before it can assault her ears again, and fixes their tea while she watches.
“I didn’t know you experienced homesickness.” She sounds a hell of a lot better, like he’d given her something else to focus on, and she needs that right now.
Trip shrugs. “I love Earth. Left a lot of people I love back there. My folks, my big brother and baby sister, some really good friends…thing is, I love space, too. This is where I want to be, but it doesn’t mean I don’t miss where I’ve been.” He brings her the tea. “I saw some carrot cake out in the serving case. I’m going to grab it. I think there was some salad, and I know Chef keeps plomik broth handy – you want something?”
She shakes her head. “I’m not hungry.”
“You didn’t come to breakfast, T’Pol – or lunch, or dinner. Even you have to eat – I know enough science to know that herbivores like you need to eat more often than us omnivores, not less.”
“I’m not hungry,” she says again, a little more emphatically. A pause. “But I will have a piece of cake.” She looks up at him with lost eyes, eyes that seem to beg for understanding, or maybe absolution for what she’s about to do. Other than maybe Phlox, Trip’s the only one aboard who knows how sugars affect her, that having a slice of cake ois about the same as having a few stiff drinks, for her.
“All right,” he tells her. “You just sit tight. I’ll be right back -”
“I prefer to sit in the Mess Hall, where we may look out the window.”
“I’m game. Need a hand?”
She sits at the table closest to the window, and Trip sets down his tea, then goes back to the serving case for two slices of cake. “Before you eat this, I want to tell you something.”
“Just that I’m not going to ask you about – well, about your mission. Not that I don’t want to know what’s it is that’s got you so scared -”
“I don’t experience -”
“Save it for the rest of the crew, T’Pol. You and I both know that you can feel just as much as any of us, so there’s no point in denying this one’s got you nervous. I’m not gonna ask, but I do want to tell you – I think you should consider taking backup.”
“I’d do it for you in a heartbeat, T’Pol – but I’m not so sure I’m your best bet this time around. I seem to bring out – well, not always the best side of you, and I can tell you need to be at your best for this one. I think you should ask the Cap’n, or Malcolm, to go with you.”
He doesn’t look directly at her; she doesn’t like to meet eyes directly when she feels vulnerable. That was one of the first things he figured out about her. “Because whatever this is is already turning you into a wreck, and you haven’t even left the ship. I think you need someone with you who you can trust, if you need them.”
“I’m not authorized to include anyone else.”
“If the High Command could see what this is doing to you, they might not ask you to do whatever this is at all. Just tell me you’ll think about it, OK?”
“I will think about it.” She lapses into silence, focusing on the cake. Trip notices that she never looks out the window, not once. When she finishes she sighs deeply, and rises a little shakily.
“Hold on there, T’Pol. Like I’ve told you, I’m a gentleman. And a gentleman always walks a lady home when she’s had one too many.”
“I’m not a lady.”
“Oh, yes, you are. Let me walk you home.”
“You won’t – attempt to take advantage of my intoxication?”
“Nope. No gentleman would – not in any way. Your honor – and your secrets – are safe with me.”
He means it. Of course, there’s not much he can do about it, if she reveals a clue or two as to what she’s up to.
But she doesn’t. When they reach her door, she half-turns to him. “Thank you, Commander.” And then she slips inside, and the door closes between them. Trip stares at it for a minute or two, not sure if he helped, or just made things worse for her. Then he sighs, and goes back to the Mess Hall to clean up the remains of their snack.
She wants to ask Trip to go with her. She knows she would feel safer with him, for reasons that have nothing to do with logic and everything to do with her Awakened state.
Trip will always protect her. Of that, she has no doubt.
And Trip said that he wasn’t the best choice, that she should ask Captain Archer or Lieutenant Reed. Someone she can trust. He wants to go with her, wants to know what she’s doing. If he recommends another companion, he’s doing it to protect her.
She goes to the door, touches it. Illogical, to do so, to long for him to be waiting there. To consider asking him, anyway, even though his logic is unassailable. But what has logic to do with the churning of unnamed and inexplicable emotions within her? Logically, she should have no emotions regarding Menos. It had been her duty to apprehend him, and she had failed. Now, she has the opportunity to rectify the error that allowed his escape. Her duty will be completed, her full complement of six fugitives all returned home, to Vulcan, if she succeeds –
But she doesn’t want to capture Menos. She has a heavy resistance to the idea of even seeing him, of being on the same moon he currently inhabits. She’d hoped ingesting sugars might free her of the feeling, even if only for the few hours it would take them to pass through her system. But, instead, it has only sharpened her emotions, making the weight more oppressive, so that her chest and heart feel constricted, and it’s more difficult than it should be to breathe.
Trip is correct. She must not go alone. Her emotional state is chaotic, and her ability to complete the assigned mission is therefore compromised.
She nearly goes to him, to tell him about the feelings that are a threatening weight upon her, but doesn’t. Perhaps, her emotional chaos is driving her desire. Perhaps he’s correct, too, in his assessment that he isn’t the best choice for this mission. She remembers the Suliban cell, and her utter lack of control there – and that he responded to her, as well, in a way he didn’t seem to fully command.
Yes. He is correct, and wiser perhaps than he knows. Her own desire that it not be so is illogical, and the proof of her unfitness.
Still, if she asks him, she knows that he will go with her…
T’Pol gathers herself, and goes to speak with the Captain, before she can surrender to the other, more desirable, choice.
“Sorry to wake you up, Trip.”
It probably wasn’t a good idea to tell the Cap’n that he hadn’t been to bed, yet, that he’d been up with – well, maybe he could call her a sick friend. She sure as hell had looked sick – scared sick – and something more, something that made her want to get a little drunk, maybe get some relief –
“Trip – did I wake you up, or are you asleep on your feet?”
“I, uh – c’mon in, Cap’n.” He gestures into the dark room; it’ll look like he was asleep, not sitting on his bed staring out at the stars, wondering where the hell she’s going, and why, and what about it is tearing her apart. Wishing she’d said she wanted him with her, even if he knew it wasn’t the best choice. Knowing he wanted to be with her because he couldn’t bear for her to be so lost, so vulnerable, without him to protect her and keep an eye on her.
Jon pulls up the desk chair, and Trip stands there, not quite knowing what to do with himself, until the Cap’n says, “At ease, Trip. Sit, before you fall. I won’t be long – just need to let you know you’re going to get to play Captain for a few days.”
“Sir?” Damn. She asked him, maybe told him what she was up to. And he said yes – what man wouldn’t say yes to her? He should be glad, and he is – but, damnit, he wants it to be him.
“T’Pol came to see me. I’m going with her, as backup. So you get to run the show.”
“She tell you what this is all about?”
“Course it is…Cap’n, you sure this is a good idea, her going off like this to run errands for the damned Vulcan High Command?”
“I don’t think she was given much choice, Trip. Remember, T’Pol’s not Starfleet. If we want to keep her here – and I do, even if you don’t – we can’t keep making waves. Lord knows, we get into plenty of trouble with the Vulcans just by being human.”
Trip tries another tack. He isn’t going to tell Jon about the little incident in the Mess Hall, and how her Vulcan mask slips, sometimes, or how scared she is. But he wants to know if the Cap’n can see her, read her the way he’s learning to. “She seem – okay – with this, to you?”
“Careful, Trip. I could almost get the idea that you care. Or are you hoping she doesn’t come back?”
“Well, I get along with everybody else. If something happens to her, who will I take my frustrations out on?”
Jon laughs. “She seems – okay. Serious about the whole thing – but T’Pol’s serious about everything. Meet me in my Ready Room at 0800; we’re leaving at 0845, and I’ve got a few things to cover with you. Now, I think we’d both better get some sleep.”
Once he’s alone again, Trip gets up and starts pacing. He wishes he knew if it’s good that the Cap’n isn’t picking up on her turmoil…
Mostly, though, he wishes he was the one going with her; or, better yet, that she wasn’t going at all.
T’Pol sits in front of the Captain, longing for Trip. As they near the planet, and the official beginning of her mission, her agitation is growing, and with it the heaviness, which is now accompanied by nausea. It’s not the indulgence in the cake; she’d allowed ample time for the intoxicants to clear her system.
It’s Menos – and it isn’t.
When she failed to apprehend Menos in the Risan jungle, she’d taken some time for intensive meditation, on Vulcan – where she had tasted the psychotropic nectars, and been changed by them. In the clarity that followed the tikkin-madness, she had resigned her commission in the Ministry of Security, and sought sanctuary at P’Jem while she attempted to resolve the course she wished to pursue in her life.
But now, as she briefs the Captain, T’Pol says, inexplicably, “They thought they were invincible.”
They? Her own thought is echoed by Captain Archer; and she corrects the misspoken word at once.
Then why can she almost see a second, shadowy figure following Menos, and fleeing her?
Was that how he had escaped her? Why doesn’t she not know?
There are too many questions, and no time now to answer them.
But, as they land and enter the establishment – less a trading post than a makeshift semi-permanent encampment, filled with the roughened clientele who don’t, in her experience, ask too many questions of those with whom they engage in business or personal dealings, she knows she doesn’t want to encounter Menos, wishes only for him to escape as he had before. Certainly, with two failures, the Ministry of Security will have little choice than to place logic above honor, and assign a more competent operative to the mission, if they insist that he must be returned to their homeworld.
Perhaps she can increase the odds of such an occurrence without alerting the Captain or Ensign Mayweather. She must limit herself to small, unobtrusive actions, but, if Menos is as attentive and wary as she remembers, he might notice, and slip away before she can follow – particularly, if she doesn’t rush to do so.
She turns her head within her loosened hood, so that her ear will stand out clearly. She makes no attempt to disguise the fact that she is searching, to alter her movements – movements that name her Vulcan. If he remembers her, they might go further, and identify her as the young woman sent to take him into custody. Surely he will flee, if he knows that she’s searching for him?
And then she sees him, through a small mirror, watching her – and instinct and conditioning she thought she’d eradicated take hold of her reflexes, spinning her despite her fear –
He wanted her to see him. Why?
T’Pol moves through the mass of beings separating them. Her training won’t allow her to simply let him vanish into the chaos of the room. But she restrains herself from taking the steps necessary to move quickly. Most of the patrons are male, and considerably larger than she; T’Pol allows them to thwart her, to push and pull at her, and, when she knows, by his scent, that Menos was near, likely huddled under the furnishing, she chooses to scan the room rather than look beneath the table, and report to the Captain that she doesn’t know where he is.
But humans are a most inventive species. Captain Archer leaps up onto a table, and makes the same piercing note he uses to recall his canine.
There is the discharge of an energy weapon, and a resultant shift of movement away from source and target. Surely, Menos will escape in the frenzy, and she can report her failure, and be done. With Menos, and the memories of – of someone else running.
Ensign Mayweather ends her hopes.
She’s going to have to face Menos, and her own unwillingness to do so.
“Come on, Malcolm. Trip’s not that bad.” Laughter from the Mess – he’d never realized that how easy it is to hear what’s going on out there. How often had the Cap’n listened in while he was in there- oh, damn- had he ever listened in while he and T’Pol were alone in there? Had either of them ever said anything incriminating, something that could her her in trouble with the High Command, and him with Starfleet? That might embarrass them?
“Captain Trip?” Malcolm laughs that supercilious British laugh of his. “The fact that he wants everyone to call him Trip in the first place ought to be enough to scare you, Hoshi. Captain Trip!” He actually snorted in derision.
Trip’s feeling a little hot under the collar, now. Breakfast had almost tempted him to feel better; now, though –
“He’ll probably take over the Captain’s Mess, keep Chef busy customizing lunch and dinner, show terrible movies every night, and not even assign anyone to clean up the spilled popcorn. He’s likely to divert all the ship’s energy to Engineering, and Captain Archer will be lucky if there’s a ship left when he and T’Pol get back from whatever she’s up to -”
That’s enough for Trip. More than enough. He snaps off the intercom; he’d been trying like hell to forget – forget that look on her face when he’d seen her on the shuttlepod stairs. She’d looked past the Captain, to him – and she was still lost. He could see it in her eyes.
He’s as sure that she hadn’t slept last night as he is that he hadn’t.
Only, all he has to do is keep the ship in orbit and in one piece, while she has to –
What the hell is it she’s doing, anyway? What’s scaring T’Pol – T’Pol, who’d told him not so long ago that she’d never been scared of anything? Even if he remembered her lookin’ more than a little scared in that damned cave, when he had the phase pistol on her- even then, she’d found a way to get to her own weapon, held herself together well enough to get them all inoculated, keep them alive long enough for the Cap’n to get them out of there.
But she’s more scared now, by a long shot.
He’d spent the night pacing, and still, it didn’t occur to him until just now, why she’s so scared she’d wasted water and not even realized that damned kettle was screaming.
She’s not scared of this mission – or not exactly. Whatever has Miss Scared Half Out Of her Wits And Trying Like Hell Not To Show It so bothered she was guzzling carrot cake was inside of her.
Is it because of them -because she’s spent so much time living with them? Because of him, and whatever the hell the on-again, off-again, but growing friendship is between them?
Is he making life harder for her, or easier?
Why the hell hadn’t he begged to go with her, demanded she take him, and not the Cap’n?
Jon’s a helluva man, best friend Trip ever had – but he has a grudge against the Vulcans that goes a little beyond reason, and Trip had watched him dump it on T’Pol too many times to think that he won’t do it again.
“You haven’t always been so fair to her, either – “ But he’d stopped jumping down her throat for being Vulcan a while ago – after all, she doesn’t blame them for being human. It’s not that they don’t still lock horns about damned near everything, but it;s as people, now – and, to tell the truth, at least half of it is that she’s so much fun to fight with. She’s got a damned quick mind, a spectacular range of knowledge, and a perspective that challenges him to see things in ways that aren’t natural for him – and he gets the idea that he does the same for her…
And more, that she has as much fun as he does matching wits, even if she can’t or won’t say so.
But the Cap’n – he still translates everything about her through that damned Vulcan lens, still seems to want to blame her for everything her government does, even when she seems to go against them more often than not, these days.
And he isn’t going to notice that she’s in a state of emotional freefall unless she actually comes apart on him.
That scares Trip half to death, and made his stomach refuse the entire idea of breakfast. If she comes apart on a top-secret mission, she could get herself killed.
He should have gone with her. Oh, hell – he should have. Should have insisted.
Because now, too late, he’s damned sure that she’s in real trouble- and she might be going under before anyone else even notices she’s not swimming anymore.
“Oh, damn, T’Pol, I’m sorry.”
He wants to wait by the comm, hoping against hope she’ll call in, or the Captain will, or even Travis, so that he can – what? Tell her he knows she’s in trouble, the kind she doesn’t know how to deal with, and that he’ll be here, when she gets home? Tell the Cap’n to keep an eye on her, because she’s an emotional wreck right now?
“Oh, yeah, Tucker. I can see that. There’ll be rumors all over the ship that I’m a lovesick puppy she’s too emotionless to even notice enough to kick me out the airlock.”
But he’s got to do something to stave off the worry. He;s the Acting Cap’n, and he’s damned well going to act the part, keep morale up (maybe help with his own, in the process), do what he needs to do to take care of things.
And he can start with Malcolm. He’s tired of that damned military swagger and arrogance. More than tired. T’Pol seemed arogant, too, , at first, and sometimes she still does – but she’s Vulcan, not human, and Trip knows enough about her people to know that what seemed unkind at first was simply the difference in how their species communicate.
But Malcolm’s human, and ought to know better.
And, since he doesn’t, Trip decides to use his nervous energy to teach the Tactical Officer a lesson.
“…And I don’t deserve to be shot.”
He’s running; she’s running. Someone else is running.
There’s someone between them.
And then she’s being forced down, forced down to a stone bed, prostrate, struggling, screaming-
Her throat is raw from screaming –
“No one’s going to shoot you.” Captain Archer’s voice holds certainty and compassion.
Being forced down to a stone platform, held there, writhing, thrashing, screaming through a raw throat.
“What about her?”
The words sear her with their truth, with meanings she can’t understand. Does Menos know something she doesn’t? Is it only his way of attempting to sway her? What of the hologram? Does he carry it as a ruse, or does he truly have a wife and children? What will be the consequences to them, if she returns Menos, as she’s been ordered? Are they innocents who will be punished by his incarceration, when they have nothing to do with his crimes, real or implied?
Flashes – too many flashes –
Her limbic system engages, seizes hold of her responses, her mind.
“You’re a liar!” Her voice is rough; her throat raw. She jerks up from her chair, her knife in her hand- when had she unsheathed it? What does she intend?
Is she going to kill him?
The straps. Yes. There are straps on his outer garment, with buckles. Buckles to provide a barrier against the acid on the landing deck, so she can get to his ship, search it –
Captain Archer is pulling at her, trying to hold her. “T’Pol!” She feels his fear, through the touch – he thinks she’s stabbed Menos. When the momentum of the freed strap thrusts her back, and he sees there is no blood, he releases her, and she cuts free another strap, then spins, the Captain moving quickly out of her path, asking her what she’s doing.
“He’s not telling the truth,” is all she can say, as she uses the straps to lash the buckles to the bottoms of her boots. Her mind replays the words of the station manager, ‘there’s a half-centimeter of acid on the landing deck.’
The buckles are slightly over a centimeter thick, and likely made of non-corrosive material. They should serve, if she moves quickly. She aima for the door – she’ll search, and then there will be answers.
She must have answers.
Behind her, the Captain calls, “Where the hell are you going?” He’s following her, but T’Pol won’t allow him to stop her.
She can’t. She needs answers.
She turns halfway back to face him as the door opens to a forceful gust of frigid wind and sharp-edged snow. He’s her commanding officer; she must respond.
“He says he has a ship full of injector casings.” She turns away, into the cold, bare hands tugging at her hood. But she can still hear the human clearly as she moves off the entrance stairs, and onto the landing deck, moving in a quick sliding shuffle, so that she won’t lose her footing.
“But the platform’s covered with acid.”
No more time to argue or explain. The need for answers drives her on, her limbic system pulls her to Menos’ ship. She’d intended to search it anyway, when it was safe to do so.
Flashes, as she runs. Not frozen – hot jungle. Not dry brittle air, but so rank and thick she thinks it will choke her, drown her desert-evolved lungs. Running anyway. Intent on the mission. At the edge of limbic engagement, with no recourse. Fear rising in her –
Then the stone platform, the shearing pain, the emotions crushing her as she struggles – no one holding her now; she’s fighting herself, and what’s within her.
“But the platform’s covered with acid.” Captain Archer’s words echo. Acid. Emotion.
She must understand!
Into the craft – a small cargo vessel, only one hold. Containers of varying sizes and shapes; she ought to make a methodical search, but instead focuses on the large metal crates- these would house the injector casings, if he’s telling the truth. What they hold if he isn’t, she dares not speculate-
Too heavy to lift on her own – not for Menos, but she’s smaller, female – she stares from place to place, and finds a prising rod.
Cold – the metal so cold in her hands, like the stone beneath her; Risa had been hot, her phaser gripped tightly in a sweating, shaking hand, the heat not desert-dry and welcoming, but instead a potent, humid force –
Casings. Nothing else.
A second – she moves a casing or two –
Flashing – the running, the heat, the leaves slapping at her face. The man nearest stumbling, falling. The other turning, yelling, as though he had never been Vulcan, “Jossen!”
It is Menos. She sees his face, contorted around the other’s name –
An Elder, no – an Ancient – reading from an obsolete text. She’s forced down, the impact absorbed by the hands that hold her, won’t release her –
A third container. She wrenches it open, feeling the muscles in her shoulder straining nearly to the tearing point. She digs the bar into it, heedless, uses her hands –
Only injector casings.
Only memories she doesn’t understand.
Only the Captain, and Ensign Mayweather –
They don’t know how fragile her control can be. They can’t help her to understand the chaos of her emotions.
She sinks down against the crate, heedless of radiation, and, as guilt and despair and fear obscure all reason, she imagines that Trip is here, holding her, accepting her, making tea and human jokes –
But he’s not here, and she’s never felt more vulnerable and alone.
No sleep. No breakfast. No lunch.
Too many problems. Too many decisions. Too many calls from that damned Vulcan captain.
And way too much coffee.
And he hasn’t had nearly as much coffee as he has worries over T’Pol, and what she’s doing, how she’s doing.
How the hell could he have just sent her off with the Cap’n like that? The way she’d been last night, she would’ve almost for sure accepted having him along, and he could’ve kept an eye on her structural integrity. Cap’n does a fine job up there on the Bridge, and he’ll take as good care of her as he can – Trip knowa enough to know that Jon Archer likes her, maybe even sometimes wants her (though he’s sure the Cap’n has no idea at all what that can of worms is like once it’s really open…)
But he’s not an engineer. Not used to the type of complications a system as different and intricate as hers can present. She’s like the warp core – what most people think of as the engine is just the casing, the protective shell. They’ve no grasp of what makes the ship go; what’s ‘under the hood’, as Grandpa Chuck used to say.
Trip knpws what’s under the hood. Of the engines, and the beautiful Vulcan. It’s not just the protective layer of logic, strength, and curve-hugging uniform the Cap’n sees – she’s so much deeper than that. She’s a creature of passion as much as logic, and she can burn every bit as hot as that warp core…
She’s disciplined because she needs to be to contain her passions enough to function. Because, if she lets go or loses that famous control, she might shake herself apart.
The comm signals, and Trip jumps, stares around him, a little surprised to find himself in the Cap’n’s Ready Room.
“What now? Malcolm get a hangnail?” He sticks his tongue in his cheek, glad he hasn’t pressed the button yet. He tries to take a deep breath, but his chest is too tight, and he’s afraid his stomach might let go.
The comm signals again, and Trip stabs the button, letting himself imagine it’s Malcolm’s eye. “Tucker.”
“Sorry, sir, but Captain Tavik is calling again.”
“And let me guess. Whatever the hell he wants to talk about is ‘classified’, and he’ll only talk to the Captain, right?”
“”I’m sorry, sir,” Hoshi says, again. She really sounds it, to, even though Trip hears Malcolm snickering. Man needs more than a poke in the eye.
“It’s not your fault, Hoshi. Not unless you invented Vulcan secrecy, anyway.”
“What should I tell him?”
It hits Trip in the kind of flash he always takes seriously. Maybe that last cup of coffee had been good for something besides giving him a serious case of the jitters. “Listen, can you stall him another hour or so and come in here? I’ve maybe got an idea….”
He deals with three more decisions while he waits for her, and another dozen or so – three of which will gonna keep Malcolm Damneed Reed too damned busy for idle gossip and snickering, at least for the next day or so.
Finally, though, Hoshi comes back with the best damned news he’s heard since -well, before T’Pol dropped her bombshell secret mission on them. Trip forgets himself for a second, and lets out a whoop, grabbing Hoshi, spinning her around, kissing her cheek.
“Uh, Commander?” She’s embarrassed, and Trip splutters out an apology, but she twinkles at him a bit, and says, “I’m glad the big chair hasn’t taken all the fun out of you.” And then she’s gone, but he feels better – until he remembers how jealous T’Pol gets anytime he shows anything even in the same neighborhood as interest in any woman but her. He sure wouldn’t wish jealous T’Pol on sweet little Hoshi….but it had felt good to just be himself, good old impulsive Trip, for a minute.
But thinking of T’Pol thunks the weight right back on his chest. What’s she going through, right now? Are they wherever they’re going yet? Is whatever it is as terrifying to her as she’d thought it would be? What is it? Is her life in danger?
The comm chirps at him, and he sets the worrying aside as best he can, not being Vulcan. He needs to pull this off, so he dpoesn’t get her in any more trouble. Seems like the damned High Command of hers is just looking for an excuse to blame her for things – even things like P’Jem, which clearly wasn’t even remotely her fault. Damn, she was taken hostage right along with the rest of them; she hadn’t known anything about the listening post…and there’d been that one Andorian who took way too much of a shine to her…
He squares his shoulders andgoes out to the Bridge, where Hoshi has everything as ready as it can be. Now, he just needs to sell it….
Five minutes later, slumped in the Cap’n’s chair, Trip tries to decide whether to laugh his ass off, or hit something…a damned water polo score! All that for a water polo score!
“Malcolm, come with me.”
“I need a sparring partner.” And to try to stop worrying about a certain Vulcan in need….