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Closer Than You Think
Author - Athena | C | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Angst | Genre - Romance | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
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Closer Than You Think
Spoilers: all the way through the end of the VCW arc although I’m sure this will be AU
Authors Note: Thanks to Jenna and Boushh for their invaluable assistance and willingness to help out a newbie writer. Also, this story was inspired by the Farscape episode “A Bugs Life.” You may recognize scraps of dialog.
Trip had a headache. The upgraded systems and components that were recently installed on Enterprise were causing him no small amount of trouble. There seemed to be one glitch after another. He wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his sleeve and returned to the relays that were refusing to cooperate. His shift had ended hours ago but he refused to quit until the current problem was resolved. If he didn’t figure this out tonight he’d spend hours the next day re-tracing his steps before he could continue with new attempts to solve the problem. He heard someone approaching him from behind. He could tell exactly who it was by the quiet cadence.
Trip, who was hunched over a panel of relays, glanced up to find T’Pol peering over his shoulder in an attempt to ascertain the nature of the problem that had kept him busy all evening. She was standing very close him, although not quite touching and his heart rate increased with her presence. Damn, she had this effect on him every time and he wondered, not for the first time, if he had (or would ever have) the same effect on her.
“The Captain and I regretted your absence at dinner,” she said evenly.
Trip smiled at the comment. “I’d’ve loved to have been there myself. I heard Chef made pecan pie.” Trip’s stomach rumbled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten for at least 9 hours.
“The Captain made sure your meal was preserved and delivered to your quarters; including a piece of pie. I decided to come here to see if I could assist you.” T’Pol moved forward a bit more to get a better look at the diagnostic equipment.
Trip moved aside to make room for T’Pol to access the relays and diagnostic readout. “Be my guest.” Trip explained the series of glitches and his attempts so far to find a solution. He was standing closer than was absolutely necessary but T’Pol made no effort to put more distance between them. Trip silently willed the solution to come to him so he could ask T’Pol to join him while he ate and fill him in on the conversation he had missed at dinner.
Trip’s stomach protested again and T’Pol suggested a solution might be more forthcoming after Trip had had a chance to eat and rest. Suddenly, Trip found the inconvenience of restarting his diagnostic hardly mattered if it meant the opportunity to spend what remained of the evening with T’Pol. He still had to find a way to get her to agree, however.
“Yeah, yer probably right,” he started, and then ran his hand through his hair absently. “You wanna join me for dinner, mine anyway, and tell me what I missed out on?” He tried to sound casual but his heart rate increased again and he was sure she could tell he was nervous since he couldn’t seem to stop fidgeting. T’Pol didn’t say anything at first and Trip thought his chest might explode as he waited for a response.
Finally T’Pol replied, “There was very little discussed at dinner tonight that I believe you would find interesting.” Trip’s heart sank. “However, we could discuss the system upgrades and attempt to discern the source of the problems.”
Shop talk wasn’t exactly what Trip had hoped for, but he was glad she had decided to join him. He downloaded the diagnostic information to a PADD and he and T’Pol left Engineering for his quarters.
“Yer awfully quiet,” Trip said as they approached the hallway leading to his quarters. “Ya seem lost in thought.”
“I was contemplating possible solutions for our problem,” T’Pol said somewhat uncertainly.
Trip sighed audibly. He was really hoping to move the conversation away from work so their evening could be more relaxed. He wanted to ask her for an actual date but he didn’t think they were quite ready for that. He didn’t want to push her and end up being called an experiment again.
As they entered his quarters, the aroma of the food hit him and he was reminded again of how hungry he was. “Ah, if ya don’t mind I’m just gonna dig right in. I’m starving!” Trip said as he attacked his meal. “It was real nice of you and the Cap’n ta save something for me.”
“We are both aware of your tendency to neglect sustenance when presented with an engineering challenge,” T’Pol responded. Trip laughed and nodded as he rapidly consumed his food. T’Pol turned her attention to the information on the PADD they had brought with them from engineering.
After several minutes had gone by in silence, Trip was almost finished with the meal, except for the pie of course which should be savored not rushed. He decided to break the silence. “So, um, how'r things on the bridge?” Enterprise had received some new crew, as well as ship wide system upgrades and every department had to make adjustments to some degree.
“We are not experiencing the same system problems on the bridge that you have encountered in Engineering. However, some of the new bridge crew have been somewhat … trying.”
Trip gave a short laugh out loud. “Give em some time to get their space legs. Not all us humans are as comfortable on a spaceship as some of you older races ya know.” Trip, still smiling, continued, “If ya ever find you need a break from the bridge yer always welcome to lend a hand in Engineering.” His statement sounded more like a pick up line then he intended but T’Pol didn’t seem to notice, or at least chose not to comment.
Still, Trip hoped to move the conversation away from his last lame comment. “So where are we head’n anyway? I’ve missed both the last briefing and dinner with the Cap’n so I’m a bit outta the loop.”
“Captain Archer continues to insist on exploring regions of space that the High Command is less familiar with.” T’Pol tried to sound annoyed but Trip could tell that she was actually a bit excited about this prospect. “We are currently heading into a trinary system on the outskirts of the starforming region Starfleet wished us to investigate. Two of the stars in the system are undergoing a significant amount of mass transfer, resulting in unpredictable EM surges from the accretion disk. We are proceeding slowly as the region will no doubt cause … difficulties… for our sensors.”
Trip’s smile faded. “Sounds like I should get the Engineering systems in proper working order before we get there.” Damn, it looks like tonight would be about shoptalk after all.
“This system is most likely uninhabited, given the inhospitable appearance of its worlds from long ranged scans. However, it may be best to be fully prepared in any event.” T’Pol rose and for a moment Trip thought she meant to leave. Instead she motioned to the bed. “I believe that goal can best be achieved once you have rested.” Then her voice softened a bit and she said more quietly “Would you like me to help you achieve a restful sleep?”
Trip knew she was referring to neuropressure and tried to keep his mind from contemplating other activities. Still he couldn’t help picturing her that night in her quarters. She had been so passionate and he had seen his desire for her mirrored in her eyes. He could still recall every kiss, every caress. Okay, he had to end that train of thought now! His mouth suddenly dry, he gulped and nodded. Feeling a bit like an idiot he got up and moved over to the bed. T’Pol motioned for him to lie down. He began to and then stopped, realizing he was still wearing his jumpsuit. “Um, do ya want me to…” he stopped but looked down at his uniform.
“Yes, please disrobe,” T’Pol said evenly. She turned her attention back to the PADD briefly so Trip could remove the jumpsuit in private.
Now dressed only in his blue T-shirt and shorts he cleared his throat and laid down on the bed. T’Pol rubbed her hands together to warm them and then sat down on the edge of the bed and began working the neuro-nodes on Trip’s back. “Ummm,” Trip sighed with pleasure. He realized just how tense he had been. He felt the tension melt away, only to be replaced by another form of tension as T’Pol’s hands moved lower down his back. It had been a while since she had touched him and once again he thought back to that night in her quarters.
“Breathe,” T’Pol instructed and Trip realized he had been holding his breath. God, he hoped she didn’t ask him to sit up right now as his body was responding to both her touch and the memory of that night. In any event, the current situation did not bode well for sleep tonight.
Trip’s thoughts were interrupted with a call from the Bridge. “Archer to T’Pol”
T’Pol stopped administering pressure and answered the comm. “T’Pol here”
“Sorry to interrupt your evening but could you come to the Ready Room to take a look at a signal we’ve picked up.” It was a command that was phrased as a request but Archer’s voice had a sense of urgency to it.
“I will be right there,” T’Pol answered. As she got up to leave she spoke softly to Trip. “Please try to rest and I will assist you in Engineering tomorrow.”
Trip merely nodded. After she had gone he got up and retrieved the PADD. Maybe going over the problems in engineering again would at once help solve the system glitches and help him forget about T'Pol's gentle yet intoxicating touch.
As she walked down the empty corridors, T’Pol pondered the emotions she felt stirring inside her. Dinner with Captain Archer had been pleasant enough but she felt unfulfilled as the encounter drew to an end. She was forced to acknowledge that subconsciously she had been looking forward to seeing Commander Tucker and his absence from the event had left her with a sense of dissatisfaction and even longing. The latter feeling was becoming more and more prominent where Commander Tucker was concerned. She knew she would have to make a decision about how to proceed with her ‘relationship’ with Commander Tucker. Though neither of them had spoken about the possibility of there being more between them than friendship, at least not since her decision to put aside personal relationships in order to follow the path of Surak, T’Pol believed that Commander Tucker still desired a romantic relationship.
Sim had told her he had feelings for her, and their counterparts in the other timeline had married, not to mention that her older self had spoken of Trip with obvious passion. Yet T’Pol found that she was unable to take any action to change the status quo in their current relationship. She simply found that she was unable to say or do anything to take her relationship with the Commander in a more intimate direction. Perhaps she was unsure if that was indeed what she really wanted. She called up images of Trip Tucker in her mind. She pictured him smiling, teasing her about Lorian. Then she recalled him anguished; with unshed tears in his eyes when he had finally let himself grieve for his lost sister. She pictured him on Vulcan attending her wedding to Koss, wearing her father’s robes. Had he been standing in Koss’s place she might not have been such a reluctant bride. Finally, she recalled Trip lying on his bed and moaning with pleasure at her touch just minutes earlier. That was all it took to reaffirm within herself that she did indeed want a future with Trip. Despite her attempts to suppress her emotions, this truth had been impossible to deny after the resolution of her marriage to Koss.
Yet she still found herself unable to take any action that would make her desire for a romantic relationship known to Trip. She was uncertain Trip would risk venturing into a romantic relationship with her after her past rejections. It had taken some time for them to regain the closeness they had once had after she had informed Trip it was best that their romantic involvement remain in the past. She risked losing that regained closeness if her belief that Trip still wanted a romantic relationship was incorrect.
T’Pol entered the Ready Room to find Captain Archer and Ensign Sato studying a display panel. Archer motioned her over. “We picked up a weak signal from somewhere in this part of the system but we are having trouble triangulating its location.”
”Were you able to discern the nature of the signal?” T’Pol asked.
Hoshi spoke up, “I think it might be a distress call but I don’t have enough words to be sure and the language isn’t in any database. I’ll keep working on it though. We are hoping for a response that will help us both with the language and the location.”
“We should use caution,” T’Pol suggested. “If it is a distress call then something must have happened to cause the distress.”
Archer looked a bit frustrated. “We can’t tip-toe through the galaxy and we can’t ignore a possible distress call. We’ll keep our guard up but we should try to get a fix on that signal as soon as possible. Lives may be at stake here.”
“Of course, Captain,” T’Pol replied. She began working on the triangulation.
“Let me know the minute either of you finds anything,” Archer said as he turned to leave.
“Aye-Aye Sir,” Hoshi responded at the same time T’Pol said “Yes Captain.”
When Archer left, T’Pol continued to calmly work away at the console until Hoshi’s voice disrupted her thoughts.
“So, I hope you weren’t in the middle of anything important.” Hoshi's words sounded casual but T'Pol noticed that she seemed to struggle to keep from smiling at the end of her statement
T’Pol glanced over at Hoshi and observed her attempt to hide the smile. Of course Hoshi was fishing for information. Undoubtedly she had discovered T’Pol had been in Commander Tucker’s quarters when Captain Archer had asked her to call T’Pol to the Ready Room. He had probably tried her quarters first then had Hoshi page her in Trip’s room. T’Pol attempted to show no outward sign that the statement affected her in any way and responded in a monotone voice. “I was merely assisting Commander Tucker in diagnosing the systems problems in Engineering. Unfortunately, we have yet to determine the source of the problem.”
Hoshi frowned and appeared both deflated and a little frustrated. T’Pol was relieved that she was able to supply Hoshi with a logical explanation for her presence in Commander Tucker’s quarters. No doubt Hoshi knew the problems in Engineering were real because Commander Tucker and Captain Archer had been exchanging reports on it all day. T’Pol was well aware that rumors about herself and Commander Tucker persisted, despite her brief marriage to Koss. Indeed, suspicions about the pair had only increased when T’Pol’s marriage had ended and only Commander Tucker knew any of the relevant details about the reason it had ended.
They continued to work in silence for some time until T’Pol broke the silence and comm'ed Archer. “Captain I believe I have located the general area the signal is emanating from.”
Archer strode into the room and stood next to T’Pol. She indicated a region on the display. “This is most likely the area of space the signal originated from. The random energy waves in this region make an exact location impossible to determine, but this should become possible as we get closer to the source.”
“Good work! Transfer these coordinates to Mr. Mayweather.” He turned to Hoshi. “Try directing a reply to that location.”
Both women set about their tasks as Archer turned back to T’Pol. “Any idea how long things are going to be troublesome in Engineering?” T’Pol fought to keep from blushing and responded evenly. “Commander Tucker has run through an extensive number of tests. Unfortunately there are still many possible sources to explore.”
Archer frowned. “If we do run into trouble it’d be nice to know we could count on our engines.”
“Commander Tucker gave me the diagnostic information. I can continue his attempts until he is rested enough to return to work. He has been working the problem without a break for an entire day and I believe he should rest before resuming his efforts.” T’Pol stated and then thought maybe she sounded a bit too protective of Commander Tucker, as she caught Hoshi attempt to hide another smile.
Archer merely nodded but then stated, “You should get some rest yourself. I’ll call you when we’ve reached our destination, which should be in about 6 hours.” T’Pol nodded, dismissed herself, and headed off to her quarters.
About 7 hours later the senior officers were gathered around the briefing table. T’Pol noticed that Commander Tucker looked upbeat but still tired. She suspected that he had ignored her advice and continued working on the engineering problems.
Archer informed them that Hoshi had received a reply with enough words to get a handle on the alien language and they had determined that the signal was from a lone being whose ship had experienced some problems and had landed on an inhospitable planet. Enterprise was on her way to lend aid. When Archer asked about the status of the Engineering systems, Trip proudly informed them that he had a handle on the problem and everything would be running smoothly in no time.
T’Pol looked over at him with her ‘I’m not exactly frowning because I’m Vulcan’ look of displeasure. Obviously he had not gotten the rest she had suggested. Trip noticed her reaction and shrugged, “What?” T’Pol merely ignored him.
Hoshi stifled a giggle and Archer looked amused. “Good work Trip,” he said and then turned the discussion to what would happen next.
T’Pol reported that preliminary scans suggested that of the many planets in this trinary system none could support humanoid life for very long. Many of the planets were gas giants and the rocky planets that did have atmospheres had thick, heavy atmospheres, rich in many heavier gases. The distress call was coming from the most hospitable planet in the region. Dr. Phlox informed them that very limited exposure to the surface atmosphere would not be harmful, however over time the build up of the heavy gases would make breathing difficult and then impossible. Therefore, EV suits would be necessary on the planet’s surface.
T’Pol continued to run scans, as the others discussed the logistics of locating the downed ship and affecting the repairs. She was able to further contribute that the radiation waves and ionized gases in this region would make using the transporters impossible. So they would be taking a shuttle pod to the surface, assessing the damage to the alien ship, and then returning for supplies (if needed), then affecting the repairs and sending the ship on its merry way. It sounded simple enough. Still T’Pol didn’t like the fact that transporters were useless and detailed scans of the surface were almost impossible. They could only locate the alien craft through continued transmissions, so if anyone got lost in the soup-like atmosphere on the surface they would be extremely difficult to locate.
Captain Archer determined that Travis would pilot the shuttle craft, accompanied by Trip, who would assess the damages, Dr. Phlox, T’Pol, and Malcolm. Archer started to suggest he should go as well, but T’Pol pointed out it was not logical for every member of the command staff to go on a potentially dangerous mission if the need was not warranted.
An hour later the team was assembled in the launch bay dressed in EV suits.
“So, anyone know this fella’s name and what race he is?” Trip queried.
“Hoshi said he calls himself Ellorik. I don’t recall her mentioning his race,” replied Malcolm.
“I believe he may be from a race entirely unknown to both Vulcans and Denobulans.” Commented Phlox. “Neither of our races have ventured very far into this region of space.” The doctor sounded his usual jovial self and was probably excited at the prospect of encountering a new species.
“Uh-huh” Trip replied “I just hope their systems aren’t too complex. I’d hate to come all this way to wind up scratching my head an’ say’n ‘sorry ‘bout your ship but we can still give ya a lift’.”
Malcolm laughed. “What, are you worried about your reputation as an engineer?” he teased Trip.
“Well, yeah,” Trip shot back seriously.
“Oh come on,” Malcolm replied.
“Look,” Trip was starting to sound defensive “What if this guy gets back ta his home world and says ‘look, these humans don’t know anything’”.
This statement prompted T’Pol to turn and address Trip. “Commander, I seriously doubt that the future relationship between Ellorik’s race and Humanity rests solely on your ability to affect repairs to his ship.” With that she turned her attention back to Travis and missed both Malcolm’s failed attempt to stifle a chuckle and Trip’s disgruntled look.
They were forced to land a kilometer away from Ellorik’s ship due to the difficultly of gaining precise sensor readings and the uneven terrain. The Away Team then donned their helmets and set off in the direction of the alien craft.
As they made their way through the foggy atmosphere, Trip turned to Malcolm. “This’s what I always pictured English moors ta be like from all those mystery novels I read as a kid.”
“I don’t recall ever being in a fog quite this heavy,” Malcolm replied.
Visibility was no more than a few meters. T’Pol came up next to the pair. “The ionization in the atmosphere combined with the planets EM field has severely limited the range of the tricorder’s sensors. It would be best to refrain from wandering too far from the rest of the party.” She then turned her attention back to her scans and continued to direct the party towards the alien craft.
Trip bent his head towards Malcolm. “Why do I get the feel’n she was referring ta me?”
Malcolm chuckled a bit. “Because you’ve got by far the worst Away Mission record on Enterprise.”
Trip glared at Malcolm who was still grinning but did not offer a rebuttal, having acknowledged to himself that Malcolm was probably right.
After walking for what Trip was sure was well over a kilometer, hell they could have been going in circles for all he knew, they finally spotted Ellorik’s craft. It was pretty small for a long ranged craft, a little larger than the size of six shuttle craft arranged in two rows of three.
As they approached a hatch on the ship opened and a grayish being motioned them inside the hatch. He had black hair, dark slanted eyes, and slanted ears that looked very similar to Vulcan ears. He looked slender but had very well defined mussel tone. He looks like a buffed up elf, Trip thought. Trip also noted that Ellorik was quite handsome by human standards. Well, elves were supposed to be good looking weren’t they? Trip began to wonder if Ellorik’s people had visited Earth long ago and became the source of elf myths.
T’Pol entered the hatchway and approached Ellorik. “I am Commander T’Pol of the Starship Enterprise. We are here to attempt repairs to your ship.”
Ellorik smiled graciously and nodded. “Thank you for responding to my hail Commander. I have been marooned here for almost two weeks and my supplies are almost depleted.” He motioned for the rest of the party to join them. “Please come inside. I do not have the benefit of a protective suit and breathing is becoming difficult.”
Noticing Ellorik’s distressed attempts to breathe, the Away Team quickly entered the hatch, which Ellorik closed and then opened the way into his ship. Once inside, T’Pol scanned the air then removed her helmet. The rest of the team followed suit.
T’Pol moved over to stand next to Trip. “This is Commander Tucker, Enterprise’s chief engineer. He will be conducting the repairs to your ship.”
Trip gave a small smile and nodded to Ellorik.
T’Pol then indicated Phlox, Mayweather, and Reed. “This is the ship’s physician Dr. Phlox, our navigations officer Ensign Mayweather, and this is Lt. Reed.” T’Pol did not indicate why Reed was present in the party but Ellorik merely smiled and nodded to each man.
“I’d be happy to offer you any medical assistance you may require,” Phlox said cheerfully.
“I thank you Doctor, but I believe I am in good health. I am only somewhat tired of having nothing to eat but rations,” Ellorik replied amiably.
Travis laughed. “I’d love to take a look around your ship if you don’t mind,” he said eagerly.
Ellorik smiled and nodded. “Please feel free to do so.” Then he turned to Trip. “I was forced to make an emergency landing here after my ship was hit by an unusually strong radiation wave. I believe the damage is both internal and external and is quite extensive. I will show you to the damaged areas.”
Trip glanced over at T’Pol. She nodded her consent and then moved to follow them as Ellorik lead Trip to the damaged engines.
Once Trip began to examine the damaged engines, Ellorik turned back to T’Pol.
“You are Vulcan I believe,” he stated.
T’Pol nodded. “I do not believe I am familiar with your race. By what name are your people referred and when did you make first contact with Vulcan?”
Ellorik smiled almost shyly and looked down. “I don’t think my people ever made official contact with yours. We live in a nearby region of space and keep very much to ourselves. Our first few contacts with other planets outside our territory did not go well and led our people into a permanent state of isolationism. We have very limited contact with other species and gather most of our information about other people and worlds very … discreetly.”
T’Pol nodded again in acknowledgement of Ellorik’s disclosure. She was somewhat troubled by the fact that he omitted the name of his race in his account. Still, she reasoned, he was not an official representative for his people and may feel uneasy discussing them if their society is so concerned about contact with aliens.
Ellorik turned the conversation away from him and his people and back to the Enterprise crew. “Your crew does not appear to be Vulcan, nor do they appear to all belong to one single race.”
T’Pol considered before answering, having decided there was no harm in doing so. “Enterprise is an Earth vessel. Humans and Vulcans are allies; however, I am the only Vulcan serving on board. Dr. Phlox is the only other non-human member of the crew.” T’Pol did not mention the name of Phlox’s race, wondering if Ellorik would inquire after not volunteering the name of his own race.
Ellorik nodded thoughtfully. “I see. It seems your people choose their allies very well. These Humans show true strength and nobility of character to come all this way to aid a stranger under these circumstances.”
T’Pol noticed that Trip, who had been listening to the exchange, smiled at the remarks made about his people. No doubt he was wondering what some of those at Vulcan High Command would think of this statement.
Ellorik continued his genial questioning. “If you don’t mind entertaining my curiosity, I’d like to hear more about your race. As I said, my people do not openly enter into exchanges with other races and I find my curiosity is becoming quite compelling.”
T’Pol hesitated again before replying. “What would you like to know?”
“Well,” Ellorik looked down again “I understand Vulcans are telepathic.”
This question surprised T’Pol. Ellorik claimed his people knew very little of other races but somehow they had managed to find out that Vulcans had some telepathic abilities. Maybe Ellorik was worried that T’Pol could read his mind. T’Pol also noticed that Trip seemed to become more alert to the present conversation. He would likely ask her about this later.
T’Pol chose the wording of her answer carefully. “Although Vulcans do possess some latent telepathic abilities, these connections almost never manifest outside family connections, such as between parent and child or between mates.” Trip actually raised an eyebrow as he stole a glance at T’Pol at that statement. She was now quite certain Trip would be questioning her himself on the topic when they were alone again back on Enterprise.
Ellorik seemed content with that response. Then he gave T’Pol a charming smile. “And do you have a mate back on your home world or on board Enterprise?” His voice was low and intimate and he moved closer to T’Pol as he spoke. Somehow she found herself unable to move or look away at that moment. Then she heard Trip’s voice and realized the Commander was speaking. Suddenly she came back to herself and stepped back away from Ellorik.
Trip addressed the presumptuous alien. “Ya know, humans and Vulcans consider that kinda question a bit personal.” His face was flushed and he appeared both tense and anxious at the same time.
Ellorik turned to Trip and bowed. “My apologies.” His face still reflected a small, pleasant smile. “As I said, my people do not often engage in dialogue with other species.” Trip seemed to become momentarily entranced by Ellorik’s congenial gaze.
T’Pol recovered herself and addressed Trip. “How extensive is the damage Commander?”
“Huh?” Trip stammered. “Oh, we’ll need a few things from Enterprise and I still need to examine the exterior of the ship.” Trip was still glaring at Ellorik who didn’t seem at all disturbed by the Engineer.
“Very well,” T’Pol continued, “Make an appraisal of the external damages and then compile a list of the tools and components necessary for the repairs.”
She turned and headed back to the front of the ship. Ellorik and Trip followed behind her. Travis, Malcolm, and Dr. Phlox were chatting among themselves. The ship was quite small so their inspection hadn’t taken very long.
Trip approached Phlox. “Doc, do I need the EV suit for just a quick trip out there? I can work a lot faster without it.”
Phlox considered for a moment. “I suppose it would be all right to make a short excursion. However, you will experience labored breathing after only a few minutes of exposure and serious problems after no more than 15 minutes.”
“Thanks Doc, it shouldn’t take me more than a couple ‘a minutes just ta take a look,” Trip replied then headed for the hatch.
T’Pol turned to the remaining crew. “Commander Tucker will require some supplies from Enterprise to complete the repairs. Once Commander Tucker has made an inventory of the needed supplies, I suggest Mr. Mayweather, Dr. Phlox, and I return to Enterprise while Lt. Reed remains here to assist the Commander.”
The three men looked briefly confused then affirmed their understanding and agreement. If anyone thought it was at all odd that T’Pol had chosen Malcolm to stay behind with Trip, no one voiced it openly.
“I don’t suppose you have any medical data or information regarding the various life forms in this region stored in your computer banks?” Phlox inquired hopefully.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you Doctor, but I do not have any data of that nature. The only data I possess that I think might interest you consists of navigational information and stellar charts,” Ellorik stated.
Travis leapt towards the consoles Ellorik had indicated. “Well, let’s have a look,” he said enthusiastically.
A few minutes later Trip returned though the hatch coughing. He cleared his throat and stood with his hand on his hips. He glanced at T’Pol before speaking directly to Ellorik. “You’ve got more damage out there than could be caused by just radiation waves.” His voice was stern and held a twinge of anger.
Ellorik lowered his head then looked up again. His face still held that small, pleasant smile. “Ah, yes. I was hoping not to have to discuss that.” He looked directly at T’Pol. “Still, we’ve already discussed much of the background so I suppose the story will not be too difficult to account.”
Ellorik then spoke to the entire group. “As I’ve already told Commander T’Pol, my people are strict isolationists and our government has restricted contact with other species. If any citizen, who is not a member of an official, government exploration team, wishes to explore other worlds and cultures he or she must break our laws and leave our territories at our own peril.” He turned to address Trip “What you no doubt observed Commander, was damage obtained when government enforcer ships fired on me as I made my escape.”
Trip regarded Ellorik for a moment. “Well, why didn’t ya tell us that from the beginning?” he asked finally. “You had ta know we’d figure it out during the repairs.”
“Forgive me, but I needed to assess your character and intentions before I felt comfortable relating such … personal … information about my people to strangers.” Ellorik stated.
T’Pol noted that Ellorik was repeating Trip’s own words and arguments from their earlier dispute. As Ellorik continued to hold Trip’s gaze, Trip seemed to become more accepting of Ellorik’s claim.
Malcolm was the next to speak. “Why would you risk getting blown up by your own people just to explore this inhospitable region of space?”
“I was trying to elude capture by hiding in this system but the damage to my ship forced me to attempt a landing on this world,” Ellorik explained. “As for why I would risk my life for exploration. Are you not explorers yourselves? Why else would you be here?”
Malcolm nodded, seeming to find this a reasonable explanation. Indeed the entire Away Team seemed content with Ellorik’s response.
“Well, shall we get going so Ellorik can return to his exploration of space?” Dr. Phlox asked cheerfully.
“Yeah, maybe we can bring back some decent food along with the supplies,” Travis added. “I know that’d be at the top of my list after two weeks of rations.”
Ellorik smiled and nodded at Travis’ comment.
“Indeed,” T’Pol replied. Then she turned to Trip. “How long do you estimate the repairs will take?”
“Hum, oh about 6 maybe 7 hours at most, once I get everything I need from Enterprise. It seems pretty straight forward really,” Trip answered.
“Then get started on what you can for now and I will return shortly with the necessary materials.” T’Pol said evenly and then motioned for Phlox and Travis to join her at the exterior hatch.
“See you guys soon.” Travis said to Trip and Malcolm. “Good luck with the repairs.” Phlox said as they left.
Once they had gone, Ellorik closed the hatch and joined the remaining two humans.
“Well let’s get started,” Tucker said to Reed giving him a smack on the shoulder to prompt him into motion. To Ellorik he said, “Show me what ya got to perform engine repairs and we’ll make-do until T’Pol gets back.”
Ellorik retrieved two cases from a storage bin. “Here is what I have Commander,” he said, handing one case to Tucker and the other to Reed. As Tucker began pulling items from the cases and examining the damage, Ellorik stepped back to better observe the two humans.
These humans are intriguing, Ellorik thought to himself. Their minds are so open, so easy to access. He was glad the other alien, the doctor, was gone. He had not wanted to attempt to access his mind. It was risky enough to try to access and influence the minds of the humans and very taxing as well. He did not want to have to learn the landscape of yet another alien mind. The Vulcan was both easier and yet more risky. She was more likely to realize that he was attempting to influence her thoughts but her mind readily accepted telepathic contact. As he recalled his encounter with T’Pol he looked over at Commander Tucker. He really didn’t need to access the Commander’s mind to discern that he had feelings for T’Pol. Not that he could blame him T’Pol was very attractive. Ellorik had seen enough inside her mind to discern that T’Pol also had feelings for Commander Tucker. Ellorik thought Commander Tucker to be a very lucky man as he continued to observe the humans.
An hour later T’Pol, Travis, and Phlox were back on Enterprise. T’Pol briefed Captain Archer on their encounter with Ellorik.
“And you believed his story about his people?” Archer asked with skepticism.
“I had no reason to believe he was being dishonest and he related some of the story to us before Commander Tucker located signs his ship had been under attack,” T’Pol responded. “However, I did leave Lt. Reed behind as a precaution.”
Archer nodded. Still, he didn’t think this Ellorik fellow seemed trustworthy. “All right, gather what you need and get back down there. However, I want to minimize the risk to the crew so it will just be you and Travis returning. Also, since personal communicators won’t be able to contact Enterprise from the surface I want Travis to stay with the shuttle. That way he can relay any messages to us if there is a problem.”
“Understood,” T’Pol said simply and left.
In the back of his mind Archer had a nagging feeling something was going to go wrong.
T’Pol arrived in the shuttle bay with two heavy duffle bags containing the things Commander Tucker had requested. They were cumbersome enough that, without Ensign Mayweather to help her, she would have to make two trips to Ellorik’s ship. Fortunately Mr. Mayweather believed he could use the data from the first trip to aid him in landing much closer to their target.
As T’Pol was placing the requested items into the shuttle Dr. Phlox approached her. “I understand I will not be returning to the surface with you.”
“That is correct Doctor,” T’Pol replied.
“What a shame,” the doctor continued. “I was looking forward to having a chance to chat with our new friend.” Phlox paused and clasped his hands behind his back before continuing. “I did notice there was some … tension …between Commander Tucker and Ellorik after his initial survey of the engine damage.” He paused again. T’Pol knew he was waiting for her to respond. No doubt he wished to make a comment or observation and was ‘setting the stage’ as the humans say.
Knowing how persistent Phlox could be T’Pol decided to reply. “Ellorik was beginning to inquire about things of a personal nature and the Commander became somewhat … disconcerted.”
“I see. Were these inquiries directed towards Commander Tucker?” Phlox pressed.
T’Pol decided to volunteer the entire exchange rather than waste time getting into a back-and-forth exchange with the good doctor. “At first Ellorik was merely making inquiries about the composition of Enterprise’s crew and then Vulcans in general. Then Ellorik specifically inquired if I had a mate.” T’Pol paused, searching for the right words. “At that point Commander Tucker informed him that Vulcans believe that line of questioning to be too personal.”
“Ah,” Phlox smiled. “That would certainly explain the nature of the tension I was detecting from Commander Tucker. Human males can be quite possessive.” Before T’Pol could point out that she was not a possession of Commander Tucker’s, Phlox gave his parting comment. “Well, good luck down there Commander.” With that, he turned and left the launch bay. As he made his exit he was almost broadsided by Ensign Mayweather, who was practically running into the bay.
“Sorry I’m late. Hoshi and I were working on communications between Enterprise and the shuttle. I think we should be able to maintain contact whenever we need to this time around,” Travis stated.
T’Pol was glad to hear this. Being out of contact with Enterprise during their last trip had made her uneasy. “Very good Ensign. Shall we depart?”
Back on the planet’s surface Trip was working away with Malcolm lending an occasional hand. Malcolm was also conversing with Ellorik.
“So how will you get back to your homeworld without getting shot at again?” Malcolm asked.
“I don’t plan to ever return,” Ellorik replied.
Malcolm was very surprised by this and Trip seemed shocked as well.
“What, ya just gonna leave your family and everyth’n behind and never come back?” Trip asked.
Ellorik laughed softly. “You’ve obviously never lived in an oppressed society. I have no desire to return to that and I have no real family to mourn leaving behind.”
“Well, that’s too bad,” Trip expressed.
“I take it you both have family. Are they on Enterprise with you or back on your home world?” Ellorik asked.
“Back on Earth,” Trip replied. “But we’ve been through so much together on board Enterprise that the crew almost seems like family,” he added and gave Malcolm a grin.
“True,” Malcolm responded “Although I still don’t want to spend any significant period of time trapped in a shuttle craft alone with you.” He sounded stern but allowed a slight grin to indicate to Trip that he was teasing his friend. “Now, Hoshi, on the other hand…” As soon as the words left his mouth, Malcolm tried to back peddle and casually added “Or T’Pol. I stand by what I said three years ago.” He knew Trip would know what he was referring to.
Trip pursed his lips together and scowled. Malcolm was sure that Trip knew he was only joking about T’Pol. It was pretty obvious that there was some sort of relationship between her and Trip. However, he suspected Trip wasn’t happy about being teased about it in front of Ellorik.
As if Ellorik were reading Malcolm’s mind he responded, “I gather then that Commander T’Pol does not have a mate on board Enterprise.” Trip turned his scowl towards Ellorik who innocently responded. “Otherwise I assume such a comment would not be appropriate.”
Malcolm burst into laughter. “Well, there are rumors.” Then he added, “And there was that trip to Vulcan together.”
Apparently, Trip wasn’t in the mood for this and stood up. “Excuse me but I need a bathroom break,” he said harshly and stomped off.
“I think your friend is upset with our discussion,” Ellorik said.
Malcolm shrugged, “No, well, yes actually; but he’ll get over it. It’s kind of a running joke between us.”
Trip returned after a few minutes and went straight back to work without glancing at Malcolm or Ellorik. Malcolm continued to converse with Ellorik about the region and where he planned to go once his ship was fixed. Then Ellorik left them to check on something in another part of the ship and Malcolm turned to Trip. “I’m sorry about that comment I made earlier. I guess this isn’t the most appropriate time to be teasing a superior officer.”
Trip stopped what he was doing and looked back at Malcolm. “Forget it,” he said, then after a pause, “It’s just that…he was hittin’ on T’Pol earlier,” Trip finally spit out.
Malcolm was surprised at this but tried to reassure Trip. “Well, of course. He’s been alone on this planet for weeks, then he’s rescued by a gorgeous gal with a very nice bum.” He smiled as Trip actually laughed at that. “I mean, who wouldn’t make a play for her.” He paused before adding, “Of course he’s got no chance against a rugged southern gentleman such as yourself.” His tone had been very lighthearted but Malcolm’s smile faded after Trip’s did. Trip seemed momentarily lost in thought and Malcolm exclaimed, “Oh, come on. You can’t seriously think otherwise!”
Trip looked over at his friend. “Not really. It’s just that she sort of seemed … taken with him for a moment.”
Malcolm snorted. “I’m sure you misread things. The green-eyed monster will do that you know.”
Trip shook his head then gave Malcolm an indignant look. “Hey, I never said I was jealous or anything …” he trailed off.
Malcolm rolled his eyes. Malcolm knew that Trip had a crush on T’Pol. He was also pretty sure Trip was aware that he knew. But since they’d never discussed this openly Trip continued to deny it. “Oh, of course. My mistake,” Malcolm said with mock sincerity. He patted Trip on the shoulder and they both laughed.
Apparently, Trip decided to have a bit of fun as well. “So… you and Hoshi trapped on a shuttle together.” He lifted his eyes as if contemplating. “That has some definite possibilities.” He glanced over his shoulder at Malcolm grinning.
“Oh, be serious,” Malcolm huffed. He knew better than to object to the teasing since turn-a-bout was fair play.
Trip glanced over at Malcolm and responded, “We read you, but yer breakin up a bit.”
The response came after a few moments of silence. “Ensign Mayweather believes he will be able to land within 50 meters of your present location. I should be joining you with the requested materials soon.”
Malcolm took note of the grin that spread over Trip’s face. No doubt his friend was happy to hear the sound of T’Pol’s voice telling them she would be with them soon.
A short while later T’Pol comm’ed Trip and Malcolm to let them know she was approaching the ship. Trip leapt to his feet and opened the hatch for her. As she made her way into the ship Trip took the heavy bag from T’Pol and tried to help her into the ship. The bag was heavier than he had anticipated and he almost dropped it as he made his way back to the damaged engines. Malcolm helped Trip with the bag then stepped behind T’Pol to help Travis who had entered the ship after T’Pol, carrying another heavy bag.
Travis had insisted on helping T’Pol deliver the components to Ellorik’s ship. As he prepared to return to the shuttlecraft, he took out his communicator and tuned it to the open frequency on the shuttle. He had managed to land much closer to the alien ship this time but with such low visibility he would need the signal to make certain he did not get lost in the fog. He nodded to Trip and Malcolm before turning to leave. “Just give me a call if you need anything,” he said as he slowly walked towards the hatch. “Or if you just want to talk.” He took another step then stopped and looked back. “Or if you’d like a weather report.”
Malcolm laughed and Trip rolled his eyes.
“Cause I’m sure it’ll be lonely over there,” Travis continued.
T’Pol addressed him as he approached the hatch. “Please be sure to inform Enterprise we have returned to Ellorik’s ship and then contact me to confirm your status.”
All three human men smiled and chuckled a bit. “Yes Ma’am,” Travis replied.
“More like Mum,” Malcolm said under his breath to Trip who smiled at that.
After Travis had left, Trip gathered up a few items and placed them into one of the duffle bags he had empted and stood up. “I guess I’ll get started on the external repairs but I’ll need a hand.”
“No problem,” Malcolm said and picked up the portable ladder. Trip shot him an irritated look. Then he said “Um, I was hope’n you could finish these patches since ya already know what needs ta be done.”
Malcolm gave himself a mental kick. Of course Trip would rather have T’Pol join him outside rather than leave her alone in here with Ellorik. Especially since he thought Ellorik had tried to hit on T’Pol. “Um, right, of course.” Malcolm muttered and handed the ladder to T’Pol.
Trip donned his EV suit and hoisted the duffle bag, then motioned for T’Pol to join him. He smiled as she nodded and moved to join him. Too bad we’re going ta need EV suits out there, Trip thought to himself. He loved the idea of being alone with T’Pol on the surface of an exotic alien world. It seemed like back on Enterprise their private moments together were constantly being interrupted.
Once outside T’Pol set up the ladder and Trip climbed up and began the repairs.
Trip frowned as he took in the current state of the ship. “Looks like Ellorik may have starting poke’n around in here by the looks of some of the jury rigging.” He needed to be careful not to cause dangerous shorts or feedbacks as he sorted out the tangled cables and wires. “One thing's for sure, Ellorik’s not much of a mechanic.” Trip glanced down at T’Pol and gave her a smile when she looked back up at him.
“Indeed,” T’Pol said evenly. “He is fortunate to have your expertise to aid him.” There was a hint of softness in her voice that made Trip’s heart melt.
“Could ya hand me the diagnostic kit?” Trip asked.
T’Pol complied wordlessly. As she passed the requested equipment up to Trip he sighed mentally as he again regretted the necessity of the EV suits. There would be no chance of casual, accidental, skin to skin contact while they worked. Those fleeting moments when their hands touched or they lightly brushed up against each other were one of the things he secretly loved about working with T’Pol. He was pretty sure she didn’t allow herself to make that kind of physical contact with anyone else. It gave him hope that someday their relationship could become something more intimate.
As they worked, Trip racked his brain for a casual way to ask T’Pol what she thought of Ellorik. Logically he knew it was highly unlikely that T’Pol would have developed an interest in Ellorik in this short amount of time, but he couldn’t get over that entranced look she had given him. It almost seemed like T’Pol had forgotten entirely that Trip was even in the room. He continued to work as T’Pol handed him tools and materials and took readings without coming up with a way to broach the subject.
Back aboard Enterprise, Hoshi informed Captain Archer that she was receiving a weak signal she believed was similar to the one transmitted by Ellorik. Archer felt his stomach turn. It was very probable that Ellorik’s people looking for him and the Enterprise crew would be caught in the middle of an alien dispute. If Ellorik had been telling the truth then should Archer offer him amnesty? What if Ellorik were lying? That would mean the Away Team could be in danger down on the surface of a planet with a toxic atmosphere. Oh, the possible ways the situation could go bad were endless.
“Should we send a reply?” Hoshi asked tentatively.
Archer sighed. “Let’s wait until we can get enough of a message to translate. That way we can give the Away Team more time.” He thought about how to inform his people on the planet’s surface. What if Ellorik panicked and tried to steal their shuttle? He then decided to have Travis contact T’Pol and have her return to the shuttle and fill her in there. Before he could ask Hoshi to contact Travis, she was telling him she had received another transmission, this one was definitely directed at Enterprise.
“The greeting indicates they have no hostile intentions towards us, but that they are searching for an escaped criminal they believe to be hiding in this system.” Hoshi’s voice conveyed worry and mirrored Archer’s own feelings at the moment. Well, better to hear both sides and then decide on a course of action. Silently he wished Malcolm or T’Pol were there to give him an assessment of the approaching ship’s armaments and tactical capabilities. Then he thought it might be better to have Malcolm on the surface if Ellorik did turn out to be a dangerous criminal.
Archer had Hoshi send a reply acknowledging the transmission but without informing the newcomers of Ellorik’s presence on the surface. Then he told her to contact the surface and have Malcolm get T’Pol back to the shuttle ASAP.
Back inside the ship Trip shed his EV suit while T’Pol removed only her helmet. “How long do you believe the remaining repairs will take to be completed?”
“Um, less than an hour for the actual repair work now that I’ve got the tools I need then about another to run a full diagnostic; so a coupla hours tops,” Trip replied.
T’Pol nodded and watched Trip turn back to his work before leaving the ship.
Once T’Pol reached the shuttlecraft Travis informed her that Ellorik’s people were on their way. T’Pol hailed Enterprise for an update. “Commander Tucker is almost finished with the actual repairs and then a systems diagnostic would take another hour.”
On board Enterprise, Archer contemplated her response. If Ellorik was telling the truth he may have to forgo the diagnostic and simply leave as soon as possible. But if Ellorik was a dangerous criminal then Archer would have to get his people back to Enterprise before Ellorik became suspicious. Well, he had better find out what the people on board the approaching ship had to say first.
“Go ahead and keep working on the repairs for now but be ready to take action if it turns out Ellorik is lying.” Archer said to T’Pol and Travis.
T’Pol signaled her acknowledgement and turned to Travis, “I will be returning to Ellorik’s ship. Contact me on the emergency frequency if the Captain learns we are in danger.” Travis nodded uneasily. T’Pol could tell he was apprehensive about her returning to the ship alone but someone did have to stay in the shuttle to maintain contact with Enterprise.
As T’Pol walked back to Ellorik’s craft she contemplated the alien. He seemed very amiable and forthright, however something about him made her uneasy. In the back of her mind she felt something was off. She thought back to the exchange she and Ellorik had been engaged in when Commander Tucker became upset. Ellorik had been asking about Vulcans and telepathy and she had become concerned. Then she recalled that her concern vanished as something in her mind whispered there was no reason for the concern. When Ellorik had asked her if she had a mate, she recalled thinking of the Commander even though he was not her mate, and something in her mind had been amused by this. Suddenly T’Pol realized that the amusement had not been her own. Her tumultuous relationship with Commander Tucker was not something she found amusing. T’Pol then realized that Ellorik had been inside her mind manipulating her thoughts. It had been so subtle that she had not realized it was even happening. She hastened her pace towards the alien craft realizing that it was very possible Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed were in danger. As she was about to enter the ship she forced herself to control the worry and panic she was beginning to experience. If Ellorik could slip inside her mind he would become aware that she knew about his abilities and he might even find out his people were nearby. She calmed her mind and concentrated on shielding it against invasion.
Ellorik observed the humans as they worked and engaged in friendly banter. He hoped the humans would repair his ship and leave without incident. It had been risky to send a signal for help in this region of space. There was a good chance that the signal would get reflected and attenuated and be picked up by his own people. They would still be looking for him. He knew his prior actions were viewed as a serious ethical breach by his people, but he had not anticipated that they would continue to chase him down after his initial escape. It wasn’t as if he had killed anyone or even inflicted injury. He smiled inwardly as he recalled the liaisons that had started all this trouble. No, he thought to himself, his ‘crimes’ did not warrant this manhunt. More likely it was his ‘gift’ that was responsible for the tenacity of the pursuit. He had used his innate abilities to escape by convincing first his keepers then others along the way that he was falsely accused. Then he had acquired this ship and left his system.
He periodically left the humans to make sure his ship was still scanning for any indication his people were nearby. If they discovered him he would be forced to use the humans as hostages to barter an escape and he might even be forced to kill. He really didn’t want to be forced to actually take the lives of one or more of these people. Of course his own interests outweighed the well being of the humans. He was not about to return to his home world to face a lifetime of imprisonment. Still, he hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
He was watching Tucker and Reed finishing up the repairs when a noise came from the front of the ship alerting him that a signal had been detected matching those of his people. He quickly went to confirm this and saw that at least one signal his ship had detected seemed quite strong. Ellorik frowned, if his sensors could detect this signal it was likely that Enterprise could as well. If the humans learned the truth then he would have to use the landing party as hostages to persuade the humans to aid him in his escape. He looked back over at the two men. He knew that holding Lieutenant Reed was risky since he was undoubtedly trained in combat and Ellorik was not. Commander Tucker was the obvious choice of hostage. Ellorik knew that Commander Tucker was a valuable member of the crew as Enterprise’s Chief Engineer and he also knew Tucker was a good friend of both the Captain and Lieutenant Reed. Then there was the additional bonus of knowing that Commander T’Pol had feelings for Commander Tucker. If Ellorik took Tucker as a hostage it would be difficult for the humans (and T’Pol) to challenge him and put Tucker’s life in danger.
Ellorik went over to a compartment and procured a weapon. He adjusted the setting to half power so the chances of delivering a fatal shot were minimized. After all, it would be easier to convince Archer that he would return the engineer alive if Ellorik were careful not to inflict any fatalities among the remaining party.
As he walked calmly to the back of the ship he heard the outside hatch being accessed. Noting that T’Pol had returned, Ellorik quickly took action. He located Tucker’s EV suit and fired the weapon. Tucker and Reed turned to see the suit beginning to melt. As Reed reached for his phaser, Ellorik fired a warning shot at Reed’s feet and then aimed directly at Tucker. “Please place your hands above your head Lieutenant or I will be forced to shoot the Commander.” Ellorik entered Reed’s thoughts and suggested that Reed do as he was told because it would be best for everyone. Reed nodded and did as instructed. Ellorik motioned for Reed to back away and he positioned himself behind Tucker so Tucker would be between himself and the others.
By this time T’Pol had made her way into the ship and was taking in the situation. Ellorik reached out to her Vulcan mind and realized that she had lost control of her emotions and was struck with panic when she saw him holding a weapon to Tucker’s back. She reached for her own phaser but Ellorik reacted quickly and shot her squarely in the chest. As she fell to the ground Tucker screamed “NO!” Ellorik clubbed Tucker on the back of the head with his weapon and he fell to the ground as well. Reed leapt for T’Pol in an attempt to catch her and almost succeeded. Her EV suit was compromised so he began to remove it. As he pulled her into his lap and assessed her condition Ellorik calmly addressed him.
“I suggest you get her back to your shuttle and to Enterprise quickly. Tell your Captain that I want safe passage out of this system. I will release Commander Tucker once I am safely away. If you try to take him before then, I will kill him.” He waited patently for the lieutenant to reply.
Ellorik took note of Reed’s thoughts as the Lieutenant assessed the situation. T’Pol’s breathing and pulse was weak. It would be difficult to get her back to the ship before the planet’s atmosphere stopped her breathing altogether. Reed glared at Ellorik as he quickly put on his own EV suit, then glanced down at Tucker who was moaning and beginning to come to. “How do we know we can trust that you won’t further harm Commander Tucker?” Reed asked harshly as he finished putting on his EV suit.
Ellorik nodded slightly. “I would not have harmed T’Pol if it had not been necessary. I refrained from inflicting a fatal shot. I would have no reason to harm the Commander once I am safe.”
Tucker had regained consciousness and was trying to sit up. His face turned white as he saw T’Pol lying on the floor. He looked helplessly up at Reed. “Get her back ta Enterprise!” he shouted to Reed. When Reed hesitated, Tucker’s voice became commanding. “Leave me behind and take care of her. That’s an order Lieutenant!”
The two men locked eyes on each other and, in that brief moment, they appeared to form an understanding between them. Reed nodded and then picked up T’Pol. “I’ll take care of her Trip,” he said and his eyes met Tucker’s once again is if to solidify that promise, then he left.
As Malcolm ran he held his communicator out so he could follow the shuttle’s signal without getting lost. Damn fog! He activated it and yelled to Travis that he had a medical emergency. It was difficult carrying T’Pol while running as fast as he could in an EV suit, even with the field training for situations like these. Well, not exactly like this; he’d never practiced carrying a wounded comrade in an EV suit through a thick fog. Something to add to the training regiment, he thought bitterly. As he approached the shuttle he saw Travis coming towards him. He was not wearing an EV suit. Travis took T’Pol and dashed back into the shuttle. Malcolm headed straight for the medical kit and handed it to Travis as he tore off his EV suit. Then he took over administering first aid to T’Pol and ordered Travis to take off.
“What about Commander Tucker?” Travis asked.
“He’s still a hostage. Now get going!” Malcolm snapped. “T’Pol may not have much time.” Then he added more softly. “I promised Trip I’d take care of her.”
Travis nodded as he took the helm and launched the shuttle.
Malcolm was worried about Trip and he was worried about T’Pol. What if one of them makes it and the other doesn’t? he thought grimly. Despite all the gossip and rumors and even T’Pol’s marriage it was pretty obvious that Trip and T’Pol had genuine feelings for each other. If one of them didn’t make it, it would certainly impact the other.
As they approached Enterprise, Travis informed the Captain of the medical emergency and Phlox met them in the shuttle bay. Then he whisked T’Pol off to Sickbay with the Captain and Malcolm right behind him. Travis just stood there a moment at a loss of what to do.
“Ellorik took us by surprise. He destroyed Trip’s EV suit then shot T’Pol. I had to get her back to the shuttle and Enterprise right away.” Malcolm lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry Sir; I should have been more prepared.”
Archer was angry but he knew Malcolm well enough to know that he would never have left Trip behind if the situation hadn’t been dire. Malcolm would blame himself enough anyway so there was no need for Archer to add to his pain. “Let’s just concentrate on getting Trip back and T’Pol well.” Archer said to Malcolm as they turned to Phlox to find out T’Pol’s condition.
Now on a bio-bed, T’Pol began to moan. Phlox injected her with something and she became quiet and still. “Just something for the pain,” Phlox said, as he ran more scans. Then he lifted T’Pol and took her to the imagining chamber.
As Archer waited impatiently for Phlox to tell them something, a call came into Sick Bay from the bridge. “Bridge to Captain Archer.” It was Hoshi.
“Sir, we are being hailed by Captain Vorenik from the approaching ship,” Hoshi said. Her voice conveyed worry.
Archer gave an exasperated sigh and responded, “I’m on my way.” Then he turned to Phlox. “Let me know the moment you know anything.”
Phlox looked up from the medical display and addressed Archer. “I will Captain. All I can tell you now is that I think she will … pull through.”
Archer nodded and then turned to leave. He stopped when he realized that Malcolm wasn’t following him. “Coming Lieutenant?” he said, sounding a bit annoyed.
Malcolm was staring at T’Pol in the imaging chamber and did not even turn as he addressed the Captain. “With all due respect Sir, I thought I’d stay here and…”
“I need you on the Bridge Lieutenant. Now!” Archer could understand how Malcolm must be feeling, but Malcolm was the only one who could give Archer the information he needed to understand exactly what they were faced with.
“Yes Sir, of course,” Malcolm seemed to come to at that statement and turned to quickly follow Archer out of Sick Bay.
Back on the planet’s surface, Ellorik was contemplating his escape. He had no idea how close his people were or how much Enterprise knew by now. Therefore, it would be best to leave as quickly as possible. He moved towards Tucker, who was glaring at him as if he was going to attack. “Commander, please finish your repairs quickly.”
“No way in Hell!” Tucker spat angrily.
Ellorik knew it was going to be difficult to gain Tucker’s cooperation. He replied calmly, “If we do not leave soon my people will find us and it will be over for us both.”
“That’s too damn bad,” Tucker said; his voice still full of hostility.
Ellorik sighed and continued calmly, “You would abandon your crew and your family and simply wait here to die? I promise you once I’m safely away from my people you will be free to return to yours.”
“You shot T’Pol!” Tucker’s expression was a mixture of rage and pain. “She could be dying right now. Yer crazy if you think I’m gonna do anything to help you.”
Ellorik’s abilities allowed him to easily access Tucker’s thoughts at that moment and Ellorik began to think he had erred in choosing his current strategy. He had believed that it would be least dangerous to hold Tucker as a hostage over Lt. Reed or T’Pol. Now, however, he could see that his perception was flawed. Tucker was crazed with worry for T’Pol. The only thing keeping him from tackling Ellorik now, despite his head injury and Ellorik’s phase-pistol, was that he desperately wanted to know T’Pol’s condition. Ellorik realized this was his best chance to gain Tucker’s compliance.
“If you die here you will never see her again,” Ellorik stated with a calmness he didn’t entirely feel. He sensed some of Tucker’s rage diminish to be replaced with fear and dread.
Tucker lowered his head for a moment and looked directly at Ellorik. “You’ve got to let me contact Enterprise,” he said softly. “I need to know she’s okay.”
Ellorik nodded. “Finish the repairs and I will contact them.” Ellorik moved to stand over Tucker and motioned for him to resume his work. “Please do not attempt to deviate from this arrangement and I will release you unharmed to re-join your ship.”
The Commander looked frustrated and defeated but picked up one of his tools and continued to work. Ellorik surveyed Tucker’s thoughts and found that he would indeed finish the repairs quickly, knowing that this ship was his only way back to Enterprise and T’Pol. Ellorik also uncovered thoughts Tucker was entertaining about trying to take the ship once it was off the planet’s surface. His desperation to get back to T’Pol as quickly as possible was over-riding his own sense of well being. Ellorik sighed inwardly. He would have to leave Tucker on the planet’s surface and hope to escape before Enterprise became aware of what had transpired. He began working out the details of this latest tactic.
Archer exploded onto the Bridge and barked an order to Hoshi to contact the approaching alien ship. His anxiety was almost tangible and seemed to be felt by the entire Bridge crew as no one made a sound while they waited for a reply. The reply came only a minute later but the tension in the room made that minute seem like an eternity. Suddenly, the image of a lean but muscular, grey man filled the view screen.
“This is Captain Vorenik of the Vistanii Command Ship Ra’nell,” the being stated. “Am I addressing Captain Archer?”
Archer spoke up quickly. “I’m Captain Archer of the Starship Enterprise. I believe we may have run across your escaped criminal and he has taken our Chief Engineer hostage on the planet below.”
Archer sounded a bit hasher than he intended but he couldn’t keep the apprehension he was feeling about Trip from entering his voice.
Captain Vorenik nodded. “We will reach your location soon. Please relate the details of the events that precipitated the current situation.”
Archer related the story of how they came across Ellorik’s signal and then sent down the shuttle. When he got to the return trip he looked at Malcolm, who picked up the story and explained how Ellorik had taken them by surprise and the shot T’Pol. As Malcolm’s narrative drew to an end he turned and looked directly at Archer.
He lowered his eyes and his voice. “I wasn’t prepared for Ellorik to turn on us like that.”
Vorenik had been listening intently to the account and chose this moment to interject. “Ellorik possesses the ability to enter the minds of others. He is particularly adept at the subtle manipulation of others’ thoughts. It is likely that you trusted in him and in the situation because Ellorik wanted you to do so.”
Both Archer and Malcolm looked stunned and Malcolm’s jaw actually dropped.
Archer recovered first. “Are you saying that Ellorik can read minds and even control people?”
“He can certainly read minds,” Vorenik responded. “But he cannot control the actions of others. What he can do is manipulate thoughts to persuade others to believe what he wants them to believe. They do not realize that the thoughts in their own minds are not really their own. This is part of the reason he was judged to have committed crimes against the community and was to be imprisoned.”
“So I take it not all your people possess this ability?” Archer inquired.
“We are a telepathic race Captain, and this ability manifests itself differentially among our people,” Vorenik disclosed. “However, Ellorik’s particular ability is rare and its misuse ever more so.”
“How did he misuse it among your people?” Malcolm asked.
Archer was a bit annoyed that Malcolm would interject with a question that was more appropriate for him to have asked. Still, he had included Malcolm in the discussion and he was just as curious about the answer as Malcolm was.
“I do not know how his crimes would be viewed by your people but among mine it is considered quite heinous.” Vorenik paused a moment before continuing, “He would use his ability to achieve intimacy with unsuspecting females, often very young individuals. This is considered a serious violation of the individuals involved.” Vorenik made that last statement very forcefully.
Archer suddenly felt sick to his stomach. This guy was essentially a rapist. He knew he should probably be grateful that Ellorik wasn’t a cold-blooded murderer, at least not that they knew of anyway; but the thought of aiding a rapist made Archer physically ill.
This reaction was not lost on Captain Vorenik. “I see this is a serious offense among your people as well.”
Archer nodded. “We view that kind of behavior very seriously as well.” Archer paused as he searched for a way to ask his next question. “Captain, I need to know if Commander Tucker is in serious danger down there.” Archer’s voice cracked slightly when he mentioned Trip.
Vorenik seemed to think for a moment before responding. “I do not believe Ellorik would add murder to his offenses if he could avoid doing so. However, I do believe he will take any action he considers necessary to make a successful escape.”
This reassured Archer slightly, but he was still worried that Ellorik might become desperate.
Vorenik spoke again and interrupted Archer’s thoughts. “Captain, it is not necessary for you to risk your crewman’s life for the sake of recovering Ellorik. His victims would not wish harm to befall others on their behalf. We will arrive shortly, but in the meantime I suggest you accommodate Ellorik’s demands and attempt to recover your Engineer.”
Archer nodded gratefully and the transmission ended.
“How long until they get here?” Archer asked.
“They will have to slow considerably once they enter this system,” Travis responded, “so I’d say at least another 25 minutes.”
Archer nodded again. About half an hour. He turned to Hoshi. “Hail Ellorik’s ship.”
Before Hoshi could even acknowledge the command, Malcolm interjected. “Sir, with all due respect, Commander Tucker will be anxious to know about T’Pol.”
Archer considered this and conceded that Malcolm was right. He’d have to have something to tell Ellorik if he inquired on Trip’s behalf. “Belay that Ensign,” he said and then turned to Malcolm. “Join me in Sick Bay?” Archer had considered contacting Sick Bay from the Bridge; however, if T’Pol wasn’t going to make it, he didn’t want it announced over the Bridge comms.
“Yes Sir,” Malcolm said readily as they left the Bridge.
In Sick Bay, T’Pol was lying unconscious on a bio-bed with a blue medical sheet covering her. Phlox examined the latest set of scans he had taken.
He looked up from his scans as Archer and Lt. Reed came rushing into Sick Bay. They both gave the sleeping Vulcan a worried look.
“How is she Doc?” Archer asked as he eyed T’Pol’s uniform on an empty bio-bed. Phlox had removed it so he could attend to T’Pol’s wounds and Archer was staring at the burned portion of the uniform that covered the upper part of her chest. The charred portion of the uniform starkly conveyed the fact that the phaser blast had been significant.
Phlox thought it best to put their minds at ease and immediately said, “Although there was significant damage to her lungs and some less vital organs, I expect that T’Pol will eventually make a full recovery. Her heart escaped any serious injury and is functioning normally, which will aid in her recovery.”
Both humans looked stunned and Malcolm managed to stammer, “But … she was shot in the chest.”
At this point Phlox realized that it was very likely that neither man knew enough about Vulcan physiology to know that a Vulcan’s heart was not located in center of the chest.
Phlox attempted to explain, “I realize that Lieutenant, but you see…”
Before Phlox could finish Archer regained his faculties and cut him off. “She was shot squarely in the chest, Doctor, and you’re telling me she’s going to be fine?” he exclaimed.
Phlox gave a sigh of exasperation. “As I was saying … Vulcan hearts are located much lower in the chest cavity than human hearts, and they are off to one side. The blast simply missed her heart.”
Both Archer and Malcolm seemed to digest this information slowly. Finally Malcolm said, “I wonder if Ellorik knew that,” in an accusatory tone.
“So she’s going to be okay?” Archer asked as if he was still having trouble believing it.
“Eventually,” Phlox replied. “She still has a long recovery ahead of her and she’ll likely be in Sick Bay for several days.”
Archer had walked over to T’Pol’s bed and his hand rested near her arm, although he was not quite touching her. He studied her for a moment longer and then looked up.
“Thanks Doc,” he said and quickly left Sick Bay with Malcolm following dutifully behind him.
Back on the planet’s surface, Trip was finished with the basic repairs, the diagnostics be damned. He was still sitting on the floor near the flight controls while Ellorik stood nearby, weapon still trained on the engineer. One of the consoles began to beep. Ellorik turned towards it and then activated a switch.
“This is Ellorik. I am receiving your signal Enterprise.”
Trip’s heart began to beat rapidly. Enterprise was calling. Soon he might know about T’Pol. Suddenly he was gripped with fear. What if she didn’t make it? Trip’s thoughts were cut off when he heard Jon’s voice over the comms.
“As you are probably aware your people are on their way.” Jon sounded stressed. “What do we need to do to ensure the safe return of Commander Tucker?”
Ellorik glanced over at Trip and replied, “I simply wish to leave this system unharmed. If you see to that I will make sure Commander Tucker is returned to you unharmed as well.”
Trip was about to burst with anxiety. He needed to know about T’Pol now! He needed to know if he should bother trying to get back to Enterprise in one piece or if he should simply kill Ellorik right here and now! Trip moved towards to comms and yelled to Archer.
“Captain, how is T’Pol?” His fear and anxiety were evident in his voice.
Ellorik gave Trip a hard kick and he fell backwards, away from the control console.
Trip was about to try tackling Ellorik, even if it meant getting shot, when he heard Jon’s voice again.
“She’s going to be okay Trip. She’s in Sick Bay now, but Phlox says she’s going to be fine.” Jon’s voice was warm and sincere as he addressed his best friend.
Trip just sat back as his mind processed what Jon had told him. T’Pol’s gonna be okay. He realized then that he hadn’t really allowed himself to fully believe this was a possibility. If he did, and she had died, the pain would have been unbearable. He was still replaying Jon’s words in his head when he heard Ellorik speak again.
“I am pleased to hear this Captain. Now please assure me that I have your cooperation and I will return your Commander.” Ellorik paused and glanced at Trip before continuing, “He is very anxious to return to his ship and friends.”
“I’m guessing you know exactly what Trip is thinking since you can read minds!” Archer’s voice was harsh again as he was now addressing Ellorik and not Trip.
This guy can read minds? Aw, shit! Trip realized that if this were true he wouldn’t be able to take Ellorik by surprise. As if to confirm this Ellorik nodded and gave a faint smile.
Ellorik’s reply was calm and measured, “Now that you have taken away my advantage I must be extra cautious. I plan to leave the planet’s surface immediately. You will not interfere. Once I am gone I will make certain you can retrieve Commander Tucker.”
Ellorik waited for a reply but none came. He then noticed that a series of indicator lights were flashing. He turned back to Trip, who was getting to his feet.
“My comms systems have failed and there is no time to repair them at the moment. You must leave the ship now so I can depart.”
Trip was stunned. This guy was going to kill him after all! Well why not just shoot me and get it over with?
Ellorik laughed softly. “I did not plan to harm you Commander. If you die I am quite certain Captain Archer will hunt me down. The two of you are very close are you not?”
Trip pressed his lips into a thin line and scowled at Ellorik. No sense in responding since Ellorik already knew everything anyway.
“In case ya haven’t noticed, ya can’t breathe the atmosphere out there. It’ll take more than a few minutes for a shuttle to come get me and that’s if they can even find me!”
“The device is a transmitter. Once I am leaving the system I will send Archer the frequency and your people will be able to locate you. The bag contains a breathing apparatus that can be adjusted for your use. It contains about two hours worth of air and you have two replacements. Six hours should give your people plenty of time to retrieve you. Now please exit the ship.”
“How does this thing work?” Trip asked, indicating the transmitter.
Ellorik smiled, “I’m sure you will figure it out.” Then his expression became somber. “Please leave now Commander or I will risk Enterprise tacking me down.”
Trip realized Ellorik meant business and nodded. He glanced in the bag and noticed that it contained a breathing mask and some containers. He put the transmitter in the bag and then picked up his own duffle bag from Enterprise. Damn, I forgot how heavy this thing was.
As he approached the hatch leading to the outside, he turned back to Ellorik.
“Hey, if your comms aren’t working how will you be able to give Enterprise the frequency of the transmitter?” Trip was suddenly very worried again.
“I can easily repair the com-unit. I have done so in the past. I know you may not believe me but I really don’t wish any harm to come to you.” Ellorik’s voice was calm and steady.
Trip found himself reassured and simply nodded as he exited the ship.
Once outside he kept moving away from the ship until he felt it was safe to stop. He then dug into the bag Ellorik had given him and pulled out the mask. It fit easily over his mouth and nose and he was able to adjust it tight enough to ensure he would be breathing the air through the mask. The refill containers were very light and small and Trip couldn’t believe they would supply 2 hours of breathable air. However, he quickly realized that the mask filtered some of the outside air as well.
With the mask adjusted correctly he was able to breathe without problems and he turned his attention to the transmitter Ellorik had given him. A loud noise signaled the launch of Ellorik’s ship, which Trip could make out as it rose and then sped away.
He was alone now on the planet’s surface and he had just 6 hours until he ran out of air. Better get this thing working. He turned back to the transmitter.
Back on Enterprise, Archer was pacing back and forth on the Bridge.
“Anything?” he asked Hoshi for the tenth time since they lost contact with Ellorik. The last thing the alien kidnapper had said was that he planned to leave the planet immediately and that Enterprise should not interfere.
“Nothing Sir,” came Hoshi’s uneasy reply.
Archer looked around the Bridge. With the First Officer in Sick Bay and Trip, the next more senior officer, being held captive, the Bridge crew was understandably on edge.
Suddenly Malcolm’s voice ripped through the tense silence. “I’ve got him Sir!”
Malcolm was manning the scanners at the tactical station and transferred an image to the main viewer. A small craft was leaving planetary orbit.
“Should we pursue them?” Travis asked with uncertainty in his voice.
Archer wasn’t sure what to do in that moment. He didn’t want Ellorik to leave the system with Trip but he also didn’t want Ellorik to make good on his word to kill Trip if Enterprise interfered.
“Hail them!” Archer said sharply.
Hoshi turned to Archer. Her expression was apologetic and conveyed a sense of dismay. “I’ve been trying Sir. There’s still no response.”
Archer frowned. “Keep trying.” Then he said to Travis, “Let’s go after them.”
Each member of the crew wore looks of concern and anxiety but no one said anything. Travis set a pursuit course.
Ellorik’s ship was fast and it was completely clear of the system within minutes. “He’ll be clear to go to warp soon,” Travis noted.
Archer nodded. “Keep trying to raise them,” he said to Hoshi. Then he turned to Malcolm. “Any chance of using the transporters now?”
“It should be possible Sir. We’ve put some distance between us and those mass-transferring stars so transporters should work if I can get a lock.”
“Do it,” Archer said with determination. He waited for Malcolm to leave the Bridge and head to the transporter.
However, Malcolm made no attempt to move, he simply frowned and then his expression became somber. Finally he spoke again.
“Sir, I read only one life form aboard.” His voice was hollow but it cracked at the end of his declaration.
No one said anything for a moment as they all digested the meaning of Malcolm’s last statement. Trip was either dead on Ellorik’s ship or he’d been abandoned back on the surface of the planet.
Archer’s mind was racing. They’d been chasing Ellorik for just over 10 minutes, factoring in the time since Trip would have been left on the planet and the time it would take to get back, get a shuttle to the surface, and then find him…
Archer looked hopelessly at Malcolm.
As if reading his thoughts Malcolm further added, “I’m not reading any indication Commander Tucker is on board.”
“Why would he do that?” Hoshi asked softly to no one in particular. Her voice was almost a sob and when Archer turned to look at her, she had tears streaming down her face.
Suddenly Archer was insanely angry. He turned back to Malcolm. “Disable that ship now!”
Malcolm nodded and a second later Enterprise’s phase-cannons were firing on Ellorik’s ship.
“We hit him, Sir, but he’s not slowing down,” Malcolm informed the Captain.
Then two things happened simultaneously. Another phaser blast hit Ellorik’s ship and Hoshi said, “Captain Vorenik wants our confirmation that Command Tucker is not aboard Ellorik’s ship.”
“Confirm that,” Archer told Hoshi.
The Ra’nell fired again at Ellorik’s ship. Moments later, Hoshi turned to Archer, fresh tears still on her cheeks. “They say they will stop Ellorik so we can return to the planet.”
Travis looked up at Archer. He nodded and Travis set a course back to the planet.
Archer turned back to Malcolm. “Is there any chance Trip could have repaired his EV suit?” he asked hopefully.
Malcolm shook his head sadly, not quite able to say the words.
“Maybe Ellorik had a suit,” Travis piped in. No one was quite ready to just accept Trip was really gone.
Archer lowered his head as he replied, “If Trip were alive back on the planet then Ellorik would have said so. He’d know that we wouldn’t risk chasing him instead of rescuing Trip.” The logic was inescapable.
Archer fought back tears as he gave the crew his next orders. “Malcolm, assemble a team to … retrieve Trip. I won’t leave him behind down there.” Then he turned to the helmsman, “Travis you pilot the shuttle.” After both men acknowledged their orders, Archer turned to leave. “I’ll be in Sick Bay,” he said as he left the Bridge. Once out of sight of the rest of the crew Archer clenched his fists and finally let the held-back tears fall.
Continue to Part 2 (Chapters 4 & 5)
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