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To Go Boldly
Virtual Season Six: Final Episode
A/N: This is coming so slowly that I figured I ought to post it in pieces while everyone still remembers the story.
Virtual Season Six:
Virtual Series Finale
In the hallway, the doctor handed her a data padd.
“When the second bag is completed, you’ll need to assess him for fluid overload and administer a diuretic if he shows signs of pulmonary edema,” advised the doctor. T’Len nodded, saying nothing. She knew the old man’s prognosis. The transfusion was intended only to buy him time. The youthful physician paused as if searching for an appropriate way to phrase his next statement.
“You have been his nurse for over a year now. He trusts you. Is there no way to talk him out of this ill-advised plan?” he asked tentatively. T’Len eyed him sympathetically. Even at nearly 100 years his senior, she could understand the young man’s dilemma. Minister Kuvak was an infinitely stubborn individual. He’d chosen this young doctor precisely because he was the only physician the minister could find who would let him have his way. The young man was concerned for his patient, but also very concerned for his career. One word of disapproval from the minister could end it almost before it began. Still, he objected—carefully.
“He is quite determined to see his son before sickness takes him, and equally determined not to inconvenience the boy by forcing him to leave his place of employment for the months that a trip to Vulcan and back will require. He is resolved to die on Earth, and seems convinced that the reduced gravity and increased ambient oxygen concentration will lengthen his life,” she replied coolly, disliking the implication that this boy knew what was best for “her” patient. She was merely a nurse, that was true, but she’d been one for nearly twice as long as this child had been alive and had cared for helpless charges at every stage of life. In this instance, however, the boy might be right. There was no guarantee that the minister would even live to see his son again. Whether he waited here on Vulcan and sent for Kov or boarded a vessel to Earth to visit as he planned, the chances of him surviving another month were less than fifty percent.
The doctor raised a brow, considering her statement in evident surprise. “I hadn’t thought of that. You said that the transport vessel maintains Earth standard atmosphere and point eight standard Earth gravity?” T’Len nodded once in confirmation. The young physician regarded her thoughtfully. “That could make a difference...” he mused to himself as he turned to leave. He stopped and added, almost as an afterthought, “I will be available for consultation until your departure. The padd contains information for the medical officer aboard the Earth vessel. When Minister Kuvak wakes, please inform him that I have done all that I can to prolong his life, and that I wish him a good death when the moment arrives.” His face was solemn. T’Len nodded once again.
“I will do so, Doctor. I wish you peace and long life,” she returned soberly—without the accompanying gesture. Her hands were full.
“Live long, and prosper,” returned the doctor reflexively. He glanced at the closed bedroom door as if he were finally realizing that his illustrious patient would certainly do neither, and then turned brusquely. He didn’t look back as he exited the house.
We’ve hardly had the chance to meet her, and now she’s leaving, he thought wistfully. He took another sip, and then the door opened. He looked up, and for a moment he thought T’Pol stood at the threshold, but the woman standing silhouetted in the light from the hallway wore an unadorned blue coverall rather than one of his wife’s form-fitting uniforms. T’Mir’s auburn hair was bound tightly at the back of her neck, forced into a smooth, severe style quite unlike her usual barely disciplined curls. Her face was solemn and composed—very Vulcan. Only her piercing blue eyes betrayed her human heritage. She nodded in greeting without smiling.
“Good evening, Commander,” she told him. He smiled sadly, and then rose to meet her, tapping the illumination control on his way to brighten the room.
“You’re awful formal tonight, darlin’,” he replied. “What’s the occasion?”
T’Mir’s serenity broke for a moment, and she regarded him with a forlorn expression before regaining her control. She cleared her throat, staring at the deck plates.
She’s just a kid. Saying goodbye’s probably harder for her than it is for us, Trip realized suddenly.
“I am leaving soon. I must return to the discipline of my training or I will betray myself at my debriefing. When I return, you must be only Commander Charles Tucker, Chief Engineer of Enterprise to me,” responded T’Mir. Trip sighed.
Exactly like her mama...
“All right, then, ma’am,” he teased gently, returning to the table and pulling out a chair for her. “Come sit down next ta me and tell this complete stranger what yer plans are after ya leave Enterprise...if it’s not all top secret, that is,” he amended. He gave her an expectant look. She hesitated for a moment, and then gave him a small sheepish smile as she approached the table.
“I suppose it is stupid of me to ruin our last hours together by overreacting, isn’t it?” she replied quietly. His smile broadened and he pushed the chair snugly beneath her. Then he twisted off the cap of the first bottle of root beer and handed it to her as she sat down. She closed her eyes as she took the first swallow, abandoning all pretense of Vulcan control in her enjoyment of the taste. He chuckled. Finally giving up on the tea, he pushed it aside and opened his own bottle. They sat side by side for a moment, savoring the opportunity to share something singularly theirs. T’Mir swallowed and put her root beer deliberately on the table, as if she were trying to make it last longer. She sat back in her chair, seeming completely relaxed for the first time since she’d entered the room.
“When I leave here I’ll be debriefed first,” she began softly. “They do that first so you don’t forget the details. Then they’ll keep me basetime for a while to readjust. I’ve already been assigned to what the human students at the Temporal Academy used to call ‘babysitting duty’.” She raised an ironic brow and deadpanned, “I’ve never understood the reference, as performing such an assignment never involves being seated on or even in the general vicinity of an infant of any species.” Trip nearly choked on his mouthful of root beer laughing at her joke.
When he was able to speak without dribbling on his shirt, he asked curiously, still grinning. “So...who’re ya babysitting?”
She paused as if considering how much she should tell him, and then picked up her root beer again. “A Romulan recruit,” she said blandly, and then took another swig. Fortunately for Trip, his mouth was empty when she dropped that bombshell.
“A Romulan?!” he echoed in disbelief. “And they gave the assignment to you?!” He shook his head wonderingly. “What do they want, another war on their hands?”
She raised a brow. “In my adopted basetime, Romulans, Humans, and Vulcans have been at peace for well over five hundred years.”
“But you grew up fightin’ ‘em, T’Mir! They killed millions of your people. How can the TEA expect you to be objective about dealing first hand with one of ‘em?” he protested.
T’Mir tipped her head in acknowledgement of his statement. “Ordinarily I’d agree with you,” she admitted, “But this Romulan is different. I’ve had the opportunity to study him. He’s had a most unusual upbringing.” Trip eyed her suspiciously as she took another sip and swallowed. “In fact, I find many of his qualities quite admirable,” she concluded succinctly. Then she said nothing for several seconds. Trip studied her expression with his tongue firmly tucked into his cheek, trying to decipher her meaning.
Is it a “I’ve decided to postpone killing him for now” sort of admirable, or a “get ready for bumpy-headed grandkids” sort of admirable? he wondered. He still hadn’t quite decided which when the acting captain, the third guest invited to their exclusive going away celebration, arrived—uncharacteristically several minutes late. Trip smiled at T’Pol in welcome and got up to pull out her chair. She gave him a tolerant look and sat down. She was cool and collected appearing, as usual, but he sensed tension in the bond.
<<Yes, darlin’...I know you’re perfectly capable of pullin’ out your own chair,>> he sent teasingly, repeating a long-standing joke between them regarding her complete befuddlement over his old-fashioned southern manners. Her amusement lightened the mood, but she still seemed preoccupied.
“I apologize for being late. Captain Archer asked for a detailed status report when I visited him in Sickbay. Following that, he insisted that I admire his offspring and assist with the feeding process. Afterwards, I had to stop by my cabin for a change of clothing. Young Maria has formula retention issues,” she announced dryly to both of them. Trip chuckled. T’Mir smirked a bit.
“I noticed that earlier,” she quipped.
Trip pushed back from the table, glancing at T’Pol without a word.
<<I’ll call for dinner. Talk to T’Mir. She’s upset about havin’ to leave.>>
T’Mir, oblivious to his comment, took another swallow of her root beer. T’Pol sat calmly with her hands clasped before her on the table gazing evenly at T’Mir. Neither of them said anything. Trip rolled his eyes and stepped to the comm.
“Tucker to Chef. We’re all here and ready when you are.”
“Of course, Commander. Crewman Prudhomme is on his way with the cart.” Trip grinned. The dinner would be delicious, he was sure, but steward and part-time pastry chef Prudhomme made pecan pie good enough to die for. He turned back toward the table to find his wife and pseudo-daughter staring at each other across the table. He could sense T’Pol’s reluctance to speak. He felt both an overwhelming sadness and a sense of pride and respect in the bond.
“So....” he said nonchalantly into the silence of the room as he took his seat again, “How’re the captain and his family doin’, T’Pol? And how’s Hoshi?”
T’Pol disengaged her attention from T’Mir’s face with seeming difficulty to address his question. Her face was calm, but Trip sensed her turmoil. He realized that her grief over the impending loss of the young woman they’d come to accept as their daughter was warring with her parental pride over the girl’s very Vulcan response to her upcoming departure. Unlike Trip, T’Pol fully understood T’Mir’s need for a return to discipline, and was supporting her efforts in the only way she could.
“Mrs. Archer has awakened and seems to be mentally intact, although still physically weak,” replied T’Pol. “Hoshi was also weakened by her ordeal, but is recovering, thanks to Agent T’Mir’s healing skills.” She gave the girl a nod of gratitude, calling her by her title without a trace of familiarity in her manner. She fell silent after her brief status report, and her eyes fixed themselves on T’Mir’s face. Abruptly, Trip felt grief welling in the bond again. T’Mir seemed to sense her foster mother’s struggle, for she gave T’Pol the tiniest of sad smiles and reached out over the table to lay a hand over the older woman’s hands where they were clasped together on the table.
“Commander... I’m sorry,” began T’Mir hesitantly. T’Pol shook her head minutely and opened her hands to grip the girl’s fingers in hers.
“Do not apologize,” she murmured. Her posture was erect and her gaze was steady. She said emphatically, “You have done nothing which requires an apology.”
T’Mir sighed, shaking her head. “You’re wrong,” she countered gently. “I’ve been very selfish. To spare you this pain, all I had to do was remain silent.”
Her statement hung in the air for almost a full second before Trip shot it down. “Finding you and then losin’ you is a damn sight better than not ever knowin’ you at all,” he told her firmly. He reached over and laid a hand on top of theirs. His eyes met his wife’s for a moment, and she silently confirmed his statement. He turned back to T’Mir in full paternal authority mode.
“You believe me now, girl... I’m tellin’ you the truth. We both love you like you were our own Elizabeth. Don’t you ever feel bad about tellin’ us who you are, is that clear?”
T’Mir’s lips twitched upward just a fraction. “Yes, sir,” she replied.
The entry tone sounded loudly in the quiet room. Trip pulled his hand away. The women followed suit just in time to present a respectably professional picture for the steward who walked in pushing the cart. Trip closed his eyes and inhaled as his plate was placed before him. The smell was heavenly, just like home. He opened his eyes, licking his lips.
T’Mir eyed her plate hesitantly. “What is it?” she asked. Trip grinned at her.
“Red beans and rice, mustard greens and cornbread...the meatless meal of champions!” he replied enthusiastically. “Go ahead and dig in, but save room for dessert!”
Arabella had been content to remain at home, raising her daughter and managing her household, a task that was, in her mother the Matriarch’s opinion, beneath her—and more appropriately performed by a low ranking male. Of course, her mother had never approved of her partnership contract with Lana.
Captain Lana of the Fifth House, she amended with a secret smile. The two of them completed each other, and if her mother would never understand that, then at least her father was supportive. Galen had been horrified when both Lana and Arabella had announced their intention to travel to Earth together and to take their daughter Maya with them, but his wife’s wishes had prevailed, as usual. The Saber was traveling to Earth so that Marella, Arabella’s older sister—the smart one that their mother loved best, could attempt to instruct a group of human telepaths in the defense technique that she’d developed which had allowed Enterprise to defeat an entire Romulan attack force in orbit around Betazed. They would be in the Sol system for at least a year.
Likely longer, if that dumpy little ambassador mother likes so much is the most powerful telepath they could find, thought Arabella spitefully. She’d had no intention of remaining behind and under her mother’s thumb without Lana for a whole year. The prospect was intolerable. To her surprise, her mother had agreed with her. After the Matriarch’s assertion that “no place could be safer than a starship crewed by the best telepathic defense team on Betazed traveling two hundred light years away from the Romulan front”, Galen had been forced to agree with her, and Arabella had promptly been charged not only with the care of her own daughter, but also with the almost six year old heir to the Sixth House and probable eventual Matriarch of all Betazed if she chose to be, her niece Lianna.
She heard a rustle behind her and turned in the dimly lit room. The two girls were already asleep, curled together in the cubbyhole bed they shared. Lianna turned restlessly as if she were dreaming and then settled down again. Her fair skin contrasted with Maya’s dusky beauty. The two of them were so unlike, and not in the ways that Arabella had expected. Maya was just over a year old now, and everything concerning her was a struggle. Arabella had always thought that age two was the age when the “no’s” began. Maya was evidently very precocious.
Lianna was actually a help with her younger cousin. The older child was such a scarily powerful telepath that Arabella had initially feared she would be uncontrollable. Surprisingly, Lianna was an easygoing and amiable little girl, wise beyond her years. It would have been easy to become jealous of her and the close relationship she seemed to have with her grandmother, a relationship that Arabella had never been able to cultivate. Irana was as loving and open with Lianna as she was rigid and disapproving of Arabella, and nothing Arabella could do seemed to change that. She couldn’t bring herself to hate the little girl, though. She was simply too sweet and lovable to dislike for very long.
Arabella lifted the timepiece she kept suspended around her neck and looked at it yet again. Lana was very late. She wondered what was keeping her this time. It wasn’t as if they were in a war zone. They were traveling through Vulcan space now, and were almost to their destination. What could she possibly be doing that kept her away from their cabin every evening until the wee hours? Arabella had asked, and all she’d gotten were excuses about being “new to this captain business” and having to “live up to the Matriarch’s expectations”.
Arabella knew that Lana had been promoted two ranks at once in order to gain command of the Saber, and that some in the fleet believed that nepotism had played a role in her promotion. Arabella found it unlikely. The Matriarch had promoted Lana herself, in spite of rather than because of her relationship with Arabella. Irana vehemently disapproved of the two of them together, but apparently just as vehemently had insisted that Lana be in command of this diplomatic mission despite her youth. It was ridiculous, but there were times when Arabella was jealous of her own spouse’s relationship with her mother. Lana had served under Irana before her elevation to Matriarch, when Irana herself had been nothing more than the commanding officer of the Saber, and the trust she bore for Lana evidently knew no bounds. It was that trust that drove Lana to perfect her command skills, and her obsession with perfection that kept them apart. Arabella sighed. Even here in the vacuum of space her mother was in control. She shook her head and gave up waiting. It would be a long day tomorrow. The girls usually woke early.
She dimmed the lights further and climbed between the sheets. She’d barely closed her eyes when she heard a whimper from the far side of the room. When whimpering became sobbing, she opened her eyes again with a resigned sigh and turned toward the small bed set into the wall, part of an automatic escape pod designed to protect the girls in case of depressurization. Maya was still out cold, but Lianna sat bolt upright in bed, sobbing quietly. Arabella shook her head ruefully. She’d been waiting for this since they’d come aboard. Both of Lianna’s parents had died aboard this ship while she’d been traveling with them almost two years previously. The ship had undergone extensive refitting since then, but much of the interior decor remained the same. It had only been a matter of time, Arabella was sure, before Lianna would at least unconsciously make the connection.
<<Lianna, baby, come here,>> sent Arabella gently. <<What’s wrong?>>
The child’s wide black eyes contrasted sharply with her pale complexion in the darkness. She stared at Arabella solemnly, sniffing back her tears.
<<They’re coming...>> she sent ominously, the childish purity of her thoughts contrasting sharply with the sheer power behind them. The strength of her sending made Arabella wince.
<<The bad people are coming.>>
She is not my daughter, and yet she is... And now we must say goodbye. The thought sent pain through her. Her right hand lifted of its own volition to touch an auburn curl that had escaped T’Mir’s hair elastic. Their eyes met. T’Mir grasped T’Pol’s hand and held it in place, simultaneously extending her own hand to touch the older woman’s temple lightly with the tips of three fingers and her thumb. She hesitated a moment with a questioning look on her face. T’Pol realized what the girl was offering, and nearly stepped back apprehensively. Mind melds with anyone other than her bondmate were not on her list of preferred activities. The hurt expression on T’Mir’s face at her hesitation made her reconsider. Perhaps just a surface meld...to say goodbye, she decided. As the thought occurred to her, her barriers fell, and she sensed Trip’s presence in her mind. T’Mir extended her opposite hand and rested her fingertips on the side of Trip’s head as well.
<<You all right, T’Pol?>> His concerned sending reached her just as she nodded once, maintaining eye contact with T’Mir, and deliberately spread her own fingers over the girl’s temple. She closed her eyes as T’Mir’s muttered words sounded in her ears.
“Our minds are merging. Our minds are one...”
T’Pol steeled herself for the invasion that, based on all of her previous experiences, a mind meld with anyone but her mate was sure to involve. Even T’Pau had hardly been gentle. Instead, she sensed a hesitant mental presence, almost childish in its desire for acceptance and approval, hovering tantalizingly out of reach.
<<T’Mir?>> she ventured, dropping the last of her shields.
T’Pol opened her eyes and found herself on a brightly white sandy beach with the surf pounding rhythmically to her left and dunes covered with sea grass waving in the salt-scented breeze to her right. The deserted shore extended without end before her.
“Hey, darlin’!” Trip’s voice called from behind her. She turned to find her husband, dressed for the occasion in a loudly floral shirt and ragged khaki shorts, walking arm in arm with a slender girl dressed in a halter top and a sarong skirt in a matching floral print. The girl possessed a wind-tousled head full of auburn curls which so effectively hid her brows and ears that it took T’Pol a moment to recognize her smiling face. T’Mir held out a hand.
“Come and wade with us,” she invited. T’Pol had never seen her so relaxed... so human. T’Pol studied both of them. She’d never really noticed before how much T’Mir resembled Trip when she smiled. They truly looked like father and daughter, except for the fact that Trip looked too young to have a daughter T’Mir’s age.
“I’m not dressed for wading. You two go ahead,” she demurred. Trip dropped T’Mir’s arm and stood with hands on his hips, staring at T’Pol in consternation.
“T’Pol! Just change!” he insisted with an incredulous smile.
T’Mir gave her an understanding look. “I retrieved a memory of the proper attire for this setting from Commander Tucker. Perhaps you could do the same,” she suggested. “Just let him decide what you should wear.”
T’Pol’s eyes narrowed as she inspected Trip’s irrepressibly mischievous expression. She decided not to take the chance, and in a blink attired herself in an outfit to match T’Mir’s. Trip’s smile broadened. She sensed his approval and his desire as he gave her a once over from head to foot.
<<Behave!>> she sent teasingly, flattered by his attention despite herself. Trip’s tongue took up residence in his cheek, but he nodded once in mocking acquiescence. T’Mir smiled with delight and extended her hands. Trip and T’Pol each took one, and they turned toward the surf.
Being Vulcan, T’Pol possessed an infallible inner time sense, and although that sense told her that mere minutes were elapsing, somehow the three of them subjectively spent a long, lazy, sunny afternoon at the beach—talking, wading, and enjoying each other’s company. At the end of several subjective hours they sat on the sand sipping imaginary virgin pina coladas and watching the sun set in vivid hues of orange tinged with pink.
“I wish...” T’Mir began wistfully. She sighed and stopped mid-sentence. She looked thoughtfully out over the water for several seconds, and then she smiled a bit. Sea birds squawked in the distance. The surf struck the shore in an irregular rhythm. Trip reached out and clasped T’Pol’s hand, his eyes fixed on the girl’s face as if he were memorizing her features. T’Mir turned to face them.
“I have a story to tell you both,” she said, with an expression on her face that promised good things. “It’s about my temporal mechanics instructor at the academy. He was a base-timer.” At their puzzled expressions, she continued. “That means he was born in and lived in the approved timeline. He wasn’t an agent. He went home to his family at night,” she explained. Her smile grew broader and her eyes twinkled. “The man was a stickler for detail, but he really knew his subject.” She paused. T’Pol raised an expectant brow.
T’Mir bit her lip as if to keep from laughing, and then, all in a rush, said, “...And his ears were pointed because he was part Vulcan and his name was Charles Sorak Tucker. He said he was named after two very famous ancestors.”
T’Pol blinked, absorbing the information she’d just given them. “Sorak was my father’s name,” she said. T’Mir’s grin broadened.
“Exactly,” she said with relish.
Trip stared at them both. His face split in a delighted grin. “So... you’re sayin’ that T’Pol and I... that we...”
T’Mir’s face sobered—to a point. Her eyes still sparkled with suppressed merriment over their reaction to her news, but her expression changed to one of polite attention—an expression more appropriate for a Vulcan.
“You are correct, Commander,” she confirmed gently. With the slightest of wistful smiles, she set her empty glass down in the sand and stood up. Her clothing suddenly morphed into the dark blue coverall she’d been wearing before their impromptu vacation had begun. The sun, setting behind her, backlit her curls in burnished copper tones.
“Take care of each other,” she began softly. Trip scrambled to his feet. T’Pol could sense his dismay over T’Mir’s imminent departure, but he didn’t say anything. Instead, he held out both arms and smiled invitingly. T’Mir raised a brow at him, and then abandoned her attempt at Vulcan decorum to step up and throw both arms firmly about him, eliciting a pained grunt.
“You be careful, now,” Trip managed to whisper, and squeezed back. They released each other finally, and T’Mir turned toward T’Pol. There was truly nothing to say except the obvious.
“Peace and long life, T’Mir of Vulcan,” whispered T’Pol. She fought the urge to shed the tears her heart was demanding, and remained dry-eyed—or at least she remained so here in her imagination. A part of her could sense the wetness on her cheeks as she stood in the Captain’s dining room locked in a meld with the girl she’d come accept as her daughter.
“Live long and prosper, Commander,” replied the girl stoically. She stood proudly and solemnly, staring at T’Pol for several seconds before she broke down and threw both arms around T’Pol’s neck.
“I will see you both again if it is within my power to do so...I promise!” T’Mir whispered fiercely into T’Pol’s shoulder. It was too much. Tears spilled over then, but T’Pol felt no shame. She wrapped both arms around her daughter and held on tight. Trip stepped up and enveloped them both, and they embraced until their tears were dry.
It seemed a mutual decision when they broke the meld and found themselves back in the Captain’s dining room. T’Mir stepped back, gave them both her wry little smile, activated the temporal stabilizer she had wrapped around her upper arm, and vanished, leaving them standing with empty arms.
Marella sighed. She’d revised the title of her course syllabus seven times and it still seemed awkward and pretentious. Maybe I should just call it “Gorking Romulans 101”, she thought, only half-jokingly.
The comm call signal sounded. She reached across the desk in her quarters to activate it.
“Marella here,” she responded, expecting a request for a headache remedy or something similar. In addition to her newly acquired position as the Betazoid medical ambassador to Earth, she was still serving as ship’s medical officer.
“’Rella? It’s me.”
Marella smiled knowingly. Lana must be working late again, she thought. Arabella only used the childish nickname when she was lonely or she wanted something.
“Is there a problem, ‘Bella?” she responded teasingly. Arabella had always hated the fact that their names rhymed, but, for once, her baby sister completely ignored the jibe.
“Ummm... should I be concerned that Lianna can’t sleep because she’s sure that something terrible’s about to happen?” she asked hesitantly, sounding worried.
“She’s probably just finally associating this ship with her parents’ death,” Marella reassured her.
“That’s what I thought at first, too,” replied Arabella, “...but she’s trying to send me what she’s sensing, and I’ve never felt anything like it before. She’s scaring me!” Her voice shook and she sounded on the verge of tears.
Marella rolled her eyes. Her sister could be such a drama queen.
“I’m on my way,” she replied tolerantly, grabbing her medical kit from the chair beside her. Lianna was probably fine, but it sounded like Arabella needed something to help her sleep.
As she pushed back from the desk in her quarters an alarm began to sound, blaring rhythmically. When she opened the door it became nearly deafening, reverberating down the corridor. As she made her way at a rapid walk toward the cabin Arabella shared with Lana and the girls, the ship shuttered as if colliding with a massive object. The impact nearly knocked her off her feet.
<<Arabella!>> she sent as forcefully as she could as she approached her sister’s cabin. Arabella met her at the door in a panic, eyes wide and hyperventilating. Behind her, both Maya and Lianna were screaming.
“They’re here! They’re here!” cried the little girl over her infant cousin’s wails.
Her shrill voice was piercing, but it was nothing compared to what she was broadcasting mentally. Now that Marella was in the same room with the child she could sense what Lianna was sensing, and the import of it made Marella’s blood run cold. She grabbed Arabella by one arm and pulled her toward the emergency pod that doubled as a crib for the children, speaking firmly and clearly to her sister in an attempt to penetrate her panic.
“We’re under attack. Get inside. Take care of the girls. I need to get to Sickbay,” said Marella, making eye contact with the younger woman. Arabella turned her head toward the emergency pod as if to comply, but when Marella moved to leave she felt desperate fingers clutching her sleeve.
“Don’t leave me!” Arabella begged. As Marella reached to pry her hand away, the comm system began broadcasting an automated alarm.
“Decompression alert. Decompression alert. Emergency bulkheads activating. All hands report to emergency escape pods.”
Marella tore her arm out of Arabella’s grip and raced out of the cabin. As she reached the corridor, she saw the emergency bulkhead slam shut.
“Rings and sabers!” she cursed. There was no way to get to Sickbay now. She turned to the comm station on the wall.
“Marella to the bridge.”
There was no response, only ominous static. She pressed the button again with a sinking heart.
“Marella to Sickbay.”
Still nothing. She pressed the all-call button.
“This is the Chief Medical Officer. Can anyone hear me?”
More static crackled, and then a voice replied in a husky whisper.
“This is Chief Engineer Donata. Stay off the comm and get to the nearest emergency pod, Marella. We’ve been boarded. The bridge is destroyed, warp engines are disabled and my controls are fried. I’ve set the core to blow manually. Get off the ship now. You have one minute.”
Marella winced sympathetically. Donata was a tough old bird, difficult to get along with on the best of days, but she didn’t deserve to die like this—of course, neither had the bridge crew. Arabella was going to be hysterical when she found out.
“Acknowledged, Chief. Good luck,” replied Marella sincerely. It took her only a few seconds to make it back to Arabella’s quarters. She ran across the room and dove into the small pod, sealing the hatch behind her.
“What’s happened? What’s wrong?” Arabella demanded. Marella ignored her, following the prompts as rapidly as she could manage to detach the pod. With a hiss and a sudden jerk, the explosive bolts fired, propelling them away from the ship. The pod rotated nauseatingly as it was pushed several kilometers in just a few seconds by automatic thrusters. Maya, who’d been clinging to her mother, began to cry. Lianna remained strangely silent. After her initial fearful outburst, the child had curled herself up in a ball in the corner of the mattress which formed the floor of the small pod, clinging to a handhold with an expression much too serious and solemn for a normal child her age. Marella felt certain that she knew precisely what was going on. The chamber jerked sharply as the stabilizer jets kicked in, stopping their spin just in time for Marella to get a ringside view through the porthole of the Saber exploding silently in the vacuum of space, taking a Romulan warbird with it.
“It’s late. I’ll meet you for breakfast at 0730,” she said calmly, and then turned to enter her cabin. The iciness of her manner chilled him to the bone—and then made him angry. He stepped forward, grasped her upper arm and whispered emphatically, “Oh, no...You’re not gonna do this, T’Pol! It’s only 2100 hours. Lemme in and let’s talk.”
The physical contact allowed him to break past the most superficial of her barriers, and he felt the grief seething within her. His anger fled immediately, replaced by concern.
“You can’t stuff this. You need to share it or it’ll eat you up inside,” he told her softly, gazing sympathetically into her eyes. He smiled wryly. “That’s what husbands are for, T’Pol. Let me do my job.”
She said nothing, but she yielded, stepping aside to allow him entry before shutting the door.
“Shared grief is a human custom. Vulcans don’t indulge in it,” she told him stiffly, standing with her hands clasped behind her as he faced her from across the room.
“You did when Elizabeth died,” he challenged. “Why is this any different?” She winced visibly at his comparison. He immediately felt remorse over bringing up the subject. But somebody’s got to make her deal with this, dammit! he thought.
“T’Mir is not dead. She is simply...unavailable,” replied T’Pol stoutly. “There is no logical reason for grief.”
Trip smiled sadly, shaking his head. He stepped forward and placed both hands on her shoulders, brushing them gently down over her upper arms the way he knew she liked. “No reason? T’Pol, we’ll probably never see her again! It’s perfectly normal to miss her,” he protested.
She closed her eyes; a stricken expression was on her face. “I’m in command. I can’t allow anything to distract me now.”
He continued to stroke her arms softly, smiling down at her. “Even an acting captain needs the occasional distraction, T’Pol. ‘All work and no play...’ and all that, ya know.”
T’Pol opened her eyes and raised a brow at him. Her hands came to rest palm down on his chest. “That is a most illogical concept, husband,” she replied mildly. He bent his head and took the tip of her right ear between his teeth. She inhaled sharply, closing her eyes again. He chuckled, and followed the line of her jaw with soft kisses until he reached her lips.
“Maybe so...but it’s true,” he countered into her mouth, smiling. He held back from contact, trying to tempt her into opening up to him. He could feel her barriers falling. Her hands slid over his chest, causing shivers to run up his spine before locking behind his head. The movement brought her lush body in full contact with his. He groaned, and was about to give up and just kiss her when she tugged firmly on the back of his head and did it for him. The sensation of her hot tongue in his mouth and her sudden passionate presence inside his head made him cry out. There was no more discussion as their clothes were discarded. Grief brought tears to his eyes. She kissed them away. Sadness was replaced by joy as they joined, despair replaced by hope. They belonged together. They completed each other, and they were destined to continue to do so, at least for a while. It was enough.
Paul Mayweather looked up from his list of passenger requests and gave the helmsman a harried look. The Vulcan female passenger was at it again. This time she wanted a five degree increase in the temperature of the minister’s cabin. It was already set at 37 degrees Celsius. The radiant heat alone would fry every computer terminal in the vicinity. Despite his boy-with-a-toy glee over the brand new warp 3 engine Starfleet had installed on his ship in exchange for the Horizon’s new tour of duty, he found himself nostalgic at times for the simplicity of the Dreylax/Vega run. Dilithium ore never complained.
“Check the Starfleet diplomatic registry, Johnny,” he told the tow-headed young man. “Any ship legitimately traveling in this area of space should be on it.” He watched as the baby-faced adopted son of his second cousins did a proficient data search and smiled. Young Mr. Orcutt was adapting quite well to his change of posting. Although he lacked the family resemblance, his parents had apparently managed to impart the family skills.
“It’s a Betazoid diplomatic courier, sir... the Saber of Betazed,” the boy confirmed. “It’s an escape pod beacon,” he added in alarm, looking up from his terminal. “The main ship’s beacon isn’t registering.”
“How far is it from our present heading? How much time will we lose?” asked Mayweather. He’d been told in no uncertain terms by both Starfleet Command and the Vulcan High Council that his passenger’s timely arrival to Earth took top priority. He could see why. The old guy had seemed on the brink of death when he’d boarded the ship in Vulcan orbit. It was possible that the minister would die enroute, Mayweather had been told. Not if he could help it. The Horizon was no hearse.
Helmsman Orcutt did some quick calculations. “Only three hours at warp 3,” he replied with a hopeful look. He’d grown up on a Boomer freighter too, and was positively beside himself over the Horizon’s newly acquired capabilities. Warp 3 was their theoretically maximum speed with the new engine. To preserve structural integrity, though, they’d been traveling along at a not inconsiderable warp 2.8. Although their current speed was still a full order of magnitude faster than their previous engine had been capable of, Johnny’s puppy dog expression spoke of his sincere desire to stretch his wings.
“All right, son,” replied Mayweather just a little indulgently. He grinned back at Johnny. “Let’s see what this baby can do!” He reached out a hand and activated the ship’s comm.
“Bridge to engine room. We’re responding to a distress signal. I need maximum warp!”
“Maximum warp!” grumbled Rianna as she monitored the new engine’s readouts. “As if this were some sort of battle cruiser!” Sometimes her oldest son was just too big for his britches.
She brought up the internal scanner’s datastream and set alarms to monitor structural integrity. The engine might be new, but the ship herself was almost as old as her chief engineer and sometime medic, and Rianna knew from personal experience just how old that was. At this speed something was likely to fall right off at any minute.
She picked up a wrench and had to think for a second before she remembered what she’d intended to do with it. The subspace message she’d received from Travis had her rattled. She’d expected a message about wanting to see them again now that the Horizon was frequenting the Sol system. Instead, she’d gotten the surprise of her life. She hadn’t known whether to cry or laugh over the vids of her half-Betazoid granddaughter. The child was so much like Travis at that age.
How could he have done something like that? I taught him to take precautions! And then, to leave his own child on an alien planet to be raised by strangers! She sat up again and reached for the wrench, viciously yanking on the stem bolts that held the panel in place to close it, taking her frustration out on the inanimate objects around her.
Guess not all of them were complete strangers... she thought with a rueful chuckle, shaking her head. He hadn’t been very forthcoming about the circumstances of the infant’s conception, but both of the young women on the vids Travis had sent were very beautiful. It was a peculiar situation, but she seriously doubted that he’d been forced into it.
She sighed and climbed laboriously to her feet with a crackle from her creaky old knees and back despite the ship’s point eight standard gravity. The worst part of the situation, she supposed, was never being able to meet her own granddaughter. She didn’t see how she’d ever be able to go to Betazed. Even after this war was over fuel costs would be prohibitive, and even at warp 3 it would take them over a year to get there.
Maybe I should ask Starfleet if I can hitch a ride the next time Enterprise heads in that direction? she mused with a wistful smile. Paul would probably love to get rid of me and hire a chief engineer who’ll take his orders without argument. Try as she might, she never seemed to be able to forget that “Captain Paul Mayweather” was also her baby boy, and their interactions often amused the rest of the crew. She hadn’t told Paul about Travis’ message yet. His reaction was going to be interesting, to say the least. He didn’t think much of Travis’ maturity or stability, and this situation wasn’t going to help matters at all. Maybe it was time for her to retire. She wondered what the weather was like on Betazed.
<<I’m here, ‘Bella, sweetie. I’m here...>> she sent blearily, half asleep. All Marella could sense from her was raw grief and the sincere desire to die. The first was expected. The second woke her up completely in alarm. She sat up and opened the medical kit she still wore over one shoulder. <<None of that, now. Lana wouldn’t want that. The girls need you,>> Marella soothed. She set the hypospray and pressed it to her sister’s neck. Blessed silence ensued.
Marella tucked the hypospray back into her medical kit and then craned her neck to look at the clock. They’d been in the escape pod for six hours. That left roughly another twelve hours before oxygen levels would start to run low. It wasn’t designed for a lengthy occupancy, only granting enough time for rescue during a battle situation when it was assumed that other ships would be in the vicinity to render aid. Marella sighed and laid her head back down. A person at rest consumes less oxygen, she reminded herself firmly. Go to sleep. Despite her fatigue, though, her eyes stubbornly refused to close. She focused her gaze on the wall in front of her and willed her breathing to slow. The soft susurration of air traveling between the parted lips of the four occupants of the pod was the only sound she heard. She concentrated on the hypnotic rhythm until her eyelids flickered shut...
The blare of the proximity alarm jerked her awake with a sudden start. Maya woke as well, and began to cry. Lianna, surprisingly, reached for her infant cousin and soothed her with remarkable maturity. Arabella slept a drug-induced sleep, oblivious. Marella sat up to look out of the porthole. The pod had no transmitter other than its emergency beacon, and so she had no way of communicating with their rescuers, but it was obvious that they’d been discovered. The outline of the ship was unfamiliar to her, but the name painted on the hull was in English, the language she’d been studying for the past several weeks. The ship’s name was Horizon.
“Good evening, Lieutenant Commander!” called Phlox with even more than his usual cheerfulness as he walked out of the lab where his menagerie was housed. “Ready for your checkup?”
Hess grimaced. “I forgot it was time already,” she admitted. She walked to a biobed and awkwardly hoisted herself onto it. She gazed longingly across the chamber at the curtained alcove which was now the Archers’ domain as Doctor Phlox scanned her hugely pregnant abdomen.
“Young Milo is strong and healthy!” he announced with a broad smile. He showed her the screen and she admired her son, who weighed over six pounds now and was at that moment sucking his thumb. It was difficult to tell from a scan, but it certainly seemed as if he resembled his father.
“He’s very long for a 38 weeker!” exclaimed Phlox. Hess smiled to herself.
Definitely like his father! she decided.
“Any contractions?” asked Phlox as he put the scanner into its niche and downloaded the images. He turned to a nearby work station to input his exam findings and paused, looking at her inquiringly with his fingers over the keys.
“A few,” admitted Hess. “Mostly when I exert myself. I had three or four back to back after my workout yesterday. I was about to call you, but they stopped,” she shrugged.
Phlox smiled and chuckled as he keyed in her history. “You may want to hold off on the workouts if you really expect to have this baby in San Francisco,” he replied. Hess looked dismayed.
“You really think so? I’m not due for two weeks, and we’re supposed to be at Jupiter Station in five days. I’m gonna make it, right?”
Phlox shrugged. “I have no idea. The estimation of due dates is far from an exact science, Lieutenant Commander. You could have this baby tomorrow, or not for another month. In humans, the 40 week gestational period has always been plus or minus two weeks.” He grinned sympathetically at her alarm. “If exertion triggers contractions, I can put you on medical leave,” he offered. “That might buy you some time.”
Hess laughed and shook her head. “No thanks, Doc. I’d go nuts in my cabin for another five days. I will stay out of the gym, though.” She slid down carefully from the biobed and looked over at the opposite end of the room. Cutler must have heard her arrive; she’d pulled back the curtains and the captain was helping his wife into a wheelchair. Hess grinned brightly and headed off toward the trio.
“Thanks, Doc! Time to babysit!” she called over her shoulder.
“Is that you, Jan? Don’t tell me you’ve come to visit me again?” Elena Archer squinted across the room with a smile. Her vision was still affected by the eclampsia, but Phlox had reassured them that the change wasn’t permanent. The captain flipped her footrests down with practiced skill, guided her feet into them, and then stepped behind her chair and started pushing her toward the exit. Cutler followed them carrying a padd to record her physical therapy notes.
“You? Why would I visit you? I’m here for my baby fix!” teased Janice as she stooped to give Elena a one-armed hug and a kiss on the cheek where they met mid-way across Sickbay.
Captain Archer chuckled. “We appreciate your diligence, Lieutenant Commander. We’ll be in the gym if you need us.”
“Take your time!” returned Hess blithely, making a beeline for the incubators. To her disappointment, the infants had apparently just been fed. Maria had a blissful expression on her chubby face. She burped in her sleep, dribbling milk. Jon Jr., on the other hand, was calmly awake and alert. Compared to his sister he was small and lean. Since he was awake, Janice had no qualms about scooping him up and having a seat in one of the rocking chairs that she and Commander Tucker had cobbled together. The baby held her gaze with an expression that seemed oddly wise for a week old infant. She stroked his peach-fuzz covered head with one hand. It fit within her palm. He was getting bigger by the day, but still weighed less than four pounds.
“Hello, sweet boy! My little Milo’s already bigger than you!” she whispered fondly. Jon stared back at her, as solemn as a Vulcan. She laughed. “But you’re a smart one, aren’t you?” she teased.
Young Jon smiled—or perhaps it was just a gas pain.
Phlox had to be careful. Although he’d been given no specific orders to the contrary, had he actually asked permission to do the research he’d been doing in the months since the surgical transporter had come into their possession, he was virtually certain that the answer would have been no. So he hadn’t asked. As far as he was concerned, until he delivered the device into the hands of Starfleet researchers it was his to do with as he pleased.
How do the humans put it? “Finders, keepers?” he thought with a grin.
He hadn’t been entirely truthful with the captain. Although it was true that he’d never operated the surgical transporter for obstetric purposes, he had been doing some less drastic experimentation on his own. In the early hours of gamma shift when the ship was being operated by a skeleton crew of less experienced personnel, Phlox, without the human need for sleep, had been investigating the potential uses of the device they’d picked up in the Kreptagh system.
Combat injuries were on the rise. Particularly deadly were the plasma burns and coolant leak burns which would eat away the victim’s skin and soft tissue, leaving them at risk for secondary infections and sepsis. Synthetic skin replacements and cultured skin graft materials were available, but they couldn’t replace lost muscle and subcutaneous fat. Phlox’s first thought when he’d seen what the surgical transporter could do had been—what if we could replace lost tissue with the transporter?
His first experiment had involved a pair of furry little animals humans called guinea pigs. Their varied fur patterns had been ideal for his purposes. It hadn’t seemed to bother them at all when he’d used the transporter to exchange a patch of skin and subcutaneous tissue—with attached fur—from the gold colored animal to the black one and vice versa. Unfortunately, the animals’ immune systems rapidly recognized the exchanged tissue as foreign, and both animals now would require daily doses of immune suppressants for the rest of their short little lives to prevent rejection of the tissue. So he’d tried again. For the second experiment, he used the recipient’s own cells as the source material for the transport so the DNA would match, and used the pattern of the donor stored in the buffer of the transporter for the structure of the tissue, reasoning that if he used the pattern of the recipient there’d be no way to tell the difference and no way to determine if the experiment had been a success. He’d achieved his goal after several attempts. The gold guinea pig had ended up with a neat black patch in the middle of his back—no rejection. Last night he’d done an entire limb. The replacement functioned just as well as the original, and the recipient was still alive, without a trace of rejection. It was the medical breakthrough of the century. All he had to do now was write up his findings. Starfleet medical would no doubt want to continue his work. Perhaps in a year or so human trials for skin grafting might be possible. He hummed cheerfully as he took a seat at his console to begin writing. Medicine was just so much fun.
It’s a good thing that we have less than a week left of this, thought Liz irritably. Otherwise I might just end up in the brig next to Rostov for assaulting a superior officer!
She entered the door code and stepped into the cabin. A shower was going to feel so good! As the door shut behind her she turned with great anticipation toward the entrance to the bathroom, but stopped when she noticed the “message waiting” icon traveling across the screen of the computer console on her desk. She plopped down in the chair with a puzzled expression. Who would be calling her now? She’d just talked to her sister the day before to plan her visit home. It was all arranged, money was tight back home, and subspace calls were expensive. She clicked on the icon, and her heart skipped a beat when the Starfleet Security seal materialized in the middle of the screen. The message was encrypted, and for a panicked moment she completely forgot the decryption code she’d been given the last time they’d left Earth. She’d almost forgotten the encounter altogether. She hadn’t even seen the face of the agent who’d asked for her help.
It was real, she reminded herself. He said they’d be contacting me if their operative needed confidential medical assistance. There had been no time for questions. She didn’t even know which member of Enterprise’s crew was the intelligence agent she was supposed to help.
Okay, Liz...chill, she told herself, closing her eyes and exhaling. The code came to her, and she entered it. A text document came up, no video. Her eyes widened as she read.
This information is Top Secret. Do not divulge it to anyone without explicit permission from Starfleet Intelligence.
It has come to the attention of our research and development division that your ship’s Chief Medical Officer has been engaging in unauthorized medical experiments using equipment which is the sole property of Starfleet Intelligence. He is considered a security risk at this time due to the escalation of conflict between humans and non-humans both in-system and out. You have been assigned to determine the exact nature of this research and to communicate any and all findings to the following address. After you have done so, stand by for further instructions.
Below the text was a subspace address, but Liz didn’t see it. She was too busy fuming.
They want me to spy on Phlox!
That had never been part of the deal. If the guy who’d initially recruited her had suggested it she would have said not only “no”, but “hell, no”. Obviously, Starfleet Intelligence had known that. That’s why they’d waited until now to tell her what they really wanted from her. They knew she didn’t have a choice unless she wanted to flush her career right down the toilet. She stared at her orders, too angry to think straight. Despite their mutual decision to end their short-lived romantic relationship, Phlox was an irreplaceable part of her life now—a friend, mentor, and an endless source of encouragement. There was no way in hell that she’d ever betray him. Now she just had to figure out how to avoid it without trashing her career.
“Maya...,” coaxed Rianna Mayweather in an oddly tender tone. “Come here, sweetheart. I won’t hurt you.” She knelt in the center of the room, laid the medical scanner she’d evidently been trying to use on the child on the deck beside her, and held out her arms. A curly haired little girl stood beside her. The girl’s eyes were black on black. She looked maybe five or six years old. She said nothing, staring at the teary-eyed toddler. Then she held her hand out imperiously. The baby released his legs and walked reluctantly forward with a pouting expression. At first he thought that she was obeying his mother until she went straight to the black-eyed girl, put out her tiny brown hand, and grasped the older girl’s paler fingers.
“Please don’t be insulted. Maya is shy with strangers,” said a soft female voice with the trace of a lilting accent. He turned his head to find another set of all-black eyes, this time in a lovely adult face framed by ebony ringlets. The woman smiled at him politely, but looked tired and sad.
“Marella of the Sixth House, Saber’s medical officer,” she said, extending her right hand in human fashion. He grasped it reflexively.
“Paul Mayweather. I’m the captain of the Horizon,” he replied warmly. “Welcome aboard.” Her unusual eyes intrigued him, and he held on a bit longer than was entirely appropriate while he studied them. Her brow went up in surprise, and her smile became genuine.
“Charm is a family trait, I see,” she murmured in an amused voice.
He eyed her hesitantly, and then turned toward his mother, who was holding the baby tightly in her arms and rocking her from side to side while she wailed, reaching for a second young woman who lay unresponsive on a stretcher behind them.
“My sister Arabella. She and the girls were passengers. She should wake up any time now. I gave her a sedative about six hours ago. Her spouse, the captain, was killed when the ship was destroyed,” explained Marella sadly.
Paul grimaced sympathetically. The sleeping woman was little more than a girl.
“Is this everyone that survived?” he asked softly.
“Did you pick up any other escape pod signals?” asked Marella. “The Saber had a crew complement of six in addition to myself, my sister, and the girls.”
Paul shook his head regretfully. “Yours was the only signal. Everything else is debris,” he replied. She nodded in comprehension, dry-eyed. He found himself admiring her composure.
“The diplomatic registry indicates that your destination was Earth,” Paul told her. “As the only surviving crew member, it’s your decision whether to continue to your destination or to request transport back to Betazed, but I’m afraid you’ll have to go with us to Jupiter Station either way. I’ve got a high priority passenger and I can’t delay our return to bring you to another system,” he continued apologetically.
“Maya?” said Arabella sleepily. The baby squealed, Arabella grunted, and the two looked up to find the young woman sitting up in bed with a much happier toddler wrapped snugly around her, squeezing the wind out of her mother. Their contrasting complexions surprised him. The child seemed familiar to him, but she looked nothing like Arabella.
“Arabella is Maya’s mother, then?” he asked curiously.
Rianne, who was busy checking both mother and daughter with a medical scanner, glanced at her son almost guiltily. ”Let’s not bother them with too many questions, Paul. I’m sure they’re tired after all they’ve been through. Why don’t you show Marella and young Lianna to their cabin?” she suggested, indicating the little girl, who blinked solemnly up at Paul. She still hadn’t said a word.
Paul stared quizzically at his mother for a moment, and then decided that she was probably right. Questions could wait until later. They had nearly a week before their scheduled arrival at Jupiter Station. He smiled charmingly at Lianna.
“Hello, Lianna. Want to see where you’re going to stay?” he asked. The little girl looked him up and down for several seconds before speaking for the first time in his presence.
“You don’t look much like Uncle Travis,” she said nonchalantly. “He’s much prettier.”
Paul Mayweather blinked, staring at the child in puzzlement. “Uncle Travis...?”
To be continued...
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