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The Forgotten Time II: Ashaya-Ch 14
Author - enterpriseScribe
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The Forgotten Time II: Ashaya
Distribution: E-mail email@example.com for author permission.
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A/N: All Vulcan words are my best try from the Vulcan Language Database. :-)
Timeframe: Between episodes Kir’Shara and Daedalus—circa January 2155. That’s when I actually started writing this story!! :D
“I may be goin’ down…” Trip grunted into Koss’ pointed ear, “but damned if I’m not draggin’ you with me, Grandpa!”
Trip swallowed down violent nausea, as he forced Koss to T’Les’ living room floor—momentarily able to thwart the stronger Vulcan who temporarily reeled under a battering of savage, illogical, human emotions.
Trip remembered the still-active weapon Koss had abandoned. It was within reach, and he lost his concentrated force of energy somewhat as he smacked at what he hoped was the deactivation key.
The momentary lull was the only thing Koss needed to finally lift his hand in the ancient, repulsive, but necessary, way to Trip’s face. The human could not be allowed to recall this incident.
The fingers the human man felt clamp viciously upon his cheek and jaw seemed to stab without resistance straight through his flesh and bone and into the centre of his skull. Metaphorically, Koss squeezed, trapping the psyche he clutched in his crushing mental fist, twisting it.
Neither man moved now: both bodies strained—paused in time and physical reality—and Trip tried not to panic as he realised that Koss had actually ensnared his psyche in the palm of his hand. And he was irrevocably pressing inward, until the strain became too much—and Trip snuffed out like a light.
* * *
At the memory of Koss bending over his wife’s exposed flesh, rage seethed in Trip’s chest—even as he wondered how such a thing could be, when his chest was clearly over there, across the room. So—what now? Was he dead? What was happening? Why hadn’t T’Pol awakened? How long had he been out?
A sick sense of someone else’s amusement, tainted with a fetid cloud of hatred, washed over Trip. He turned without feet or legs and discovered that Koss hovered nearby—though his body, too, was out of commission and slackly heaped against Trip’s, five metres away.
The other man’s thought processes were palpably observable. His imaginary clothing had unconsciously become a uniform—strangely—that of a Klingon warrior. He bore the highest rank in the Klingon Deep Space Fleet upon his chest. Yet, oddly, his belt was of rope. Koss did not seem to notice any of this about himself.
Trip took it all in silently, holding himself in a state of cat-like readiness for whatever his unpredictable foe should choose to do next. Koss didn’t exactly laugh, but he watched his human prey with condescension and false pity in his weirdly-fevered, bruised-looking eyes.
“Do you suppose you are in ‘heaven’ now, little human man?” he asked mockingly, glitteringly.
Trip tried not to shiver at the slightly unstrung nature of Koss’ projected voice, and the result was that he shivered harder than ever. Clearly now was the time to suddenly become competent in the arts of mental control, Trip thought desperately to himself as he searched for strength. This notion also had an instant effect: that of giving him momentary power. Thoughts donned instant reality in this place, it seemed.
Koss narrowed his eyes as the human man gained his mental footing with alarming alacrity—overcompensating, but steadying generally in a centre spot, from which it was going to be somewhat more difficult to throw him.
At a momentary impasse, they stared at one another, icy hatred freezing their metaphorical throats and crusting frostily across their ribs and spines.
Trip sucked for breath, tensing his jaw and yearning for discipline in this bizarre state of the mind—even as he wondered how a phantom could breathe—when a deep, resonant, gonging bell sounded, nearly shattering the teeth of anyone who could hear it. Twice, three times, and Trip and Koss both had ghostly hands to invisible brains, squinting and momentarily splintering apart at the atomic level.
Not a bell.
It was T’Pol, coming violently to her senses across the room. Trip could see into her mind easily in his wholly-conceptual state, and that left Koss, clearly now his bondmate (Trip gagged at the thought) free to observe anything he wished.
Mounting a tremendous, draining effort, Trip tried simultaneously to keep Koss back and blinded, whilst flinging a sharp rock of intense, emergency thought at T’Pol. His restraining effort manifested a rather large, solid, cubicle-wall-style panel, which bumped and dithered against Koss somewhat feebly, but impedingly, for the second of time in which Trip lashed out a desperate hail to his groggily-sitting mate, and she shivered as if at a sudden, strong breeze, glancing down as she did so.
Any chance that she would have put the feeling down to Trip’s presence was immediately erased, as she stared down in distraction at her distressingly naked body—clearly visible through the now-wide opening of her robe. The belt was still tight, and it only took her a second to slide the fabric back into place underneath it. She re-tied the belt more tightly, uneasy, her mind reaching out now for answers, as she tried to recall the last, few, fractured moments of her life.
Trip watched her stagger up immediately to her feet, unconsciously in awe of her stamina, whilst he simultaneously tried not to poison himself with a feedback loop of hatred for Koss. The Vulcan man had smirked disgustingly as his ex-wife had covered her body, and Trip was again vehemently grateful that he had walked down T’Les’ hallway in time to prevent a hideous crime.
The strength of the human’s relief had the effect of shaming Koss slightly—against his will—and his figurative face greened momentarily with long-ingrained, ancient, Vulcan shame at harming another. But straightaway, that eerie, discordant cast came over his brain again—like a false, silvery sensory net; blacking out old lessons and old shames, and his face solidified again into single-minded, self-serving purpose.
Meanwhile, T’Pol had suffered a primal thump of alarm at the sight of the two inert figures across the room, and had fallen to her knees, fighting a clear, slicing wave of nausea as she crawled forward, in need of rescue herself—her only thought to rescue the human man who lay partially underneath the heavier Vulcan.
Trip and Koss, each frozen by the scene before them, by the whitehot emotions pinging around the room—neither able to let go of their own tug-of-war for even a second, watched the woman who was tearing Koss’ tensed, mortis-like fingers from their nailgrip of Trip’s face.
Witnessing this in apparition form, Trip winced as a sharp Xacto-type blade flicked into existence within the flesh of his imaginary right cheek, right above the bone. Reaching up with his hand, he extracted the slivered, greysilver shard and flicked it away, glaring icily at Koss with the left side of his head, and simultaneously never taking his eyes off of T’Pol. In spirit form, it seemed one could glare with the side of one’s head. He continued to do so as he concentrated on the wholeness of his cheek…and no blood flowed. The rules of this place were beginning to come clear.
Upon the floor, T’Pol was cradling Trip’s head, stroking his hair back, listening for breath. She gently slapped his cheeks, and the spirit-Trip felt his face sting slightly, in faint echo of her touch. Koss hissed with distressed rage at the sight of his ex-wife taking so much care over the well-being of the human man.
Trip crossed his mindarms and looked at Koss’ mindface with cold interest. “What’s the matter, Koss? Jealous? I thought Vulcans didn’t have emotions. Arie’mnu and all that?”
“We do not,” Koss spat downward, not looking at his enemy. “I simply find…deceit…to be abhorrent.”
The sheer, honest insolence of this hypocrisy blared in Trip’s ear, creating a Koss-damaging feedback loop. The older man bent for a moment under a self-righteous battering of emotional human morals. And—novice though he was—Trip couldn’t help but catch at snippets of memory from Koss’ linked mind. T’Zela, Xillim….shady meetings after hours at his office in the government service annex?!
Meanwhile, T’Pol had abandoned her revival attempts, leaving Trip on the floor. He was breathing, that was all she could ascertain. Her biologically telepathic mind worked via the physiological structures of the brain within her skull and Trip’s. His physical brain was momentarily shut down to minimal systems, and so she perceived him as unreachable, in a coma.
However, as a participant of an ancient and powerful telepathic phenomenon, Trip still had a substantial life-force contained within his detached, evilly-linked psyche. Koss’ body was similarly drained, inert. His psyche was similarly equipped with the abnormal, self-damaging power of the tel-tor ek’rasahkos, and the bond was such that the two men shared a triangulation of their strength—giving it joint power, but causing insupportable damage if one was suddenly taken away. By a transporter, for example. Or death.
For now, both held off warily, circling slightly and keeping their faces clearly focussed on one another and the woman who was still drifting around the room in a state of partial shock, deaf and blind to their existence. She picked up the futuristic device that Koss had used upon her and examined it carefully before tossing it onto the sofa as useless.
Trip had seen enough of Koss’ memories to finally comprehend. Suliban! The main thrust of the scenes he witnessed gutted him with a sick twist of concern for his nearby crewmates and T’Pol’s people, and rage at uncovering yet another turncoat. “Traitor!” Trip rasped mentally and ‘aloud’, though only Koss’ ideal ears could pick up the rusted sound of the human man’s total, bottom-dredging contempt. It made Trip’s throat hurt. And overcome with near-childish incomprehension at a universe that could harbour so much stupid, selfish evil—he simply looked at Koss.
“Why?” Trip asked bluntly. The weighty implications of countless endangered families, friends, allies, planets, the timeline, everyone and anyone whose safety and well-being rested on people not collaborating with the Suliban simply glittered in the air around them both like a trillion dangerous knives.
“What do you care?” Koss spat at Trip, while across the room, T‘Pol experimentally shoved her ex-husband‘s form with a squeamish toe. He ignored her, attempted to. “I do not consider it possible to betray a society that has already betrayed me!”
Thoughts of the Kir’Shara cracked around the air between them as he spoke. Its potential to change the status quo he and his family had depended upon—had helped to create! These melded with selfish, hard-done-to recollections of past perceived slights from his own puny existence—and the human man T’Pol had clearly shacked up with, in preference to him, was the straw that broke the sehlat’s back. He let loose a barrage of Vulcan epithets and insults upon Trip’s head.
And sidetracked by his own ravings and also by T’Pol’s stalwartly dragging Trip’s limp form into the kitchen area, Koss was unable to prevent the human from seeing exactly what he didn’t want him to: the offers of Suliban enhancement, the swift, covert, malpractice injections of altered DNA. Control in abundance. Power in abundance. Something the mealy-mouthed child-Koss had spent his time dreaming of—instead of training for. A few side-effects were to be expected, of course. A few favours to be granted…. Letting someone into the office at night while you‘re on sabbatical? What was the harm in that? Especially if they could wreak the changes they had sworn to.
You sold your soul to the devil, Trip marvelled. Was it worth it?
But instead of replying, Koss’ head went up, as if at some other terrifying prompting. Trip swung around but could not see nor sense whatever it was Koss had scented.
Suddenly, a red shot of phaser fire sliced through Trip’s invisible presence, and he was faced with the false visage of T’Zela. Now that he knew her for a Suliban in disguise, Trip couldn’t believe that he had fallen for her sham at all: her expression and body language were far from anything one would find on this planet. Trip claimed to love a Vulcan woman. How could he not have seen that T’Zela was more than simply fishy: she was deadly, deadly dangerous.
“The Vulcan bitch is here!” the woman shrieked over her shoulder.
Trip’s heart nearly stopped over in the kitchen, his apparition was so horrified at his inability to help or hinder anything in this physical world. T’Pol had flung herself expertly to the side. Clearly their extra martial training over the last year had been worth the effort.
Forgetting Koss entirely, who was now trying his best to get T’Zela’s attention, Trip sped silently to T’Pol’s side, desperate to hide her, cover her, lift her up, anything. She had cracked her head against the hard, tile floor with a sickening thud. She was taking too long to get up. Trip swiped madly with his ghostly hands at her shoulders, pointlessly trying to grab at a physical reality that he was no longer part of. Finally---she was pushing herself off the floor. Too slow!! Trip grabbed wildly with every-last-nanogram-of-mental-and-physical-strength-he-could-muster-as-a-non-entity and felt his hands close, insanely, impossibly, upon T’Pol’s short hair.
Unable to exercise gentility in this frantic moment, he squeezed and hauled back with all his might, succeeding in pulling her face straight up. She winced with the pain in her scalp, thinking only of her fractured skull bones, and seeing the cabinet she was facing, she forgot everything—madly, drunkenly, hauling herself forward.
Trip let go, panting, unable to do anything for a sick, drained moment. T’Zela and Xillim had their heads together and were looking around as if listening for an errant mouse, while the phantom Koss shouted impotently in their faces. Perhaps he had gotten through, and was distracting them.
A smash made all the heads in the room, phantom and physical, whip towards the cabinet. T’Pol was gripping one jagged doorframe with a ruined, bloody left wrist, and her right hand was groping frantically around the space within. Bottles tipped and clattered as she grappled through the dusty artifacts and thick, shattered glass.
After watching for a moment, T’Zela slowly, unknowingly, walked through an indignant Koss, and towards the injured Vulcan woman—her rifle held carelessly, loosely in her arm, a lewd smile on her lips.
T’Pol thought she heard Trip shout her name and flipped her body over on pure adrenaline. Glass shards cut into her lower back as she instantly, expertly, bought a hand-pistol to bear on her enemy’s face.
Trip stared at the gun. T’Pol had produced an ancient Romulan disruptor. Highly illegal in most jurisdictions due to their hideously inhumane method of killing, he had never seen one outside of a picture.
Koss backed away.
However, undisturbed by the bluff of an ancient, most-certainly-dead energy weapon, T’Zela simply laughed down at her weakened prey—seductively, dangerously.
Half-glancing at her large partner, the false jade quipped, “It really is too bad we didn’t get here earlier, Xillim. I’ll wager you, too, could have sampled Vulcan’s sexual wares. If this scrap is half as slutty as Koss—”
The Suliban woman was distracted.
FIRE! Trip screamed into T’Pol’s ear.
T’Pol’s hand reflexively squeezed the trigger. The blast was short, but the incineration of her predator-turned-prey took full four seconds—before nothing was left of the sizzling wormhole that consumed her except a curious, twisted spiral of black, acrid smoke.
The other Suliban was looking blindly around for his dropped gun.
Trip shouted again, knowing that T’Pol didn’t realise the man wasn’t Vulcan. But she hesitated, her near-fainting Vulcan consciousness uncertain she could end another life in that way. And it was only as Xillim dove for his gun, and Trip turned himself inside-out, silently shrieking at her, that she clicked the trigger again.
Click. Click. Nothing.
Trip swallowed non-existently, despairingly, and looked from T’Pol, to Xillim, to the shocked and staring Koss—who had moved off to a safer distance.
Xillim approached slowly, laughing in a frightening way. T’Pol, panting, pushed herself backward, illogically further into the glass, still clicking her gun and looking toward Trip‘s concealed body.
He caught her last thought: He was wrong. I won‘t outlive him. We‘ll die together.
Trip froze at her dead certainty, and as Xillim stopped and spat down at his helpless, murderous, sexually-attractive prey, Trip desperately plunged both his hands into the disruptor.
And before only Koss’ stupid, boggled gaze (since no one else could see him), he tried pointlessly to pour his own energy into the weapon’s power cell, in order that she might fire another shot.
Closing his eyes and gritting his teeth with effort, Trip didn’t notice the whine of warning until it was almost too late, and he sucked metaphorical air into his imaginary lungs as he ripped his hands away from the device and watched in horror: it began to smoke. What had he done? He had killed them all….a disruptor overload at this range…..
T’Pol threw the disruptor into Xillim’s face. The big man caught it lightly and, whirling, chucked it directly at the window. The second before it contacted glass, it vomited its own molecules everywhere in a perfect, violent sphere of outwardly expanding heat, light, and destruction.
Koss’ physical head was to the side, and he was across the room, so the only flesh that cooked on his body was the left side of his face. Trip, who had been stowed carefully away in the kitchen area, received only a burn to his left leg, which had been sticking out past the cupboard.
As she lobbed the gun, T’Pol flung herself behind the same couch she had cracked her head next to, moments before. Flat in the small triangle of space that the heat rolled over and past, she huddled and avoided burns. Her eardrums were perforated by the report of the blast, and she cradled her dripping and bloody wrist to her chest as she slipped in unconsciousness.
It was Xillim alone who received the full brunt of the explosion. It separated him into his constituent limbs and projections. And, their puppetmaster gone, the Vulcanish bodyparts melted back into the Suliban form that was their true nature.
However, Trip saw none of this, for—as the one who had poured his own life-force into the disruptor—he had been more than temporarily smashed by the blast of his own energy; mutated, exponentially increased, and shredding past his non-physical presence at full force.
He drifted now, near the ceiling, looking down at the scene below with zero comprehension, except for a sick wave of formless fear that fried incessantly through his neurons. He simply couldn’t remember why. And then all went black.
* * *
The long walk from the launch pad to Sickbay would have tired T’Pol out, but she was riding a surge of adrenaline that had started with the appearance of Enterprise and had increased with every step she took. Malcolm held her arm firmly, but unobtrusively, allowing her to walk steadily enough to maintain her somewhat-strained sense of composure.
In the sixty-seven years of her rather danger-chasing life, T’Pol had done her fair share of stints within the confines of various medical wards. There was nothing like it for efficaciously stripping away one’s sense of dignity. Afterward, she always felt the need to recover from the place of recovery itself, before she truly could move on from whatever had sickened or injured her in the first place.
At long last, the procession reached the double emblazoned doors of the medical bay. Phlox saw them coming through the sandblasted glass and hurried forward, ever accommodating to whatever odd situation plunged though his permanently-open doors.
Ensign Bearnall gratefully accepted Phlox’s assistance in steering the engineering cart toward the back of the facility. However, his relief was replaced by abject squeamishness when Phlox drafted his assistance in transferring the now thoroughly damp and clammy Andorian to a morgue stasis module.
After making apologies to T’Saru, and taking a long look at Trip, the captain excused himself and made for the bridge to check on the status of the sticky situation he was trying to sort out.
T’Pol absently dropped Malcolm’s arm as she entered the room, forgetting everyone around her except one. Trip and Koss lay on adjacent medical beds, each shirtless, each covered with Phlox’s monitoring devices and a single thin, warm blanket. Trip’s blanket bulged slightly where Phlox had strapped bandages and cooling pads to his burned left calf.
She stepped forward, between the two biobeds. She looked down at each man, somewhat dully shocked at the jelly-smeared, healing burns covering the right half of Koss’ face. She hadn’t even remembered to wonder if he had been injured in the explosion. It was extremely fortuitous that the blast had not killed him, she thought to herself. Their evil bond, the tel-tor ek’rasahkos, would ensure the death of both—if one expired while they were linked.
T’Pol turned her back on Koss and leaned over Trip to satisfy herself that, if nothing else, he still breathed. Public displays of affection were by no means her usual wont; and yet, she couldn’t pridefully deny herself one (possibly last) chance to hold her husband’s hand—however oblivious he may have been to her attentions. And she did so, squeezing his fingers gently as she watched his pale eyelids.
Malcolm, who had an even sketchier idea of what was going on than the captain did, resisted the urge to go up to his injured best friend and see how he looked. From his spot by the door he could see that Trip seemed physically unharmed, and the other man, Koss, had some nasty looking facial burns. However, something clearly more sinister was going on, involving the imperative need to transport them in tandem to the ship’s sickbay—something he’d never before heard ordered.
Malcolm mused upon the strange fate of his friend Trip: who never used to like Vulcans. Never had he seen a man with more to do with Vulcans on a daily basis than the chief engineer of Enterprise. Although, Malcolm reflected, if any hot, saucy Vulcans were offering him regular physical therapy, he might easily have given Trip a run for his money.
He watched the scene before him, and his mind momentarily wandered to the constant rumours that floated about the ship. Trip never confided much in him as far as that was concerned. And Malcolm was glad. He didn’t want to know. But still, it made it difficult to judge where the two of them stood with one another.
T’Pol hadn’t moved from her spot. She had not one glance for the man whom Malcolm was pretty sure was still her husband. She simply held Trip’s left hand in her own, watching his inert face quietly and intently. In fact, one almost got the impression that she was talking to him, or trying to, though her lips never moved, and she made no sound.
All at once, Malcolm felt ashamed of his constant baiting. He hadn’t any idea that his two friends actually had real feelings for one another. He had assumed, that with a Vulcan (and what a Vulcan!) as one half of the partnership, their main focus would only be on the physical:—emotional ties rendered irrelevant.
However, now, watching T’Pol’s face as she watched Trip’s, Lieutenant Reed could see clear, strong emotions burning in her dark, stormy eyes. And they were clearly focussed upon the unconscious man whose face she studied. And abruptly Malcolm thought he saw a little bit of what it was that drew them to one another. A bit of that something Trip was always banging on about, when he maintained that she was more emotional than she seemed.
You didn’t often see a look like that in a person’s face, Malcolm realised, as he observed T’Pol as good as praying over his best friend. Yet he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. He examined her countenance from his distant post—only able to see the side of her face—but there was still something intriguing and powerful about the set of her lips, the slight narrowing of her eyes. And then he realised.
In this moment, as in any other one of misfortune, T’Pol’s eyes invariably held the insightful compassion of someone who both envied and pitied humans their freedom of emotion. Of someone who had spent years trying to master her own emotions. Of someone twice the age of nearly everyone on board. The woman so clearly wounded by Trip’s wounds was more than old enough to be his mother. Her twenty-something face did not hold twenty-something grief, but Malcolm thought she bore the mask of wisdom well—now that he noticed it, he recognised it as one she often wore.
It was easy to forget the fact that Vulcans lived twice as long as humans. Though no one had (to his knowledge) yet discovered the fact of her true age, shipwide guesses ranged from forty to nearly eighty. In any case, she made it a simple enough fact to overlook—as she did with so many things about herself. Never intentionally drawing attention her way. Never realising the various, strong effects she had on almost everyone who met her.
And Malcolm now realised that he’d seen the same aspect in Trip’s eyes whenever he (frequently) caught him staring at their Vulcan colleague. Especially if she was squirming minutely, trapped in one of the many moments of uncertainty she endured while dealing with her human crew.
It was easy for the crew to unintentionally label her ‘different‘, dust off their hands, and be done with it. Trip was one of the few always sticking up for her, insisting that she felt a lot more than she let on. Most of this in private complaint to Malcolm, who had always simply nodded along, not sure how much of what Trip was telling him had been coloured with the sage-coloured glasses of his smitten friend’s personal point of view.
Now, seeing the clear pain shining through T’Pol’s eyes, Malcolm revised all of his former opinions with a feeling of self-reproval. When Malcolm Reed was wrong, he admitted it…at least to himself. He watched the pair and appreciated for the first time how strangely suited they were for one another. He hoped fervently that whatever was going on with the Vulcan bloke would not leave lasting damage. Regretfully checking his watch, he left, six minutes late for his bridge shift.
T’Pol looked up, her sudden reaction as swift as a deer’s.
“Let’theiri, child,” the woman said neutrally from across the bed. T’Pol did not answer her, but simply looked back down at the quiet face she was watching.
T’Saru moved her hand until it rested upon the back of T’Pol’s. She took Trip’s hand in her other and held the pose for some minutes.
When her eyes were closed, her face was deprived of their youthening glitter. Her creased visage was ancient, and T’Pol studied it, somewhat illogically reassured, for the first time since she’d awoken on the floor, that perhaps things could turn out all right.
T’Saru spoke in a crêpey voice, eyes still closed, her words coded for T’Pol’s ears only. “T'Les nahp aif qual Qom‘i vu t'hy'la.”
“M’aih ish var-tor?” T’Pol asked in soft surprise.
“Se qual le goh vel T’Les var-tor pa nash sasu,” T’Saru replied faintly, eyes still closed. “Ac’ruth,” she added emphatically.
T’Pol’s heart quickened at the old woman’s words. There was no hint of intolerance or bias in her manner: simply logic and compassion divided equally in the task she found herself presented with. T’Pol had chosen her helper well.
Phlox approached the two women semi-deferentially. T’Saru opened her eyes and allowed him to sidle past to check Trip’s readings. After a moment, the doctor bustled over to Koss’ bed and reviewed his statistics. He returned to stand next to T’Pol around Trip‘s cot. The three of them looked down at the man they were going to attempt to save. No one spared much of a thought for the inert Vulcan man behind them, their main concern being how to protect Trip’s fragile mind from the attack it was undergoing.
Phlox was relieved that he could finally ask some questions about one of the uncanniest medical phenomena he had ever seen first-hand. He simply hoped that T’Pol and her elderly companion would be able to shed some insight.
Loathe to broach detailed scientific diagnoses-in-progress to someone so clearly affected by her colleague’s condition, Phlox addressed T’Saru, allowing T’Pol to listen and join in when she felt ready.
“Commander Tucker’s neurosynaptic action potentials are currently at 183% of the human norm,” he began. “This is placing strain upon his already overwrought thalamus. And I don’t even want to get started on what the ogliodendrocytes are up to,” Phlox paused, swallowing, suffering through a rare moment of frustration in his exobiological career. “I need some more information as to what is happening here. And quickly.”
T’Saru regarded the alien physician for a long moment, as if learning his face by heart. “It is the tel-tor ek’rasahkos,” she eventually stated heavily, as if Phlox would suddenly leap to understanding.
“Ensign Sato is not here right now,” Phlox sputtered in exasperation. “You are going to have to break it down into either English or Denobulan.”
T’Pol pushed Trip’s hair off his strangely fevered forehead, never taking her eyes nor her brain away from their task of trying to get through to him. But she spoke up raggedly in response to Phlox’s query, impatient to get started on whatever needed to be done to end this. “The evil bond,” she clarified huskily. “It is used only in hatred, and rarely upon my world.”
“This is some kind of…mental attack,” Phlox paraphrased querulously.
“Yes,” T’Saru said, looking deeply into Phlox’s eyes. “Do you keep methylprovalanine on board?”
Phlox looked at the priest strangely. “I do, in small quantities. What purpose would it serve here?”
T’Saru turned back to Trip, taking one of his hands and again closing her eyes. “Please inject Commander Tucker with 7 cc’s directly.”
Phlox began to formulate some huffy responses, but before he had a chance to choose and voice one, he caught Commander T’Pol’s eye. Aside from the one time she had tried to mate with him, he had never personally seen so much raw emotion in her face. If he didn’t have a medical scan from a week ago to confirm her sobriety, Phlox would have sworn she was into the Trellium again. T’Pol held his gaze, entreating with him silently, but powerfully, to trust the elderly woman. After a moment, he nodded in begrudging acquiescence, preparing the injection silently.
A moment later, he approached and placed the injector module against Trip’s soft neck, looking at T’Saru before he pressed the trigger. “You do realise that methylprovalanine, while not lethal, is hardly indicated for humans.”
T’Saru did not open her eyes. “I am aware of its applications,” she replied undisturbedly. T’Pol, holding Trip’s left hand in hers, closed her eyes also, waiting for the doctor to do his job.
Phlox sighed, hating to rely on the suggestions of another, but finding his own skills utterly stymied by the rare Vulcan malady and the total absence of relevant information in their database, he had no other option. He pressed the trigger with a sudden hiss and injected the drug into Trip’s passive body.
All three, including the catatonic Trip, stiffened instantly upon Phlox’s administration of the drug. T’Saru’s lips moved, but her voice was nearly inaudible as she asked, “T’Pol, child? Do you see?”
“Yes, mother,” T’Pol replied strangely, in her deep, earnest voice—as if suddenly in a trance of her own.
The two women stood, each holding one of Trip’s hands in her own, both concentrating deeply.
From Phlox’s point of view, no one moved for eighteen minutes.
* * *
Trip regained proper awareness of himself as a half-thing, a cloudy consciousness drifting in an ether of emptiness. He could no longer see the physical world, and wondered idly if he was still an inhabitant of it.
Regretfully, yes, spat into his mind from somewhere nearby.
Koss? Trip asked. He could see nothing.
Yes, Trip? Koss asked ironically.
What’s happening? Trip asked. He didn’t care who told him, he simply wanted to know.
Koss snorted with non-physical contempt. Trip suddenly sensed that the other man wasn’t so certain of his own position. He tried to remember the last thing he could. T’Pol’s disruptor. It had failed, and he had tried to help, and he overloaded it instead.
What about T’Pol? Trip insisted. Where is she?
I don’t know, and I don’t CARE! Koss returned, blindingly.
You have no idea what you’re doing, do you? Trip asked quietly, after a moment.
Shut up! Koss replied.
Trip pushed harder. Why, Koss? Huh? Why are you doing these things? She doesn’t want you, you don’t want her. Why can’t you just leave us alone?
Interesting advice from someone who couldn’t leave US alone. You told her to stay on board! Koss invoked the old memory with rancour, in light of the new information he was receiving from Trip.
I told her that she should do what she wants to do. If you’re going to look through my brain, at least be accurate. And that was years ago. You don’t want her now. You wouldn’t take her if she asked.
Koss seethed. He didn’t deny it.
Why’d you come to the house, Koss? Trip pressed, softly, unrelentingly.
And while Koss imperiously raged at Trip for silence, he became careless. And Trip saw with clarity the man‘s main goal: his simple fear over his family’s name becoming linked to the Sel’Tior, and his desperate need to get his hands on whatever data they had procured and alluded to earlier in the day. These were multiplied by the qualms he harboured that his Suliban contacts were, in fact, a bunch of loose cannons, and he had no idea what they would attempt next.
Trip saw Koss’ horror at their surprise attack of the monasteries. Especially, his horror at his own near-demise, as an oversight—surely—caused him to be at one of the very monasteries that was destroyed. He had only escaped by fleeing at the very first sign of danger, and waiting for no one. He alone among the clerics had expected violence and taken care to save his own neck when it appeared.
Finally, gaining momentum now, Trip uncovered Koss’ rage at the fact that they had left The Forge untouched! The scorpions’ nest from which it all originated!
And a covert transmission to the pathetic pawn of a captain on the Suliban-controlled Andorian ship:
“We never discussed anything like this!” Koss hissed.
Captain Khas didn’t smile. “You yourselves used your own monasteries for espionage. We may share your hatred for those who would use this false ‘katra’ nonsense to invoke the greats of the past; but better-hated among the Sel’Tior is the man whose words are hypocritical. Sacred things may not be used for sacrilegious purpose, especially upon the Andorian people. That is what The Bringers of Wrath dedicate themselves to ensuring. We care not about the cost. P‘Jem was unforgivable.”
“Then why did you not destroy the Forge as well, as you were instructed?” Koss demanded in vicious annoyance. “This is the place the insurgents emanate from! This is their rallying point!”
Khas looked at the image of Koss upon his viewscreen with contempt. “The Forge is a place of true mysticism. One of few in the galaxy. I would sooner blast the Face off Mars than destroy the Forge.” Khas smirked in condescension. “Little deserving though you Vulcans may be to keep it. I happen to agree with our Suliban friends that an alliance is the last thing we want to see between Andoria, Vulcan, and Earth at this moment. However, I have my own designs as to how to discordance may be sown. While you battle Andoria proper because we destroyed peace, you will also rot from within: your own Syrranite defectors shall soon infiltrate every level of the government, causing paranoia and self-destruction. Your precious status quo is doomed.”
“If this is true, then the blood of Vulcan shall be on your head, Khas!” Koss near-shouted. Containing his new emotional powers was proving a difficult task to master. “You could have destroyed the Kir’Shara when you had the chance!”
“Fool!” Khas hissed, casting Koss to the very depths of ignorance. “You cannot destroy an idea! It is a waste of time to try. You Vulcans are more emotional than the humans! At least their suicidal cynicism keeps them difficult to persecute. They trust no one, let alone themselves!” Khas spat. He spread his arms. “And yet here you are, following your Suliban ‘leader’ like a little lamb! I, for one, do not intend to over-trust the shapeshifters, no matter what pretty poison they pour into my ear.”
Trip, sickened, forced himself to disconnect from Koss’ thought, and to maintain the upper hand, he instantly jibed the Vulcan man. They tried to get rid of you! he laughed in disbelief. These are the people you’re working with?
Koss’ rage and humiliation broke past the final shards of DNA-mutated control that were holding him together. He bellowed with crazed fury, and coils of ropes appeared around his victim’s calves. A strange, unbleached canvas restraint covered Trip’s chest and tied around his back. A straitjacket. His arms were pinioned to his sides, and he fell over trying to keep his hobbled footing, the engineer deep within wondering at the freaky physics and gravity of this world of the mind.
Koss stepped up to the smaller man‘s horizontal body, and leaned down to leer into his face; and suddenly, with a tearing sound, Koss became two-dimensional in appearance: razor thin, an image on paper. And lining straight up with Trip’s prone form, he allowed himself to fall, guillotine-style, directly into his victim’s three-dimensional bulk.
Trip screamed as the man sliced mid-sagittally through his body—and impossibly lodged there, hideously concealed within.
* * *
T’Pol and T’Saru stood next to one another—though on what type of floor, it could not be said—as scenes flashed around them in an identical manner to a certain holodeck device that wasn’t slated for human invention for nearly another couple of centuries.
An opulent house, the deck of a ship, a field, a market, an office, the Seleya, a park, a street, a party—seemingly at Starfleet—but gone. Suddenly, the indoors of a number of Vulcan places of worship flashing past with blinding rapidity. T’Saru was flicking through the hundred billion memories of the now four persons joined by Koss’ hatred.
T’Pol tried to stand utterly motionless, tried to allow T’Saru whatever she was trying to do without interfering. But this bond, just like the few others she’d experienced in her life, had a totally unique feeling of its own. Not a good feeling. Cold, slimy, slippery Koss-ish things wafted past her arms as she tried her best not to hallucinate them into proper existence.
Thoughts seemed to have form here, and T’Pol noticed that, at the slightest distraction of her mind, a scarf appeared around her neck. T’Saru said nothing, simply standing silently, still searching for who-knew-what.
T’Pol banished all thoughts as fearsomely as she could, and the scarf mostly vanished. Trying to ignore a few scraps of red wool tassel that still adhered to her imaginary clothing, she honed in as closely as she could on T’Saru’s efforts, plying her strength to the elderly woman‘s.
“Gently, now child,” T’Saru admonished, but her voice held a pleased note—her pupil was proving apt. She revised her calculation of the human man’s chances in light of the apparent strength of his t’hy’la…still not good: but perhaps no longer as grim as she first supposed. T’Saru let the young woman sense her approval and was gratified at the renewed vigour with which T’Pol applied herself.
Meanwhile, the scenery around them was changing so quickly, T’Pol found herself musing about things that had already been followed by twenty new pictures. She recognised a few of them from her own experience and knew that the others belonged to Trip and Koss and T’Saru.
That one, of a first car. Red. Trip’s for sure. A youthful memory. She wondered about the car: about who had given it to him, whether he had worked for it himself. The image was long-gone by the time the question posed itself.
And this one, surely Koss’: a drafting room filled with gigantic screens and black-haired students milling all about in orderly, scholastic profusion. Angles and curves were being broken down by professors into their constituent geometric molecules so that the young architects could learn their secrets and reassemble them into buildings.
And here, her own living room. Her father’s feet large on her right side, just out of view. (How did she know they were there then?) She had lain on the floor, listening to a voice droning from the computer. Humans. First Contact.
T’Pol could feel T’Saru’s own curiosity about her memories, and those of the others: what prompted them, what caused the things they both were re-experiencing. But there was no time, and they raced onward.
At long last, the swiftly traveling images halted: as if a railway station had pulled up to the train—instead of the other way around.
T’Les’ living room. Present day. It hovered around them, fuzzy and partly-focussed. T’Pol realised she was seeing the same place from four perspectives: hers, Trip’s, and Koss’ from last night…and T’Saru’s from the last time she had visited T’Les in this particular timeline: a year ago. There was also the faintest hint of a fifth perspective: T’Pol’s sister-self’s from the other timeline: when the liberal priest T’Saru had married her to Trip and they had honeymooned off to her death. The “memory” was third-hand, coming as it did by way of a mistaken partial meld with the dead T’Pol’s widower, Charles.
The two women waited, each concentrating now on fleshing the scene to full life, slowly filling in one another’s details until the scene glittered brighter-than-existence around them. T’Pol turned on the spot, looking in awe at the solid, realer-than-real environment in which she found herself—when her logical self knew perfectly well that she stood in Sickbay. A medical scanner appeared in her hand.
“Take care, child,” T’Saru warned calmly from behind her shoulder. “Think not of the place you were, but the place you find yourself in now.”
T’Pol carefully did so. The scanner vanished.
Simultaneously, Trip appeared on the low couch in the centre of the room.
She froze. He was sitting straight enough, looking right at her, but his arms were bound around him with what looked to be some archaic restraint device made of heavy, unbleached fabric—with sleeve-ends that tied around his back. Brown, rough ropes coiled round his calves. And yet, Trip was simply, patiently, waiting: not struggling as she would have imagined.
T’Pol stared at this apparition, unsure whether to treat it as real or illusory.
T’Saru spoke from behind her. “He is both, child. Your t‘hy‘la is here, but he is still under the control of the other.” The words rang in T’Pol’s ears, here in this fantastical place, but she was fairly certain T’Saru had placed them silently within her mind. She hoped.
Unsure of where Koss could be, or if this place could even possibly be entirely of his construction, T’Pol was wary. She stared across the short distance separating her from Trip, and their eyes riveted, their faces tense with shock and the desire to communicate with one another. T’Pol felt slightly better. Koss could not be creating the soulful look Trip held for her in his eyes.
In the relatively short amount of time she had been allotted thus far in life for staring hungrily into this particular face, she had memorized its healing acumen, its doting, unconscious reverence for her. And the incredibly blue, incredibly communicative eyes; Trip’s gentle eyes, which now fastened upon hers and spoke silent volumes.
T’Pol tried not to allow fear to quicken in her belly as she watched Trip wait uncomplainingly in his trussed up state for whatever Koss had planned next. She took two tentative steps forward, in the vague, unlikely hope of untying him from the uncomfortably tight canvas garment he wore.
But even as she began her movement, Trip stiffened in sudden alarm. He sat up even straighter, if that was possible, within his jacket—which was, she could see now, tightening noticeably about him.
“STAY BACK!” Trip shouted in alarm.
T’Pol did so for one brief second, a sudden stitch plucking at her left insides. She stopped, breathing shallowly, reflexively gripping her side, hesitating. Trip stared at her wide-eyed. The straps binding him had cinched several centimetres. T’Pol’s throat tightened. She had to get it off of him. She took another step.
As she did so, the hideous thing binding him vanished. His constricted body visually popped outward as the restraint was lifted, yet he seemed to gain no relief.
“I SAID DON’T COME ANYWHERE NEAR ME!” Trip bellowed in a seeming rage, “HE’S HERE! HE’S RIGHT HERE!”
* * *
Within the ongoing, forcefully-intimate bond Koss had saddled him with, Trip found this state of possession to be the worst violation of all. Suddenly he was sitting up against his will. He looked about and found himself on a sofa within T’Les’ living room, and T’Pol and an elderly woman were slowly phasing into existence before him. He stared, hoping against hope that T’Pol could still be alive. He hadn’t seen her since the explosion.
The images of the two women flickered before his eyes at so many billions of frames per second, that he couldn’t focus on one but it was long gone. They seemed to be flashing through various, random incarnations of themselves at different ages.
Enough of one of the figures’ images resembled the T’Pol that he knew, that it was possible for Trip (and Koss) to readily identify her. The other woman was clearly older, cycling through many more phases of age than the youthful T’Pol did, finally settling into the ancient lines and particular demeanour of one whose years are far in advance of all her peers’. Priests’ robes flowed from her shoulders and an ancient wisdom shone from her youthful, glittering eyes.
Trip looked to the slowly flicking T’Pol image. At last, she fuzzed into crystal-clear, golden reality before him, and he tried his best not to let the sudden solid rush of emotion within his stomach lessen—even one iota—the resistance he was trying to maintain against Koss’ possession of his body.
Koss watched his ex-wife beadily through Trip’s alien eyes, and Trip shuddered at the foreign mixture of revulsion and perverse desire that burned through his own veins at the behest of Koss’ parasitic spirit.
Doing his best to ignore the invader, Trip focussed himself upon T’Pol, standing before him. He wondered if she was real. He wondered if she could see him. Something within his own mind warned him not to dare open his mouth. A sudden vivid image of Koss exploding outward from within himself, destroying his mind forever, confirmed that warning. Trip knew not from which of them it emanated. He grit his teeth.
A medical-looking scanner appeared in T’Pol’s hand and the older woman warned T’Pol to concentrate. The scanner vanished. As it did, T’Pol looked suddenly, directly, into Trip’s eyes, seeing him alert for the first time since she had left him in her bed to go get a glass of water. Hours ago? It felt like millennia.
She froze upon sighting him. Their eyes locked, and he tried to silently communicate the warnings and comfort and apologies he had for her in his mind. But Koss was there too, and so all he really dared do was gaze at her carefully and honestly. She held his stare apprehensively, not knowing what to trust in this world of fantasy.
The old woman spoke in a voice as brittle and strong as frozen steel. “He is both, child. Your t’hy’la is here, but he is still under the control of the other.”
The words were faint, but clear. Koss heard them echo through the funnels of Trip’s ears, and at the Vulcan noun the crone invoked, he boiled with a sudden, blind rage at the hag and her Syrranistic ways. Trip’s ears pricked in alarm as he detected the abrupt, rabid, bull-like fury of his bloodsucking stowaway. He didn’t know what the word meant, but Koss clearly found it insulting and disgusting in the extreme that the priest should have used it to describe Trip.
Even still, Trip maintained an outward veil of total calm with he-knew-not-what resources, other than a distinct impression that were he to do otherwise, he would be dead.
T’Pol’s gently confused, brave, and questioning eyes tested his resolve desperately, as she searched his face for answers. She took two tiny steps toward him.
Koss twisted, ever-so-slightly, within the knife-wound that was his hiding place.
Gritting his teeth and commanding himself not to scream, Trip sat up straighter—holding himself together with sheer force of will. The straps of his ancient restraint slid several centimetres tighter and he fought for the illusory air he thought he needed.
T’Pol paused hesitantly.
“STAY AWAY!” Trip shouted with what little breath he could muster.
T’Pol gripped her side suddenly, as if at a cramp, and Trip—strangely—hallucinated a small, prickly pineapple clinging illogically to her side. It faded as she let go of herself, and—wide-eyed and uncomprehending—took another experimental step forward.
Trip’s bonds cinched impossibly tight, and he threw his head back in agony. He felt Koss create the illusion of his body suddenly free from its restraints, as a final trap to lure T’Pol close.
Trip—unable to stand existence as it was: with the rusted shards of the Vulcan man’s psyche shredding his moist, pink brain—sacrificed himself to whatever punishment Koss would allot, and bellowing his loudest, Trip forced himself to form the enraged warning: “I SAID DON’T COME ANYWHERE NEAR ME! HE’S HERE! HE’S RIGHT HERE!”
* * *
Trip’s words turned into a groaning sort of scream as Koss slid two-dimensionally, freakishly, out from within him—the razor-sharp, paper-thin Vulcan peeling himself ruthlessly off of the vascular surface of his victim’s bleeding psyche.
Unbeknownst to him, Koss’ right eye and cheekbone were now covered by a thin, matte-black theatre mask which vanished at the centre of the bridge of his nose: simply a half-thing, clinging eerily to his face without support. He had no way of knowing that his subconscious had placed it there in representation of the corresponding, deeply-cooked burns upon his body’s face. He had no way of knowing his body had been ransomed up to the human ship and was even now under the tender mercies of their alien physician.
His eyes narrowed (the left visible only through the small eye-hole) as he looked across at the two women who had somehow entered this panicked, cornered, quasi-universe.
Trip slumped sideways on his seat, his quiet sounds of agony abruptly cut short as a thick, black rectangle of adhesive tape appeared across his mouth. Falling off the couch, the severely weakened human man huddled on the floor, trying to catch his breath suckingly through his nostrils.
T’Pol tried reaching out for him with her mind, but recoiled in sharp horror as Koss’ psyche slammed down, portcullis-like against her own. She reeled from the force of it and fell back. It was wrong. What had he done to himself?
T’Pol felt the warm, yielding, powerful brain of T’Saru behind her, absorbing her insensate backwards stumble with tender elasticity. The young woman was set on her feet again, though whether figuratively or literally, she had no way of knowing in this place of the mind.
Koss had somehow—falsely, but measurably—strengthened his capabilities. However, T’Saru made even these seem like child’s play, in the face of her own, truly-gotten, well-used powers—powers that she had been honing for over a century.
No sixty-something whelp was going to overcome her with some wet-eared tricks he had bought. She had taught students for many years, and bullies were a special delicacy of hers. She generally dosed them heavily with their own medicine, before breaking the bottle over the poor wretch’s head. Metaphorically, speaking of course.
Which made it much, much worse.
What worked on twenty-three-year-old novice monks would surely work now upon so great a booby as this puffed-up fellow: thrashing talents not-his-own all over the place, and as likely to whip himself in the ass with his own backlash, than to defeat individuals so remarkable as the two young people she was helping now.
T’Saru pulled her mind back in a carefully-molded, carefully-set slap and let it fly towards the face of Koss’ mind. The attack was the more staggering for its sheer audacity. For a bent old priestess to figuratively slap the face of a man so much more powerful-seeming than her—was to reduce him to the formless blob of petty, jellied fear that he truly was inside.
T’Pol perceived the event as causing Koss to flicker in appearance, as though he were a transmission coming through interference. He fuzzed angrily back into clarity again: as ticked and brainless and single-minded as an angry, wet wasp.
“Hold off, slut!” Koss shrieked at the lady. His voice was more panicked than he would ever have liked it to sound, and he modulated it suddenly, freakishly sideways, so his next words formed in the mellow, velvet, confident tones of a news announcer (regardless of the planet of origin): “You wouldn’t want to hurt yourself.”
Koss eyebrows lowered darkly and he turned away sideways and down for a moment, shocking T’Pol with the fact that he was still only one atom wide, his form appearing two-dimensionally, so that when he turned his torso he looked like a twisted piece of paper or strange computer graphic.
He warped to face front again, seemingly fully-fleshed once more, and holding a steaming cup of tea in his hand, which he sipped at, delicately, as if they were at a reception, rather than trapped within Surak-knew-whose mind. The steam twisted freakishly: a helix of half-invisible, two-thirds-rendered reality.
“Ah, my doting wife!” Koss yelped pretentiously, as if he had only just noticed her.
His sanity was quite clearly not in full arrangement, and T’Pol felt her mouth tauten and turn down in unpleasant painful compassion for a creature who was clearly sickened. It didn’t lessen her deadly certain conviction that this encounter would see at least one of them perish. And if she had her way, it would be the rabid sehlat she saw suffering before her. Hopefully, before he had time to rake his infected claws across the human prey he had ransomed from her.
T’Saru as good as cuffed T’Pol across the back of her head, as deep, tectonic growls began to emanate from the muted walls of the living room they stood within. Koss smiled deeply, laughing softly at the women, as T’Pol’s inadvertent labelling of him as a dangerous beast gave him a smart dose of power in the strange balancing game they were engaged in.
T’Pol realised that his odd, passion-painted face was familiar to her, and she suddenly recalled Koss’ particular difficulties as a very young child: emotions that were violent and startling. Gone in an instant, and followed by more adult cool than most middle-aged men evinced, the adults assumed it was a passing phase.
However, though she’d only met him once or twice whilst he still fancied such indulgences, T’Pol certainly recalled his deep-seated, smug, twisted grin of brutish domination over the helpless, chirping mathra flies that filled her parents’ garden. She tried desperately now, not to recall the rage he had evinced after she set him on fire, and failed.
T’Saru nearly moaned into T’Pol’s mind in dismay as Koss’ nostrils actually smoked, and his brows turned down in a thick black wrath—that would not be easily dissipated.
The priest, initially so impressed with the power of T’Pol’s mind, was now more than distressed to find the control of said power to be rapidly slipping. What was wrong with the girl all of a sudden?
T’Saru forcefully and involuntarily recollected a street performance from her youth. The detailed memory took only a second to form, complete within her mind.
The goal of the trick was to balance a flat, square board upon a hard sphere, twenty-five centimetres in diameter. The performer would mount the board atop the ball and, mounting this arrangement, stand motionless in the marketplace.
In old times, passers-by who were impressed with the mendicant’s self-control and mastery of the um-ro skaf would toss a pittance to him; but nowadays, the people who performed this feat did so simply for the challenge of holding themselves still and silent and physically uncomfortable for hours, in a place full of distraction. Passing folk merely paused now in respect, observed the pilgrim improving himself with exercise, and moved on.
The child-T’Saru had nearly cried with pity for a young person she had seen once. His father had marched him into the ancient, cobbled, pedestrian-only street and silently thrust an antique board and ball at the boy. The lad miserably set them up, and tried to mount. First carefully, then jumping, but unable to get both feet upon the arrangement without loud, clattering failure.
Finally, the father, green with pure, suppressed annoyance, held a silent, iron hand out, to support the son as he finally got awkwardly up on the things.
Clearly the man intended for his son to take a punishment in the form of performing the um-ro skaf for his neighbours. An odd penalty: something the father wouldn’t have meted out without his son committing some rather large emotional misdemeanour. A public outburst, perhaps? Or an insubordinate, familial one?
The young T’Saru has watched, horrified and transfixed, wondering what his crime had been, as the boy balanced stiffly on the board, and the father removed his supporting hand. Immediately, the boy stumbled off again, unable to maintain the rigidity and muscular control to hold himself balanced.
Dejected and limp, he doggedly and unoptimistically tried a couple more times, unwilling to simply quit. His cheeks were hirat-green with barely-suppressed humiliation and his chin trembled violently: so that his father, finally giving up in disgust, picked up the two antique objects his progeny had fumbled so inexpertly, and silently carried them away down a nearby lane.
The boy had stood alone for a brief second, before glancing over once, strongly, into T’Saru’s eyes. His own were blankening again—becoming safe and restrained and empty—and he turned and palely and wordlessly followed his father down the alleyway.
This small boy was now replicated in miniature in T’Les’ living room: still climbing repeatedly and unsuccessfully onto his miserable arrangement of sphere and plane. The father was nowhere in evidence—other than in the phantom’s own haunted, taunting conscience, which emanated clearly from its golem eyes.
Freehandedly and momentarily sheepish in mien, T’Saru acknowledged to T’Pol her own mental slip, as it stumbled eternally about under the window. Koss, pausing in his evil, stared at the boy strangely as well: momentarily taken by his uncanny resemblance to the mc’E’shua family. There was no way to know, however, and T’Saru left the little thing there, struggling with its circular, Sisyphusian task, and unaware of his own existence. It grounded her. Reminded her: she had slipped this far: no farther.
T’Pol, who was struggling with her own manifestations of her fears and hopes as they slipped past her Trellium-greased mental palms, felt a slug of despair at her elder’s error. What chance had she if T’Saru could slip?
The t-word caught T’Saru’s attention, as she had read with interest the scientific reports generated by the studies the Seleya and the Enterprise had made of that strange, useful, fatal substance. The priest looked over at T’Pol, who was valiantly reforming her thoughts even as they gushed through her mental fingers, in order to maintain her best possible chance of a façade. But T’Saru was too facile for her and easily caught at the last wisp of memory, as T’Pol whipped it up and around her spindle of escaping self.
T’Pol felt T’Saru’s muted shock and surprise at her unexpected discovery. A reformed Trellium-addict.
* * *
“Hold him steady!” Phlox barked at Archer as he whirled and pawed violently through a lower drawer, searching for a hypospray. Ah. Good old epinephrine. Human elixir of life. He stabilized Trip’s biosigns with the drug and peered deeply into his pupils one at a time, holding puffy eyelids aloft with a deft thumb and shining a bright penlight into each.
“It’s as if he’s having an allergic reaction,” Phlox said in frustration. He and the captain watched the suffering, sleeping, asthmatically-wheezing human man fighting for breath on his cot—alongside Koss, who was perfectly mute and marble-like upon his own biobed.
The captain had come back down to see how things were progressing, and ended up getting recruited into helping. Phlox stuck monitors onto T’Pol and T’Saru’s temples once it became clear that the two women would be standing there for some time. Now four separate heart-monitors were beeping at four different rates. They automatically sounded with different tones, so that the doctor could tell the difference by the sound alone.
Suddenly both T’Pol and T’Saru stiffened, their heart-rates increasing suddenly. A moment later, Koss’ readings went off the scale, while the women’s calmed down.
“What the hell is she doing to them?” Archer demanded.
“I have no idea, Captain. I have never seen anything like it before.” Phlox’s response was terse. He didn’t have time to wonder about it, he was too busy trying to keep them all alive.
“Slut!” Koss shouted out perfectly clearly. All heads in the room whipped to bear upon the dark Vulcan man. He said nothing more than this, and lay as passively as before.
Phlox glanced up into the captain’s bemused face with weariness in his eyes. “…Ever,” he confirmed again.
* * *
But to T’Pol’s utter astonishment, the woman wasn’t horrified. In truly logical form, T’Saru didn’t bother forming all kinds of editorial thoughts about a subject that was over and done with. But to live with the shattered remains of Trellium-spoiled control? A Vulcan? T’Saru doubted many secluded priests could handle it…and the girl chose to live among humans!
T‘Saru‘s estimation of the skills of the foolhardy young woman before her spiked so suddenly that T’Pol gasped and couldn’t stop the flood of recollection that spilled through her cracked and weeping sides, and out into the other three minds in the room.
She involuntarily confessed—as relentlessly and reflexively and mortifyingly as urinating oneself in public—to her reasons for her bizarre, life-threatening conduct. It was simply, indefensibly, the result of overarching, overwhelming emotional and sexual desire for the man who sat mute and rope-wrapped and unable to move or speak upon the floor; the man who was watching the three powerful aliens within whose minds he’d become entangled—waiting to see what they would do with him.
For his own part, Trip was grateful T’Pol had seen fit to tell him of her Trellium abuse before they had left Enterprise; however, it only slightly lessened the shock of her sudden, silent, explosive admission of the depth of her unpracticed feelings for him. Within this place that was already totally of the mind, the concentrated grenade of her damaged brain’s rapid disclosure blinded everyone in the room—most completely Trip, upon whom the sentiments were focussed. His mind reeled temporarily.
Koss recoiled in flinching horror at the sudden onslaught of borrowed, earnest sentiment. “Disgusting,” he hissed with thick, bigoted, choking contempt.
“You released me from our marriage,” T’Pol returned strongly, logically, not caring any longer: now that all her humiliating secrets were laid open, she had nothing to lose.
And though her mouth and larynx moved as she spoke, her voice emanated also from all about them, and Koss flinched, glancing up and around at the ceiling, as the last of her sustained tones faded away into a whisper.
However, his ire soon rebuilt, and he responded with venom, looking into the open tray of her mind for ammunition: “You have loved this human whelp since the moment you set foot upon his filthy human ship. He was the one who told you to cancel our marriage plans, to stay on board!”
“He did no such thing,” T’Pol replied quietly and with dignity. She knew it, and so they all knew it. This time the carpet and very floorboards spoke for her in honest witness, and she was gratified by her own slowly-improving grasp of the rules of the situation.
However, there was no stopping him from seeing deeply into the linked and open minds of the two people he had within his powerful grip. Even if he had the dates wrong, there was no longer any concealing the fact that T’Pol had taken the human man as her lover.
Their only two couplings were precisely preserved in the detailed recollections of flesh and touch and soul that both participants had stored away in the most secret parts of their hearts. These were transparently plain to see now, broadcasting the truth of their feelings for one another impartially and stridently to anyone who could hear.
“I will not be cuckolded!” Koss screamed, finally getting to the bottom of the matter.
But T’Saru and T’Pol calmly faced him now, and without resistance to beat against, his rage was utterly impotent. Their passive acceptance of his emotional demonstration showed that they held no fear of him, but viewed him merely as a childish inconvenience to be eliminated or hoodwinked—in order that T’Pol and her emotional, short-lived bit of human stuff might be physically reunited.
Koss retroactively comprehended when the coupling he saw within both Trip and T’Pol’s short-term recollections had taken place: not two hours before his scheduled arrival at her home?? The sheer audacity of the slut-wife he had taken choked the Vulcan with a blind rage, for which he had no coping skills.
He whirled on the spot and faced Trip. The human man was still taped and bound, trying only to hold his mind above water to keep it from bending under the strain. Koss fell to his knees before Trip, pulled his fist back and punched him full in the face. And since this was not physical reality, Koss’ fist plunged straight through the man’s flesh and bone, and he thrust his fingers into the very meat of the smutty human brain within.
Involuntarily, T’Pol screamed along with her bondmate, and fell to her knees gripping her temples as Koss’ murderous fingers ravished Trip’s mind—and hers by proxy.
* * *
There was a lull in activity. The captain thought perhaps things had calmed down for good, when passing close to T’Pol in his pacing vigil, he noticed that thick, clinging perspiration had developed suddenly over her forehead and across her upper lip.
“Uh, Doc?” he inquired apprehensively.
Phlox scanned T’Pol and shook his head. “Nothing. I don’t know what the source of the distress is.”
Archer watched a drop trickle down his colleague’s greenish temple. He pulled an absorbent towelette from a dispenser and gently wiped her forehead as she stood, unmindful of his presence. What the hell was that priest doing? he wondered, frustrated at his inability to help or understand. T’Pol had seemed to trust her implicitly. Archer looked down at Trip’s waxen form, hoping against hope that his friend would cheat death for the hundred and first time.
Suddenly, T’Saru’s eyes flew open. She stared at T’Pol with icy, truth-divining orbs, as if she had only just seen the woman for the first time, this very second. T’Pol remained unconsciously standing, eyes closed, holding Trip’s hand.
Phlox stared at the suddenly, impossibly-alert priest, in total surprise. Her brainwaves were still mired in a bizarre theta state, and yet she even glanced wryly at him before primly resuming her closed-eyed posture.
Archer looked at Phlox once, open-mouthed, and then said the woman’s name loudly: “T’Saru, can you hear me?”
The woman did not move again. T’Pol gasped though, and a tear slid out from under her eyelid. Archer watched the salt drop slipping down her cheek and after a moment, he swiftly and deftly wiped it away too, with the same towel he still clutched in his hand. T’Pol wouldn’t want anyone to see her crying. Frustrated and worried, he looked back at Phlox.
Phlox’s intended reassurance was cut off, as Koss suddenly began to choke and froth. Phlox hurried over to the man who had so far received the least attention of all the people in the bay. He had, after all, caused the whole thing. But it had been made implicitly clear by the Vulcans that if he expired while linked, he would take Trip with him.
Archer grabbed the larger man’s shoulders and held him down as he spluttered incoherently and unconsciously under Phlox’s scan. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be speaking through a dream.
“Dungau ri nam-tor pusvik-tor!” he finally shrieked, before he subsided somewhat.
“Did you catch that?” Archer asked Phlox.
“I can’t be sure, as Hoshi has only taken me through the basics, but I believe it was something to the effect that he will not be cuckolded.” The two men exchanged a glance, and Trip and then T’Pol each began to scream with primal agony.
* * *
Suddenly T’Saru’s mind blasted past T’Pol’s own insensate form, a nuclear, heat-seeking explosion of stern, disapproving punishment. She enveloped Koss totally as she made contact, weirdly wrapping herself like quicksilver around his form, until he was invisible, vanished within. T’Saru’s eyes bulged as she consumed him, and the other two no longer screamed. She had halted his kae'at k'lasa, and now was swiftly untying the clumsy laces that held Trip to Koss’ mind.
T’Pol forced herself back to her feet and stumbled forward towards Trip. The ropes and fabric and tape that Koss had bound him with cracked and dried out—as if they had aged a thousand years in five seconds. She fell to her knees again before him and used her fingers to pull the dry, rotting, fibrous rope remnants from around Trip’s calves. T’Pol sneezed violently as fibres of the crumbling lashings whirled up and past her phantom nostrils.
Trip ripped an arm free from the decaying canvas of his straitjacket and clawed at the crackled, ancient tape that still clung to his mouth. It flaked away under his scraping fingernails and he spit and gasped, as they both looked up in horror at the woman T’Saru.
She was still trembling with imprisoned fury, yet holding her own with a magnificent display of vast, benevolent power. Slowly glancing down at the two who pressed together upon the floor, staring up at her, eyes round and wide, T’Saru smiled. It was a mild and generous smile, in stark contrast to the typhoon she battled within herself. Somehow, it seemed all right for her—someone who had so much training in the ways of emotion—that she should now, in her great age and wisdom, be able to show it safely; and smile, Vulcan though she was.
And then she froze, as if removed from time. Her eyes alone stayed melted long enough for her to look at them.
You are ashayam, she poured into the room with certainty. The rage boiling within her body clearly tripled at her pronouncement, but she was unfazed, and continued to hum like a motionless fuse of incredible power as she spoke. I myself doubted the legends until today. Use the gift well. It is a rare one.
Her last words sounded only as the wind in the trees. And she looked inward with enormous focus and care—and suddenly blinked out of existence.
T’Pol, still kneeling next to Trip, watched this swift happening with shocked eyes. She put a hand to his shoulder and pushed herself swervingly to her feet. And walking carefully forward to the place in which Koss and T’Saru had become one being, she closed her eyes and felt about with her mind. But all was as dry and final and papery as a cardboard box: within which she and Trip were the only two inhabitants.
Trip, also pushed himself upward, but only to the level of the cushioned seat which he sat against. He perched on the sofa, holding his head and marvelling at its empty lightness in comparison to the bizarre strains he had been enduring for the infinite hours since he had stumbled upon Koss in T’Pol’s living room.
Finally abandoning her attempt to locate T’Saru, T’Pol opened her eyes and looked across at Trip. She didn’t dare crack the set mask of her face in this moment of such awful happenings, for fear she should start screaming and never be able to stop. Instead, she spoke carefully with her mind only, and to both of them it was the first word uttered in a ghost town, the breaking of silence in a tomb.
She took him.
Trip blanched at the horror her total calm betokened. His mind responded, questioning, unable as yet to form words.
T’Pol walked slowly forward, closing her eyes painfully as she responded.
It is the killing gift. The eshak. Only the greatest and the most evil are able to attain it.
She stopped in front of him and went down on one knee to examine his condition, belatedly marvelling at the fact that he had survived thus far. The clinging fragments of Koss’ ropes and tapes had vanished along with their creator, and Trip seemed pale and shaky, but whole. T’Pol couldn’t believe it when he had appeared, Koss’ unwilling hostage, but still alive. She tried not to let herself consider now the fact that they had still to successfully awaken in Sickbay.
Trip caught the thought and her attempt to hide it. He didn’t chide her directly, but put a hand to her face in compassion and let her see that burying things from either of them wasn’t going to work anymore. Her eyes welled up in reaction to everything they had just witnessed, and her chin trembled violently with the effort of maintaining a placid expression.
It started to rain, fat drops spattering the upholstery and floor.
Trip simply watched her attempts as she kneeled before him and said nothing. Even when the first of the forceful, involuntary sobs tore from her throat, he merely pulled her head onto his lap and stroked her hair as if she was a small child. He had his own reeling wits to gather, and the torrential, relieved, horrified grief of his wife was a deeply raging river at the moment, one which he had to raft deftly along, whilst putting himself together again.
The sharp, cutting edge of violation was beginning to dull slightly, now that his tormentor was dead. But Trip already could sense that he would never quite be the same again. It wasn’t something simply to get over: more like something to learn to live with. He leaned forward and put his face on the side of T’Pol’s head, closing his eyes as the warm rain of her tears washed over them both.
* * *
T’Pol’s shriek was identical in torment, though lower and more deeply mentally agonized than physically distressed, and she fell to her knees in helpless, unconscious surrender to whatever was torturing her.
Archer noticed her hand was gripped still to Trip’s and thus, nearly cracking her wrist off as she slumped below the sharp edge of the biobed. He grabbed a nearby chair and lifted her limp and screeching form into it, as Phlox’s fingers flew frantically across the display of his scanner. The doctor simply could not fight a foe that he didn’t understand, couldn’t name, and had never seen in any case. Frustration was writ across both men’s brows in the ink of sweat.
Through all of this, T’Saru stood calmly, seemingly unmindful of the screams of her two meld-mates, which lasted so long and were so thunderously piercing, that Archer nearly let go of T’Pol to cover his weeping ears.
Just as suddenly, the screams ended, as if garrotted off with piano wire. Archer stared down at his two friends, wondering what had happened now, if they were even still alive, when his attention was caught by the sound of a rapidly speeding heart-rate, climbing above the others. No: two rapidly-speeding heart-rates—sharing exactly the same frequency.
Still supporting T’Pol’s limp form in her chair, in order that the vice-like grip she had on Trip’s limp hand might be maintained, Archer stared alternately at Koss and T’Saru—as both of their bodies stiffened impossibly, vibrating with tension, Koss‘ spine lifting twenty centimetres off of the surface upon which it rest. Their heart rates soared identically until it sounded like the insistent beeping of an alarm.
And then both stopped simultaneously.
Phlox and Archer gaped, both men beyond belief now, at their two suddenly silent patients. Olive blood dripped quietly, thickly, from Koss’ earhole, and Archer turned to look at T’Saru, who still stood, oblivious to her unmoving heart. Her shoulders bore the green drips of her own bleeding ears while she quietly uttered one sentence, fully three seconds after her heart fibrillated. And her voice was strong:
“You are ashayam.”
Archer looked to Phlox. “No idea,” Phlox replied in the ghost of a voice.
A moment later, T’Saru crumpled to the floor and lay there. Phlox stepped forward and kneeled down to scan the lady. His stomach silently heaved as it hadn’t since his first dissection lecture. He looked up into Archer’s face with a sort of horror marked upon his own. “Total vascular breakdown of the brain. There is, quite literally, nothing left.”
“What?” Archer stared at his chief medical officer from behind T’Pol’s chair. “What could do that?” he demanded.
“I have no idea,” Phlox replied, leaving the fallen woman where she lay, and swiftly moving to scan the two commanders. Both were unchanged. If anything, their heart-rates and other vitals had improved somewhat. Mystified, he stepped around the captain to scan Koss.
The bleeding Vulcan man’s scan told a similar tale to the priest’s: the brain, as an organ, no longer existed. Instead there was a ruined mess of exploded capillaries, veins, and arteries, all allowing blood to pool and remain within the skull bones of the dead man’s head.
“He’s the same as she,” Phlox reported tersely. “The time of death, in both cases, is noted at approximately 07:52 hours,” he stated for the record, and to prevent the captain immediately plying him with questions.
The grim knell of the physician’s pronouncement held Jonathan Archer off for about twenty-three seconds. “What now?” he asked insistently. “Why aren’t the others awake? Can we wake them up?”
“No, we cannot just ‘wake them up’,” Phlox replied shortly as he continued scanning and began mentally preparing a scheme for fitting them one at a time into the imaging chamber. T’Pol’s hand was crushing Trip’s so severely, that there was no way he felt like taking time to prise it free. In fact, according to his scans, she had already fractured two of his metacarpals. Twisting the man’s hand out of her grip now would likely result in further tissue damage.
Archer held his tongue and watched Phlox work, hating being in a position in which he simply had to wait for another to solve the scenario. Without Phlox’s medical skill, all he could do was hold up T’Pol’s shoulders, so that she didn’t fall onto the floor.
The captain tried to force himself to relax. He was helping. Phlox couldn’t be in two places at once. He made a mental note to send yet another request to Starfleet HQ for more full-time medical staff. Archer looked down at the limp, bent head of his unconscious science officer and then over to his still-catatonic best friend.
* * *
After the main thrust of her grief had been given voice, her sobs quieted, and the corresponding rain abated.
Tears and stuffed sinuses and wet garments were not an issue after a crying jag in the world of the mind, unless one put them there. Trip reminded her of this by gently wiping one of her eyes with a thumb, and she blinked and concentrated, and after a moment her clothes were dry, and her face was pale and smooth again, if still imprinted with anguish.
T’Pol rose smoothly to her feet and pulled Trip up with his hands. They stood together, looking around at the space about them, which had become white and bright and misty and familiar.
T’Saru had sacrificed herself to take Koss away where his twisted soul could do no more harm. The house of cards had vanished. Everything was gone.
Trip pulled her to him and they rested on one another’s shoulders. He showed her how humans could put grief on a shelf for a moment so that one could breathe and recharge before taking it on again.
And in that moment of respite, in that brand new space of creation, where everything was fresh, they gladly wiped one another’s slates clean.
Trip put his forehead against hers, and in their magical world, he was able to put it a tiny bit into hers, so their eyes were even closer and more out of focus. And he smiled and spoke into her connected brain.
What do you say we wake up and then I move my stuff over to your place? Rostov’s next on the list for his own bunk. He can take mine.
We’ll do no such thing, she floated back, expertly, to Trip’s momentary puzzled chagrin.
I will move my ‘stuff’ over to your ‘place’.
You wanta live in my seamy, smelly human den? he asked incredulously.
T’Pol began the process of gently wafting them up/down/and sideways through the layers of consciousness, as she prepared them both to (hopefully) awaken.
Yours has the bigger bed, she clarified primly.
At this, Trip smiled. Strange things were thickening all about his eyes and ears, but her hand was firm on his and he trusted her completely. Did you measure or something? he asked, amused.
Yes. Yours is wider and longer by ten centimetres. It would be illogical for Rostov to take it. He may have mine.
Reality fuzzed around them both and they were each aware of a loud buzzing as they surfaced into the ‘real’ world. Trip frowned.
“Yeah, I don’t think I like the idea of Rostov sleeping in your bed.”
* * *
Suddenly, the captain felt T’Pol’s shoulders twitch under his palms. He swiftly lifted his head and opened his mouth to get Phlox’s attention, but found the physician looking into Trip’s slowly-blinking eyelids.
Trip’s jaws moved creakily, and he closed his eyes as he addressed the room at large. “Yeah, I don’t think I like the idea of Rostov sleeping in your bed.”
Archer almost smiled at this non sequitur, glancing once at an astonished Phlox, and he looked down at his own charge to see her turning her head in disorientation and attempting to push herself into a more comfortable sitting position. She let go her sweaty grip on Trip’s hand and flexed her fingers as if they were aching.
Trip pulled his extremely stiff arm over to his chest and cradled his left hand in his right. He squeezed his eyes shut again as he spoke, but Archer was relieved to hear the down-to-earth sensible twang of his chief engineer’s lucid voice: “Dammit, hon, I think you broke my hand.”
“Sorry,” T’Pol said softly to her mate, after looking up once into her captain’s glad, stressed face.
Trip opened his eyes and turned his head to look over at T’Pol, as he massaged his aching fingers. “S’okay. Thanks for coming to get me.” His voice was tender rather than comradely, and Archer and Phlox noticed the atmosphere becoming quite suddenly more private.
The captain cleared his throat in order that he might break into the conversation to ask some questions, when the ship shuddered violently.
Malcolm’s clipped voice broke into the room: Bridge to the Captain. We’re under attack.
Chapter 15 Conclusion
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A whole mess of folks have made comments
Holy Sehlat Droppings! That was one wild ride!
Oh Blue, I can always count on you to read it right away--and keep me from nibbling my nails down too low. :)
Wow! This chapter had me reading so fast just to see what happened next! I can't wait for the next one (hint, hint)!! This is a great story!!
Somebody better tell Bucky that the link is screwed up. The front page jumps you to part thirteen. You have to go to the bottom of thirteen to get to here.
I didn't mind the Chapter 13 detour. Got me back in the groove of the story.
Excellent chapter. Meaty and exciting. Some whole stories don't have what this chapter had going one.
Huge thumbs up!
Great imagery in this chapter, enterpriseScribe. :) Loved the whole description of the mental plane Trip found himself on, and a very nice weaving of the events we'd read two chapters ago into the spirit-Trip's perspective in this one. Excellent job all around! :D
Great stuff, enterpriseScribe, and I reeeally can't wait for more! :)
Amazing. Your skill at imagery truly defies description. I only wish I could write like this. Gorgeous. Thank you.
Thank YOU, Dis! I'm glad y'all like it. ;-)
Still a couple of surprises up my capacious sleeve, but we're gettin' to the end here.
I've got to agree with the previous comments: this was a helluva wild ride.
Interesting question though: "The eshak. Only the greatest and the most evil are able to attain it." Did I read this to mean that T’Saru was once "evil"?
Looking forward to the next chapter.
No. It's kind of like Dumbledore and Voldemort. Only the "greatest" and "the most evil" separately. Shoulda added more punctuation or something. Glad you liked it Rig. ;)
I have no idea about the HP reference as my knowledge is limited to the movies. Thanks for clarifying it, though. It may have simply been my own brain that was causing the problem in understanding what you trying to say.
Just how people always said that Dumbledore was the only one with powers to rival the evil Voldemort's, but he was "too noble to use them", yada yada yada. Anyhow. T'Saru=not evil.
Did T'Saru have a beard?
Yes, she had a *beard*! God, whaddyou do? just skim or something? Wake up and pay attention!
*whips BnB in the back of the head with realistic, smelly Soylmon®*
"Mmmmmm.....Soylmon®. For that non-spawned flavour!"
*wince and rubs his bruised noggin*
I most humbly beg pardon ma'am. I was so caught up in the whirlwind pace of things that some minor details just whizzed right past me like dog spit from the side window of a pickup truck headed down Interstate 75 at at high noon in August.
This chapter was awesome, the whole story is awesome. So full of detail and plot and character developement. You have to finish it!!!!!!!