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For As Long As Ever Lasts
Author - Hopeful Romantic | F | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Genre - Romance | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
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For As Long As Ever Lasts
Rating: PG-13, for language
A/N: Some of y’all at HoT indicated that you like to read your fic all at once. So here ye go—ten chapters, no waiting! Praise be to SLJ91 and Jenna, my champion beta readers.
This is Story #9 in the Reconnecting series. Naw, you don’t have to read the previous stories to get what’s going on, but hey, it’s more fun!
Part I (Chapters 1-5)
T’Pol still had no idea what she was going to say to her mother.
She stared at the blank viewscreen, waiting for the subspace connection to go through, fidgeting nervously, until Lorian’s calm hand closed over hers. She glanced at her son’s tranquil face, then beyond him to his fiancée Karyn, and Trip, both smiling supportively. T’Pol took a deep breath and willed herself to relax as she continued to wait.
T’Les was not at home, however. Nor was she at the Vulcan Science Academy, when T’Pol contacted T’Les’s office there. Apparently she was on a leave of absence, arranged on short notice and without explanation. She had left no word as to when she would return.
After making several more calls without locating her mother, T’Pol rose from her terminal, attempting to conceal her disappointment. “Likely she has embarked on one of her impromptu research forays.”
Trip sensed more from T’Pol. “Does she do this a lot?”
T’Pol frowned faintly in puzzlement. “After so recently returning to her post, I assumed she would refrain from...” She stopped, seeming to set the thought aside before answering Trip. “Yes. She has a habit of becoming absorbed in a quest for a solution to a problem, to the exclusion of all else.”
Lorian and Karyn traded a look. They had also noticed T’Pol’s unease. “An admirable trait in a scholar,” Lorian remarked.
“But a trying one at times, in a mother.” T’Pol looked away.
“No matter,” Lorian said soothingly. He took Karyn’s hand. “We do not plan on going anywhere.”
T’Pol’s shadowed expression lightened a little.
“She’ll meet them, T’Pol,” Trip assured her. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
News of the bombing of Earth’s embassy on Vulcan came that afternoon.
Jonathan Archer had no time to process Admiral Forrest’s death. He was too busy taking calls from Starfleet, canceling all shore leaves, putting a rush on repairs and resupply of Enterprise, and making preparations to leave for Vulcan as soon as possible. He never stopped moving, from bridge to ready room to command center and back to the bridge again. He didn’t even have a chance to change out of the sweaty workout clothes he’d been wearing when T’Pol brought him word of the attack.
Finally, hours later, he had every call made or answered, every order given, and no responsibility pending until... He looked across the bridge to the comm station. “Hoshi? When is Admiral Gardner due to call back?”
Hoshi Sato checked her chronometer. “Seventeen minutes, sir,” she replied quietly. The entire bridge staff had been speaking quietly around the captain. They were all acutely aware of the personal loss he had suffered.
Archer glanced at the science station. T’Pol wasn’t back yet; he had her circulating among departments, authorizing or scrounging whatever supplies, equipment, or personnel were needed. His eyes flicked to Malcolm Reed at Tactical, a calm British sea, as always, in the midst of the pre-launch chaos. “Malcolm, you have the bridge.”
“Aye, sir,” Malcolm nodded.
Archer gestured vaguely to his incongruous yellow jersey as he headed for the turbolift. “I’ll be back in seventeen minutes...” —he forced a bit of wryness into his voice— “...looking a little more like a captain.”
After the lift door shut behind him, Hoshi, Malcolm, and Travis Mayweather exchanged glances of mingled concern and admiration for their commander. “He’s been looking plenty captain-like to me,” Travis said to no one in particular.
-- -- --
Archer waited until he was safely inside his quarters before he loosened his grip on his tenuous control and his aching soul broke open.
He stripped off his clothes and turned his shower on full blast, then braced himself under the stinging-hot spray, letting the water drown out his sobs and wash away his tears. Fourteen minutes...that was all the time he had simply to be a man who had lost his friend and mentor. Then he would be captain of Enterprise once more, with no time to grieve properly until this mission was over.
He dragged himself out of the shower and toweled off, rubbing a clear spot in the steamed-up mirror. Red-rimmed eyes stared back at him. He looked like hell.
His head was pounding by the time he pulled out a clean uniform and tossed it on the bed, barely missing Porthos. The beagle sat up, shifting his weight restlessly from paw to paw, clearly distressed by his master’s anguish. He whined once, softly. Archer stroked the dog’s ears. “There’s no fooling you, is there, boy?” Porthos licked his hand.
He was zipping up his jumpsuit when his door chime sounded. “Not yet,” he pleaded under his breath. “I still have eight minutes.” But he couldn’t bring himself to ignore whoever was out there. He wiped a sleeve across his wet eyes, ran his fingers through his still-damp hair, and took a deep, steadying breath. “Come in.”
The door opened, revealing Karyn Archer, her face filled with sympathy and sorrow.
Archer’s first thought was that her arrival would just start him crying again. But she crossed to him without a word, simply embracing him. He wrapped his arms around her, and they held each other for a long moment, rocking gently, soothing one another...and Archer found himself gaining strength from her presence
At last Karyn pulled back, looking up at him. Though she was dry-eyed, he could see that she had recently been weeping, too. “What can I do?” she asked softly.
“You’re doing it,” he replied gratefully.
She hugged him again. “I’m going to miss him. We all are. He was so kind to us. The day we arrived, he greeted every one of us personally, even the children.”
That made Archer smile. “He was great with kids. He always taught at the summer space camps.” Reluctantly, he pulled out of Karyn’s comforting embrace. “Admiral Gardner’s going to be yelling for me in six minutes.”
She nodded. “Before you go—sit.”
With a puzzled frown, Archer sat on the bed. Karyn pulled out a hypospray. “I went by sickbay on my way here. This is for your headache.” As he stared at her in surprise, she injected him. Next she produced a small bottle. “And these drops will really help your eyes.” She waited. Like an obedient child, Archer tipped his head back. With tender care, she applied the eye drops.
He blinked a few times. His head was already starting to feel better. “You’re going to make Lorian a fine wife.”
Karyn smiled dismissively. “Lorian’s not going to need me to take care of him.”
“You’ll be surprised how much he needs you.” Archer gestured to the hypospray and eye drops. “How did you know?”
“Because I’ve gotten the same kind of message,” she answered simply.
His face filled with compassion. “I’m sorry.”
Karyn shrugged faintly, but her eyes were sad. Before he could get nosy, she turned away, setting the first aid things on his desk.
Archer recalled looking up his “descendants” in the alternate Enterprise’s records to confirm Phlox’s DNA findings. Son Henry, grandson Charles, great-granddaughter Karyn. Charles and his wife Olivia had died on the same day eight years before, he remembered. That would have made Karyn just eighteen years old...
She turned back, her face composed again, and stood him up. “Let’s get you back to the bridge.”
They headed for the turbolift together. Karyn stayed close, her arm through Archer’s. “I wish I could have spent more time with the Admiral.”
“He was one of the finest men I knew,” Archer said. “He taught me a lot. Kept me in line. Chewed me out more times than I can count. He almost got me kicked out of Starfleet, did you know that?”
Karyn shook her head. “What’d you do?”
“Stole a prototype warp-drive ship to test out a theory.”
Karyn’s jaw dropped. “Papa...!”
“Forrest hung my ass out to dry. Then at my Starfleet hearing, he gave a speech that single-handedly kept me from getting court-martialed. He’s the reason I’m here.” Archer smiled down at her. “When we get back, I’ll tell you the story.”
She returned his smile. “I’d like that.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Trip had all three crew shifts working simultaneously to get a week’s worth of repairs and maintenance wrapped up within the next twelve hours. Lorian only needed to take one look at the frenetic scene in engineering before he automatically began assisting his father. When Karyn arrived, she hugged Trip hello, then rolled up her sleeves and joined them. T’Pol showed up shortly thereafter, sent by Captain Archer—ostensibly to help get engineering buttoned down in time for launch. But Archer obviously knew that it would make visiting with Lorian and Karyn a lot easier for her.
“Admiral Gardner called Papa again, just before I left,” Karyn said, as she handed Trip a padd of diagnostic data. “More details about the bombing. The location of the explosive charges was chosen to maximize loss of life. And whoever planted them had to expose themselves to great risk to get them there.”
“This suggests that the perpetrators are driven by a great passion to achieve their objective,” Lorian observed, as he and Trip finished closing up the warp injector housings. “A reckless, ruthless passion.”
T’Pol looked up from her terminal nearby, where she was studying the results of the latest antimatter intermix calibration. “That indicates a decided lack of logic.”
“Precisely the reason why Starfleet’s insistence on sending Enterprise to investigate was a wise decision,” Lorian responded. “The senselessness of the crime will likely stymie Vulcan authorities who would undoubtedly search for logical answers.”
“It’ll be hell on the captain,” Trip sighed. “But I’m sure he wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“There are many at the Starfleet compound who wish they could join him,” Lorian said.
“The whole place is still in shock,” Karyn added. “There’s a lot of respect for the Admiral. Among our people, too.”
“He gave us a home and a new future,” Lorian noted quietly. “He will be long remembered.”
The four of them, absorbed as they were in their various tasks, didn’t realize that the rest of the engineering crew was sneaking looks at them from the catwalks. After all, it was impossible not to notice how effortlessly the little group worked together...Commanders Tucker and T’Pol communicating almost without the need for words...Lorian and his former XO (and now girlfriend, rumor had it) Karyn Archer partnering up with the seamless ease of longtime colleagues...and the “parents” laboring alongside the “children” as if they’d worked side by side for years.
Even richer to witness was the personal interplay. The easy way Lorian referred to the commanders as Mother and Father, and T’Pol and Tucker’s unquestioned acceptance of the designations. Tucker joshing with Lorian and doting affectionately on Karyn. T’Pol and Lorian engaged in lively debate over a problem, spinning off into esoteric theory as they left any less-than-brilliant eavesdropper far behind. The subtle, familial fondness that all four—even T’Pol, in her own way—showed each other, with touches, words, and glances.
After a little while, it didn’t matter to any of the observers that Lorian looked years older than Tucker and T’Pol, or that the two commanders weren’t a couple, or that Karyn looked young enough to be Lorian’s daughter rather than his girlfriend. They were a family, plain and simple. And watching the Family, as they were quickly dubbed up in the catwalks, was irresistible.
Hess and Rostov had their hands full shooing the captivated crew back to their duties. But they could hardly blame anyone. The Family just looked so...cute down there together. Amazingly, they seemed quite clueless that they made such a striking-looking ensemble, which rendered them even more adorable to their admirers. Even Hess and Rostov got stuck sometimes, simply watching.
The ultimate treat unfolded as time grew short and Enterprise’s launch loomed nearer. Lorian proposed a series of shortcuts and jury-rigging tricks, all devised on the fly in the Expanse, to cut prep time. Commander Tucker, impressed by his son’s ingenuity, and clearly disgruntled that he hadn’t come up with any of the time-savers on his own, answered each of Lorian’s shortcuts with one of his signature Engineering Miracle moves, typically saved to satisfy Captain Archer in a time crunch. Back and forth the two engineers went, good-naturedly one-upping one another, as they sent crewmen scurrying to implement each new task, and engineering grew speedily closer to readiness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Lorian and Karyn stayed until the last possible moment, when the call came for all visitors to depart the ship. Hess booted Trip out of engineering herself, insisting that he accompany T’Pol to see Lorian and Karyn off.
“Perhaps you will be able to locate your mother more readily once you have reached Vulcan,” Lorian told T’Pol, as they all emerged from the turbolift and headed for the airlock.
“Perhaps,” T’Pol echoed. She looked ill at ease again.
Trip, Lorian, and Karyn picked up on it. They exchanged glances. “Y’know,” Trip began, “once we catch the bad guys, we could still do the subspace meet-and-greet and introduce T’Les to the kids.”
“Sure,” Karyn joined in. “You two and T’Les on one end, and Lorian and me on the other.”
T’Pol perked up a little. Lorian added, “You would be able to make your introductions in person, as you had hoped.”
“And I’d be right there with you to help,” Trip offered brightly. “Or totally muck it up, depending on how you look at it.”
T’Pol nodded. “A communiqué involving all of us would be agreeable,” she said with conviction. The other three traded surreptitious nods: mission accomplished.
As they reached the airlock, Archer rounded the corner, catching a surprised Karyn up in a hug. “I told Hoshi not to answer any calls for five minutes,” he said with a smile.
“Like hell you did!” Karyn laughed. “But whatever rules you broke to come down here, I’m glad.” She held him close. “Watch your back, and come home safe.”
Archer held her at arm’s length, regarding her fondly. “I love you. Have I told you that?”
Karyn swallowed hard, suddenly teary-eyed, as she shook her head. “I like hearing it.”
“I’m not just saying it because we happen to share some DNA.” Archer kissed her on the cheek. “I’m glad you’re here. You’ve become such a part of me.”
“And you’re a real person to me now, not just a picture and a bio in a file.” Karyn returned his kiss. “I love you, too, Papa.”
As she flitted over to Trip and T’Pol to deliver farewell hugs, Archer turned to Lorian, standing quietly by. “Lorian, I know she’s perfectly capable of looking after herself, but...take care of her.”
Lorian understood what Archer meant. “Rest assured, Captain, I have pledged my life to do so.” He held out his hand, and Archer shook it with a nod of gratitude.
Lorian accepted a bear hug from Trip and a more reserved embrace from T’Pol. “Give my best to Ambassador Soval,” he told them, with that tiny, mischievous Lorian-smile.
Trip looked heavenward. “Don’t expect us to become best buddies or anything.”
“The thought never occurred to me,” Lorian replied innocently. He and Karyn turned to leave.
“One more thing!” Archer barked in his command voice. The couple stopped and faced him in surprise. “There will be no marrying anybody while Enterprise is away,” he ordered sternly. “I am not missing out on that. Understood?”
“Aye, Captain,” they both replied crisply.
Archer nodded, satisfied. Trip tried unsuccessfully to smother a chuckle, while T’Pol raised an eyebrow delicately, her eyes dancing with amusement.
Lorian ushered Karyn into the airlock, and they took one last look at Trip, T’Pol, and Archer. “Safe journey,” Lorian said.
“Good luck,” Karyn added softly.
The three Enterprise officers nodded, and the airlock hatch hissed shut.
-- -- --
As the transport shuttle dropped away from Enterprise and made for the North American continent, Karyn regarded Lorian speculatively. “So...when are we getting married? No, wait—first things first. When are we going public with our engagement?”
“The answer to both your questions hinges on whether Starfleet will allow married officers to be posted on the same vessel,” Lorian replied. “We will be of unequal rank, and I may also be called upon to serve within the command structure. There are issues of propriety and objectivity.”
“They wouldn’t be issues with you, and you know it,” Karyn scoffed.
“Starfleet does not know me as well as you do,” Lorian pointed out patiently. “Until Captain Archer has gleaned the pertinent information from the upper echelons, we had best stay in a ‘holding pattern,’ as my father would say.”
Karyn nodded reluctantly. He was right, of course. “And if they would separate us?” She looked wistful. “Would we stay secretly engaged forever?”
Lorian was surprised by how much he missed the spark of joy he almost always saw in her eyes. “Not at all,” he replied reassuringly. Then, impulsively, he kept going. “We would secretly marry.”
The spark returned full force as Karyn’s face lit with awestruck delight. “Lorian...how romantic.”
He was quite nonplussed. “Two months ago, I doubt that anyone would have described me as ‘romantic’...”
Karyn was already picturing it, spinning a story in her mind’s eye. “By day, we would work side by side, never so much as touching, while our shipmates remained blissfully unaware of the true nature of our relationship...” She sighed dreamily. “But at night, after duty shift, we would rendezvous in secret, in your quarters or mine...we’d peel off our clothes and our false identities, and you would take me in your arms and ravish me...”
Her playful manner evaporated when she saw the stricken expression on Lorian’s face. He looked down. “The pon farr has forever altered your view of me,” he said bleakly.
Karyn was devastated by the hurt she saw in his eyes, and heard in his voice. “What do you mean?”
“Ravisher...you called me a ravisher.” He was hardly able to say the word.
Karyn took his hand. “Oh, love, I’m sorry,” she told him softly. “I meant it in the emotional sense, as a compliment...because I find you irresistible. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”
He clutched her hand in both of his, like a lifeline. When he finally met her eyes, she could see he was still terribly self-conscious. “That night, when we...when you saved me...”
Karyn waited, giving him time to find the words he was searching for. Lorian swallowed and continued. “I was not the uncontrolled savage that I feared I would become, but neither was I...myself.” He sighed. “I had intended to wait.”
Lorian averted his eyes again, blushing green-bronze to the tips of his ears. “I did not expect our courtship to progress to an...intimate relationship...until after we were married. Or at least engaged. I’d had little time to consider it...”
She caught her breath as she realized what he was saying. “You knew you wanted to marry me before the pon farr?”
He nodded, with that sweet bashfulness she adored about him. “Not very long before, granted.” He spoke haltingly, still painfully shy, but determined to impart this to her. “At Callahan’s...our first dance...I spoke to you of my feelings. I found myself picturing the future, and I discovered that I could not envision any future without you at my side, sharing it with me.”
She smiled tenderly at him, touched by his admission.
“I knew that our courtship had been brief,” Lorian continued. “Nevertheless, I was determined to broach the subject of marriage to you at the end of the evening, when we were alone.”
Karyn thought back to the moment when he had proposed to her, following their intense and emotional night of lovemaking, when he had awakened safe in her arms the next morning. Her smile widened. “That you did.”
Lorian looked embarrassed again. “The circumstances were far different than I—”
“Lorian.” She took his face in her hands. “The order of events may have changed. The speed may have changed. But the destination has always been the same...the two of us, together.” With that, she pulled his head down and kissed him.
He leaned into her, holding the kiss, deepening it, feeling his anxiety fade. At last he pulled back, aware that they were on a public transport. But his eyes never left her.
Karyn studied him for a moment. “We could start over, if you wanted...take that night, label it ‘pon farr necessity,’ and just forget about it.”
“No,” Lorian said firmly. He caressed her cheek. “I could never forget what you did for me that night...what we shared. Nor would I wish to.”
That made her smile again. “Still, if it would put you more at ease, we can wait. Until we’re married.”
He was quite touched. “You’ve waited so long already.”
She slipped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest. “You’re worth waiting for, Lorian.”
“And you are worth dispensing with all waiting, Karyn.” He enfolded her in his arms, dropping a light kiss on her silken hair. “I suggest that we let the question answer itself, when the time arises.”
They held each other in comfortable silence, watching the black expanse of stars outside the viewports gave way to blue sky and sunshine.
“I wonder...” Lorian mused thoughtfully. “Does it seem incorrect for me to marry you before my parents marry each other?”
“Now that you mention it...” Karyn shrugged. “They’ll be facing the Starfleet question too, though—they’re both in the command structure. Besides, we don’t know when T’Pol’s going to get out of that fool marriage of hers, or how.”
“Enterprise is en route to Vulcan. This mission may result in changes for all concerned.”
“I hope so.” Karyn fell silent again. Then, abruptly, she grinned. “Secret marriages for everybody! Clandestine midnight rendezvous!...”
Lorian rolled his eyes, but he could not suppress a chuckle of his own. Unfathomable, this notion of romance. Nevertheless, he had to admit that he was developing a distinct fondness for it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
T’Pol was so surprised to see Administrator V’Las step through the airlock hatch that she didn’t immediately register Soval’s presence. However, as soon as the ambassador spoke—his voice strained, imbued with an undercurrent of grief—T’Pol realized how profoundly he had been affected by the bombing, and the death of his human colleague.
As V’Las introduced Chief Investigator Stel to Captain Archer, T’Pol focused on Soval. His only visible injury was an ugly contusion that splayed across his right temple and cheekbone. His manner was markedly subdued, with none of the haughty arrogance he affected whenever he was in the presence of humans. When their eyes met, T’Pol expected no more than a neutral glance of recognition, but Soval’s expression visibly lightened, and he gave her a small nod of welcome acknowledgment.
She did not have a chance to speak privately with Soval during the briefing, but T’Pol saw his expression grow increasingly conflicted as the Syrrannites were discussed. He never openly disagreed with V’Las, but he clearly did not share the administrator’s contention that Syrrannites were responsible for the bombing.
As the briefing progressed, T’Pol turned her attention to the other two Vulcans. Chief Investigator Stel seemed uncommonly young for the position; his statements sounded flat and practiced, as if he had learned them by rote. Administrator V’Las unsettled her in a more indeterminate fashion. Surely it must be her own faulty perception that V’Las appeared almost...eager in his expectation that Captain Archer’s investigation would produce evidence tying the Syrrannites to the bombing. Moreover, V’Las spent the whole of the briefing virtually ignoring T’Pol’s presence. Even when she spoke directly to him, he gave her only the barest of glances, directing his responses to the captain.
Afterward, as T’Pol ushered the three Vulcans out of the conference room to escort them back to their ship, she noted that V’Las took care to keep considerable physical distance between them, with Stel following his superior’s example. T’Pol found their behavior half-amusing, half-annoying. She could not recall being ostracized this blatantly since childhood, when her schoolmates had derided her for her unseemly emotionalism.
They were nearing the airlock when T’Pol saw Trip approaching from a side corridor, stabbing busily at a padd. He glanced up and brightened when he spotted her. “T’Pol! Glad I caught up with you. Are there any protocols that Malcolm and Travis need to—”
He stopped short when he saw the Vulcans in T’Pol’s wake. Immediately, he adopted a demeanor of professional deference. “Excuse me.”
For an instant, V’Las fixed Trip with a tritanium-hard stare of open hostility. Then the moment was gone, and the administrator’s countenance was once more a Vulcan mask of polite calm. T’Pol found his transformation disquieting, to say the least, but she did not allow it to show on her own face. Smoothly, she stepped in to make introductions. “Administrator, this is—”
“Commander Tucker, yes,” V’Las finished. He nodded coolly to Trip.
Trip returned the nod, keeping his expression neutral...but he hadn’t missed that ferocious glare, either. Administrator, T’Pol had said. That would make this clown V’Las, the head of the VHC. Being the most powerful guy on the planet had apparently not done anything for his manners. And the pencil-neck shadow? Didn’t matter—the kid wasn’t doing much more than following Mister Big’s lead. A lackey.
Without another word, V’Las continued on, pointedly giving Trip a wide berth, with Stel obediently in tow. Trip squinted after him. “I guess he got the memo about Lorian,” he muttered under his breath.
“No matter,” T’Pol said dismissively. “He treated me in much the same fashion.”
“It’s been a while since anybody acted like I had cooties,” Trip remarked, only half-joking.
“It is probably not we whom he regards as an affront, but our counterparts,” T’Pol reasoned.
Trip hmmphed dubiously. “It’s us, all right.”
With the two commanders’ attention on the departing V’Las, Soval had a moment to study them. Like T’Pol, Soval suffered from a highly curious nature—another secret kept hidden from the High Command—and he found T’Pol and Tucker’s ever-evolving relationship an endlessly fascinating feast for his curiosity. Evidently the dynamic between them had shifted yet again in the months since he had last seen them.
Though T’Pol was now married—in a bizarre, tradition-defying arrangement that only confirmed Soval’s suspicion that she and Commander Tucker had developed a deep affection for one another—he observed at her promotion ceremony that the two had remained steadfast friends. They had been denied a future together as a couple, and Soval had no doubt that they had both conducted themselves with honor since the marriage. Yet here they were now, still clearly comfortable in each other’s presence...sufficiently at ease, in fact, to speak quite openly in front of him. And more than ever, Soval sensed a connection between them, beyond mere friendship or unfulfilled love. Something...deeper.
He addressed them now. “It is not you, per se, but what you represent, that unsettles the administrator.”
“Ambassador?” V’Las’s voice betrayed a peevishness that Soval found privately amusing. The administrator had belatedly realized that Soval had remained behind with Trip and T’Pol. He was regarding Soval from the airlock, with clear disapproval.
“I will join you shortly, Administrator,” Soval said, not at all intimidated.
Trip bit his lip, but he couldn’t stop the smile from forming, so he turned his face away. He didn’t have to be looking to imagine the Vulcan version of apoplexy that must be taking over V’Las’s face. Atta boy, Soval. Trip imagined that hell must be starting to cool considerably right about now.
Soval calmly turned his back on V’Las, continuing his conversation with the two commanders. “You have both proven by your example what Admiral Forrest and I have tried to impress upon the High Command for some time: humans and Vulcans can and should work in concert, as equal partners.”
Trip chuckled. “If that ticks him off, Lorian must give him nightmares.”
T’Pol steered the conversation in a less volatile direction. “Lorian sends you his best, Ambassador.”
Soval’s pensive countenance lightened considerably. “I have studied his report and supportive evidence. I am most impressed by your...by Lorian.” His brow knitted in faint bemusement. “I am not entirely certain how to refer to him in relation to you.”
Trip smiled. “Go ahead and call him our son. He was calling us Mother and Father from the get-go.” He paused, trying to find the words to explain. “When he got here a few weeks ago...that first day, losing his mom...he needed his dad back. He needed to be my son. That’s what we’ve been to each other ever since.”
Soval looked thoughtful as he turned his dark, perceptive eyes on T’Pol. “I gather that your initial assessment of Lorian has changed since we last spoke.”
“Yes,” T’Pol replied, with a confidence she had lacked at the time she first met her son. “I realized that my doubts were about myself, rather than Lorian. Now we also consider each other family...mother and son. At first glance, there appears to be little logic to it, but it is...correct. We both value the relationship highly. I have found it to be surprisingly fulfilling...” Suddenly self-conscious at her frank expression of contentment, T’Pol lowered her eyes demurely.
Soval simply nodded. “I accept your explanation.” With a wryly arched eyebrow, he added, “I believe I even understand it.”
Good gravy, Soval has wit, too? Trip could imagine snow starting to fall in hell...pretty little flakes piling up in drifts, giving the hellfire-tenders fits.
“You three have adapted to a unique situation, to the benefit of all,” Soval went on. “As I reviewed Lorian’s report, I took note of his crew’s remarkable capacity for adapting...particularly their Commander Tucker and T’Pol. Lorian’s abilities and principles owe much to their influence.” He regarded Trip and T’Pol for a moment in silence. “Though you did not raise him, you are the individuals who later became his parents. They possessed your values and instincts, your humor, foibles, tolerance, your capacity for love. I commend you on their behalf.”
“Thank you, Ambassador.” Trip managed to keep the shock out of his voice. He was picturing hell as a veritable winter wonderland now. Icicles hanging from the pitchforks. Demons building snowmen. Skaters doing figure-eights on the frozen-over brimstone.
T’Pol was equally stunned, but she had the requisite Vulcan discipline to control it. “We are honored.”
Soval clasped his hands in front of him, shifting back into Ambassadorial mode. “Lorian exhibits the best of both our worlds. He does credit to his heritage.” With a nod of farewell, he departed, joining V’Las and Stel at the airlock.
After they were gone, Trip’s eyes drifted ceilingward. As he glanced back and forth, T’Pol watched him curiously. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for flying pigs,” Trip murmured.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It wasn’t like any Starfleet induction ceremony Admiral Gardner had ever seen.
The group had bypassed the proffered presentation hall, opting instead for a banquet room at the cafeteria, so food would be readily available to help keep the children from squirming during the proceedings. Nineteen of the sixty-three inductees were part alien, representing species never before seen outside the Delphic Expanse, with the exception of the half-Vulcan Lorian and several crew of Denobulan descent. Officially, as far as Starfleet was concerned, none of them had even existed before they were delivered to Spacedock by the Xindi a couple of months ago. If that meant no one would comment on the record about their remarkable expertise and experience regarding the NX-class starship...well, the rumor mill was already connecting them to an alleged black-ops “spy section” outside Starfleet’s purview, and that was infinitely preferable to the truth getting out.
Also, these newest members of Starfleet tended toward giddy smiles or victory whoops after getting their handshake from Gardner. It was a little jarring, until he got used to it.
Despite the less-then-formal tone of the ceremony—or perhaps because of it—Gardner found himself enjoying this prodigal starship crew immensely. They were so enthusiastic, so determined to make a difference, so optimistic about their future. They didn’t take anything for granted—not even the children did. That attitude was obviously key to their survival during their long exile in the Expanse, and Gardner was impressed that it hadn’t flagged. No wonder Forrest had taken such a shine to them.
All but two of them were lined up behind Gardner now, looking smart in their crisp blue Starfleet uniforms, many of them sporting newly-awarded officers’ pips—ensigns, lieutenants, a few lieutenant commanders. As Karyn approached the admiral, a raucous cheer rose up from the audience of families and newly-befriended Starfleet personnel seated at the cafeteria tables.
As Gardner pinned Lieutenant’s bars on Karyn’s uniform, he commented, “Lively bunch you have here.”
Karyn’s composed at-attention stance relaxed a touch, and she gave him a light-hearted little shrug. “You can take the crewman out of the Expanse, but you can’t take the Expanse out of the crewman.”
“Something tells me that’s a good thing.” Gardner shook her hand. “Welcome to Starfleet, Lieutenant Archer.”
“Thank you, Admiral.” Karyn moved into the line with the others, getting several welcoming hugs and handshakes from her crewmates.
As Lorian stepped up to the admiral, the entire room stood as one in salute, clapping and cheering madly. Lorian received the kudos with his typically unflappable Vulcan calm...but when he caught Karyn’s eye, and saw her smiling warmly at him, his lips quirked up in a small smile of his own.
Gardner noticed the exchange as he pinned Commander’s pips on Lorian’s uniform. “I understand that you and Lieutenant Archer are Columbia-bound.”
“Yes, sir,” Lorian acknowledged. When Captain Hernandez had signed Lorian and Karyn onto Columbia’s crew, she had smoothly sidestepped the no-fraternization issue by stating that she had no official knowledge of the nature of their relationship, and as long as they were discreet and did their jobs, she had no intention of inquiring. Then she had smiled and wished them every happiness. Unofficially, of course.
“Will you miss having a ship of your own?” Gardner asked.
“I have no doubt that an opportunity for command will present itself in due time,” Lorian replied.
Gardner smiled enigmatically. “Congratulations, Commander,” he said, shaking Lorian’s hand. “Good to have you with us.”
“Thank you, Admiral.” Lorian took his place beside Karyn.
Gardner addressed the entire group. “I know that Admiral Forrest was looking forward to officiating at this ceremony himself...pinning those officers’ bars on you, shaking your hands. He felt a special responsibility toward you. It was important to him that each of you be given the opportunity to make a happy life here on Earth and reach for your dreams. In a way, you’re his legacy, and from what I’ve seen, quite an admirable legacy to leave behind. You’ve already made him proud.”
Three score faces gazed back at him, their expressions a mixture of joy and sadness, pride and humility, hope and determination.
Gardner grinned. “Now get over to the buffet tables before the kids scarf up everything.”
As the blue-clad herd thundered happily toward the food, Gardner beckoned to Lorian. “Commander—a moment?” He drew Lorian away from the rest of the assemblage. “You certainly do have an extraordinary rapport with your people.”
“They’re a fine crew, sir.”
“After seeing their performance on the evaluations and exams, HQ was sorry it didn’t have a ship ready and waiting. We could’ve poured you all right into her and been ready to go.” Gardner lowered his voice. “However, I have it on good authority that the keel’s about to be laid for the NX-03, Intrepid. She’ll launch within sixteen months. Are you interested in putting in for Captain?”
Lorian took a moment to absorb the Admiral’s news. An NX-class starship! Such an opportunity far exceeded all his hopes. But... “Surely such a request would be viewed by Starfleet Headquarters as an attempt to usurp the position from a more deserving officer...one who has built a body of experience here.”
“HQ will see it for what it is—a request for a command, made by a highly skilled, experienced commander.” Gardner smiled slyly. “Where do you think this tip came from?”
Lorian’s eyebrows rose in surprise, though he said nothing. Gardner continued, “The brass wants you to be in the running for this, Commander. Don’t get me wrong—you’ll face jealousy and resentment from some of your fellows...but others will see it the way Admiral Forrest did.”
Lorian was even more taken aback. “Admiral Forrest knew of this?”
Gardner smiled. “He proposed the idea to HQ in the first place. His greatest goal was to see Vulcans and humans working together, and he couldn’t ask for a finer representative of that ideal than you.” His smile grew wistful. “He was going to tell you about all this himself, today. A surprise.”
Lorian’s throat tightened with emotion as he realized the extent to which Admiral Forrest had looked after him and his future. He nodded to Gardner. “I’m honored by his confidence, and now yours, sir. I will give the matter serious consideration.”
“Fair enough,” Gardner said. “Oh—one more thing. That special request you made, the day Enterprise left for Vulcan...” He looked doubtful. “You knew the odds of getting it granted.”
Lorian nodded. “Astonishingly small.”
Gardner drew a long envelope from his jacket pocket and held it out. “It’s been granted. This alone should tell you how highly HQ regards you.”
Lorian took the envelope as if it were made of gold. “Thank you, Admiral,” he said softly.
With a nod, Gardner moved off to mingle with the other inductees.
Karyn had been watching the exchange, from a position respectfully—and maddeningly—out of earshot. She joined Lorian now, fairly bursting with curiosity. “What’s going on?”
He held up the envelope. “We got it.”
She drew in a breath of amazement. “Oh my God.”
“And...we have another decision to make.” Lorian walked her to a private corner to tell her about Intrepid.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Arik Soong envied Isaac Asimov.
The man was 150 years dead, and his fictional idea for a robotic brain was giving Soong fits. But whether Asimov knew it or not, the positronic brain was the key to viable cybernetic life. It didn’t matter to Soong whether the notion was born in a story; all lightning-bolt strokes of genius started out as fanciful musings. What mattered was that the principles were sound. All Soong had to do was work out the mechanics. Minor details, really.
He had covered the walls of his cell with his preliminary calculations. Three times over. It was fortunate that he had an eidetic memory, or he would find the repeated clearing of the walls downright annoying. At least it gave him more room to work.
He was so deeply buried in his latest round of figures that it took the guard three tries to get his attention. Finally he heard the impatient bark: “Dr. Soong!”
Soong didn’t even spare the energy to protest the interruption. “Let me finish this one string...”
“Stand up, Doctor. Someone to see you.”
Not now, not now... But he didn’t want them to take his pencils away. Doing all the calculations in his head would get unwieldy. He forced himself to stop writing and rise. Without prompting, he held out his wrists, wincing at the slight shock as his cuffs snapped together and locked. Now he did make a show of looking inconvenienced...the better to hide the sting of humiliation at being shackled like a mindless animal.
His cell door slid open, admitting an attractive young lieutenant in Starfleet blue. Soong was immediately struck by the evident fact that she was part alien. An adult human-alien hybrid? Since when had humans begun interbreeding? He didn’t even recognize the delicate ridges that ran down the center of her forehead and the bridge of her nose. Moreover, he knew of no aliens in Starfleet, with the precedent-setting exception of the lovely Commander T’Pol.
He noticed that the young lady looked uncomfortable to be in the same room with him. Well, he got that a lot.
“Dr. Soong, I’m from Command.” she said. “I’ve been asked to show you some material and get your assessment of it.” She held out a padd.
He didn’t take it. “What is it, somebody’s senior thesis?” he asked dryly. “Are they going to have me grading papers next?”
The lieutenant looked nervous. “Look, this is my first assignment as a lieutenant, and I don’t want to fubar it, okay? I’m just the messenger. All you have to do is look at what’s on the padd and pass on any thoughts you have. If you don’t have any thoughts, that’s all right too.”
She was prettier when she was nervous. Soong decided to play a little. “What do I get out of it?”
She fidgeted. Her eyes were beautiful. “Nothing, as far as I know.” She glanced at the padd. “But I got the impression they thought you’d be interested by whatever’s on here.”
Soong accepted the padd from her. “If this is some kid’s Science Fair project, I will not be amused.” He started scrolling through the files with the swiftness of a speed-reader, fully intending to have nothing to say. Then he’d be able to get the young lady to squirm for him some more.
But he could not keep silent. He was too intrigued. “This is Phlox’s work—I recognize the way he thinks.” Oh, now, this was fascinating. “Human/Vulcan genome pairing?” He winked at the lieutenant. “Are Commanders Tucker and T’Pol up to something they’re not telling me about? And T’Pol a married woman. Tsk, tsk.”
The young lady looked blankly at him, apparently unaware of the contents of the padd. Soong gave up on her—unappreciative audiences were a waste of energy—and returned his attention to the files.
Karyn kept her face carefully neutral as she watched Soong read through the contents of the padd in growing puzzlement. “But why is he limiting his research? I can think of three other approaches off the top of my head that are more efficient. Denobula has the facilities and equipment for exactly this kind of experimentation. But Phlox isn’t referencing the resources on Denobula, or Starfleet...he isn’t seeking out independent consults, or specialized technology...” Soong frowned in frustration. “He keeps choosing the most primitive avenues to explore! As if he’s only working with what’s in his tiny little sickbay on Enterprise. Such a course is bound to result in dangerous... Oh, no.”
It was heartbreaking to read Phlox’s account of the miscarriages, and the prematurely-born girl who died. Soong held his breath as he scanned the files on the next pregnancy, the complications, the harrowing childbirth...but finally he could heave a sigh of relief. A healthy baby boy, mother recovering nicely.
He drew himself out of the world of the files he’d been reading—and suddenly realized that it didn’t add up. He scrolled back and forth through the padd, making sure. “This is years of work. There’s no way it could have taken place.” He chuckled to himself. “Except in an alternate universe, perhaps.”
He glanced up at his unappreciative lieutenant, to see if she’d grown a sense of humor...and saw that she was no longer alone. The new arrival was a Starfleet commander, Vulcan—no, wait. His eyebrows...his hair...
Lorian stood calmly as Soong stared at him in astonishment. They studied each other in silence, two extraordinarily observant individuals taking each other’s measure.
“You must be the only blond Vulcan in existence,” Soong said at last. “Did they choose the hair and eye color, or were the Tucker traits simply dominant?”
Lorian nodded toward the padd in Soong’s hand. “If you have read those notes, you know that the only goal was a healthy child. Specific physical characteristics were not at issue.”
Soong noted in a corner of his mind that the attractive young lieutenant’s demeanor had changed completely upon the commander’s arrival. She now displayed a graceful and confident bearing far beyond her years. She stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Vulcan as if she’d always been there and always would be.
Soong had to hand it to them. They had set this whole thing up to get his untainted first reaction to Phlox’s research, before laying eyes on...on what must be the result of said research. And he had played right into their hands.
He studied the two of them thoughtfully. Now, to figure out how it had all come to pass... “I remember talk a few months ago of the sudden arrival here of a second Enterprise, a second crew. All details quickly classified, everything hush-hush.”
“Where did you learn this?” Lorian asked.
Soong shrugged nonchalantly. “I hear things.” He walked in a slow circle around the Vulcan...and of necessity, the lieutenant, who didn’t budge from his side. “It would make sense. Some kind of time vortex—a wormhole, perhaps—throws Enterprise into the past during her mission in the Delphic Expanse. Captain Archer, being the noble, self-sacrificing type, keeps the ship isolated to avoid polluting the timeline and accidentally altering their own future... Am I getting warmer?”
“You will have an abundance of time to hypothesize,” Lorian said. “For now, I have a question to put to you.”
“About you?” Soong checked the padd. “...Lorian?”
“After a fashion.” Lorian nodded to the padd. “If Phlox were to pursue this line of research now, here, using all the resources available to him, would he be able to devise a safer way to create a viable Vulcan/human hybrid? Without any risk to child or mother?”
This was rich. Lorian was implying that T’Pol and Tucker—both of whom adhered strictly to bothersome codes of proper moral behavior—might nevertheless want a baby Lorian of their own someday. Never mind that T’Pol was already married to that exceedingly dull-looking Vulcan...architect or some such. Soong had gotten a look at the fellow in a celebrity rag about the Heroes of the Xindi War. Poor girl. He imagined that T’Pol’s life with that sallow-faced dishrag would be the epitome of ennui, after knowing the Southern charms of Commander Tucker.
Setting aside that fascinating tidbit for now, Soong replied, “Phlox is a fine genetic engineer...for someone who isn’t me. There’s no doubt he’ll improve his methods.” He paused, deliberating...but it only took a moment for him to decide. Choosing his words carefully, he continued, “If he does explore this avenue, he might consider dropping by and discussing his methods with me. He could bounce some of his ideas off me for feedback. I think it would be a valuable exchange of information.”
It was precisely the response Lorian had hoped for. Soong couldn’t resist the opportunity to do the research himself. “I’m sure he would be pleased to see you again, Doctor.”
He reached for the padd, but Soong hung back. “Before you go...I’ve always wanted to say this to a Vulcan.” He grinned like a little boy. “Your reason for coming here is highly illogical, isn’t it?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Lorian saw Karyn bite her lip to suppress a laugh. He arched an eyebrow, playing the affronted Vulcan to the hilt. “Indeed? Explain.”
“As long as T’Pol is married to...oh, what’s-his-name...Phlox’s research is irrelevant. Unless you know something I don’t.” Soong edged conspiratorially closer. “You can tell me. Is one of his buildings going to mysteriously collapse on top of him?”
“Not that I’m aware,” Lorian replied mildly. “I’m merely curious.” He eyed Soong. “Why do you wish to...‘discuss’ Phlox’s research with him?”
Soong considered the question. He could deny, or toy with Lorian over the issue...but he didn’t feel like it. His expression grew somber. “I know how it feels to lose a child.” He regarded Lorian and Karyn solemnly. “If circumstances change for them...if they are given their chance, and if I can add my...good wishes...to Phlox to improve their odds...” He shrugged faintly. “I’d like to make amends for past mistakes.” He broke into a casually arrogant smirk. “And frankly, you’d be fools not to listen to me.”
Lorian allowed himself a tiny smile of amusement. “I appreciate your candor, Doctor.”
He took hold of the padd, but Soong didn’t relinquish it. “You did make arrangements for me to keep this, didn’t you? To study?”
“Since you possess an eidetic memory, I assume you are referring to the padd, rather than Dr. Phlox’s research,” Lorian replied dryly. He gently but firmly wrested the padd from Soong’s grasp and pocketed it. “I’m well aware that electronic devices are forbidden you.”
Soong scowled at him. “Killjoy.”
Lorian nodded to the guard outside, and the cell door opened. “Hang on,” Soong said, his tone miffed. “I haven’t even been properly introduced to your mate.”
Both Lorian and his lovely lieutenant looked startled. Soong watched them with wicked inward delight. He just couldn’t help himself. But, really, it was so obvious.
To their credit, they recovered quickly “I beg your pardon?” Lorian asked.
“Your crewmate,” Soong replied innocently.
The woman faced him squarely. “Archer,” she replied coolly. “Karyn Archer.”
Soong’s jaw dropped. Satisfied, Karyn exited the cell with Lorian. “Wait!” Soong protested. “You can’t leave without telling me the story behind that.”
Karyn glanced over her shoulder at him. “As you said, Doctor...classified.”
He called after them. “You got clearance for Phlox’s research, didn’t you? This would be child’s play in comparison! Just tell me you’ll be coming back for another visit, at least! Please?...”
As they headed down the corridor, Karyn turned to Lorian. “It’s a good thing we already have clearance to talk to him about the Expanse. We’ll need to keep him happy until Phlox gets what he needs.”
“‘We’? I suspect it is you he wishes to see,” Lorian replied.
Karyn chuckled. “Don’t underestimate your appeal as a miracle baby.”
He gave her a knowing glance. “Shall I predict which one of us the good doctor will find more fascinating?...”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For a moment, Trip thought Soval was going to pass out. Pale and shaken, the Vulcan swayed unsteadily as he backed away from the comatose corporal in the biobed. “Stel,” he said softly. “Stel brought the explosive device into the embassy.”
“The Security Directorate guy?” Trip asked in astonishment. “V’Las’s lapdog?”
Soval nodded wordlessly, then moved away, putting a hand to the wall to steady himself.
Trip turned to Phlox, who was barely keeping a lid on his outrage. “What does the High Command have against Syrrannites that could possibly warrant framing them for mass murder?” the doctor bit out.
Trip shook his head in lingering disbelief. “A Vulcan terrorist...now there’s an oxymoron. And to find out he’s VHC...” How far did this conspiracy extend? All the way to the administrator himself? Trip figured he might as well dangle some bait and see if he could find out. He crossed to the comm panel and thumbed it. “Tucker to Sato.”
“Sato,” Hoshi’s voice responded from the bridge.
“Hoshi, I need you to send a message to the High Command.”
“Message only, sir?”
“That’s right. I don’t want to talk to any of ‘em. Address the message to Administrator V’Las. Tell him we have compelling new evidence regarding the bomber, and we request that he and Chief Investigator Stel join us on Enterprise as soon as possible.”
“Thanks, Hoshi. Tucker out.” Trip took another look at Soval, who was still taking refuge against the wall, his back to the bright lights and very public arena of sickbay. He looked so...vulnerable. It was a word Trip thought he would never have applied to the imperious old Vulcan.
He approached Soval, making sure not to crowd him. When he caught sight of the ambassador’s profile, it was startling. Soval’s mask of impassivity was gone, exposing the shattered expression of a man whose belief system was in a shambles, whose loyalties were in question, whose trust had been betrayed...and whose grief for his lost friend and colleagues still lingered.
“Ambassador?” Trip said quietly. “Perhaps you’d be more comfortable waiting in the conference room.”
Slowly, Soval nodded. “Yes, Commander. Thank you.”
-- -- --
By the time they reached the empty, softly-lit conference room, Soval had regained his composed demeanor, but Trip suspected there was still a lot of pain and emotion hidden just under the surface. With a quiet dignity that Trip couldn’t help but admire, Soval crossed to the viewport and gazed silently at the fiery orange-red world below.
Trip realized with some surprise that he hadn’t needed time to adjust to the kinder, gentler Soval; nor had the ambassador needed to adjust to him. The two of them had made the shift from adversaries to allies quickly, without any awkwardness or lingering hard feelings about past barbs hurled. It was as if they’d been waiting for an excuse to stop sniping and poking at each other...a bridge to common ground. And Lorian was the bridge.
The strangest part of it for Trip was that it didn’t feel strange at all.
He cleared his throat. “If you’ll excuse me, Ambassador, I have to go check on...” His mind chose this moment to go utterly blank. He mentally smacked himself in the head. “Hell, there’s gotta be something I have to check on—I’m in command. I’ll just get outta your hair now.” He turned to go.
“You need not leave, Commander,” Soval said. “Though I appreciate your consideration.”
Trip stayed, but he wasn’t quite sure what to do next. Soval glanced back at him. “You are curious about what you saw and learned in sickbay.”
Damn straight. But a certain sub-Commander had long ago made clear to Trip how obsessively private Vulcans were. “I don’t want to pry.”
“You have uncommon self-restraint, Commander,” Soval remarked, straight-faced. “Ordinarily, I find humans to be virtually helpless in the face of their curiosity.”
Trip cocked his head. “Let me think about that a minute. It might turn out to be a compliment.”
Soval’s eyes sparkled, and Trip got the impression the old Vulcan was amused. “The time of keeping secrets—for me, at any rate—is past,” he said calmly. He resumed his contemplation of his homeworld. “Ask whatever you wish.”
Trip chewed his lower lip. “Y’know, I’ve heard a lot of nasty names applied to you. Used a few of ‘em myself. But ‘deviant’ never came up.”
In the viewport’s reflection, he saw Soval’s lips quirk up, ever so slightly, in what Trip assumed was the Vulcan equivalent of a gale of laughter. “Then we must certainly add it to the list,” Soval said dryly.
“So what did melders do to get saddled with that reputation?”
Trip frowned in confusion. “Come again?”
“The belief that melding is a shameful act was invented and disseminated by the High Command,” Soval explained matter-of-factly. “To isolate melders and discourage the practice.”
Trip was appalled. Soval continued, “Another dissuasive tactic was the notion, supported by credible but faulty data, that the melding ability is a genetic rarity. The High Command’s subversive campaign was so successful that melders were openly persecuted and forced into hiding. Skilled melders were few, and self-taught practitioners lacked the training to perform the procedure safely. This gave rise to the High Command’s third weapon: Pa’nar Syndrome.”
It was simple enough to guess—and it sickened Trip. “A made-up disease, to make the made-up stigma even worse.”
Soval nodded. “Pa’nar is supposedly an incurable neural disease spread solely through mind-melds. Once diagnosed, an individual is forever branded. In point of fact, the neurological damage is caused by a lack of proper training on the part of the melder. The condition has been known since Surak’s time, and is quite curable. However, the ‘disease’ known as Pa’nar better served the High Command’s goal of turning melders into pariahs. The melders themselves unwittingly aided in their own condemnation.”
Trip knew the VHC was low, but this scenario Soval had revealed was almost incomprehensible. “What’s the truth?” he asked softly.
“I believe, as the Syrrannites do, that mind-melding is the heritage of every Vulcan...that we all have the ability,” Soval replied. “With the proper training, any Vulcan would be able to touch minds with another.”
Any Vulcan...T’Pol? That was much too intriguing a notion for Trip to ignore. To touch minds with T’Pol, feel her mind caress his, the way they caressed each other’s fingers when they shared the ozh’esta...Trip suddenly shivered, and not from the cold.
“Why would the High Command want to keep melding such a big secret?” he asked. “What are they so afraid of?”
“As you saw in sickbay, melds reveal truths,” Soval replied. “Skilled melders would pose a threat to those who have been concealing truths and spreading lies, on a planetary scale, willfully, for decades. Naturally, one would begin to wonder what other truths have been hidden, what other deceptions have been presented as truths...and why.”
“Melders would level the playing field,” Trip said thoughtfully. “Truth would be worth something again.”
“Precisely.” Soval gazed out the viewport at Vulcan once more. “There is a rumor, which I have yet to confirm, that all Syrrannites have the ability to meld...that they have been trained by those among them who possess the proper skills. I admit—privately, to you—to being curious as to the truth of this rumor. It is intriguing to contemplate...an entire community of melders, as Vulcan was purported to be in Surak’s time.”
“No wonder V’Las wants to pin the bombing on them.” And now the Captain and T’Pol were going to make themselves look just as bad as V’Las, marching into that Syrrannite camp and accusing T’Pau. Trip wished for the umpteenth time that he had a way of contacting them. With a sigh, he pushed his concern down into his gut, where it could go back to gnawing at him.
“The meld you did in sickbay...is that what they’re for?” he asked Soval. “Some kind of law enforcement tool?”
“Accessing memories is only one of their uses,” Soval replied. “Healing melds are employed to assist in an individual’s recovery from serious illness. Melding is a form of communion between friends and family. And a meld greatly enhances a mating bond.”
“Mating bond?” Trip echoed. Here was another new concept. And this one sounded seductive...and a little scary.
“A permanent psychic connection that forms when two Vulcans establish a relationship of sufficient intimacy,” Soval explained “When couples marry, they spend their first year together in order to facilitate the formation of their bond.”
Trip was fascinated. “So they can read each other’s thoughts?”
“It is more a sensing of each other’s presence in their minds, even when they are separated by great distance. The bond may be empathic or telepathic, depending on the natural mental abilities of the individuals involved.”
Before he could stop himself, Trip blurted out, “Can it only happen between Vulcans?”
Soval, bless him, had the tact not to comment on why Trip was asking. All that diplomatic training, no doubt. “I have no knowledge of an interspecies couple that has attempted a bonding,” the ambassador said. “However, that is not to say it is impossible.”
Trip’s mind was racing. Could he and T’Pol form one of these bonds? He probably had the psychic ability of a tree stump, but T’Pol might have enough on her end to make it work. But...if they could, would they want to? Did Trip want somebody else crawling around inside his head, looking in all the cobwebby corners, opening doors he’d padlocked long ago? Sure, it would be T’Pol, his beloved, his t’hai’la...but that could be as terrifying as it was wonderful. If she knew the deepest secrets of his mind and heart, she would know his doubts, his fears...
Wait. Stop this shuttle right now. She’s still married.
“You are frowning, Commander.”
Trip came out of his reverie with a start, to find Soval studying him with interest. Trip shifted uncomfortably. “The idea of having somebody inside your head...I find it a little disturbing, is all.”
Soval’s expression softened, revealing an unexpected wistfulness. “But when that mind bound to yours belongs to the one you cherish above all others, its constant presence is deeply satisfying...as vital as breathing.” His eyes seemed to focus on something far away, his face taking on a glow of contentment that Trip had never seen from him before. Then Trip realized Soval was looking into the past, seeing memories from long ago.
“You reach out with your mind upon awakening, to touch her presence in greeting,” Soval continued, his voice low and unexpectedly gentle. “You feel her mind embrace yours as you fall asleep at day’s end. And to mind-meld with your bondmate is to experience the deepest of connections. It is a profoundly intimate joining of thoughts, memories, emotions. You become two halves of one heart, one soul...”
Trip watched as Soval’s eyes slowly refocused on the present...on Enterprise’s conference room, and Trip. Those eyes were warm with reminiscence, but they also held a poignant sadness. “You’ve shared this with your wife,” Trip guessed quietly. “But she’s gone now.”
Slowly, Soval nodded. “After she died, I wished to be as far from Vulcan as possible. I was distressingly pessimistic; the High Command thought me ideal for a posting on Earth. I volunteered for service at the embassy there. I thought my assignment would last but one year...”
Trip leaned against the sill of the viewport, folding his arms. “What’s gonna happen to you if V’Las finds out our evidence came from your mind-meld?”
Soval shrugged faintly, just the barest tilt of his head. “Irrelevant, considering the critical importance of the information.”
Vulcans! Trip clamped down on his exasperation, keeping his voice quiet and even. “It’s relevant to me.”
Soval inclined his head in a gesture of appreciation, before resuming his study of Vulcan. “To work for the betterment of my world, I have, of necessity, lived more than one lie. I find it a relief to cast off the lies at last, and instead use truth to serve my people and yours.” Another small shrug. “I have expected censure or dismissal ever since I returned here. I revealed far too much of myself at Lorian’s debriefing.”
Trip recalled Karyn’s lively account at Callahan’s. “I heard you put those other two High Command stooges in their places. And found it most agreeable.”
The old Vulcan gave him a sidelong glance, and Trip caught a hint of another tiny Soval-smile. “My adjutants represent the worst the High Command has to offer at present: mistrust, prejudice, condescension.” He shook his head in distaste. “Unfortunately, I doubt that my words had any impact.”
“They had an impact,” Trip assured him. “On everyone who mattered. Starfleet, Lorian and Karyn, T’Pol and me.”
“Karyn...” Soval frowned faintly. “Karyn Archer? Lorian’s first officer?”
“More than that, now,” Trip smiled. “We’re keeping it under wraps until we know how Starfleet’s gonna react...but Lorian would tell you himself if he were here. He and Karyn are getting married.”
Soval’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “Indeed? I was not aware they had affection for each other.”
Trip laughed. “Neither was Lorian, till a few weeks ago. It kinda blossomed all at once, after they got to Earth. Lorian’s handled himself with a lot of grace, considering it’s the first time he’s been in love.”
Soval nodded. “I take it Captain Archer also regards Miss Archer as family?”
“In a big way,” Trip grinned. “We’re puttin’ together quite an eclectic mix. And after the way you stood up for Lorian back on Earth, so help me, I’m beginning to think of you as the cantankerous but benevolent old uncle of our extended family.”
Soval appeared quite taken aback. Trip wondered if he’d really stuck his foot in it...but then he saw that twinkle of amusement in the ambassador’s eyes again. “Shall I take that as a compliment?” Soval inquired.
“I was hoping you would,” Trip replied. He braced himself for a lecture regarding the impropriety of such an emotion-suffused appellation...but Soval actually looked pleased. Trip didn’t know why, but it made him happy.
“Please convey my congratulations to Lorian and Miss Archer,” the ambassador said.
Trip smiled. “You can count on it.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“...Considering what the High Command has done in recent years—the listening station at P’Jem, the suppression of dissent—our position isn’t so hard to accept.”
T’Pol paced the dirt floor of the T’Karath Sanctuary’s common room, her frustration growing. She had come here to gain understanding, but all she was getting from her mother was dogma. “You could have told me all this when I came to visit.”
T’Les had the decency to look conflicted, at least. “The High Command was just beginning to hunt down suspected Syrrannites. I was afraid I would be next. I wanted to keep you out of it.” She hesitated, knowing she was heading into delicate territory. “I know your marriage to Koss was for my sake, to help me regain my post.”
The mention of Koss tore open a wound in T’Pol’s heart that she had thought was safely secured. Pain and anger tightened her throat as she said, “I don’t want your apologies, Mother.”
“You could have told me about Commander Tucker,” T’Les countered. She saw her daughter visibly stiffen.
“I saw no point.” T’Pol turned a cold stare on T’Les. “You had made your views abundantly clear, Mother.”
T’Les lowered her eyes, chastened into silence.
It took T’Pol significant effort to keep her voice even. “If your situation was so tenuous that you knew, even then, you might have to abandon your home—and your post, if you regained it...” She had to pause for a moment to collect herself, to keep her surging emotions at bay. “If my reason for marrying Koss was meaningless, then why...” Her voice trailed off as she struggled, and failed, to keep her anguish from reaching her face.
T’Les heard the unspoken question as clearly as if T’Pol had given it raw, tearful voice: Why did you compel me to give him up? Only now did T’Les realize how much Commander Tucker meant to her daughter, and how much the marriage had cost her.
“Koss’s family is of good repute, with power and influence,” T’Les said carefully. “Judging from their renewed insistence that you proceed with your marriage, they wanted you to join their family. I thought that if I were arrested, you would be safe with them. They would protect you from any negative consequences of my actions.”
“I didn’t need their protection,” T’Pol replied wearily. “I was safe where I was. I was content with the life I had chosen, the connections I had made—was beginning to make.”
“Koss wishes for that kind of connection with you,” T’Les said quietly.
Now T’Pol was irritated again. “What are you talking about?”
“Because I am family now, he has looked in on me at regular intervals, as a son-in-law would be expected to,” T’Les said. “We have spoken often, chiefly about you.”
“Me?” T’Pol echoed warily.
“He followed your career quite closely after you aborted your wedding plans three years ago,” T’Les revealed. “He has great admiration for what you have accomplished. He was troubled when you were falsely blamed for the disaster at P’Jem. I found that he and I share many of the same views, and the same uncertainties, about the High Command.”
“Is that why you confided in him?” T’Pol asked. “Because he was disillusioned, as you were?”
T’Les was puzzled. “Confided...?”
“Telling him you were a Syrrannite.”
T’Les looked oddly at her daughter. “I never told him.”
T’Pol felt an ominous chill pass through her. “Mother, he knew. He knew that was why you left the city. He knew you had gone into hiding.”
T’Les stared at her, stunned. “Then his visits, his concern...his sympathy for my situation, for my doubts about the High Command—”
“He was spying on you,” T’Pol concluded flatly. The inconsistencies, the lack of logical motivation...it all made sense now. “That is why he suddenly insisted on marrying me after years of silence. He needed to get closer to you without suspicion, to try to learn of your Syrrannite ties.” Though it was a moment of terrible realization, T’Pol felt a sense of vindication, even relief. “Lorian was correct.”
T’Les blinked, emerging somewhat from her shock-induced daze. “Lorian?”
T’Pol regarded her mother with a small sigh. T’Les’s expression was a troubling mixture of guilt and concern. It was unsettling to see her so vulnerable. T’Pol felt her earlier anger dissolving away, leaving a calm determination that there be honesty between them, from this moment on. “When I came to visit, you expressed doubts that Commander Tucker and I could have a future together. You said that if we ever had children, they would be shamed by their heritage.” She looked steadily at T’Les. “You’re wrong, Mother.”
T’Les was struck by T’Pol’s directness, her tone of rock-solid certainty. “How can you know this?”
“Because I have seen the future,” T’Pol replied serenely. “He has Vulcan ears, but blue eyes and fair hair, like his father. He has found a perfect, peaceful balance between logic and emotion. He was raised in an atmosphere of acceptance and respect by parents who were admired for their long-held devotion to one another.”
T’Les listened in astonished silence, not yet comprehending, but sensing that a profound truth was being laid before her.
T’Pol found that she could no longer stand still, such was the exhilarating sense of release she felt at being able to share Lorian with her mother at last. She began to walk again as she continued. “He became an engineer like his father, then a starship captain like his mother. He spent eighty-five years of his life in single-minded, selfless pursuit of the preservation of a world he’d never seen. He helped to save Earth, and Vulcan, and the whole of the universe from destruction.” Her brown eyes warmed as she pictured her son. “He is brilliant, thoughtful, self-effacing...and rather shy. He has a sense of humor, and is an exceptional dancer. And he has just become engaged to be married.” She faced her mother again. “His name is Lorian. He is my son, mine and Commander Tucker’s. He was born of another T’Pol and Charles Tucker, but he’s here now, on Earth, and we have embraced each other as family. He is your grandson, Mother.”
T’Les searched her daughter’s eyes, and found only sincerity. “How is this possible?” she asked.
“While we were in the Delphic Expanse, Enterprise triggered a time displacement,” T’Pol explained. “The ship was thrown into the past. Lorian was born 101 years ago, in an alternate timeline that converged with our own again, at the point of displacement.”
T’Les was wary. “The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that—”
“The Vulcan Science Directorate is in error,” T’Pol stated bluntly.
T’Les said nothing for a long moment. T’Pol waited, knowing from her own experience that her mother’s belief system was being sorely tested, and might not withstand the strain. Finally T’Les nodded once, in succinct acknowledgement. “I have long suspected their data of being faulty.”
T’Pol relaxed. This was the first time she and her mother were seeing eye to eye in years. T’Pol found it refreshing.
T’Les studied her. “Do you find motherhood agreeable?”
“Yes,” T’Pol replied readily. Then she hesitated. “Albeit troubling at times. There has already been an instance when Lorian was in distress—his life at risk, in fact—but I could do nothing more than offer support, leave his care to another, and hope that all would be well again.”
“And was it?” T’Les asked, with the calmness of one who knows the answer.
Her daughter nodded, looking somewhat subdued. “His fiancée came to his aid.”
“When your child chooses a mate, it is logical for you to make the transition from parent to friend,” T’Les advised. “It will be easier for you.”
T’Pol brightened. “We have already discovered that we work well together. And I find it quite easy to talk with him.”
“Then it appears you are making the transition successfully.” T’Les paused, a little wistful. “Talking easily together is certainly a talent you and I have never succeeded in mastering.”
The corners of T’Pol’s lips quirked up a bit. “Until now.”
T’Les nodded, her blue eyes warming with affection. “My T’Pol...a mother.” She cocked a dignified eyebrow. “I am, of course, too young to be a grandmother.”
“At least he is younger than you,” T’Pol responded. “Imagine having a son who is thirty-five years your senior.”
T’Les shook her head in bemusement. “Time travel is quite a conundrum.”
Mother and daughter regarded each other contentedly, pleased that they had finally reconnected. T’Les motioned to a low bench against the rough-hewn sanctuary wall. “I would appreciate knowing more about my grandson. Please tell me the entire story.”
T’Pol sat with her mother and began: “Four months ago, deep in the Expanse, we were preparing to traverse a subspace corridor, in order to cross a vast region of space in a short time. As we approached the corridor, another ship appeared in our path...another Enterprise...”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Continued in Part II (Chapters 6-10)
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