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We'll Always Have Enterprise
Author - Shouldknowbetter | Genre - Alternate Universe | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Main Story | Rating - R | W
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We’ll Always Have Enterprise
Rating: R for sex, bad language and generally unpleasant behaviour.
Summary: On an Earth devastated by the Xindi, Tucker is living in a state of drunken self-pity, until one day someone walks into his bar – eh, office.
The other space-fairing races protested, but the Xindi’s attack had been too swift for others to come to the aid of Starfleet. Indeed it was debatable whether alien governments would have risked their ships for a people who had stirred up as much resentment as loyalty over the preceding ninety odd years. Gradually the protests died down, and accommodations were reached. A few planets even entered into diplomatic relations with the Xindi, although Vulcan held aloof, refusing to interact with a species that behaved with such barbarity. But if the Vulcans were prepared to aid the surviving Humans, they gave no public sign of it.
By 2157, Earth’s remaining population had halved, most dying of despair and neglect, a small minority managing to find their way off the planet. It was whispered in the bars and drinking dens that there were those who could help you leave, but few really believed it. Humanity was dying on its feet, the will to resist beaten down under Xindi oppression. It was only amongst the stars that any real opposition to the Xindi still lingered, led by Humans who had survived the attack or had been off world at the time. They were stubborn and they were dedicated, and perhaps they were making some headway on the Earth colonies that the Xindi had also overrun. News of their efforts rarely made it back to Earth, but again there were a few whispers that the Free Humans were ready to turn their attention to their planet of origin. But those whispers also reached Xindi ears, and they increased their vigilance, sending one of their generals to Earth to ensure that no flicker of rebellion would ever rear its head.
The Xindi ship flew in low over the last Human settlement on Earth, in a show of dominance that was hardly needed anymore. Few bothered to look up. One Xindi ship more or less could make little difference to lives that could not get much worse.
The ship settled down in the poor excuse for a space port, the landing ramp swinging out to allow the Xindi-Reptilian contingent to step out into the hot, still air. They halted, waiting for their welcome committee to come to them, an incongruous pairing of a Xindi-Humanoid and the only Vulcan left on Earth. The Xindi-Humanoid snapped off a salute. “General Strassick, welcome to Earth. I’m Major Ugarke, head of the Earth garrison. This is Ambassador Soval.”
Strassick nodded acknowledgement of his fellow Xindi, but turned a contemptuous look on the Vulcan. “He’s no ambassador. Vulcan doesn’t recognise his status.”
“Soval’s a great help in dealing with the Humans.” Ugarke threw the other man a faintly apologetic look, although the Vulcan’s expression had not altered.
“I do what I can,” Soval’s voice was quiet, “to assist.”
Strassick snorted rudely. “Only because your own people won’t have you back.” He began to walk towards the Xindi administration building that was the only structure above two stories high in the settlement, the others following him. “You know why I’m here?”
The question was directed at Ugarke, who nodded. “Of course, although I assure you there’s no cause for alarm. We have the Humans too cowed to even think of a rebellion.”
“I’ll be the judge of that. The man we think is coming,” he paused to glare at Ugarke, “is dangerous. I want him captured.”
“We’ll do so.” The Xindi-Humanoid gestured towards a roughly constructed building to one side of their own path. “That’s the maintenance depot. If your man comes, he’ll go there eventually. Everyone does. We’ll be keeping a close watch on the place.”
Even Travis Mayweather, who had been born and raised in space, and never seen Earth until he entered Starfleet Academy, felt physically sick every time he sighted the planet. It was no longer the green and blue sphere he had learnt about in school, while his parents’ ship trundled slowly from solar system to solar system. Vast swathes were blackened, mute evidence of the vengeance the Xindi had taken, and to the fact that Enterprise had been on the wrong track in the Delphic Expanse. It hadn’t been biological weapons that they’d had to fear, although that was one element in the Xindi arsenal. Most of the damage had come from larger versions of the first probe, and Archer, and hence Starfleet, had been tragically unaware of the real nature of the threat.
With a grimace for old mistakes, Mayweather flew his small ship over the dawn-line and into night, which mercifully hid his view of the devastation below. What was left of Earth’s population had been herded into a tiny portion of the vast Australian sub-continent, which, ironically, was once again serving as a penal colony. This time, the only crime one had to commit to be sent there was to be Human. Carefully, Mayweather checked that the ship’s transponder was operational, not wishing to be shot out of the sky before he was within 50km of the makeshift spaceport. The Xindi grudgingly allowed a few medical supplies to be traded, but they watched Earth’s skies like hawks for illegal vessels.
The landing lights at the spaceport had evidently failed again, or maybe the main generator, because most of the surrounding settlement was also in darkness. Mayweather landed with a thump that made him wince. The small ship had once been a Starfleet runabout, larger than a shuttle pod but not as robustly constructed. It was now pushed far beyond its design life and was severely in need of a complete overhaul – particularly the illicit shielding tucked discreetly into a corner of the cargo hold. Until that was fixed, no one else would be leaving Earth when he returned to space. Maybe this time Tucker would be … Mayweather shook his head on that thought as he powered down the ship. Speculating on the engineer’s likely state of mind was a signally pointless exercise these days.
The maintenance yard was also dark, but the flicker of oil lamps showed from the main office that also served as one of the assembly areas that the Xindi permitted – provided alcohol was served. It always seemed to Mayweather that alcohol was the one commodity freely available on Earth these days. He halted in the doorway, peering around the dimly lighted room until he located his quarry, slumped in one corner, a glass and a half-empty bottle in front of him. Mayweather sighed: so it was one of those days – if there were any other sort.
Everyone stared as he crossed the room, briefly falling silent before the talk picked up again. “Trip.”
The man raised his head slowly, revealing bloodshot eyes and at least two days’ growth of stubble. “Whatever you want, go look for it elsewhere.”
Mayweather took a spare chair at the table, mouth compressing in mingled pity and contempt, although the latter emotion predominated. “You’re still trying to drink yourself to death?”
Tucker knocked back the remaining liquid in his glass and refilled it with a hand that shook slightly. “It’s a plan.”
“I’ve got a better one. Rejoin the Human race, and help those of us who are trying to save it.”
“I didn’t like the company I had to keep.”
“We could use you, Trip.”
“I told you – try elsewhere.”
Mayweather watched in exasperation as Tucker walked unsteadily away, then looked around quickly as a hand fell on his shoulder. His expression warmed as he smiled up at the woman beside him. “Hello, Amanda.”
Cole smiled back, sliding onto the seat beside him, “You won’t get him to care, Travis. He gave up a long time ago.” Mayweather scowled and she shook her head. ‘It’s not worth the effort of trying.”
“The resistance needs him!”
“It needs Captain Tucker. He’s gone AWOL, Travis.”
It was his turn to shake his head, half in frustration, half in denial, and Cole leant forward abruptly to press a brief kiss to his mouth. He blinked, almost flinching back. “Amanda?”
Her smile was a little twisted. “I’m lonely tonight, Travis, and the sight of an attractive man makes it worse. Come to bed with me, my friend.”
“But you and Trip …”
Cole shook her head. “We were over a long time ago.” There was an echo in her voice of an old bitterness that she no longer had the energy to maintain. “Maybe we never even got started. I knew almost from the beginning that I wasn’t the one he really wanted. Then after what she did to him …” She broke off, shrugging. “I don’t think he had anything left to give.”
“He got Enterprise out of the Delphic Expanse.”
“And then she hurt him even more.” This time it was Mayweather who made the move, reaching out to stroke Cole’s cheek. She grinned back, almost the wicked look he had seen on her face a few times on Enterprise, before their world ended. “Well?”
He stood and held out a hand to pull her splendid body to its feet. “I’d hate to disappoint a friend.”
Tucker didn’t react to Soval’s soft-footed approached until the Vulcan said coolly, “You grow careless. I could have been Xindi.”
“Could’ve been.” The engineer withdrew his head from the compartment in which it had been hidden and gestured towards the scanner placed on the floor beside him. “But I knew you weren’t.”
“Ingenious,” the other man briefly inspected the small device before seating himself on a bench, “but even some of your own species would sell you if they had the chance.”
“Now who’s being indiscreet?” This time it was Soval who held up another item of technology that had been concealed within his wide sleeve and Tucker shrugged. “They’ll work out you carry that jammer one day.”
The Vulcan ignored the warning. “When did Mr Mayweather return?”
“What news did he bring?”
“We haven’t talked yet.”
Tucker squirmed around to sit with his back to the bulkhead, one bare leg drawn up to his chest and took a long pull from a flask of water. Soval frowned. “You have been drinking again.”
“What if I have?”
“There is a thin line, Mr Tucker, between drinking to dispel suspicion and drinking because you cannot function otherwise.”
“I’ll remember that next time I have a crap day.” Tucker rubbed his aching head. “What d’you want, Soval?”
“You are aware of our newest arrival?”
“Strassick? Saw the ship come in.”
“Jonathan Archer.” The Vulcan watched with interest as Tucker froze, his already poor colour fading still further. “Unfortunately, the Xindi are aware of his visit. That is why Strassick is here.”
“What d’you expect me to do about it?” The engineer had risen and was leaning against the rim of the hatch, staring intently at the dusty ground surface outside.
“You were once friends, I believe.”
“Not any more. I dropped out of the fight, remember? Archer always did hate a quitter.”
“I have never understood why you returned to Earth, Mr Tucker.” Soval’s voice was politely enquiring. “After you returned from the Delphic Expanse, you were active in organising early resistance to the Xindi. I believe you even harangued the Vulcan High Command on many occasions regarding their ‘abandonment’ of Earth. Yet as soon as Captain Archer reappeared, you came here, where you proceeded to drink yourself into oblivion.”
“I let you recruit me.”
“I appreciate your support.” The dry tone made Tucker flinch. “Where do your loyalties lie, Mr Tucker?”
There was a long pause before the Human said flatly, “I won’t turn Archer in, if that’s what’s worrying you.” He finally turned back to face the Vulcan. “If we’re questioning motives, Soval, what’s your reason for staying on Earth? Vulcan washed its hands of Earth the day the Xindi attacked. You could have run home with the rest of the Vulcan delegation. Why didn’t you?”
The ex-ambassador to Earth rose with unruffled dignity. “Shall we just say, Mr Tucker, that I felt a personnal responsibility towards your people – however hard you might find that to believe.”
He swept out and Tucker stared morosely after him for a moment, then returned half-heartedly to the task of fixing Mayweather’s runabout. Soval had been right about one thing – he badly needed a drink and it wasn’t even mid-morning yet.
Tucker had the pleasure of seeing Soval again that day, when the Vulcan accompanied Strassick and his contingent to the maintenance yard’s drinking den sometime after dark. The engineer didn’t react to the Xindi intrusion, remaining slumped in his chair, although both Mayweather and Cole stiffened, the pilot glancing behind him to check for a back exit. It seemed that the Xindi weren’t looking for a small-time trader, however. They passed over the table where the former Enterprise crew sat and focussed on a man drinking alone near the bar. He sensed their scrutiny and looked up, swallowing convulsively at the cold, reptilian stares fixed on him. Very slowly, he rose to his feet, then, in a blur of motion, pulled out a hand weapon and aimed it at the group by the door. As fast as he was, however, the Xindi soldiers were faster. He was dead before he’d got off a single shot and Strassick nodded in satisfaction as he casually scanned the numb faces of the remaining Humans. “That, my friends, is what happens to those who think that resistance to Xindi rule is possible. Such demonstrations will continue until you learn the truth.” His gaze fell on Tucker and sharpened. “You. What’s your name?”
The engineer didn’t respond and Soval put in smoothly, “His name is Tucker. He runs the maintenance service here.”
Strassick’s gaze was still locked on the Human, or, more accurately, on the patched and faded uniform he wore. “You’re a Starfleet officer?”
“I’m a drunkard.”
“Which makes him a poor engineer,” Soval interposed again. “Unfortunately there was no other choice available.”
If he was trying to distract the Xindi, he was failing. Strassick walked slowly forward until he was standing over Tucker, who hadn’t moved a muscle – it was always a possibility that he was so drunk he simply couldn’t move.
“You were in the Delphic Expanse. On Enterprise.”
“Well, there seems to be no secret about that.”
“Are you one of those Humans who would die to see the Xindi removed from your planet?”
Tucker’s smile was wide and not very sober. “It’s not my planet anymore. It’s yours.”
“You served with Archer.”
“If I was on Enterprise, I guess I must have done.”
“I’m here to capture him and any others who think that they can resist the Xindi.”
“I gave up resisting a long time ago.” Tucker’s voice had gone soft. “Ask anyone.”
“We know that Archer’s on this planet.” Strassick had raised his voice to carry around the room, although he kept his eyes on Tucker. “He’s eluded us before, but he’s made a bad mistake in coming to Earth. We will take him, I assure you.” With a last look around the room full of Humans, he strode out, his escort falling in around him.
Soval remained behind, taking the last seat at Tucker’s table, as he nodded a greeting to the younger man. “I trust your last trip was profitable, Mr Mayweather?”
“Hard to say.” The pilot-turned-smuggler spun his glass between his fingertips and looked up with a faint smile. “Perhaps you’d like to inspect the cargo?”
“Then come around to my ship sometime. I’ll take you through the inventory.”
“Don’t play those games in here.” Tucker heaved himself to his feet, evidently not as drunk as he had appeared. “Gimme a hand, Travis. We’d better give the poor bastard a burial.” He crossed to where the murdered man still lay, Mayweather following him, and together they hoisted the corpse and headed for a back exit.
“Well,” Cole leant back and grinned at Soval, “this is nice, ambassador.” He ignored her, staring at the pair who had just slipped into the room, both heavily muffled in dark cloaks, hoods pulled forward to shadow their faces. Cole followed his gaze and straightened, taking a swift look around the room, her MACO background suddenly very evident. “We’re clean.”
“I doubt that.” There was impatience in Soval’s voice. “The man always was a fool. Get them out of here.”
Cole hesitated, perhaps not knowing whether she should accept the peremptory order, then crossed to the newcomers, her tone cheerful. “Hello, there. We’re full tonight. Let me find you a table elsewhere.” She was opening the door into a smaller room as she spoke, giving them no chance to object. She went with them, closing the door and raising a warning finger to her lips as the taller figure pushed back his hood.
Archer frowned, deepening the lines scored into his face by stress and pain and sheer bloody-minded determination, but kept quiet while Cole crossed to a desk, opened a drawer and activated the anti-bug device hidden inside. He waited for her nod before asking harshly, “Where’s Soval?”
“He’ll be here.” Cole crossed her arms and lounged back on the edge of the desk, not liking the changes she saw in Enterprise’s captain. Not that she cared for the changes in a good many old acquaintances. “But he’s not fool enough to rush straight in after you.” She turned her head to stare at the other figure, whose hood was still in place. “Who’s your friend?”
Two slim hands rose slowly and equally slowly lowered the enveloping fabric, and Cole stiffened, her chin rising. “Welcome to Earth, Sub-Commander T’Pol.” The Vulcan woman’s face was blank and she didn’t respond. “Didn’t expect to find us here, ma’am?”
There was a perceptible delay before T’Pol said quietly, “Us?”
“Me and Trip.”
Archer scowled at the mention of the other man, and Cole saw T’Pol flick a quick look in his direction, before she said even more quietly, “Where is Mr Tucker?”
“I don’t know. He went out.”
“When will he be back?”
“I don’t know.”
“What does it matter?” Archer sounded even more impatient than before. “The man’s a waste of space, T’Pol. It’s Soval we’re here to see.”
The door opened as he spoke to allow the Vulcan into the room, although Cole’s attention was on the man who followed him. With reluctant sympathy, she saw the shock hit him as his eyes fell on T’Pol, and for a moment Cole thought he was going to run. Then he moved further into the room and she took a moment to notice that T’Pol’s eyes were also fixed on her former lover.
Tucker cleared his throat, apparently oblivious to the fact that his old captain was also in the room, although that was made painfully obvious to him when Archer said harshly, “Get out of here, Tucker.”
The engineer flinched and jerked his gaze from T’Pol to look at the older man. “Captain.”
“I said get out.”
For a moment, it appeared that Tucker was going to object to the brutal dismissal, then he gave a small, fatalistic shrug and started for the door, hesitating as his eyes again caught the slight figure of the Vulcan woman, who was still watching him. “It’s been a while, T’Pol. Let’s see, last time we spoke …”
“It was the day after we made first contact with the Illyrians.”
“Not an easy day to forget.”
“I remember every detail. The Illyrians wore grey. You wore blue.”
For a second longer, they held each other’s eyes, then Tucker jerked himself around and disappeared, slamming the door behind him.
“T’Pol.” Soval’s calm voice brought her slowly around to face him. “You are becoming quite Human.” His sarcasm was obvious. “I suppose we must thank Captain Archer for that.”
She ignored him, raising her eyes to meet Archer’s with the faintest touch of defiance. He glared at her and turned on the other Vulcan. “What’s the situation here?”
It was the memory of old friendships and loyalties that sent Mayweather back into the maintenance room late that night, knowing what he would find. He wasn’t disappointed. Tucker was seated at his usual table, head in his hands, an empty bottle on the floor beside him and an open one close by. Mayweather halted by the table, hands on hips, watching the other man for a moment. “Trip.” There was no response. “Go to bed.”
The dirty blond head shook slightly, although Tucker didn’t look up. “I’m waiting for someone.”
“Trip, they left. She went with Captain Archer.”
“She’s coming back. I know she’s coming back.”
“Come on,” Mayweather’s voice was firm as he attempted to haul Tucker to his feet, “let’s get you out of here.”
The engineer pulled free, suddenly angry. “Why did she have to walk in here? The whole damn universe to chose from and she walked in here!”
“Maybe it’s just what the future brings.” The younger man sighed and gave up the futile battle. “Night, Trip.”
Glancing back from the doorway, he doubted that Tucker even noticed he had left. Whatever memories were plaguing the tortured engineer tonight, Mayweather didn’t think they were ones he would want to share.
Tucker groaned and opened his eyes to find amused, brown ones looking down at him. “I guess it’s the scientist in you, but you’re sure taking this experimentation seriously.”
“As someone who wished to explore the galaxy, I would have thought that you understood the need to be thorough.”
He laughed and pulled T’Pol down to lie on top of him, where he could feel her soft breasts against his chest and have her readily available for kissing. “So, have you got any more of those more challenging postures in mind?”
“Perhaps another time.” Warm fingers were trailing gently over his face. Sometimes T’Pol seemed to have an almost compulsive need to touch him. “When you are recovered.”
“Now what’s that supposed to mean?”
Her hips moved on his, bringing a smile to his face. “However great your interest in exploration, you are not capable of continuous activity.”
“Oh, yeah?” He run his hands slowly down her back and over her buttocks, combining the caress with an equally slow kiss that had T’Pol purring with pleasure. Smiling against her lips, he rolled them sideways, slipping a hand between her legs to make her squirm.
“Hey!” He pulled back, not because of her protest at the intimate caress, but because of her form of address. “We have to talk about that one.”
“I thought you wished to explore.” T’Pol’s tone was innocent, but her hand was moving southwards and Tucker caught his breath, biting his lip as his head fell backwards in irresistible response to the stimulus. Some day soon, he’d get around to persuading T’Pol to drop his rank when they were alone. One day he’d get her to discuss why she’d settled on Enterprise’s chief engineer as a suitable candidate for her exploration of Human sexuality. But not right now. Now was for sensual pleasure and the heady excitement of a new and illicit love affair. Right now, the lab rat was getting his cheese.
The ready room was as beaten and broken as the rest of Enterprise, but at least the fires were out. Tucker slumped on the edge of the desk, scrubbing his hands over his drawn and filthy face. “What d’you want with an update? We’re no better off than we were yesterday.”
T’Pol came to stand directly in front of him, no cleaner than he was. “We must decide on a course of action.”
“Such as?” Tucker was too exhausted for tact. “Enterprise is shot to hell. The cap’n’s missing. The Xindi …”
“Captain Archer is dead.” He raised his head, on the verge of denial, and she continued harshly, “If he had survived the mission to Azati Prime, he would have contacted us by now. Commander, you have to accept the truth.”
“It’s too soon! D’you think he’d give up on you, on me, so easily?”
“I think that he would ensure the survival of the rest of his crew.”
“The rest?” Tucker rubbed a hand over his face again. “We lost over twenty percent of them, T’Pol. Nineteen dead. Twenty if you include …” He gulped, teeth sinking into his lower lip. “Include the cap’n.” His voice was shaking despite his effort at control, and T’Pol took a sudden step closer, a hand rising to rest against his cheek. He gave a small, needy sound and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his head into her neck. “I’m sorry.”
“You’re exhausted.” Her voice was quiet. “You must rest.”
“I can’t. There’s too much to do.”
“You are no use to Enterprise in your current state.”
He remained still for a moment then nodded slowly against her. “You’re right.”
He pulled back, trying to smile, although it was a feeble attempt that faded entirely as he stared down at her. “D’you know how much …” Again T’Pol raised a hand, this time to touch his mouth. He closed his eyes, almost too tired to handle the fact that she’d again rejected his attempt to tell her that he loved her, and dropped his arms that had still been encircling her. “I’ll go crash for a few hours. You might wanna get someone to wake me.”
She nodded and he gave her a final, despairing look and left.
When Tucker surfaced after an eighteen hour stint in Engineering, working with the Illyrian engineers to try to get the ship at least partially operational again, his first stop was the bridge, to tell T’Pol that they might even be able to go to warp one day soon. She wasn’t there, however, and he frowned. “Where’s T’Pol?” There was a conspicuous silence and he looked between Mayweather and Sato. “What’s wrong?” Mayweather rose slowly from behind the helm, his expression not one that Tucker liked at all. “Travis?”
The younger man held out a PADD. “She asked me to give you this, sir.” Tucker took the PADD, noticing that his hand was shaking slightly, and retreated to the ready room.
It was just as well that he did. The verbal message was short and to the point. T’Pol had received intelligence from the Illyrians that Archer was still alive. She and Reed had left on a mission to find him. Tucker was to assume command of Enterprise and effect what repairs he could. If T’Pol and Reed failed to return by the time warp drive was available, he was to attempt to take Enterprise and the remains of her crew back to Earth.
That was bad enough. It was the tag she’d added to the end that nearly destroyed him. Until then, T’Pol had been strictly professional, nothing in her voice to indicate that she was addressing the man who had shared her bed for the last several weeks. The final section wasn’t addressed to the third in command of Enterprise, however. “Charles,” her voice was soft, and Tucker gasped, tears already blurring his eyes – what a God-awful time for T’Pol to decide that she was ready for informality, “I know that you would have come with me, but I cannot allow it. I do not know if I will ever see you again but,” her voice faltered slightly, “I wished to tell you that my feelings for you …” This time there was a more perceptible pause and Tucker could picture her struggling to voice something she had never brought herself to say to his face. “My feelings for you are profound. May you live long and prosper, Charles.”
Tucker stared at the PADD, tears running down his face, thinking what a damn stupid Vulcan phrase that was for T’Pol to use when she had just torn his heart out.
Half asleep in the empty maintenance yard office, Tucker reached for his glass and missed, spilling the rough spirit onto the tabletop. He muttered an incoherent protest and rubbed his eyes when a shadow moved on the far side of the room. Then a humanoid shape emerged into the light of a lamp left burning on a table nearby.
“I knew you’d come tonight.” There was no response to the slurred statement from the dimly seen figure. “Wanna know why?” Tucker continued without waiting for an answer that would never have come. “‘Wednesday night, 2200, neuro-pressure with Commander Tucker.’ His mouth twisted. “Did you ever amend that entry, T’Pol? ‘Neuro-pressure and sex with Commander Tucker’? ’Cos you never once missed, honey.”
“Mr Tucker …”
“Why did you come to Earth? There are other places.”
“I would not have come if I had known you were here.” The Vulcan woman’s voice was flat, every trace of emotion drained from it.
“Why’d you do it, T’Pol? Why’d you wait until you left to tell me that you loved me?”
“I did not know how much you had come to mean to me until I had to give you up.”
Despite her admission, there was no trace of feeling in T’Pol’s tone, although Tucker was so drunk and angry that it was unlikely he would have reacted any differently however she had spoken of the past. “Why did you have to go?” Finally he approached closer to the heart of the matter. “Did Archer mean so much more to you than I did?”
“He was my commanding officer and I respected him. He had always given me his trust and his help. I could do no less for him.” She moved a little closer, her voice perhaps softening a little. ‘You would have done the same for him.”
“So did you go straight from my bed to his, or did you take in Malcolm along the way?”
Perhaps Tucker was too drunk to see the pain on T’Pol’s face, or maybe the light was simply too poor. What he did see was the slight figure turn and walk out of the room. Shaking too badly to follow her, he dropped his head onto his folded arms as the final, intolerable memory replayed itself behind his eyelids.
He awoke sluggishly, grunting in protest as he reached over Cole’s stirring body for the comm. outlet. In the two years since he’d taken command of Enterprise, he was prepared to put money on the fact that he hadn’t had one decent night’s sleep. What he needed … A fierce stab at the acknowledge button cut off that thought. “Tucker.”
“Captain,” Sato sounded wildly excited, “we’ve received a transmission from Colonel Shran. I’m routing it through to your cabin.”
Puzzled and still half asleep, Tucker grunted in annoyance at comm. officers who didn’t know better than to disturb their captains for anything short of an emergency, and stumbled towards the desk.
“What is it?”
Cole sounded far more awake than he felt, which didn’t improve Tucker’s mood. “Damned if I know.” He hit the play button and watched as Shran’s image appeared.
“Captain Tucker,” the Andorian looked pleased with himself, “I thought you should be the first to see what we found today. One of our ships intercepted a small vessel heading our way from the direction of the Delphic Expanse. We intercepted it.” The image of the colonel cut to another, obviously a record of the Andorian ship’s main viewscreen. On Enterprise, Tucker groped for a chair and sunk onto it, hearing Cole’s gasp of surprise from behind him at the picture that had appeared on the screen.
“I’m Captain Jonathan Archer.” He looked ill and a good deal older than the mental image that Tucker had of him, but it was unmistakably Enterprise’s lost captain. “Requesting permission to enter your space.”
“Captain Archer,” the voice-over must be of the Andorian captain, “we understood that you had been killed.”
“Let’s just say that reports of my death were a trifle exaggerated.” It was the intonation more than anything else that convinced Tucker that it really was his friend. On the screen, Archer turned to look behind him, smiling at the woman who came forward to join him. “Thanks to T’Pol.” The arm he placed around her waist was affectionate, possessive and not in the least platonic.
The transmission continued, but Tucker cut it off abruptly, staring blankly at the dead screen. A hand fell gently on his shoulder. “Trip?”
He shrugged off Cole’s caress as he stood, her touch suddenly, utterly unfamiliar. “I’ve some things to see to.” He knew she watched him as he dressed hastily and left the cabin, but there was absolutely nothing he could think of to say to her.
“It’s a little else elegant than the government buildings on Vulcan.”
Soval raised his head to stare at the Human who had entered the room, then very deliberately held up the book he had been reading. “Are you aware, Captain Archer, that of all the literature your species created, only five real books remain on Earth, and one of those is a ‘classic comic annual’ in the possession of Mr Tucker?”
Archer scowled at the seemingly irrelevant taunt, deepening the lines on his face. “I know the debt I have to settle with the Xindi.” He moved further into the room that was hardly less shabby than the rest of the settlement although much cleaner. “I never saw you in the role of freedom fighter, Ambassador Soval, particularly not on the Human side. But then I guess the Vulcans failed pretty spectacularly as Earth’s protectors. What keeps you here? Guilty conscience?”
The Vulcan’s face tightened and T’Pol, who had followed Archer in, said quietly, “Jonathan, we came here to consult with Ambassador Soval. Trading insults will help none of us.”
Archer shot her an irritated look, but nodded, moving to one side of the room to peer out suspiciously through the narrow window. “You’re sure we’re safe here?”
“Safer than you were at the maintenance yard last night.” Soval had risen, politely indicating for T’Pol to take a chair and pouring her a glass of water, while conspicuously failing to offer the Human the same courtesy. “That place is watched. The Xindi always suspect that any Human resistance activity would be centred around the spaceport.”
“With Tucker there?” Archer snorted rudely and turned to face into the room again. “I need contact names, Soval. People who can be trusted to take action when the time comes.”
“What action did you have in mind?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
The Vulcan returned to his seat, tucking his hands into the sleeves of his robe. “I am loath to risk yet more lives in an ill-conceived revolt.”
“It’s not your call.”
“And why is it yours?”
“Because no one else is left to make the decisions!” By now, Archer was at the desk, hands braced on the top as he leant across to spit the words into Soval’s face.
“The fatality rate amongst the resistance has been high recently.”
For a moment it looked as if Archer might actually hit the other man, then he recovered himself, straightening. “We’re wasting our time here, T’Pol. Let’s go.”
She rose slowly, eyes on the other Vulcan who was watching her just as closely, his expression softening a little. “Mr Tucker is not involved in the resistance?”
Soval’s looked briefly and pointedly at Archer, then back to the woman. “Hardly.”
She inclined her head in acknowledgement and turned to follow Archer, who was already at the door, although he halted abruptly, a hand going to the breast of his jacket.
“I really wouldn’t do that, Captain Archer.” One of Soval’s eyebrows twitched and he raised his head warily, throwing T’Pol a warning look. Then the Human was retreating back into the room, the reason obvious as a Xindi-Humanoid appeared, hand-weapon aimed at Archer’s chest. “It would be a shame to end your career so ignominiously.”
“What is the meaning of this, Major Ugarke?” Soval’s voice was politely enquiring, but his tension was obvious to T’Pol at least.
“It means, my dear Soval, that I finally have enough evidence to have you executed. For harbouring a known enemy of the Xindi, I could kill you now.”
“How did you know I was here?” Archer asked harshly and the Xindi shrugged.
“We know everything that happens in this pathetic settlement.” His voice was casual, but he was very careful to keep all three in his sights.
“Then why are you here alone?” T’Pol inquired shrewdly and Soval leant back in his chair.
“A small matter of certain drugs that Mr Mayweather brings in. Major Ugarke is always grateful for my help in maintaining his supply.”
She turned a shocked look on him. “That is … despicable.”
“Indeed. Are you going to take the Human, Major Ugarke?”
“No.” Dismissing the two Vulcans, the Xindi faced Archer. “So far, you’ve been fortunate in eluding us. You have reached Earth. It is my duty to see that you stay here, with the rest of your contemptible species.”
“You won’t hold me.” Archer’s lips barely moved, his muscles locked rigid with suppressed fury and maybe with fear as well.
“Oh, but we will. And if you even try to leave, you will die.” Carelessly, Ugarke glanced back at Soval. “You have the package?” The Vulcan reached into a drawer of the desk and withdrew a small bag that he tossed to the Xindi, who caught it neatly and backed towards the door. “By the way, Captain Archer, that cell ship you used to get here,” he was closing the door and they had to strain to catch his final words, “it’s been destroyed.”
Archer swore and drove a fist into a wall, while Soval merely raised one faintly mocking eyebrow. “How unfortunate.”
Wary of using the maintenance office for clandestine conferences too often, Mayweather dragged a reluctant Tucker out into the settlement for a serious talk in one of the outdoor bars, although he refused the engineer’s plaintive request for a drink. “What are we going to do?”
“Didn’t Amanda tell you?”
Tucker sat back with a sigh. “Oh, that news.”
“For Cochrane’s sake, Trip!” The younger man took a quick look around and leant closer. “We have to find a way to get Captain Archer away from Earth.”
“You’re the one with a ship.”
“But no cloaking device. How soon can you fix it?”
“I’ve no idea.” For once Tucker didn’t wait to be asked for an explanation. “It’s shot to hell, Travis, and I’ve got no way to replace the worn out components.”
“Then find one!”
“Sure! I’ll just go ask the Xindi for access to their supply depot.”
“No! No way, Travis. The place is secure. You won’t get in.”
“We won’t if we don’t try.”
“Leave me out of it.” Tucker rose to his feet. “I might not think much of my life, but I’m not prepared to throw it away.”
He walked away and Mayweather hit the table in angry frustration, half wishing it had been the engineer’s head.
Having left Mayweather, Tucker wandered idly towards the edge of the settlement, with no thought in mind but staying out of everyone’s way until they stopped trying to involve him in schemes he didn’t want to know about. Concentrating mainly on not thinking, he reached the boundary, not a defined line, but a boundary nevertheless: beyond was merely desert. If you went too much further, you could be dead of dehydration and sunstroke before you made it back. On the bad days, he’d considered doing just that, as many others had over the last few years, but he never quite made the ultimate decision. There was always a nagging feeling that he’d be letting Soval down and he’d developed a grudging liking for the Vulcan, impossible though he’d have once thought that to be. The contempt didn’t worry him anymore, now that he knew he deserved it, and he’d come to appreciate the sarcasm and occasional flashes of dry humour.
The stab of pain was sudden and no less sharp because he was sober. Angry with himself for thinking, Tucker turned back towards the settlement, but halted as he caught a glimpse of a kneeling figure, black clothes clearly visible against the red dust. He approached as quietly as possible but she raised her head before he was within three metres and he stopped. “I guess this feels a lot like home to you.” She just looked at him and he grimaced. “I’m sorry about last night. I was drunk.”
“I understand that you often are.” T’Pol rose smoothly to her feet and turned away but Tucker persisted.
“You’ve got me a little confused. Why did you come back last night?”
She glanced briefly at him over her shoulder. “There is nothing I have to say to you, Mr Tucker. Please do not try to see me again.”
He accepted the dismissal, watching her retreating figure, but couldn’t bear not to ask one more question. “Tell me one thing, T’Pol.” She halted, but didn’t turn around. “Are you and Archer really lovers?”
She still didn’t turn. “Our relationship is intimate.”
Even though he’d known the truth for a long time, Tucker had to close his eyes as the pain of T’Pol’s bald statement hit him. When he opened them again, she was gone.
Mayweather was sorting cargo in one of the storage areas on the edge of the spaceport when Archer found him, a fact that didn’t seem to please the captain. “I thought you brought in guns.”
The young man took a wary look around and beckoned Archer to follow him into a corner. “I do, captain, but not when the cargo hold cloak’s down. The Xindi scan every ship that enters or leaves orbit. I had to jettison the last contingent on the dark side of the moon before I came in.”
“What did Tucker say about fixing it?”
Mayweather grimaced, knowing that Archer was going to like the answer even less than he had. “He said he can’t.”
“Then tell him otherwise.”
“Maybe you should try, sir, because he won’t listen to me.” The captain turned away, mouth twisting, and Mayweather added carefully, “It might be possible to get Sub-Commander T’Pol away, sir. I have a feeling that Ambassador Soval still has some connection with the Vulcan government. They might come for one of their own.”
“I had that conversation with Soval.” Archer turned back, the softening of his expression making him appear more like his old self. “T’Pol won’t leave without me.”
It wasn’t a good time for Tucker to be disturbed. He’d returned to the maintenance yard, located a bottle of alcohol, then retreated to Mayweather’s runabout to drink it in peace before suffering a crisis of conscience. As a result, the unopened bottle was planted in the centre of the small flight deck while Tucker sat at the pilot’s console and stared at it. He knew he drank too much. So did almost everyone else on the planet. What he hadn’t liked at the time, and liked even less in retrospect, was Soval’s accusation that he was an alcoholic. He didn’t even know why the possibility that the Vulcan was correct upset him. There was no one left for him to let down, no one depending on him, so why the hell did it matter? So it was definitely not a good time for Archer to walk in on him and simply stand there, looking contemptuously down at the man who had once been closer to him than anyone.
They stared at each other in silence for a good while, but it was Archer who cracked first, launching into what sounded to Tucker like a prepared speech – presumably to try and keep things relatively civil. “You must know how important it is that I get away from Earth. It’s my privilege to be one of the leaders of the last chance that Humanity has for survival. Do you know what I’ve been doing? Do you know what it means to the lives of thousands of people that I be free to continue my work?”
Tucker slipped lower in the gimballed chair. “The problems of humanity aren’t in my department. I’m an engineer.”
“That wasn’t always true.” The words were reasonable, but the contempt on Archer’s face was growing. “People tell me you practically started the Free Human movement single-handed.”
“What of it?”
“Isn’t it strange that you’ve ended up a drunken bum?”
“You can call me all the names you like. My answer’s still the same.”
“There must be some reason why you won’t help us.”
“There is!” Tucker hadn’t intended to say anything, hadn’t meant to react, but there was too much pent up anger inside him. “I suggest you ask T’Pol.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“I said, ‘Ask T’Pol.’”
T’Pol sat on one of the narrow beds in the room that Soval had found for them, largely because there was no other space available with Archer pacing the floor. Her gaze was fixed rather blankly on the opposite wall, as he repeated for the third time his indictment against Humans who were too cowardly to fight for their species’ survival. She was trying to recall the last time he had not been angry about something, but her memory had seemed strangely selective the last few days. It required a conscious effort of will to remain focussed, to remember how much Archer needed her, even if he was not aware of it, and not to dwell on other subjects that were no longer relevant.
She brought her wandering thoughts firmly back in line once again and realised that Archer had addressed her directly. “Captain?”
“I said I’m going out. Mayweather’s going to introduce me to a few people.”
T’Pol straightened her shoulders and returned to duty. “I will accompany you.”
“No. I don’t want a Vulcan along.” T’Pol blinked. Even after all this time … Her affront actually penetrated Archer’s absorption and he grimaced, coming to stand over her. “I’m sorry, T’Pol, poor choice of words. You know I don’t mean you.”
“You informed me at length of your opinion of Ambassador Soval.”
Archer scowled. “I’ll not be told how to proceed on my own planet by a Vulcan.” T’Pol forbore from pointing out that Soval’s knowledge of Earth was more recent than his; he wouldn’t listen. “Stay here. Get some rest. You look tired.”
“Yes.” She was tired. Tired by six years of loyalty to a man who rarely took note of her efforts to steer him onto a rational course of action.
His next words surprised her utterly. “T’Pol, on Enterprise, were you and Trip …?” It was not a question she was prepared to answer, even for him. His hand rose to rub his mouth, an old sign of uncertainty, before he bent to kiss her cheek. “I do appreciate you, T’Pol.” She knew that her complete lack of response hurt him, but she really was very tired. “When we get back to Enterprise, we’ll take some downtime. Have dinner together. Maybe,” he clearly couldn’t think of any other leisure activity they could share, “take in a movie.”
She nodded and he frowned at her for a few moments more then left. T’Pol waited a little while then set out herself. Soval would be waiting for her and just now she needed him. Someone had to give serious consideration to how they were to leave Earth. She wanted to be gone as soon as possible and never visit the planet again.
The noise from the room downstairs filtered up to the bed where Tucker lay, although it wasn’t that that was keeping him awake. It wasn’t even the fact that he was sober. It was the memories that kept him lying there, memories of Enterprise, of water polo matches, dinners in the captain’s mess, shared laughter, teasing the Vulcan first officer …
With a muttered curse, he rolled over and she was standing there, silhouetted in the doorway. He sat up slowly and she moved further into the room, closing the door behind her. “What are you doing here, T’Pol?”
“I came to persuade you to help Captain Archer leave Earth.”
“Sorry, honey, I put my neck out for no one these days.”
“He was your friend.”
“Was. I think he’s made it pretty clear we’re not even on speaking terms anymore.”
“Do you have no loyalty to your species?”
“Soval told me that you help others.”
“Only when I’m drunk enough.”
“Then if you will not help the captain for friendship or loyalty,” she took a step closer in the small room, “will you do it for me?”
“Because we were lovers?” Tucker’s voice had grown bitter. “Oh no, I forgot, I was just an experiment.”
“You called yourself that. I never did.”
“Yeah, you Vulcans have always been real good at word games.”
He had finally turned away, hands braced on the window ledge to stare at the darkened world outside. T’Pol moved closer, her eyes never leaving his averted profile. “Charles …”
“Don’t call me that! What damn right do you have to call me that?”
All the pain of what he saw as her betrayal of him was suddenly in his voice, and T’Pol’s eyes widened as she finally understood that it was she who was responsible for his self-destruction. “Charles …” Her voice had softened, an echo of her own pain creeping into it that all her mental discipline could not prevent. Tucker heard the change and stiffened, looking around almost reluctantly, meeting her eyes for the first time.
It was he who moved first, although only by a fraction of a second, then they were in each other’s arms, kissing frantically, clinging together as if trying to make up for three year’s separation and all the pain and loss they’d both experienced.
Even T’Pol did not know how long they remained locked together, but it was she who made the next move, sliding her hands under Tucker’s tee shirt to reach bare skin. He moaned, arms tightening still further even as he dragged his mouth from hers to look desperately down into her face. She raised one hand to pull him back for another searing kiss then looked deeply into his eyes, making no attempt to hide her desire. His breath caught, then he was urging her towards the bed, falling on top of her as she pulled him down.
T’Pol had to help him undress her - he was shaking too badly to do it quickly enough to satisfy her desire – then guided him between her legs, her eyes closing, sighing in satisfaction as he filled her. Panting, Tucker laid a hand against the side of her face, whispering her name, and she opened her eyes to watch him watching her while they moved slowly against each other until her head fell back as she came with a soft cry of fulfilment, taking him with her.
They lay still for a long moment, Tucker with his head pressed into T’Pol’s neck, until he whispered brokenly, “D’you know what I went through, the day you left Enterprise? D’you know how much I loved you, how much I still love you?”
Her arms tightened fiercely, all her own feelings for him concentrated into a very simple answer. “Yes.”
For once he didn’t misunderstand, although even the passionate declaration couldn’t wipe out twelve months of hurt. He raised his head to look down at her. “Then why d’you go with Archer?”
“I had no choice.”
His mouth twisted. “There are always choices.”
“Perhaps.” She lifted a hand to his face, stroking the lines beside his mouth, his eyes. “I entered pon farr. Lt Reed was dead. You were far away. Jonathan was there. I had a choice to live or die. I chose to live. Afterwards,” she drew a quick breath, “afterwards he still needed me.” A look of pure disgust crossed Tucker’s face and she hurried on, defending the man who had won her loyalty years before. “You don’t know him anymore, Charles. He was in the hands of the Xindi for six months before we could rescue him. It changed him, made him both harder and more vulnerable. He needed me.”
“So did I.” She didn’t answer, although the grief in her eyes told him that she finally understood that. “What happens now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then how about this? We help him leave. You stay here.”
The answer she gave wasn’t the one he’d expected. “Yes.”
He gasped in astonishment, almost in shock, and she raised herself up to kiss him again, her longing evident. It wasn’t the sort of invitation a man could well resist – it never had been.
T’Pol fell asleep with her head on Tucker’s chest, his arms wrapped possessively around her, but the engineer lay wake, not able to succumb to the peace that had engulfed T’Pol after they’d made love. They’d never fallen asleep together on Enterprise, had never even lain in each other’s arms for more than a few breathless minutes. During their weeks together, there’d never been time for more than sex and they’d steered clear of discussing whether they went to bed together for any reason other than physical attraction. He’d tried to start the conversation once or twice, but T’Pol had always stopped him, and eventually he’d given up, content to play along, confident that one day she would admit that she returned the feelings she claimed to know he possessed.
In the filthy bedroom on the occupied planet of a dying race, Tucker smiled faintly at the memory of their first time together, something he’d not been able to do in years. T’Pol had instigated that, no question. The second time, he’d had to tease her about the statistical validity of the data she’d collected during that high-intensity coupling, but she hadn’t held out for long. By the third time, they both knew that the neuro-pressure was just foreplay, a half-legitimate excuse to meet in private and indulge themselves. Now maybe they were being given a second chance, but Tucker couldn’t quite bring himself to believe it – life wasn’t that kind.
Someone tapped on the door and Tucker stiffened. “What is it?” T’Pol stirred and he held her closer, unwilling to lose contact with her lean, sensual body.
“You’ve got a visitor, Trip.” It was Mayweather’s voice. “Better come down.”
“Tell ’em to come back tomorrow.”
“Now, Trip. It’s Captain Archer.”
Tucker licked suddenly dry lips and looked down to see that T’Pol was awake and gazing back at him, her expression still serene. “Stay here.” She nodded and settled down again into the warm spot left by his body, hugging his pillow to her, while he pulled on the shorts and tee shirt she had removed a couple of hours earlier and slipped out of the door, careful not to give Mayweather the chance to see inside. His very caution alerted the other man, however. “Who have you got in there?”
“Not Amanda, if that’s what’s worrying you.” Tucker hoped the diversionary tactic would work, but Mayweather just grinned.
“I know. She’s waiting for me downstairs – impatiently.”
Tucker couldn’t help the brief laugh that escaped him. “Are you gonna make an honest woman of her?”
“Now there’s a challenge!” Mayweather glanced suspiciously at the engineer. “What’s got into you tonight? You look … alive.”
Tucker ignored the too-perceptive remark, not hard to do when he’d already caught sight of Archer’s tall figure by the door, staring out across the landing field. He jerked his head in dismissal to the younger man and moved slowly across the floor. “Cap’n?” Archer turned just as slowly and Tucker was struck again by how much he had aged. That and the memory of T’Pol’s tone as she spoke of imprisonment by the Xindi prompted him to say impulsively, “Don’t you sometimes wonder if it’s worth it? What you’re fighting for?”
That brought an instant scowl to the other man’s face. “You might as well question why we breathe. If we stop breathing, we’ll die. If we stop fighting the Xindi, Humanity will die.”
“At least it’ll be out of its misery.”
“Listen to yourself, Trip! Do you know how you sound? Like a man who’s trying to convince himself of something he doesn’t believe in his heart.”
Tucker grimaced, knowing that Archer was getting too closer to the truth. “I get the point.”
“I wonder if you do. I wonder if you know that you’re trying to escape from yourself, and that you’ll never succeed.”
“You seem to know a lot about it.”
“I do now.” Archer moved so that they were facing each other. “I know that you’re in love with T’Pol. Don’t you find that strange, Trip, that we both should be in love with the same woman? The first evening I came into this place, I knew there was something between you that I’d missed on Enterprise. So I’ll just ask one thing. You won’t help me get away from Earth. Fine. But I want T’Pol to be safe. Get her off-planet.”
Tucker paused a long moment before responding to that one. “You love her that much?”
“You think I’m just a starship captain with no time for anything else? Well, I am also a human being. Yes, I love her that much.”
They never got to finish the conversation. The door burst inwards and the room was suddenly full of Xindi, weapons aimed at the two Humans. Tucker saw Archer cast a frantic, almost panicked look around, then he seemed to slump as it became obvious that there was no way out. Strassick sauntered through the ring of soldiers to push his face into the captain’s. “Careless, Archer. Very, very careless.” He turned back towards the door, gesturing behind him. “Bring him.” The last view Tucker had of the other man was the look of hurt Archer turned on him as the captain was led away.
Tucker had stayed very still while the Xindi were present, because if his year on Earth had taught him nothing else, he knew that they would shoot on the slightest provocation, and dying had suddenly become a much less attractive proposition than previously. He still stood there after they had left, however, until movement at the back of the room brought his head around to where Mayweather and Cole had emerged from her bedroom and were watching him, their expressions grim and unhappy. None of them had time to speak before T’Pol appeared down the stairs, fully dressed but with her hair still rumpled and her expression uncharacteristically vulnerable, making her look even younger than usual.
Mayweather and Cole exchanged a startled glance as T’Pol fixed her gaze on Tucker and said simply, “We must rescue him.”
“No.” The flat denial was at odds with the intent look on his face that they recognised from their time on Enterprise. “I’m not putting my neck on the line for someone who thinks I betrayed him.”
“Sounds fair to me.” Cole picked up the queue. “I had something quite different planned for tonight, anyway.”
“Me too.” Tucker stretched out a hand towards T’Pol and she closed the distance between them, still not removing her eyes from his face. He took her hand, leading her quietly to the side room with the other two following. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
Once in the smaller room with the door closed, he moved quickly to activate the jamming device before dragging a map from under a pile of junk. “They’ll take him to the supply depot. It’s the only secure place to hold him until they can ship him out. Strassick’s ship didn’t wait.”
T’Pol moved to his side to study the map, while Mayweather and Cole exchanged another look, before the younger man grinned. “Welcome back, Captain Tucker.”
The man addressed raised his head to look at his friends, a twisted smile appearing on his lips. “Remind me to apologise sometime.”
“You have weapons?” T’Pol’s tone was businesslike. She had clearly recovered her composure to focus on the job in hand.
Tucker waved a hand across the table. “That’s Amanda’s department.”
“We’ve weapon dumps here and here.” The ex-MACO indicated the appropriate places on the map. “For all the good they’ve done us so far.”
Tucker was leant over the table, studying the layout of the defended compound. “We need to make this look like an inside job or the Xindi’ll slaughter the lot of us.”
“They don’t suspect you so far?”
“If they did, we’d already be dead.” He smiled sideways at T’Pol. “We’re not the most likely bunch of freedom fighters.”
“Then you should not become involved.”
Tucker laughed softly, glancing across at Mayweather and Cole to confirm their support. “It’s a little late for that, honey.” He indicated a point on the map with a calloused finger. “If I take out the perimeter fence here, we’d be barely twenty metres from the component store. They’re probably holding the cap’n in one of the storage lockers just opposite.”
“You’re sure you can take the force field down?” Mayweather questioned dubiously and got a disgusted look.
“I drink too much, Travis. It doesn’t stop me being a bloody good engineer. Not yet, anyway,” he concluded under his breath. “How many guard d’you reckon on, Amanda?”
“Not many. They don’t expect trouble. No Human’s been near there in months - except me.”
“So it’s a go?”
“You said it had to look like an inside job,” Mayweather reminded him and Tucker grinned evilly.
“Soval says there are still divisions within the Xindi council over their policy towards Earth. The reptilians are definitely still the bad guys, the humanoids are pressing for a truce.” A teasing light appeared in his eyes as he smiled at Cole. “Amanda just so happens to have a cache of Xindi-Humanoid uniforms and weapons.”
“You believe that the reptilians will blame the humanoids for Captain Archer’s escape?” T’Pol queried and he shrugged.
“Let’s hope so.” He turned on Mayweather. “Once we get inside the compound, I’ll head for the component store while the rest of you …”
“Not you, Trip.” Cole’s voice was firm and he looked up with a frown. She stared levelly back, arms folded. “Your reactions are shot to hell, you’ve no stamina and you’ve not picked up a weapon in over a year.”
“I concur.” T”Pol tilted her head back to meet Tucker’s outraged stare. “You are extremely unfit. You will remain outside the compound.”
“Who’s in charge here?”
“Me,” Cole said decisively and he turned back to glare at her.
“And who’s gonna identify the components needed to fix Travis’ cloak?”
“T’Pol.” The Human woman glanced across at the Vulcan, who nodded agreement. “Face it, Trip, you’ll be a liability. Stay out of it.”
He scrubbed a hand across his face, angry and hurt, but ultimately realistic. “Okay, okay. So what’s your plan, Corporal Cole?”
Unfit he might be, but Tucker reacted fast enough when four figures appeared on the far side of the force field, sprinting from the cover of a sand dune to briefly deactivate the barrier again to let them out. He grabbed the carrying case from T’Pol, who had her other arm around Archer; it appeared that the captain could barely stand. “How is he?”
She spared him only a brief look, but he had long enough to see how worried she was. “I don’t know.”
“According to plan.” She took a sweeping, professional survey of the surrounding area. “Let’s move.”
Archer steadied on his feet as they made their way back to the spaceport and Mayweather’s ship, but Tucker couldn’t help but notice how the captain stayed close to T’Pol, even after he no longer needed her support. ‘You don’t know him anymore, Charles. He was in the hands of the Xindi for six months before we could rescue him.’ T’Pol’s words kept echoing around his head, in precise counterpoint to that minimalist ‘yes’ when he had asked her to stay with him. She loved him, he didn’t doubt that any longer, but was she really ready to give up her captain for him?
The second half of the journey was slower than the first. The others might have accused Tucker of being unfit, but it became clear that Archer was in even worse condition. Mayweather spelled T’Pol in keeping him moving and, in one of her rest periods, Tucker pulled her to a halt. “How long has he been ill?”
She snuggled uninvited into his side. “Since the Xindi took him.”
“What did they do?”
He felt her shiver. “I don’t know. He won’t speak of it, but he dreams.”
His own flesh cringed in reluctant sympathy even as he held her close, suddenly realising why T’Pol looked so worn down and why life with a borderline alcoholic engineer might actually be a welcome prospect.
They reached the ship at last, where T’Pol settled Archer on the crash-bunk, while Mayweather began the pre-flight checks until he noticed that Tucker hadn’t moved. “I need that cloak, Trip.”
“Sure.” The engineer seemed to come out of deep introspection. “T’Pol.” She raised her head from Archer to him. “Give me a hand?”
She followed him into the cargo bay, kneeling beside him as he tore the cover from the cloaking device and began to lay out the components stolen from the Xindi. “You have to go with him.” He heard her sharply indrawn breath, but didn’t dare look up. “He needs you.”
“You said that you needed me too.”
“We said a lot of things last night. But I’ve been thinking and it all adds up to one thing. You have to go back to Enterprise where you belong.”
“Charles …” There was a note of pleading in her voice, although he didn’t know – perhaps didn’t want to know – what she was pleading for.
“Do you have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both wind up dead.”
“You are saying that to make me go.” T’Pol’s voice was actually shaking and Tucker’s heart twisted, but he ploughed on.
“I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Archer. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If this ship leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it.”
“Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.”
“What about us?”
Tucker chuckled softly, finally raising his eyes to T’Pol’s as he stretched out a hand to cup her cheek gently. “We’ll always have Enterprise. We’d lost it until you came to Earth. We got it back last night.”
“I do not wish to leave you.”
“You never will.” Gently he kissed her mouth. “But I’ve got a job to do too. That’s something else you gave me back.” There were tears sparkling in T’Pol’s eyes, something he’d never seen before. “The cap’n’s right, T’Pol, the survival of the Human species has to be more important than what we want.” She dropped her head forward onto his shoulder and he held her to him, giving her the comfort, the support, she would soon be without again. He’d have liked to howl himself, but one of them had to be strong.
They would probably have held each other indefinitely if someone hadn’t said dryly, “Mr Mayweather informed me that you were working on the cloak.”
They separated on the first word, T’Pol turning her back as she raised a hand to discreetly wipe away her tears while Tucker did his best to match Soval’s tone. “Don’t they teach you to knock on Vulcan?”
“I apologise. You have had a bad influence on my manners, Mr Tucker.” Although he was speaking to the engineer, the Vulcan’s eyes were on the woman with her back to him and, for a moment, the engineer thought that Soval was about to deliver a blistering rebuke. But all he added was a quiet statement of fact as he withdrew. “Mr Mayweather is anxious to leave. I suggest you hurry, Mr Tucker.”
With the other Vulcan gone, Tucker laid a cautious hand on T’Pol’s still averted shoulder. “Are you okay?”
She nodded and turned to face him, her features carefully schooled to impassivity, although she could not wipe every trace of pain from her eyes. Unable to resist temptation, Tucker cupped his hand around her check again, thumbing gently caressing her soft skin. “You’ll go?”
“Yes.” Very deliberately, she removed his hand, her fingers gripping his tightly for a moment before releasing him entirely as she rose to her feet. Tucker drew a deep breath as the impact of his sudden attack of nobility hit him and clenched his fists to stop himself snatching T’Pol back into his arms. Helplessly, he watched her cross the cargo bay, wondering if his last view of her was to be her determinedly straight back. She halted by the door, her hand resting on the release mechanism, staring at the metal ahead of her, then turned back for a moment, all her passion for him blazing in her eyes. Then she was gone and Tucker stretched out a shaking hand for the first of the replacement components, clinging onto the fact that T’Pol loved him with an intensity that perhaps still surprised even herself.
Tucker emerged from the cargo bay fifteen minutes later to find them all waiting for him, Cole lounging by the open hatch, plasma rifle at the ready, Archer and Soval regarding each other with cold dislike, while Mayweather fidgeted at the helm. The only one who seemed calm was T’Pol, standing to one side of Archer, half a pace behind him. Tucker carefully avoided looking in her direction as he nodded to Mayweather. “The cloak’s online. Better get your passengers in position and make a run for it.”
The young man nodded, bouncing out of his chair, then hesitating as Cole straightened. But she only threw him a wide grin and jumped down to the ground outside. “See you next time you swing by, flyboy. Maybe I’ll make it worth your while.”
He grinned back, flipping off a mock salute, then moved out of Soval’s way as the Vulcan followed the ex-MACO out of the shuttle. Tucker received a friendly clout on the shoulder as he passed, eyes still carefully avoiding one corner of the cabin. “Keep out of trouble this time, Trip.”
The engineer managed an answering smile then halted, hand on the side of the airlock, when Archer said quietly, “Trip.” He turned his head reluctantly to face his old captain and the man continued, “I don’t want to know the details. But thank you.”
Tucker drew a difficult breath and nodded, accepting both thanks and the peace offering. “Good luck, cap’n. Keep safe. Both of you.” Then he too jumped to the ground, not trusting himself with a final look at the woman standing at Archer’s side.
Soval and Cole were waiting for him, Cole to reclaim the weapon she had reluctantly permitted him, Soval for no reason that Tucker cared to consider. Cole winked at the pair of them and strode off into the darkness to hide the weapons again, while Tucker headed in the direction of the maintenance yard, Soval falling in at his side. The Vulcan’s silence eventually unnerved Tucker into asking abruptly, “What are you doing here, Soval?”
“When T’Pol informed me of your plan to release Captain Archer, I found myself curious as to what had led you to take an active role again.”
The answer didn’t please Tucker in the least. “Isn’t curiosity an emotion?”
“Hardly. Without intellectual curiosity, progress would cease.”
“Then I hope your intellectual curiosity was satisfied!”
“Undoubtedly. Although I cannot approve of your relationship with T’Pol.”
Tucker grimaced, using the excuse of the lifting shuttle pod to look away. “You don’t have to.” The shuttle pod passed out of range of human vision and he headed on, unconsciously letting out his breath in a long sigh. “It’s over.” But it was a sweeter ending than he had ever dreamed of and that meant a lot.
It was dark in the office after the starlit darkness out in the open, but fortunately Vulcan eyesight was greatly superior to Human. Soval’s shove sent Tucker flying but it also saved his life as the energy beam sliced through the space where the two men had been standing. Winded from his fall, Tucker scrambled for cover but it was hardly necessary. Soval rolled neatly to his feet, drawing a weapon from within his robe and snapping off a shot at the figure in one corner that was hardly more than a shadow to Human vision. There was a grunt of pain, the sound of a falling body, then silence.
Tucker dragged himself to his feet and groped for a light, the electricity for once not failing, although what it revealed made him swear. “Shit.”
Soval poked the dead Xindi with a disdainful foot. “A surprisingly accurate description.”
“Maybe so, but how are we gonna explain away Strassick’s body?”
The Vulcan had crouched down for a closer examination. “Interesting. Observe.”
“I’ve seen dead Xindi before, thanks all the same.”
“It was not my weapon that killed him.”
“Huh?” Intrigued, Tucker leant in for a closer look, frowning at the gaping hole in the reptilian’s back that Soval’s investigation had revealed. “How’d that happen?”
“It would seem that your plan to incite dissention between the Xindi on Earth succeeded. I deduce that Strassick was mortally wounded by Ugarke’s men.”
“But we’ve still got a corpse on our hands and the Xindi will still execute us for it.”
“Perhaps not.” Soval straightened. “I suggest that you locate Ms Cole and arrange to have been seen together earlier this evening. We have enough people who will swear to that. I will inform Ugarke that I found Strassick’s body here when I came to see you later this morning.”
Tucker was frowning, trying to keep up with the Vulcan’s convoluted changes of tense. “So Amanda and I shacked up somewhere else for the night?”
“If I understand your meaning, yes.”
“Great!” Tucker run a weary hand over his face. “Just don’t tell T’Pol.”
“It might be a good idea for you to disappear from Earth for a while.” Soval continued pensively. “There is a Free Human enclave on Ceti Alpha V. I could be induced to arrange passage.”
“I could use a trip. But why would you bother?”
“Logic indicates that there is little to be gained in this war by remaining on Earth. I have been considering our options for some time.”
Tucker gave him a quizzical look. “Our options?”
“Indeed. I did recruit you, Mr Tucker.”
“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” It might have sounded better if Tucker’s tone had been a little less facetious, but at least he was laughing softly to himself as he went out into the pre-dawn dark to start the slow process of re-building his life.
Have a comment to make about this story? Do so in the Trip Fan Fiction forum at the HoTBBS!
A whole mess of folks have made comments
I *loved* this! Great take off on "Casablanca."
Fully realized as always. Thank you for this.
Wonderfully written. A joy to read.
Loved it! Thanks for a great retelling of this story. And thanks for making Trip and Soval the Rick and Louis of the future - too funny and such a great idea!
You made me cry... thanks a lot!!!!! LOL... just kidding, but this WAS really great! Loved it, even if the ending meant no T/T. Sometimes things just don't work out that way. ::sigh:: I just hope on the show they decide to go a different direction! :)
oooohhhh.... this is dark and scary and very interesting.
*sob* he sent her away!
Excellent story.... sad too...
Extremely good:-) Thanks.
WOW, what a superb story! Though I have to add that I hated the fact that T'pol went with Archer,and Archer is still as self obsessed as always.
Man, I'm almost crying over here!!!! lol That was amazing. Thank you for using Travis more in this one story then the show has the entire season. The Trip & T'Pol stuff was absolutely FANTASTIC--it broke my heart when they seperated again. *sniff* Soval and Trip's *friendship* was the best part--something I'd love to see on the show.
Oh, how fun! You did a great job with this, even though I *knew* she was going to have to go with Archer. Sigh.
Yeah, Trip got his spirit back! What a shame he couldn't get his woman back... at least he didn't end up a heart-broken drunk in the end, though. *sigh*
Boy... here's a fic that absolutely demands a sequel... and maybe a prequel too. I'd love to see this from T'Pol's side of things, both during her mission and after this story ends. Well done!
I agree with everyone else. Excellent story. Although I have to admit that I was kind of hoping you'd change the classic ending of Casablanca and have T'Pol stay, but alas! But the story is great as is!
Fabulous. This is the type of story I really love--great characterisation, big ideas...well done :)
Enterprise Angst has broken my heart... yet I continue to read fanfic. I am a masochist!
This was a lot of fun!! At times really funny too....ie 'the lab rat was getting his cheese'!! I howled!
As a big classic movie fan I was practically reciting the final exchange between Trip and T'pol in time with the characters. What a lot of fun. Thanks.