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Differential - Ch. 1
by Zane Gray (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rating: Most of the story will qualify as PG, but expect some seriously R-rated bumps along the way
A week later, Crewman Miguel Lopez sat in the Science Officer's austerely furnished office, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He was struggling to remain calm, but the fact of the matter was that the Vulcan intimidated the hell out of him. And he wasn't alone. Many of his friends and fellow shipmates, who had already survived their first year performance reviews, had warned him that the experience could be unpleasant in the extreme. As the second-in-command of the Enterprise, it was T'Pol's responsibility to ascertain the readiness of all aspects of the ship's operation and report back to the Captain. And at the moment, it was Lopez's own small portion of that readiness that was being reduced to its component parts before his very eyes.
"According to these records, your attendance and punctuality have been just slightly better than the ship's average. Your scores on emergency drills and procedures would seem to indicate that more effort on your part is required, however Lieutenant Reed says that your knowledge of starship security is commendable, and that your hands-on work in the ship's Armory has been exemplary. In fact, I am told that your natural abilities are among the best of the crewmen under his charge. Nonetheless, there is much room here for improvement."
T'Pol glanced up at the crewman carefully, hoping to gauge his response to her comments. Noting that he seemed to squirm more actively when she did this, she quickly turned back to her computer viewer. "Lieutenant Reed's recommendation, which I have endorsed, is that you focus your efforts more and refresh yourself with the procedures in which you are known to be deficient. I have assembled the appropriate reading material from the training manuals for your review." She held a data card out to the crewman, who stood and took it, thanking her nervously. T'Pol waited a moment to see if the young man had any comments of his own. Unfortunately, she realized that she'd succeeded only in making him even more uncomfortable.
T'Pol finally slid her chair back from the desk and stood, which the crewman took to mean he was dismissed. But as he was about to exit, she called after him. "Crewman Lopez... have you considered applying to Starfleet's officer training program?"
Lopez hesitated at the opening door, caught off balance. "Uh... no, ma'am. I mean, no Commander. Uh... Sub-Commander."
"Perhaps you should. I believe you have the potential to make a fine officer one day, provided you apply yourself with greater enthusiasm. That is all."
Taken aback, the young man smiled... sort of. "Thank - thank you, Sub-Commander!" Then he bolted from the room... nearly knocking Commander Tucker clean off his feet in the process. The poor crewman mumbled a panicked apology to the Chief Engineer and then fled down the corridor. When Trip recovered, he looked at T'Pol thunderstruck.
"Fer cryin' out loud, T'Pol! What are ya doing to these kids in here? Pulling their fingernails off?"
The Vulcan merely raised an eyebrow. "It seems that I have gained something of a... reputation among the ship's enlisted complement."
Trip laughed. "Guess I don't blame 'em. You'd have scared the pants off a me too back when I was still wet behind the ears."
At her perplexed expression, Trip explained. "You know, when I was inexperienced. Fresh off the turnip truck. Green as a... uh, never mind." He quickly changed the subject. "By the way, I got your little message this morning."
T'Pol looked at him impassively. "To what message are you referring, Commander?"
"Give it a rest, T'Pol. Only a Vulcan would've glued those PADDs to my desk in such perfectly aligned rows. You'll be happy to learn that I was the laughing stock of Engineering all morning."
Once again, Trip recognized the faint but unmistakable signs of amusement on her face. "I am indeed pleased." T'Pol shut off her viewer and prepared to leave. "I assume you are here so that we may continue our mutual culinary education?"
"If that's yer way of asking if I'm here to take ya to lunch, the answer's absolutely. Scuttlebutt says there's rhubarb pie on the menu today and nothin' short of an army of Klingons is gonna keep me from havin' at it." He stepped aside politely to allow her to exit, then followed her out.
"I have noticed, Commander, that most of your favorite choices are dessert items."
"What can I say, T'Pol? I'm a slave to my sweet tooth."
She glanced at him dryly. "Perhaps you should speak with Dr. Phlox. I'm sure he could remove it for you..."
Trip's coloring visibly paled. "Could you stop calling it that? I'm havin' a hard time with the idea that I just ate a bowl full of... well, something's organs."
A look of mild annoyance crossed T'Pol's face. "You did not, Commander. Spleen is a Vulcan legume similar to your chickpea. And you haven't said whether you liked it or not."
Her lunch companion's relief was obvious. "Well... I like it a whole lot better now. It did kinda remind me of split-pea soup, except for all the slimy red bits. Think I liked the plomeek soup better though. Okay, now it's your turn..." With great anticipation, Trip pushed her lunch aside and set a thick slice of rhubarb pie in front of her.
"I have not yet finished my Antarian kreel rice..."
He dismissed her protest with a wave. "Don't get yer panties in a bunch. You can come back to it. Besides... skippin' straight to dessert is a uniquely Human trait. Consider this research."
T'Pol looked at him for a moment. "Indeed." She picked up her fork... then hesitated, glancing up at him dubiously. "I trust that rhubarb is not... something's organs?"
Trip laughed. "No, no! I wouldn't do that to you. Rhubarb's a... a fruit maybe?" He thought about it for a minute, puzzled. Finally, he gave up. "You know, I don't know what the hell it is. It's a plant and it makes a helluva tasty pie. You can look it up later if you like it."
Only slightly reassured, T'Pol speared a small portion of the dessert and tasted it carefully. Then she looked up with obvious surprise and quickly took a much larger bite.
Trip smiled in delight. "See? I told you it was good!" He turned to his own piece and began eating enthusiastically. "That's one of the things I love about you, T'Pol - your sweet tooth's even bigger than mine."
T'Pol stopped suddenly and stared at the Commander intensely, his words having struck a nerve despite her normally impenetrable Vulcan reserve. Fortunately, he failed to notice her discomfort, engrossed as he was in his dessert. Unsettled, T'Pol struggled to compose herself and resumed eating, as the doors to the crowded Mess Hall hissed open nearby.
"My goodness... is that rhubarb pie I smell?"
Both Trip and T'Pol looked up to see Dr. Phlox standing in the doorway. The Denobulan deftly followed his nose to the source of the delightful odor, which quickly led him to their table. "Ah, Commander Tucker... I see you're introducing our intrepid Science Officer to the pleasures of gastronomic perfection!"
"Better believe it, Doc. You know, there's still a slice or two left over there. Why doncha' grab one and pull up a chair?"
Phlox beamed at them. "I don't mind if I do!" With that, he set the reading material he'd been carrying down on table next to them and trundled off happily toward the food dispensers in search of sustenance.
Trip turned back to his food, chatting around a mouthful of pie. "You know, my mama used to say that rhubarb makes everything better. Betcha even the Doc over there'd agree that it's got powerful restorative properties. What do you think, T'Pol?"
He glanced up at her briefly... and was surprised to notice that she was staring at him, her gaze fixing him powerfully. This wasn't one of her normal, condescending glares. T'Pol seemed focused on him to the exclusion of everything else in the room. And something was definitely wrong. The Vulcan's skin was flushed, her breathing coming in tiny gasps. Her eyes appeared unfocused... yet somehow, Trip felt as if she was looking straight into his soul. He'd only seen her like this once before, that night after they'd escaped from the Suliban Helix. The night he'd gone to T'Pol's quarters to tell her how proud he was of her for standing up to Soval... the only time he'd ever been truly afraid for her.
Unsettled, he reached out, touching her hand in concern. "T'Pol? Are you all right?"
As if in slow motion, T'Pol looked down at his hand, fixating on it for a long moment. Then her eyes rolled up to the whites and she collapsed, falling sideways and striking her forehead sharply on the corner of the table as she went down. Trip was on his feet and at her side immediately, as the rest of the room went silent around them.
"T'Pol! T'Pol, can you hear me?" He put his arm around her shoulders and lifted her into a reclining position, attempting to rouse her. Moments later, Dr. Phlox appeared beside him and took charge.
"What happened, Commander?" he asked, calmly assessing her condition.
Trip glanced at him, alarmed. "I don't know! One minute she was eatin', and the next she just collapsed. Please tell me Vulcans aren't allergic to rhubarb!"
"Not that I am aware, however each individual's reactive profile is different." Phlox deftly read her pulse. "Her heart rate is erratic... but she is breathing. We should move her to Sickbay at once."
The suggestion of action was all Trip needed. Quickly, but gingerly, he lifted the unconscious woman into his arms and bolted out of the stunned Mess Hall, Phlox hurrying out after him. As Trip half-jogged down the main corridor, ignoring the puzzled stares of passing crewmen, he was struck by how light the Vulcan seemed in his arms. Falling behind, the Doctor called after him frantically, urging him to slow down, but Trip barely noticed. Racing around a junction in the corridor, he narrowly avoided colliding with a startled Ensign. When he regained his balance, Trip hurried on, risking a quick glance down at T'Pol. He saw that she was gazing up at him weakly, disoriented but definitely conscious.
"T'Pol? You hang on! We're almost to Sickbay. Just hang on!" His voice was sick with worry, but T'Pol was too out of it to notice, her head lolling heavily against his shoulder. She turned her face into his neck, concentrating on the heavy scent of his perspiration as it gathered there on his skin. On any other Human, the smell would have left her stomach reeling. But on him, she found it... intoxicating.
Moments later, Trip burst into Sickbay, the doors barely sliding aside in time to allow him to pass. He carried T'Pol to the nearest exam table, and carefully set her down. As her head fell back gently against the padding, it was then that Trip noticed how completely beautiful she was. Her eyes were hooded and fathomless, seeing only him. The green-bronze skin of her cheeks was feverish and tantalizingly soft, covered in both their sweat. Their breaths mixed in the air between them, his heavy from exertion, hers from something else entirely. Trip had just enough time to register that the tips of her gracefully pointed ears were turning a very deep shade of green... when he felt her fingers move lightly against his face.
It was as though he'd accidentally touched a hot plasma conduit. An electric charge blasted across his consciousness, leaving him bare - stripped of all pretense. For an instant, Trip and T'Pol ceased to exist as separate individuals, becoming instead something new... something impossibly together. T'Pol was revealed to him in a way he would never have imagined possible. What he saw in her was pure... elemental. For her part, T'Pol was lost on a stormy sea of raw emotion. Waves of feeling crashed over her violently... his, hers, theirs... and she rode them willingly, in defiance of all logic. They both realized, at the exact same instant, that their connection was almost frighteningly sexual. And it had marked them each indelibly.
Though it seemed to stretch out endlessly, the mind meld actually lasted for less than a minute... then T'Pol's hand fell lightly away from his face. They stared into each other's eyes for long moments after it was over. When they finally regained a measure of consciousness, they were hyper-aware of their surroundings... and of each other.
Trip stepped back from the exam table, light-headed. "What... what just happened?"
The Doctor was waiting nearby, having arrived in Sickbay a few moments behind them. He'd been stunned to find them locked in the brief mind meld, and had nervously waited for it to run its course, affording them a measure of privacy. Seeing that it was now over, he stepped forward quickly, pressing separate, loaded hypos into each of their jugular veins in turn. "I believe you both had a reaction to something you ate, perhaps in combination with exhaustion or dehydration or both. I will have to alert Chef immediately." It was a lie, of course, and they all knew it. But given the situation, it was the best Phlox could come up with.
Trip glanced at him, his expression still dazed. "Some reaction." Then he remembered what happened in the Mess Hall, and turned his attention back to T'Pol, concerned. "Are you okay? You just... collapsed and I had to carry you--"
"I am fine, Commander. Thank you for your assistance." Her voice cracked imperceptibly, and she struggled to get it under control.
"Are you sure? You took a nasty hit on the head--"
"I will be safe in the Doctor's care. If you will excuse me now, I wish to be alone."
"Oh... okay." Trip hesitated. "Maybe I'll see you later then," he said lamely, looking at each of them in confusion. T'Pol's face was once again unreadable. The Doctor merely smiled at him nervously. Flustered and reeling, Trip finally turned and ambled unsteadily out of the room.
The moment the door closed behind him, Phlox turned to T'Pol. "The shot I gave you was, of course, your weekly hormone treatment. It should alleviate your symptoms soon. The bruise on your forehead isn't serious, but will take a few days to heal." He paused for a moment, then continued more seriously. "However, your condition is developing faster than we anticipated. I suspect it was aggravated by your recent... ordeal with the Suliban." Phlox hesitated again before broaching the subject of greatest concern. "Forgive me for being indelicate, Sub-Commander, but... I couldn't help noticing that you initiated a mind meld with Commander Tucker. A bonding meld if I am not mistaken."
T'Pol stared at the ceiling silently, her face a blank mask. "It was inadvertent."
Phlox continued pointedly. "Nevertheless, the effects on you both will be quite... significant. And possibly permanent. You must to talk with him, Sub-Commander. As soon as possible."
She turned on him with sudden irritation. "He is an insufferable, irrational, annoying Human with severe language assembly problems."
Phlox listened patiently to T'Pol's uncharacteristic outburst, knowing that her words were intended purely for her own benefit. "Commander Tucker is a veritable fountain of colorful idioms. Nevertheless... I believe he would understand." He hesitated, then continued more gently. "If his actions today are any indication, he seems to care very deeply about you."
T'Pol glanced away. "My well being is not of his concern."
"I see. Well, Sub-Commander... I suspect you will have quite a difficult time convincing him of that."
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