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Differential- Ch. 3
by Zane Gray (email@example.com)
Rating: Most of the story will qualify as PG, but expect some seriously R-rated bumps along the way
The next couple of days were agony for both Commander Tucker and Sub-Commander T'Pol, as they attempted to fulfill their responsibilities aboard the Enterprise despite their rather... difficult situation. Both knew that a reckoning was about to happen between them. But Trip was just as scared of what it might mean for them as T'Pol. Scared shitless, in fact, particularly after what he'd read in the ship's medical database. He'd barely had time to process the information, much less figure out what to do with it, when circumstances forced his hand.
The Enterprise had just discovered a previously-unknown, class-M planet during a routine mapping mission, and they'd been surprised to find that it exhibited traces of an intelligent, pre-industrial society. One thing let to another, and Trip and T'Pol suddenly found themselves sitting across from one another in a cramped shuttlepod, along with the Captain and Ensign Sato, on their way to explore the planet's surface. Normally, it was the kind of mission that would have had Trip excited - a chance to breathe a little fresh air and stretch his legs on a new alien world. But his life was anything but normal and, at the moment, he could barely keep from crawling out of his skin.
The Captain had suggested that Hoshi take the controls, allowing her to gain some much-needed flight experience. So she sat eagerly in pilot's seat, while the others worked in the back, preparing their survey gear. It only took a few minutes to check out the various sample collection containers, digital cameras and other bio-measurement equipment they'd need on the mission. When they finished, Archer tried to strike up a little cheerful conversation to pass the time. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear that neither his Science Officer or Chief Engineer were eager to join in. Subsequently, most of the flight passed in uncomfortable silence.
As they were getting ready to land, T'Pol prepared a hypospray from the pod's medkit and gave each of them an injection of tri-ox. The compound would assist their bodies in adjusting to the change in atmospheric pressure on the surface, and prevent dangerous nitrogen bubbles from forming in their bloodstream. But when she hesitated conspicuously before administering Trip's dose, Archer took note. What the hell is going on with these two? He decided to try and break the tension.
"God's gift to astronauts," he spoke aloud. T'Pol raised an eyebrow at him and Hoshi looked back confused.
The Captain continued, nodding toward the hypospray. "That's what my first instructor at the Academy called tri-ox. He was one of those old-timers - his father had actually been a crewman on the last of the manned NASA missions to Mars."
Trip chimed in, eager for the diversion. "Yeah, I remember him. He had this saying... 'A tri-ox a day keeps the fizzies away!'"
T'Pol's expression turned dubious, but she was unable to resist the bait. "Fizzies?"
Archer smiled at her. "Don't tell me you've never heard of 'spaceman's fizz'? 'Blast-off bubbles'? 'The bends'?"
"You are referring to decompression sickness."
"You might simply have said so."
Their laughter echoed around the tiny cabin until well after they'd landed.
"What?" he asked a little too loudly. Hoshi laughed and handed him a piece of chewing gum, which he accepted gratefully.
It was mid-afternoon at their chosen landing site, a short distance away from a small native settlement. They stood on the edge of a clearing in a heavily forested valley, with ancient mountain peaks all around. The sun was low on the horizon, but it was strangely bright. The most striking sight, however, was the massive, Jupiter-like gas giant that dominated the sky - the parent planet to the large moon upon which they were currently standing.
Archer drank it all in eagerly. "Amazing. I don't think I'll ever get tired of this." Then he turned to T'Pol, who anticipated his question and pointed into the distance.
"The village is three kilometers in that direction."
Archer nodded and the team began gathering their gear, Trip and T'Pol practically falling over themselves to avoid each other. As he locked up the shuttlepod behind them, the Captain smiled to himself and made a decision. Okay, kids... if you need to air out your differences, here's your chance. "Trip, T'Pol... why don't you two head up that ridge and get a better view of the valley. Hoshi and I will go in for a closer look at the village. We'll check in with you every fifteen minutes."
His senior officers looked at him with suddenly panicked faces. Then they both nodded, each careful not to glance at the other directly. You can handle this, Trip told himself nervously. You're a grown man, ain't 'cha? You can do this. He was less than sure of that, however, after Hoshi whispered mirthfully into his ear as the teams went their separate ways.
"Play nice, Commander..."
Moments later, a pair of blue-skinned beings trundled past, chatting animatedly with one another. They were tall and covered in thick fur, but wore simple woven garments. The pair were pulling a rickshaw-like cart, piled high with strange produce items. Archer suspected that they were local farmers. He pulled out a small camera and snapped a couple of quick shots. With a quick glance, he saw that Hoshi had activated her translator, and was recording as much of the beings' conversation as possible. Her eyes were wide with excitement.
It took less than a minute for the creatures to pass, but Archer and Hoshi decided to remain hidden for a while longer, just in case they returned. It wasn't long before the Captain's mind began to wander. And his curiosity got the better of him.
"Hoshi... have you noticed anything strange about Trip and the Sub-Commander lately?" he asked, keeping his voice as quiet as possible.
The Com Officer glanced up from her translator in surprise. "What do you mean, sir?"
Archer hesitated for a moment. "I don't know. They seem... on edge around one another. Have they been arguing lately? I mean, more than normal?"
Hoshi smiled. "Captain, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were asking me for gossip."
The corner of Archer's mouth turned up in amusement. "Not gossip... just your personal observations. Are they getting along or not?"
"Well... I don't know. They eat a lot of lunches together. Come to think of it, they almost never miss a lunch together." This seemed to take the Captain by surprise, though he remained silent. Hoshi continued. "But since the Sub-Commander fainted in the Mess Hall the other day, I don't think I've even seen the two of them in the same room together. Not until this afternoon anyway. Strange."
From her expression, it was clear that Hoshi's curiosity had been engaged. She glanced at the Captain. "Why do you ask, sir?"
Archer hesitated again. Hoshi took note of it as he replied. "If my First Officer and Chief Engineer can't work together, that's a big problem. Not just for me, but for the whole crew."
That was true enough, Hoshi knew. But she suspected it wasn't the whole truth. Still, Archer's next question took her by surprise.
"You don't think that they... I mean, the two of them...?"
Hoshi's reply was immediate. "No! No way. I mean, I don't think so. They're like oil and water. Aren't they?"
"Yeah. That's what I thought too." Archer sounded a little reassured. He quickly changed the subject, nodding toward the village. "Shall we go in for a closer look?"
Cautiously, the two crept back from their hiding place and began moving slowly through the underbrush in the direction of the settlement. But Hoshi's mind was now working on overdrive, replaying recent events. She recalled the Sub-Commander's lapse of composure on the Bridge the other day... Commander Tucker's general level of irritation of late. It was almost like they hadn't been getting enough sleep...
No way. They couldn't be. Could they?
When they finally reached the top of the ridge, they got down on the ground, laying side-by-side on their stomachs to stay hidden as they took bio readings and photographs of the village and the other activity in the valley. The villagers were certainly fascinating - a blue-skinned, bipedal race of a roughly Bronze-age level of technological development. So Trip and T'Pol took scans and photographs... and more scans and photographs... and still more scans and photographs. It was almost business as usual between them. But after another hour of quiet busywork, they finally ran out of things to photograph and scan. So they simply sat in silence, looking out across the landscape, up at the gas giant, around at the occasional scurry of animal life... anywhere but at each other. And the silence, at last, became unbearable.
Surprisingly, it was T'Pol who spoke first. "Commander Tucker," she started uneasily, keeping her eyes directed carefully away. "It seems that rhubarb is an Asian-derived plant of the buckwheat family with broad leaves and succulent petioles. It is not a fruit, but it does indeed make a... a tasty pie. In case you were wondering."
Trip looked over at her, rendered speechless by the soft sound of her voice. When he didn't reply, she glanced at him... and their eyes connected. The air between them grew instantly charged, and both of them felt their bodies responding uncontrollably. Trip reached out to T'Pol, almost hesitatingly, and brushed a piece of leaf out of her hair. Then he couldn't stop himself from caressing her cheek, ever so lightly, with the back of his hand. T'Pol turned into his touch instinctively... and shivered. Trip spoke, his voice thick with emotion.
"T'Pol, I know what's going on with you... with your condition. At least some of it anyway."
She froze, dropping her eyes in shame. Her next words were barely a whisper. "I... am sorry, Commander. It was not my intention to involve you against your will... to cause you pain."
His eyes grew wide. "It wasn't... you didn't..." Struggling for the right words, he took a shaky breath. "We have to talk, T'Pol. I want to understand this. I need to understand this."
But just as it seemed T'Pol would open up to him, her communicator chirped. Then it chirped again... and again. Trip grabbed her hand when she reached for it. "Jon can wait." She looked up with eyes that shimmered liquidly, pleading with him.
"Now is not the time." The communicator chirped again. Finally, he let her answer it, not bothering to hide his disappointment.
"T'Pol here." Her voice cracked a little.
Archer's came through the speaker thinly. "How's it coming on your end, Sub-Commander?"
She struggled to compose herself. "Fine, Captain. We have collected sufficient samples of the native flora and fauna. We were... just taking pictures."
"We've gotten some great shots ourselves. Why don't you two wrap things up and meet us back at the ship as soon as you can."
"Affirmative." She closed the connection. Then, without looking at him, she immediately busied herself with packing up their equipment. Trip watched her sadly for a moment, then followed suit.
"Enterprise to Shuttlepod Two. Hey you guys... ready to come home?"
Through the front canopy they could see Ensign Mayweather standing at the controls in the Launch Bay Observation Booth, waving at them through the viewports. Hoshi waved back, eager for a reason to be cheerful.
Archer signaled him with a smile. "Open the pod bay doors, HAL."
They heard Travis laughing over the com. Then a pair of large doors in the belly of the starship began to cycle open slowly, and the docking clamp descended to lock onto them. Hoshi switched the flight controls to remote operation and relaxed back into her seat.
"She's all yours, Travis. Tell the Doctor we brought back lots of souvenirs for him."
A few minutes later, after the Launch Bay had finished re-pressurizing around them, Archer couldn't climb out of the shuttlepod fast enough. While Hoshi worked to power down the tiny ship, the Captain sent Trip and T'Pol on ahead to Sickbay with the samples they'd collected. He'd used Phlox's eagerness to see the material as an excuse, but the truth was, he was just tired of dealing with the two of them. Archer didn't realize his mistake, of course, until it was already too late. He was in the middle of stowing their equipment when it suddenly occurred to him. Phlox was probably shooing them into the Decontamination chamber at that very moment. Alone... together. Those two aren't gonna last five minutes, the Captain thought with a laugh. They'll either kiss each other or kill each other. Then Archer paused in his work, as a sudden feeling of dread came over him.
Hhhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn... Trip focused frantically on the buzzing lights.
Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum... T'Pol focused desperately on the sound of her heart beating out of control. Or was it his heart?
The atmosphere in the room was electric. Vibrant, almost impossibly erotic energy crackled between them. It coursed over his skin, made his hair stand on end. It bolted up her spine, made the tips of her ears tingle. Trip felt like he was dying. Or maybe... just maybe... he was really, truly living for the very first time in his life. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore.
"You've been... in my head. Playing back my memories." She said nothing.
"I've been having these dreams at night. Things I haven't remembered in years. My first kiss, my first date with a girl... the first time I..." He turned slowly. "It's you in my mind, isn't it?"
T'Pol was staring up at him. She was radiant... glowing. Their eyes met.
They'd hadn't lasted five minutes.
There was no one there, so Archer went back to sorting the samples. Suddenly there was another thud, louder this time. Archer turned. Another thud... and the reinforced door to the Decontamination chamber shook visibly. Something was inside. Something was wrong inside. Oh, shit... Trip and T'Pol!
Archer quickly scrambled to the door controls, but the chamber was in mid-cycle and wouldn't open. Instead, Archer activated the small viewer near the door, calling up the camera inside the Decontamination chamber. Thud! The image appeared... and Archer saw Trip and T'Pol grappling frantically, engaged in a furious struggle with each other. T'Pol threw Trip violently against the wall. Thud! Then he spun her down, slamming her to the floor of the chamber. Thud!
Doctor Phlox chose that moment to stroll in from his office. "There you are, Captain! I must say, these are excellent specimens! I'll have to put Crewman Cutler to work right away getting them all--"
Archer spun on him. "Doctor, open this door! Now!"
Phlox looked at him puzzled. Archer dragged him to the viewer.
"Trip and T'Pol are in there beating the hell out of each other! We've got to get this door open!"
Phlox paled visibly as he glanced at the screen. "No, Captain..."
"They're gonna kill each other!"
"No, Captain. They're... they're not fighting."
"What? What the hell are you talking about?! Of course, they're--"
Then he looked at the screen again... more closely this time. Archer was no prude, and he'd certainly had more than his share of sexual experiences. But he knew of no words that could even begin to describe what Trip and T'Pol were doing now. His face suddenly turned deep red.
"In Vulcan mating rites, the first time is always... the worst," he heard Phlox saying nervously. "There will likely be numerous superficial injuries. But we cannot stop them, Captain. If we did, it would almost certainly be fatal. Particularly to T'Pol, but possibly also to Commander Tucker. They must be allowed to... finish."
Archer gulped in shock, his mouth gone dry. "The first time?"
Phlox sighed uncomfortably. "I'm afraid there is a great deal to explain, Captain."
Just at that moment, Hoshi walked into Sickbay. And before either Archer or Phlox could react...
"Oh, my God!"
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