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Redivivus- Ch 8

Author - Hopeful Romantic
Fan Fiction Main Page | Stories sorted by title, author, genre, and rating


by HopefulRomantic

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise is the property of CBS/Paramount. All original material herein is the property of its author.
Website: http://www.geocities.com/hopeful_romantic@prodigy.net/
E-mail: Hopeful_Romantic@prodigy.net

Series Summary: The Reconnecting series is a reinterpretation of Season 4 that went AU shortly after Home. It focuses on the relationships of Trip and T’Pol and their extended family, and features characters introduced in Season 3, as well as original characters.

A/N: pookha floated the notion that the two Observers from “Observer Effect” could be Ayelborne and Claymare, the Organians of the TOS episode “Errand of Mercy.” The idea intrigued me, so I ran with it. Thanks for that, pookha, and for a whole mess of other musings you shared regarding “Observer Effect.” I also referenced the terrific Enterprise deck plans created by Waxing Moon Design.

Thanks as always to my betas Stephanie and boushh.

Date: 9-15-08


Chapter Eight: Mercy

Hour One

September 23, 2154
1307 hours
Shuttlepod One
en route to Enterprise

Trip thought he was going to die.

As soon as he stopped coughing and got his breath back, the nausea hit, wave after wave of it, fierce and unrelenting. Between bouts of vomiting, he was dimly aware of Hoshi beside him, pressing sick bags into his hands, briefly stroking his sweating brow in comfort. Then she would be gone, back to the helm controls, steering the shuttle homeward. He was grateful she was there, doing the job he couldn’t.

Every jostle and bump of the docking process made his stomach lurch, but Hoshi got the shuttle secured in the launch bay in one piece. By the time she returned her attention to him, Trip was curled up on the deck, pale and spent, surrounded by the mess he’d made.

“You need another bag?” she asked.

“God, I hope not. I’m really tired of puking.”

With surprising strength for one so small, she pulled him to his feet. Feebly, he tried to keep her at a distance. “You shouldn’t be anywhere near me.”

“We’ve been in each other’s pockets for two days straight, Commander,” she said pragmatically. “If I was going to catch it, I’ve got it already. There’s no use worrying about it now.”

Trip sighed. “I suppose you’re right. I just wouldn’t wish this bug on anybody.”

“Come on, lean on me.” Slowly, she helped him into Decon. He managed not to throw up again as she gently eased him onto a bunk.

A minute later, as Hoshi made a mad dash for the bathroom herself, it was pretty clear that she had it too. “I'll prepare anti-nausea medication,” Phlox said from the viewing window. “You get me those blood samples as soon as you can.”

Trip started to nod—and abruptly stopped as the room sloshed sickly back and forth. He shut his eyes tight, fighting the dizziness and nausea with gritted teeth.

He heard Captain Archer’s voice from the window. “Trip, there’s someone else here to see you.”

“In a sec...” Trip was afraid to open his eyes just yet. But even as he drew in another pinched breath, he felt his stomach settling a little, and the vertigo easing. Cautiously, he glanced toward the window.

Phlox and Archer had already left. T’Pol was alone in the corridor, framed by the viewing window. She was the most beautiful thing Trip could imagine laying eyes on at the moment. He felt her mental touch soothing him, taking the edge off his discomfort. He managed a smile. “How are you doing that?”

“It is only temporary,” she said. “A simple matter of triggering the release of endorphins.”

If he weren’t trying so hard not to barf, he would’ve messed with her about that “simple” claim. Must be nice, being Vulcan. Right now he was just glad she was doing it. “You’ll have to teach me that sometime.”

“I shall.”

She was being awfully nice, considering he’d basically abandoned her for two days right after moving in with her. He felt bad about that. “Sorry,” he said contritely. “This isn’t exactly the homecoming I planned.”

“No matter,” she replied. “You are home. That pleases me, whatever the circumstances.”

“You actually make me feel less terrible about it.” Carefully, he got to his feet. The room spun and his stomach churned. “Urrgh...a little less terrible.”

He felt her concern as he moved gingerly toward the viewing window. “If you are feeling ill,” she said, “it may be more prudent for you to move as little as possible.”

“Doc needs these blood samples.” As Trip bent to retrieve the test kits, the nausea almost overtook him. Slowly, he straightened, gripping the kits in one shaky hand as he braced against the sill with the other. He felt self-conscious, knowing T’Pol was watching him, feeling his suffering. “You should go on back to work,” he said gruffly. “I don’t like anyone fussin’ over me when I’m feelin’ poorly.”

She raised an eyebrow, looking a little surprised. “Very well.”

As she turned to go, Trip felt like six kinds of fool. “T’Pol...”

She stopped, returning to the window, her expression quietly expectant. “Look, I’m an idiot,” Trip said. “I’m glad you came. I’m just used to being sick all by myself. I don’t know how to do it like this.”

He felt a wave of compassion from her. “You are not an idiot,” she said calmly. “And I don’t wish to cause you discomfort.”

“I’d better get well, then.”


He put his hand up to the window, and she did the same. He felt her more strongly...was it his imagination? He wished he could touch her. They were separated by only a centimeter of glassteel, but it might as well be a light-year.

He felt her reach out through the bond and embrace him, surrounding and suffusing him with love and energy. He felt a little more equilibrium returning.

“I missed you, darlin’,” he said softly. She was always with him, of course...but he was human, a sensual creature. He loved the feel of her skin, the sound of her voice, the sweet scent of her. He missed being with her.

In his mind’s eye, she smiled affectionately. “Soon, t’hai’la, we will be together again.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1352 hours
Decon chamber

Trip watched from his bunk as Hoshi pulled another blanket from the stack. “Okay, I’ve got one,” he said. “What movie do you want to see when we get out of here?”

Hoshi settled herself on the bunk across from his, tucking the second blanket around her lap as she mulled over the question. “Some happy little fantasy-land where there’s no garbage, and nobody is sick, and it’s loud. With people everywhere.”

Trip smiled. “Sounds like you need one of those musicals from the mid-twentieth century. Hmm...I’ve got it. The Music Man. It’s squeaky clean, the whole town is in the story singing and dancing by the end, the band is really noisy, and they all live happily ever after.”

“I’m there,” Hoshi declared. Trip laughed, and she smiled at him. “What’s your movie?” she asked.

Trip spread his hands helplessly. “The only one I can think of right now is The Andromeda Strain.”

“Strain of what?”

“No—it's about an extraterrestrial disease.”

Hoshi rolled her eyes. “You’re hopeless.”

He shrugged. “You have your happily ever after, I have mine.”

“Let me guess. Doctor Andromeda builds a monster, and it kills him in the end.”

Now it was Trip’s turn to do the eye-rolling. “No. Andromeda’s the monster. Well, actually, it’s not a monster, it’s alien. It attacks the good guys—”

“—But the Andromeda alien strains something during the attack!” Hoshi cut in. “Which gives the good guys a chance to escape, and...” She stopped as Trip dissolved into laughter. She giggled. “Ohhh, I must have a lot of drugs in me.”

“I think we both do. Time to pick another one.”

She fussed with her blankets for a bit. “Okay. Most embarrassing moment since we joined Enterprise.”

Trip sank down until he was lying on his side, looking crookedly up at her. “Most? But there are so many.”

“One, then. A representative embarrassing moment.”

Trip chewed his lip. “Remember when we found that planet with the pollen that made the landing party hallucinate and get all paranoid?”

She thought back. “Oh, yeah...and you held a phase pistol on T’Pol.”

He waggled his finger at her in protest. “That wasn’t the worst part.”

“You might want to check with T’Pol about that.”

“The worst part was before, when we were camped outside. Travis and I were getting ready to turn in for the night when I found this big-ass bug in my sleeping bag. Huge. Big as your fist.” Trip grimaced sheepishly. “I screamed like a girl.”

Hoshi laughed. “See?” Trip said. “Way worse than the phase pistol wigout. Now you.”

She pursed her lips. “Hmm...my first away mission. First time in an EV suit, not in simulation. And the captain was leading the away team. I was nervous, fighting claustrophobia, practically hyperventilating...and I saw my first dead body. And...I screamed like a girl.”

Trip chuckled in sympathy. “That was a long time ago.”

She smiled wryly. “Yeah, now my screams are robust and mature.”

Trip knew Hoshi was referring to her capture by the Xindi-Reptilians. Back in February, they had both been cooped up in sickbay for follow-up treatment, and they had killed time comparing injuries, and eventually, torture stories. Trip got the impression Hoshi hadn’t opened up to anyone else, except perhaps Phlox.

He sat up, stretching his legs out. “Don’t think you’re anything special. If I had Xindi parasites burrowing into my head, I expect my screams would be impressively bloodcurdling.”

She was silent for a moment, fiddling with a corner of her blanket. “Do you have bad dreams?”

“About what?”

“When those Nazis had you.”

Trip remembered what she had told him about her confinement, and what she’d suffered at the hands of those bastards. She had even tried to kill herself in a last-ditch effort to escape them. No wonder she had nightmares.

“I was lucky,” he replied. “The guys who worked me over weren’t too sophisticated. They just beat the crap out of me to try to get me to talk.” He paused. “I had nightmares about other things. My sister. Captain Archer, when we thought we’d lost him. T’Pol, while the Orions had her.”

Hoshi pulled her blanket more closely around her. “Even after all these months...I dunno. The dreams go away, and I think I’m fine...but then there’ll come a night when I wake up in a cold sweat, shaking, thinking those things are crawling around inside my brain again, turning me into a puppet...” She shook her head, as if trying to banish the images.

“Night terrors,” Trip mused quietly. “Sometimes I’d be up and halfway across the room before I realized that what I was trying to run away from was just a dream.”

“You had them too?” She regarded him with weary understanding. “How’d you make them go away?”

“I didn’t make ‘em do anything,” he admitted. “It’s more like...I stopped running away, and started looking at things differently.” He shrugged. “I just had to tough it out.”

Hoshi looked down, her dark eyes pensive. “Sometimes I don’t feel so tough.”

He leaned forward. “Hey. You’re here, alive, and those sons of bitches who kidnapped you are space dust, because you hung on and fought back. That makes you plenty tough, Hoshi.”

As his words sank in, he saw a tiny smile appear on her face...nothing spectacular, but it was genuine enough.

He sat back again. “So whose turn is it? Yours?”

She settled a little more comfortably against the wall. “All right. Worst meal.”

Trip made a face. “That’s easy. Blood soup.”

She frowned. “Sounds Klingon.”

“Not Klingon. Worse.”

She regarded him skeptically. “Have you ever eaten gagh?

Trip crossed his arms. “Blood soup is worse.”

Hoshi looked intrigued. “You can’t stop there.”

Firmly, he shook his head. “If I talk about it, I’ll just start barfing again. Trust me, you don’t want to know...”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hour Two

1414 hours
Captain’s Ready Room

...At the rate the pathogen is reproducing, Commander Tucker and Ensign Sato have less than five hours to live.

Archer was still reeling from Phlox’s prognosis when he called T’Pol into his ready room to fill her in. She took the news like, well, a Vulcan: the only visible reaction she showed was to swallow hard.

“Does Trip know?” she asked.

Archer shook his head. “I thought you would want to tell him.”

She was silent for a moment. “No,” she said at last. “That would not be wise.”

He was thunderstruck. “Why not?”

“He does not wish for me to...‘fuss’ over him.” She seemed bemused...and for the first time, Archer got the impression that she might be a bit hurt.

“Did he say that?”

“Not precisely. His behavior was contradictory.” T’Pol paused again, uncertain. “He was glad to see me, but also discomfited.”

Archer was beginning to understand, a little. “You know how independent Trip is. He’s never been any good at being sick. But there may be something more at work here. It probably troubles him that you’re suffering along with him.”

She shook her head in bafflement. “But we are bonded.”

“T’Pol, this is still awfully new to him,” Archer said gently. “He’s looking at it from a human perspective. He may be trying to spare you, as best as he can make sense of it.”

Her brows knitted as she struggled to understand. “Then...I must allow him to spare me,” she finally said. “I shall focus on assisting Dr. Phlox. Perhaps you could talk with Trip?”

“Of course.” Seeing her lingering concern, he added, “It’s not as if you can’t keep an eye on him through your bond.”

T’Pol pursed her lips, a tiny human expression of frustration she had picked up after years of serving aboard Enterprise. “Trip has been working diligently to become more adept at mental shielding. He has made significant progress in the past several months...so much so that I cannot clearly determine his condition at times.”

Archer’s mouth fell open. Trip was blocking T’Pol—! It was the last thing he had expected. Oh, the irony.

“I’ll see what I can find out for you,” he told her.

He saw the tense set of her shoulders ease a little. “Thank you, Captain.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1455 hours
Decon chamber

Trip felt like crap. He tried to take shallow breaths—his lungs hurt less that way—and fought to keep his concentration on Hoshi as she ran a wet washcloth over her perspiring face. She didn’t look as bad as he felt; he hoped she didn’t feel as bad, either. “Aikido?” he echoed.

Hoshi nodded as she held the cloth against her throat. “When none of my Starfleet-issue self-defense training worked against the Xindi, I figured I needed to do something. And anyway, I was tired of being such a white knuckler out here.”

“Who’s your sensei?”

“Corporal Romero. He was with the MACO squad on Enterprise last year. He’s stationed on Earth now, but since aikido training is mostly a two-partner technique, Private Money fills in as my training partner here on the ship.”

Despite his fogginess, Trip raised an intrigued eyebrow. “Why Romero?”

“I ran into him at the memorial for Major Hayes,” she answered. “We got to talking...”

She sounded too casual. Big giveaway. Trip wasn’t about to fall for it. “Was he by any chance the one you hooked up with on ?”

Hoshi folded her washcloth. “Maybe.”

Trip smiled. “So...?”

Hoshi broke into a sweet, self-conscious smile of her own. “So...he’s my sensei. Very nice, very no-nonsense.”

“That’s no fun,” Trip pouted.

She cocked her head in amusement. “What were you expecting? ‘The earth moved’? ‘The skies wept’?”

“MACOs need love too, don’t they? I thought you would’ve at least—” Trip stopped, interrupted by a sudden sound. No, wait...it was a sudden absence.

“What is it?” Hoshi asked.

“Something’s wrong,” he murmured softly. “Something’s off. Too quiet...” It was the bond. It had practically disappeared. T’Pol was barely there, almost impossible for him to pick up. He felt less than when she was asleep.

Belatedly, he realized Hoshi had been talking to him. “What?” he asked.

“You said something was wrong,” she said again. “What is it?”

He hesitated. His bond with T’Pol wasn’t common knowledge; they had decided it best, considering the xenophobe threat. It was their concession to Admiral Gardner’s warnings. “Uh—not sure, exactly,” he stammered, trying to think up an excuse. “Just a feeling.” Maybe if he began jabbering about the engines...

But Hoshi wasn’t listening anymore. Silently, she motioned toward the viewing window.

Phlox and T’Pol were in the corridor, watching them.

Speak of the devil. “How long have they been there?” Trip asked Hoshi in a low voice.

Hoshi called out to T’Pol and the doc. “We didn’t see you there.”

“We didn’t want to interrupt you,” Phlox said pleasantly.

Trip squinted at him. Why would Phlox waste time eavesdropping on his patients—his seriously ill patients—instead of doing whatever he came here to do? “How’s the research coming?” Trip prodded.

“We're waiting on new test results,” T’Pol replied. She seemed formal, distant. Maybe she was acting more reserved because Phlox and Hoshi were there. Or maybe Trip just missed feeling her resonating inside his head.

“We thought we’d see how you two were progressing,” Phlox said. His attitude was downright jolly.

This was getting damned creepy. “You're the ones with the medical scanners,” Trip pointed out with a scowl.

“We were more interested in discussing your state of mind,” the doc smiled.

I’m tired of being treated like a lab rat! Trip thought sourly. He approached the window. Even with T’Pol close by, the bond was nearly imperceptible. Quietly, out of Hoshi’s earshot, he asked her, “Is something wrong?”

She looked confused. “Wrong?”

“I can hardly sense you at all,” he said. “Did anything happen with the bond?”

She stared at him for a long moment before replying. “Perhaps your illness has somehow...inhibited...” She trailed off.

“You think?” He turned hopefully to Phlox.

The doctor looked uncertain. “We’ll investigate it, certainly.”

Trip noticed that T’Pol’s face wasn’t its usual mask of composure; it was completely devoid of expression. Blank. Empty. It was a hell of a thing, not being able to read her now, of all times. He was at an awful disadvantage. “You’re okay, aren’t you?”

She didn’t show even the tiniest trace of unease. “Why do you ask?”

He chewed his lip. “You seem a little...off.”

“My attention has largely been focused on the virus,” she said. “I have been working with Dr. Phlox to find a cure.”

Of course! Trip felt relieved, and a little foolish not to have seen it. Between the virus and the drugs, his head must be pretty fogged. “Sure. I should’ve realized.”

“I assure you, I am in perfect health.”

“Good.” He grinned. “The last thing I need now is to get the worst possible news.”

She looked puzzled. “I would have thought the worst possible news would be that we could not develop a cure.”

“No,” he said, more quietly. “The worst news would be that you’d caught it, too.”

She cocked her head, holding his eyes. She seemed more intrigued than anything else. He really couldn’t read her worth a damn right now.

“We must leave,” Phlox said. “It’s time for us to get back to work.”

“Yes,” T’Pol agreed.

“Be safe, t’hai’la,” Trip told her. Slowly, she nodded. He put two fingers briefly to his lips, then held them out to her—his version of blowing her a Vulcan kiss—before starting back toward his bunk.

He was amazed to discover how much he’d grown accustomed to having her inside his head. Now, with her presence so muted, his mind felt starkly quiet and alone.

He missed her.

~ ~

Ayelborne studied his fellow Observer curiously as they both headed away from the Decon chamber. “Claymare? What was that all about?”

Claymare was in the midst of a brief internal exam of his host’s higher brain functions. “The science officer and the engineer apparently share some sort of psychic link. He could sense that her consciousness had been suppressed. I shall have to alter both their memories when I vacate this host.”

“A link?” Ayelborne was intrigued. “How sophisticated? Is it telepathy? That doesn’t appear to be a common trait among the humans.”

“It’s merely an elemental empathic connection.” Claymare explored the link further. “The Vulcan has natural telepathic ability, though largely untapped. I assume the link originated with her. The human has no latent psychic ability.”

“That doesn’t mean he can’t benefit from his enlightened perspective,” Ayelborne reasoned. “This aspect of the species might be worth further study. An emotional link to another sentient being would, in theory, afford him a higher awareness.”

“Which would be meaningless if his intelligence level is not sufficiently developed,” Claymare countered. “The link could simply be another form of communication.”

Ayelborne didn’t understand why his superior refused to see the possibilities. “Do you want the humans to fail?”

“This isn’t a competition,” Claymare replied mildly. “Either a species’ intelligence is developed enough for First Contact, or it isn’t.”

“Perhaps we should consider other qualities in making our decision,” Ayelborne suggested. “The ability to maintain a continuous empathic link with another sentient mind indicates the potential not only that humans are capable of an awareness beyond the self, but that they are able to act upon that awareness.”

“Or the Vulcan could be using the human as a tool—manipulating his mind through the link,” Claymare argued. “There is no way of knowing whether all Vulcans are telepaths, or if so, what use they make of their ability. We cannot leap to conclusions without evidence. Perhaps if we were to encounter them in sufficient numbers for an initial study... But no matter. We are not here to study Vulcans, or to defy protocol. Intelligence is the measure we have used for ten thousand years. It’s not our responsibility to change it.”

“Then whose responsibility is it?” Ayelborne inquired.

No one had ever put that question to Claymare before. He was at a loss how to address it, so he chose not to address it at all. “Our hosts have tasks to perform.”

As he adjusted the science officer’s memories, Claymare reflected that Ayelborne’s interest would naturally be piqued by the human’s empathic connection, no matter how irrelevant it might be. Ayelborne had been given this assignment, in part, because he had a certain facility for comprehending the emotions in which these corporeals steeped themselves. In fact, he seemed oddly drawn to them. It was a quirk in his makeup, a throwback to the ancients who had once been slaves to emotion as well.

Claymare, in contrast, found emotion to be a uniquely unpleasant and baffling phenomenon. Ayelborne might have an exasperating enthusiasm for new ideas, but Claymare was only too glad to let him take on part of the burden of close-up study of these emotional beings. And if Ayelborne’s perspective was occasionally colored by his peculiar gift, Claymare’s own talent—his unwavering impartiality—would maintain the balance of things.

~ ~

Hoshi eyed Trip curiously as he shuffled back to his bunk. “So?”


“T’Pol. Phlox. What did they want? You look a little confused.”

Trip’s thoughts were sort of jumbled up, now that she mentioned it. Must be all the drugs Phlox was giving them for the pain—it made him fuzzy-headed. “They were just checking up on us...I think,” he said. Yeah, that was it. He remembered the same questions they’d been getting from everyone. Everyone except Travis, anyway. That had been one weird visit.

Trip seemed to recall some question or other about the effect of the virus on the bond...but he couldn’t remember the particulars. And the bond was fine; he felt it steady and strong, as always. It was reassuring to know that his connection with T’Pol would always be there, and that he would never feel alone.

He turned his attention back to Hoshi. “So where were we...?” He grinned. “I remember now. Corporal Romero.”

She gave him a look. “Are you gonna start? I’m warning you, I’ve had martial arts training.”

“I don’t suppose he knows about E²’s personnel records, by any chance?” Trip teased.

Hoshi dried her face with a fresh towel. “No, and I didn’t volunteer anything. Just because we got together in that other timeline, doesn’t mean we will here.”

Trip snickered. “That’s what T’Pol said about the two of us, before she knew better...”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hour Three

1544 hours

Archer watched the blue-tinged image of Trip stare up at the monitor in disbelief, his grip tightening on the hypospray in his hand. He was weaving on his feet, barely able to stand; chasing down Hoshi must have taken every ounce of strength he had left. “You think I’m gonna wander off too? Start opening the wrong doors?”

“Not if you’re sedated,” Phlox replied quietly. Archer marveled at the doctor’s ability to sound so calm. The decision to sedate Trip had been a difficult one, but they had narrowly averted disaster with Hoshi, and there was the entire crew’s safety to consider.

Even so, Archer felt like a monster. “Sorry, Trip,” he said. His voice sounded hoarse and unconvincing to his ears.

Trip’s shoulders slumped, signaling acquiescence. He dialed up the proper dosage on the hypospray “T’Pol...is she there?”

She had come with Archer from the bridge. He wished she could have met Trip outside Decon, at the viewing window, but that corridor was part of the quarantine zone now. He and Phlox stepped back as T’Pol moved into Trip’s field of view. “I’m here, t’hai’la.”

Trip took hold of the sill to steady himself as he gazed up at her. “You know what’s goin’ on, then.”


Archer looked away, but even across the room, he could hear Trip’s every word. The speakers were turned up, of course, to alert sickbay of any problems in Decon.

Trip’s voice was rough. “Darlin’...I want you to break the bond.”

T’Pol was silent for a long moment. “Why do you say this?” she finally asked. She sounded thunderstruck.

His words tumbled out in a rush. “Because I don’t know if I’m ever gonna wake up again, and I don’t want you to feel me die.”

“Even if I could sever the bond, I would not,” she said firmly. “I’ll never leave you, t’hai’la.”

“But the other T’Pol...she damn near died.”

“She survived,” T’Pol said, her tone quietly reassuring. “If she thought as I do, she would be glad that she and her bondmate were together. And she would take you to task for wasting your energy in this way.”

“She’d know I’m just bein’ human.”

“And if the roles were reversed? Would you abandon me?”

There was a long, disgruntled silence. Then, “I hate logic sometimes.”

“Trip.” Her voice was calm. “I have no regrets.”

A sigh of acceptance from him. “Okay.”

“Be at peace now,” she murmured soothingly. “Think of a place of fond memory, where you feel safe, and go there in your mind. I’ll be watching over you.”

“You’re my forever.” Trip’s voice was soft, heartfelt. “You know that, don’t you?”

“And you are mine.”

Archer felt his eyes stinging. He looked up at the ceiling, blinking the tears back, swallowing hard.

There was a scuff of shuffling feet from the Decon speakers. Archer looked back to the viewscreen. Trip was making his way unsteadily to his bunk. He turned to face the monitor. “Cap’n? Phlox? Do whatever you gotta do to cure this thing.”

The two men joined T’Pol at the viewscreen. Somehow, Archer kept his voice steady. “Will do, Trip.”

As Trip pressed the hypospray to his neck, he focused on T’Pol. Her radiant face would be the last thing he saw as consciousness slipped away. Archer heard the soft hiss of the activator, and then his friend collapsed onto the bunk. It was done.
T’Pol looked at the floor for a long moment. “Will he awaken, Doctor?” Her voice was little more than a whisper.

“I will do everything in my power to see that he does,” Phlox replied.

She took a deep breath, let it out slowly. When she looked up again, her face was carefully composed. “I’ll continue my research.”

He held up a hand. “Actually, Commander, I don’t need you for a little while. I’m waiting on some further test results.”

She hesitated. “There are still more computer simulations I can run to determine an acceptable dosage of radiation—”

“You’re in the eye of the storm now, T’Pol,” the doctor said gently. “I urge you to take advantage of this short calm. I’ll call you when I have the results.”

Archer realized Phlox was giving her the chance to brace herself for what lay ahead. What did the doctor often say?... Hope for the best, prepare for the worst...

T’Pol seemed reluctant to leave, but she dutifully nodded. “As you wish. I will be in my quarters.”

As soon as she had gone, Phlox turned to Archer. “You too, Captain. Surely the bridge can do without you for a few minutes.”

“What’s this about radiation?” Archer asked.

“T’Pol and I have isolated a specific frequency that disrupts the silicon matrix of the virus,” the doctor explained. “Unfortunately, the dosage required would be lethal.”

Archer wanted to scream. If the universe was determined to be this cruel, was there any use in hoping?

Yes, he told himself. As long as Trip and Hoshi were alive, there must be hope. To Phlox, he said, “There’s got to be a solution. Some kind of a trade-off.”

Phlox was already nodding. “That’s what I'm working on.”

He looked nearly as worn out as Trip. Archer laid a hand briefly on the doctor’s shoulder, in a show of trust and support. “Work faster,” he said simply, before heading out.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1556 hours
First Officer’s / Chief Engineer’s Quarters

T’Pol wandered from one room to the other, running her hands lightly over the items on Trip’s desk, aimlessly straightening things that didn’t need straightening. On the bed, she had set out a fresh uniform this morning in anticipation of his return. She folded it to put it away...then paused, bringing the neat bundle close to her face, inhaling the faint scent of him that still clung to the fabric, even after being cleaned.

She sat on the bed, surveying their cabin...the home they had made for themselves, for the life they hoped to share together. Even this morning, when she had awakened alone here, these quarters had not seemed as lonely as they did now...

The door chime buzzed. “Enter,” she said.

She was not surprised to see that her visitor was Captain Archer. He hung back in the doorway. “Am I intruding?”

“No,” she said. “Please, come in.”

He took a few steps inside, remaining near the door, half in shadow. He seemed unsure what to do with himself. “How’s Trip?” he asked.

T’Pol could barely sense Trip through the bond, now that he was sedated. But she did feel an undercurrent of tranquillity, and an absence of pain. “He is at peace.”

The captain nodded. He began an idle wander through the cabin, much as T’Pol had done moments ago. He took a framed photograph from a shelf—the picture of Trip scuba diving off the Florida Keys, T’Pol recalled—and studied it. Surely he was already familiar with it; perhaps he was making an attempt not to pace or fidget, as he often did when under great stress.

T’Pol rose, crossing to the dresser to put the uniform away. “I lost my mother with no warning, no chance to prepare. I am uncertain whether knowing beforehand is better or worse.”

“It took my father two years to die,” Archer said quietly, replacing the photo. “No matter how much time you have, or don’t have, losing someone you love is a nightmare.” He picked up a Frankenstein’s Monster figurine perched on another shelf, giving it a fond, fleeting smile before his expression sobered once more. “I’m sorry, T’Pol. I shouldn’t have decided to go poking around on that planet.”

“Attempting to assign blame is fruitless,” she replied. “One might as well hold the sensors responsible for detecting the planet, or me for enhancing those sensors, or Trip for asking to join the away mission.”

With a soft sigh, Archer sat on the bed, absently fingering the toy. “When I took command four years ago, I was so eager to explore. I thought all the risks would be worthwhile because, just beyond the next planet, just beyond the next star, there would be something magnificent, something noble. And now Trip...”

“Trip would be the first to agree that it has been worthwhile,” T’Pol said.

Their eyes met...two friends at the brink of a chasm of grief, finding solace in each other’s understanding.

T’Pol allowed her gaze to stray back to the shelf, to a clutter of family pictures...Trip, Elizabeth and David, Catherine and Chuck. “It will be difficult for his parents. They have already lost one child.”

“It’s not over yet,” Archer said, his voice taking on an edge of steel. He stood, returning the figurine to its place on the shelf. “Trip is a fighter. Phlox won’t give up.”

“I am confident in Phlox’s skill, but I must be realistic,” T’Pol stated evenly. “The probability of Trip surviving is exceedingly small.”

Archer regarded her almost challengingly. “A positive attitude makes a big difference to us humans, even in the face of seemingly impossible odds.”

She noticed that the characteristic fire in his eyes—conspicuously absent when he first entered—had returned. “Is this where your belief in miracles comes from? The need to hope for the impossible to come to pass?”

“Maybe.” Faintly, he smiled. “Sometimes impossible dreams come true. Look at the two of you.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1559 hours
Decon chamber

Ayelborne sat up in the engineer’s body, startled by the toll the virus had taken on it. “The sensations in this host are different from the others. I’m experiencing physical pain.”

“So am I,” Claymare said dismissively. “I find emotion to be infinitely more uncomfortable. I can’t fathom how you withstand them.”

“We each have our gifts, Claymare.” Ayelborne doubted he could explain it, really. The corporeal’ emotions were intensely painful to him, but he was able to manage them well enough...perhaps because he understood them, to some degree. His study of them had been fascinating thus far. His scan of the ship’s database indicated that they influenced the lives of these fragile beings in myriad ways, from their food choices to their companions, their idioms and customs, their spiritual beliefs and artistic endeavors—and, it was becoming apparent to Ayelborne, their moral choices.

“That last exchange between the engineer and the science officer,” he said to Claymare. “He is the one who is dying, yet he is far more concerned with her well-being. Have you ever observed this before?”

His superior did not seem impressed. “They’re mates. You’ll find an eagerness for self-sacrifice among parents or mates of a variety of lower lifeforms, far more primitive than humans.”

Ayelborne was puzzled. “But he pleaded for her to sever their empathic link because he wished to spare her harm. It is a compelling indication to me of a greater awareness.”

“You’ve scanned the database,” Claymare responded. “Human literature is filled with similar pledges that, in crisis, are never followed through with.”

“That doesn’t mean this human would falter as well.”

Claymare eyed him skeptically. “There is a huge body of evidence to indicate that he would do exactly that. Corporeals are driven by fear—fear of death, fear of pain. This human has clearly accepted his impending death. As it approaches, he will seek the safest end. His mate’s psychic connection will numb his pain and ease his fear.”

“Perhaps this one is different,” Ayelborne persisted. “He is the only one mated to an alien.”

“Precisely,” Claymare pointed out. “Even if this human’s desire for mercy is sincere, he may be an anomaly because of his exposure to the alien.”

What did Claymare have against this species? Likely nothing; Ayelborne knew his superior was highly esteemed for his impartiality. And Claymare’s hypothesis could well be correct. He was a veteran Observer, drawing from hundreds of years’ worth of incidents, while Ayelborne was a novice. Still, Ayelborne’s own observations, coupled with his odd gift, kept insisting that the humans were different.

Could it be that Ayelborne was seeing something that Claymare, for all his skills and experience, simply could not see?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hour Five

1704 hours
Situation Room

T’Pol called up the schematic of E-Deck on the situation room’s display table. “To move them from Decon to sickbay, we’ll need to expand the quarantine area.” She traced out the pathway she had devised, which skirted a section of biological science labs and stayed well away from any crew quarters.

Archer studied the highlighted pathway and nodded. “That won’t be a problem.” He looked determinedly from her to Phlox. “We’re going to make this work.”

Phlox nodded. “I’ll prepare the bio-scanner in sickbay.”

“Call me as soon as everything’s ready,” Archer said. “I’ll suit up.”

As Phlox headed for the turbolift, Archer turned to T’Pol. “Have Malcolm make sure all personnel are clear of the area. Seal off those corridors yourself—I don’t want any mistakes.”

He started for the lift as well, but T’Pol stepped in his path, stopping him. “Captain, request permission to take your place.”

“Denied.” His voice was quiet rather than curt, as if he had expected her request.

She didn’t back off. “The first officer of a vessel is more expendable than the captain.”

“Not this time,” he said. “If something goes wrong in there, you could replace Phlox and find a cure for the virus. You could replace me and take command of the ship. I can’t say the same about myself.”

She tried again. “Can I persuade you to send a different crewman instead? A medical technician, perhaps?”

“You know me better than that.”

Indeed, T’Pol was well aware of the captain’s predilection for putting others’ safety before his own. Starfleet officers often exhibited the behavior, but Archer was especially prone to it; he was quite devoted to his ship and crew, and considered himself personally responsible for their well-being.

Clasping her hands behind her back, she stepped aside. The captain had made his decision, and she knew that no amount of logic would dissuade him. “It was my duty to make the attempt. You know me, Captain.”

He flashed a grin at her. “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Commander.” His eyes softened with sympathy. “I know you want to be with Trip, but you’ll be most important crew member I have out here, after Phlox and I enter the quarantine zone. I’m depending on you.”

“Sir, I must remind you...” T’Pol drew herself up, endeavoring to maintain her composure. “If the bond is severed, there is the possibility that I may become incapacitated,” she said evenly.

Archer took her lightly by the shoulders. “T’Pol, you’re strong, and you’re stubborn, and you have the will to survive. I have no doubt about that. Whatever happens, you’ll get through it.”

She nodded, reassured by his calm certainty. Am I hoping for a miracle? Or adopting a positive attitude, as he has? One was as illogical as the other.

They walked to the turbolift together. As the captain stepped inside, he gave T’Pol a confident nod. Then the door slid shut, and he was gone.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1739 hours

“Right now, Enterprise needs a doctor more than it needs a captain!” Archer pulled out of Phlox’s grasp. The Denobulan made no further protest, watching in wide-eyed silence as the captain stripped the seal from his EV gloves and pulled them off, exposing himself to sickbay’s air—and the silicon virus.

Once it was done, Phlox seemed to snap out of his shock, moving to Hoshi’s side to prepare her for defibrillation.

~ ~

Security annex

Claymare ventured closer to the monitor, studying the captain with quiet astonishment. “Remarkable,” he mused.

Ayelborne moved to stand beside the senior Observer. “In eight hundred years, no one’s ever done that before?”

“No,” Claymare admitted. “Not once they know it’s hopeless.”

“Then this is the corroborating evidence we lacked,” Ayelborne said. “Archer’s sacrifice to protect his doctor and crew validates the engineer’s earlier attempt to protect his mate.”

“Or Archer acted rashly, out of desperation,” Claymare countered. “That would indicate something else entirely.”

Ayelborne couldn’t bear much more of this! Perhaps he wasn’t as resilient as he had thought against the agony of human emotions. Their suffering was affecting him far more than his superior, that was clear enough.

He understood the need to avoid interference, but at what cost to these innocents? The harm they were coming to was pointless. He needed no more convincing that the humans were different. Claymare, however, was another matter.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1741 hours

As she viewed the events unfolding in sickbay, T’Pol felt as though she were trapped in one of Trip’s nightmares, unable to awaken. Curiously, time seemed to slow, enabling her to see the most minute of details...the delicate touch of Archer’s fingers on the long-needled injector, the faint condensation fogging Phlox’s faceplate, the tenderness with which the captain gathered up Hoshi’s body from the exam table.

She heard Phlox’s devastated voice as if from a great distance, telling Archer that the radiation treatment on Trip had failed. She now understood that sense of unreality that humans sometimes spoke of regarding events they could not process, either intellectually or emotionally. It was strangely difficult to accept that Hoshi was dead, that the captain soon would be, that T’Pol was about to lose her husband.

She felt her control beginning to slip away. No! I cannot falter. I am Vulcan. I am Trip’s bondmate; I am Archer’s first officer. I will be strong; I must be. The needs of the many...

As she had done countless times over the past hour, she reached out through the bond to Trip. Between the damage wrought by the virus and the sonambutril’s sedating effect, he was virtually comatose, even his subconscious mind beyond her reach. His body was played out; the time for fighting was nearly over. She couldn’t even tell if he was aware of her, but it didn’t matter. She enfolded him in a mental embrace, endeavoring to give him, and herself, what comfort she could.

Archer approached his monitor. All of his earlier desperate energy was gone, leaving him subdued. “Archer to T’Pol.” His voice sounded infinitely weary.

“T’Pol here, Captain.”

“I take it you’ve been watching?”

“I have,” she said.

“Then you know you’re in command?”

He was dying. She was losing them both, her bondmate and her friend. For a moment, the grief threatened to overwhelm her again, to wash over her and drown her. No! He is depending on me. “Yes, Captain,” she replied calmly.

“Admiral Gardner’s a good man. He’ll do his best to make sure you stay in command.” Archer glanced back at Trip, lying on the exam table, his every breath a struggle for air. “How is he?” the captain asked, almost plaintively.

T’Pol found it difficult to speak. “Safe,” she said softly. “Without pain.”

Archer smiled faintly, before the sadness claimed his features again. “I’ll look after him now. We’ll talk after...” He faltered, his mouth working soundlessly for a moment before he composed himself once more. “We’ll talk again. Archer out.” The image from sickbay winked out.

T’Pol stared at the viewscreen without really seeing it. She felt light-headed, as if part of her were floating away. Was she sensing Trip’s spirit coming loose from its mortal tether? Was her hold on him slipping away?

How in the name of Surak could she possibly survive this? Did she even want to?

“If you look like that, things must be pretty bad.”

Startled, T’Pol looked up sharply at the familiar voice. Trip’s voice.

She wasn’t on the bridge any longer. She was sitting on a beach with sand as white as sugar crystals, looking out on an emerald-green sea. Clouds scudded past a sun that hung large and low in the sky. A lone sea bird drifted past overhead, its shrill cry carried aloft by the breeze.

Trip stood at the water’s edge, watching the waves as they lapped against the shore.

She knew it couldn’t be real. She was seeing it with her mind’s eye, through the bond. It must be some sort of mental construct created by Trip, much like the daydream settings they had shared after they first became aware of their bond...had it been only three months ago? It was a remarkable environment, meticulously rendered down to the tiniest detail. She wished it could have been real.

She knew why Trip had compelled her to join him here in his mind. Time was short. Still, she rebelled. She wasn’t ready for this. Would she ever be ready? Could she be?

“Where are we?” she asked.

“Panama City Beach,” he said, as he gazed out on the water. “I used to camp here a lot when I was growing up. I’d look up at the moon and the stars, and wonder what it’d be like to go exploring out there.” He turned to her. “This was one of the places I was going to show you when we got back...” He shrugged and smiled. “We didn’t quite make it.”

She felt her heartache stretching away, toward the setting sun. How will I live without you?...

Trip came nearer. “The captain...I can feel him. He’s close, isn’t he?”

She nodded. “He’s watching over you. He did everything he could to save you.”

He smiled affectionately...but then he scowled as he realized what she meant. “Dammit, I am gonna kick his ass.”

T’Pol arched an eyebrow in mild reproach. “He was protecting Dr. Phlox. And the crew.”

“Yeah, okay. But still!” Trip kicked at the sand.

“It is his way, t’hai’la.”

“I know.” With a sigh, he dropped to his knees beside her. “I’m sorry, darlin’. I shoulda stayed here with my wife and my engines, and not gone galloping off to some planet to play explorer. I musta been outta my mind.”

T’Pol felt his remorse. “No,” she said patiently. “Curiosity is a hallmark of your species. If not for your wish to explore new worlds, you would not have joined the crew of Enterprise. We would likely never have met. Rather than object to your curiosity, I am thankful for it.”

He smiled again, but it was fleeting. “Now the same thing that brought us together is tearing us apart. What is that, fate? Destiny?”

“It is what it is,” she said simply.

“You agree with Tennyson, then. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’”

She considered the quote, and nodded. “The benefits have far outweighed the detriments. It is logical.”

He shook his head in admiration. “Leave it to you to analyze love and pronounce it logical.”

The sun was sinking like a ball of fire into the ocean. The sky had darkened to a deep blue, and the breeze was cooling. There wasn’t much time.

Trip took T’Pol’s hand. “It doesn’t seem fair to Lorian, me bailing on him all over again.”

She felt the sure grip of his fingers, the calluses on his palm. “He is strong. He will understand.”

“And God knows I don’t want to leave you.” He smiled, and she felt a surge of love from him. “I feel as if it took my whole life just to find you.” He pulled her into the comfort of his arms. “Damn, I was looking forward to a lifetime of this. I wanted to grow old with you, have kids with you.”

She nestled her head against his chest. “It is better for us to focus on the time we had together, rather than what might have been.”

He stroked her hair. “Here I was thinking that a hundred years with you wouldn’t be long enough. And now I get myself killed after three months.”

She gazed serenely up at him. “We had three months, t’hai’la.”

As he leaned down to kiss her, she saw tears in his eyes. He filled her senses one last time, encircling her with his mind and heart, touching her soul. As she embraced him fiercely, part of her wished, quite irrationally, that she could keep him here by sheer force of will, simply by refusing to release her hold on him.

“I love you forever,” he whispered. “You tell Lorian to keep his priorities straight.”

Stay with me...

Gently, he began to pull away. “You have to let me go, darlin’.”

She didn’t want to. She wanted them to last forever.

“We will.” He touched his fingers to her cheek in a delicate ozh’esta. “The hardest thing to do is to let go of someone you love. But I need you to keep on living, T’Pol. For me.”

She leaned into his touch, feeling the bond resonate between them. “For you, I will.” Summoning all her courage, she began to release him.

He smiled...that smile he saved for her alone. “I’ll always be with you, t’hai’la. You won’t have to look any further than your heart...”

And suddenly he was gone, and her soul was being torn to pieces.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1745 hours

Phlox had pulled off his bulky EV suit as quickly as he could manage. He knew Captain Archer didn’t want him out of sickbay and on the bridge merely for his own safety, but to check on Commander T’Pol. With Commander Tucker near death, she was at risk.

The turbolift ride seemed to take forever. At last the doors opened, and Phlox burst onto the bridge, medkit in hand. His stomach knotted when he saw the communications and helm officers rushing to the science station, catching T’Pol as she fell from her chair.

With her typical Vulcan reticence, T’Pol had spoken little about the matter of the bond earlier, saying only that if the worst came to pass, Phlox would be able to do little to help her, and that her survival would ultimately be up to her. Now it was all happening too quickly. He couldn’t even take her to sickbay; it was under quarantine.

“Lay her down,” he ordered briskly. As the two crewmen gently lowered T’Pol to the deck, Phlox knelt beside her. She was unresponsive, her eyes blank and unseeing. He ran his scanner over her: pulse weak and irregular, blood pressure dropping precipitously, skin pale and cooling to the touch, respirations shallow. Her pupils were fixed and dilated. It was some sort of shock.

Leaning close to her face, he spoke sharply to her. “T’Pol! Can you hear me?”

There was no response from her, no hint of recognition in those sightless eyes. He tried again. “You must wake up now. T’Pol!”

Wherever she had been driven by the severing of her bond with Tucker, it was beyond Phlox’s reach. And her life signs were deteriorating rapidly; she was hardly breathing at all now. He didn’t dare administer a stimulant without knowing whether it would unbalance her system even further. Vulcans and their secrecy! He pulled a hand-held respirator from his medkit. “Don’t give in to this, Commander,” he told her in a stern voice, though inwardly he was pleading. “This ship needs you. Your crew needs you...”

~ ~

T’Pol was falling, tumbling into a black abyss. There was no warmth here, no sound, no joy or love, only the agony of loss. Surely this must be bogozh, the Vulcan hell of ancient legend...the endless torment of a broken bond. The pain blinded her, froze the air in her lungs, threatened to still her heart. But none of it mattered. There was no point, no logic in continuing—not without Trip. How could she endure alone in the harshness that was life—bereft, only half a soul, half a heart? She wished only for the darkness to swallow her up. Then there would be an end to her suffering, and she would have peace...

Listen to me, T’Pol. You have a ship to command. Wake up...

Phlox...a voice from far away, reminding her of...of what? The needs of the many. Her responsibility...a duty to uphold.

You’re in command. I’m depending on you.

Archer, her friend...a trust given.

I need you to keep on living, T’Pol. For me.

Trip, her soulmate, her t’hai’la...a life lost.

For you, I will.

A promise made...her promise to him.

I must live!

She had to live, for Trip. But in which direction lay life? She saw only blackness, felt nothing but excruciating emptiness.

She was lost.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1747 hours

It was obvious to Ayelborne that Archer was in great distress. He had been unable to save his engineer and communications officer. He was coming to grips with his own impending demise. And he could not fathom why two advanced beings—currently inhabiting the reanimated corpses of his dead crewmates—were allowing it all to happen, though they could have stopped it. At the moment, Ayelborne was wondering much the same thing.

He saw no trace of sympathy from Claymare, however. “We’re leaving now, Captain,” the senior Observer said to Archer. “You’ll have no memory of our presence—”

Abruptly, the human began to cough, an early sign that the virus had taken hold of him. “Not that it matters,” Claymare remarked. “In three hours, you’ll be dead.”

Ayelborne could not sanction this needless suffering any longer. “No,” he said. “We have the power to save them all.”

Claymare was clearly taken aback. “Are you defying me?”

“I’m defying the entire protocol,” Ayelborne declared. “What Archer has done, his act of compassion—you’ve never witnessed it before. He and Tucker have demonstrated to my satisfaction that humans are sufficiently advanced for First Contact. In fact, their actions indicate that our criteria for making that determination should be broadened. Intelligence alone is not a sufficient measure.”

Claymare seemed unwilling to go along with either Ayelborne’s decision or his argument; the elder was far too unsettled by the idea of dispensing with protocol. “This is your first observation, Ayelborne,” he said carefully. “You are basing your findings on evidence that is decidedly unorthodox, from a very small sampling. In time, we’ll study other humans. If we see a pattern—”

Archer spoke, startling him. “There’s another way. Experience compassion for yourself. If you want to know what it means to be human, you need to do more than observe.”

Claymare stared at him. Ayelborne couldn’t tell if his superior was more shocked or revolted by the captain’s suggestion.

“It is unthinkable,” Claymare finally responded. “We have adhered strictly to a protocol of non-interference for ten thousand years.”

“That is the problem,” Ayelborne said flatly. Claymare turned to him in puzzlement. Ayelborne continued, “Efficient routine can lapse into stagnation. Detachment can turn to indifference. We become so accustomed to protocol, so complacent with keeping our distance, that we can no longer recognize the remarkable when it presents itself.” He pointed to Archer. “We lose sight of our ability to effect change at all.”

“Would you have us interfere with the development of others?” Claymare demanded. “That is unacceptable.”

“Of course, if done heedlessly,” Ayelborne agreed. “But what if our intervention were done responsibly? What if we were to assist, nurture, prevent...even teach by example, perhaps?”

Archer stood still and silent in his corner of the room, following the debate with anxious fascination.

“We have evolved beyond that point,” Claymare said dismissively.

“Perhaps we have evolved to that point,” Ayelborne replied. “Organians abhor violence, and we do no harm to others. But what if we are presented with a situation with the potential for violence, or suffering, or a risk to life? If we, through inaction, allow it to come to pass, there is little difference than if we committed the wrong ourselves.”

Claymare didn’t look entirely convinced. “It is not our place to police the universe.”

“Of course not. But we can make a difference.” Ayelborne regarded his partner earnestly. “If we have the power to be benevolent, how can we in good conscience continue to remain aloof?”

~ ~

A light pierced the darkness. Gratefully, T’Pol turned toward it. At last, she had a direction to follow, a beacon to lead her back to life. The light was brilliant, blinding, white-hot, enough to warm the endless cold of the void. She didn’t know its source, but she could sense a powerful life force within...no, two...

<< T’hai’la? >>

She stopped. The voice didn’t come from the radiant lights up ahead. It was another presence, heartbreakingly familiar. The voice was so faint that T’Pol felt it rather than heard it, deep within her mind, in the part of her consciousness she thought had been lost forever. She reached out with the tattered remnants of her bond...

<< Trip? >>

She could feel him now. He was confused, disoriented...but he was her beloved, and somehow, he was alive again. With quiet desperation, she began searching the blackness...

There! A tiny pinpoint of light, flickering to life. She embraced it, warming it, fanning its delicate flame brighter. It began to grow...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1751 hours

Archer was tired, so tired. Why? Because it was over? It wasn’t, not yet. He knew that Phlox was more determined than ever to find a way to save him. The doctor would tilt at windmills until he succeeded, or Archer breathed his last. But despite the steel in Phlox’s voice, Archer had seen the slump of his shoulders, even through his EV suit. The radiation treatment that had failed Trip had been the Denobulan’s last, desperate hope. He was out of ideas. Barring a miracle, Archer was a dead man.

Still, he had a sense that he’d just been through a battle, the most significant battle of his life. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had fought well, though the evidence before him clearly belied that. How long had he been staring at Trip’s body? At the sheet draped over Hoshi? He’d lost track of time. All he knew was that his eyes burned and his throat hurt from the tears he’d been trying fruitlessly to keep at bay.

For the first time since he had pulled off his gloves, Archer let himself think beyond the confines of this claustrophobic room and the three souls within, two of them already lost.

Phlox would take Porthos; Archer and the doctor had a standing agreement about that. The rest of Archer’s affairs were in order, as always. He had looked death in the eye too many times not to be prepared. Now, though, he was leaving so much more behind. Karyn, who had embraced him as family...Danica, with whom he had so recently reconnected.

And Kyle. They had gotten to know each other over the past few months, through scores of letters—family stories, goofy work anecdotes, thoughtful musings about literature, philosophy, music. And then there was the ongoing exchange of playfully salacious suggestions on how they would spend their time together after he returned. The list had gotten pretty long, and quite inventive. He felt as though he’d fallen in love with her all over again. There was so much he wanted to say to her, so much he hadn’t yet said. He had planned to tell her in person when he got back, so he had put it off... He’d put too many things off.

A flicker of movement across the room caught his eye. It was the bioreading panel over Trip’s exam table. The gauges were inching upward.

Archer frowned. He didn’t recall Phlox mentioning hallucinations as one of the symptoms of the virus.

He looked from the readings to the body. Trip appeared to be breathing. His chest was rising and falling, slowly and evenly.

Archer squeezed his wet eyes shut and rubbed them. It all looked so real...but it must be the virus addling his mind, playing tricks on him. He had watched Trip die. He had felt his friend’s heart stop beating.

What he wanted most...a miracle...it couldn’t be happening.

Could it?

Hesitantly, he approached the exam table to study the bioreadings more closely. They were getting stronger. Color seemed to be returning to those ghostly, sallow cheeks.

Archer touched Trip’s face. The skin was warming. Archer slid his fingers down to Trip’s neck, and felt a steady carotid pulse there. “Trip?” he whispered, daring to hope again.

The sunken eyes snapped open. Archer jumped back, startled, his breath catching in his throat.

Trip blinked, looking vaguely confused. “I thought...” He chewed his lip. “I guess not.”

Archer stared at him, completely dumbstruck. Trip looked fine. He looked great.

Trip propped himself up on his elbows, still appearing a little disoriented. His eyes wandered, rather fuzzily, and finally settled on Archer. “Cap’n? What happened?”

Archer swallowed. His throat was bone dry. “I have no idea.”

Behind him, Archer heard another bioreading panel blipping softly to life. He turned to see movement under Hoshi’s sheet. Good God! He covered the distance in two steps, tearing the sheet away. Hoshi was alive again too. It was astonishing, wonderful, impossible to believe. She peered up at him, squinting against the bright lights. Her face was no longer deathly pale, but flushing with color and life.

Archer gathered her up and hugged her, almost overcome with joy. After a moment, he felt her hands on his arms, hesitantly returning his embrace. “Captain?”

Realizing what a scene he must be making, he released her and stepped back, but he couldn’t wipe the broad smile off his face. “How do you feel?”

In her typically observant fashion, Hoshi took in her surroundings, his EV suit, her unbuttoned clothing, and the defibrillation leads attached to her chest. “I’m not sure,” she said slowly. “I remember breaking out of Decon...I guess I missed a lot after that.”

“Let’s just say you look a damn sight better than you did a little while ago. Both of you.” If neither one of them ever remembered the last few harrowing minutes they’d spent here, that would be fine with Archer.

Trip sat up. “Anything to eat around here? I’m starving.”

Archer burst out laughing, and realized how close he’d come to weeping again, this time with sheer gladness. This is really happening, he thought jubilantly. Believe.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

1752 hours

T’Pol blinked once, twice—and then, with a great gasp of air, she was awake and talking, her words trapped behind the respirator mask Phlox held over her mouth.

He took the device away. “—Alive,” she was saying. “He’s alive.”

Gently, Phlox took her shoulders. “I’m sorry, T’Pol, but I don’t—”

She fought her way to a sitting position. “We must go to sickbay.”

“That’s not possible.” Phlox was concerned. Was she delusional? Had she suffered neural trauma when her bond with Tucker was so suddenly severed? “T’Pol, you’ve suffered a severe shock...”

“Archer to the bridge,” came the captain’s voice over the comm.

T’Pol was up and answering the call before Phlox could stop her. “T’Pol. Go ahead.”

“You’d better get down here.”

“Trip is alive,” she said. It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes,” Archer confirmed. “So is Hoshi.”

Phlox listened in astonishment. He knew Hoshi was dead. He had seen the readouts with his own eyes. It was incontrovertible fact. He rose, joining T’Pol at the comm panel. “Captain, Hoshi is—”

“You too, Phlox,” Archer said. “Maybe one of you can tell me what the hell just happened.”

Phlox and T’Pol traded looks—then they bolted for the turbolift.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hour Six

1814 hours

Despite Reed’s assurances that the quarantine zone was clear, Phlox would not allow sickbay’s doors to be unsealed until Archer scanned all three patients for the virus. Four times.

“C’mon, Doc!” Trip paced back and forth in front of the double doors. He could see T’Pol through the glass, waiting patiently, her eyes never leaving his. He could feel her, achingly close. “How long are you gonna keep lollygagging?”

“Until I am satisfied, Commander,” Phlox’s unruffled voice intoned through the open comm link, as he dug his scanner out of his medkit. “I must say, Captain, he certainly sounds healthy enough.”

Archer punched in the results of the latest scan. “He is. Results are negative on all three of us—again. I think Hoshi’s a little dehydrated.” He brought a glass of water to the comm officer, who was still looking a little peaked. She had washed her face and brushed her hair earlier, and it had almost exhausted her. “How are you doing, Hoshi?”

She took a sip. “A little light-headed...I don’t know.” She looked uncertainly up at him. “Are you supposed to feel a certain way after you’ve died and come back to life?”

He squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “I don’t think there’s a rulebook for what you’ve been through.”

Trip caught sight of Phlox doing an unobtrusive scan of T’Pol. “What’re you doing?” he asked worriedly. “What’s wrong with her?”

“Calm yourself, Commander,” Phlox replied, putting his scanner away. “She seems fine now. Captain, you may unseal the doors.”

“She seems fine now?” Trip echoed. “What do you mean, ‘now’?

Archer released the lock, and the doors slid open. Phlox bustled inside, heading in Hoshi’s direction. “All right, Lieutenant, let’s have a look at you...”

Trip turned anxiously to T’Pol as she entered sickbay. Wordlessly, she moved into his arms, silencing whatever further protest he might have been preparing to make. They simply held each other for a long moment, both savoring the physical contact.

Archer raised his eyebrows questioningly at Phlox. “We had a bit of trouble on the bridge,” the doctor murmured, as he prepared a hypospray for Hoshi.

Trip finally pulled away from T’Pol, but he didn’t release her, keeping one of her hands firmly clasped in his. “You don’t mind if I hang onto you for a while, do you?” he said. “I kinda missed this.”

“I don’t mind,” she replied contentedly.

He hesitated, trying to keep the concern off his face, and doing a miserable job of it. “What happened up there?”

She dropped her eyes, studying their joined hands. “I don’t fully remember. I recall being with you...the beach, the sunset...”

She looked up at him, and he nodded. He remembered the beach, too.

“Then...there was blackness...” She frowned faintly. “And I awoke, with the doctor administering first aid.” She turned to Phlox. “How long?”

An eternity, Archer guessed, judging from the haunted look he glimpsed in the Denobulan’s eyes.

“Several minutes,” Phlox replied, in his imperturbable doctor-voice. “You went into shock, and then you stopped breathing.”

Tucker’s hold on T’Pol tightened. She kept her focus on Phlox. “You revived me?”

He shook his head. “You did it on your own. My guess is that your recovery was connected to Commander Tucker’s. This bond of yours...it may have nearly killed you, but it also appears to have brought you back.”

Trip and T’Pol gazed at each other in wonder. “I’ll be damned,” Trip said softly. “Do you think the bond might not have broken completely?”

“I don’t know.” She paused. “Do you remember...dying?”

He touched her cheek lightly with his fingers. “All I remember is you, darlin’. Then I was waking up, and I could still feel you with me.”

Slowly, she nodded. “It is reassuring...if less than illuminating.”

He laughed and hugged her again. “It’ll have to do, hon. I don’t plan on goin’ through that again for another seventy years or so, if I can help it.”

Phlox turned to Archer with a bemused smile. “I’ve looked at all the scan results, Captain, and conducted another one myself, but I’m at a loss. Commander Tucker’s recovery has to have been a delayed reaction to the radiation treatment, but how it spilled over to you and Hoshi, I have no idea.”

“A miracle?” Archer suggested.

Phlox threw up his hands. “That is as credible an explanation as any I can offer.”

“It would certainly turn some heads at Starfleet Medical,” Archer grinned. “But until they figure it out, I think the best way to fight this virus is to avoid it. We’ll leave a warning beacon in orbit here to make sure that what happened to us never happens to anyone again.”

~ ~

Security annex

Ayelborne turned from the sickbay monitor to Claymare. “Well? What do you think?”

“About all that emotion?” Claymare shuddered faintly as the two exited the room. “I feel decidedly unsettled.”

Ayelborne smiled as he led the way down the corridor. “I found it quite gratifying.”

“I’ll have you write the field report, then,” Claymare said dryly. “Though I doubt anyone will be able to make sense of it.”

“I’ll need to make certain that it does,” Ayelborne replied. “I’m going to recommend that we start preparations for an official First Contact mission.”

“Indeed?” After a moment, Claymare nodded. “I concur.”

Ayelborne was surprised. “What changed your mind?”

“The evidence, of course,” Claymare said stoutly. “And...your fresh perspective as well,” he conceded. “You compelled me to study the situation in ways I hadn’t considered. It proved enlightening.”

Ayelborne inclined his head in acknowledgment. “I’m glad I was able to contribute.”

“In fact...” Claymare proceeded in thoughtful silence for a moment. “Considering your unique insight into these humans, it may be prudent for you to oversee the preparations for this First Contact. If you believe you’re ready to undertake such an assignment.”

Ayelborne brightened. “I look forward to it.”

“I thought you might,” the elder remarked knowingly.

Already, Ayelborne’s mind was filled with possibilities. “We may wish to consider manifesting corporeally for them, to give them a recognizable lifeform with which to interact; we must take care not to overwhelm them. And we may need to provide physical landmarks as well, to give them a frame of reference...”

“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself?” Claymare asked. “We should have several thousand years to prepare.”

“Far less, I think,” Ayelborne mused. “The influence of other species such as the Vulcans and Denobulans is liable to have a stimulating effect on the humans’ progress.”

“Yes, you have a point.” Claymare clasped his hands behind his back as they continued. “Very well, then. There’s research to be done.”

“We’d better get started,” Ayelborne agreed. He turned speculatively to his partner. “May I suggest we visit the mess hall before we leave? There is another of those presentations scheduled, similar to the one we saw when we arrived... What did they call it?”

“A ‘movie’.”

“Yes! A movie. I found the first one quite interesting.”

Claymare raised an eyebrow, and Ayelborne shrugged. “It would be research.”

The senior Observer shook his head as they detoured toward the mess hall. “These humans have not been a good influence on you, Ayelborne...”


Chapter 9 The Conclusion to Redivivus and The Reconnecting Series.

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