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Author - Shouldknowbetter | C | Genre - Action/Adventure | Genre - Angst | Genre - Drama | Genre - Romance | Main Story | Rating - PG-13
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Summary: Enterprise’s sister ship suffers an unprovoked attack by a Klingon vessel.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters, the Star Trek franchise and the universe. I just use them for my own private, non-profit making amusement.
7. Cry Havoc
It was a couple of hours after the end of Alpha shift when Tucker strolled onto the bridge, casually dressed and with the smug expression of someone who had packed up work on time and already been to the gym. He nodded a greeting to the few crewmembers on duty and turned sharp left to approach the science station, an appreciative grin forming.
“Do not,” the Vulcan science officer said without even looking up from the scanner over which she was bent, “even consider it, commander.”
He lounged against the console behind her, still smirking. “I can see why Malcolm thinks you’ve got a nice butt.” That was sufficiently outrageous to earn him a glare. “He must get a real nice view from tactical.” T’Pol straightened to move around the engineer to get to the console, although he refused to give her enough room to work comfortably. “I thought we had a date.”
“Captain Archer requested some additional scans of the brown dwarf we are currently visiting.”
“What is it with the cap’n and brown dwarfs?” he asked rhetorically. “Are you nearly done?”
“No.” There was a hint of irritation in her voice, for once not directed at him.
“Ah, c’mon, T’Pol.” He moved behind her, trapping her against the console, hands resting on her waist. “We’ve been flat out for a week. We deserve a break.”
“Commander Tucker, we are on duty.” The disapproval was for him this time, as was the glare and the sharp movement away from him.
“I’m not on duty and I hate to break it to you, Sub-Commander T’Pol, but everyone on Enterprise knows we sleep together. Get your relief to complete the scans and come be nice to me.”
“I can complete them more swiftly myself.”
“D’you mean you’ve not adequately trained your subordinates? Shame on you, sub-commander.”
She glared at him once more and returned to the scanner, but he still followed her. “Chef’s made vegan ice cream. It’ll melt if you don’t hurry up.”
“Unlikely. The mess hall has adequate refrigeration.”
“My cabin doesn’t.” He leant in to whisper a suggestion, contriving to brush her ear with his lips as he did so and grinning when she stiffened.
“That is hardly hygienic.”
“I’ve just had a shower.”
T’Pol looked up at the human with narrowed eyes as he teased her. Tucker was extremely irritating when he wanted to be – which was most of the time – but she was unfortunately very attached to him. It was remarkable how difficult it was proving to remain focussed on her task when what she really wanted to do was run her fingers through his damp blond hair and kiss him until he agreed to let her remove the most unpleasantly decorated shirt he was wearing. Its only recommendation was that it had buttons and T’Pol had discovered in herself a surprising interest in buttons - provided there was chief engineer underneath.
“Slowly,” she said then thought that perhaps clarification was in order. “There is considerable interference to be overcome.” Behind her, she just knew that Tucker was smirking annoyingly. “From the energy emissions of the brown dwarf.”
Archer looked his friend over. “Just passing, Trip?”
“No.” Tucker took a chance on long acquaintance. “I came to find my girlfriend but she says you’ve cut me out.”
The captain looked questioningly at his science officer. “If you had something planned, T’Pol, you should have said.”
“It was not important.”
“Yes, it was!” Tucker protested and looked hopefully at his friend. “You don’t really need those scans tonight, do you, cap’n?”
“I guess I could walk the dog instead,” Archer agreed amiably. There were times when he simply didn’t have the energy to deal with Trip.
“Great.” Tucker took T’Pol’s hand to tug her towards the lift although she pulled free with yet another hard stare. “You know, Jon, you really ought to get out more.”
Archer shook his head and returned to his ready room, wondering if Tucker had a point. Perhaps later he’d visit the gym and then take Porthos for a walk.
He looked doubtfully back; her tone had been ominous. “He’s a friend.”
He fidgeted. “Sometimes. But hell, T’Pol, didn’t you want to spend the evening with me?”
She continued to survey him coolly. “No.”
“No? What …?”
His hurt protest was cut off as she stepped forward, sinking her fingers into his hair to pull him down for a kiss. “I wanted to spend the night.”
Tucker relaxed, grinning, and slid his arms around her. “Good plan.” There were several pissed crewmembers waiting for the lift by the time they finally completed the short journey.
Tucker didn’t even notice when the senior officers were summoned to the bridge. What he did notice was the withdrawal of the hot, wet mouth that had been doing indescribably delicious things to the sensitive skin of his stomach. “T’Pol,” he protested feebly and groaned when he opened his eyes enough to see that she was seated on the edge of the bed, already wriggling into her form-fitting uniform. “What’d I do?”
“Our presence is required on the bridge.”
“No.” He had his hands pressed over his eyes. “No way.”
T’Pol inspected him a little ruefully. Whilst stimulating Charles physically until he was entirely irrational was most enjoyable, it had the unfortunate side effect of rendering him unfit for duty for a considerable period. Muscles shifted under her fingers as she caressed his chest and she hastily withdrew as her half-dressed body reacted insistently. She, of course, could control her response. It was just her awareness of the human’s lust through her bond with him that made it difficult at times. “We must hurry.”
“You go. Then come tell me what the cap’n wanted.”
T’Pol pulled up the top half of her uniform and stood to fasten the seam, staring severely down at Enterprise’s chief engineer. “That is not acceptable.” She dropped the discarded shirt onto his naked torso. “Get up, commander. And kindly control your anatomy.”
“S’not fair,” he grumbled as he pushed himself into a sitting position and began to shrug awkwardly into the shirt. “It doesn’t show on you.”
“I am quite capable of regulating my physical response.”
Tucker pounced but she avoided him and exited into the corridor, leaving him to chase after her once he had pulled on his boots. “Liar.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Admit it, I can turn you on even when you’re on duty.”
“Then why’d you jump me in the lift earlier?” She ignored the question. “You wanted me, didn’t you?”
“I was not on duty once we had left the bridge.”
“Huh! You’d have kissed me on the bridge if we’d been alone.”
“I would not.”
“Would too.” The lift doors opened and Tucker decided that he had best do his impression of a senior officer who wasn’t enjoying a passionate lover affair with his first officer. If he didn’t, T’Pol might just decide that she wouldn’t return to his cabin later to continue where they had left off.
Despite the delay in their arrival Archer wasn’t on the bridge although the rest of the senior staff were at their posts. “Where’s the cap’n?” Tucker asked as he went to take his own place and Reed nodded in the direction of the ready room.
“D’you know what’s going on?”
The armoury officer shook his head and Sato volunteered, “We received a confidential transmission from Starfleet half an hour ago.”
Tucker sighed; so much for an evening off.
“Ensign Mayweather, set a course for these coordinates.” Archer tossed a PADD across. “Warp 4.5. Sub-Commander T’Pol, I want a full review of our combat readiness. Lt Reed, schedule a series of tactical simulations.”
There was an instant of stunned surprise as his officers absorbed the unprecedented orders then T’Pol asked the question they all wanted to know the answer to. “Captain, what has occurred?”
He remained focussed on the view screen, expression bleak. “The Pushkin was on a trade mission to Quatera Prime to meet a delegation from the Klingon Empire. Starfleet has just received a distress call. It was cut short but it appears that Pushkin has been fired on and boarded by the Klingon ship they went to meet. There’s been no further word.” He paused and glanced around at his senior staff, the humans looking as horrified as he felt. “We’ve been tasked to find them.”
They were barely twelve hours from the Pushkin’s last known position at the highest sustainable warp Tucker could coax out of Enterprise’s engines. Archer felt vaguely guilty that he hadn’t known how close they were. He had known Captain Dexter for years even if they had never been more than acquaintances, but he had been too focused on Enterprise and her mission to give much thought to the other ship. Tucker had kept a jealous eye on Pushkin’s technical progress in case Enterprise’s sister ship out-performed his own but that interest hadn’t extended to what she was doing. At least their proximity meant that they dropped out of warp at the origin of the distress call less than thirteen hours after it was made - although that was a long time to wait if you were the ones in trouble.
“There she is,” Mayweather observed unnecessarily as the view screen presented the image of the other ship although no one rebuked him. They had all half been expecting to see a debris field, not a vessel that appeared to be in one piece.
“No sign of other ships in the area,” Reed reported crisply and a moment later Tucker added, “The warp core’s off-line, weapons, hull-plating, comm.s, life support …” He trailed off, shaking his head and Archer turned to T’Pol.
“Any life signs?”
“Possibly. It is hard to get a clear reading through the residual effects of weapons fire.”
“Docking ports are still operational, cap’n,” Tucker offered, second-guessing the next question. “They’ve been forced but the seals’ll hold.”
Archer nodded, pushing himself up. “Get an engineering team together, Trip, and follow us over. Malcolm, assemble a …”
“Captain,” the armoury officer interrupted firmly, “I recommend you stay on Enterprise until we’ve assessed the situation on Pushkin.”
“Lt. Reed has a point,” T’Pol put in before Archer could overrule Reed’s advice. “If the Pushkin’s attackers were to return while you were aboard, you would be vulnerable.”
“As you’ll be if you go instead,” Archer pointed out, tactic admission that he had already accepted the logic of the argument. Perhaps this was one case where Enterprise needed her captain more than his crew needed him to lead by example.
“I am not Enterprise’s captain,” his first officer said dryly, unconsciously echoing Archer’s own thought, and joined Tucker and Reed in the lift.
Archer sighed and turned back to the view screen. This was one of the few times he would rather not be the captain. Schoolteacher sounded good, or maybe recycling technician.
Enterprise’s two shuttle pods docked on opposite sides of the stricken ship, Tucker and his team heading for Engineering while T’Pol and Reed aimed for the bridge. Emergency power was off-line along with almost every other system so it was dark but at least Pushkin hadn’t run out of air and the temperature was still tolerable.
Edging along spookily familiar corridors lit only by flashlight, phase pistol in his other hand, Tucker kept up a silent but continuous monologue concerning girlfriends who wouldn’t stay sensibly out of harm’s way. He knew T’Pol was a good deal more capable than himself of keeping out of trouble but it didn’t stop him worrying. Ahead the beam of his flashlight picked out a blue uniform and he edged over, mouth twisting in disgust at the gaping wound where the throat should have been. Dead beyond a shadow of a doubt and not prettily. Half a dozen others laid beyond the twisted body, and at the far end a very large one in a different outfit. With an effort he hauled the heavy body over and stared down at the dark face with its ridged forehead, reaching for his communicator. “Tucker to T’Pol.”
“We’ve found a dead Klingon plus the bodies of some of Pushkin’s crew. They look like they’ve been hacked apart with some sort of edged weapon.”
“A ba'tleth.” The Vulcan could have been discussing spare engine parts. “The Klingon weapon of choice in hand-to-hand combat. We have encountered a similar scenario.”
“Any sign of survivors?” Tucker and his group were continuing slowly onwards.
“Great.” He could have done without that. “You watch your back, you hear?”
“I believe,” she said severely at his lapse into the personal, “that that is Lt. Reed’s brief. T’Pol out.”
There had been another even fiercer struggle outside Engineering. A couple of dead Klingons accompanied at least ten human corpses and right by the closed doors was a man Tucker recognised, Pushkin’s chief engineer. Still more shocked at finding a familiar face, Tucker checked for a pulse, seeing no evidence of the horrific injuries suffered by the rest, but the man was cold. Klingons didn’t just kill with ba'tleths, then. The doors to Engineering were sealed, but Tucker had helped design the security system and it took him only a few seconds to override the lock-out. It was dark inside, but not the impenetrable blackness of the rest of the ship; a couple of panels still glowed faintly. Relieved, Tucker headed for the nearest, swearing as he tripped over something then shuddering as he saw the out-flung arm. He wanted lights.
Reluctantly they scattered and Tucker scrambled up to the higher level where he could gain direct access to the main engine controls, wondering if he should have re-locked the doors. He didn’t fancy a ba’tleth in the back. Behind and to one side a fallen panel shifted and Tucker jumped several feet into the air, spinning around, phase pistol jerking up. “Who’s there?”
T’Pol approved Lt. Reed’s caution but there was a faint niggle in the back of her mind that suggested – in an annoying drawl – that the armoury officer was enjoying himself a little too much under the circumstances. Then they turned another corner and with a roar a bulky figure flung itself out of a ceiling hatch into the midst of their group. T’Pol was knocked flying in the initial skirmish and even before she could turn over heard the sound of phase pistol fire behind her. She scrambled up to see Reed standing over the downed Klingon, prodding him carefully with a boot. She came to stand by his side, scanner in hand.
“Are you all right, sub-commander?”
Since she obviously was, she didn’t bother answering. “He is dead.”
“Stun setting didn’t work. I wonder why he was left behind.”
T’Pol turned the body over to reveal scorch marks down one side. “Klingons do not retrieve their wounded.” The low-level emergency lighting flickered on. “Commander Tucker’s team has reached Engineering. We had best make haste in case the remaining Klingons are also mobile and take advantage of the improved visibility.”
“Right.” Decisively the Englishman took point again, waving another of his people back to position in the rear. “Let’s go.”
T’Pol followed, hoping no one noticed that her respiration rate was higher than normal. Tucker was scared, very scared if she could sense his emotion from several decks away, but there was nothing she could do about it. Telling him that he needed to meditate was hardly practical at the moment and neither was rushing down to Pushkin’s engineering deck to reassure him.
They had to climb up the lift shaft to the bridge where the doors were jammed open. Reed hauled himself up, moving immediately to one side even as he waved T’Pol to stay down. She ignored him, crawling out herself. “There is someone here. Human.”
“Who’ll probably shoot at anything that moves,” Reed muttered back. “Stay here, sub-commander.” He had begun to edge towards the tactical station when a movement from the command chair made him freeze.
“Who’s there?” The man’s voice was pained, full of hatred. “Filthy bastards! Come out where I can see you.”
T’Pol didn’t need Reed’s urgent gesture to stay down. That voice was not rational even for a human. “Captain Dexter, this is Sub-Commander T’Pol of Enterprise. We are here to assist you.”
“Enterprise? No, Archer wouldn’t stir to help us. Not with you whispering poison in his ear, you cold-hearted bitch.” T’Pol felt one eyebrow climb. It was evident that Dexter remembered her. “Come out where I can shoot you.”
Reed had edged back towards T’Pol, frowning. “I suggest you try, Lieutenant.”
“No! Limey bastard.” Reed sighed; some Australians were still resentful. “Need it. Those animals …”
“There are no Klingons here now, captain. I’m going to show myself. Don’t shoot.”
Doubtful of the wisdom of Reed’s proposed course of action, T’Pol made to protest but he shook his head, made an obscure gesture with his phase pistol and rose to his feet. “Captain Dexter?”
The command chair swung around and a phase pistol fired – fortunately inaccurately – at Reed. He ducked, returned fire and there was a clatter as the weapon fell from Dexter’s suddenly limp hand. T’Pol came to look down at the unconscious man, seeing the blood stains covering half his uniform from an ugly gash in one shoulder. “I understood, lieutenant, that shooting a fellow officer was not acceptable behaviour in Starfleet.”
“He started it.” Reed had already checked that the ready room was unoccupied. “The bridge is clear, sub-commander. If you’ll stay here, I’ll complete the sweep of the rest of the ship.”
“Very well.” She moved towards the science station. “I will retrieve the latest logs. Be swift, lieutenant. We need to ensure that medical assistance is made available urgently.”
Reed nodded and left and T’Pol took a moment to focus. She had forgotten just how much she had disliked Dexter, although at the time she had, of course, refused to acknowledge that it was an emotional reaction to an individual rather than a rational condemnation of all humanity. It was to be hoped that Dexter would not mention the incident. It would be unprofessional of him to do so and entirely non-productive.
The space behind Tucker was mercifully empty but he had definitely heard something and he was not going to turn his back on anything that might jump out on him afterwards. Cautiously he edged forwards and the panel shifted again. “Who’s there?” T’Pol would give him gyp for his accent but he was an engineer, not a hero, and being scared always made him slur more than normal. “Come out.”
Slowly the panel was pushed away and a blue-clad arm appeared, followed by a shoulder, a platinum blonde head then the rest of a petite body in an ensign’s uniform. Huge haunted blue eyes looked up at Tucker then flooded with tears. He lowered the phase pistol and held out a hand. “That’s no way to greet the cavalry.” She gave a small sob and lurched forward to bury her head in his shoulder. Tucker sighed, rubbing her back automatically. Someone was never gonna believe that he hadn’t set this up on purpose and he wasn’t even sure he liked clingy women anymore. T’Pol was extremely cuddly in private – when she wasn’t annoyed with him - but apart from one brief phase when she had still been suffering as a result of her rape by Soval she had never been clingy. That was more his department.
With Pushkin’s captain incapacitated and her senior officers dead, Archer had no hesitation in assuming temporary responsibility for the ship – and if that meant destroying her, he was more than prepared. There were no other vessels showing on Enterprise’s sensors but Archer had no intention of being caught with half his people stranded on a crippled ship that couldn’t defend herself. His tour of Pushkin was certainly depressing. The survivors had been evacuated to Enterprise but the dead were still being removed and Archer was acutely conscious that it could have been members of his own crew littering the decks. Enterprise had been lucky more than once but it seemed that Pushkin’s luck had deserted her with tragic results. His first officer was sceptical of his assessment, however, giving him a disapproving look as they picked their way towards Engineering.
“’Luck’ is merely a favourable combination of probabilities. Its distribution is random.”
“Tell that to Captain Dexter, sub-commander. I don’t know that he’ll believe you.”
“I am sure he would not.” The response was drier than normal and Archer shot T’Pol a surprised look.
“You know Captain Dexter?”
“Yes.” He continued to look enquiringly at her and T’Pol decided that a brief explanation would be in order. “I met Captain Dexter as a result of my liaison role with the Vulcan deputation to Earth.”
“So you expected to be assigned to Pushkin, not Enterprise?”
“No.” Why were humans so curious? “I had already made it clear that I preferred not to serve with Captain Dexter.”
“Any particular reason I should know about?”
“No.” They had reached Engineering and T’Pol activated the door, stepping back to allow Archer to precede her, hoping that the conversation was over. She was not at all sure that she wished Tucker to be made aware of the situation; he could be extremely irrational.
The bodies had been cleared from Engineering – Tucker had made sure of that – but the place was still a shambles. The immediate priority for Enterprise’s engineers had been to stabilise the other ship and then assess the damage; anything else had been put on a back burner. They found the engineer by the central workstation, still collating reports from his team although he looked up with something close to relief as Archer and T’Pol joined him. “Any sign of the bad guys?”
Archer shook his head. “Malcolm reported that the ship was clear an hour ago and there are no other vessels within sensor range. What’s the damage, Trip?”
“Couple of weeks.”
“Wrong answer, commander.” Archer met his friend’s eyes grimly. “I’m not about to make a target of ourselves. How long to be able to move Pushkin?”
Tucker shook his head, but he was already scrolling through the information on the terminal. “Gimme … 48 hours … and you can have limited warp capability.”
“Warp 2. Maybe a bit extra, but it won’t be comfortable.”
Archer exchanged an assessing look with T’Pol – they had already discussed the possibility of sacrificing Pushkin – and nodded slowly. “All right, commander, I’ll give you that long.” He took another look around, mouth compressed into a hard line. “I’ve a bad feeling that Starfleet may need all the ships it can muster before this is over.”
Tucker winced, glancing from Archer to T’Pol and back again. “That bad?”
“Think it through, Trip. If this was unprovoked …” Then he shook his head in rejection of his own words. “Speculation’s useless right now. We’ll have a better idea once we’ve talked to Dexter.” He reached over to pat Tucker’s shoulder. “Make it as quick as you can, commander. We’re too exposed for my liking. T’Pol.” The captain headed for the door and with the briefest of nods for Tucker she followed him.
The engineer sighed and watched the woman walk away. He really wanted a hug and T’Pol knew that. She was just too crazy stubborn to unbend on duty. Usually it didn’t bother him too much but today was about as bad as it got and what he wanted was a hug from the woman he loved; now, not in God knew how many hours time. A movement close beside him drew his attention and he turned to find the ensign he had discovered earlier holding out a PADD in a shaking hand. He took it automatically even as he steered her to a seat. “I told you to report sick.”
“I want to stay here.” The blue eyes were fixed firmly on his and Tucker sighed.
“I can come back?”
He managed a grin. “I’m sure not gonna turn down help in fixing this mess. Now get yourself out of here, ensign.”
“Yes, sir.” He had already turned away so didn’t see the doting look she turned on him – although someone else did.
Archer had stopped on his way out to survey the status of the anti-matter containment field for himself, so T’Pol had plenty of time to watch the interaction. As far as she was concerned, it was entirely inappropriate for a chief engineer to touch an ensign like that and she would make Tucker aware of her opinion just as soon as the opportunity arose.
Archer stared sadly around Enterprise’s crowded sickbay, which had not been designed to cope with so many casualties. Phlox and Enterprise’s other medics were flat out trying to treat Pushkin’s crew who, if not suffering from serious ba’tleth injuries, were in deep shock. “Not a pretty sight,” he remarked to the woman beside him and corner of her mouth twitched faintly in profound disgust.
“Violence rarely is, as your species should know.”
“We haven’t fought a war in a hundred years.”
“Perhaps because the last one wiped out four fifths of Earth’s population.”
There was no answer to that. Archer managed to catch Phlox’s attention and the harassed doctor diverted to his side. “Captain?”
“I need to speak to Captain Dexter.”
“Not possible, I’m afraid. He’s sedated.”
“It’s important, doctor.”
The Denobulan sighed and led the way to a corner bed. “Very well.” He administered a hypospray. “He should wake in a few moments.”
“How is he?”
The only answer was a shrug. “The shoulder wound is superficial although he lost a considerable quantity of blood. From Lt Reed’s report, however, his mental state may give cause for concern.” The man began to stir. “If you’ll excuse me, captain, I do have an unfortunately large number of other patients.”
“Captain Dexter,” Archer went for formality, “you’re on Enterprise. Captain, can you hear me?” The man’s usually intense blue eyes flickered open, cloudy with shock and drugs. “Captain Dexter, you’re on Enterprise.” Slowly the eyes focussed on him.
“Starfleet received your distress call, captain. They sent us to find you. Can you tell us what happened?”
“I’m sorry, captain. We only found thirty seven survivors including yourself.”
Would I care if I’d just lost two thirds of my crew? Wouldn’t I be asking for details, finding out if my officers, my friends, had made it? “Pushkin’s badly damaged but she can be fixed. What happened, Pete?”
His fellow captain’s eyes closed, expression twisted with what Archer first thought was pain then realised was anger, pure and very simple. “They fired on us. We’d been discussing trade issues, just as the briefing described and they fired on us. No warning, no time to charge the hull plating. They fired, took out our weapons then sent over their warriors. Fought us in the corridors for hours, hacking my crew to pieces. They’re animals, no better than animals. It’s war, Jon. It’s got to be.”
“Go away, Malcolm.”
“Well, that’s nice, I must say! You don’t know what I want.”
“You want power for the phase cannons. Or for the targeting scanners. Or maybe you just want to borrow my staff. You can’t have any of them.”
“I know that. I’ve seen the priority list.”
“You have?” Tucker withdrew his head and turned to face his friend. “What’s it say?”
“Life support, hull plating, warp drive, navigation. Only then do we get any offensive capability. Some people have no idea.”
“What about the hull breaches?” Tucker scrubbed his hands over his face. “Structural integrity field? Communications? Auxiliary power? Sensors?
“Just go away, Malcolm.”
The armoury officer grabbed Tucker’s arm and dragged him away from the damaged manifolds. “You need a break,” although he took a regretful backwards look. “Who’s she?”
“One of Pushkin’s engineers. There were quite a few of them hiding down here.”
“Typical! I get hulking great Klingons and paranoid captains. You get pretty girls. Does T’Pol know?”
“What’s to know?” Tucker was too tired to even pretend an interest. “What d’you want, Malcolm?”
“Take a look at this,” and the man pulled up a schematic of the phase cannons.
“No, look!” Reed was as impatient as Tucker was tired. “This shows their current status. See?”
“So they were fused in their deployed position. It makes them a whole lot harder to fix.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange?”
“That they were trying to defend themselves? No.”
“Oh, come on, commander! You must have heard the story. They …”
“Malcolm, go away!”
“I believe that was an order, lieutenant.” T’Pol’s calm voice brought them both around to face her. Reed gave the sigh of the perennially misunderstood and left, leaving the lovers facing each other. “Commander Tucker, you have been without sleep for approximately forty four hours. Do I need to point out that your efficiency drops dramatically after only twenty eight?”
“I’m nearly done.”
“So you frequently assert.”
“The cap’n wants to move Pushkin. Gimme another couple of hours and he can.”
“Your original estimate required another twelve hours.”
“Some of Pushkin’s engineers gave a hand.”
Brown eyes slid over his shoulder to the human woman. “So I see.”
“You always become irrational when you are tired.”
“My apologies. More irrational.” He turned his back, replacing Reed’s phase cannon schematic with one of the still inoperative structural integrity field generators. T’Pol peered over his shoulder. “There is a problem with the limiting circuits.”
“I know that!”
“If you just …” She punched in a few commands but pulled back with a raised eyebrow as the modifications failed to have the desired effect.
“Pushkin’s not Enterprise,” Tucker said heavily and the Vulcan woman looked back at him as if he had indeed become irrational.
“They are the same design.”
“Yeah, but no two ships off the production line are ever the same.”
“Vulcan ships of the same class are identical.”
“Well, that’s real nice to know!”
“It is inefficient. Personnel cannot perform efficiently on different ships without a period of readjustment.”
“So submit a report to the shipyards on Jupiter Station. But don’t bug me about it!”
The last was clearly infuriated. T’Pol gave the engineer a look that might possibly have been tinged with hurt and retreated.
It was nearly three hours later when Tucker entered Enterprise’s ready room and tossed a PADD onto the desk in front of Archer. “Cap’n.”
“Trip,” Archer looked up in concern, “you look terrible. How long have you been on duty?” Guilty that he hadn’t realised that his chief engineer and very good friend had clearly skipped at least one night’s sleep – the fact that Archer had done the same didn’t count - the captain rose to try to push the man down into a seat although Tucker resisted with a ghost of his usual grin.
“Don’t, cap’n. If I sit down, I won’t get up again.” He jerked his head in the vague direction of the PADD. “That’s a report on Pushkin’s status.”
“You can move her. Just don’t exceed warp 2 or you’ll need me to put her back together again – and I’m gonna be asleep.”
“Make sure you are.” Archer shook the other man affectionately by one shoulder. “Good work, Trip. I never thought you could have her operational so soon.”
“Most of her engineers survived. Malcolm’s still in charge over there, cap’n. There’s a skeleton engineering crew on both ships, but the rest are off duty.
They deserve it.”
“So do you. Go to bed, Trip.”
“I’m going. Jon,” Archer noted the lapse from what passed as formal with Tucker, “d’you know where T’Pol is?”
“Did you two argue again?” The engineer grimaced. “She said she needed to meditate. Trip, she’s not had any sleep either. I know Vulcan’s don’t need it but … ” Archer shrugged, reminding himself that the other man knew his first officer much better than he did. “Good night, commander.”
Tucker nodded absently and headed for the door. “Night, cap’n.”
Archer smiled to himself and returned to his desk to read Tucker’s report. Maybe Trip and T’Pol would eventually manage to get through a week without arguing but it was starting to look unlikely. At least they always made up as quickly as they fell out.
T’Pol’s meditation was interrupted by her door chime. She considered not answering but that was hardly logical given the current crisis. The fact that she was curious about the whereabouts of one particular individual was entirely irrelevant.
“T’Pol,” Tucker was leaning against the door frame, making no attempt to enter, “if I tell you how I’m real sorry for shouting at you, can I come in?”
He was exhausted and filthy and probably insincere and he made a mockery of her emotional control. “Yes.”
Tucker let the door slide closed behind him but for once didn’t take T’Pol in his arms as he normally did the moment they were alone. “You were right. I was too tired but I didn’t wanna let the cap’n down and I was shit scared the Klingons were gonna come back before we were ready.”
“She was very attractive.” T’Pol couldn’t believe she had said that and apparently neither could Tucker.
“What d’you mean?” He took a step forward, frowning, then halted as understanding dawned. “You’re jealous! You think I’ve been coming on to that kid on Pushkin.”
“She is clearly attracted to you.”
“What if she is? I’m with you. Don’t you trust me?” T’Pol hesitated just a moment too long. “Shit, you don’t trust me! How the hell can you not trust me? You know I love you, you spend half the time moaning that I give you a headache because I can’t control my damned emotions.”
“No, you listen to me a minute.” Tucker was tired and hurt and had therefore lost his normal tolerance. “Perhaps if you weren’t so hung up on keeping our relationship under wraps, you wouldn’t have to get jealous. If you’d given me a hug in Engineering, Sarah would have known I’m off limits. But no, Vulcans don’t touch and Vulcans don’t have aliens lovers and Vulcans certainly don’t let chief engineers make love to them until they scream!”
“Forget it.” He headed for the door. “I’m tired, T’Pol. I’m tired of not being able to hold your hand in public. I’m certainly tired of the hypocrisy. I’m going to bed – by myself, without having to wake up early to sneak out and without really hot sex … because I’m starting to think that’s all you want from me.”
He stormed out leaving T’Pol staring after him in confusion that was brought about as much by his own anger and hurt that were rattling around in her head as by her own. She had thought Charles understood her need for discretion, understood that he could never have her demonstrate her deep attachment in public. She had certainly never anticipated that he would believe her affection stemmed from physical gratification alone. It was deeply satisfying but without affection that satisfaction would not exist and Charles knew that; when he was rational, anyway. It was not her fault that he was unable to sense her emotions through the bond between them, just the pleasure she experienced when they mated. The problem was that he was profoundly stubborn. Having made his point he was very unlikely to back down and T’Pol had no idea how to remedy this breach. The usual solution of going to his cabin, entering his bed and demonstrating her depth of her affection did not seem appropriate.
It was Archer who answered when Dexter did not. “We’ve been able to partially restore warp capability and hull plating. We should be able to get other systems back on-line within the next few days but Commander Tucker informs me that she’ll not stand up to hard use without a long layover at Jupiter Station.”
Archer shifted, not liking that last prohibition one bit. “What’s the situation, admiral?”
“Just about as bad as it could be, Jon.” Forrest looked sick. “The Klingon Empire is furious. It’s broken off all diplomatic relations with Earth government and said that any further hostile acts against Klingon assets will be considered an act of war. It’s not looking good.”
“Hostile acts!” Dexter was finally shaken out of his apathy. “They attacked my ship! Slaughtered my crew!”
“We know that, Peter,” the man’s tone was compassionate, “but it’s not the story they’re telling. They could have had this planned for a while.”
“What are the Klingons saying?” Archer asked, although he had a sinking feeling that he knew.
“That Pushkin fired on their ship during a peaceful trade mission. They were forced to defend themselves.” Neither captain bothered to comment. “You’re being recalled to Earth for your own safety but also … because we fear an attack on Earth itself. We want our fastest and most capable ships on hand.”
“We don’t carry heavy armament, admiral,” Archer reminded him after a moment’s painful silence.
“Your weapon systems will be upgraded as soon as you reach us. Until then do what you can for your own defence. God speed. Forrest out.”
Archer flicked off the screen and went to look out of the viewport, hands braced against the surround. He was damned sure this wasn’t what Zephram Cochrane had had in mind, nor his own father either.
Tucker shoved his empty plate away and reached for dessert. “Weapons are next on the list. If you’d been around this morning we could of got started already.”
“I was on Pushkin last night, remember?” Reed poked his fork at the engineer. “I bet you weren’t on duty this morning. You were shattered when I saw you.” There was again no response and the Englishman sighed; he hated these conversations. “Tell me about it if you have to.”
The other man grimaced at his serving of apple pie. “What’s to tell? I shouted at T’Pol, then when I went to apologise she got jealous, I called her a hypocrite and left.”
“You don’t do much else! Are you sure it’s worth it, Trip?”
For a moment longer, Tucker continued to play with his food then looked up, a rueful smile forming. “Yeah.”
“You could have fooled me! What were you saying about Pushkin’s weapons systems?”
T’Pol approached the mess hall table slowly, muscles tightening despite her superior control. How difficult could it be? She had deep feelings for Tucker, he was her friend, her lover. Humans did it all the time and the only one likely to witness her shame was Reed and he already knew. She halted by the table. “Charles.” She paused awkwardly as he looked up, startled; she never used his personal name unless they were alone. “May I join you?” He wasn’t angry with her anymore but he was definitely wary; she could feel it through the bond between them as well as read it in his eyes. What she would have done if he had refused she didn’t know, beyond making a dignified and composed exit, but he nodded and T’Pol slipped carefully into the seat beside him, aware that both men were watching her. Now for the difficult part. She lifted her head to meet Tucker’s watchful eyes. “I am sorry. I will try to be less … circumspect,” and she raised her hand to brush his cheek in the briefest caress she thought she could get away with and still demonstrate her intent.
Relieved and suddenly hungry – she had not wished for nourishment that morning – T’Pol appropriated the remains of Tucker’s side salad and started eating only to realise that Reed was laughing. “Lieutenant?”
“Sorry, sub-commander.” He made a less than successful attempt to straighten his expression. “It’s just … Do you know that amongst humans, a sure sign that two people are in a relationship is when they help themselves to each other’s food without asking?”
T’Pol replaced the fork with some alacrity and glared at Tucker who shrugged, mouth twitching. “How was I to know you didn’t know that? You do it all the time.”
“I do not.”
“You do, actually, sub-commander. I think it’s the only reason Trip has salad.”
“A standard military tactic is to eliminate the leaders of the opposing side, thus increasing the probability of a poorly coordinated defence,” T’Pol pointed out and resumed eating the salad. The dressing chef had applied was tasty and it was unlikely that anyone else would notice that she had not fetched it herself.
“Perhaps his crew defended him.” Enterprise’s first officer’s tone suggested that she did not find such a course of action entirely logical.
“Can you really see Captain Archer letting us get killed while he hid on the bridge?”
“No,” Tucker said firmly, “but the cap’n’s nothing like Dexter. Believe me, I went through a few training runs with him. Not my favourite commanding officer!”
“What about the fact that most of Pushkin’s officers were killed with phase pistols?”
“So the Klingons raided the armoury. Stop being paranoid, Malcolm. Come on, let’s go do some work.”
“I haven’t finished!” the other man protested and shovelled more curry into his mouth as Tucker stood up, one hand on T’Pol’s shoulder, thumb discreetly caressing the nape of her neck. “See you later?”
It required an effort not to shrug off the intimate contact however pleasant it was, but at least he was not being overt with so many strangers around. “Captain Archer expects you in his dining room at 1900.”
“Yeah, he told me.” They both knew that Archer was ensuring his chief engineer didn’t pull another long shift. “Come see me beforehand?” She nodded and Tucker smiled tenderly - and briefly. “Malcolm, move your butt.”
“I still haven’t finished!” Reed mumbled through an overlarge mouthful but followed the engineer, picking a tortuous path through the crowded room. “Why is it so busy?”
“The galley’s still out on Pushkin and Phlox said a meal would do her crew good. Makes sense to me.”
“Commander Tucker!” Both officers halted as their way was blocked by an eager figure. “Sir, are you going back to Pushkin? Can we join you?” There were several more men and women grouped behind the ensign, all with purple piping on their uniforms.
“Sure,” Tucker agreed readily, always up for extra help when there was a mountain of problems still to be fixed, “as long as Phlox has passed you all fit.”
“Fine.” Tucker produced a rueful grin as he surveyed the group of faces that ranged from familiar to completely unknown. “I guess I met most of you yesterday but I wasn’t functioning too well.” He was leading the way down the corridor towards the shuttle bay. “We’d better go through the introductions again.”
Following the group of newly converted Tucker fans, Reed sighed heavily. People always liked the engineer – even some Vulcans – while they tended to ignore Malcolm. Terribly unfair when being a tactical officer meant that you had a sound grasp of engineering principals as well as first class strategic knowledge. Take that remarkably pretty blonde girl. She was the one Tucker had discovered in Pushkin’s Engineering compartment and she obviously had a huge crush on him and no idea that he was already in a relationship. Now if only Malcolm had found her instead of Klingon warriors, she could have been as grateful as she liked because he was entirely available and pretty fed up that his best friend was quite possibly getting as much …
“Malcolm!” Irritated, Reed pulled out of his brooding to find Tucker looked expectantly at him.
“I said, why don’t you take Ensign Rommel here and go inspect the plasma feeds to the phase cannons. Power’s not getting through but diagnostics can’t locate the fault.”
“All right.” Gloomily, Reed inspected the young woman who was still gazing hopefully at Tucker. Nice of Trip to think of him but Malcolm was more likely to be subjected to a barrage of questions about the engineer than to be able to make a move on his own behalf. Life was so unfair.
It was after 1800 when T’Pol checked that the corridor was clear then let herself quickly into Tucker’s cabin. Just because the entire crew believed that their Vulcan first officer had taken the chief engineer as her lover was no reason at all, in her unalterable opinion, to be anything other than discreet.
Unfortunately, however, Tucker was not home. T’Pol gazed around in well-concealed disappointment. They frequently met after their shift to talk – or in Tucker’s case, to complain about whatever had gone wrong that day – and he should have been here. She wanted to be kissed and, for preference, cuddled as well following their disagreement the previous evening. The reaction was illogical but she had entirely given up trying to apply logic to her relationship with Tucker; it was far less frustrating to simply accept that he brought out the worst in her and to ensure that her sentiment never affected her professional behaviour. That illogic was, of course, why she did not immediately leave but began to pick up the clothing from the floor, folding it neatly into the laundry basket, and distastefully ushering the remains of their meal from several days before out into the corridor where a steward could find it. Tucker was, as she had frequently observed, grossly untidy, but this time he could be forgiven; housework had not been high on anyone’s priority list for the last few days.
Tucker halted abruptly at the sight of her, then glanced suspiciously around at the neatness. “Hey.” He sounded doubtful. “Been here long?”
He noted her pained expression and grimaced, beginning to strip off his sweat-soaked uniform. “I guess a hug isn’t on offer until I’ve cleaned up.”
“Indeed! What have you been doing?”
“Trying to get those damned phase cannons working. Environmental controls are still out on Pushkin.” Tucker threw a damp undershirt in the vague direction of the laundry bin and peeled off an even wetter vest. “Engineering’s hot as hell and the bridge is freezing.” He noticed T’Pol’s interested appraisal and grinned. “Wanna join me?”
“We do not have time.”
“Spoil sport.” He disappeared into the small bathroom, still talking, knowing that T’Pol could hear him over the sound of running water. “Sorry I’m late. Phlox must have released Dexter from sickbay. I’ve spent the last hour trying to make him understand why Pushkin’s not all fixed up yet.” T’Pol didn’t bother trying to reply. Tucker wouldn’t be able to distinguish her voice; sometimes she wondered if that was why he did it. “That man’s a real pain in the butt. You’d think he’d be grateful the cap’n didn’t just blow Pushkin’s warp core and get clear. He was even real nasty to his own crew and they’ve been gusting a gut.” He emerged from the bathroom, a towel round his hips, and dropped onto the bed beside T’Pol, reaching out for her and scowling as she still held him away. “Now what?”
“You are wet.”
“So? You like me wet.”
“Not when we are due in the captain’s dining room in fifteen minutes. I do not have time to change.”
“Dry me then.”
She gave him a repressive look but pulled the towel up to rub his chest, looking severely at his smirk. “Do not consider this an invitation.”
“Why not?” Considering himself sufficiently dried, he pulled her down to lie beside him and began to kiss her. T’Pol could feel his intent as her body responded with some enthusiasm and pulled back reluctantly.
“We do not have time.”
“For a kiss?” The blue eyes were innocent and as a punishment she ran her hands slowly over his shoulders and down his chest, feeling his pleasure in the sensuous caress.
“That was not your meaning.”
“Mm, maybe not. Think the cap’n’ll mind if we skip dinner?”
“Yeah, me too. Dexter’s not gonna be there, is he?”
“I do not know.”
“Hell, I hope not. I’ve had enough of that guy for one day.” T’Pol felt Tucker’s muscles tense and stroked his shoulders again. He sighed and wriggled onto his front. “Rub my back?” She knelt over him and began to run her hands firmly over the smooth skin from waist to neck, drawing forth a muffled groan.
“You have known Captain Dexter long?” Strange that they had both encountered the man and both disliked him.
“Couple of years before Enterprise was launched. We were all in training together.”
“You did not get on.”
“He tried to block my appointment to Enterprise.”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. That was certainly enough to rouse Tucker to fury. “For what reason?”
“He said Jon and I were too close. In fact,” the muscles were tensing again even with warm hands soothing them, “he got real offensive.”
“Captain Archer did not mention a problem.”
“Why should he? Forrest didn’t buy it or I wouldn’t be here now.” Tucker sighed and shifted onto his side. “You better stop that, darling, or we’ll be here all night.” He hugged her tightly. “I meant to talk about us, not old history.”
“There will be time later.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He pressed his face into her neck. “I love you, T’Pol, even when I call you names.”
“You must get dressed.”
She was not released. “Can’t you for once say you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“Yeah. It’s just …”
“Charles, get dressed.” He held her a moment longer then untangled himself to begin the hunt for clean clothes. “I will undress you later, if you wish.”
He threw her a laughing look. “I’ve no objection, honey, but didn’t your mom ever tell you there’s more to a relationship than sex?”
“She never mentioned the matter.” Dark eyes slid approvingly over Tucker’s muscled body. “I believe she views physical intimacy with distaste.”
“No kidding?” He pulled up his jumpsuit and came to pull her up and lead her to the door. “Can’t say I ever noticed you suffering from that problem, darling. All right if I hold your hand in the corridor?”
“We are on duty.”
“No, we’re not! The cap’n’s dinners are informal.”
“We are in uniform.”
“So? I thought you were gonna be less hung up in public.”
The argument continued all the way to the mess hall.
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