Travis pored over the planetary scans of the Luran Homeworld and the space around it. The entire astronomy department couldn't find anything wrong. He turned his attention to the scans of the nebula; the buoys continued to broadcast their warning to passing ships. The radiation levels had climbed a point or two since Enterprise had arrived, but they still were within safety limits.
Then what the hell's been affecting the crew? It made absolutely no sense. Phlox had traced the minor explosion on the Bridge to an overloaded coupling. It was quickly repaired, but the Denobulan was busy with a level-one diagnostic of the ship's systems.
The doors to the Ready Room hissed open to admit an exhausted Liz Cutler. She passed her PADD over to him and sat down in the seat in front of the captain's desk. Travis gave her a smile of encouragement; Liz was holding up well under extreme circumstances. Malcolm would be proud to know about that.
“I've managed to stabilize both Kov's and Ellen's conditions. Ellen, in particular, has some particularly odd bioreadings, .” She leaned forward to point at the information on the PADD. “Check out this neurostatic result. It's not as high as it had been when you brought her to Sickbay.”
He nodded and said, “I see it, and it looks like it's still dropping.”
“I think it'll go back to normal, and when it does, she'll act like her normal self.” Liz brought up several other brain scans. “I noticed a similar spike in other members of the crew, with varying degrees. This particular neurotransmitter—Doctor Reed called it 'myrocathereene-beta'--influences memory and behavior. The level of myro-beta varies from person to person. The higher the level, the more profound the effect. As you can see, Humans like Ellen Varianis and Saheed El-Sadr just happen to have those higher levels.”
Travis nodded as he scrutinized the scans. “Makes sense. It looks like it's particularly high in Vulcans--”
"When a Vulcan's mind is completely overloaded, it shuts down. Kov's subconscious detected a threat to his sanity and automatically protected him.”
“But where is that threat coming from?” Travis tapped an impatient finger on the PADD. “There's nothing on sensors, and from what I can tell, the captain's party isn't affected by whatever this is.”
“I wish I could tell you, Travis. All I can say is that the odd behaviors are temporary and should vanish completely with time. It also seems localized to the ship, if Captain Sato and the others aren't affected at all. But if they had been on board--”Liz pointed at a final roster of scans, “--most of them would have been adversely affected too.”
Travis saw what she meant and blew out a deep breath. From their medical records, chances were good that both Malcolm and T'Pol would be in similar comas, and perhaps even the captain as well. “This couldn't have been a coincidence. I mean, what are the odds--”
“--of having a senior staff who is collectively more sensitive than most to this kind of phenomenon?” Liz arched an eyebrow, a la T'Pol or Kov. “If this was an intergalactic lottery, I'd say it was rigged.”
Travis nodded. The Vulcans had influenced the crew selection for both Enterprise and Columbia. Had someone in the Vulcan High Council known about this and had purposely manipulated the rosters? It all sounded like a wildly fantastic conspiracy. Travis himself knew he wasn't on the high end on that particular section of the Starfleet psych evals.
“All right, we'd better keep this to ourselves right now, at least until I can talk with the captain and Doctor Reed. If there's anyone who might know more, it's Malcolm, T'Pol and Kov. Starfleet would dismiss this as psychic mumbo-jumbo, and I bet the Vulcans would clam up about the whole thing.”
“Yeah...they take their mind arts pretty seriously and their privacy's really important.” Liz got to her feet and reclaimed her PADD. “I'll talk to Kov when he wakes up.”
“Thanks, Liz. And inform me the minute he wakes up.”
After she left, Travis realized that he had more questions than answers. His mouth quirked upwards into a wry smile as he thought, Weird is only part of this job.
“I've been in worse hotel rooms.”
T'Pol didn't quite roll her eyes at Trip's comment, but she felt a stab of frustration. His attempt at humor only made the situation feel more awkward. The High Chieftain had been more than generous in the accommodations. This sleeping room was about a quarter of the total size of the feasting hall, sumptuously decorated in cool greens and blues. A roaring fire in the fireplace warded off the chill in the Luran air. Bowls of sweet fruit and pitchers of water had been placed on the night tables. The thick jade-colored carpet protected their feet from the cold stone floor.
Trip immediately made a circuit of the room, inspecting every corner and cranny. T'Pol scanned the food and drink and found them perfectly safe. She slid open a wooden panel to find several shirts and breeches neatly folded on one side of the closet, and a pile of nightgowns made from a flimsy fabric on the other side.
“Looks like the only other way outta here is through the window,” he said. He nudged the heavy curtain aside to glance out into the courtyard. “We're three floors up from the ground. I can see the feasting hall in the distance, and the entire plaza's lit up with torches. Sounds like the party's finally winding down.”
T'Pol nodded and stood next to him. Her night vision was worse than his, but she could smell the telltale signs of rain on the desert wind. “It will rain soon.”
“Yeah, you'd know.” Trip gave her a sideways look. “The High Chieftain said we gotta share a room. He said nothin' about sharin' a bed or anythin' else.”
“Yes. He seemed to leave the interpretation of his words...open.”
He chuckled, but it sounded strained. “There's more than enough room in here. If you wanna take the bed, I can have the floor or one of the couches. The Lurans didn't skimp on the creature comforts.”
T'Pol raised an eyebrow and inclined her head towards the bed. He was correct that the furnishings were more than adequate; the bed itself was as large as a Vulcan meditation shrine. “I do not think sacrificing your comfort in the name of gallantry is necessary, Commander. There is more than enough room.”
“Well...if you're sure...”
“And Vulcans require less sleep than Humans,” she pointed out. “You are fatigued by the events of the day and the planetary conditions. The captain would want her Head of Security well-rested for whatever other 'surprises' may come.”
He laughed dryly. “When you put it logically like that, it makes sense. All right. Lemme get cleaned up and changed first. Gotta admit, once I get to sleep, I don't think wild sehlats would wake me up.”
She blew out a silent breath of relief. At least Trip could put his Human embarrassment aside and look at this situation logically. Human gallantry indeed. I am a Vulcan; such emotions do not bother me.
Half an hour later, he lay sprawled on his side of the bed. T'Pol sat crossed-legged on the opposite side; she could stretch out full-length and still not touch him. She gazed at him in the dim light of dawn.
Before morning light, when one is fully immersed in sleep, all pretense during waking hours are stripped away. Thus is the true Self revealed, when there is no barrier. The words of Surak's philosophy drifted on the surface of her consciousness. His features seemed relaxed in slumber, free of the burden of protecting the captain and her crew. In fact, he appeared much younger than his actual years.
Trip Tucker was such an enigma. Completely Human, yet willing to suspend judgment and flexible enough to consider other options. Such men were indeed rare.
Such men could be considered dangerous.
T'Pol understood why Soultek and Koss wanted her to keep a vigilant watch over him. He was a threat to their ways, to a strict Vulcan tradition that allowed her people to survive the desert. Tradition was her people's lifeblood; marriages were logically arranged, children were expected to uphold the wishes of their elders, and beliefs were not meant to be questioned.
What will happen when those beliefs and traditions are questioned? T'Pol knew the consequences. The V'tosh Ka'tur, Kov's people, now wandered as Exiles. Even she had felt the unspoken lash in her time with the Vulcan Space and Ship Operations. Her own design improvements still languished within their committees, 'under consideration'. She had not lied to Captain Sato about the course of her career, but she had not told Sato the whole story.
There were many things she couldn't tell the captain. Malcolm Reed had adopted many aspects of Vulcan culture, but he was still Human. Kov understood the contradictions of Vulcan culture, but he walked a different path from hers.
No one can predict just how the path deviates from the norm, Surak's words admonished her. The Spear within his heart is the Spear within your own. You are He.
She couldn't even begin to understand all of Trip Tucker's idiosyncrasies. There was much about him which exasperated, confused and irritated her. Yet he couldn't help whom he was, as much as she couldn't deny her Vulcan heritage. They were opposites in every sense of the word, and their positions on important issues clashed on more than one occasion.
Yet he intrigued her and she couldn't define why.
An enigma, indeed. And as thunder rumbled over the Luran desert, she pondered over it.
The sound of thunder startled Malcolm awake. His eyes shot open and his mind raced until he remembered where he was. He forced himself to relax, but just as he was about to fall asleep again, he realized exactly where we was.
He and Hoshi had agreed to sleep on opposites side of the huge bed. At least, that was the general plan. Somehow the desert wind had blown out the fire in the fireplace, and now it was chilly in the room. How did he end up with an armful of Hoshi Sato snuggled against his chest?
Oh, bloody hell. It took all of his control not to panic at the realization. He tried to gently remove his arm from under her body, but it was impossible to do so without waking her. Her features were soft, relaxed, with the slightest of smiles on her lips. He was surprised that she had slept through the thunder, considering her sensitive hearing, but it was only a sign of how exhausted she was.
He froze at the sleepy murmur against his shoulder. How would she react when she actually woke up, to find herself in his arms? He managed to whisper, “I'm here, Hoshi. It's just the storm outside.”
She only murmured again and went back to sleep. He let out the breath he'd been holding; she hadn't noticed. Unfortunately, it meant he was stuck where he was.
Damn it all. What am I going to do now? If circumstances had been different, he wouldn't have minded his predicament. As it was, he was sure that Enterprise's captain would be quite cross with him...and Columbia's captain would probably kill him, if he found out.
All the more reason for Hayes not to find out.
“We respect the fury of the storm, Translator. It is filled with power and only a fool stands in its way.”
Jon Archer nodded and swirled the drink in his glass. His head was fuzzy from all the alcohol he had imbibed, both from the feast and this private vigil with High Chieftain Mu'harex. He put the glass down on the low table between them. “We have impressive storms on our planet, too. Captain Sato's people have a name for the ones that sweep over her land. Typhoons.”
Mu'harex nodded, pleased at the words. “It makes sense that she would understand. The Lady Warrior as well, considering her world is much like mine. They and their mates have restless spirits, like the wind.”
Jon decided to seize the opportunity that was given. “Tell me, Mu'harex, what makes you believe Captain Sato and Doctor Reed, and Lieutenant Commander Tucker and Lieutenant T'Pol, are mates?”
The High Chieftain gave him a droll expression. “Come now. Your Healer claims that we need constant stimulation, so we do not self-destruct. I amuse myself by analyzing my potential allies—or enemies—and adjust my strategies accordingly.”
He raised his eyebrows at the frank admission. “Ah. An exercise of the mind as well as the body.”
“Indeed. We may seem primitive in your eyes, but there are things we share.”
“One thing I've learned is that 'primitive' is not necessarily the same thing as 'ignorant'.”
Mu'harex tipped his own glass towards Jon in a gesture of acknowledgment. “Just so. I find myself amused at the tentative dance of those four. There is the courage of the warrior, and the courage of the fool. It takes a warrior to admit what is in his heart, but a fool to disregard the obvious. Many things revolve around your captain and crew. You hold the power of the storm."
Jon inclined his head. “I'm afraid I don't understand.”
“Words are like the wind...we cannot see them, but they are felt, and you freely share them with others. Weapons are also like the wind...just like your Lady Captain's whip and your Healer's needles.” Mu'harex's smile widened. “My people understand such things, even if we might not say it openly. There are chains of honor that bind us all, Translator.”
“Yes.” Jon regarded the amber-colored liquid in his glass, which sparkled in the firelight. “I am willing to spend my life extending the hand of friendship to others.”
Mu'rex snorted. “Be wary, my friend, that your good intentions do not cloud the reality. You do not offer your hand to a feral wolf; it will be bitten off, and you are left to bleed to death.”
“I've been burned a time or two, but that doesn't prevent me from trying.”
“So I can see.” The High Chieftain laughed and took another deep drink from his glass. “Ah...there is honor, and there is outright stupidity. None of you give me the impression of being foolish. May I be bold as to make a prediction, Translator?”
He's asking me permission to speak his mind? That's new. Jon decided to pick up his glass again and tipped it slightly in Mu'harex's direction. “Of course.”
“I predict that the fawh-der and the Healer are so conscious of their honor that they will not make any untoward gestures to either the Lady Warrior or the Lady Captain. In doing so, they will demonstrate their strength...but also their foolishness.”
The blunt words surprised Jon, but he managed to keep a tight grip on his glass. “You believe so?”
“My people do not hesitate to proclaim what is in their hearts, or act upon them. Neither do yours, and actions only confirm the true thoughts. They are fated, but no one can force them to confront it...until they are ready.”
Jon suddenly realized the purpose of Mu'harex's tests. “You wanted to see whether or not they would succumb to temptation, given the opportunity.”
“Your fawh-der and the Lady Warrior could have destroyed the clumsy servant, but chose to let him live. Your Lady Captain could have balked at the sheer formality of the introduction in three dialects, but she accepted the challenge. You could have refused to share this vigil with me, but did so anyway.” Mu'harex's smile showed teeth, but he only shrugged. “And the Healer could have shrank away from the thought of combat, but he embraced it.”
“Malcolm comes from a proud line of warriors. He has more courage than anyone gives him credit.”
“I disregarded him at first, but I am grudgingly pleased that he has proved me wrong.” Mu'harex paused to drink from his glass, then said, “I am quite surprised that he is not a fawh-der himself, but had chosen a path that most of my people consider....repugnant.”
Jon laughed and dared a sip of his drink. “As he always reminds us, 'someone has to patch you up after the mess is over'.”
He snorted again, this time in fondness. “Perhaps in another time and place, my predictions may be completely unfounded. I am glad that in this one, I am not disappointed.”
Jon shivered at the words, although it was perfectly warm inside the room. “Of that I am grateful.”