Chapter 1: Breakdown
Jonathan Archer looked out of the shuttle pod's window. The rain just wouldn't stop, yet the two figures still stood motionless, staring at the grave with empty eyes. The funeral of little Elizabeth T'Mir Tucker had ended more than half an hour ago, yet they didn't move. All of the assembled dignitaries had gone, as had the crew of Enterprise, except for the few senior officers who were patiently waiting for the ship's chief engineer and science officer in Shuttle Pod Two.
"They're going to freeze to death," Archer muttered absently. "I'll try to get them."
Leaving the shuttle pod, he slowly walked over to his two rain soaked officers. Stopping at a respectful distance, he tried to rouse them from their lethargy. "Trip, T'Pol?"
Jon thought he was watching one of those slow-motion replays from his water polo broadcasts, when Trip turned his head. Nothing had prepared the captain for the picture he was seeing before him. Trip's look was empty, practically dead. The soaked hair, plastered to his forehead, emphasized the dark rings under his eyes and Trip looked at least a decade older than his physical age.
"Let's go," the captain offered, trying to hide his utter shock at Trip's haggard appearance. Seeing his chief engineer nod weakly, he walked back into the shuttle.
"Prepare for take-off Travis. When they're strapped in, take us back to the ship."
Charles Tucker jr. pushed his reading glasses from the tip of his nose towards the top of it. Slightly worried, he watched his wife of many years pace the living room, muttering to herself.
"Darlin', you're wearin' out the floor. What's wrong?"
"Something bad has happened. I have the same bad feeling, like the day when Lizzy ... Pop, let's go to the church. I can't shake this bad feeling."
Although he didn't really understand what Catherine was on about, the pleading and haunted look in his wife's eyes was enough for Charles to acquiesce without questions.
"Ok, Cat, I'll get my suit."
"Come," Captain Archer answered, when the door chime of his ready room sounded unexpectedly.
"Captain," Phlox greeted, holding a PADD.
"Take a seat, Doctor. I take it you're here because of Trip and T'Pol?" Jon asked, remembering that he had ordered his two officers to report to Phlox after returning to the ship.
"Unfortunately yes, Captain. I am afraid that I have to relieve Commander Tucker and Commander T'Pol from duty for an unknown period of time."
Processing this news took a second, before Jon managed to ask the Doctor for more details.
"I have conducted scans of the Commanders and, without revealing too many confidential details, it appears that both are suffering from a substantial trauma. The last time I've seen Commander Tuckers diagnostic readings in such a serious state was shortly after he learned of his sister's death."
"They're grieving, Doctor, and I agree that they should take a few days off, but Trip managed to come back after his sister died. He will manage it again."
"The most important part of Mr. Tucker's recovery was the influence of Commander T'Pol, something which unfortunately we cannot rely on this time. I would say that Commander T'Pol is as traumatized as Commander Tucker, if not worse."
Jonathan Archer grabbed his chin, sunk in deep thought.
"Doctor, I think I have an idea what could have happened." Seeing Phlox' expectant look, he elaborated. "T'Pol might have established a parental bond to the child and I wouldn't be surprised if Trip did, too. I've had my suspicions ever since the Orions were on board that Trip and T'Pol might be a bonded pair."
If the situation hadn't been so grim, Jon would have laughed out loud at Phlox' stunned expression.
"How can you know this?" Phlox asked. "It took me years in the Interspecies Medical Exchange to get even the smallest amount of information about Vulcan bonds."
"Surak," the Captain explained, pointing at his temple, reminding the Denobulan that he had once carried the katra of Vulcan's most revered philosopher.
"Your theory might have merit," the Doctor agreed. "It might be an explanation for Commander T'Pol's mysterious restlessness during Commander Tucker's short time on Columbia. If your assessment is true, my initial proposal of suspending them is even more important."
"Agreed, Doctor; Please do not ask them any questions about it. They have enough to deal with at the moment," Jon requested, knowing the doctor's likely enthusiasm for learning everything about what was most certainly the first ever bonding of a human and a Vulcan, even though he would have to broach the subject himself soon.
"As you wish Captain."
"You wanted to see me, Captain?" Hoshi asked as she entered the ready room.
"Have a seat, Hoshi. I need your help. Have you noticed any changes in the behavior of Trip and T'Pol before this whole Terra Prime fiasco?"
"I don't know, Captain..." Hoshi evaded an answer and looked down on the table. She really didn't want to give any personal information away, especially since she had noticed the changes which the Captain was probing for. If Starfleet got wind of how close the two were, they would undoubtedly try to separate them.
"Hoshi, I know they are your friends and I can understand if you don't want to reveal anything, but I can assure you that everything we talk about stays in here. It is important that you help me, if we want to help them get through this hard time."
"Ok, Captain," Hoshi answered with a small nod. The captain went on to explain his questions.
"I've got reason to think that Trip and T'Pol might be closer than we all think. If the hints, that Surak left me when he was rummaging around in my skull, are right, they might even be married by ancient Vulcan law. So have you noticed anything that would hint at them being close friends or even more?"
"Married?" Hoshi asked with a grin that she couldn't suppress. "Well if their bickering is anything to go by..."
"Now, we always had that, Hoshi. I'm thinking more along the lines of body language, little things, like the jokes T'Pol started to make. Not that she would ever admit it."
Well, there are a few things," Hoshi started, trying to remember the details. "There's their meals in the mess hall. They've been doing that for at least two years now, but lately she started to make Trip laugh sometimes. It's almost as if he instinctively knows if T'Pol means something to be serious or funny. I've tried for ages to find a way of reading her emotions, but Trip seems to be the only one who has managed to do it."
"That would confirm my theory," Archer muttered. "Anything else, Hoshi?"
"Well, it's only a rumor, but I've heard that T'Pol kissed Trip in the corridor. But I don't think there's anything to it; she's Vulcan after all."
"Well, she's not your garden variety Vulcan," Jon answered, but his smile quickly made way for a worried frown. "That only makes their situation worse," the Captain sighed.
"Take a seat," Jon said as Trip and T'Pol entered his ready room, although he thought 'shuffled' would probably be a more fitting description. He had never seen his two friends so lifeless and it worried him badly.
"Trip, T'Pol, " Jon started with a soft voice that he thought he had lost in the Expanse. "I know this is not the best moment to have this talk, but there are some things to discuss. Phlox has relieved both of you from duty until further notice."
Both nodded but didn't say a word and Jon was shocked that not even the predictable protest of Trip came.
"There's something else. From what I've learned on Vulcan, I surmise that you two might be a bonded pair of mates."
"It is a private matter," T'Pol answered meekly.
"I know, but it means that you'll need each other to get through this, so I want you to know that whatever you need, you'll get it. If you want to share quarters, go for it."
"Who knows about this?" T'Pol asked. Jon's worry grew bigger as up to now Trip hadn't uttered a single word. It pained him to see his friend stare blankly at the table in complete apathy.
"Phlox knows, because he has to for medical reasons, and I figured it out by what I remember from my time with Surak's katra in my head. No one else knows, although Hoshi noticed that you're very close, but she's sworn to secrecy."
"Starfleet must not learn of this," T'Pol said and Jon noticed that her voice sounded almost pleading.
"Don't worry, I won't tell them anything and if they ever learn how close you are, I'll fight tooth-and-nail to keep you together."
"Thank you, Captain."
"I think you should both think about leaving the ship for a few days. I can organize accommodation for both of you, if you like," Jon offered.
"That will not be necessary, Captain," T'Pol answered with a courteous nod.
"What's wrong, darlin'?" Trip whispered as T'Pol opened her eyes for at least the tenth time and stared at the wall, sending strong waves of frustration through the bond. For the last 3 hours T'Pol had tried to meditate, without success.
"I'm making it difficult to meditate, aren't I?" He asked, watching her drop her head and the bond now transmitted waves of shame and fear.
"T'Pol, I won't be mad. Do I disturb you? What can I do?"
"Forgive me, ashayam," she answered, barely above a whisper.
"Don't apologize. Should I go back to my quarters?"
"That would not be of much help. Normally, we would be expected to meditate together, but it takes years to learn the necessary techniques and routines. It is not your fault. Only a priest could help me with meditation."
"Doesn't the embassy have a priest?"
"That is not acceptable. I would be required to leave you here and I must not leave you to deal with your grief alone. I shall endeavor to find a different solution."
Tear welled up in Trip's eyes when he saw her determination, but he made a decision.
"You won't leave me behind, darlin'. I have my family; they will help me while you are with the priest."
"It would be a very taxing time for you. The separation could cause disturbing images to come to you in your sleep. I cannot torment you like that, Trip."
"If there's no better alternative," Trip replied and watched her features turn into a mien of unhidden sadness. He knew that melt-down was imminent if she didn't get help soon. "Call Soval, you must get help. I'll manage, darlin'."
T'Pol nodded wordlessly and offered him two fingers for the Oz'esta. As he returned the gesture, Trip was hit by the full force of her sadness, but also gratitude for his sacrifice.
"It is agreeable to see you again, T'Pol," Soval offered. "I grieve with thee." The wise old Vulcan had to try hard to hide how much the haggard appearance of his former aide unsettled him.
"It is agreeable to see you as well, Ambassador."
"You appear unwell. Shall I send for a healer?"
"A healer will not be necessary, but I have come to request the services of a priest. I have been unable to meditate for several days and my control is severely compromised."
"Priest V'Lorak will provide you with every help you need," Soval replied and motioned her to come with him. "I'll show you to your quarters, where you can prepare while I inform V'Lorak."
"Feelin' better Cat?" Charles asked, as he and his wife walked arm in arm back from the church toward their new home in Missouri. They had deliberately selected a house that was situated in slightly remote spot, with a sizable distance to the rest of the neighborhood.
"A bit better. Father Garret is a good man. Do we have enough of our subspace funds left to contact Trip? I won't find peace until I know that our boy is fine."
"Don' think so, but we've got enough of our bandwidth allotment left to send him a video message and he can call back."
After several minutes of quiet walking Charles felt a yank on his arm as Catherine stopped dead in her tracks, burying her face in her hands. "God almighty," she muttered in a breaking voice.
Before he could ask about her reaction, she ran off in a speed that belied her age by at least 30 years. Following her bearing, he noticed a blue-clad ragged-looking figure staggering towards them from the distance. Only the Starfleet issue duffel bag and the disheveled blond hair gave away the identity of his son. "Goodness me," he muttered in shock and ran after his wife.
"Trip, Trip," Catherine cried as she ran towards her unexpectedly returning son. She almost fell over when Trip lifted his head, making his face visible to her. If the sufferings of Christ had a face, it was currently posing as the face of her son. Something bad had happened, affirming the dark premonition she had had all day.
As she reached Trip, she simply hugged him and continued to ask what had happened in a worried voice. As Trip wordlessly returned the gesture, the worried mother immediately noticed the ragged breathing of his, before all dams broke and Trip started to cry, hard, very hard. Looking at her husband for help she noticed that Charles was close to tears himself. The parents had never seen their son fall apart like that.
"Let's go inside," Charles offered and took the duffel off Trip's shoulder, while Catherine put her arm around her sobbing son and directed him toward the nearby house.
V'Lorak, one of High Priest Torok's best pupils, was visibly shaken after he ended the mind meld with the grieving woman who sat before him. He addressed her in ceremonial Golic Vulcan.
"Thy mind is suffering from a great loss. I grieve with thee. Thou art bonded. Why is thy mate not present?"
"My mate is human, Tela'at. He has not yet mastered the art of meditation. His presence would disturb thee and others in the sanctuary."
"Thou abandoned thy mate in his grief?" the priest asked, without even questioning her choice of mate. His honored mentor Torok had foretold that such unions would inevitably come, almost half a century ago.
"I did not abandon him. He is in the care of his parents. Humans in grief show disturbingly powerful displays of emotions, which would be distasteful for all but the most experienced and tolerant Vulcans. Our kind is not able well to help a Human in grief."
"Why then hast thou not chosen to help him, for thou must know how it is done?"
"My control over the emotions that threaten to overwhelm me is lost. If I am overcome by them I would damage him. When my control has been regained, I shall return to his side at all haste."
"Thou hast chosen a most difficult path child. Thy adun's struggle will be great, while thou art fighting for control."
"I do know that, Tela'at. My adun is one of few humans with the strength to prevail over the plight that awaits him."
"I hear thy words. Thou shalt rest now for thou hast spent much of thine energy. Thou shalt return when thou art rested."
V'Lorak returned T'Pol's bow and watched the young woman leave.
I shall seek the advice of my mentor, for she hath chosen an arduous path_, the priest thought, before leaving the chamber to find a subspace terminal.
"What's wrong, honey?" Catherine asked for the fifth time, once she had navigated her helplessly sobbing son to the couch.
"I can't talk about it yet, mom," he managed in between sobs. "I'll need a few days alone. There's a lot to tell, but I can't – not yet."
"Oh, honey, what can we do?" Catherine asked, close to crying herself. Seeing her eldest son in so much pain threatened to overwhelm her. Only her desperate determination to make it all better kept her from falling apart herself. Seeing Charles leave discreetly, she knew that her husband of many years was no longer able to contain his distress and went out of view to compose himself without adding to Trip's plight by seeing his father cry.
"Mom," she heard Trip whisper. "I might have some bad nightmares. Promise me to not wake me."
"Why, Trip? What's happening?"
"Please, mom," he begged. Deep inside he knew that it was very unfair to leave his parents without any idea what was going on, but the feeling of falling apart completely and the overwhelming urge to be alone and trying to reach T'Pol's mind made any other thought as impossible as spending even a single attempt at explaining what he wouldn't find the words for anyway.
His tearful, pleading look was all the answer she needed, even though Trip's strange request only added to her worries. "I promise Trip."
"I'm gonna try to sleep a bit, mom. Can you show me the guest room?"
"Of course honey," she answered and led the way as Trip hoisted his duffel bag over his shoulder and followed her with his head hanging low and hurting from the raw, unchecked emotions that spilled over from T'Pol's mind though their nascent bond.
Neither of them noticed the little leather box that fell out of his pocket as they left the dining room.
Soval closed the heavy door of the chamber with due care. Looking around, a disturbing sight caught his attention. Priest V'Lorak and his former protégé T'Pol sat facing each other, absorbed in a deep mind meld.
The experience of more than a decade had taught him that the sight of a grieving Vulcan could be disturbing, but the intensity of T'Pol's struggle was challenging his composure. Both V'Lorak and T'Pol were perspiring heavily, despite the cool temperature in the chamber. Both were shaking so badly that Soval started to fear for their welfare.
The Ambassador was still pondering the prospect of forcefully separating the two struggling Vulcans, when the decision was taken off his hands as the priest terminated the meld. With an agility that surprised himself, Soval raced to T'Pol's side when he saw her slump down.
"She shall rest and meditate, for she must help her mate."
"She is bonded?"
"Thou hast not done well watching over thy charge if thou dost not know such an important detail, Soval," the priest answered sternly, despite still fighting to regain his composure.
"When she chose to join Starfleet I decided that I no longer had the right to interfere," Soval replied.
"Very well," V'Lorak nodded. "Thou shalt help her with meditation."
"As you wish, Tela'at," Soval answered as he took the place across from T'Pol, who had regained a minimum of composure. I was a very bare minimum, at best.
"We shall meditate, T'Pol-kan" he said and lit the meditation candles.
Never had a sailing turn gone so awry. Exhausted, soaked to the bone and frozen stiff, Trip gripped the steering wheel in terror, trying to find land. He didn't care if he stranded the goddamn boat, he just wanted to reach terra firma again.
Another mammoth wave hit the boat, threatening to capsize it. The massive force of the impact caused him to lose his balance and he hit his head hard on the wooden steering wheel. Nauseated and disorientated, he struggled to his feet, only to scream in agony as another wave whacked the rudder violently to the left. His right arm, which had gotten wedged between the spokes of the steering wheel, was broken with a sickening crunch as the wheel was yanked left and right by the violent rudder movement.
Screaming in terrible pain, he tried to regain control of the stricken vessel with his left arm, while the shattered right arm flopped around like a dead appendix, sending waves of excruciating pain through his nervous system.
Yet another gargantuan mountain of storm-lashed water attacked the boat and finally capsized the vessel, sending Trip into a violent dive. Desperately fighting for orientation and trying to reach the surface, he tried to paddle upwards with his remaining functioning arm, but it was a losing battle, as his desperate gasps started to fill his lungs with water.
His senses numbed by terrible pain, his brain by lack of oxygen, he felt the last remnants of life being drained from his battered body. When he realized that his time had come, he felt a firm grip on his left wrist and a quick acceleration towards the surface. When his head broke free from his wet grave, he gasped for air and screamed in sheer terror.
Charles Tucker Jr. wrestled his sobbing wife away from Trip and out of his room.
"Momma, he asked ya not to wake him!" he hissed once they were in the corridor, both terrified by their son's agonized screaming inside.
"He's dying. My baby, he's dying," Catherine wailed, in complete panic, pounding his chest with her fists in an attempt to break free from his firm hug. Only Charles' earlier bout of helpless crying allowed him to stay composed enough not to follow her example.
"I promise you, momma, I'll talk to him tomorrow," he offered, shaking his wife in the hope of yanking her from her blind terror. "As long as he's screaming, he's alive!"
He immediately regretted his words as they noticed that Trip's screaming had been replaced by eerie silence. Charles rushed back into Trip's room and his breath caught as he saw Trip lying sprawled motionless on the bed. He ripped a small mirror from the wall and positioned it an inch from Trip's face.
Spinning it around, he noticed the distinctive condensation marks, proving that Trip was still breathing. As relief drained all the adrenalin from his body, he sunk into a chair with a heavy sigh.
"He's ok, Momma. Go to bed, I'll sit watch," he whispered.
"I'm gonna sit, too," she insisted.
"No momma, one of us must be awake during the day. Whatever happened, it must've been terrible. I don' wanna leave the boy alone until we know what sort of hell he's going through."
Accepting his reasoning, Catherine hugged him in a desperate bid for solace before she left the room, still sobbing.
Still screaming, Trip flailed his left arm around until he noticed that he wasn't in the water any longer. His eyes wide open in terror; he stared into the visibly worried face of T'Pol surrounded by the vast white nothingness that was her mind in meditation. He had seen that place before, during those daydreams when he was aboard Columbia.
"Forgive me, ashayam," she offered. Despite still running on pure adrenalin, Trip realized that the last time he'd heard and seen T'Pol so weak and vulnerable was shortly after her near-death experience on the Seleya. In contrast to that time however, she was actually crying and Trip forgot his own nightmare in a hurry.
"Forget that for the moment," he answered, gently rubbing her arm. "Must have been hell for you; I never thought I'd see a Vulcan cry."
"Within our minds, displays of emotions are neither rare nor distasteful."
Trip whipped around towards the unexpected voice from behind and his eyes went wide in recognition.
"Soval? What in the name..."
"I am here to assist T'Pol. If you deem my presence improper, I shall leave."
"No, no, I didn't mean to say that," Trip replied quickly. "I was just surprised to see you here. I thought only I could be here because of..."
"Your bond," Soval replied, indicating that he knew about their connection. "You are correct. I am here because T'Pol requested and allowed my presence, but I can alleviate your concern. It is only possible because of T'Pol's consent and only a few Vulcans trained in the ancient ways can manage to enter another's mind using their touch-telepathic abilities."
"Figures," Trip said, still absently stroking T'Pol's arm. "Actually, now that you're here, maybe you can help us make sense of things? I mean, what does a dream about a sailing turn gone wrong have to do with our situation? I had nightmares before, but they were always sort of directly connected to the situations that caused them."
"What you were experiencing is a visual representation of T'Pol's warring emotions. Your mind transformed the situation into something that is palpable to your mind – visual images."
"So my mind makes up pictures of what's going on in T'Pol's mind?"
"Indeed. Does the experience appear more understandable in light of this information?"
"Well, it sort of makes sense. The violent sea could be her out-of-control emotions, while the lil' boat is T'Pol, struggling to regain control," Trip realized and looked at the still quietly crying Vulcan, worried about her condition.
"A simplified yet most insightful interpretation and, as your initial reaction has shown, her attempts have not been successful so far."
"You can say that again. So is there a logical explanation for me not being able to stand up? I mean my arm's unbroken again, but somehow my legs disobey me."
"You are connected to T'Pol's mind, yet your physical state is still realistically represented. Most likely you have fallen into a deep trance to protect yourself against the raw emotions that resonate in your bond," Soval explained.
"A sufficient, if not entirely accurate description."
"Shit! My folk's gonna die from worry. I asked my mom not to wake me if I have nightmares, because I hoped T'Pol would draw me in here if she needed help," Trip said anxiously. "Any way of getting me out of it?"
"No. In fact, your current state is the most effective help you can provide for your mate," Soval explained with a nod to Trips hand that was still gently stroking T'Pol. "While you are physically comforting her in this representation of each other's katra, you actually soothe her mind."
"Still not any good for my folks. I'm afraid they're still gonna cart me off to hospital if I don't wake soon. I fell apart quite badly yesterday, or today, or however long ago that was..."
"Which is the reason for me to request your permission to visit your parents' house and perform a mind-meld on you. It will allow me to make sure of your well-being while alleviating your parents' fears."
"I would have liked to tell them myself," Trip answered in deep thought. "But I guess it can't be helped. You ok with that, darlin'?"
While he was still wondering why T'Pol just looked at him in confusion, Soval provided the answer to the unspoken question.
"Since you are T'Pol's bond-mate, her consent is not required. As the human saying goes, the male 'calls the shots'."
Trip looked at Soval, anger flaring up inside him.
"Listen Soval, I'm really happy about all your help. You can't even imagine how grateful I am, but I'm obviously no Vulcan and that's not how things are going to work between T'Pol and I. I'm not going to consider her my property, okay? If she's okay with it, fine. If not, we'll look for a different solution. I'm sorry if that doesn't go well with your traditions."
"Please calm down, ashayam," T'Pol spoke for the first time. "Soval is an outside party. He has not yet been privy to the unique circumstances of our union. He meant no disrespect. I consent to his proposal. His suggestion is logical."
"It's okay, " Trip relented and cradled her gently, before turning his attention back to Soval. "Sorry 'bout that, guess I'm even less of a diplomat when comatose. T'Pol's fine with it, as am I, so please go ahead."
"Fascinating," Soval muttered and after a curt nod he suddenly disappeared.
For about the twentieth time Charles jr. used the little mirror to check on his son's breathing and very gingerly used two fingers to check for a pulse, but his worries only grew larger when he realized how shallow his son's heartbeat had become. Before he could finish his thought, he froze as a blood-curdling scream from the living room wiped out the exhaustion of a night of sitting watch over Trip, by dumping a bucket of adrenaline into his system.
He raced down the stairs as he heard his wife scream "NO! NO!" hysterically. Bursting into the living room, he found Catherine on the floor hunched over a piece of paper, crying helplessly.
"Cat, what's wrong?"
"She was theirs! They've lost their baby!" she wailed.
"What? What ya talking about?" he asked while hugging his wife, who clung onto him for dear life.
He took the paper from her hand and noticed a small picture, which he suspected to be the content of the small black leather box that was lying on the floor before her. As he looked at it, he felt as if someone was trying to choke him. The picture showed the cute little baby from the horrible Terra Prime broadcast they had seen days ago but, unlike in the TV footage, the child didn't wear a cap. What he saw made his blood freeze. While the child had unmistakably Vulcan ears, it had sparse blond hair and bright blue eyes – just like Trip.
"Backside," Catherine struggled to say between violent sobs.
He flipped the photograph around and started shaking. The upper half was covered in elaborate script, which he suspected to be Vulcan, but it were the four lines of English text, unmistakably in Trip's handwriting, that shook him to the bones.
Elizabeth T'Mir Tucker
born: July 2154, Orpheus Mining Complex
died: February 2nd 2155, NX-01 Enterprise
We'll always love you, sweetheart. Daddy
"I'll call father Garret," Charles jr. managed to say, before all dams broke...
His hands carefully hidden in the wide sleeves of his robe, Soval walked slowly along the small path and stopped once he was near the address that Commander Tucker had given him. He turned towards his guards.
"Major, Subcommander, I shall continue on my own. Return to the shuttle."
"As you wish, Ambassador."
Arriving at the house that carried the correct number, he rang the bell, patiently waiting for the door to be opened. He noticed that already 2.3 Earth minutes had passed, before his acute sense of hearing picked up the sound of approaching steps. They sounded too energetic for a Human of the approximate age of the Tucker parents, which was why Soval prepared to be greeted by a sibling or any other younger relative.
"Good afternoon, glad you came, Ambassador," a man of Commander Tucker's age greeted him and the Ambassador had to overcome a short moment of confusion. The Human, clad in a long black ceremonial robe, had taken his arrival as if an unannounced visit by Vulcan's highest representative on Earth was a daily routine.
As his momentarily unsettled equilibrium was reestablished, Soval quickly remembered what the meaning of the attire was – the man before him was a priest of one of humanities Christian religions, and his sharp mind remembered where he had seen the human before.
"I came to inquire about the condition of Commander Tucker and his parents. I have reason to believe that Commander Tucker is in need of immediate help of an experienced melder."
"Please come in, Ambassador," the young human answered and motioned the unexpected guest to follow him into the kitchen.
Soval followed the lead of the human priest, although his sensitive hearing told him that the obviously distressed Tuckers occupied a different area of the house.
"I took you aside to warn you. Mr. and Mrs. Tucker found out about the baby this morning and the doctor diagnosed a mysterious shallow coma for their son, so their emotional state is disturbing, even for a human. It may be a lot to stomach for a Vulcan."
"I have over 3 decades of experience in coping with human displays of emotions, but your consideration honors you - Mr. Garret, I presume."
"You still remember my name after almost 20 years?"
"Only very few humans have ever visited the spiritual sanctuary in the Vulcan compound. You and your group of priests in training were one of those few and I remember you for your approach that was free of any preconceptions, an unfortunately rare occurrence in both Vulcans and humans. Unfortunately, we must delay our re-acquaintance until a later point in time. You said Commander Tucker had been seen by a medic. Has he been removed to a hospital?"
"No, he's still here," the priest explained. "Dr. Clarence has laid an infusion for artificial nutrition and some monitoring devices, but suggested we contact the Vulcan Embassy, because the child hints at a Vulcan element in all this. You beat us to it, it appears."
While the priest explained the medical situation, Soval heard approaching footsteps of exactly two humans. Their audible profile matched that of two elderly humans who were either movement impaired or substantially weakened. He stood to greet what would have to be the parents of Commander Tucker.
"Father, who was... ," the male elder started to ask, before both he and his female companion stopped, looking in wide-eyed surprise at their unexpected guest.
Soval took a moment to assess the situation. Both their faces were discolored around the eyes, which was a sign of a prolonged period of crying and therefore a substantial distress. Both carried beaded items which the trained eye of the seasoned Vulcan identified as rosaries, ritual items of the catholic variety of the Christian religion.
"Mr. and Mrs. Tucker, I grieve with thee," the Vulcan greeted them with a bow.
"Thank you, Ambassador," Charles returned with a polite nod and Soval noticed that both Tuckers clutched their rosaries as if they were life-lines. "Dr. Clarence suggested we contact the Embassy. We're very grateful that you came in person."
Any other Vulcan would have expressed the lack of necessity for gratitude at that point, Soval thought to himself, as they would be completely oblivious to the fact that it was an integral part of human behavior. Despite the recent improvements in relations with the humans, most Vulcans were still as clueless about their allies as the humans were about Vulcans.
"I came to assess Commander Tuckers condition. The short report Mr. Garret gave me suggests that he is in a trance state, which is not surprising. I wish to assess his condition as soon as possible, but I wish to speak to both of you later because there is a lot of information you need to be made aware of. Would you permit me to see your son?"
"Of course, Ambassador, if you would follow me," Charles motioned and the ambassador followed Charles' lead.
Charles was slightly confused. He had expected that Soval would at least check a pulse or something, but so far the old Vulcan had done nothing but stand in front of Trips bed with closed eyes. Before he could ask about it, the ambassador turned to face him and explained.
"Mr. Tucker, after sufficiently calming my mind, I wish to perform a procedure that is called a mind-meld. I assure you that it is not harmful and mostly without danger. There is however limited experience with melds involving humans. I therefore wish to ask you to break the contact between me and Commander Tucker if you see the first signs of involuntary movements or audible expressions."
"So if any of you starts shaking or shouting, I'll break the contact? Are you really sure it is safe?"
"It is, Mr. Tucker. I am one of only three Vulcans who already have experience in melding with humans. It is only a safety precaution as your son has experienced a major trauma. I suspect the danger to myself is much greater than that to Commander Tucker."
"Doesn't make it any less worrying," Charles replied and Soval noticed with some satisfaction that the human was as concerned for him as for his son. This easy acceptance would make the following talk to the Tuckers much easier.
"Thank you, Mr. Tucker. Do I have your permission?"
"Sure, I'll sit watch."
With interest Charles observed how the Vulcan spread his fingers over the right half of Trip's face. He remembered that not too many weeks ago, Trip had described something like that in a letter, when Soval had allegedly probed the brain of a comatose victim of the Embassy bombing for any clues. Now it was his son on the receiving end of such a mind-reading and he was ready to jump with every fiber of his body at the first sign of trouble.
"My mind to your mind ... My thoughts to your thoughts ... Our minds are merging ... Our minds are one," the Vulcan muttered.
Trip was still sitting in their white space, fairly immobilized, with T'Pol finally resting in his lap. Once she had run out of tears, surprisingly late for a desert dweller in Trip's opinion, she had finally succumbed to her fatigue and fallen asleep with her head resting in his lap. Trip stroked her hair, gently.
As suddenly as Soval had disappeared, he reappeared out of thin air.
"Guess you made it to our place?" Trip asked.
"Indeed. We are currently in a mind-meld. Your father kindly gave his permission for me to perform the procedure."
"Hope he isn't too scared."
"I gave him instructions to break the meld immediately if any signs of involuntary movements or audible signs are present. This will keep him sufficiently alert to calm his mind."
"When you melded with that guard, you started shaking and sweating badly. If that happens, he's gonna jump you like a pack o' dogs at a three-legged cat," Trip reminded with slight worry.
"I'm counting on it," Soval explained, ignoring the unknown ... colorful phrase. "I set the threshold deliberately low to avoid any danger. If you were to wake from your current state, we would lose the best chance at regaining T'Pol's equilibrium."
"All it would take would be another nightmare of mine," Trip reasoned. "That's how I got into this, isn't it?"
Trip noticed immediately that Soval's momentary silence was not a good sign. "There's more to it, isn't there?"
"Most perceptive, Mr. Tucker. That you somehow managed to reach this state of trance instead of suffering mental damage, is a most fortunate coincidence. It was not even clear whether any human could reach such a state without suffering permanent damage."
"T'Pol knows all that, doesn't she?"
"Yes, Mr. Tucker."
"Dammit!" Trip hissed, careful not to wake T'Pol. "That just adds to the problems she had beforehand. She felt guilty enough to leave me. It took me the best part of half an hour to convince her to see the priest at all."
"Indeed. But it is illogical to think about what might have been. Both you and T'Pol have to concentrate on healing each other, while I shall supply your parents with all pertinent information."
"I'm a bit surprised. I quite literally fell apart when I came home, but I feel rather strong right now, except for the not being able to walk bit."
"This is because, if two mates are injured, the stronger one can suppress his or her own needs to concentrate on the needs of the other."
"You are meaning to say that I'm actually stronger than T'Pol right now? Sorry, Soval, but that's a bit far-fetched. T'Pol managed to live with humans in close proximity longer than any other Vulcan and she even managed to bond with one. There's no points for guessing who's the stronger part in this bond."
"You underestimate yourself, Commander. While you were able to purge some of the emotions that threaten you, T'Pol has not even begun to process them. That, in combination with humanity's enviable ability to actually express and purge emotions, makes you the stronger warrior in this war."
"Warrior? What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Trip asked as a strong wave of shock and confusion washed over him.
"I shall explain as..."
With that, Soval was gone as suddenly as he had appeared. Obviously Dad had done his party piece.
Jumping with an agility that he would never have expected of himself, Charles grabbed the robe of the shaking and sweating Vulcan and yanked him away from his son more forcefully than initially planned, causing the Ambassador to fall over backwards, landing on the floor.
"I'm awfully sorry, Ambassador," Charles muttered, surprised by the force of his reaction.
"No need to apologize, Mr. Tucker," Soval groaned with as much dignity as his current predicament allowed. "You did what I had asked you to do."
The door flew open and Catherine came running in, followed by an unknown alien.
"Don't worry, Cat," Charles explained. "I just yanked the Ambassador a little too hard. Forgot that this damn wooden floor probably made it sound as if I had body-slammed him."
"You 'yanked' the Ambassador, who came all the way to help Trip?" Catherine asked sternly, upset about the perceived improper conduct of her husband.
"Do not concern yourself, Mrs. Tucker," Soval interrupted. "Your husband only did what I asked him to do. Nothing unseemly has been done."
"Wanna introduce our guest?" Charles asked, before Catherine would continue the etiquette discussion.
"This is Dr. Phlox," Catherine introduced. "I called Jon when you two went upstairs, and he offered to send him down when he heard what happened. After all, nobody knows Trip as well as him as far as his health is concerned. Dr. Clarence agreed that he takes over."
"Thank you for coming, Doctor," Charles greeted with a nod, not knowing whether offering a hand was acceptable in the unknown alien's culture.
"It was the obvious thing to do," Phlox returned, and surveyed the readouts of the monitoring devices the human doctor had set up.
"Hmm, the data look very good, if somewhat unusual for a human," Phlox analyzed and turned to Soval. "Do I correctly assume that you have performed a mind-meld?"
"Indeed I did. Commander Tucker is stable and his mind is awake and intact. Your arrival is most fortunate, Doctor. I wish to ask for your presence when I inform Mr. and Mrs. Tucker. Mr. Garret's attendance would be most helpful as well, if he is still on the premises."
"He's waiting downstairs," Catherine supplied. "Do you think we can leave Trip alone in his state?"
"Do not worry, Mrs. Tucker," Phlox supplied, and Charles was momentarily taken aback by the alien's mindboggling, broad smile. "Dr. Clarence has every eventuality covered with his monitoring assembly. In fact, giving Commander Tucker a quieter surrounding will be helpful, as we do not know how much of the external stimuli he is registering."
"Guess we'd better go downstairs then," Charles suggested. "I certainly have quite a few questions."