Location : Hotel Le Cep, The Next Morning
Madam Bouvier and the staff that had got to know them, came to wish their two unusual guests ‘bon voyage’. Everyone involved knew this had been an event ‘extraordinaire’ and, as always with the best hospitality, were exceptionally discreet. Unusually, Madam Bouvier was more circumspect and, for once, stood still. “Ah! Bonne chance à vous deux. Nous avons apprécié votre visite un jour.” Trip smiled, crossed the distance between them and hugged her, “Oh il n’y a pas de mots.” She whispered in his ear, “Et Monsieur Trip, ne vous inquiétez pas quand vous arrivez – ce sont de bonnes personnes.” Trip stood back and gave T’Pol a curious smile. They picked up their bags and all walked to the entrance to the hotel. Much waving and blowing of kisses ensued before Trip offered the final thanks, “Au revoir et merci beaucoup de toutes.”
The concierge at the hotel had explained that in an ancient ‘protected town’ like Beaune, built in the era of the horse and cart, aerial taxi shuttles had very limited use of airspace. However, their walk to the site of the original transport stations of two centuries ago gave them a chance to savour the town for the last time. Their shuttle was waiting for them. The pilot took their bags, ushered them in and lifted off and headed North East across the vineyards of Burgundy.
Once on board the shuttle, T’Pol asked Trip what Madam Bouvier had said. Trip responded in a matter of fact way, “We are not to be alarmed when we arrive, they are good people.” T’Pol found herself going back to the mysterious woman’s advice: one day at a time and probably one thing at a time. Each of them looked out of the shuttle as they passed over chateaus, vineyards, at the people working on the vines. It looked normal, it felt normal but deep down inside they knew something was not quite right. They just could not think what.
The shuttle dropped them off at the entrance to their destination and they walked up the gravel driveway, taking it all in. Poplar trees lined the drive and off to their right rows and rows of vines as far as the eye could see, sloping away from them. Beyond the vines, classic tile roofed French houses, with deep sloping gables. In the far distance, Sky Towers. Somehow, the ancient and modern sat well with each other, possibly because the design ethic of each was so strong.
This vineyard was dominated by a large mottled stone building with dark brown tiled roofs, a central turret and, at the front, an external staircase to an outdoor covered terrace. As always, these old french provincial houses had small shuttered windows. They passed one entrance door, which felt like an incidental entrance and moved toward the second, stopped and put their bags down.
Trip was wearing his new three quarter length coat, boots and chord jeans. He put his hands on his hips and looked around. All he could hear was the whirring sound of mobile irrigators. He looked across at T’Pol in her high collared lilac and mauve blouse, cut away at the front and light grey slacks. She looked pensive. She was thinking hard about the first line of the letter ‘when you come to realise the decision we made for you.’
“Trip, may I suggest for now we remain ‘open’ to each other?” Trip pursed his lips and nodded. Somehow, he knew the big questions he had been pushing to one side were going to start being answered, “Yep.” Looking around, moving his mouth around, “I think that’s a good idea, a damn good idea.”
They rang the metal bell hung outside the door. It sent out a single timeless sound of arrival. The door opened and a middle aged woman looked out at them. Trip understood Madame Bouvier’s words of caution: the woman who had just opened the door was a Romulan.
What the hell’s going on : Let me handle this, Trip. Stay calm : This is nuts. Have you got that weapon: Be logical. Everyone has helped us so far and led us here. We just need to understand what has happened. Trip could feel himself getting hot, his heart was pumping, beginning to panic. He began fidgeting, moving around and kicking the gravel. “I am T’Pol of Vulcan and this is Tucker. An old friend of the owner suggested we should seek him out for some… guidance.”
The woman looked hard at them. She sensed they were on the back foot, apprehensive rather than a threat. The man in particular seemed uncomfortable, “Does this ‘old friend’ have a name?” They noticed a man had joined her in the shadows… another Romulan. Jesus. Trip intervened, his voice impatient, impatient to understand,”Yes she does, she’s called Vash.” T’Pol looked puzzled. Trip discretely dealt with her: Madam Bouvier.
The woman looked at the man, he raised his eyebrows, “Tell me, how did you meet this … Vash.” T’Pol intervened. “In very unusual circumstances.” She looked at both of them and said, “Well, you better come in then.” And, looking at the bags, “bring those in, too.” Clearly Vash was an entry ticket.
They walked in behind the female and eventually found themselves in a large room that looked out onto a terrace. It was the hub of the house, where they prepared, replicated and ate food. Both of them moved behind the kitchen workstation and offered the two strangers a drink. T’Pol spoke first, “Forgive me, but for us this situation is not logical.” The Romulan woman looked at T’Pol. “What you mean is, you have insufficient information to understand it. I am guessing some kind of herbal tea and for you…,” looking at Trip, “a coffee?” Trip was able to respond to her nonchalance, “Um yeah. Make it strong.”
The woman began preparing. “Chamomile. Have I guessed right?” T’Pol nodded. The female now upped the tempo of the conversation. “Look, if Vash is involved I am betting there is someone else?” T’Pol nodded.
“So, this is my suggestion: you go out onto the Terrace. I will bring out the drinks. You can collect yourselves and then go and find him. I’m Laris.” The man spoke, “I am Zhaban. And we don’t bite.” T’Pol now looked more uneasy than Trip. Their dry sense of humour gave Trip something to work with. T’Pol was correct: Vash, Madam Bouvier, the Doctor all had helped, this was the next step but these two being Romulans was a shaker and no mistake.
They walked out on to the terrace and sat down. T’Pol: I see no point in speculating. I do not believe we are in danger. Something has happened. We just need to find out what : You’re damn right something has happened.
Laris brought out their drinks and a plate laden with croissant. “There, freshly baked. Would you believe that’s all he ever has for breakfast? When you’re ready, come in and I will check which section he is in and then you can go and find him.”
They ate and drank in silence. They knew any conversation would come back to the same place. T’Pol excused herself and went to look for Laris. “What can I do for you?” “Could you show me our luggage?” Laris wound her way round to the front entrance and showed her the two bags.
T’Pol went to her bag, opened it and took out what she was looking for. “You may have seen one of these before.” T’Pol was holding a Romulan Disruptor, which she had taken from the Guard on Romulus when she immobilised him, and handed it to Laris who looked at in an odd questioning way, “Were you thinking of using it?” T’Pol became very Vulcan. “I saw no circumstances for it’s immediate use and therefore, as an act of good faith, I would ask you to store it for safe keeping.” Laris nodded, a note of approval on her face. “Good. You have nothing to fear from us.” T’Pol was about to return to Trip when Laris stopped her, “But what about your… friend?” T’Pol looked at her, intently and gave her an oblique answer. “He was tortured by the Tal’shiar for nine days and left for dead.”
As soon as T’Pol returned, Trip stood, asked for directions and they left perplexed but not fearful, turning toward a section of the vineyards to the left. They automatically reached out for each other’s hands. The view across the vineyards was intoxicating. It seemed to go on for ever. Beyond, lay vistas of the old and the new that added a magical quality to the setting. Ancient artistry in the middle of such historical breadth. It had been going on in one form or another, since man began living in communities. To these two lost souls, the pursuit of this ancient craft of winemaking made the vineyard feel like a refuge.
They moved along the grass borders, deep into the vines until they heard the sound they had been told to expect. The sound of a dog. To be precise, the sound of a Pit Bull Terrier. First the sound, then the creature came dashing toward T’Pol and Trip. Trip immediately bent down ready to greet the animal. T’Pol moved behind Trip you have nothing to worry about : that remains to be seen.
The Pit Bull bounded at Trip, who knelt down.”Wow, you’re a beauty.” Ruffling his coat and giving the animal what all dogs need, attention. A voice offered clarification. Deliberate, bold, resonant, clear, certain, but with just a hint of age. “I am afraid… he doesn’t understand English.” “votre beauté n’êtes-vous pas seulement.” “That’s better,” the man laughed, “He will be fine now.”
The stranger looked at T’Pol, “Don’t worry about him! He is as meek as a well trained Selhat. My name is Jean-Luc.” She responded, “T’Pol.” Trip stood, “Charles Tucker. We are sorry to butt in on you.” Trip held out his hand to Jean-Luc who took off his gloves and shook Trip’s out stretched hand vigorously whilst responding. “I admit… I am an old man that enjoys my privacy. But I understand from Laris that Vash sent you?” T’Pol began to get Vash’s letter out. Jean-Luc shook his head.”Oh No no no, there is no need for that.” He paused and looked at them. He was trying to make a judgement and finally decided, “Tell me, was Vash with anyone when you met her?”
He was now very intense, very interested in the reply. Trip looked at T’Pol. After some hesitation she spoke, “I think it would be accurate to say that she was involved in something which appeared to include one, maybe two, personalities.” Jean-Luc nodded his head up and down, pursing his lips, “Could you describe one of them?” T’Pol, “He was humanoid. Tall, dark haired but it was his manner which I remember. He was strident and judgemental… ” Jean-Luc nodded and smiled, a smile of recognition and put the palm of his hand up, “and was he conceited, self opinionated and is some of what happened to you apparantly inexplicable?” T’Pol, “Yes.” and Trip added.”and er ….still is.”
Jean-Luc looked at them both. He was trying to make up his mind, did so and changed tack. “Look, I have a great deal to do here; harvest is coming. Would you join me for dinner at eight? We can talk and, please, stay the night.” They found his response thoughtful and generous, but entirely matter of fact. It gave them confidence they were in safe hands. Both nodded appreciatively. “Laris will sort you out rooms but I think it would be useful, before dinner, if you have a look at the Information Net so we can bring each other up to date. I too live in a cocoon. What is it the Vulcans say? ‘We should be aware of all the facts.’ ”
Trip and T’Pol nodded in agreement, taking his lead and began walking back to the house. I feel good about him : Agreed.
When they had gone, Jean-Luc looked at the dog. “I think they’re going to need our help, Number One. A good deal of it.” Apparently the Romulan Disruptor was 250 years old.