Location: Enterprise. Trip’s Quarters.
Day 2 Onboard 0825 hours.
Trip checked himself in the mirror. Comfortable ankle trainers, light brown slacks, a collarless off-white wrap over shirt and dark tan-coloured jacket fitted with a lose wrap over single-sided lapel. But the real surprise was the black rimmed glasses. Trip usually wore artificial lenses but knowing how the Engine Room was a mass of lights, he would rather protect his eyes with glasses with photochromic lenses. He laughed at the image, figuring it made him look more academic, which fitted perfectly. Commander Kelby had sent over the modules the previous night and suggested they meet earlier for breakfast so ‘Mr Tucker’ could hit the ground running and allow him to get on with his day.
The entry chime sounded.
Trip picked up his pack and opened the door. “Good Morning, Commander.” They set off for the Mess Hall and immediately settled into discussing the brief. As they approached the door, Trip interrupted the flow. “Commander, no changes in the Mess Hall?” Commander Kelby smiled, “You will have no trouble with requests for ‘Coffee Black” Kelby knew his erstwhile Boss’s preferences. “Good, no fuss then.” He understood his meaning Trip wanted no distractions, no being caught out by changes. “No fuss, Mr. Tucker.”
Kelby went in first and headed for the food bar. Trip moved in next to him and began ordering breakfast, as he had done a thousand times previously. Kelby, to keep the momentum going, knowing they were the centre of attention, carried on the conversation as they moved to a table. “Mr Tucker, so far your group has only clocked hours on simulators. So offer them guidance on my routines, but make it clear that practical, off-book solutions are sometimes needed.” Trip sat down and tucked into his ‘MACO Gruel’, as he called it. “Will certainly do my best.” Trip asked about the eighteen, what Kelby made of them and what he needed to concentrate on with each one. It was a useful fifteen minutes, but it made clear to curious eyes and ears who was in charge and that they both meant business. As a result, Trip was left alone.
Ten minutes before they were due to start, Kelby got up. “See you sharp at 0900 hours.” Trip was looking at the profiles of each trainee. “Sure will,” he responded, not looking up. He was memorising their names which had always impressed his own crew. Some habits never change.
He was so engrossed in his Pad that he didn’t notice anyone approaching, until a female arm reached around him and touched him on the shoulder. “Hello, stranger.” Trip swivelled round, gave her a big smile and stood up. “Hoshi! Great to see you,” kissing her on either cheek. “Great to see you too. Look at you!” The final three words were said with emphasis. “A certain MACO has great taste in dressing her man!” Trip’s eyebrows came down in a frown and a smile, both of which communicated curiosity. “How d’you know ’bout that?” Hoshi continued to look up at him smiling.”Never mind. Listen Trip, like everyone on the ship, I am crammed out today. I’m going back to station now but what say we have dinner tonight to catch up?” Trip turned to pickup up his Pack gave her a broad smile nodding, put his arm round her waist and walked her to the door. He looked at her as he hit the open command, “Shall we say seven?” “Perfect. I have had some new Asian Dishes added to the menu.” The door open he let her go first. She moved off to the left, toward the bridge and turned. “I am this a-way and you’re that a-way. See you later!” Trip watched her disappear and shook his head and sighed ironically that exchange not remotely like anything before between them.
Trip set off for the turbo lift, changed levels, got out and quickened his pace as he moved toward the Engine Room. He opened the door, lifted his legs over the bulkhead, stepped in and closed the door behind him. He listened carefully and smiled, it was the hum of the engines. He looked around the room with its gantries and work stations, before resting his eyes on the Warp Core which is when he noticed Kelby was stood in front of the main control panel, smiling. He began clapping. Everyone in the Engine Room turned to face Trip and joined in. He gave them all a broad grin, mouthed the words ‘thank you’ and waving his hands downwards, encouraged them all to stop. Commander Kelby turned to everyone.”OK, Engine Room, back to work.” He jogged down the the stairwell, walked towards Trip and shook his hand. “Welcome back, Mr Tucker.” Trip smiled. “Great to be here. Now, where’s Sahito and Morris?” The two trainees came up fast. “Right, let’s get started.”
Trip watched them replace the phase injectors for the fourth time. On this occasion they were perfectly aligned. The two hours had passed swiftly and the mixture of Trip’s knowledge and certainty had bled into improved confidence in the trainees. Trip asked them to let their boss have a candid assessment of the session and wrapped it up. He acknowledged Kelby and left the Engine room. As he moved toward his quarters to change for his gym session, he realised how physical his day had become with the MACOs. And he was missing it.
Location: Enterprise Gym 1200 hours
Trip was on his fifth and final exercise, the one they dubbed ‘the plank’, when it occurred to him that he hadn’t run into T’Pol. The plank involved standing up straight, holding a heavy dumbbell in each hand, palms facing body. Trip maintained his posture as he walked twenty metres, turned and returned to the start. He decided to make this exercise the doubling up one and began the twenty metres. He was half way across when he heard behind him the customary hydraulic hiss of the door easing back. Someone was joining him. He carried on going, turned, looked over and finished the twenty metres. “Well, speak of the devil. I was just thinking of you.” She looked puzzled. “Why would you associate me with the myth of Lucifer?” Trip laughed, “You kiddin?” T’Pol raised her right eye brow. T’Pol was dressed in the pale blue outfit in which she had served for the final years. Trip deduced she hadn’t come for a workout. “Did you wanna see me or somethin’?”
“How is the training programme going?” Trip grabbed a hand towel and wiped himself down, “Pretty good. I enjoyed explaining what to do rather than doing it myself. How about you?” “I would have preferred a Vulcan to take the position. But she is adequate.” Trip thought about that. “Given all the changes on Vulcan, there probably wasn’t a candidate available.”
T’Pol once again was wrong footed, expecting Trip to argue ‘it makes no difference’ and accuse her of being narrow minded and haughty. “No, I think there’s gonna be a lot of “needs must” decisions over the next few months. So, what can I do for you?” T’Pol looked down at the floor, her hands clasped behind her back. “I think it would be valuable for us to discuss the formalities once we arrive at Vulcan. Perhaps we can meet for supper one evening?” Trip finished putting the equipment away and thought about what she had said. Nodding his head up and down in agreement, “Yeah, makes sense. Let’s do that.” “Would this evening be suitable for you?” “Hey, I would love to…” Trip pointed to the door, indicating he was leaving. “But I am gettin’ together with Hoshi tonight. I am sure we can make another night?” T’Pol looked down. “I, too, have other engagements. Shall we meet on Night Five…? If you are able to spare the time.” Trip wondered whether T’Pol was being sarcastic and ignored the possibility. She was Vulcan after all. “Sounds fine. 1900 hours OK?” He went for the door, leaving T’Pol standing. “That would be acceptable.”
Location: Mess Hall 1900 hours
Trip walked in, looking for Hoshi and couldn’t help noticing the lone figure of T’Pol in the corner. He was wearing his light brown slacks and burgundy silk top. He realised, looking around the room with everyone in their Enterprise uniforms, how he had become much more aware of “Off Duty” since joining the MACOs. Suddenly, he noticed several of the crewmen’s heads turn to the door. It was Hoshi. She was wearing a simple powder blue shift dress. Their eyes met and she walked toward him, reached for his hand and looked up at him. “I have organised a Guest Table,” and led him, threading her way through the tables to a special spot. Trip stood whilst she seated herself and they smiled at each other. “It’s so good to see you, Trip.” “It’s great to see you, too. Now, can I fix you a drink?” Hoshi responded. “Let’s begin with green tea.”
Hoshi and Trip had gone through an excruciating experience together where they had become infected by a deadly disease and nearly died. Indeed, they would have, but for the fact it was an observational experience for another species who, thanks to the humanity shown and arguments made by the Captain, intervened and saved them at the last minute. It had created a unique and special understanding between them. Some weeks later, after a Meld with T’Pol, she had found herself dreaming about Trip in the most romantic of situations …….and those dreams had continued. The experience had made her think about something which she had never considered. And now the man at the centre of those thoughts was on board and responding to her. For her, Trip’s visit had fanned the flames of her feelings.
Trip returned with the tea and sat down. Hoshi poured.”So, how are things?” Hoshi had a resigned look on her face. “It’s not the same anymore, losing you. I mean the ship losing you. That was a big change and now Malcolm has gone and as for the new Science Officer… ” Hoshi raised her eyebrows a look which said ‘what a pain’. Trip had really wanted to know how she was and re-asked the question.”But you personally, how are you?” “Oh, you know how it is! All work and no play… But hey, Trip, let me organise the food. I’m starving!”
Hoshi organised Trip a plate of Japanese Sushi and restarted the conversation. “What I have learned from you, Trip, is that we all need to change gear to stay fresh. I mean – and you know I am not flirting with you here, right? I have too much respect for both of you – you are in great shape! You ooze being at ease with yourself. I am not sure signing up for seven years Deep Space is good for us.” Trip thought about that, “Well, in my case, I never had a break after the Xindi Incident. I was still mooning around and uncertain. I don’t regret anything,” nodding his head in the direction of T’Pol. “But sure as hell, it didn’t relieve the pressure.” Hoshi remembered Trip returning from Vulcan, crestfallen, broken hearted when T’Pol had married the Vulcan, Koss, after inviting him to Vulcan to her home and to meet her mother.
“Now things have ratcheted up again, I don’t see any of us relaxing for a long time – a very long time. Unless we can persuade these Romulans to take a different tack.” Hoshi: “Is anyone trying to reach out to them?” Trip looked at her, “Not that I have heard.” Trip thought about Soval’s remark about hope, “But listen, how did you know about Amanda and me?”
“When the MACOs were on board for those two years, several of us got to know their girls really well and we have all stayed in touch. One of them shared that Amanda had begun dating you.” She smiled, “Simple, really.” Trip laughed and reached out his hand for her. “Well, you are the Communications Officer!” Both of them smiled and laughed. Several tables of earnest newcomers, who had no idea who they were, looked over. Trip, aware of the attention, became serious. “Look, Hoshi, when this is over, get yourself back to Japan and immerse yourself in where you came from. That’s really what I did with Amanda – we came from the same neck of the woods. It got me rooted again.” She offered a gentle smile. “I know you’re right. This.. ” she said, looking around her, “is family, but it’s not home. And we all need that from time to time. Now, more sushi?”
Their plates replenished, Hoshi regaled Trip with tales about Japan and how, beyond the mega-city of Tokyo, it was still a rich and mysterious land, with its own deep culture; which he should visit someday.
Trip looked at Hoshi. “It’s funny you know, despite being a close knit community, you make me realise we do not really know people that well. When you told me about that business of your breaking your Commander’s arm after he broke up your poker game, I realised I never really knew you.” Hoshi looked at Trip, “Well, I kind of sit back and then I explode.” Trip looked at her, “Does that apply to all your feelings?” She looked at Trip suddenly realising the question, though casually asked, had become important. It had a context. She could feel herself blushing. “Yes, yes… Well. aren’t we all like that?” And before he could answer, “Now for your desert, sir, your usual?” Trip shook his head pretending to think it over and then after hesitation, “OK,” nodding, “Go on then.”
One Hour Later
Hoshi and Trip were now almost the sole occupants of the Mess Hall and had embarked on a game of Shogi. It was both like and unlike Chess and to give Trip more of a chance he was wearing a tuition visor that was viewing the board, giving him ideas for his next move. They had been playing for 45 minutes, trying to outmanoeuvre each other, sparring with each other, fascinated and intoxicated by the ritual of two bright minds trying to outwit each other. It had reached a critical stage and Hoshi was moving in for the kill, for checkmate.
Trip listened to the guidance from the tuition visor and noting the parallels with Judo: you have to pursue the unexpected; you had to offer a Gambit. Within five moves he had her. “Checkmate!” She reached out spontaneously for his hand. “Well done you! You have certainly hit the ground running.” They laughed together instinctively and both of them realised they had just had the best of evenings together.
Trip smiled across the table at her and nodded thinking to himself, what next? Why was he even asking himself the question? “Wow, it’s getting late. It’s time we turned in.” They both stood and Trip, ever the gentlemen, returned everything to the food area for disposal. When he had finished, he looked round and found Hoshi had moved to one of the observation windows. She was watching the rain shower of stars as the Enterprise sped on its journey across the heavens to Vulcan.
“You know, all this talk of Japan has made me think about Cherry Blossom.” Trip looked across at her as she gazed out, a deliberate and serious way of asking the question, “What do mean?” She carried on looking at the stars as she spoke, “For the briefest of moments they blossom, offering so much joy and beauty, and then the wind comes and takes them and they are gone. It’s so fleeting.” Trip moved across to her, came in behind her and put his arms around her as they both looked out. “But the memory of that beauty that can stay with you, right?” They both heard the hydraulic hiss of the door at the same time. Hoshi moved forward out of his hold and Trip let go. Both turned to look at the Crewman who had walked in for a coffee before his shift and looked at each other. Both spoke at once. “Well, I suppose ….” stopped, looked at each other, a resigned laugh and a shake of the head, knowing the moment had been lost and left.
Location: Engine Room.
Day 5 1700 Hours
All eighteen new recruits were stood around in a semi circle. Commander Kelby stood, legs apart, hands held behind his back listening intently. “Ladies and Gentlemen, from the very earliest days of space travel, precision has been key. If half a percent of the parts of the rocket that took men to the Moon were off, that’s 15,000 parts. Engineering is all about precision. It’s about knowing your subject and the functionality of the object in question. It’s about understanding tolerances, it’s about applying rigorous maintenance schedules. That, and a million and one other things. But you have all taken the exams: you have heard that before.” All in the Engine room were now listening: those on the gantries, those working on systems. “What I have tried to do this week is tell a different story. I have said: do all of that and be passionate about what you do and what you’re dealing with. I have said: do all of that and when you’re out of all the known possibilities, find the impossible. I have said: do all of that and always tell the Captain it will take twice as long as you know it will, so you will gain a reputation as a miracle worker.” Everyone laughed. “It’s been a pleasure working with you all. I wish you the very best of luck.” Everyone clapped for several minutes at the bespectacled legend in front of them, but at a nod from Commander Kelby they stopped and dispersed.
Trip addressed the Commander, “I hope that helps? And I am gonna say it: my baby’s in fine hands.” “Thank you, sir, that means a good deal.” “And you have so much to look forward to. There is a refit down the line: a secondary hull with a new drive section and that has to get you to 6.” Kelby: “I’ll look forward to that! But for now we are gonna have our hands full for some time to come.” Kelby looked up at Trip for something else: confirmation and good wishes? “I am sure you’re right. But you’re working for the best Captain in the fleet: you can come through it. I’ve done it before, now you can do it again.” Trip shook his hand and left for his quarters. As each day passed and the threat seemed to grow in peoples’ minds, his own journey seemed to be getting smaller and smaller.
Location: Mess Hall. 1900 Hours
Trip requested his salad, picked up his glass of wine and headed for the table in the corner. “So, how did your final day go?” T’Pol considered her reply. “I believe she has made good progress this week though she is a little procedural. It is now a matter of gaining experience.” Trip looked at her thinking, T’Pol saying someone was procedural, that was the pot calling the kettle black. “I think that goes for all the newbies.” T’Pol questioned, “Newbies?” Trip: “Sorry, new ones.” “Ah. And why do you think it’s like that the pot calling the cat black?” Trip looked at T’Pol realising the complication of the Bond, whereby she could read his thoughts. “Because, T’Pol that’s exactly how I saw you in those first two years.” T’Pol responded in a very Trip like way, with a degree of sarcasm, “And you knew everything about me, right?” Trip’s next thought he decided not to grow in his mind.
“So, tell me about what’s gonna happen on Vulcan.” T’Pol spoke with that uniquely clear, deep, resonant voice. “There are two stages to the ritual. In the first stage, our interlocutor V’Lor will consider the appropriateness of the shep ra shen separation. He will speak with each of us. In my case, he will look for confirmation and in your case, understanding. Once he is satisfied we are fit to proceed, he will explain the potential consequences of separation. Both of us will then have a period of seven days of reflection after which we will finally come together for the ritual at Mount Seleya.” Trip, unsurprisingly asked how the ritual worked. “The ritual has not been performed for centuries, but I have studied the ancient texts which offer the prescription. We will make our way to the precipice to the Altars of Connection. V’Lor will bring our minds together and, through the mysteries, will invoke the separation of our Khatras.” “I see.” Not really seeing at all.
T’Pol look intently at Trip. “It is the period of seven days that concerns me. I would like to propose that once we have arrived, we travel to my family home. From there, we will journey together to Mount Seleya to meet with V’Lor. After the first stage, I will then remain with my Order. You may then return to my home and rest and contemplate your final decision in a place you are familiar with, before returning to the Mount.” Trip continued to eat and thought about what T’Pol had said. Not the proposal – it made perfect sense – but the profoundly respectful way in which she was dealing with him. This was one of those moments when it was best to just listen. “Thanks. I am just gonna pick up some desert. May I bring you a chamomile?” T’Pol smiled and nodded.
As he walked toward the food station, Trip did not question his desire to carry on with this request but it had only really just come home to him the unique and compelling nature of it. He still did not know the risks involved… to either of them.