Location : Yukon Territory, Canada
Private Tucker looked at the fast moving river. He checked his mobile topographic analysis and made a decision, “Sergeant, we are crossing here. We will link arms for stability and I will check the depth as we move across. Please follow my instructions.”
He took one final look at his monitor to check the weather conditions for the next thirty minutes, hitched his pack and waited for Sergeant Cole. They linked arms and began crossing. They were both wearing waterproof clothing so the challenge was a simple one: the current. Would they be able to hold the line as they crossed or be swept away?
As Trip moved into the first third of the River he spoke to Amanda without looking at her. “I must want the sign off pretty bad to do this.” Amanda entirely business-like responded, “Stay focused, Private, and remember: respect your environment.”
Trip edged forward, using the walking pole to test the depth of the river. He had already made the decision that if it the depth got above waist height they would abort the crossing. This wasn’t a test of bravery, it was a test of good practice and judgement.
They reached mid stream and despite it being early spring the water was low, certainly no more than waist height. “OK Sergeant, let’s continue.” Sergeant Cole, as instructor, always had the power to veto a judgement and fail a candidate. “That’s fine with me.” They moved in step. Effectively they were strapped together, giving each other more stability and strength.
When Sergeant Cole took her next step to her horror she realised her colleague was not moving she turned to look up at him. There was a vacant faraway look on his face. She took her right hand and threw ice cold river water at his face. With a start he inhaled shook his head and revived, “Jeez, that was damned cold! ” Amanda shouted at him: “Trip, for God’s sake, stay focused! Keep moving!” “Sorry! I dunno what happened there.” They regained their momentum and increased their speed. For the final two metres they crashed through the river, sending water everywhere. They climbed up the bank, took off their waterproofs and stashed them in their packs. Private Tucker checked his instructions for directions. “OK Sergeant, we now bush-bash our way through to the camp. It’s twenty kilometres south of here, probably take three hours. ” Amanda looked at Trip. “We’ll discuss the crossing later.”
Private Tucker was in the final phase of his formal induction to the MACOs. He was taking the final test: an eighty kilometre trek through the Tatshenshini-Alsek National Park. On the first day, they had climbed a mountain range to 4,000 metres and then skied down the other side. The final part of the first day was to ford the Alsek River and hike to the night camp. The twenty kilometre hike was routine a test of fitness and orientation. They stopped at one hourly intervals and took in the pristine wilderness, the magnificent snow-capped ranges, the endless alpine forests and the swiftly moving river. Privately, they both felt this outdoor survival course was some kind of heaven. If they were vacationing they would have happily chosen the location for a multi-day hike.
Whilst they had developed a close personal relationship this last six months, they were more than capable of separating out the professional from the personal and so they hiked to the camp in silence. They arrived at the hut in the late afternoon, pitched their personal tents and Trip built a fire whilst Amanda cooked the dehydrated rations in the small but serviceable hut.
As they were so far north, by the time Amanda brought the soup out darkness had fallen. The fire was welcome to both of them. “OK Trip, we are off duty now. What happened back there?” Trip munched on a piece of bread and shook his head, “Amanda, I don’t want a pass from you on this but I sensed momentarily I was being sought out.” Amanda picked up her mug of coffee, took a sip and then cupped the metal mug in her hands, taking comfort from the heat. “You mean, she was reaching out to you?” Trip nodded agreement. “Yep. This kind of thing has not happened for over a year now but, yes, thinking about it that’s how it worked on the Enterprise. Thoughts and images would come into my head outta nowhere.” Amanda looked down at her coffee, “You have had an excellent first day and in all other respects are coming through with flying colours. I am going to ignore what happened but when we return, you need to find out why and why now. That’s a professional observation not a personal one, by the way. In combat, that kind of thing could be dangerous.”
Trip dunked his bread in his soup.”This ain’t too bad, Sergeant.” Then looked over at her and began gesticulating with his hands. “For the record, Amanda, I am really ticked off that having come so far, got this whole new life together etc, today I was dragged back into the past.” Amanda Cole, now completely off duty, came over to Trip, sat next to him and laid her head into his shoulder. “Imagine how I feel.” Trip put his mess tin down and put his left arm around her. “Let’s just enjoy the firelight shall we?”
Early the next morning
Trip was lying on his back in his tent with his hands behind his head, thinking about the day ahead. He had heard hints that the final day was a real curved ball. The threats and challenges he would face would be much less straight forward. He got out of the tent in his skivvies, dressed in his MACO fatigues and went into the Hut to freshen up and put the ring on for the morning porridge. Even Trip could do porridge. Suddenly, he was aware of the sound of something airborne. He shot out of the Hut, grabbed his automatic and ran to Amanda’s tent. She was literally unzipping the tent, pushed her way out and stood in her underwear. “Is this for real?” he asked. Trip wondered if this was part of the curved ball. Amanda, who was hurriedly putting on her fatigues, grabbed her weapon.”No! Let’s get in the woods and take cover.” They grabbed their protective head gear and ran.
The Sergeant knew this terrain like the back of her hand. She ran to the north of the camp where there was the best cover. Both were careful not to leave tracks and moved across the solid ground wherever they could. They passed into the woods, got themselves bedded in and activated their weapons which had laser siting. “Surely nobody would know I was out here.” Trip’s first thought was a Terra Prime unit. “No, it’s just not possible unless the MACOs have been compromised.”
Trip listened intently to the sound the craft was making and began to frown.”What the hell’s goin’ on? That’s a shuttle craft.” Amanda touched his shoulder. “Wait, Trip, let them reveal themselves.” The shuttle came up from the south. It was very low, as if the pilot was searching for something. When it came into view, Trip recognised the shape immediately. It had the rounded snub nose, beveled edges and rear fin-like wings of an NX shuttle. He looked at Amanda with a quizzical expression on his face. It swept across the clearing, turned and landed in a cloud of thruster smoke in the centre of the clearing. They waited with their firearms charged.
The shuttle pod door hydraulics activated, opening the hatch. A lone figure stepped down and began looking around the clearing. He was followed by a security guard. They spoke to each other, deciding what to do next. The guard came back with a loudhailer to address them. There was no need. The Sergeant and the Private broke cover and walked toward them. The stranger noticed movement, caught sight of them and waited for them to reach him, his hands clasped in front of him.
Trip looked at him. “Mind tellin’ me what brings the Vulcan Ambassador to these parts?” Soval looked at both of them. “Sergeant, Private, I am sorry to interrupt your manoeuvres but Private Tucker, your presence is required for an urgent meeting.” Even as he spoke the security team began breaking down the camp. Amanda Cole was aware that her Private had spoken out of turn and decided to regulate the conversation. “Ambassador Soval, would you mind telling me who authorised this intervention?” Soval stood implacable. “Admiral Gardner and Minister T’Pau.” Amanda looked at Trip.” Well, that’s good enough for me. Private, shall we get on board? Everything seems to be being taken care of here.” She gestured to the camp that was being cleared as they spoke. Trip moved his mouth around, gestured puzzlement with his hands and went to get on board. As he reached the hatch he stopped, turned and took one last look around at the breathtaking wilderness before stepping inside.
Trip looked sideways at Amanda, reading her mind. “The distance from the clearing to San Francisco is 2,700 kilometres. It should take twenty minutes all told.” The pilot would use the most power to take them above the Earth’s atmosphere and then ‘drift’ south before descending into San Francisco. “Excuse me Ambassador, what time is the meeting?” Soval spoke over the comms system, rather than inelegantly shout across the shuttle. “Do not concern yourself Mr Tucker, we will put the shuttle down on the Sky Tower and wait for you. The meeting begins at 0900 hours”
Trip looked at Amanda giving her a mock expression of being impressed. This was a man who had transferred across space between two vessels within a single warp field. Being given a lift to a meeting at Star Fleet was ‘small beer’. “I am real sorry we did not have a chance to complete day two, Sergeant, and whatever this is about I want to pass out with the MACO’s.” Sergeant Cole had to admit she was struggling to deal with Private Tucker the VIP, Private Tucker the MACO and Private Tucker the man she had fallen in love with. She sighed. “Let’s just find out what this is all about and take it from there.”
As soon as the shuttle was down they passed through the roof-top concierge and took the lift to the forty forth floor. “We have an hour, Trip. I’ll make some coffee.” Trip looked at her awkwardly. “I think the meetin’s just me.” She smiled. “I know that but I am coming along to support you!”
Trip showered and changed into MACO fatigues and Amanda a pair of dark blue leggings and a brown coloured lose top. Her hair was lose; she was off duty, supporting her man.
After coffee and croissants, they were ready to leave. “How do I look?” She shook her head disapprovingly and then laughed. “Bed-able!” Trip laughed and rubbed his chin.”That wasn’t quite what I meant!” Amanda spun him round and pushed him out of the door. “Come on Soldier, you look just fine.”
Trip beckoned Amanda into the shuttle first and sat next to her. “Sorry to keep you waiting Ambassador.” Soval turned to him as the shuttle edged off the Sky Tower platform. “Remember Mr Tucker, Vulcans live much longer than humans. Patience comes more easily to us.”
Once the craft had landed in the Star Fleet Headquarter’s compound Trip literally bounced out, taking Amanda’s hand. Soval, more regal and composed, gave thanks to all for their help. Soval led the way and Trip and Amanda, her arm through his, followed. Security was heavier than ever but both had bio-metric implants which gave clearance and Soval wore his visitor’s pass. Once inside the huge entrance area, Trip looked up the escalator and stopped. “I’ll catch up with you, Ambassador.” The Ambassador turned, a rather stern look on his face. Amanda did not know many Vulcans but female intuition suggested concern, concern of a personal nature.
Trip held Amanda’s hands as she stood in front of him. “Look darlin’, I don’t know how long this will go on so if you want to catch up with pals or somethin’ I’ll ping you when I’m out.” Amanda smiled. “Remember, we were meant to be in the wilderness right now so I’m good. I will write my report and wait for you.” She reached up, felt his face and kissed him on the cheek. “Good luck, Soldier.”
Trip took the escalator to the next floor, passed the reception area where his life had changed over a year ago when a woman had gate-crashed an interplanetary delegation and headed for the Command Suite. He strode up to the reception area of the Suite and asked for directions to the Briefing Room. The concierge was an older man, exuding the air of a safe pair of hands that only comes with age. “Good Morning, Mr Tucker. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Follow me.” Trip’s fame had not gone away. He followed his guide down the corridor and noted the many symbols of Star Fleets success’ in paintings and etchings on the wall. The guide stopped, turned to his right and opened the double doors. “Go right in Mr Tucker, they’re expecting you.”
Charles Tucker had several lifetimes experience wrapped in to one, which was just as well. He needed to call on all of those experiences now to keep his composure and not wish himself 2,700 kilometres away, and let it show.
The Briefing Room was just that: a long rectangular table with seating angled towards a viewing screen where the Chair of the meeting could stand. The four walls anonymous with shutters all the way to floor of the Left Hand Wall.
On the left of the table, Star Fleet was represented by Jonathan Archer and Admiral Gardner and on the right, Vulcan was represented by Minister T’Pau and Ambassador Soval. The Chair of the meeting was dressed in Vulcan ceremonial robes. These robes were not showy or implying power but suggested to Trip some kind of Priesthood. The wearer was T’Pol.
Trip kept his amazement deep down inside.”Good Morning all, I trust I haven’t kept you waiting.” Admiral Gardner spoke first. “Hello Mr Tucker. We are sorry to interrupt your day but we believe you maybe able to contribute to the subject matter at hand and Trip, no formalities here.” Jonathan caught his eye and winked at him. T’Pol intervened: “Welcome, Mr Tucker. I too offer my apology for interrupting your … integration into the MACOs. I will begin.”
“Just over a year ago, the Earth vessel Enterprise became embroiled in a plot by an unknown race to de-stabilise the growing co-operation between a number of worlds. I noted at the time that the Power Cells used by their Drones included material which was consistent with that we detected in the Minefield of the Romulan State Empire that we encountered four years ago.
“During the Drone incident, Lieutenant Reed and Chief Engineer Tucker had a prolonged, unscheduled, visit to the Drone. I have examined the visual logs of their time on board.” Trip wondered whether she had heard the conversations between Malc and himself about T’Pol. He certainly hoped the description of a certain part of her anatomy was not recorded. “What was immediately apparent when I studied these logs was that the symbols and language instructions on the bridge bore a remarkable resemblance to Vulcan symbolism, so much so that I considered our beginnings must in someway be connected.”
Jonathan Archer intervened. “This State Empire certainly exists and the creation of a Minefield around an uninhabited planet should tell us something of their penchant for acquisition. I should also point out… they have a future.” All round the table were aware of Daniels, the traveller from the future and his asides on the Romulans to Archer.
“When I returned to Vulcan after a period of contemplation,” T’Pol continued, Trip wondering if that was intended specifically for him. “I began my study of the Kir’Shara with particular reference to the period between 200 and 500 AD of your Earth years. I will not burden my presentation with the detail but suffice to say I discovered evidence that a substantial part of our people over a three hundred period chose to turn away from the Teaching of Surak.
“Surak, in understanding their different view point, described them as “those who march beneath the Raptor’s wings.” A clear indication that they rejected not only Surak’s teachings but a peaceful benevolent view of life in the Quadrant.
“I will now share images from the refugee site I discovered on the edge of The Forge.” T’Pol threw up images of the hidden camp and evidence of the blast damage on the Mesa. “This provides evidence of what I believe is the missing link between those who disappeared and Romulus. Our people went out into the desert and took refuge here and then left in craft from this place on an interplanetary journey.
“The conclusion I drew from my investigations is that a very large number of our people rejected the teachings of Surak and left Vulcan nineteen centuries ago, setting off for a new world with an ethos that has led to planets being mined and craft that resemble large predatory birds. This latter point may seem somewhat trivial but given the importance of symbolism to Vulcans, I believe not. It is my view that those who rejected the teachings of Surak were the ancestors of the Romulans.”
“The Order of Surak is dedicated to finding a peaceful solution to all matters; it is the way of logic. However, it is important that we and you are aware of all the facts. There is more.
“We know the disgraced High Council were utterly ruthless in prosecuting their attack on the Syrrannite refuge where many Vulcans died.” One of those who died was T’Pol’s mother, T’Les. “We also know that they gave the command to the Vulcan Fleet to destroy the Enterprise. We now have evidence that the Romulans where behind these actions. A novice of my Order has provided evidence that the Romulans were in league with the disgraced High Council and were visiting Vulcan by stealth.” T’Pol paused to let the final revelation sink in. “If Vulcan’s want to consider what an alliance with the Romulans as the dominant partners would look like, we now have our answer.”
The room was silent, for a shadowy ALIEN race to exist on the edge of the Quadrant was one thing but this latest revelation changed everything. The threat was here, now.
Admiral Gardner spoke first. “Several years ago, one of my Star Fleet Officers advised us in our first encounter with the Romulans that they are rumoured to be an aggressive, territorial species. Your research, T’Pol, other than proving there is an ancient connection between Vulcan and Romulus, has borne out the remarks of that Sub Commander of four years ago, your good self.
As a military man, it is clear to me we need to prepare for the worst.” Soval intervened next. “But the teachings of Surak suggest we should never close the door on our brethren. We should indeed prepare for the worst,” looking at Admiral Gardner, “but hope for the best and decide how to exercise that hope.” T’Pol alone nodded in agreement.
Trip had sat silent through much of the presentation, completely at a loss as to why he had been summoned. “Gentlemen, Ladies, if and when the time comes I will do my bit and for that reason I ought to get off and complete my training.”
T’Pol looked at him. “Commander .. Mr Tucker, there is a particular reason why I wanted you to be included in this meeting. It was so you understand the gravity of the situation.” Trip nodded, “and would understand the request we wish to make of you.” Captain Archer smiled, remembering how these two used to spar with each other. “OK ….” Trip hesitated, “and what might that be?” T’Pol responded in her typically deliberate. dispassionate way. “Whilst your report and the visual data was helpful, in order to maximise our understanding of the current state of Romulan technology T’Pau has suggested we search your memories for anything further that might help us.” “Well, I’ll do my best. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.” Everyone looked at him but it was T’Pau who spoke. “Mr Tucker, there is a more efficient and certain way of achieving that… Through a Mind Meld.”
Trip looked down, raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips and frowned. “And who would initiate this?”
“I will.” It was T’Pol’s voice.
His old friend, Jonathan intervened. “I think I am the only one here who has gone through this procedure and I think it only fair to Trip for him to discuss this with T’Pol. What say we break the meeting and reconvene tomorrow?” T’Pol took the cue from her erstwhile Captain. “I agree.” Archer looked round the room. “All Agreed?” Heads nodded unanimously around the Briefing Room and T’Pau formally closed proceedings. There was an unspoken understanding that Trip and T’Pol would remain behind. The concierge was summoned, opened the doors and lead the others away. As they left, Jonathan and Admiral Gardner thanked Trip for joining them at such short notice.
Finally, Trip and T’Pol were alone. He sat back down again at one end of the table while T’Pol stood at the other. They looked at each other and Trip shook his head. T’Pol knew what he was thinking even without the Bond. “T’Pau only asked at the last moment for you to attend.” Trip laughed ironically, “Well at least they didn’t come looking for us in the middle of the night.” “Indeed.” “I have a question. Well, probably a couple of dozen but first up, why can’t you use this ‘Bond’ thing?” “Because,” T’Pol replied, “it is no more than a conversation without words. I cannot access your memories efficiently through it. A Meld enables the one searching to forensically analysis the data.”
Trip shook his head in frustration. He was being drawn in to just the kind of matters he was so anxious to avoid. In the end though, he would do anything for the world he loved. That was always Trip’s bottom line: “Look T’Pol, this is not personal but after all the progress I have made I am sure you understand my reluctance to be drawn into this sort of thing.” Her answer was simple, “I do.” “But if you think it might help….” She interrupted him, “I cannot be sure. It depends on what I discover. But it might.” Trip now stood up, the decision made. “OK, let’s do it. When?” T’Pol was slightly taken aback. She expected more discussion, more resistance; Trip had changed. He was better able to see the complete picture and was not driven by their personal issues. “You have no other questions?” “No, least not about this Meld thing.” She looked at him directly with a modest frown on her face. “So what questions do you have?”
Trip walked toward her and sat on the edge of the table. “First of all, how are you? Are you OK now?” Displaying no emotion, she replied, “I am fine.” He nodded again. “Well, in case you’re interested, so am I. But T’Pol, let’s cut to the chase: do you have any news or an answer on the business of breaking this Bond?” Again, simply “I do.” Now it was Trip’s turn to be surprised, “You do? Well… maybe you would like to share whatever you know?” “Trip, I have only just arrived. I tried to reach out to you yesterday, which was badly timed and a mistake, but now I am here I will answer. The Head of our Order has agreed to perform the Dis-Union so that our Khatra’s are unwound. If you agree to this ritual, we can leave for Vulcan once my business here is concluded.”
Trip thought for a moment.”I will need leave of absence and I am on the brink of completing my training but subject to that, I am good to go.” “We can speak of these matters in the days ahead.” Trip nodded. “One final question, T’Pol.” “Proceed.” Trip ran his thumb across his mouth, looked at her and spoke more quietly, less abruptly. “Is this what you want?” T’Pol, her face implacable, offered the facts. “Trip, I can understand why you want to pursue this. As a Vulcan I have a different perspective. I would remind you that many couples, whilst in all other respects contented with their union, never Bond. Some Bond on their second or third attachment. It is a unique, once in a lifetime attachment and never repeated. You will understand therefore for me it makes no difference whether we are Bonded or not. You will remain the one person I shared the Bond with.” Trip relaxed. He put his arms down on the table. “I suppose I look at it a little like a divorce. So I can move on.” “That is a little difficult. We were never married.” “Yeah, but you know what I mean.” She looked quizzical but replied, “As a matter of fact, I do.”
In a sign that the conversation was over, she moved over to her Pad and placed it in her carry bag. “Could you come to the Vulcan compound at 1900 hours this evening? It is believed the best results for a Meld are achieved when there is darkness.” “OK, see you then.” He began walking but before he got to the door, he turned. “By the way, you look well.” As he walked out she offered a reply: “Likewise.”