Charles Tucker was furious.
As he stared at the exposed innards of the shuttlepod's impulse drive, Trip seriously considered using the expensive tool in his hand as a hammer, so as to vent his frustrations on the inanimate object. It wasn't the engine's fault, of course, but the urge to lash out was quite intense. Closing his eyes, he tried to reign in his anger and focus on the job in front of him. Getting the 'pod operational again so they could return to Enterprise was only thing that mattered.
That way, he could go back to avoiding Jon and T'Pol.
Glowering at the uncooperative impulse drive, Tucker began to disassemble the manifold with practiced motions. It was monkey work, something he'd normally have a new crewman do, and gave him far too much time to think. He didn't want to think, didn't want to reflect on the piss poor state of life right now, and certainly didn't want to think about the Vulcan woman currently patching the shuttlepod's oxygen lines.
The realization that he was falling for her had come out of nowhere and hit him hard right before the Vahklas departed. At almost the same time, however, T'Pol seemed constantly in the captain's presence, so much so that the rumor mill on Enterprise had begun theorizing that the two were romantically involved. Recalling Archer's past history with Erika Hernandez, Trip had discounted those rumors as absolute nonsense.
Until he saw Jon entering T'Pol's cabin the night after the subcommander swayed the Vulcans against canceling the NX program.
The realization that the rumors were evidently correct had been like a gut punch, and Trip had retreated to the gym to work out his frustrations; the next day, his muscles felt like so much rubber, but it at least gave him a reason to hide out deep in the bowels of Enterprise for the entire day. From that point on, he had started to make himself scarce whenever possible. When the captain invited him to dinner, Tucker made excuses about his workload in engineering. When T'Pol sent a work order to engineering, or requested some assistance with repairs of some sort, Trip sent his second instead of going himself. And when he received a request from Starfleet Command to consider a transfer to the unfinished Columbia, Tucker didn't automatically discard the request.
Instead, he seriously considered it.
A part of him knew that he was being juvenile, and acting like a stupid teenager, but that didn't stop the frustration that Trip felt whenever he saw T'Pol with the captain. He knew that Malcolm suspected something – the armoury officer had made a couple of leading comments during their ridiculous escapade on Risa – but, to Trip's relief, the lieutenant hadn't pressed him about his sudden antisocial behavior.
The drive manifold came loose, and Trip bit back a curse at what he saw. Where there should have been functional moving parts was now a fused slab of metal and plastic. Without a complete engine replacement, the 'pod wasn't leaving this small valley any time soon.
"Commander." T'Pol's voice caught him by surprise, and Trip jumped slightly before shooting her a frustrated glare. She was studying the mess he was sitting in front of with an upraised eyebrow.
"It's screwed," Trip reported, as he turned his attention back to the fused junk before him so he wouldn't focus on how gorgeous the Vulcan was, especially with that smudge of dirt on her nose. He swallowed the annoyance that bubbled up within his stomach, and gestured to the ruined engine. "It looks like the coolant system failed, which led to the magnetic containment of the plasma collapsin'." Silently, Trip began composing the scathing report he intended to write on the shuttlepod repair crew; there were only a limited number of people who could be responsible for the sort of sloppiness that led to this.
"We should inform the captain," T'Pol decided. She turned away, and Tucker snuck a quick glance at her retreating form, before returning his full attention to the ruined engine. Eyes front, Trip, he told himself bitterly. If there was one thing that Tucker had learned about Jon, it was that he really didn't like his friends checking out the women that Archer was dating.
"So it's not going anywhere?" the captain asked once he had been filled in. He sounded nearly as angry as Trip was over the shuttlepod's current situation.
"No, sir," Tucker replied sourly.
"Hess has already started installing the sensor mask on the other shuttlepod," Archer relayed after a moment of silence. "But that'll take at least two days. Maybe three."
"Why don't you beam T'Pol out of here?" Trip asked abruptly. Instantly, he grimaced at the words that tumbled out of his mouth. His mother had often accused him of suffering from 'single synapse syndrome' due to his tendency to speak before thinking, and, as T'Pol shot him a Vulcan glare, Trip silently acknowledged that his mom had probably been right. From thought to action in a single bound was how his mother had lamented. "I can handle things here until the other 'pod arrives," he pressed on.
"That is illogical," T'Pol nearly snapped. If she hadn't been Vulcan, her expression could have been called annoyed. "Starfleet regulations require landing parties to be comprised of at least two personnel."
"And I'm not going to put Enterprise into orbit unless there's no other option," Archer stated. "This planet is on the verge of a global atomic war," he continued, "And I don't want to think about what would happen if we suddenly showed up."
"All the more reason to get her out of here," Tucker muttered. He returned the Vulcan's cold stare with a frown of his own.
"This moon's orbit is taking us out of direct communication for at least six hours," the captain declared, clearly ignoring Trip's suggestion, "So, stay safe, you two. Enterprise out."
"Your concern about my safety is appreciated, Mister Tucker, but misplaced," T'Pol pointed out the instant the comm line went dead, and Trip fought to keep the glower from his face. He was mostly successful.
"'Cause that's the cap'n's job," he muttered, eliciting a raised eyebrow from her. "We should start packin' the gear for the evac," Tucker said before she could comment.
For nearly three hours, they worked in virtual silence. Trip knew the subcommander well enough to recognize that she wanted to ask him about his foul mood, but didn't know how to broach the subject. Not too long ago, he would have taken pity on her social awkwardness and given her an opportunity to ask her questions; it had become how they learned to be friends, with him watching her for signs of confusion or discomfort before stepping in to explain some quirk of human behavior. Now, however, he didn't even make eye contact with her in the event that she might see it as an opportunity to query him about his behavior. It was childish and immature, but according to the Vulcan biographical file on him (which he wasn't supposed to have read in the first place), he excelled at being immature.
When she began studying the darkening sky with the Vulcan equivalent of a frown, however, Trip was forced to take notice. Glancing in the direction that she was studying, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. The tension in the subcommander's body was unmistakable, though, and Tucker found himself growing nervous.
"Commander," the Vulcan said abruptly. "Human night vision is considered superior to Vulcan," she stated, and Trip blinked at the unexpected revelation. She continued before he could give it serious thought. "Our hearing, however, is significantly better." T'Pol pointed. "I can hear what sounds to be primitive engines in that direction, but I cannot see a vehicle."
Trip squinted as he examined the horizon in the direction that she indicated, and, for a long moment, saw nothing. He was about to tell her that when the fading sunlight glinted off of something. His eyes widened.
"Attack planes!" he exclaimed sharply before diving toward the communication array on the 'pod. An angry red light morbidly informed him that Enterprise was still out of contact range; lurking behind the largest moon, it was likely on the other side of the planet and, even if Trip did send a message, it would take at least five or ten minutes to reach the Starfleet ship. That was time they didn't have.
To his surprise, T'Pol hadn't moved, and was still looking in the direction of the approaching aircraft, clearly in an effort to make it out herself. At his incredulous look, she gave him a disbelieving look.
"Are you sure?" she asked. Trip didn't bother to reply as he pushed one of the shuttlepod's survival packs into her hands.
"We need to move now!" he snapped, as he risked another look in the direction of the aircraft. There were three of them now, and, at any other time, Trip would have loved to examine them. Of a swept-wing design, the twin propellers that provided each of the craft thrust were at the aft of the bombers instead of the fore. Aggressive-looking pods were slung under the wings, and Trip didn't want to know if they were bombs or rockets. He sprinted away from the wrecked 'pod, slightly surprised at how easily T'Pol seemed to outpace him. The whines of the primitive internal combustion engines that drove the three aerocraft echoed around them.
Thirty seconds later, the entire valley exploded in fire.