The wind on her face was quite pleasant.
Perched in the seat of the local vehicle that they had acquired – Mister Tucker had gleefully called it a motorized trike when they discovered it – Subcommander T'Pol found herself momentarily distracted by the soothing sensation of warm air caressing her face. By her calculations, they were cruising away from the crash site at approximately seventy kilometers an hour, and, as he had promised he wouldn't, the commander had not exceeded that speed in the hour since they had climbed onto the vehicle.
The local vehicle was something of a curiosity and reminded T'Pol that, despite the amazing similarities in appearance, they weren't on Earth. Of a three-wheeled design, it was – according to Mister Tucker – completely backwards. Two narrow wheels were at the front of the vehicle, with a larger, wider tire at the rear. The two occupants of this vehicle sat side-by-side, with the pilot on the right side. An internal combustion engine powered the craft, emitting a foul stench in the process that she barely managed to ignore, and it was maneuvered using a pair of levers instead of the more familiar steering system of a cycle. Tucker had identified this system as similar to the differential steering system used on certain tracked vehicles or large utility tractors, and as he had at least a passing familiarity with their use, T'Pol agreed to allow him to "drive."
That it gave him something to focus on other than the young man that he had inadvertently slain was an added bonus.
The vehicle – T'Pol refused to call it a 'trike' – had clearly belonged to the two soldiers that they had encountered, and had been parked less than ten meters from the site of the unfortunate incident. Based on the location and their gear, T'Pol had theorized that the two were motorized scouts who were the vanguard of a much larger force. Given the number of military vehicles that they had passed heading toward the crash site, this presumption seemed to be borne out.
Fortunately, none of the other motorists seemed curious as to why a single vehicle was heading in the opposite direction.
"I think we're runnin' low on gas!" Tucker shouted over the sound of the vehicle's engine. Frowning slightly, T'Pol glanced at the rudimentary console of the vehicle as he pointed to one of the dials. "I'm pretty sure this is the fuel gauge," he explained loudly. He steered the craft off of the central highway, and onto the rocky yet surprisingly wooded terrain. T'Pol barely restrained herself from coughing at the plumes of dirt that were kicked up by the vehicle.
The vehicle's engine died fitfully nearly twenty minutes later, and they coasted to a gradual stop under a cluster of trees. Though they were still very far from their target, the vehicle had served its purpose, and T'Pol was grateful that it had lasted as long as it did. With no sign of communications equipment on the small vehicle when they discovered it, she had proposed that they head toward the nearest population center with the intent of acquiring and using a local radio to contact Enterprise. There was never any real consideration about ambushing other members of the military force for a radio; from her observation of him, T'Pol knew that Commander Tucker was taking the death of the young man he had accidentally slain quite hard, and the idea of murdering others simply for their equipment was barbaric.
They weren't Klingons after all.
"Yeah," Commander Tucker said several minutes later as he leaned back from examining the engine of their stolen vehicle. "It's definitely outta gas."
"We are approximately sixty kilometers from our destination," T'Pol informed him and he grimaced.
"That's gonna be a tough hike in a week," he commented while gesturing to the rough terrain. "Especially in a place like this and without much water."
"A week?" T'Pol quirked an eyebrow as she spoke.
"Standing order thirty-six," Tucker replied, as if that explained everything. T'Pol raised an eyebrow.
"I am not aware of any such order," she stated, and the commander gave her a sheepish grin.
"I suppose you probably wouldn't be," he stated before shrugging. "It's an unofficial Starfleet regulation for missing crewmembers who might have survived. Enterprise will stay in-system for a week before officially declaring us missing, believed dead."
"Fascinating." T'Pol had never even heard a hint of such a regulation before, and wondered if the Vulcan High Command knew of it. It was, after all, nearly identical to a Vulcan policy for stranded or missing crewmembers. "There are thirty-five other standing orders?" she asked, and Tucker shook his head.
"Not really," he replied. "Thirty-six comes from the year that it became an unofficial-official reg. Twenty-one thirty-six."
"I see." And, for once, she did understand the methodology behind a human decision that, at first glance, seemed completely illogical. "That would be in regards to the UES Pioneer incident?" she queried. Commander Tucker's wide-eyed surprise at her knowledge of human history was oddly gratifying.
"Yeah." He smiled suddenly. "I remember watching the news reports about it," he admitted. "Made me wanna join UESPA." A chuckle followed this. "I tried to sign up the next day, even though I was just sixteen." He gave her a sidelong glance. "And how old were you in twenty-one thirty-six?" he asked.
"Older than sixteen," T'Pol replied smoothly, causing Tucker to laugh out loud. It was an oddly pleasing sound, and something that she had missed in recent weeks.
Abruptly, the commander sobered, and reached for his survival pack. "We should probably get moving," Tucker suggested.
It was slow going, especially with their need for caution. Knowing that the natives had aircraft affected their route, and forced them to stick to the scattered flora for concealment. All of the trees were coniferous, and looked remarkably similar to those of western North America. Displaying remarkable woodscraft for a warp engineer, Commander Tucker kept a steady but constant pace that T'Pol had to admire. He consulted the magnetic compass that was part of his survival pack when appropriate, and pointed out several unusual-looking avians. Two hours after they abandoned the ground vehicle, T'Pol gave up trying to restrain her curiosity and asked him about the unexpected (but quite welcome) skills.
"Summers with my granddad before he died," Tucker stated with a fond smile. "He loved takin' me on hikin' or huntin' trips." He inhaled deeply, closing his eyes as if temporarily lost in memory. "He woulda loved this place," the engineer smiled. "It's like a more pristine version of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico."
"You hunted?" T'Pol asked, unable to entirely hide her distaste at the idea. Tucker nodded.
"Deer, mostly," he replied, before giving her an amused look. "With a camera, Subcommander. Deer are an endangered species on Earth. Have been since after the Third World War." He squinted and studied the clouds. "And that looks like rain," Tucker said. "We better find high ground just in case there's a flash flood."
He was right once more, and T'Pol found herself revising her mental estimate of the commander upward again when he found them a sheltered location to wait out the storm. It was several meters off the ground and little more than a horizontal depression in the side of one of the large canyons that seemed to ring the entire region, but she doubted that she would have found it before the rain began falling. With a touch of chagrin, she realized her less than positive opinion of his survival ability had been based on faulty information; his misadventure in the desert with Captain Archer had nearly convinced her that he had little to no experience outside of civilization, but that was very obviously not the case. Even Phlox's report about his broken ribs should have been enough to suggest that it was an anomaly, but her own biases had blinded her. It was disconcerting to be so out of her depth, and T'Pol found herself desperately missing her tea and meditation candles.
The rain came, slowly at first, as if the heavens were hesitant about the coming precipitation, but with ever-increasing intensity until it fell in heavy sheets that obscured all vision. Thunder boomed out of the darkened sky with distressing frequency, and the skyline lit up with fierce flashes of lightning. The howl of wind made it difficult to hear anything. It was a primal display of the awesome power of nature, and T'Pol found that she could not look away.
She wasn't sure when she had dozed off, but the moment that Sillick lunged out of the darkness toward her, hands twisted in sinister-looking claws, T'Pol jolted awake. Her heart was beating wildly, and her breath came in rapid gasps. Glancing around, she realized that Tucker had somehow rearranged their bodies while she slept so his back was to the still raging storm and she was protected from the bulk of the inclement weather. Stretched out in the tiny hollow, they were almost chest to chest, and even through his clothes, the warmth of his body heat was remarkable.
"You okay?" he asked, and T'Pol fought for complete control. Tucker's face was close to hers, and she recognized that fear from the all too familiar nightmare wasn't the only thing making her heart beat faster.
"I'm fine," she replied. Even to her own ears, she didn't sound convincing.
"You were havin' a nightmare," the commander pressed, and she could hear his concern. It was touching that he cared, and gave her hope that, whatever his reasons for avoiding her in recent weeks, their friendship could still be salvaged. She didn't want to lose him as a friend. "I didn't know Vulcans had nightmares," Tucker said softly.
"Significant emotional trauma is taxing, even to Vulcans," T'Pol admitted. For some reason, she found that she was unwilling to tell him more, to explain to him that she was still recovering from the trauma of both Tolaris' forced mind meld and Sillick's torture, or that she may never fully recover from either.
"I can't help but to think about that kid I killed," the commander whispered, his voice thick with emotion. In the darkness, T'Pol could not see the engineer's face, but she could easily envision the expression that he was wearing. "I've got a cousin that age," he continued, self-disgust and bitterness in his voice. "And he's just a stupid kid with the whole universe ahead of him. That's no age to die."
"I grieve with thee," she told him solemnly, even as she kept a firm grip on her own emotions. She could not let herself experience guilt, not now and especially not with her own past. If she closed her eyes, T'Pol knew that she could still hear the screams of the wounded and the dying, and the wails of those injured by her mistake still haunted her when her control slipped. Suppression of emotion was the only solution; there were no Fullara Masters on this planet. A long moment passed in silence, broken only by the sharp crack of distant thunder. T'Pol tried not to think about the relative intimacy of their respective positions, no matter how comfortable, and was mostly successful.
"Picked up a signal from Enterprise," the commander said, his tone making her wonder if he had been thinking about how to reveal this. T'Pol glanced up at his face, even though she could barely see it. "We've got about four days to find a way to get in touch with 'em before we're classified as missing, believed dead."
"Standing order thirty-six," she commented, and felt him nod.
"Standing order thirty-six," Tucker repeated. He didn't sound hopeful.
Outside, thunder boomed as if mocking them.