Charles was gone when she woke.
Blinking against the dim light beginning to peek through the single window in the attic room, T’Pol slowly rolled to a seated position, swinging her legs over the edge of the bed and placing her feet on the cold wood floor. She barely restrained a shiver at the uncomfortable sensation, and quickly began pulling on her clothes, starting with the scratchy socks Dena had provided her weeks earlier. Not for the first time, she longed for the insulated white uniform she had worn at the beginning of this mission, and actually glanced at the carefully packed duffel bag where the thermal-lined suit was currently concealed. Donning it would be too risky, however, and she instead drew on a pair of poorly fitting pants, shivering the entire time.
None of the members of the Zeon family were awake as she made her way down the stairs, which only served to confirm T’Pol’s growing suspicion that they were concealing the truth of their origins. From what she knew about subsistence agrarian societies, a work day for a homestead such as this one should begin prior to dawn and last well into the night. There were too many unanswered questions involving these people, and T’Pol had little doubt that they knew her to be suspicious of them.
After searching the main floor of the home and not finding Charles, T’Pol pulled on a thick coat – from the smell, it normally belonged to Erela – and carefully opened the back door. Fresh footprints in the virgin snow led directly to the barn, and as she paused to make sure the head wrap concealing her ears was still secure, T’Pol could detect the sounds of activity within the structure. Sighing – and silently chastising herself for the lapse of control – she stepped out of the house and walked toward the barn, taking care to place her feet in the footprints already present.
Charles was hard at work over the three-wheeled vehicle when she entered the large structure, though T’Pol initially could not see what he was doing. A pair of foul-smelling oil lanterns hung on hooks over his head, the small flames within flickering and casting dancing shadows across the floor. As she examined his body language, she heard a distinctive whine– the discharge of a phase pistol – followed promptly by the sound of a file being used against metal. Pausing at the entranceway, she glanced quickly around to reassure herself that they were alone before securing the door.
“I know what you’re gonna say,” Tucker said, his voice muffled by cold weather gear and his awkward position over the ATV, “but I made sure nobody would catch me.”
“I caught you,” T’Pol retorted as she drew closer to her companion. He glanced up at her but didn’t make eye contact.
“Yeah, but you don’t count,” he said before gesturing to the ground. There, hidden by the off-road vehicle’s bulk, was her scanner. “I programmed it to warn me of approachin’ life signs within fifty meters so I knew you were comin’,” Charles continued. He lifted the phase pistol and aimed it at the engine casing he was working on. A coherent stream of light flashed out, superheating the metal. Comprehension dawned instantly: he was using the weapon as a welding torch. “Since you’re here,” he said, “you can lend me a hand. It’s slow going since I don’t have goggles.”
“I do not require eye protection,” T’Pol declared as she bent over the frame to take the pistol from him. “My species have a second set of inner eyelids,” she revealed calmly, “that helps shield our eyes from the harsh sunlight on Vulcan.”
“Damn,” Charles grumbled as he passed the weapon-turned-welder over to her. “Wish I’d known that on Enterprise. Coulda used it a couple of times.” He was silent as T’Pol worked, and she could feel the tension radiating off of him as he looked everywhere but at her. She should not have been surprised – last night had been unbelievably awkward.
“What are you hoping to accomplish with these repairs?” T’Pol asked in an attempt to direct his thoughts away from the events of seven hours earlier.
“Increase the fuel efficiency for starters,” Charles said. “I think I can double or maybe even triple how far we can get on a liter of gasoline,” he added. “I’ve also been thinkin’ about how we can eliminate the need for liquid propellant entirely.” He rolled his tongue around inside his mouth. “You ever heard of a Stirling engine?”
“Should I have?”
“It’s a heat engine that uses a fixed amount of gas sealed inside the engine,” he said. “Since you have a fixed amount of gas inside a fixed volume of space, raisin’ the temperature of the gas increases the pressure.”
“And decreasing the volume of space available increases the temperature of the gas,” T’Pol finished. “Yes, I am familiar with it, though not by that name,” she added, not bothering to point out that Vulcan had developed an engine based on those principles while humans were still killing one another with swords and clubs. “You are considering rebuilding this engine in that fashion?”
“Not with the tools we’ve got here, no.” He frowned. “Ideally, I’d like to build some solar collectors, eliminate the need for gasoline entirely, but doin’ that means I’m gonna have to remember some things I learned back in grade school and haven’t used since then.” He leaned forward, nodded, and then touched her hand to let her know that she could cease welding. At the admittedly brief touch, a flood of alien emotions coursed through her mind, and T’Pol frowned tightly.
Clearly, her mental shields needed work.
A flash of embarrassment crossed Charles’ face, and he quickly jerked his hand away as if it had been burned. He shifted a half-step away from her, once again focusing so resolutely upon the exposed engine components that it was impossible for T’Pol to not realize he was trying to avoid her eyes. Her frown deepened – he could not have sensed her mind, could he? Humans weren’t empathic or telepathic. More likely, she realized, he was remembering the unexpected result of last night’s neuropressure session.
As their sessions progressed to more advanced postures intended to aid her recovery from the mental abuses she’d suffered at the hands of Silik and Tolaris, T’Pol had become increasingly aware of Charles’ discomfort. It was to be expected – to a Terran, many of the pressure points that needed to be stimulated were located in or around the erogenous zones of human bodies, a fact she tried to impress upon him as often as possible. Charles’ subconscious reacted to her proximity and relative nudity exactly as his biology intended it to, however, and T’Pol found that the potency of his scent while he was aroused had an unexpectedly similar effect upon her. Every bit of her mental fortitude was required to prevent him from discovering this fact, especially when their light empathic connection during the neuropressure revealed to her that he was experiencing an overpowering sense of disgust at his base reaction. By keeping the sessions as clinical as possible, she hoped to ease his awkwardness. Last night, however, her every effort in that regard proved to be for naught.
Since joining the Zeon family, they had discovered that not all of the Ekosi food sat well with them, an understandable fact given that there were likely trillions of bacteria in every gram of sustenance that their bodies had never before faced. To combat this, T’Pol had begun instructing Charles in neuropressure techniques intended to aid digestion. These particular pressure points were located near the base of the spine and, coupled with the previous stimulation of other neural nodes, had a completely unexpected result on his body.
Without warning, Charles had ejaculated.
It was difficult to say which of them was more surprised – or embarrassed, though T’Pol would never admit experiencing such a thing – as Tucker’s body accelerated into a rapid and intense orgasm. To her silent shock, T’Pol had experienced a reciprocal rush of pleasurable sensation, as if she were feeling psychic feedback from his body, something she knew to be categorically impossible; it was nowhere near as potent as what affected Charles, but was no less unforeseen. His face crimson with mortification, Tucker had quickly retreated from the attic room the moment he was able to recover, pausing only long enough to grab a change of clothes to replace his soiled underwear. When he finally returned several hours later, T’Pol had feigned being asleep to avoid further upsetting him, even as she tried to comprehend why his body had responded to neuropressure in that manner.
Or why her body had reacted the way it did.
“I am familiar with numerous types of solar-powered systems,” T’Pol said in response to his last comment. “Vulcan makes extensive use of such self-renewing energy sources.”
“Yeah, I figured as much.” Charles bit his lower lip as he began testing the efficacy of their weld job. “You seen anything like paper in their house?” he asked. “I’ve looked – discreetly, of course – but haven’t seen anything we could use to draw the plans on.” T’Pol’s eyes narrowed, and she frowned.
“They have no paper products whatsoever in their home,” she said. Charles gave her a questioning look, but she continued before he could speak. “There should be some sort of paper product present,” T’Pol remarked, “especially given this culture’s level of technology.”
“Like a Bible,” Tucker offered, “or their equivalent.”
“Correct.” She was silent for a moment as she examined their options and found them to be distressingly few. “Charles,” she said, drawing his attention by her very tone, “we should begin preparing to make an immediate escape, regardless of the weather conditions.”
“Escape?” he repeated. “You make it sound like we’re prisoners.”
“Too many variables about this family do not add up,” T’Pol argued. “We could be in greater danger than we know.” She pursed her lips. “The best prison is one where the captives are unaware that they have been incarcerated.” Tucker abandoned whatever it was he was attempting to do and straightened, his eyes on her.
“You sound like you’re speakin’ from experience,” he ventured. T’Pol hesitated for a moment, wondering if the revelation she was preparing to give him would change his opinion of her before nodding tightly.
“I served for several years with the Ministry of Intelligence,” she admitted hesitantly. Charles’ eyes widened.
“You were a spy?” he asked.
“Hardly,” T’Pol replied. “My primary task was fugitive retrieval.” Once again, his reaction came as a surprise to her.
“A bounty hunter?” Tucker exclaimed incredulously, his eyes glinting with mirth and what looked to be excitement. “That is so … neat!”
T’Pol blinked. There were times – quite often, actually – when she doubted she would ever understand this man. She had anticipated the confession to cause him some angst, perhaps even damaging the level of trust between them as logic would dictate he suspect she had acted as an intelligence agent while serving aboard Enterprise, reporting back to the Ministry about the capabilities of her human crewmates. Instead, he reacted with something akin to childlike glee.
“Did your boss ever tell you no disintegrations?” he asked with a broad grin, his voice deepening with the final two words of his question as if he were quoting something.
“This is not a laughing matter, Charles,” T’Pol told him flatly. He sobered almost instantly to her silent relief. “We need to begin making plans.”
“All right,” he said. “Tell me what to do.”
So she did.