T’Pol’s hand trembled.
She did not think that her companion saw her momentary weakness – at the moment, Trip was hunched over the exposed circuitry of her scanner trying to locate the reason for fluctuating readings on the device – but she quickly thrust the offending limb behind her back to hide it from view just in case. A deeply buried part of her psyche moaned in distress at what the spasms meant, even as a greater part silently acknowledged that she had been fortunate the symptoms were only now beginning to manifest. By her calculations, over four months (Earth standard) had passed since her last treatment, and Phlox was no longer available to lend his medical brilliance toward slowing the onset of the condition. Though it was completely illogical, she had desperately hoped the Denobulan had – what was the human phrase? – pulled the proverbial monkey out of the hat and developed a miracle cure.
Obviously, he had not.
Carefully smoothing out any hint of emotion from her expression, T’Pol began making adjustments to her mental timetable. Now that she knew the Pa’nar was not in remission as she’d hoped, she would have to push Charles even harder, would have to redouble her efforts to turn him into a highly skilled operative capable of surviving any situation he found himself in. It would be difficult, especially with her concealing the nature of her haste, but if anyone could do this, Charles Tucker could.
She only hoped he would not hate her once he learned what she was hiding from him.
“Damn,” the subject of her musings muttered. Seated on the cot with his legs hanging over the side, Charles had the lid of a crate on his lap acting like a makeshift table for the scanner. He leaned back, shaking his head. “I was afraid of this,” he said before looking up at her. “It looks like the power cell was damaged somehow.” T’Pol leaned forward to look at the partially disassembled device on the makeshift table.
“Can you repair it?” she asked, noting once more the sudden tension that caused the muscles in his neck and shoulders to tighten. It was ironic, T’Pol reflected as she shuffled back a half step, how sensitive he had become to her invasion of his personal space. When Enterprise first deployed, it had been she who always seemed discomfited by his proximity, yet at some point, the situation had reversed. She wondered why.
“With the tools we’ve got here,” Tucker said, gesturing toward the crude array of wrenches meant entirely for the maintenance of a primitive internal combustion engine, “I sincerely doubt it.” He ran his fingers through his lengthening hair and sighed. “We need a dedicated electronics repair kit. Something with a soldering iron, some tweezers, a magnifyin’ glass…” Trip gestured to the carefully stacked duffel bags and wooden crates containing the supplies they had obtained. “We’ve already been through this stuff twice without finding what we need.”
“Then we shall seek it elsewhere,” T’Pol declared. “How long until the power cell is completely expended?” She hoped that Charles did not realize that she was more than capable of determining the answer herself; by keeping his mind busy in this way, she was able to prevent him from relapsing into the depression he’d been poised to spiral into.
“Depends on how often we use the scanner.” He pressed his tongue against the side of his mouth as he considered. “If we turn it off and don’t use it at all,” he said, “I figure the battery will hold a charge for at least a year.” Tucker’s expression turned resolute. “But if we keep usin’ it like we have,” he added, “it’ll be a pretty paperweight within a month.”
“Then we adapt,” T’Pol said. She took a seat on an uncomfortable box in front of him and watched silently as he began reassembling the scanner. The precision in his fingers was astounding for a man who came across so bluntly. She had never quite understood the dichotomy.
Now is not the time to get distracted, she reminded herself. Charles was relying upon her to teach him how to survive and it was long past time for the lessons to resume.
“How much time has elapsed since we meditated?” T’Pol asked, her voice brisk. He recognized her tone and reacted accordingly. His entire body language … shifted, as if he flipped a switch inside his brain. Although he continued to reassemble the scanner, his eyes closed.
“I estimate ... three hours, thirty-six minutes,” he replied. She cleared her throat and he grimaced. “I don’t know the number of seconds,” Tucker admitted.
“Twenty-nine,” she said. “But better. Your sense of timing is much improved.” He smiled, but did not open his eyes. “Seventeen minutes ago,” T’Pol said, “I placed six objects on the dashboard of this vehicle. Describe them.”
“Two rounds from one of the rifles we picked up,” Trip began instantly, “a roll of tape –it was medical tape from your aid kit and not the cheap stuff from mine – that small mirror we cut up yesterday, the metal pin to open the breakfast entrée…” Tucker trailed off as he concentrated on his memory. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and he grinned at her. “You liar,” he said. “There were only five things on the dash.”
“Very good, Charles.” He beamed at the compliment. “Eyes closed,” she reminded him. He obeyed. “There is an object directly behind you that should not belong. Describe it.” Tucker was silent for a moment before frowning.
“I don’t remember anything out of place back there,” he admitted.
“You aren’t concentrating, Charles,” T’Pol said. “Focus on clearing your mind of clutter as I showed you. Breathe in, breathe out. Allow your thoughts to become an empty space, an expanse of white that stretches on into infinity.” She waited for a long moment as he sat there quietly, his face reflecting the effort it was taking for him to avoid fidgeting. “Now envision a flame. Feed all of your emotions into this fire. Let it consume them.” Another long moment passed, but this time, Charles seemed to be relaxing. T’Pol nodded. “There is an object directly behind you that should not belong,” she repeated. “Describe it.”
“White rock,” Tucker mumbled. “Jagged edges, barely three centimeters in size.” He grunted. “How did I miss that?” he asked with wonder in his voice. T’Pol fought the urge to smile.
“Begin calculating pi until I tell you to stop,” she instructed as she glanced down and saw that he was done reassembling the scanner.
“That I can do in my sleep,” he said with a smirk. “Three point one four one five nine two six-”
As he recited the numbers, T’Pol slowly, stealthily reached forward with her left hand and stroked his ear. Charles jerked away from the unexpected sensation with a startled yelp, his knees knocking the makeshift table from his lap and sending the scanner tumbling. Almost casually, T’Pol snatched it out of the air with her other hand and leaned back, meeting his wide eyes with a single, upraised eyebrow.
“You allowed yourself to become distracted,” she told him.
“You tickled my ear!”
“I did,” T’Pol agreed. “You must be capable of divorcing yourself from sensation should the need arise while retaining your cognitive abilities.” She gestured toward his ear. “My hand could have represented a serpent drawn to your body heat but relying on movement – your movement – to know when and where to strike.” Charles swallowed. For the span of a heartbeat, T’Pol allowed herself to feel pity for the lost innocent he had once been. His desires had been so simple, so appealing: to build a warp drive and see the stars. It pained her to be the person molding him into a potential weapon. “I am confident in your ability to master these techniques, Charles,” she said, her words causing him to sigh.
“I’m not,” he admitted. “I’m afraid I’m gonna disappoint you.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow in surprise at how heartfelt he sounded.
“You must cast out fear,” she began.
“Because it’s the mind-killer, right?” Tucker interrupted. “I’ve heard that one before.” T’Pol gave him a confused look. “From Dune?” he asked. “Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it?”
“Then I will not tell you,” she retorted. Charles grunted and glanced away, his eyes momentarily swimming out of focus as he concentrated. She felt an entirely unVulcan-like sense of pride at her student’s accomplishments as he began reciting from memory.
“I must not fear,” he said. “Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.” T’Pol felt her eyebrows climb at the pure logic behind the words. “I will face my fear,” Trip continued, an expression of growing surprise on his face. “I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” He rocked back, a riot of emotions crossing his face.
“Fascinating,” T’Pol murmured. She never would have suspected humanity was capable of something that sounded so profoundly … Vulcan.
“I’ve never been able to remember that whole thing,” Tucker said. “Never.” He shook his head in amazement. “But now, it’s like I’ve got the whole thing runnin’ in my head.” T’Pol nodded.
“That is because you are making progress,” she said. “The mind – human or Vulcan – is capable of far more than you may think. Your preconceptions about what you can and cannot do limit you, so you must cast them aside.”
“I guess so,” Trip said as he seemed to rouse from the momentary stupor he had slipped into. “We’ve still got an hour and a half before it gets too dark to even see,” he remarked with a broad grin. He leaned forward. “What other secret Vulcan mojo can you teach me?” T’Pol steepled her fingers.
“As I promised,” she told him smoothly, “I will teach you all that I know.” She nearly gave into the urge to smile at his sudden eagerness. “I have already taught you things that would lead to my exile from Vulcan, Charles,” she remarked wryly. “Do not expect to learn all of my secrets at once.” His enthusiasm vanished almost instantly.
“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” he said. “I guess it’s a good thing we’re probably never gonna get off this rock, huh?”
“Evidently.” They sat in comfortable silence for long minutes before T’Pol made a decision. She would begin pushing Charles’ hard tomorrow. Tonight, she wanted to remember the Commander Tucker who had championed the ridiculous movie nights on Enterprise, the Commander Tucker who had become the de facto ship’s counselor, the Commander Tucker who had offered her the hand of friendship. “This … Dune. What is it?”
“A movie,” he replied before shifting on the cot to make room for her; it was entirely too small for two people, but the warmth Charles’ body provided during the freezing temperatures at night more than made up for the lack of comfort. T’Pol rose and took her usual place in front of him. “Well,” Trip corrected himself as she folded her legs under her, “a couple of movies actually. It’s been remade a half-dozen times, though I think the one from ten years ago was the best.” He leaned back against the wall of the ambulance and scratched the uncomfortable-looking beard he hadn’t been able to cut off yet. “Based on a book written back in the twentieth century, I think,” he said before abruptly snorting. “Now that I think about it,” he said with a grin, “Dune is right up your alley.” At her upraised eyebrow, he explained. “It’s set on a desert planet, and has these guys called Mentats who are dedicated to pure mathematics and logic.”
“It’s about religion, and politics, and all sorts of messy emotions. A real classic.” Tucker crossed his arms. “If … when we get back, I’ll have to get you a copy of the movie.”
“Perhaps a dramatic reading would be more illuminating,” T’Pol interjected, “but I look forward to it nonetheless.” She pulled one of the carefully folded blankets down from where it had been stored and drew it around her shoulders. “In the interim, however,” she said, “you may tell me about this … classic.” Trip nodded.
“Well, it all begins with this boy Paul Atreides…”