Every part of his body was sore.
It wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the first week after he’d rescued T’Pol from that Ferran jackass, when his body made him pay for the days of over-exertion and constant abuse, but Trip was finding it increasingly difficult to move without wincing. He wished that he could blame it on anyone but himself, but the intense physical exercise and training necessary these days to keep his mind off T’Pol’s glorious naked form and what it felt like when her body touched his and the sounds she made when … dammit. Blowing out a frustrated breath, he concentrated once more on the mental image of a fire and slowly began feeding his emotions into the flames. If they were going to pull this off, then he needed to have his head clear and the very last thing they needed was for his errant thoughts to set T’Pol off again, no matter that the last four or five times that’d happened, the end result had been very enjoyable for both of them. The way her eyes had gleamed with hunger when she stepped into the reactor room, her uniform already halfway off and her skin flushed, had caused him …
Sonuvabitch. There he went again. Already, he could sense the primal part of T’Pol stirring despite her best efforts to suppress the reaction. Trip sighed and decided to try something else. Clearly this ‘emotions into the flames’ thing that T’Pol used wasn’t working as well as it should, so he wondered if pure mathematics might be a better way to go. Closing his eyes, he breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth.
One. Two. Three. Five. Seven. Eleven. Thirteen.
He’d reached one hundred twenty-seven before he felt sufficiently in control of himself to risk speaking to the woman currently ensconced behind the commander’s station on the bridge. With a quick glance to double-check that everything was squared away, Trip reached for the wall panel and hit the transmit button.
“Ready,” he said simply, noting how flat his voice sounded even to his own ears. Part of that was no doubt due to the EV suit helmet he was wearing, but there was also no denying that the emotion suppression techniques he was learning for the benefit of them both were also a factor. At first, they had thought T’Pol was the only one affected by this … partial blood fever he kept almost triggering (accidentally, of course), but Trip quickly learned that he would experience some weird symptoms himself sometimes. Constant headaches, frequent double-vision (which honestly wasn’t all that bad when he was looking at a naked T’Pol – two of her was always better than just one), persistent arousal, not to mention the occasional muscle spasm that came out of nowhere. He knew for a fact that T’Pol was absolutely terrified that she’d given him Pa’nar even if she didn’t want to vocalize her fear, but Trip thought it was just a sort of feedback coming from her confused bio-chemistry.
Or at least he hoped that was the case.
“Acknowledged,” T’Pol said in response. At the back of his mind, Trip could feel the tangled knot of her emotions as she powered up the T’Muna-Doth’s impulse drive. She was excited to be getting back into space, even if it was only for twenty or thirty minutes (hopefully less, if they were lucky); worried that he was going to be putting himself into danger; frustrated that all of their efforts to repair the communications array with the supplies at hand had failed; and relieved that he had managed to effectively control his libido for a change. Despite thoroughly enjoying their sexual relationship – the woman could be insatiable at times and the intensity of their respective orgasms had increased so much so that they were bordering on the painful – T’Pol continued to struggle with embarrassment over just how much power he seemed to have over her, power that he could barely control half the time. And speaking of which…
One hundred thirty-one. One hundred thirty-seven. One hundred thirty-nine.
The T’Muna-Doth shuddered slightly and a subtle rumble echoed throughout the ship as the main drive came online. Trip tilted his head and closed his eyes, listening for any hint of engine trouble, but the old girl was purring like a kitten. He smiled and patted the bulkhead affectionately, all the while wishing he wasn’t wearing this stupid EV suit so he could feel the warm metal under his hand. Idly, he wondered how the High Command would react to the knowledge that he had basically torn apart one of their still classified warp drives (despite this hull having been retired for forty years) and put it back together better than before. He spent a few seconds imagining himself explaining just how antiquated certain Vulcan designs actually were to Soval and Tos and that jackass from the Science Directorate whose name he couldn’t remember that had been such a common fixture at the Warp Five complex back before Enterprise was even drafted. Could their eyebrows even go that high or would they strain something?
The daydream made him smile.
“Two minutes to target,” T’Pol’s voice announced, breaking into his train of thought, and Trip shifted awkwardly, once more checking his gear. The tools he had strapped to his thighs were secure, the uncomfortable Vulcan EV suit checked out as functional with a full canister of oxygen set for human consumption, and the hand-portable grappler was ready. He grimaced – if only they’d been able to fix his damned communicator, this little space walk wouldn’t even be necessary, but no, that stupid thing just had to have managed to get even more screwed up thanks to his little ice-water dip over a year earlier.
With the communications array aboard the T’Muna little more than scrap metal, T’Pol had suggested they retrieve the spy-sat Enterprise left in orbit and cannibalize it for parts. The transmitter dish could hopefully be jury-rigged to provide at least short-range comms – maybe a couple of light-minutes or light-hours in terms of range, which was certainly better than their current status consisting of running lights and Morse code – and, if they were very lucky, it might even have a live connection to the nearest subspace amplifier, in which case they could send a request for aid. Unfortunately, with the T’Muna’s comm. array shot and the Starfleet communicator only good for target practice, someone would need to manually open the satellite’s access port, hack into the system network, and override the auto-destruct built in, and Trip was really the only option. T’Pol was an excellent scientist and rapidly becoming a superlative engineer under his tutelage, but he’d had been part of the design team for this particular satellite and could take the damned thing apart blindfolded.
To minimize the chance that the warlike Ekosians would notice the T’Muna from ground-based telescopes, they had waited until a particularly cloudy day to try this (as if that would actually work, he thought wryly) and even now, a minute and thirty seconds from the point of no return, Trip had to shake his head at their crazy plan. Using the ship’s tractor beam wasn’t an option – these satellites had built-in detection software and, if moved out of its orbital alignment without first receiving an authorization code, the entire thing would self-destruct – so Trip had hit on the idea of using one of the personal grapplers instead. T’Pol would get him close enough to it, he’d fire the line, hit retract, and go to the satellite so he could do his thing. She would then get clear of the planetary mass and give the entire system an active sensor sweep for anything else Enterprise might have left behind.
This is a really stupid idea, Trip mused. He shook his head before suddenly realizing that he hadn’t actually lost the track of his count. Five hundred forty-one. Five hundred forty-seven. Five hundred fifty-seven.
“Target in sight,” T’Pol declared. “Stand by.” A sharp spike of emotion stabbed through their mysterious connection and Trip smiled slightly once he deciphered its meaning.
“I’ll be fine,” he promised. Five hundred sixty-three. Five hundred sixty-nine.
“And I will hold you to that,” T’Pol retorted tightly. “Evacuating oxygen from airlock now.” Trip hefted the remarkably heavy grappler and lifted it onto his shoulder while aiming it in the direction of the sealed hatch. Five hundred seventy-one. Five hundred seventy-seven. “Initiating retrograde burn,” T’Pol said a moment later. “Outer airlock door opening.” Without a sound, the named hatch slid away and Trip’s breath caught at the sight before him. Ekos hung suspended against a backdrop of complete darkness, with millions of tiny stars glittering and sparkling like jewels. One of the planetary moons could just be made out, but the other two as well as the sister planet were concealed behind the blue-green orb that looked so much like Earth that it hurt. As he took in the planet, Trip couldn’t help but wonder what his family was doing at this very moment. A barbeque perhaps? Lizzie’s birthday was coming up and the Tuckers often celebrated it early so everybody could be there…
He shook the moment off. There was work to do.
“Activating grappler,” he said while reaching up to hit the power button atop the large targeting array. He leaned forward so his faceplate touched the device and it instantly snapped alive. Vulcan characters crawled down the side of the heads-up display as the software identified numerous objects in range over the planet. Most were normal stellar detritus captured by Ekos’ gravity that hadn’t yet reached terminal orbit decay, but the spy-satellite – mocked up to look like a tiny asteroid – gave off a slightly different mass signature that identified it as unnatural. Trip inhaled. Six hundred forty-one. Six hundred forty-three. “Firing now,” he declared before depressing the trigger. The grappler vibrated slightly against his shoulder and the cable shot out, vanishing against the darkness of space. “Got it,” Trip said when the viewer flashed a message. He crouched and placed the grappler on the deck before attaching the reel line to his EV suit. “Beginning retraction,” he stated before hitting the appropriate button. In the instant before he was yanked out of the T’Muna-Doth, he heard T’Pol speak once more, her voice so soft that he almost missed it and thick with emotion he doubted most humans would even notice.
Within seconds, he reached the satellite. His mag-boots activated the moment his feet hit the faux-rock surface and Trip winced at the shock of impact as it traveled up his legs and spine. Definitely gonna need some neuropressure tonight, he mused as he knelt and triggered the helmet lamp. He finally found the access panel – it was a meter to his left, facing away from the planet – and quickly located the concealed button that flipped it open. A single green light informed him that satellite was functional but that there was no live connection with a subspace amplifier. He sighed. Of course not. That would make this too easy, wouldn’t it?
Accessing the satellite controls took longer than it should have thanks to some system damage that he couldn’t quite explain. There were some unusual scars around the access panel that almost looked like someone had tried to pry it open with a drill or crowbar. Trip frowned but decided to ignore it for the moment – it was probably one of Enterprise’s sloppier engineers, like Masaro, who screwed up and then tried to hide the evidence of his error – while he concentrated on inputting his command codes, not an easy task thanks to the thick EV suit gloves no matter that the pad was intentionally oversized for that very reason. The moment the system accepted his codes, he could feel a subtle tremor as the satellite began powering down.
“T’Pol, can you hear me?” he asked, glancing in the direction of the T’Muna. The response was almost instant.
“We’re good to go,” Trip said. “Auto-destruct is deactivated and the satellite is ready for pick-up.” Once again, he smiled at the rush of alien emotion he felt for the briefest of seconds. If he understood how to send feelings or thoughts, he’d try to reciprocate her affectionate relief … although from the subtle shift he felt across their connection, Trip wondered if she got the meaning anyway.
“Stand by,” T’Pol instructed and bare seconds later, the Vulcan starship blotted out the exquisite view of Ekos as she moved it into position. The tractor beam activated almost instantly, grasping both Trip and the deactivated satellite with an implacable grip and directing them toward the still open airlock hatch at the base of the T’Muna-Doth. When landed on a planetary surface, the hatch would be unseen as the deployed landing struts would conceal it, but here in space, it made ship-to-ship transfers surprisingly easy.
“We’re in,” Trip announced once the bottom of the satellite cleared the open hatch. He reached for the nearest handhold and pulled himself away from the heavy spy-sat. “I’m clear of the door,” he declared. With a soft vibration that caused his fingers the tingle, the hatch silently closed.
“Equalizing interior pressure,” T’Pol said. “Internal gravity being restored.” Trip winced as he felt his body weight slowly return to normal – did she have it set for Vulcan normal? Or was he just that tired? The spy-sat dropped lightly to the deck and he reached for the straps that would hold in place. “Oxygen system reads amber … you may remove your helmet.” Trip smirked at the hint of sheepishness he heard in her voice when she quickly elaborated – on a human starship, it would have been green, not amber, and he suspected the vague sense of distraction he could feel through their magical bond had caused her to momentarily forget that. His amusement faded a moment later when he wondered why she would be distracted. He hadn’t screwed up and triggered another almost plak tow, had he? Trip shook his head as soon as he realized that wasn’t the case at all.
He didn’t bother stripping the entire EV suit off before heading toward the command deck, pausing only long enough to store the helmet and control pack in their proper place. T’Pol was sitting at the sensors station, her attention riveted on the data readouts dominating the remarkable display monitor that wrapped around the entire bridge. Trip gave it a quick look before frowning.
“Something up?” he asked.
“There are multiple artificial satellites in orbit over both planets,” she replied. She nodded toward one section of the curving monitor. “They appear to be functioning as global positioning systems.” One of her perfect eyebrows climbed. “The technology required for these satellites far exceeds what appears to be norm on Ekos and I am unsure how Enterprise failed to detect them earlier.” Trip glanced in the direction of the ladder, suddenly recalling the weird scratch marks on the surface of the spy-sat they’d just retrieved. “Trip?”
“Somebody tried to access our satellite,” he said. “There was some surface scarring – a drill, I think – but I didn’t think it was that important.” T’Pol pursed her lips and input some additional commands. A second later, another section of the viewscreen changed to what looked like a frequency scanner.
“Detecting a low-band radio transmitter on the base of the satellite,” she revealed. “It cannot penetrate the hull of the T’Muna-Doth.”
“Still,” Trip muttered as he slid into the commander’s station, “we probably shouldn’t hang around here like this.”
“Agreed.” T’Pol did something at her console and a flight plan suddenly appeared on the main display. Trip’s eyes widened slightly – it did not take them back to Ekos, but rather to the dark side of the nearby moon. He gave her a look and she responded with a single, upraised eyebrow. “I have not completed my sensor sweep of the system,” she revealed.
“And you think whoever planted the bug on our satellite might come looking to see why it went silent,” he guessed.
“That thought had crossed my mind,” T’Pol admitted with that not-quite there smile of hers. “We have sufficient food stores to remain in orbit for a solar week,” she said, “and you have often stated the only way to test systems is-”
“T’Pol.” She broke off her explanation and looked at him. “You don’t need to explain,” Trip said. “I agree with you.” He tapped a series of keys on the pilot’s station and the T’Muna’s impulse drive responded at once. The graceful ship rapidly accelerated, banking slowly in response to the preprogrammed route, and in mere seconds passed behind the moon. Once satisfied that station-keeping mode was activated, Trip stood. “I’m going to go clean up,” He said, wincing at the slight twinge in his side. Stupid bear, he grumbled mentally.
“Once you are done,” T’Pol instructed, her head bent over the sensor board, “let me know. Your … discomfort is distracting.” Once again, she offered him that almost-smile of hers. “Neuropressure will help.” Trip smirked.
“I didn’t want to beg,” he said as started down the ladder. Abruptly, he realized that he’d lost track of his count and sighed.
One. Two. Three. Five. Seven.