Her caution had paid off.
When she announced her intent to exit warp several hours earlier than initially planned and then enter the target system at impulse, Trip had accused her of being slightly paranoid. At first, T’Pol had perceived this comment as an indictment of her recently uncovered past and spent several minutes defending the decision – the comm-buoy that should have been at the periphery of this system was non-responsive, after all, and some of the sensor readings she’d detected were quite troubling if a bit garbled – before finally realizing he was attempting to be humorous. It was gratifying to realize he was not looking at her differently following her revelations and even more satisfying that he did not inexplicably begin treating her as if she suddenly possessed the capabilities of an infant. Her mother had a terrible tendency to do that sort of thing and it aggravated T’Pol rather significantly.
Which, in retrospect, may have been why T’Les did it in the first place. What better way to teach a young Vulcan how to suppress their emotions by provoking an emotional response? She filed that observation away for further reflection at a later time.
At T’Pol’s direction, the T’Muna-Doth slowed to impulse just inside the D’Var Boundary – Trip referred to it by its human name: the Oort Cloud – which placed them approximately nine-tenths of a light year from the local star. To further reduce their own sensor signature, Trip deactivated all but the most essential systems – life support, impulse, and because he did not trust taking it offline, the warp reactor. The latter he was able to safely place in stand-by mode, but he steadfastly refused to take it offline.
“With the damage she’s sustained,” her k’diwa said tersely, “I’m afraid we might not be able to bring it back online if we shut it down all the way.”
They crept forward, relying entirely upon the powerful optical imaging telescope embedded within the heart of the T’Muna-Doth to identify any threats. In the event they encountered trouble, their options were quite limited – the starship’s hull polarization arrays nominally functioned, but Trip had little faith in their capability to withstand anything larger than a mining laser, and the electronic countermeasures barely functioned at all. This particular vessel predated the use of shields apart from the standard deflector array. Evasion was also difficult given the exceedingly low level of deuterium still remaining – exactly as Trip had feared, they had nearly expended all of their fuel reserves and any combat maneuvers would likely result in the T’Muna-Doth simply drifting. Thus, identifying any threats and avoiding them entirely was the most logical course of action.
And so, when her board chimed an alert, T’Pol did not try to suppress the triumphant look she gave Trip.
“What do we have?” he asked as he leaned over her, bracing himself against her chair so he could look over her shoulder. It should have annoyed her – there were times when it did, actually – but at the moment, she simply enjoyed the extra warmth he provided. The command deck currently felt rather cool to her, though she was unsure if it was due to Trip’s adjustment of the life support settings or if this was yet another indication her Pa’nar was emerging from remission. She hoped it was the former.
By way of response, T’Pol tapped a series of buttons that transferred the images being received by the imaging telescopes to the main viewscreen that curved around the command deck. At this distance, the vessels were little more than dark smudges silhouetted against the bright planet. The T’Muna-Doth’s computers struggled to make sense of what they were observing and, long minutes later, four tentative ship identifications popped up on the screen.
The quartet appeared to be the standard bird of prey class, which meant they would have easily outgunned the T’Muna-Doth even if the type four deep-space exploratory vessel had not been obsolete for well over three decades. With four of them, she and Trip would not even stand a chance. Fortunately …
“Are they fighting with each other?” Trip asked suddenly, voicing her thought, and indeed, the four Klingons did appear engaged in a space battle with one another. There did not appear to be sides in this engagement – their fire was indiscriminate, although at a glance, T’Pol thought three of the vessels were using standard predator tactics: isolate the weakest member and eliminate it. The vessel in question was, according to the T’Muna-Doth’s computers, heavily damaged, with a wavering reactor signature indicative of a massive breach. It was unlikely that even Klingons could long survive a radiation leak of that size and indeed, the vessel’s evasive maneuvers ceased altogether, allowing the remaining ships to pound away with their disruptors.
The destruction of the Klingon ship was rather anticlimactic: no explosion tore it apart ... which, T’Pol supposed, was to be expected if the captains of the other vessels intended to strip it of valuables or spare parts. Instead, it simply continued coasting in the same direction it had previously been traveling, slowly rolling along its horizontal axis as it tumbled powerless through space. With that vessel no longer a threat, the remaining three promptly oriented upon each other.
“Good Lord,” Trip muttered. “Is there even a point to this?”
“To you or I?” T’Pol frowned slightly. “Unlikely.”
“They’re acting like …” Trip trailed off as the word he sought eluded him. T’Pol glanced up at him.
“Barbarians?” she offered. He nodded. “Their continued existence in the face of such rampant barbarism is the subject of numerous Vulcan sociological research projects.” Trip grunted, his eyes still locked on the engagement.
“Any chance of them detecting us?” he asked softly. T’Pol quirked an eyebrow.
“This engagement transpired approximately six hours ago,” she pointed out, the corners of her lips curved up in a slight smile of amusement. The wash of his self-annoyance pulsed across their psychic connection – belatedly, he realized that he knew they were effectively looking at past events, but he had become so accustomed to viewing events in real-time over the years that he’d forgotten. On the heels of this, however, she experienced a rush of curiosity.
“Wait,” he said slowly. “We’re eight and a half trillion kilometers from this star.” He blinked and T’Pol experienced a curious sensation. Their cerebral linkage momentarily felt different, as if Trip was suddenly a vast distance away instead of standing within centimeters of her. He was making mental calculations, she realized with some mild surprise; why would their bond react in this way to that? “It should take most of a year for the light of that engagement to reach us,” he continued. “How are we seeing it so quickly?”
Before T’Pol could respond – she fully intended to simply pull up the schematics of the telescopes and allow Trip to determine the answer himself; she understood the science but suspected he would more readily comprehend the answer when couched in engineering terms and expressions that were still occasionally foreign to her – the T’Muna-Doth’s computer identified a major aspect change of the three remaining Klingon ships and chirped a soft warning. T’Pol lifted one eyebrow slightly as the ‘weakest’ bird of prey abruptly wheeled away from the planetoid and sprang away at superluminal speeds. Without hesitation, the other vessels followed suit.
“Huh.” Trip leaned back, robbing her of his much appreciated warmth. “Should we move now? While they’re off shooting at one another?”
“I think not.” T’Pol tapped a few more buttons and the image changed to a system overview. “Until we know they did not immediately return,” she said simply, “it is illogical to move.” She selected one of the outer gas giants and zoomed into it. “I do recommend that we relocate to this point,” she said as she highlighted one of the dozens of moons orbiting the massive blue and green planet. It was too small to classify as a brown dwarf, but only by a small fraction. “This will provide us additional cover to monitor the deuterium colony without detection and our observations should be in real-time.”
“That’s some pretty nasty radiation it’s spitting out,” Trip mused.
“Which is an added bonus,” T’Pol replied. “Klingon sensors are widely considered inferior and I consider it improbable they will be able to identify the T’Muna-Doth against such background noise.”
“Granted.” Trip pushed his tongue against the inside of his cheek and T’Pol allowed herself to be momentarily distracted by the unconscious gesture. “I’m more worried about the hull being able to handle those stressors,” he said a moment later. “We should probably keep the hull polarized while we’re there, just in case.” He frowned. “Hopefully,” he muttered, “the generators can take the load.”
“Agreed.” T’Pol minimized the image of the gas giant but hesitated before inputting new commands. Trip clearly noticed but said nothing as she stared at the six hour old data. Finally, she brought up another window and targeted the derelict Klingon craft. Instantly, the T’Muna-Doth’s computers began plotting the vessel’s likely course and comparing it with her planned route to the gas giant’s moon. Another heartbeat later, the navigation software had identified the best possible intercept point. Comprehension filtered through the psychic connection she shared with Trip, followed quickly by expertly concealed disgust. She glanced up at him, lifting an eyebrow.
“You want to board that ship,” her mate guessed. “Maybe see if they have some things we can use.”
“I do.” T’Pol continued to look at him. “You disapprove?”
“I do,” Trip replied in an almost perfect imitation of her previous tone. He exhaled deeply. “But I don’t see how we have much of a choice either,” he said. “We need more warp plasma and I doubt this colony will have any.” Trip shook his head. “It just … it just makes me feel like a scavenger and I hate that feeling.” T’Pol nodded slightly.
“I concur with your sentiment, Trip,” she said softly. There were times when the logical course was not the most ideal one and this was certainly such an instance. Looting from the dead Klingon vessel was distasteful.
But T’Pol would do it anyway, if it meant survival for her mate.
So she completed the plot for the intercept course.