Breakfast with Allison Li was always interesting. In the month since she had come aboard, Dan Hsiao had discovered that the temperamental damage control officer pretty much had two moods this early in the morning: surly and pissed.
This morning, she was pissed.
It didn't take a genius to realize that whatever had her so angry, the Chief of the Boat was intimately involved. Her glaring eyes, for once not bloodshot from lack of sleep, never left Master Chief Petty Officer Mackenzie's form as he sat with Lieutenant Commander Eisler four tables away, and she responded to Devereux's soft questions in monosyllabic grunts that would have made a Klingon proud. The rumor mill - aka Marie Devereux herself - said that Li and the master chief had been quite the couple before Li's battlefield commission, but one couldn't tell that from their current interactions.
"So," Marie said in her third attempt to start a conversation with Li. "Any ideas on the commodore's mission?" Allison's response was to frown and return to glaring at the chief.
Dan sat through an uncomfortable minute of silence before offering his own contribution. "Since we're taking Commodore Archer to Thor's Cradle, it's logical to assume he's opening negotiations with the Boomers." Both women shot him nearly identical sardonic looks.
"Logical?" Marie teased with a gorgeous smile. He loved that smile and the throaty laugh that so often accompanied it, but the memory of Drahn explaining precisely what would happen if Dan turned his attentions toward Devereux stilled any amorous thoughts fairly quickly - well, tempered them anyway. "Trying to become a Vulcan, Danny-boy?" Hsiao returned the smile.
"Not likely." He recalled a conversation he'd had with a surprisingly forthright Vulcan named Kov some years back, and went for the punch line. "That whole seven years thing ..." An appropriately dramatic shudder caused Marie to laugh even as Allison snorted. At least she's actually paying a little attention.
"Maybe you could get a special dispensation," Devereux quipped right back, still chuckling, "for medical reasons." Pretending to think about it, he gave her his best Vulcan look, complete with the raised eyebrow. She laughed again and he glanced at the opening mess hall door.
An unfamiliar ensign entered the mess hall, and Hsiao frowned. He prided himself on his near-photographic memory, and disliked not recognizing someone. Must be that new Security officer, he mused as the young man approached Commander Eisler and, indeed, the newcomer did wear the red of Ship's Services. Dan's eyes drifted back to his meal.
"Nathaniel Hayes," Marie identified him without being asked. "Just came aboard yesterday with the commodore and Commander Eisler." She sipped her coffee, smiling again; once more, Dan cursed Lieutenant Commander Drahn's very existence. "The COB had his team conducting training drills in combat gear before they even had billets assigned."
"Typical," Allison muttered, still stirring the adhesive gunk that Chef Killick called oatmeal. Her expression changed then, turning flat and emotionless. Without glancing back, Dan knew that Mackenzie had approached.
"Morning, COB," he offered as he turned his attention to the master chief. Hayes stood a little behind Mackenzie, looking very much like an officer newly graduated from the Academy.
"Lieutenants," the COB said by way of greeting. He stood in his familiar stance, almost a parade-rest with his arms clasped behind him. "This is Ensign Hayes." They gave him welcoming nods as the COB continued, his eyes zeroing in on Dan. "Lieutenant Hsiao, the captain has approved your flight training status. Ensign Hayes will be your first student." From where she sat, Allison bristled ever so slightly.
"A Security officer? He needs someone with a piloting background, not a ground pounder." No one failed to notice the lack of respect in her voice, least of all the COB. His tone chilled, now hovering about four or five degrees above absolute zero.
"Ensign Hayes already has a Class III atmospheric rating, Lieutenant." The younger officer straightened under their sudden re-appraisal; he obviously wasn't just a grunt in space. "Report to the launch bay when your duty shift begins, sir." It wasn't a request and, as he nodded, Hsiao was once again amazed that an enlisted man could wield such power; no officer on Endeavour - save the captain or Commander T'Pol - even thought about opposing Chief Mackenzie. Pissing off the senior noncomm aboard was not a good idea.
"Chief?" Devereux asked as he started to turn away. "Any word on the Salem colony?" Word that the colony had been hit had trickled onto Endeavour earlier yesterday while they waited for Engineering to get the warp drive back online, and everyone knew the chief had family there. For the briefest of moments, a flicker of emotion flashed across Allison's face as she glanced at the COB, a flash of concern that was gone almost before Dan even noticed it.
"No ma'am. It's likely that everyone is dead; Romulans don't take prisoners." Marie shuddered and Dan shifted his gaze to her; her brother had gone missing at Pacifica and she'd confided in Hsiao a secret hope that he would turn up after all. Dan fought the urge to reach out and comfort her. He damned all Andorian engineers everywhere. Speaking of which ...
"Any word on Commander Drahn?" he asked with a forced grin, hoping to change the subject to something ... lighter; the chief engineer's latest crazy experiment had been approved by Captain Tucker this morning and the injury pool was up to three hundred credits. To his surprise, Mackenzie gave him a grateful look, obviously recognizing the change in subject for what it was.
"Nothing as yet, Lieutenant. Given his record, however, it's only a matter of time." Dan's grin faltered as he stared at Mackenzie with something reasonably close to shock; was the COB making a joke? He didn't think it was even possible.
"COB to the bridge." The announcement echoed loudly in the mess hall.
"Lieutenants, Ensign." Mackenzie strode from the dining facility as Marie invited Hayes to join them for breakfast.
"What's a matter of time?" the ensign asked, and Marie laughed. Dan chuckled and even Li cracked a smile.
"Doctor Phlox calls it the 'Tucker Syndrome,'" Devereux started to explain, smiling that gorgeous smile. "Apparently in honor of the captain. Every single time Commander Drahn is on an away mission -"
"Or in engineering," Dan interrupted with a grin.
"Or in the mess hall," Allison interjected, right on top of him.
"As I was saying," Marie started again, giving them both a frown. "Whenever the commander is on away missions, he is often injured." Hsiao couldn't help himself.
"Or abducted," he said with a chuckle.
"Or seduced," Allison offered with a wicked grin, completely ignoring the decidedly unfriendly look Marie gave her.
"Like that crazy Tellarite who chased him all over Risa!" Dan started to laugh at the memory from two weeks earlier and was pleasantly surprised when Allison started giggling; she was really quite attractive once you got past the attitude.
"What was it she kept telling him?" Li asked, her giggles threatening to turn into full-out laughter.
"'I want your offspring!'" they quoted together before erupting in laughter. Even Devereux had to smile.
He loved her smile.
She wasn’t smiling any more.
In fact, it was an effort just to stay awake. With the completion of her initial comm checks, system updates and ship wide status reports, Lieutenant Marie Devereux once more found herself parked in front of her COM station with nothing to do. She hated this part of the duty shift, hated sitting at her console trying to pretend that she was doing something constructive when she was actually just struggling to fight boredom. One would think that things would be more exciting on Alpha Shift …
She let her eyes wander as she sat there and, as happened far too often, she found herself watching her fellow bridge staff. It was a little quirk of hers, a guilty pleasure that she got out of deciphering personal interactions more through unconscious body language than from what the person actually said. So much could be learned that way, much more than a lot of people knew.
Like Dan Hsiao, for example. Discreetly, she looked over the helmsman as she reflected on his unique body language. He was nowhere nearly as complicated as he thought he was, and the open way he smiled at her or watched her lips or unerringly made eye contact when he talked to her told her everything she needed to know about him. Truth be told, Marie was flattered by his obvious attraction to her and, had she not already been involved with Drahn, would have seriously considered starting something with Dan. He was smart and cute and made her laugh, even when she didn’t want to. If she really thought about it - and she had once or twice - he was probably her best friend on Endeavour and seemed to know exactly when she needed to be cheered up.
From the NAV station, she glanced at the bridge engineering station - recently rechristened the Damage Control station - and nearly frowned at the DCO's bowed head. Allison Li’s relationship with the COB was immensely complicated and Marie had wasted entirely too much time trying to figure it out. At times, their body language screamed torrid love affair, with one or both of them totally open and vulnerable toward the other. Just as often, however, she halfway expected them to tear each other apart in a frenzy of murderous rage. It was at those times that she made sure she wasn’t in the vicinity.
Her eyes drifted to the TAC station and she nearly flinched at Lieutenant Commander Eisler's blank expression as he studied his board with a frightening intensity. She’d interacted with the new tactical officer only twice since he came aboard ten days ago and, in her opinion, that had been about three times too many. Initially, she’d been fascinated at his seeming lack of body language, at the fact that he gave no hint as to what he was thinking, at the realization that even Commander T’Pol gave more of a clue to her emotional state than he did; but one glimpse into his eyes - those cold, dead eyes - had caused that fascination to flee, screaming, never to return. She quickly turned her attention toward someone who didn't terrify her.
Captain Tucker and Commander T’Pol were always a joy to observe. It was an open secret that they shared quarters and, from the moment he’d assumed command, Tucker had let it be known that he planned to ignore Starfleet’s non-frat policy as long as it didn’t affect shipboard duties. There had been a couple of incidents in the first couple of days between crew members where he had been forced to intervene, but since then it had been surprisingly smooth sailing. At times, Marie was almost convinced the unlikely couple shared some sort of telepathic communication, had such a thing been possible; it was simply amazing how they could carry on entire conversations with little more than looks or gestures or single words. Even now, as Captain Tucker lounged in the Command Chair with a PADD bearing shipboard status reports in hand and Commander T’Pol busied herself at the SCI board, they looked as though they were having a silent discussion: every now and then, the captain would shoot the Vulcan science officer an amused half-smile, as if she had just said something he found funny, or Commander T’Pol would glance in his direction with a cocked eyebrow or bemused expression on her face.
It really was the oddest thing ...
"Dropping out of warp," Dan suddenly announced from the NAV station and Marie quickly returned her attention back to her board before a senior officer noticed her apparent lack of work and decided to volunteer her for something.
"Let's have a look," Captain Tucker ordered as he lowered the PADD. Devereux heard Commander T'Pol's fingers tapping out commands and the vid-display came to life. Glancing up, she felt her breath catch.
She was familiar with the contours of the Vigrid Station; having originally been constructed by Vulcans, it looked no different from any other such station aside from its general state of disrepair. But Vigrid Station was different; in a word, it looked ... old.
Parked in a near-geosynchronous orbit above a dead planetoid, it immediately brought to mind a Vulcan ringship writ on a massive scale. The hull of the station was a dull metallic brown that had long since lost its luster; thousands of small impact craters from micrometeorites pockmarked the outer hull, giving it a battered and abused look. Instead of acting as an enclosing warp nacelle, however, the ring that surrounded the station served as an immense docking facility and was connected to the station proper by hollow columns housing equally ancient turbolifts and walkways. Like a great spoked wheel, the docking ring spun slowly around the station, completing a revolution every eight hours.
Hundreds of small ships surrounded the mammoth station, docking and undocking, loading and unloading cargo. Despite the appearance of age, Vigrid Station - Thor’s Cradle to the Boomers - was a thriving hub, a port of call for those individuals who wanted to eke out a living among the stars at their own pace, under their own rules.
But it was not the station itself that captured Marie's attention. A massive nebula half-engulfed the system, narrowly limiting approach and exit vectors for warp-capable ships, and the colors it radiated were mesmerizing. Feathers of scarlet and gold stretched out over a stellar blanket of blue and green, swirling together in pockets of ionized gas that sparkled and flashed intermittently. The system's sun - a young orange-red main sequence star - was partially obscured by the gaseous field but glinted brightly, a stark reminder of its presence.
It was beautiful.
"Now that's a sight to see," Captain Tucker commented softly, his eyes glued to the viewscreen. For a long moment, the bridge was silent as the crew members were lost in their thoughts, amazed at the wonder of nature; but the moment passed. "Hail the station, Lieutenant," the captain said, his voice reminding them once more that they were officers on a warship. "Let 'em know we've arrived." Marie's console beeped as she began to obey.
"Sir," she announced after a moment. "We're being hailed." She blinked. "It's a Vulcan ship." Tucker paused, his hand hovering over the intraship comm, and shot a look at Commander T'Pol. The Vulcan looked up from her own display.
"It is the Ti’Mur," she said and the captain blinked in what appeared to be surprise. More unspoken communication passed between them and Tucker shrugged, as if T'Pol had made some sort of comment. Marie wished they would stop that.
"On screen," he said, straightening his duty jacket as he spoke. A white-haired Vulcan appeared on the display and the captain suddenly smiled. "Soval! What are you doin' in our neck o' the woods?"
"Captain Tucker." The Vulcan inclined his head in a slight nod. "Administrator Maddox requested Vulcan mediation for your negotiations. I trust you will inform Commodore Archer regarding my presence?"
"Oh yeah," the captain said with a broad grin. "I'll let him know." He shot T'Pol a look that Marie recognized as two people sharing an inside joke. Even the commander looked amused ... for a Vulcan, anyway.
"Then I shall see you on-station, Captain." Soval's eyes flickered to T'Pol and Devereux saw an unspoken acknowledgment flash between them. "Soval out." The screen returned to the spectacular system view.
"All right, Lieutenant Hsaio," Tucker said, his grin fading as he reasserted his rank. "Take us in. Devereux, hail the station." He rolled his tongue inside his cheek and shot T'Pol another look.
"Commodore Archer will not be pleased," the Vulcan deadpanned and Captain Tucker nodded.
"I know." He grinned. "Can't wait to tell him."
No one had told him that he would be dealing with ... children instead of diplomats.
Had he been human, Soval of Vulcan would have long since thrown his arms up in disgust and stormed from the conference room, pausing only long enough to nerve pinch the two primary "negotiators" into unconsciousness. For a brief moment - heartbeats only - he let himself bask in that fantasy, let himself envision the stunned expressions on the faces of Jonathan Archer and Paul Mayweather as he applied the necessary pressure at the appropriate nerve cluster, but just as quickly returned his attention to their ongoing argument, chastising himself for the momentary distraction.
"Gentlemen," he interrupted in a voice that was carefully and perfectly measured. "We have ranged far from the point of the discussions." And indeed they had. Captain Mayweather - representing the Earth Cargo Authority - had spent much of the morning in a diatribe regarding Starfleet's failure to provide adequate protection to the shipping lanes, while Commodore Archer - representing Starfleet - countered with arguments that revolved around the number of ships and a lack of loyalty on the part of the 'Boomers.’ As was all too common with humans, when their logic failed, they raised their voices. The current disagreement had escalated into a shouting match; both sides had stopped listening to one another long ago. "Regarding the matter at hand," Soval continued with a composed look at both of them, "the ECA representative has yet to discuss the Starfleet proposal for integration."
"That's because it isn't a proposal!" Mayweather snapped, his eyes flashing. "It's a demand!"
"In case you didn't notice, there's a war going on!" Archer responded, his own words heating. "Some compromises have to be made!"
Soval nearly sighed.
As the two wasted even more time arguing over points identical to ones they had made 2.3 hours earlier, the ambassador allowed himself a discreet frown and wondered once again whether this was a complete waste of time. The administrator of the Vigrid Station - which the humans had renamed Thor's Cradle for reasons that completely defied explanation - had requested Vulcan mediation, and Minister T'Pau, recognizing the opportunity to regain some much-needed influence with the Humans, had promptly assigned the duty to him. Having the most experience with humans, he was, after all, the logical choice; but, not for the first time, he wished someone else had been available instead.
Archer's irritability was entirely understandable; he was still recovering from the injuries he had sustained at the battle of Mu Virginis and appeared to still be in some pain, although he masked it well. Despite that, the decision to have him represent Starfleet was a remarkably sound one; as one of the public faces attached to the Expanse mission that had saved Earth from destruction, Archer still had considerable gravitas with humans, even those not born on Terra. Having the man who had commanded the mission that saved Earth from the Xindi offer the integration proposal to the ECA was an excellent diplomatic move.
And yet, despite Archer's reputation, despite the surprisingly amenable proposal, despite the Earth Cargo Authority’s clearly inferior bargaining position, the ECA representative was not budging. Very little was known about Paul Mayweather beyond the facts that he was the captain of a cargo ship named Horizon and that he had recently become active in ECA politics. A hardliner, Mayweather did not only appear to be anti-integration, but was openly hostile toward Archer. Mentally, the Vulcan reviewed the files that he had scanned involving the participants and his mind latched upon a single name, a name that suddenly explained the hostility.
Lieutenant Travis Mayweather.
"Gentlemen," he interrupted once more, his voice hard and demanding attention. As one, their eyes swiveled to him and he let a silent moment pass as he gave them both appraising looks, wishing that he could instill in them some sort of control. "The purpose of these negotiations is not to discuss the failings of the past, but to focus on the future."
"Starfleet has a record of not protecting ECA assets," Mayweather immediately pointed out, once more on his way to arguing that history would repeat itself.
"That's because we didn't have the ships!" Archer countered, once more on his way to arguing that things would be different now.
"And now that you do, you expect us to fall in line!" Once more, the argument flared up.
And once more, Soval nearly sighed.
Tuning out their voices for the fourth time in as many hours, he let his eyes wander around the conference room. He blinked in momentary surprise at the sudden presence of both Captain Tucker and Commander T'Pol; wondering when they had arrived, he could not help but notice that both appeared to be slightly amused at the proceedings, although it was quite subtle on the part of T'Pol. The two glanced at one another and, even from this distance, Soval could feel the telepathic bond that linked the two. For a moment, he let himself marvel at its strength.
His musing on the nature of their bond immediately brought to mind the mystery that was Charles Tucker. Questions yet surrounded the young man, questions involving the curious genetic aberrations that had been detected following Tucker's near-death experience with a silicate virus. A copy of Phlox's research had found its way into Soval's hands, and he had studied it with a great deal of fascination; he did not try to find out how the research came into his possession since the answer was so readily apparent.
The Ministry of Security.
Concerned at his apparent intimate relationship with a former member of the M.o.S., the Ministry had been keeping a close eye on Tucker since his visit to T’Pol’s home following the Expanse mission. While he recognized the concern the Ministry had about Tucker, Soval found that he was unable to share it. In their brief interactions, he had grown to appreciate the young human, had enjoyed the man's blunt honesty and had grudgingly admitted - if only to himself - that he approved of T'Pol's chosen mate. As he had no biological relationship to T'Pol it wasn't really his place to approve of Tucker or not, but the affection Soval held for T’Pol was difficult to repress. She had been more than an effective aide; her background in intelligence had also made her an ideal bodyguard and an exceptional observer.
Even now, her eyes were studying the layout of the room and Soval found himself watching with a smile in his eyes. His amusement vanished however, when her eyes narrowed and she met his gaze. T'Pol's fingers twitched in an unmistakable gesture, one that he had not seen in a long time, and one that he had not wished to see again for even longer.
He didn't hesitate, rising to his feet in a smooth gesture that silenced the two arguing men and drew everyone's attention.
"I recommend a recess," he said, his tone allowing no disagreement. "Let us adjourn for one standard hour." He was already striding from the room, not waiting to see how Archer and Mayweather responded.
T'Pol would explain it later.
She didn't have time to explain.
The moment T'Pol had entered the conference room, she had sensed something amiss. It had taken nearly three visual sweeps of the room to notice the discrepancy, to observe the misaligned lamp fixture and the slight discoloration around it that indicated it had been recently removed and then replaced. Almost instantly, the amusement that she had been sharing with Trip regarding the negotiations vanished. Soval reacted as she had hoped he would when she signaled him, clearing the room in seconds, which allowed her to pull her scanner free and activate it. Trip said nothing as she worked, recognizing her desire to be uninterrupted.
The scans revealed exactly what she suspected. With no sign of her deepening anxiety, she studied the wall light fixture as she returned the scanner to its belt holster. Behind her, she felt Trip stir, aware of her intense focus on the wall, but not yet cognizant of what she was studying. He drew breath to comment but she spoke first.
"Captain, please step outside." He gave her a long look, clearly straining to read her intentions through the bond, but she revealed nothing as she placidly returned his gaze. At Tucker's side, Lieutenant Commander Eisler glanced in the direction of the light fixture, the slightest of frowns on his face. Incredibly, he tensed and T'Pol realized that he had seen the danger.
"Why?" Trip asked, and she fought the urge to roll her eyes.
"Captain, please. Step outside." Had Eisler not been present, she would have personalized the request and, as her mate shifted anxiously at her side, she considered doing so anyway if it would get him to safety. Their eyes met and she read the question there; he would not leave unless he knew why. "Trip, please." He blinked; she rarely called him that in the presence of anyone else. "It isn't safe here."
"She's right, sir." Eisler had inched toward the fixture, surreptitiously placing himself between it and Tucker. Noting this, she revised her assessment of the new tactical officer upward; he had been nothing but coolly professional toward her since arriving on Endeavour and she had sensed he was uncomfortable around her, but his desire to keep Trip out of harm's way impressed her. "Let us do our job, Captain," the tactical officer said earnestly and, had she been human, T'Pol would have laughed at her mate's expression. Two days earlier, following a command staff briefing, Trip had complained - off the record, of course - to Commodore Archer that Starfleet Command wasn't letting him do his job.
Apparently, Commander Eisler had been listening.
"Fine," Trip groused, visibly annoyed at having his own words used against him. As soon as the captain was through the door, Eisler turned to study the fixture. Without a word, he removed his duty jacket and tossed it onto the conference table. T'Pol raised an eyebrow; concealed underneath the jacket, he wore a web harness to which numerous items were strapped. She counted four blades of various sizes, two slim boxes of undetermined origin, several objects whose purpose completely eluded her, and what appeared to be a hand-sized laser pistol in a curious under-arm holster.
None of it was standard Starfleet issue.
"May I?" Eisler asked, nodding to her scanner. She passed it to him without a word and observed quietly as he cycled through several different scans. As he cautiously approached the light fixture, it was obvious that he had done this before - several times, if his efficiency was any indication.
"Ma'am," the tactical officer said suddenly. "You should join Captain Tucker outside." He met her eyes and T'Pol gave him the slightest of frowns.
"What tools do you require?" she asked, ignoring his suggestion as he returned the scanner.
"None." Eisler slid one of the slim boxes free of the web gear and opened it, revealing a small tool kit - a tool kit, T'Pol realized, that was expressly designed for dealing with explosives.
Within seconds, he had taken down most of the lamp fixture, revealing its inner workings. The explosive itself - a squat, featureless device that bore a striking resemblance to a recording device - was attached to the lamp's power cell, and he studied it with an expression that revealed nothing. Demonstrating a level of proficiency that told her more about his previous MACO career than his actual service record, he removed the device's outer casing and studied its components.
"It's of Andorian manufacture," he commented idly as he reached for the micro-calipers and hand-laser. She passed them to him without comment, accepting the role of assistant without comment or complaint.
"That doesn't make sense," Trip said abruptly, his voice so close to her ear that T'Pol nearly jumped. She gave him a hard stare; he was supposed to be outside, where it was safe. That she had not even heard him re-enter concerned her only slightly less. "Why would the Andorians want to bomb this conference?"
"They wouldn't," T'Pol replied coolly, reigning in her irritation at her mate's presence as she watched Eisler study the detonator's placement with a practiced eye. She could not help but wonder how many Andorian explosives he had disabled before. "But we are meant to think they did."
"Romulans," Trip muttered and she gave him a slight nod, her eyes never leaving Eisler's hands. "That means there's probably an assassin on the station."
"A likely assumption." She made no mention of the probability of spies inside Starfleet, knowing that Trip was already considering it. Eisler leaned back, the detonator now safely removed and in his hands, shaking his head slightly. "Commander?"
"Detonator was misaligned," he said in reply to her implied question. "Whoever placed it didn't know what they were doing." T'Pol considered that for mere heartbeats before arriving at the most logical assessment: the individual who had placed the explosive was likely not aware of its true purpose.
“We need to look into this,” her mate muttered softly, his thoughts centered around the danger Commodore Archer might be in.
"Commander T'Pol should conduct that investigation." Soval's sudden voice drifted from the doorway and she gave him an even harder look than the one she had given Trip; he knew better than to be in the conference room until she had given the all-clear. Beside her, hovering slightly too close to be entirely professional, her mate tensed.
It was moments like this that gave T'Pol pause. Trip's concern for her well-being was tangible, clear to anyone who cared to notice, and, though it warmed her that he cared so much, she could not help but wince internally at the same time. Once, many years earlier, then-Captain Archer had all but admitted an attraction to her, an attraction that she had not reciprocated; but rather than telling him so and possibly damaging their growing friendship, she had pointed out how inappropriate such a relationship would be. How ironic, she thought to herself, that she found herself in just such a situation now.
It had been easier when Commander Stiles was aboard. T’Pol had very nearly convinced Trip to officially name Stiles as First Officer and remove her from the chain-of-command due to their relationship when Starfleet promoted the tactical officer to captain and offered him the Challenger. Now with Lieutenant Commander Eisler as the third highest ranking officer aboard Endeavour, there were no official reasons that T'Pol should not be First Officer.
There were only personal ones.
"I am the most qualified," she pointed out softly in response to Soval's suggestion, not needing to remind him of her intelligence background. Already, she was planning her next move: the station had to have recordings of movements to and from the conference room, and studying those would the logical first step, particularly if no usable genetic material could be located near the explosive.
"I know," Trip grudgingly said, his lips turned down at the corners. For a moment, T'Pol thought he would invite himself along, believing that his presence would keep her from harm, despite Commodore Archer's earlier instructions that he be present during the negotiations. Instead, her mate surprised her once more. "Commander Eisler will go with you," Trip declared abruptly. The ex-MACO blinked from where he stood, but that was the only reaction he gave. T'Pol very nearly frowned, however, and let Trip know of her displeasure through their bond. Did he not trust her?
"His presence is not necessary," she pointed out verbally, quite aware of Soval's appraisal of her. It was disconcerting how her old mentor was observing their ... discussion: his expression, as always, revealed nothing, but his eyes danced with poorly contained mirth. T'Pol felt her ears heat.
"Too bad," Trip replied, his expression set, his brow furrowed. "He's going." She very nearly sighed then; he was intractable when he was like this, and it was usually easier to simply accept his over-protectiveness. They would talk later, she decided, and determine how to avoid this in the future. "And I'll expect you to check in every thirty minutes."
"Impossible." Her frown deepened. "An investigation of this sort requires subtlety. Four hours." They locked eyes.
"One. Or I send Reynolds and his Roughnecks after you." Trip crossed his arms as he spoke.
"You are being unreasonable. Three hours." She felt Soval's eyes on her and wondered what he thought of the spectacle they made.
"Two. And that's final." A moment passed before T'Pol nodded. She quickly turned her attention to Eisler but noticed the flash of triumph in her mate’s eyes and mentally added another subject to be discussed. It could wait, however.
"Return to Endeavour," she ordered. “Dress appropriately for a covert investigation." The ex-MACO nodded acknowledgment of her order and T'Pol squared her shoulders. "We have work to do."