The funerals were done with and the dead were now buried. Quickly, the soldiers had to be done with their mourning and return to their war-like ways. They had to move on and focus on the missions had at hand, focus on the war, and on not thinking about those lost, friends never to be seen again. There would be time later, much later, when the crisis had past for them to remember and give them a proper goodbye.
On the just about completed Liberator, T'Pol and Trip sat on the floor of his quarters. They both assumed the lotus position: Trip awkwardly and uncomfortably seated and T'Pol gracefully and naturally. She watched him as his closed his eye and did his breathing exercises as she taught him.
"You have mastered blocking emotions, but now that we can share thoughts, you must master even more of your mind. Blocking thoughts takes greater discipline," she told him.
"Okay, darlin', you are the master and I'm the padawan," he smiled.
"Charles, I do not understand the term padawan," she said.
"It's from the old movie classic Star Wars," he said excitedly.
"Charles, I do not want to talk about your movies. Pleasure concentrate on what I am teaching you," she said.
Charles, I can hear your thoughts when you project them now.
I know, darlin'.
"Concentrate on your breathing, Charles. Your discipline comes from control and control comes from practice," she stated.
"Yes, darlin'," he sighed.
Rear Admiral Jonathan Archer retained his role of commander of the 2nd Fleet, but Masamoto decided to also give him the command of BETACOM, which he would now run from the Situation Room of the Invincible. Rear Admiral Williams was moved to Starbase 4 where he took command of the base and was in charge of supply lines. Although, in some ways the conflict was a success as the 2nd Fleet was able to repel the Xindi, the price was high and the UES Senate wanted a scapegoat for having to pay such a high price. Williams became the scapegoat.
The first task for Archer was to rebuild and grow his fleet. Several starships were destroyed, but even more were heavily damaged in the fight with the Xindi and needed extensive repairs. Archer thought he pushed the process of restocking his fleet along. To do this he took a tour of the Mars shipyards ending with a visit to the Liberator. He was greeted at the airlock by Commander Katsu and Lieutenant Commander Sato. Seeing Hoshi, he broke into a big smile.
"Hoshi, what are you doing here?" Archer asked.
"Temporarily assigned to the Liberator as the department head of communications, sir," she said.
Archer looked at Commander Katsu.
"Commander Shintaro Katsu, XO of the Liberator," he said.
"Commander," smiled Archer.
He stood back and took a look at the corridor. A shuttle had already given him a tour of the outside. He had to admit that the Liberator was an impressive ship on size alone, but knowing Trip it probably was even more impressive with what it could do.
"Hell of a ship you have here," Archer said then he look from Hoshi to Katsu. "Who is giving me a tour?"
"I am, sir," said Katsu.
Katsu was nervous. Captain Tucker was the youngest and most intriguing captain to have as a commanding officer, but Jonathan Archer was a legend. Just being in his presence made him nervous.
"Your captain is too busy to give his old commanding officer a tour, huh?" smirked Archer.
"Captain Tucker is in the Situation Room trying to get everything up and running. We have a mission to prepare for and he refuses to have the Liberator leave dock until everything is perfect," he said.
Archer smiled at the fact that Katsu was defending Trip to him.
"Commander T'Pol is helping him in the Situation Room," answered Katsu.
"Okay, Commander, give me the ten cent tour," said Archer then he looked at Hoshi. "You coming?"
"Captain Tucker thought I could use a tour and you could use the company," she smiled.
He offered her his right arm and she slipped her left arm through it. Katsu started the tour. For the next almost three hours he was shown almost every aspect of the ship. Long stops were made in Engineering where Solaris gave Archer the tour. As to be expected, Archer knew he was looking at warp engine that would break warp 7.
A short break was taking in the Mess where they stop for coffee. Even the Mess was large and impressive with stasis containers and food recyclers. There was a scattering of crew eating. Archer was amazed to think this ship was going to have a crew well in excess of 200 and there still would be room.
Archer sampled the coffee.
"Hmm, this is a good cup of coffee," he remarked.
"Yeah, Chef Montand believes in French Roast and French Press when making coffee for a guest," said Katsu.
"I can't wait for dinner then," smiled Archer.
"Admiral, shall we check out the Bridge and then the Situation Room?" asked Katsu.
The Situation Room was just off of the Bridge. This was where Trip and his command team could strategize and do simulations on battle tactics. It was also were they could review under high security information or intel. T'Pol and Trip were working on the large smart table attempting it to get to work in unison with the other equipment in the Situation Room.
"Goddamn, this should be working. This is what happens when you rely on engineers you don't know to put something together," said Trip, as squatted beside an open panel on the side of the table.
"I believe I know what the problem is," said T'Pol standing there with a Vulcan tricorder.
"Okay, go on," he said.
"I believe it needs a new memory chip, as well as a digital converter," said T'Pol.
"So they sent us a defective table," laughed Trip. "I never did like Jupiter Station."
"I shall order new parts for the table," said T'Pol, as she closed her tricorder.
The door to the Situation Room rang. Trip stood up.
"Enter," he said.
Commander Katsu, Hoshi, and Rear Admiral Archer entered. Archer was once again stuck at how much room there was on the Liberator.
"Admiral," smiled Trip.
"Captain Tucker, I have to congratulate you on your ship. It is remarkable," said Archer.
"Thank you, sir," Trip said.
"You have a problem in here, Trip," said Archer.
"They sent us a defective smart table," said Trip. "We need to order replacement parts for it."
Archer laughed. When he stopped laughing, he looked at Trip and tried not to look highly amused.
"That's the problem when your vendors are the lowest bidders," he said.
"Well, I need to order some new parts," said Trip.
"Tell Admiral Black and he'll have whatever you want here in a couple of hours. He brags that the Liberator has three of the best engineers in Starfleet and the damned captain is the best of the three," said Archer.
"He is merely being observant," said T'Pol.
Archer looked at T'Pol and smiled. He had to admit to a twinge of jealousy over their relationship. She was exotic and beautiful and he knew that she was all Trip's.
"So, I know your chef makes good coffee. I am dying to find out if he makes a good meal, too," said Archer.
"In that case, Admiral, I invite you to dinner, and I'll let chef know that we have a special guest," said Trip.
"He will be happy to make a meal with meat," said T'Pol.
Archer looked at Trip with mock horror then said, "Has Commander T'Pol convinced you to give up eating meat, Captain Tucker?"
"Only for two weeks," he smiled. "I couldn't go without a fried chicken or a steak for good. My body would have a rebellion," said Trip.
"That is doubtful," said T'Pol.
Archer tried not to laugh at Trip and T'Pol.
"Let me call, Chef," said Trip.
Trip stood by the docking hatch along with T'Pol, Hoshi, and Katsu. The light went from red to green and T'Pol opened the door. The first to step through the door was Master Chief Walton Krieg, Chief of the Boat. He saluted the officers and Trio returned the salute.
"Sir," he said to Trip.
"COB, welcome aboard."
"Thank you, sir," he said
With his duffle bag over his shoulder, he headed down the corridor. The next through the hatch was Major Hayes. He saluted Trip.
"Welcome aboard, Major," said Trip.
"It's good to be here," said Hayes, who then looked over at Hoshi and winked making her blush. "I know I have some Marines on this boat waiting for me."
"Carry on, Major," Trip said.
"Thank you, sir."
Finally, it was Trip's new CMO who came through the hatch. Dr. Phlox. He gave the group one of his inhumanely wide smiles.
"Captain Tucker, I hope I'm welcomed on board your ship," he said.
"Good to have you, Phlox," he said then offered him his hand to shake.
"May I show you the Infirmary, Phlox?" said Hoshi.
"That would be wonderful," said Phlox then he looked at T'Pol and Trip. "I'll start scheduling checkups."
"Dr. Lynch and your five corpsmen will be at your service, Phlox," said Trip.
"Ahhh, such luxuries," he smile then Hoshi lead him away.
Katsu looked at Trip for his orders.
"XO, make sure the COB gets settled into his room then I want the two of you to start duty rosters," he said.
"Yes, sir," said Katsu.
Katsu nodded to T'Pol then he headed off. Trip looked at T'Pol.
"All we are missing are Syrann, the intel officers, Spanek and Syvak, and the Xindi engineer who will install the subspace vortex."
"They will arrive soon," said T'Pol.
Fleet Admiral Masamoto, Admiral Forest, and Admiral Black watched on the large view screen as was the fifty-six ship Task Force: Kir'Shara practiced formations. Thirty-three Federation ships and twenty-two Vulcan ships attempted to meld into one unit, with the exception of the Liberator, which hung back from the rest of the ships.
"Commodore Paxton in the Relentless is leading the task force along with Captain Vanek in the Ti'Mura," said Black. "They've done a good job getting these ships working together with discipline."
"When do you think they will be ready?" asked Masamoto.
"Six days," said Black. "They test the subspace vortex tomorrow as individual ships then they'll train with it as a task force."
"And the Liberator?" asked Masamoto.
"As you the fifty-five ships will engage the station and whatever fleet they have protecting it drawing ships away from Vulcan. The Liberator will delay its subspace vortex jump by five minutes. It will then jump to Vulcan, drop its shields and beam down two Recon Marine fire teams and Syrann to recover the Kir'Shara from the T'Karath Sanctuary. They will be given a time limit of fifteen minutes to find and retrieve the Kir'Shara," explained Black.
"The Liberator will hold off God knows how many ships for fifteen minutes?" Forest asked.
"The Liberator is built to deliver and to take damage," said Black.
"God help us," said Masamoto.
"This is a suicidal medal run," said Forest.
"It's a game changer if it works," said Black, who then turned and stared into Forest's eyes. "Anyway, is this what you wanted from SPECOM? Are we supposed to pull off the impossible for you?"
"I hate to see good men and women die for nothing," said Forest.
"This is not for nothing, Admiral," said Masamoto. "This is to start a fire burning on Vulcan that will eventually consume the Romulans."
It was their fourth test jump of the day using the subspace vortex. Trip wasn't completely satisfied with the accuracy of the destination spot. The more the vortex was used the less accurate and dependable it became, but he had to admit that it was strange feeling to be able to jump up to 21 light years in fifteen minutes. Vulcan was only 16 light years away.
"Begin countdown," he ordered.
"Jump in T minus five minutes," said Katsu.
In the second cargo bay, Hayes and his men were training their asses off, thought Trip, and in guest quarters he had Syrann, T'Kart, T'Pau, and T'Les meditating. He could feel the tension throughout his ship.
K'diwa, my mother has requested that you and I spend some private time with her tonight.
T'Pol intruded on his thoughts. At first, this used to startle him, but now he found it comforting.
After dinner tonight would be a good time, darlin'.
I shall let her know.
Trip went back to listening to the countdown.
T'Les asked for privacy to speak, so Trip invited her to his quarters. It was large enough for guests and his personal steward had cleaned it this afternoon. Plus, he knew that T'Pol was comfortable there considering the time she spent there with him.
After a vegetarian dinner they made their way to his quarters where T'Les was waiting for them in front of his door. She greeted T'Pol with a nod then spoke to Trip.
"Captain Tucker, since we are now relatives I thought it best to get to know each other," said T'Les.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "Let open up my door so we can enter."
He walked over to the keypad beside door and entered his private code. The door opened and they entered.
"Please, ma'am, take a seat," he said.
T'Les looked at his quarters. It was of course larger than anyone else's since he was the captain. He had a desk with a chair, a large bed, and a small sofa meant for two. It also was decorated with models of ships he had worked on as an engineer on the walls and strange creatures she didn't understand the meaning of on a shelf.
"What are those?" she asked.
"Universal horror characters, Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, and the Mummy," he answered with a smile. "They are a reminder of what I liked watching and playing with as a child."
"You liked horror?" T'Les asked not even bothering to hide his disdain for such an idea.
"Be frightened in a Human gets our blood jumping. It is an emotional response. Anyway, it is simulating being frightened not the real thing," said Trip.
"I have observed that Humans sometimes will provoke emotions in themselves so that they are not overwhelmed by that emotion and can become used to it," explained T'Pol.
"Better to suppress the emotion," said T'Les.
"For a Vulcan, yes, but not for a Human," said T'Pol.
"And you do not mind being bound to a Human?" T'Les asked her daughter.
"No, I do not," she said.
"Is it a strong bond?"
"It is on the higher level. We can even communicate mind to mind," said T'Pol.
T'Les raised her left eyebrow in a way that reminded Trip of T'Pol. He watched as daughter and mother stood toe to toe. They were both stubborn women, but he'd never tell them.
"An unbreakable bond," T'Les said with some disappointment.
She turned and looked at Trip.
"Syrann believe that you are a worthy Human and important to the Vulcan repatriation of our planet," said T'Les.
"I'm no more important than any other member of Starfleet," said Trip.
"Humility is not necessary here," said T'Les. "If Syrann says you have a role then you have a role. He is seldom wrong."
"If you say so," said Trip.
"I do," countered T'Les.
"Now sit and tell me about your history and your family," said T'Les.
The ships of Task Force: Kir'Shara used their subspace vortex technology and disappeared in a matter of minutes, leaving the Liberator to begin their countdown. Trip sat in his command chair feeling anxious and impatient. Already the fire teams were in the transporter rooms along with Syrann and his personal bodyguard T'Kart. In a matter of minutes he and his ship would be facing overwhelming odds. All he had to do was to survive fifteen to seventeen minutes then open a subspace vortex and retreat. Of course the problem was surviving that fifteen to seventeen minutes.
"Captain," said Katsu.
"The ship is on red alert and at battle stations," he said.
"Make sure our security teams and Marines are integrated," said Trip.
"Aye, aye, Captain," said Katsu. "You expect them to attempt to take our ship?"
"Yeah, I expect that they'll want the Liberator," said Trip, "especially once they see us in action. Now have tubes loaded with Mark IV torpedoes and cannons ready to fire."
"Yes, sir," said Katsu.
The ships came out of the vortex firing their weapons at the Romulan station and all Romulan ships. As planned they reigned as much destruction as they could before the Romulans could start a proper offensive attack. Four of the ships, three Starfleet and one Vulcan, came out of the vortex too hot and too fast and immediately crashed into the station. There were massive explosions on impact.
Vanek and the Vulcan ships took the port side, while Paxton and the Starfleet ships took the starboard side. They began a strafing run on the station, as the Romulan ships regroup for an attack on them. The axiom that all war plans were perfect until the shooting began. Paxton read the sensors which told him that only a quarter of the Romulan ships were being drawn into the battle. He needed more of them to enter the battle if the Liberator was to have a chance. He made a decision.
"Alpha Group and Delta Group," he said into his comm which was connected to all ships, "break off attack and attack T'Khut."
Twelve ships broke off their attack and headed towards T'Khut, which was now as the watcher. Intel said there was an important shipyard on the planet. He hoped that protecting the shipyard would draw away more ships from Vulcan.
Syrann walked away from the Marines and stood in a corner with T'Pau and T'Les. The shorter and younger woman, who never showed emotion, almost seemed nervous. He looked into her eyes and nodded.
"You are ready, T'Pau. I must do this now," Syrann said.
"Yes, Syrann," she said.
He placed the ringers of his right hand on her PSI nodes and connected their minds. Concentrating and focusing he gave her the katra of Surak to carry. T'Pau accepted it.
"You now are carrying Surak's katra. I want you to make Captain Tucker the Giidas, the spirit guardian for Surak. This is important. The care of Surak must belong to more than just Vulcans. Humans must also protect his katra and Tucker now has a foot in bother worlds," Syrann told her.
"I understand Syrann," said T'Pau.
"T'Kart and I will spread the word on Vulcan. You are now the spiritual leader until Vulcan belongs to Vulcans," he said then walked away.
The Liberator came out of the vortex right on top of Vulcan. Immediately it began to pound on the nearest ships and planet defense platforms. Trip started barking orders.
"Drop shields," he ordered then he slapped him comm button connecting him to the transporter rooms. "Beam down fire teams!"
"Aye, aye, sir," said the transporter chief.
The Liberator began to take punishment but between the polarized hull and double hull configuration, the damage was minimal.
"Teams are down on the planet," the chief informed him.
"Bring shields up," barked Trip then he looked over at Hoshi. "Hoshi, start the fifteen minute countdown.
"Yes, sir," she said.
The fire teams beamed down to T'Karath Sanctuary. Immediately, the Humans started to sweat in what many considered the hottest area of Vulcan. It was a mix of rubble and barely standing stone structures from the ancient days. Major Hayes took charge.
"Fire team one, cover our six. Syrann, lead the way," he said.
"Yes, sir," said Gunnery Sergeant Cole.
Syrann took the lead. He walked over to a building. They entered then they headed down a stone staircase towards the caverns where the Kir'Shara.
Trip kept up an aggressive posture. Instead of trying to hold an area he attacked. The Liberator proved to be just as tough as he thought it would be. The ship shook under the onslaught of incoming fire, but the shields still held.
Three of the Vulcan ships left the Task Force: Kir'Shara to help draw fire away from the Liberator. Above all else they knew their mission was to make sure that the Kir'Shara be retrieved and brought to the safety of Earth. Trip had Hoshi contact the Vulcan ships.
"Captain, are you aware of Starfleet attack formations?" Trip asked.
"We have been briefed on them," said the Vulcan captain.
"Good. Let's get into Attack formation Omega and clear some space around this planet because the ground team's time is almost up," he said.
"I shall inform other Vulcan ships."
Trip looked over at Katsu.
"Attack formation Omega," he smiled.
Syrann found the Kir'Shara buried in the rubble of a destroyed altar. It was in a clay sealed jar. He held it in his hands for several moments feeling a sense of relief then he handed it to Major Hayes.
"Why are you giving me this, sir?" Hayes asked.
"Because T'Kart and I are staying to preach that the Kir'Shara has been found and Surak's katra is safe. The Vulcans remaining on this planet must know this," said Syrann. "We need to stay, Major."
"Sir, this was not part of the mission. You are supposed to return with me," said Major Hayes.
"But this is part of my mission, Major Hayes. Protect the Kir'Shara," said Syrann.
"Hoshi, where is the countdown at?" asked Trip.
The ship was being rocked by incoming weapons' fire.
"Three minutes and counting, sir," she said.
Shields were now down to ten percent and some of the systems were overloading. Reports of injuries and blown systems were increasing. Trip trusted that MacFadden and Solaris were doing their best to keep the ship together. He looked over to Rostov.
"Start to deploy DC teams," he ordered. "When the shields go down we are going to take a lot of damage."
"Yes, sir," he said.
While the Recon Marines on ground level held off Romulan patrols, Hayes and his men returned to ground level. As they made it back to their extraction point, the first fire team was engaged in fighting off humanoids, who had bat-like features. They weren't Romulans, but there were probably related to them was Hayes only thoughts on them. Now that they had the Kir'Shara and were ground level, Hayes checked his chronometer. In thirty seconds the shields should go down and they should be beamed up.
These creatures were armed with pulse rifles and plasma handguns. Some of them carried melee weapons, such as oddly space spears, daggers, and swords. The bat-like creatures started to advancing on their location. Hayes held the Kir'Shara.
"Hold the line, Marines. Hold the line," barked Hayes.
"Fifteen minutes, sir," called out Hoshi.
"Bring down shields, sir," ordered Trip then he looked at Hoshi. "Contact Ground Team."
"I have Major Hayes."
"Do they have the Kir'Shara?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," said Hoshi.
Trip pressed the comm button.
"Beam up the Ground Team," ordered Trip.
"Yes, sir," said the chief technician.
"Sir, we are taking damage and four breach pods just attached themselves to our hull," Rostov said.
Trip looked at Katsu, who waited his orders.
"I don't care if we have boarders, we are making the jump," he said then he turned and looked at T'Pol. "Begin calculations on the subspace vortex jump, Commander."
"Yes, Captain," she said calmly.
"Sir," it was Hayes voice on the comm, "Syrann and T'Kart stayed on Vulcan to spread the word about the Kir'Shara. I just gave the Kir'Shara to T'Pau for safe keeping."
"Alright, Major," Trip responded then he started barking further orders. "Jump once the calculations are done."
"Yes, Captain," said T'Pol.
"Tactical, raised what's left of our shields," he ordered.
Just then the Engineering Station exploded because of system overload. Rostov was sent out of his seat and onto the deck. Hoshi left her station to check on him.
"Calculations complete," said T'Pol.
"Send them to the helm and, helm, get us out of here," ordered Trip.
He looked at the view screen to see the subspace vortex open. The Liberator headed into it. Trip knew that all ships still capable in Task Force: Kir'Shara where doing the same thing as his right at this moment. He heard the pneumatic doors of the Bridge hiss open and on instinct stood up and turned to see who entered.
Three humanoids that reminded him of the vampire in the silent movie Nosferatu entered the Bridge. One of them carried a spear which he lifted and threw at Trip. With little time to spare, he stepped to the side taking the spear to his left shoulder instead of his chest. It was a heavy damned thing and pain spread quickly through him. The force of the threw and the weight of the spear knocked him over his command chair and Trip was unconscious on the deck.
Most of the Bridge crew was in a state of shock by their appearance of the intruders, except for T'Pol. T'Pol was angry. Gone was her Vulcan reserve and calm. She bolted out of her chair and yelled, "Trip!"
Someone had attacked her bond mate. She then went directly into the discipline of kareel-ifla, a Vulcan marital art, and attacked the intruders. Quickly, she disarmed and disabled two of the intruders then using Tal-Shaya she broke the neck of the one who threw the spear. Once that has completed she rushed to Trip's side.
"Trip," she said again and brought his head and part of his torso onto her lap.
Katsu commed the Infirmary, "Medical Emergency on the Bridge. Captain down, as are others. Medical Emergency on the Bridge."
He then looked at his captain and the science officer. If anyone didn't know about how they felt for each before then they knew it now.