Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and settings property of Paramount / Viacom. No profit being made.
Like many discoveries, it all began with an assumption, and a mistake. Both ultimately were corrected, but the aftermath certainly changed many a perspective on the Enterprise NX, and grew into space legend as the stories made the rounds of bars and trading posts throughout the quadrant. When confronted, none of the participants ever gave a straight accounting, and even the captain's logs for the time are strangely minimal in detail, only listing a space station: Andromeda Shortline, and a name: Mudd.
Tuesday, Andromeda Shortline Station 1515 hours
"It's similar to plants in the Solanaceae family on earth--probably this planet's variety of Lycopersicon. Obviously edible." Sub Commander T'Pol sniffed the proffered fruit. She tossed it to Captain Archer, who snagged it midair with the ease of a natural fielder.
"Shall we put it in the cart, Mom?" he teased. Chief Engineer Trip Tucker laughed, but T'Pol gave both of them a weary glare. Around them, the open market stalls teemed with business as vendors of every sort of food or goods vied for their attention. The fruit merchant smiled the impatient smirk of a man eager to do business and blow town. His greasy hair was tied back with a leather band and he wore a colorful vest covered with pins and badges.
"I can let you have the whole crop, cheap, miss. Do the crew good to have some fresh foodstuffs instead of that reconstituted and hydroponic fare," he wheedled. "Put some color in your cheeks."
"My facial complexion does not need color," T'Pol replied dryly. Trip grinned, and muttered to Archer,
"He mighta meant the other set--"
Archer turned his grin into a cough and shot a warning glance at Trip, who put on his best innocent face. T'Pol picked up another one of the fruits and looked at Archer.
"Sure. Malcolm can beam it up while we finish up down here," he shrugged. "Meet up with us at the other end of the market."
Archer and Trip ambled off, tossing the fruit back and forth to each other. T'Pol watched them and permitted herself a tiny annoyed sigh before turning back to her transaction and handing over a Starfleet cred link.
The merchant grinned again, a painfully cheerful smile with all the personal warmth of a mushroom. His eyes darted around constantly.
"You've gotten the best of me on this deal, lady--" he assured her. T'Pol did not look impressed by this piece of information. She pulled out a communicator and called,
"T'Pol to Enterprise."
"Captain Archer has authorized purchase of fresh fruit for the galley. Please triangulate to these coordinates. T'Pol out."
As the crates began to dematerialize, she broke her own Vulcan training and absently took a bite from the fragrant globe in her hand.
Tuesday, Enterprise Transporter Room, 1532 hours
"Here's the last of them," Lieutenant Commander Reed announced to the lieutenant behind the transporter console. " You'd think the Captain was laying in stock for a year. What *are* they, anyway?"
"They look like tomatoes."
"To-mahtoes?" Reed drawled in his British accent. The girl tried again.
"That's what I said, to-mahtoes." Reed snapped without malice. He picked one up and ran a thumb over the fleshy carmine surface. He sniffed it suspiciously while the lieutenant came over to him.
"It smells ripe." He offered it to her; she plucked it from his hands and studied it carefully while Reed looked at her.
Lieutenant Pretoria Gordon-Ross was a tiny curvy doll of a woman with curly red hair and eyes the color of rich claret. She was his immediate junior, and plainly in awe of him; Reed still couldn't relax when she turned that half-frightened gaze on him, waiting for his next order. Consequently, he found himself far too brusque with her every time they spoke, and spent too much time chiding himself for it later.
She fondled the fruit in a way Reed found unexpectedly arousing; he shifted his gaze to the stacks of crates in the transporter room.
"Better get these carted to the galley then."
"Y-yes sir." She gently rolled the globe back on top of the nearest crate.
Wednesday, Enterprise Mess 1305 hours
"I see you're widening your choice of nutritional selections," Doctor Phlox mused as T'Pol set her tray down. She glanced at it, where the crowning centerpiece was a neatly quartered sunburst of fruit and gave a small nod.
"It is logical to take advantage of fresh food," she acknowledged. Phlox gave a hum of agreement and they ate in silence for a moment. T'Pol finally looked up and asked,
"Doctor, how many sets of cheeks do humans have?"
"Only the two--one on either side of the nose. I believe however, that the term is often used in a slang sense for the buttocks."
T'Pol didn't blush, but her brows drew together in a slightly menacing manner. Phlox continued on, oblivious of her reaction.
"Humans have one of the most extensive body slang vocabularies-- pieholes, gobs, meathooks, beer guts, racks--"
"Certainly. You yourself have often been described as having a bodacious rack," Phlox cheerily told her. A look of wary suspicion crossed the Vulcan's face; she set her fork down.
"I would venture that this--idiomatic and rude assessment came from Chief Engineer Tucker?"
Phlox gave a thoughtful shrug that didn't quite match the twinkle in his bright blue eyes.
"Rude seems the wrong term, indeed, he seemed both impressed and slightly possessive on the issue--"
"Possessive?" A hint of bewilderment crept into T'Pol's voice and her fingers found the fork again.
"Yes, I believe he claimed to have dibs . . ."
The fruit was suddenly stabbed with excessive force.
Wednesday, Enterprise Bridge, 1422 hours
At a rear workstation on the bridge, Ensign Hoshi Sato impatiently finished the glass of pulpy juice and turned back to the clipboard as Lieutenant Travis Mayweather loomed over her.
"Checking off the upgrade to the universal Translator?"
"Need a break?" Something in his tone made her look up; he was holding out a tiny silver and black globe with green lettering on it. Hoshi sucked in a breath.
"Molto Torrido's newest release! How did you score that?" She moved for the globe, but Travis held it out of reach, which wasn't all that high in Hoshi's case.
"One of the shops on Short Line--have to know who to ask."
"Travis!" Hoshi was trying to grab the globe, but the navigator merely laughed and continued to dangle it over her.
"Fifteen new songs and a guest segment with the Tuxanal Echo Drums-- heaven for the ears, I've been told."
"Name your price," she demanded eagerly, renewing her efforts to snatch it out of Travis's hand. He pretended to think it over.
"Your two Wenazzo albums, and a shiatsu massage."
"Not BOTH of them--"
"Did I mention this copy's recorded in QuatroDolby?"
Hoshi's eyes went wide and she licked her lips. "Done, now gimmee!" She practically climbed up the front of Travis's uniform in her single- minded pursuit. The ferocity of her assault startled the navigator, who ended up slamming back against the data terminal bank. Hoshi snatched the globe out of his hand, planted a quick kiss on the end of his nose and muttered,
"Thanks, here--" A clipboard prodded his stomach as she darted away, leaving Travis bruised, amused and something more. He sniffed the juice glass suspiciously.
Thursday, Enterprise Main Engineering, 1900 hours
Archer strode the corridor, deep in thought. The gravity seemed normal, the lighting was steady the air neither too cool nor too hot--what was off-kilter? He stopped at the turbolift and cocked his head, listening to the low hum of the engines.
He heard another hum, this one organic and growing louder. The turbolift light went on, the doors opened and two of the crew tumbled out at his feet--Hayden and Bennett. Most of Hayden's lipstick was on Bennett's face. Both had the grace to look embarrassed but Archer merely shook his head.
"If you're going on-duty, I'm ordering you to knock it off. If you're going off-duty, have fun," he grumbled, stepping between them to enter the lift. Once the doors slid shut, he grinned widely before punching the button.
Engineering was noisy and humming with activity. Archer strolled through, looking for Tucker. The Chief wasn't down on the main floor, so Archer moved up a level. On the catwalk, a crewmember passed by, brushing up firmly against the captain, her perfume drifting in the air.
"Pardon me--" she whispered. Archer leaned forward as another engineer slid past behind him. He started, unsure if he'd just been goosed or not, but even as he spun around, someone else pushed past across his chest. She winked. Archer managed a smile, and fished an arm out for the rail, pulling himself to it.
"Cap'n," Trip called up to him. "Down here."
When Archer reached him, Trip grinned. He motioned to a glowing panel with pride, announcing,
"I told you it was the influx housing. Good thing we picked up that sealing foam--this baby is purring now."
"Good. Speaking of purring . . . are you noticing anything--odd?" Archer bent to examine the edges of the influx panel. Trip rubbed his chin and glanced around.
"Nothing too weird. A few power surges in the Sickbay circuitry."
"Not with the ship, with the crew." Archer corrected, dropping his hands on his hips. "I just got groped by three different women on the catwalk, Trip."
"And you're complaining? His engineer asked pointedly, his attention coming back to the panel before him. Archer rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"I didn't say I was complaining, just observing. I like to know what I'm up against."
"In this case, I'd say the hips and thighs of my nacelle team."
"Har de har har. Seriously--" Archer locked gazes with his chief engineer. "Something doesn't feel right. Keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary, okay?"
Thursday, Enterprise Armory 2100 hours
Reed looked at the security log notation and suppressed a long- suffering sigh. He cleared his throat.
"Lieutenant Gordon-Ross?" he rumbled, She practically ran up to him eyes locked on his face.
"Lieutenant, here in Security, when we make entries in the running log, we do not dot the letter i with fat circles. I mean, how would it look of some future Starfleet board of inquiry were to review the comment 'Archer ordered the self-destruct sequence to start at twenty-one hundred hours' and see a cluster of puffy cursive clouds hovering over it like steam from a passing train?"
"S-sir?" she ventured timidly, "Actually, It would be impossible, since there are no letter i's in that statement."
Reed paused a moment, color coming to his high cheekbones. Gordon- Ross bit her lip as he glowered at her, the last of his patience gone.
"When you have finished your witty observations, Lieutenant, perhaps you would have time for a grade three inspection review? Your promotion inquiry isn't until next month, but surely such a facile individual yourself could pass my standards."
Gordon-Ross paled. "Grade th-three, sir?" she managed to squeak out.
"Grade three. Starting with hand to hand at twenty-two hundred this evening, so suit up, Lieutenant." He announced with a frosty smile.
Thursday, Enterprise, Captain's table, 2150 hours
Archer gave a brief nod as Trip scooted in late and sat down. T'Pol barely glanced up before returning her gaze to the captain.
"I have run every internal scan and systems check available to us, Captain, and except from statistically acceptable fluctuations there is nothing anomalous occurring on the Enterprise," she told him flatly. Across from her, Trip helped himself to the chow mein and fruit salad on the table.
"Something's going on," Archer insisted slowly. "Doctor?" At the other end of the table, Phlox shrugged.
"In terms of general health, the crew seems to be doing well . . ." he hesitated long enough for Archer to narrow his eyes.
"Their sleeping and eating patterns are consistent with the norm. The only unusual factor is that in the last twenty four hours, quite a number of them are requesting reproductive nullification injections."
Trip suddenly twitched, but Archer's attention was on the doctor.
"Birth control isn't unusual," the captain mused thoughtfully. He set his chopsticks down and reached for his glass. "How many constitute 'quite a number'. Doctor?"
"One hundred percent of the female crewmembers." Phlox replied as Archer choked on a mouthful of wine. Trip fumbled with his chopsticks. T'Pol daintily blotted her full lips with her napkin, ignoring the wondering, disbelieving glances that flickered her way.
"O-kay, that's definitely unusual--" Archer managed to admit after clearing his throat. "Any . . . opinions or commentary?"
"I suggest that we wait and observe," T'Pol offered. "Currently the Enterprise is functioning at well above efficiency both at the mechanical and organic levels and we have no indication that either will deteriorate."
Phlox nodded. "While the heightened interest in birth control and by extension, recreational sex is unique, it isn't necessarily indicative of a problem. I will monitor the crew as best I can and inform you if anything develops."
"Good," Archer nodded. "Trip, you have anything to add?"
Trip looked up from his food, a bewildered expression on his normally cheerful face. He mumbled,
"No Cap'n," With a forced smile, he set his napkin aside and weakly announced, "I think I'll jest have another look at the environmental stabilizers."
"The data may prove useful for analysis." T'Pol rose gracefully.
Silently the two officers left the dining room and headed for the turbolift. Once inside, Trip stood next to the science officer, both of them staring straight ahead. He cleared his throat and blurted out,
"Oh Gawd, that was your bare foot in my lap, wasn't it?"
T'Pol said nothing, but tightened her hand around the control cone of the turbolift. It crumpled in her grip like a wad of paper. The lift shuddered to a stop.
Enterprise, Cabin 107 G deck 2157 hours
"Just relax, Travis."
"I don't know, Hoshi--Maybe we ought to just call it even for the two albums." Travis cast an uneasy glance at the petite ensign poised over his bare shoulders, straddling his hips. She pressed the back of his head, lightly forcing his face down into the pillow.
"A deal is a deal. Besides, I brought it so we can both listen while I de-stress you," she grinned, rolling up her sleeves. Travis tried to raise himself up again, but Hoshi ran two fingers up the back of his neck and pushed a pressure point. He gave a surprised sigh, dropping back on the mattress. Hoshi used her free hand to set the music globe spinning, and then slid her palm across Travis's shoulders.
"Too much tension is bad for your muscles," she announced. "Throws off your balance, muddies the chi."
"Oh." Travis let Hoshi walk her fingers down the hard blade of his spine. He relaxed, feeling his muscles loosen. Around them, the soft thrum of music filled the cabin. Hoshi smiled, and began to use both hands, kneading softly at junction of his neck and shoulders. She leaned her weight behind the push of her palms.
"You've got some serious knots here," she purred. "Carrying some stress?"
"Not anymore . . ." Travis sighed happily. "Not anymore."
"Good." For a long time, she massaged his shoulders and upper back, letting her fingers stroke the tension from his upper body. Gradually, Travis felt her hands move down to the back of his ribs. Her touch grew lighter, and more . . . teasing. Travis shifted uneasily once more. Hoshi seemed to find it funny; she laughed.
"Got a sensitive spot?"
"I'm not telling," he muttered. She leaned down, and her long hair brushed his back, making him shiver.
"I could find out--"
"Hoshi, I swear, if you try, I'm going to--" he stopped, wondering what he *would* do.
"You'd--?" she prompted, leaning down to speak in his ear. Travis froze as he felt the silky warmth of her bare breasts press against his back.
"Tickle, tickle," Hoshi murmured before licking his ear.
Enterprise, Recreation Area, 2200 hours
Reed tightened his obi sash and entered the double doors of the rec room, carried on a tiny wave of righteous annoyance. He'd been looking forward to a quiet evening going over schematics for torpedo cannons. A little brandy, a little sleep--all of it gone because Gordon-Ross still hadn't learned that discretion was indeed the better, safer part of working in Security. He looked around, wondering why only half the lights were on.
The room was large, but hardly imposing, filled as it was with various bits of exercise and diversionary equipment. A pinball machine rubbed against a Nautilus workstation. Sets of weights were neatly stacked and locked down near a lifting bench. Thick mats covered the floors in the back half of the room. Reed sighed.
Hand to hand was not his particular forte. He was undoubtedly the best on the ship, with respectable levels in judo, karate and kickboxing, but Reed knew that most of it was defensive, designed to turn the enemy's strength back against them. Real fighting came from having the upper hand from the first minute, and that was always and everywhere best achieved by a weapon. He knew he could best Gordon-Ross this evening, but it would merely be a lesson, not a challenge.
A giggle. The hairs on the back of his neck went up. Swiftly, he scanned the room once more, alert and wary. In his experience, Gordon-Ross did not giggle. She stammered, saluted, and carried out orders, but she had never relaxed enough to smile, let alone laugh. He cautiously stepped deeper into the room and felt a shot of adrenaline surge through him when another giggle floated in the air.
"Lieuten--ggggg . . ." silently, swiftly, a nylon rope dropped from the ceiling, looping neatly over his head and around his throat. Reed clawed at it, but it tightened instantly. His feet where kicked out from under him, and swiftly, he found himself being dragged to the weight bench. The soft scent of Shalimar tickled his nose.
"Hands go up--" came Gordon-Ross's whisper as she snapped handcuffs on each of his wrists and attached them to the corners of the overhead spotter rack. Reed gasped, continuing to fight the noose until she reached up and worked a finger under the nylon, pulling it loose. He sucked in a breath, and glanced down, realizing he was straddling the bench.
"Just what the bloody hell are you doing, Lieutenant?" he croaked, his voice rough from the rope. She met his angry gaze with a serene smile that he found definitely unnerving.
"Taking the initative, sir. I anticipated a serious ass-kicking, so I thought it prudent to strike first. A g-grade three inspection allows credit for initative and creative thinking," she rattled off happily. "I wish you could see your face right now, sir."
"Yes, well, I have to admit, I certainly wasn't expecting to be ambushed . . ." Reed faltered as Gordon-Ross stepped closer, She lifted the noose from his neck, and tossed it aside.
"Oh, your neck, sir! I didn't mean to hurt you . . ."
"It's nothing, just . . . ahhhhhh . . ." Reed suddenly lost track of his thinking as Gordon-Ross loosened his karate jacket and planted a trail of soft wet kisses from his Adam's apple to just under his ear. The sensation sent hot tingles to the powder keg in the pit of his stomach, and Reed bit his chiseled lips trying to gather his thoughts.
". a slight . . . burn . . .ohhhh--" She took the lobe of his ear in her teeth, nibbling it gently. Reed tried not to pant.
"Kisses always make it better, " she breathed. A dim part of his mind agreed, since he certainly wasn't feeling any pain at the moment. What he could feel was the lieutenant pressing up against him in a very noncombative fashion.
"Anyway, I figure that in light of this m-maneuver, you'll have to pass me on the hand-to-hand portion. I believe the next section of the review is survival tactics. Sort of ship wide hide and seek, but with weapons. Do you have any weapons, sir?"
Her hands slid sensuously down his hips. Reed drew a sharp breath and snapped,
"Stop that! You've had your laugh at my expense, and I'm forced to agree that yes, your initiative merits passing the hand to hand. But this sort of treatment is uncalled for and--" All the breath left his body as Gordon-Ross cupped her hand around the long bulge straining through the cotton pants
"D-definitely packing," she sighed. "A larger caliber than the standard, too."
"Gordon-Rossssss!" Reed hissed out between clenched teeth. She reluctantly pulled her fingers away and sighed. Reaching up, she pressed something small and cold into his left hand. The cuff key.
"S-someone's bound to come in pretty soon and release you, sir. I'm going to ground now, and you have my review release that states that I am not permitted to interfere in any of the critical sections of the ship like the bridge or engineering."
"As if I would believe you at this point!" he spat out in icy frustration. Gordon-Ross gave a dangerous little smile.
"You've got to since there is an hour t-time limit on this part of the review. Wish me luck, sir."
She bowed to him and strode out of the room.
Enterprise Turbolift, 2205 hours
"Something *is* affecting the female crewmembers on the Enterprise," T'Pol stated steadily. "Something intangible to the sensors, a factor that is . . ."
" . . . emotional?" Trip guessed nervously. He'd braced himself against the side of the turbolift car and watched the science officer with the same wary fascination a bird has for a snake. She nodded hesitantly.
"Emotional. Hormonal to be precise. Dr. Phlox will begin to see the pattern within an hour from now." She shook her head slowly. Trip felt a needle of concern, and held out a hand. T'Pol looked at it.
"I know you're a Vulcan and you suppress everything, but maybe I can help," he ventured. She raised her stare from his hand to his face, and Trip felt the heat of her gaze. He faltered.
"Or not . . ." he gulped. Her eyes were smoldering; she licked her upper lip. Trip felt his knees buckle under the wicked surge of his body's reaction and forced himself to keep his voice light.
"I should try to repair the lift control . . ."
"Without tools?" she pointed out softly. He glanced beyond her to the crumpled control and winced.
"Why'd the hell you do it, anyway?"
"It was logically necessary," T'Pol admitted with reluctance. "I am not in complete control of my . . . drives, and you are--"
A light dawned on Trip, and as it did so, a tiny smirk lit up his face. "Attractive. Admit it--" T'Pol looked slightly ill, but she refused to deny it. As fast as his grin came, it vanished, and he shifted uneasily.
"Last I heard, Vulcans don't get attracted, especially to humans. Theory is that you all probably reproduce by genetic lottery or something."
T'Pol raised an eyebrow, and Trip shrugged.
"It is a private matter, and not open for discussion, especially by those who would not understand," came her cold statement. Trip crossed his arms and glared at her.
"Try me. It may be my first trip off the planet, Sub Commander, but I know how to fuck."
T'Pol blushed; the greenish bronze flooded her cheekbones in a sudden bloom of exotic color. Trip waited. Finally, she began to speak in a rush, not looking directly at him.
"In the distant past, Vulcans were quite violent. When Surak brought enlightenment through logic to us, we suppressed the baser parts of our nature. However, one aspect could not be completely . . . controlled."
"Un huh," Trip prodded gently. T'Pol licked her lips again, a faint hint of sweat at her hairline.
"The drive to mate underwent a transformation. Vulcan males developed a seven cycle of Pon Farr, or blood fever. When it happens, they must mate or they will die."
Trip digested this thoughtfully, aware of what this revelation cost in terms of her dignity. T'Pol moved closer to him.
"Okay, it's different, but logical I guess. What about the women?"
"We are mentally linked to our mates at our childhood betrothals," she spoke slowly now. "We sense when their blood fever is eminent, and our own cycles begin."
"A cycle of--?" Trip asked, suddenly sensing the answer in T'Pol's proximity.
"Arousal. To procreate successfully, we must synchronize with our mates for maximum receptivity."
"But you don't have a mate . . ." Trip looked at her with a tender pity. She said nothing. He uncrossed his arms and asked,
"T'Pol, are you telling me your cycle's going? That if you don't mate, you're liable to die?" The pause was agonizing.
Trip drew in a huge sigh, and spun, slamming a hand on the wall. He hung his head, shaking it.
"Damn it woman, of all the places and all the times to . . ."
"I did consider dying," she retorted. Turning back, Trip flashed a quick grin at her defiant glare.
"But instead, you got us in a situation where the choice is really no choice at all. How the hell did you end up picking me? You don't even *like* me!"
"On the contrary. You have proven yourself to be both discreet and compassionate," She pointed out gently.
"But the Captain--"
"Captain Archer is still coming to terms with his emotions concerning Vulcan's, and considering the added complications of my situation--"
"--Added complications?" Trip demanded. "I don't think it can get any more complicated. I'm trapped in a turbolift with a hormonally charged Vulcan female who could snap me in two at any point during sex. How the hell could it get any worse?"
"I am virgin."
It took twenty minutes for the newly freed and dressed Reed to work through his rage. He calmly and methodically destroyed an outdated training manual, tossed the mangled remains into a disposal and then turned his attention to Gordon-Ross's whereabouts. Grimly, he began a swift systematic search of the ship, using a life form scanner pinpoint her bio-pattern as he strode along. Reed bypassed Engineering and the Bridge out of an odd sense of trust; despite her outrageous behavior, Gordon-Ross hadn't lied and he didn't expect her to start.
The turbolift didn't seem to be working, so Reed climbed his way to the next deck and swung the scanner around at the personal quarters. A flare of light images showed him that Mayweather had company, that neither T'Pol nor Trip were in, and that Archer was holding some sort of party. He stepped forward, and a blipping sound made him glance down in surprise.
She was here. It was an unexpectedly simple turn of events. He marveled at her sheer audacity, knowing that her own confidence was about to do her in. Tucking the scanner away, he pushed open his own cabin door and stumbled. Bending down, he kicked away the discarded karate uniform that still smelled faintly of Shalimar.
More clothing formed a trail into the room: a tee shirt, a brassiere, and a pair of still-warm panties. Reed scooped them up, suddenly, painfully aware of their silkiness. He had always prided himself on being able to keep in balance, and yet here was Gordon-Ross of all people, shy timid little Gordon-Ross putting him to the test. Angrily he tossed the lingerie back on the floor and stepped forward, determined not to let lust overcome his judgment. The cabin was dark except for a light coming from under the bathroom door. He set the scanner on the desk and pushed the door open with deliberate slowness.
No one was there. Puzzled, he tensed and looked around the somewhat Spartan decor: toilet, shower, sink, and linen shelf, no Gordon-Ross. For a second he studied his reflection in the mirror, catching sight of blazing eyes and a hard mouth. He glanced up, expecting an ambush. Nothing, Turning, he looked back into the main room and mentally ran through the very short list of possible hiding places it offered. A faint smile came to him as he thought of looking under the bunk.
"It's no use hiding, Lieutenant--the hour is nearly up and I have you dead to rights," he called out. No answer. He reached for the scanner and waved it around the room, realizing even as he did so that she'd slipped out while he was checking the bathroom. A classic backtrack. Her life form was now far down the corridor. There were only seven minutes left, and Reed raced out the door on her trail.
"I don't believe this!! You have no--"
"--experience--" T'Pol supplied quietly. The look she gave him was ever so faintly tinged with chagrin, and only someone familiar with her face would have realized how overwhelmed she was. Trip could see a light sheen of sweat growing heavier across her brow.
"Okay, let's take this one step at a time. How are you feeling right now?"
"Warm. My skin is somewhat sensitive at the moment."
"Gimme your hand," he ordered. She held it out and he took it, running his thumb into the hollow of her palm. She blinked. Experimentally, he let his cool fingers glide on the underside from her knuckles to the back of her wrist; she shuddered ever so slightly.
"Your calluses are irritating."
"Really? Why haven't you pulled away then?"
He could see the annoyance in her eyes--to do it now would be childish, but to make no protest would be as much as admitting that the touch was pleasing. Taking pity on her, he let go.
"You're feverish all right. Okay, listen to me. I'll help you in any way I can--even if it means getting kinda--" he swallowed hard, "-- intimate. But only three people are ever gonna know about this, okay?"
"You, myself and--?"
"--the doc. Even if it all turns out fine, I think he ought to know."
Trip steeled himself. "T'Pol, I don't know how compatible we're gonna be, but whatever happens, I won't hurt you if I can help it--"
"Are humans always so talkative prior to mating?" she growled in irritation. Trip sighed. Advancing slowly, he backed her up against the opposite wall and braced a hand on either side of her shoulders, trapping her. Slowly he brought his mouth close to one delicately pointed ear.
"It's called being considerate, " he chided, his breath softly stirring her hair. She closed her eyes.
"I would prefer that you perform the necessary actions as quickly as possible," she hissed back. "By tradition, Vulcan males are not particularly gentle or slow."
He brushed his lips against her temple.
"I ain't Vulcan. Just follow my lead and we'll see where it gets us, okay?" Receiving no reply to this, Trip tenderly planted light kisses across the rise of her cheekbone, trailing his way down the side of her face. T'Pol's skin tasted of something herbal, and the moist heat of it warmed his mouth. When he reached her lips, they were quivering with suppressed tension.
"Ready for a kiss?" he coaxed quietly. Languorously, she looked at him through her lashes; Trip pressed forward and let his mouth touch hers with a slow throb of passion. Pliantly she yielded as he gathered her into his arms, pulling her close, focusing his attention on the ripe sweetness of her response.
Her arms snaked around him, one of her long legs wrapped around his, and between her hands clutching in the middle of his back, cloth ripped. Trip dizzily broke off the searing kiss, panting.
"Jesus, honey, leave me some skin!" His words reached her; T'Pol loosened her grip, and leaping into the fray, Trip kissed her again, flicking his tongue against her lips. She swiftly opened her mouth to his for a deeper, wetter kiss. Trip slid one hand up to cup her breast; she gasped as he spun a gentle thumb in circles over the hard rivet of her nipple. His tongue caressed hers. T'Pol gave a soft moan.
"That's my girl. Just keep in mind . . . that lust is . . . just a sensation, not an emotion . . .," Trip muttered between kisses. Despite his calm tone, his own body eagerly responded to the heat of hers, and it took all of his will not to give in too quickly. He ran a hand up her spine and found the zipper to her uniform. It slid down with a soft growl. Impatiently, T'Pol shrugged her way out of the top, baring herself to the waist. The sight of her, hair disheveled, half naked against the wall--Trip tried not to hyperventilate.
"Damn you've got--"
"--a bodacious rack?" T'Pol retorted softly. Trip flushed, and she reached for the zipper of *his* uniform, yanking it down with enough force to make him wince. Her hands slid into and under his clothing, her warm palms making his skin tingle. Patiently, he managed to get his T-shirt off and dropped it to the floor. T'Pol nipped the edge of his collarbone hard enough to bruise. Trip smothered a groan as her lips burned against his skin.
"Slower, lighter . . ." Firmly, he gathered her wrists, and held them behind her, then turned his attention to her chest. His tongue flicked across one ruckered nipple then the other. She writhed, not in protest but in confused desire, as Trip let his teeth rub against the tender flesh.
"You must . . . take me soon--" T'Pol hissed as she arched up. Trip let his chest slide on hers as he licked a trail between her breasts to under her chin. He released her wrists and cupped her bottom; she ground herself against him impatiently. Trip shuddered as her hands raked through his hair.
"Yeah, soon--" he muttered hoarsely, trying to work the rest of her uniform down.
It took Reed only two steps to realize that the scanner in his hand was faulty. He paused, gave it a shake and the life form on it blinked out immediately. A slow smile crossed his stern face as he realized Gordon-Ross had lost her gamble. Quietly, he stalked back to his cabin, where the open doorway beckoned. He stepped in and shut it behind him.
"Full marks, Lieutenant. If your jury-rigged scanner had held up, I'd probably be on the next level by now." For a moment, silence, then a muffled oath. Gordon-Ross unfolded her from under the desk, crawling out slowly. Reed lightly pressed the toe of one boot on her fingers.
"Ah-ah--" he chided, savoring the delicious image of her on all fours. In the dim light, her bare skin gleamed, and her long curly hair hung down over her shoulders. She raised her head and stared up at him defiantly.
"I n-nearly had you, too." She reached for her karate uniform, but Reed applied a little more weight to her fingers and she froze.
"No," came his deliberate tone. "We've got a little unfinished business, Gordon-Ross, and these--" he bent down to pick up the clothing, "- -are only going to get in the way."
"S-s-sir?" her voice squeaked with desire and fear. Reed straightened up again, crossing his arms behind his back. He could feel himself stiffen.
"Security on this ship starts with discipline, lieutenant. An acknowledgment of command." He lifted his boot, letting her pull back her fingers. "On your knees, Miss."
Without a word, Gordon-Ross rose up, biting her lip. Reed glanced down at the top of her head.
"Strictly speaking, I can't put you in the brig, or even confine you to quarters. Initiative is admirable, but I am still your superior officer."
"Yes s-sir." it was barely a whisper. Reed could feel her exhaled breath against his thighs. He licked his upper lip, tasting sweat.
"Therefore, I believe an unofficial reprimand is in order. A physical notandum to cement the fact that your place is . . . under me, Lieutenant. Do I make myself clear?"
"A spanking," Reed growled.
Startled, Gordon-Ross looked up at him, disbelief all over her face; Reed met her eyes and nodded slowly. Numbly she got to her feet. He reached over for the desk chair and planted himself in it.
"If you please, Lieutenant-"
Trembling, she shifted to one side of him, and gently draped herself over his lap; the sensually warm weight of her nearly made him groan, but he merely braced an arm across her delicate shoulder blades. He could hear her whimpering. For a long moment, Reed gazed over the luscious sight of her narrow waist and curvy round bottom before him.
His hand flew down and cracked against her flesh. Gordon-Ross jerked, but she didn't cry out. Reed smacked her bottom again, suddenly aware that his breathing was louder. Gordon-Ross mewled and squirmed across his lap while he bit back a grunt.
By the time he'd delivered the sixth blow, both of them were trembling. Gordon-Ross was sobbing silently; he could feel her stomach quiver against his straining cock. He pulled her up, and she slid back to her knees resting her hands on his thighs.
One searing look passed between them, a shared moment of intimate recognition that spoke volumes. Gordon-Ross stretched up, and lightly took the tab of Reed's uniform in her teeth, tugging it down and open. He stood up, letting her hands strip him. When she was done, she licked away the tears that had trickled to the corners of her mouth and waited.
Wordlessly, he backed her up to the edge of the bunk, dropping with her on the sheets. Their coolness stung her bottom; she arched up and gave a soft cry. Reed rolled her over and kissed his way down her spine, flicking his tongue over each vertebra. Gordon-Ross shivered. He chuckled when he reached the dimples at the base of her backbone.
"Still holding out?" he whispered. He bent his head and deliberately nipped the rounded tender flesh. She dropped her face into the sheets to muffle a yelp. Her bottom arched up, and Reed shifted behind her, rising on his knees and using them to lever her thighs apart. His hands rested on the pink stripes that stood out on her rear. Slowly, he let his cock plunge into the slick wetness between Gordon-Ross's thighs.
She pushed back against him eagerly, a low almost musical moan rising from her throat. Reed groaned, and began to thrust himself into her, his strength rocking them both across the sheets. The muscles running the length of his hard stomach tightened as Gordon-Ross suddenly tossed her long hair back and cried out. Her entire body tensed rhythmically, and growling, Reed followed her a moment later, his spasms dying away as she slackened under him.
He slumped across her back and they stayed that way for a long time, not speaking, simply content in sharing heartbeats.
Sleepily she looked over her shoulder at him, eyes dark and satisfied in the dim light. He rubbed his nose with hers.
"I suppose it's rather a moot point, but--may I kiss you?"
"Shhh. I know what I'm doing."
"Oh yeah . . . but, I mean, why me? Not that I'm not grateful . . . . ohhhh . . ."
"Mmmmmm . . . because you have these broad strong shoulders, Travis . . . and this lean kissable stomach . . . and this . . . ."
"OhmyGod,ohmyGod . . . oh Hoshi baby, you *are* the linguist . . ."
Archer looked up from his nearly empty glass of wine and ruefully smiled.
"If I say no, you're going to fly into a rage and throw pots and pans around, grumbling about how your culinary talent is being wasted on a ship full of gastronomically impaired idiots who can't tell caviar from catfood."
The woman in the doorway took off her tall hat and shook her head to hide her grin.
"Ah, you know me so well, Mia patron."
"Rather than risk your wrath, Chef, I'll have dessert. Join me."
Within a few minutes a fragrant chocolate fondue appeared on the table, accompanied by cubed fruit and skewers. Chef expertly speared three chunks and swirled them in the glossy brown sauce while Archer watched.
"Chef, have you noticed anything odd about the ship tonight?"
"You mean other than the fact that as we speak, almost every woman on the Enterprise is getting laid?" She smiled wickedly.
His face red, Archer cleared his throat. "Uh, really?"
"Really. We've had a run on champagne, oysters and chocolate. The Quartermaster tells me there are no roses or clean sheets available either."
Archer's blush deepened. Chef crossed the skewers artistically on a gleaming dish and slid them in front of the captain.
"Every woman? What about you?"
"The bella notte is still young, Mia Captain," she murmured with amusement, sitting next to him. He fumbled with the skewers, leaving a cocoa colored streak across the tablecloth. Chef chuckled and Archer sighed in noisy exasperation.
"I give up--what the *hell* is going on?"
Chef waved a skewer like a baton, her smile both knowing and naughty.
"Ardore, Captain, Passione. Whatever the catalyst, I can tell you that every woman feels like Eve tonight, dangling the forbidden fruit in front of---"
"--That's it--" Archer snatched up the skewer and yanked a chunk of chocolate covered fruit off of it. He leaned forward and waved it under Chef's nose excitedly.
"It's the fruit, it has to be! Nobody was affected until after we started eating this."
"It can't be the fruit," Chef shrugged her elegant shoulders. "This stuff's been scanned, irradiated, decontaminated, genotyped and matched against every toxin known in our databases. For all intents and purposes it's a space kiwi."
Archer leaned closer. "Are you sure?" he demanded.
Chef bent her head forward and slowly nibbled the fruit from his hand, licking the chocolate off his fingers with long wet swipes of her warm tongue. Stunned, Archer closed his eyes and gave a little gasp.
"I have to get to Sickbay--" he announced quickly, practically leaping from his chair. Chef watched him go and wet her lips.
"Chocolate covered Captain . . . " She whispered to herself. "That will make one hell of a nightcap."
"Captain, I was about to page you--" Phlox was fastening up the collar of his tunic as he spoke. Archer shot a look through the open doorway leading to the diagnostic room where a decidedly feminine form slept under rumpled sheets.
"Patient or seductress?"
"Both," Phlox ruefully admitted. "Ironic, really, since for weeks the two of us have been trying to keep our relationship fairly quiet."
"In light of our current epidemic of fraternization I don't think anyone's going to notice," Archer sighed. Phlox tilted his head in agreement, then pointed to the screen at a research station. It showed a display of DNA.
"After our dinner discussion I decided to reexamine the fruit we brought on board--"
"--I know, I know--it's infected the women of the Enterprise."
"Incorrect. The fruit is harmless. The seeds, however, have a genetic implant that is absorbed by the X chromosome and manipulates the hormones."
"Inciting lust?" Archer tried not to smile, but Phlox nodded, his expression serious.
"And quite a bit of it. It has all the earmarks of bio-botanical engineering, and I assume it's purpose is to increase fertility not only for the fruit, but for any animals ingesting it."
"So the farmer gets a bumper crop of fruit *and* livestock."
"Precisely. But this crop must be an early prototype because there is a serious flaw in the implant, Captain. Any intimate exposure to Y chromosomes will unravel sections of the DNA."
"That doesn't sound good--" Archer warned.
"It isn't. Every female on the ship who's had both fruit and intercourse is going to . . ." Phlox hesitated. Archer squeezed his eyes shut and finished the sentence.
". . .die."
"Unfortunately. Cellular degeneration."
"Can you do anything?"
"Yes. It seems that the reversing the process is fairly simple. By obtaining and resequencing a little of each affected couple's original DNA-- " he broke off, seeing Archer's impatient expression. "--the details are unimportant, suffice to say I can repair the damage. But I urge you to return to Andromeda Short line and find the vendor. We need to know where the fruit came from and stop any more of it from being sold."
"How long do we have?" Archer glanced up at the screen. Phlox shrugged.
"I have already started the DNA cultures for the entire crew. As long as every affected person comes forth and get treated within the next few days, there should be no problem."
"What about you?--" Archer glanced again at the doorway. The doctor smiled.
"Ah, well--not every woman ate the fruit."
Trip let his hands glide between the tight catsuit and the smooth hips, forcing the material down T'Pol's long muscled thighs. She gave a small hiss, although he couldn't tell if it was impatience or lust, and he was too aware of his own driving need to worry about it. The uniform slid to her knees. He stopped for a moment, startled by a discovery.
"Where's your underwear?" he asked. T'Pol shot him a look so Vulcan he nearly laughed, but she followed it with a wet lick to his ear that made his knees wobble.
"Okay, stupid question . . ." he panted, pinning her back against the wall again with his bare chest. Using a soft and experienced touch, Trip slid his hand down the flat plane of her stomach to arrive at the silky tuft between her thighs. His fingers lightly toyed with it, cupping it. Sweat trickled down T'Pol's cheekbone; she raised one leg and curled it around his thigh tightly.
"Easy, girl . . ." Probing gently, Trip flashed a triumphant smile as his thumb found what he was searching for. A reluctant moan rose out of T'Pol's throat; she clutched his broad shoulders tightly.
"What are you doing?" She demanded furiously. Ignoring her question, he continued to let the ball of his thumb glide in satin-soft strokes over the swollen bud buried between her thighs. She trembled as his fingertips slid up into her.
"I-I-I . . ." T'Pol's lips parted and her eyes glazed over. Trip pressed a kiss just under her pointed ear.
"Maybe we better lie down now . . ." came his hoarse whisper, " . . .'cause I don't think I can wait a whole lot longer."
T'Pol turned to look at him; he realized that her dark eyes were glittering with unshed tears. After more fumbles with clothing and space, they ended up on the cramped metal decking of the turbolift floor. Trip lowered himself onto her, bracing a muscled forearm over her head. Instinctively she reached down between their bodies and wrapped gentle fingers around his swollen shaft. Trip grunted with pleasure.
"Do it now, " she whispered brokenly. He nodded, letting her guide him as he kissed her forehead. He pushed forward. The slick heat of her nearly overwhelmed him; T'Pol burrowed her face into his shoulder letting out a tiny whimper. Trip hesitated, but she slid her hands over the curve of his rear and tightened her arms, wordlessly urging him on. He thrust as slowly as he could, lost in the pleasure as sweat rolled down his face. T'Pol wrapped her long legs around his lean hips, following his rhythm as he began to increase his stroke.
"Oh darlin, oh darlin . . . ." Under him, T'Pol writhed, her hands raking across his back as she licked his throat. Within a few minutes she clutched him and shuddered, muffling his name into the wet flesh of his shoulder. It was enough to push him over the edge.
Trip climaxed, the hot relentless surge roaring through him. His shudders slowly died away and he dropped his mouth to T'Pol's, covering her face in a frenzy of kisses. They said nothing for a long moment. Then she stiffened.
"You are bleeding . . ."
"Whoa--" Trip glanced at his shoulder, where a perfect ring of teethmarks welled with scarlet drops. He gave a small shy smile.
"Only fair I guess. You're probably bleeding too." With a sigh of regret, he pulled away from her, got to his knees and fished for his black T-shirt, folding it into a soft pad. Trip pressed it between her thighs. She looked down the length of her body with a blank, almost dazed expression while he softly ran a finger along the edge of her ear.
"Well, your skin's cooling down, and you don't look like your gonna kill me anymore, so I guess that's good . . ." he awkwardly observed. She shifted her gaze to him, and her face was unexpectedly serene. He took a deep breath.
"We must repair the lift," she cut into his words gently, rubbing a hand over the marks on his shoulder.
"Captain, it's an urgent communiqué from the Commissioner of the Andromeda Shortline station . . ." the relief ensign from the communications station announced as Archer strode onto the bridge.
"On screen." A few musical blips chimed out and a figure appeared on the viewscreen.
"Jon, I'm glad you're still in range. We need your help--" the tall gray-haired man boomed. Archer gave a wry smile.
"Let me guess, David--you've had a medical problem stemming from some genetically altered fruit and you're looking for the vendor."
"Dear God--you too?" the Commissioner's eyes widened. Archer gave a short curt nod.
"Yep. We've got it under control--are you all right?"
"Just about--trying to culture the DNA for an entire space station isn't easy, but we've doing it. Our security traced this man--" the commissioner disappeared, replaced by a photo,"--as the importer. His name's Mudd."
Archer glared at the frozen smiling face before him. "Can't argue with that."
"No, I mean it truly is. Fenton Roger Mudd. He claims he's a galactic trader, but con man is a hell of a lot more accurate."
"I see. Any idea where he is?"
"Well, he doubled his earnings by cheating at cards with the crew of the Manzoo Kleton and barely got away in some sort of warp one runabout. I'd suggest looking for a trail of jettisoned goods, since he's probably trying to get rid of the evidence."
Archer shook his head. "It sounds as if you know this Mudd pretty well."
The commissioner sighed.
"Hang around space long enough and you will too, Captain. Let us know if you find him. Andromeda Station out."
"Ensign, round up the primary shift officers to the Situation Room."
Years of command had given Archer an understanding of tension, an appreciation for the sharper edge it could give his officers. However, the atmosphere of the Situation Room reeked more of awkward embarrassment. Everyone was polite, quiet, and completely unwilling to meet anyone else's eyes. Archer scowled and looked around the room, realizing it would take some shock value to pull his team back together.
"The life of every woman on board the Enterprise and on Andromeda Station has been put as risk by this man," he began, tapping on the view table with his knuckles. It worked; all of them looked down at the photo. Mayweather cursed under his breath and Archer shot him a questioning gaze.
"Mudd! I should have guessed. He's bad news, Captain."
"Care to elaborate, Travis?"
Mayweather gave a wincing chuckle as he spoke. "Fenton Mudd's got the knack of trading in damaged goods, sir--nothing he offers works the way he says. Two years ago he promised my uncle that this virility potion from Orion would make a new man of him. Within a week, my uncle had so many testicles he looked like a walking cluster of grapes. I mean they were even hanging off his *nose!*"
A pause and then--
Both of T'Pol's elegant brows went up. Hoshi spluttered into a fit of giggles; the dam of reserve broke as the rest of the bridge team reacted to this startling mental image. Archer wheezed, Trip wiped his eyes and Reed kept shaking his head. Every time someone managed to get a grip, Mayweather would look down his nose and set them all off again. Finally, Archer managed to hang on to the edge of the table and choke out,
"Th-thanks for sharing that, Travis. I hope your uncle's--"
"--Back to just the regular two--" Mayweather managed to blurt, setting off a fresh gale of hysterics. "--But if Mudd ever crosses him again, he's dead meat, sir."
"Understandable. But the fact remains that this time, lives were put in jeopardy, and we've got a duty to bring this man back to face his crimes." The room began to sober up, and T'Pol brought up another image on the screen.
"The vessel he commandeered has a limited speed and insufficient facilities for any long range travel, " she pointed out. "It would be logical for him to stay within the trade lanes and intercept a larger ship."
"Agreed. Mayweather, plot a course based on the Sub Commander's projections. Reed, I want firepower on standby. Trip, make sure that grappler's ready if we're forced to use it."
Archer dropped his voice into a softer tone. "I understand that the dynamics of this ship have changed. Sex does that. You all are going to have to deal with the consequences of what's happened. But you're still the best officers in Starfleet and we've got a job to do."
Phlox looked at the crusted scratches and his mouth twitched as he suppressed a knowing smile. He let brought an applicator up and began to swab the wounds clean. Trip fidgeted, but the doctor knew it wasn't physical pain that made the engineer so restless.
"A hurt like this can run very deep . . .," Phlox gently observed. "Are you all right?" Trip snorted, and let his head hang for a moment.
"I feel like shit," Trip blurted honestly. Phlox cocked his head as the other man turned to look at him. Trip's face was etched with misery.
"I lied to her. Told her it was not an emotion, just a sensation, but that's a bunch of bullshit. There are always feelings involved, especially when it's--"
"--the first time," Phlox finished for him. Setting the applicator down, Phlox motioned for Trip to sit, and joined him.
"Commander Tucker, you acted in the most gallant fashion possible under the circumstances. You not only saved the Sub Commander's life, you gave her an out, so to speak. By telling her that what she was experiencing was not emotional, she was free to respond to you as fully as she needed to."
Trip quietly looked at his hands as the doctor sighed.
"It is harder for you because for humans, sex carries an emotional commitment. In Vulcan culture, the emotional commitment develops over time."
He paused and added, "Unfortunately for Sub Commander T'Pol, the physical changes caused by her defloration will be very difficult for her to deal with unless the two of you are willing to continue the relationship."
"Whoa, whoa, Doc--what the hell are you saying?" Trip looked up, his mouth set in a hard line. Phlox shrugged.
"The physical loss of virginity for a Vulcan woman is the beginning of maturity. She links to her mate, and follows the cycle of his sex drive-- that's why Vulcan couples must live together for at least a year. Physically, she needs intercourse on a semi-regular basis to mature."
Trip frowned, trying to understand. Unconsciously his hand went to his shoulder, where the bite mark had scabbed.
"What will happen if she doesn't . . . have intercourse?"
"Well, her internal temperature will continually spike to dangerously high levels, and the resulting fever might permanently damage several organs including her lungs and brain. If she chooses to go back to Vulcan, they will put her into a catatonic trance for a year and use chemicals to stabilize her hormones."
Trip paled and sucked in a deep breath as Phlox nodded.
"Believe me, the logical choice is obvious. She still needs you, but she is struggling to figure out a way to tell you." The doctor lightly touched the wound on Trip's shoulder.
"We need to treat this or it will form a scar."
Trip studied the bite mark for a moment, then shook his head and reached for his shirt.
"She gave it to me, and I'm gonna keep it. Thanks doc."
"Really Captain, anyone can make a mistake . . . "
"Seems to be a way of life with you . . ." Archer commented bitingly as he glanced into the brig. The figure within it rolled his eyes and sighed theatrically.
"While I'm deeply sorry for the events that have occurred on the Enterprise, I'm as much a victim as anyone else on this ship, sir--I mean how was I to know the fruit was experimental?"
"Let me see--fruit stolen from the biotech labs at the Orion colony-- fruit in containers clearly labeled as not for consumption, for experimental data only--is any of this even remotely familiar to you?"
"I was always a poor reader, Captain. A misspent youth with little formal education, you understand."
"Please, Mudd, my heart is breaking," Archer snapped. He shook his head disgustedly, but Mudd managed a bright smile.
"Ah well, Starfleet has so little appreciation for the small businessman . . . I suppose this means detention for a year or two before all this is cleared up--" his voice trailed off hopefully.
"Actually, Mudd, Starfleet feels that your case may be one of the great diplomatic turning points out in this sector. Sure, you've committed crimes against this ship, but there are others that have outstanding grievances against you."
"Hmmmm. Yes, regrettably there are a few insignificant individuals with a propensity to hold grudges."
"The Nausicaan empire, the miners of T'dagga Three, several freight companies and more recently the crew of the Manzoo Kleton. Therefore, Starfleet has decided to invite their representatives to Andromeda Shortline to discuss how best to handle your crimes. Face it, Fenton--it's a party and you're the piñata."
Mudd went pale; his previously bright smile faded and Archer relished the moment before stepping out of the brig.
Mudd's trial was short, but colorful. For a while, Starfleet debated broadcasting it, but couldn't decide if it qualified more as entertainment than a deterrent. The highlight came right before Mudd was dragged away by his Nausicaan guards. Shrugging them off for a moment, he glared dramatically at Archer, shouting,
"By the Zoltarian gypsy blood in me, Archer, I curse your stupid ship! There will forever be the taint of Mudd on the Enterprise! My sons, and my son's sons will plague your ventures from this day forward, and gaaaa---" The nearest guard, a tall female with a spectacular sense of timing managed to knee Mudd in the groin; he folded up like a lawn chair.
"That was uncalled for--" the presiding Justice protested faintly. Snarling, the guard shrugged.
The still squeaking Mudd was dragged off, wide brown eyes spinning in opposite directions like pinwheels. The Justice sighed.
"Enterprise, we request that you dispose of the fruit via transporter dispersment before you resume your mission. The ruling of the court of this station thus stands."
"The last of it, sir. And not a moment too soon for any of our liking--" Reed muttered as the transporter's whine faded. Archer finally relaxed, his big shoulders sagging a bit as the final crate of fruit vanished.
"Too bad we didn't send Mudd this way as well--" He growled. Reed gave a murmur of agreement. The Captain turned to look at his tactical officer sharply.
"If you've got a suggestions on how to improve our transporter screening, let me know."
"Another bio-filter geared to catch genetic tampering would be a start, sir. My second in command has a few additional ideas, including mounting a laser there--" Reed pointed up on the wall facing the transporter, "--to have the advantage of any hostile lifeform coming aboard."
Archer nodded thoughtfully. "Sounds pretty sensible to me."
"Yes, Gordon-Ross is quite good at the pre-emptive strike," Reed admitted with a guarded expression. "But she's rather impulsive and hasn't passed her promotion boards yet. I'd like to keep her under my thumb a while longer."
"Ah well, we can't tie up the good ones forever," Archer mused as he strolled out of the room. Once he was gone, Reed grinned to himself. He hit the com and his voice dropping into a low, teasing tone.
"Gordon-Ross, are you free for dinner?"
There was a frustrated growl, and her breathless voice replied, "A- Almost, sir. Just one more k-knot to go--"
"Tell me the truth--which one really did the trick--the fruit or the album?"
"It was . . ."
"Oh . . . don't touch me there unless you mean business, girl--"
T'Pol sat at a secluded table, endlessly stirring her soup. Phlox quietly joined her and waited with the patience of an owl. She finally looked up at him.
"I prefer to be alone."
"I think you've brooded enough," Phlox countered. "Tell me your thoughts and put them to rest, T'Pol of Vulcan." His use of her formal name made her set her lovely mouth in a hard line.
"I chose to--seduce--a fellow crewmember for my own purposes. I put my needs before the traditions of my culture," T'Pol bleakly announced. Phlox shook his head.
"Let me see--you would have preferred to suffer the organ-destroying agonies of pyrothermia, to endure the undeserved scorn of your fellow Vulcans and lose a complete year of consciousness rather than accept the physical administrations of a human who respects you?"
T'Pol pushed away her untouched meal, her fine brows drawing together slightly.
"That is not my perspective on the matter."
"Understandably. But it is the non-emotional one," Phlox admonished. Before she could argue, he added,
"Think of it, Sub Commander--you have already made a nontraditional choice when you stayed with the ship. Is this decision any different? In a hundred years, when most of this crew are dead and gone, will it matter to *anyone* how you came to maturity?"
"No," she slowly admitted. Phlox laced his fingers together and nodded.
"Exactly. You are by no means the first Vulcan female to have shared your intimate heritage with an alien lover and you will not be the last."
For a moment, neither of them spoke. T'Pol finally picked up her spoon.
"I do not wish to implement the Commander for my own needs. It is not fair to do so."
"The Commander has a few needs of his own, if you hadn't noticed. Our chief engineer is a young, lonely and brilliant man with a need to be needed."
"He is human" she argued, a hint of desperation in her voice, "and susceptible to emotional attachment."
"He is gentle, considerate and more than willing," Phlox snapped. With uncharacteristic annoyance, he snatched the spoon from her fingers, forcing her to meet his eyes.
"I did my first internship on your planet and can tell you that far too many Vulcan women are raped rather than loved, all in the name of tradition and culture."
She drew in a deep breath in response to the truth of his words. Phlox dropped the spoon back into her congealing soup.
"Learn from him, Sub Commander--he has much to offer you."
Phlox left her sitting there, staring into the cold reflection of herself in the bowl.
"It's two in the morning--What are you doing here?" He asked sleepily, without malice as a yawn turned the end of his question into a whisper. She looked at him; he ran a hand though his tousled hair and glanced down at his bare chest, his flannel pajama bottoms wondering what held her attention.
Lightly, reverently she ran her index finger up his shoulder.
"Teach me more," she whispered.