Trip dives into danger in order to save a Vulcan child.
Het > Tucker and T'Pol Characters:
Reed, T'Pol, Tucker
Genre & Keywords:
Action, AngstStory Type:
December 08, 2020 Updated:
October 09, 2021
The events of this story take place only a few days after the last scene of “Terra Prime” (and the true end of the series, IMHO) so, naturally, spoilers for everything, but mostly “Terra Prime”.
Note: Malcolm doesn't make an appearance until nearly the end of the story in Chapter Five but, because of the nature of the story and the fact that I began this long ago during "Drown Malcolm Month", it seemed only fitting that he should, even if only briefly.
Thank you to Aquarius for her workshopping help years ago, and to my beta for this story, Panyasan.
Thank you too, to all my readers over the years. I began this story as mere notes in 2010 and as a scribbled outline and fully fledged idea in 2011 thanks to The Delphic Expanse. Then life - family passings, new jobs, hurricanes and history - happened. If it wasn't for the enthusiasm of fanfic readers I wouldn't have come back to it after ten years.
1. Chapter 1 by EntAllat
2. Chapter 2 by EntAllat
3. Chapter 3 by EntAllat
4. Chapter 4 by EntAllat
Charles "Trip" Tucker leaned against a smooth stone pillar and stared out over the Vulcan landscape from under the sheltering shade of a massive rock ledge. From this lofty vantage point he could see several small towns spread out below the mountain and, farther in the distance, the hazy spires of the capital city Shi'Kara wavered in the mid-day heat. A transport ship, nearly invisible against the sky because of the distance, slowly and laboriously lifted from the western edge of the city and into the atmosphere. As he watched it disappear, a swirl of hot wind made him shut his eyes against blowing sand and he fumbled to rein in the fluttering edges of the Vulcan robes he was wearing.
Behind him, just inside the temple's entrance, he could hear the Vulcan priest saying something to what was left of the... he frowned. What had T'Pol called it? A kat'ryar, kat'ritan?
He winced. Honor guard. That's what it was - a Vulcan honor guard of dignitaries for a tiny innocent.
Oddly, the thought didn't bring a tear to his eyes. Ever since that private moment in T'Pol's quarters - was it really only six days ago? - he hadn't felt the urge to cry again, though he was beginning to wish he could. He shifted uncomfortably against the pillar at the thought. It wasn't an inability to feel something that was bugging him; in fact, it was the opposite. Since just after Archer's speech to the planetary representatives, he'd felt weary and worn out, but on edge. The same sort of anger that had bubbled up inside him after his sister's death was threatening to do the same now and he didn't know what to do. He acknowledged their baby's death. He'd cried. He'd talked to the psychologist from Starfleet Medical. He'd done the social rituals for two different cultures - two different species on two different planetsif someone wanted to get technical about it.
He glanced back over his shoulder. The Vulcan priests hadn't seemed to know what to do with him, other than to acknowledge his presence and part in the ritual as the baby's father. They weren't unkind, just... at a loss. Now that it was over, they spoke to T'Pol.
Trip's gaze shifted from the tall, severe looking man in priest's robes to T'Pol's pale face. She seemed so small in her heavy mourning robes. Part of him thought he should be there, by her side or even in front, shielding her from others. But another part of him realized that she needed this contact with other Vulcans, to deal with this in the way that Vulcans dealt with this sort of thing.
He closed his eyes and tried some deep breathing. He was beginning to appreciate the quiet way Vulcans grieved, a welcome change from the countless "I'm-so-sorries" and flowing tears that had dominated the past week. Sorry didn't make it better. Sorry didn't bring either Elizabeth back to life.
Neither did the rituals and the fire pits, but at least the Vulcans had let him be.
He felt like he was suffocating inside, unable to breathe. It was as if he was reaching for something, like he needed some other kind of ... oh hell, he didn't even know what it was that he needed. At this point, he'd welcome the worn out, numb and weary feeling he'd had during the meeting with the planetary representatives on Earth. This new feeling carried with it molten pools of rage in the pit of his soul. He'd been here before, and he knew neuropressure wasn't going to get him out of this dangerous place this time.
"I grieve with thee."
The sound of another voice startled him out of his spiraling thoughts and he tore his eyes away from T'Pol to find himself staring at V'Lar, who had left the small circle of Vulcan dignitaries to join him at the entrance to the monastery. Hers had been one of only two faces he'd recognized - Vulcan's new leader, T'Pau, being the other. Soval had attended the memorial services on Earth, where he and other diplomats were forging ahead with conference talks to create a coalition of planets. T'Pol had mentioned nothing about any of her extended family planning to attend this ritual and Trip wasn't sure if he was in the frame of mind to remember them if they had.
He blinked, realizing he was still staring at the elderly Vulcan woman. He wasn't sure who had asked for V'Lar to be here, but he felt suddenly grateful for her presence.
"Thanks," he finally managed to say. His throat felt dry with the words.
If V'Lar thought anything of his odd behavior, her kind, round face didn't show it. She seemed more tired than the last time he'd seen her, and she moved more slowly and carefully than he remembered, too. Briefly he wondered how the turmoil of the last several years on Vulcan had been affecting her life.
"You are staying on Vulcan?"
He nodded. "For a few days."
"I would be most pleased if the two of you would visit with me in my home..."
The idea of trying to be social right now spurred a new sense of anxiety, but she smoothly added, before he could make some kind of excuse, "...when you are able and desire the company."
He nodded again, the surge of emotion receding as quickly as it had bubbled up. V'Lar's mix of warmth, firmness, and disarming charm reminded him of his own grandmother and he suspected that "No" wouldn't be accepted as an answer. The thought was a bit comforting, and the fierce burn that had been building up in his gut began to fade back to glowing embers.
"Yes ma'am. Thank you."
Behind them he could hear light footsteps approach and knew, even before V'Lar turned to take her leave that it was T'Pol. The two women spoke quietly in Vulcan for a few minutes before V'Lar walked away. Further down the path in front of him he could see a middle-aged Vulcan woman who bore a remarkable resemblance to V'Lar, waiting. Her daughter, perhaps?
Daughter. The very word was like pressing the open in his soul and he blinked with the sudden pain.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see T'Pol move to stand nearer him, and they both watched in silence as V'Lar departed. The former diplomat chose her footsteps carefully, her younger companion providing an arm for support, as both descended the steep gravel path that wound away from the entrance to the temple. Trip knew from his own arrival this morning that it led to a small landing pad hidden from view some meters below.
Behind them, a gentle rustling of fabric announced the retreat of the somber priests into the depths of the temple.
Suddenly they were alone again, for the first time in days.
T'Pol glanced up at him with a breath that seemed to have a question behind it. But she too was struggling with something - he could feel it - and the moment vanished into the dry mountain air. The silence hung there, as heavy as the rock ledge overhead and more awkward with each passing moment. Trip desperately searched for something to fill it but everything he wanted to say was tinged with anger at the universe.
He needed to say something, no - to do something - but he felt as immobile as the stone edifices that surrounded them.
They stood there in silence for a long while, watching the spires of the distant city shimmer and shift, and long, thin clouds float past the upper reaches of the mountainside monastery.
Over T'Pol's shoulder Trip could see a vast area - a little hazy at this distance but its features still clearly distinct - surrounded by a low, ornately carved stone wall. Inside this expanse was a multitude of spectacular-looking plants, tall rock formations, and winding pathways.
Suddenly desperate for something other than silence, he nodded at the enclosed area. "What's that?"
"It's a preserve." If Trip didn't know better he'd say she was relieved to engage in something that amounted to innocuous small talk.
"As you know, aside from a few small seas, there is little surface water on Vulcan." T'Pol continued as if she was at her station on the bridge of Enterprise, though her voice was soft. "As such, most reservoirs are underground in extensive cave systems. This area is home to one of the major aquifers that nourishes the Shi'Kar province and was set aside as a wilderness preserve many years ago."
T'Pol paused for a moment, and then inclined her head at the path that wound down and away from the monastery. "This way. You can see it better from a platform some meters below."
Trip nodded and followed her down the path and past the small landing pad. A warm breeze tossed his hair and made him squint as they walked.
As they made their descent, Trip could feel his breathing speed up and his heart rate rise. It didn't seem to matter that he was a trained, and fit, Starfleet officer. Vulcan's thinner atmosphere and heavier gravity always reminded he that he'd grown up at sea level. At least T'Pol had set a comfortable pace that didn't leave him winded right away.
Trip glanced at her. They hadn't spoken much, not since that moment in her quarters when he'd tearfully told her what Phlox had discovered. Learning that Elizabeth had died because of a flaw in the cloning process that Paxton's doctors used, and that a Vulcan-Human child was possible, she'd taken his hand.
Now, she looked lost in thought, and still sort of... fragile. He turned his attention back to the path. Now that he knew what to listen for, he could feel her in the back of his mind, like a tune that he couldn't forget. The analogy brought the barest tug of a smile to the corner of his mouth. Yeah, he thought, that fit her - a tune he couldn't forget. He sneaked another peek at her, walking beside him.
The psychic bond they now clearly shared was both comforting and a source of confusion and anxiety. There were moments when he felt a calm that he knew wasn't his own, but that he was grateful for. Likewise, there were moments, especially in the last six days, of a sort of kindred mental presence that made him feel less alone in aftermath of everything that had just happened. Other times... well, he was beginning to wonder if the red-hot rage bubbling in his breast was entirely his.
Truth to be told, he wasn't sure what was real or imagined from moment to moment. Moreover, he suspected that T'Pol, being inexperienced with the previously taboo subject of Vulcan psychic abilities, was struggling with the extra burden of a very un-Vulcan mental presence. Trip had no idea how to help.
As the landscape below came into clearer view, he could now see hundreds of sinkholes, some larger or smaller than others, scattered about across the plains, and continuing throughout what looked like limestone uplifts.
A flash of color caught his eye and he stopped walking. Placing a hand on T'Pol's shoulder to get her attention, he raised his eyebrows and indicated a spot right at the cliff edge of the path with a nod of his head.
They moved closer, to peer over a small rise of rock into what appeared to be a small infinity edge pool of water, glowing red to a deep purple from edge to edge and perhaps only a few meters across in each direction. A streak of vibrant green meandered through it and appeared to disappear into the sky.
"It's a taivotik muzh," T'Pol said. "Literally, a bacterial pool. The minerals in the pool create the reds you see and the bacteria create the flow of green."
To the left and right of the pool Trip could now clearly see the plateau below where the preserve sprawled. They'd walked almost all the way down the side of the mountain and he could no longer see the farthest ends of the wall, but he could still see over it. He could also see what appeared to be interpretive signage or kiosks scattered about, and at least one Vulcan family on an outing.
He was suddenly struck by a feeling of nostalgia and familiarity, despite the fact that this was an alien landscape to him.
"Reminds me of some places in Arizona or Nevada. Or Yellowstone." Trip nodded his head at the horizon and leaned against the small rise of rock, watching the family in the preserve move to another kiosk. "I wonder what all this looked like millions of years ago."
"Likely it appeared very much as it did just a few thousand years ago. This landscape was created rapidly after the wars that led to The Time of Awakening."
Trip frowned. "Vulcans did this?"
"Not directly. The plateau's topography is karst - various soluble carbonate rocks. Thus the presence of the aquifers. It, and other areas like it, were strategic targets during the wars that preceded The Awakening."
"Cut off the water supply..."
"Precisely. The destruction of the protective uplifts and some upper strata left this layer more exposed, and centuries of acidic rain following the wars created this particular landscape."
Silence fell again between them as he scanned the horizon. Some of the openings were difficult to see, tiny holes that slid sideways under layers of rock and plants. Others were wide but deep, with steep sides leading to the water. A few were right at the surface, glassy in appearance until small breezes disturbed their surfaces enough that they glittered in the afternoon glare.
The family he'd spotted was now approaching one of the smaller surface ones. It was reddish-orange, and shimmering multi colors in the light. A small ridge encircled one half of the edge while the rest was enclosed by an ornate iron railing. The colors seemed to both blend into and pop from the plateau itself.
Trip pointed. "That one reminds me of a blue hole."
T'Pol arched an eyebrow. "Blue hole."
"A geologic feature on Earth." He watched as the small family group of Vulcans approached the feature he was talking about. "Literally a hole - a vertical marine cave or sinkhole underwater. Blue, instead of red like that because they're in Earth's oceans. There are some similar features on land, called cenotes. They're both popular with experienced divers."
"You're an experienced diver. An instructor, correct?"
Trip nodded. "Yeah. I was Capt'n Archer's instructor." He smiled a bit. "In fact, I took Jon on a dive into Devil's Hole."
"That one's in Nevada." Trip said. "Not to be confused with Devil's Hole in Bermuda, or Devil's Hole in Gainesville, where my family used to go some weekends durin' the summer. People have been rope-swingin' there for nearly two hundred years." Seeing her expression, he actually chuckled for the first time in what felt like centuries. "Rope swingin'. It's a ... a...uh... you know, we outta just visit Earth sometime so I can show you."
He charged ahead before she could answer that invitation. "Anyway, The one in Bermuda... the collapsed roof of the cave makes some eerie sounds via the tides so..." he nodded. "Hence the name."
Trip watched the Vulcan family - a couple and their young son - consult an information padd next to the still pool, then turned to face T'Pol.
"I dove a couple of the marine sinkholes in Belize too, includin' the Great Blue Hole, and Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas. Dove a few cenotes in the Yucatan. Lots of caves too. Cave diving's popular where I grew up. North-central Florida has lots of springs that are openings into the aquifer." He realized he was babbling now, maybe about a different kind of loss, but he couldn't stop himself. "There's one near Tallahassee that spans two counties. I dove that one from Wakulla Springs, just before I left for Starfleet."
"It sounds... intriguing."
"It's somethin'... that's for sure." He regarded her with a faint smile, "You've seen Wakula Springs."
"I have never been to Florida."
He nodded. "Movie night."
T'Pol raised an eyebrow.
He lean on his side against the rise of rock and looked up at her. "Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the all three of the Tarzan movies you saw."
"Those were filmed near your home?"
"At Wakula Springs, yes." He paused for moment, remembering, and then continued. "The places off the beaten path are really nice but it can be a dangerous sport." He glanced back at the preserve for a moment, then ducked his head. "You don't have to be a diver to appreciate them though. They're beautiful from the surface."
T'Pol nodded, thoughtfully. "I would like to see one someday."
That was the opening he both needed and dreaded.
Trip straightened up and, taking a deep breath, turned to face T'Pol. "And I'd like to show you. But T'Pol ... I... I..." Well, damn. Now that he knew what he wanted to say, he had no idea how to say it.
He scanned the sky as if it would help him discover words for something that was more feeling than thought. Finally, he said the only thing that he could drag out of his swirling thoughts.
"I gotta know... where are we now? What we are now?"
They'd been listed as parents in one classified report to Starfleet after the Xindi mission, but one could argue that Lorian had never happened once they'd changed the timeline. There was no arguing that Elizabeth had existed though, and the entire known galaxy was aware that the two of them were her biological parents. But beyond that, what were they?
"I feel like we keep startin' over, startin' at the beginnin'." He looked at her again. "And every time we have to start over, we're right back to tiptoein' around each other like perpetual teenagers."
T'Pol nodded but stayed silent, toying with the edge of her sleeve.
Trip pressed on. Even if it hurt like hell, it was now or never. "Look. When I found out about the baby ... when I saw her for the first time ... I thought of us as a family."
"As did I."
That simple admission from her lifted about twenty tons of weight that had settled somewhere around his heart. His vision blurred a bit as he struggled again to find the words to speak about something deeper than the landscape around them.
For a moment it looked like T'Pol would save him from having to. She'd straightened up and taken a breath to something but suddenly stopped, her gaze going over his shoulder as if she'd heard something. Vulcan hearing. He twisted around to follow her suddenly concerned gaze.
There was an even larger group of Vulcans now gathered around the red "blue hole" that he'd been watching.
"What's goin' on?"
"They appear to be agitated."
Years ago he might have given her an incredulous look at that statement - but not anymore. Whether it was the bond they shared or plain and simple experience with reading Vulcans, it was clear to him too that the group of Vulcans were upset about something. The way one of the women had her eyes closed and held her hands to chest as if she was trying to meditate on the spot. The way an elderly one kept shifting his robes around as he spoke into a portable communication device. The way several of the younger males were circling the geologic feature.
Trip gripped T'Pol's arm, as the sudden realization of ‘what's wrong with this picture' came to him in a flash. With his other hand he pointed at a rippling surface surrounded by a now collapsed barrier, once section of which was missing.
"Where's the child?"
Author's note: My apologies for this being so long in coming. December and much of January were a little more than I expected and my muse apparently decided to take a holiday break without telling me.
Also, it appears some formatting didn't making it into Chapter Two. I've updated that with the proper italics in the necessary places and corrected a few typos, etc. I am looking for a beta that can help with offering an editorial and copywriter eye to this and my upcoming stories, so if you're good at that sort of thing and would like to volunteer, please let me know.
Trip wasn’t sure which one of them started sprinting down the rest of the path first, rocks and pebbles skittering away from their feet as they ran, but they were both through the austere stone arch of the park in what seemed an instant.
It was like stepping into a vivid painting of Earth’s Cretaceous period that Trip remembered from elementary school - artwork that included giant dinosaurs. So powerful was the sensation that he couldn’t help but slow a bit and give a quick, nervous glance at the tops of the oddly shaped trees, his breath now in hitches due to Vulcan’s gravity.
The mountain monastery shadowed this part of the park in the afternoon sun and he could see the entrance clearly through the treetops. He was surprised to see that the heavy wooden doors were wide open and that a handful of the monks had gathered halfway down the mountainside, peering over the same rocky ledge he and T'Pol had stopped by earlier. He looked away, shaking his head to clear it and catch his breath. The child inside him had been half-expecting to see a brontosaurus nibbling the tops of the trees.
Child. He took a deep breath and picked up the pace to hurry after T'Pol - the landscape, the mountain, and the monastery forgotten once again.
Despite the tangle of tall, curling fronds from thick patches of cycads, wicked looking cactus-like vines laden with berries, and limestone juts creating sharp turns in the park’s pathways, they knew exactly where to go. A small desert flyer with the park’s insignia sped past them overhead and voices became clearer as they rounded each bend.
Though it felt as if it had taken them a geologic age to reach the scene, in fact it was mere minutes. In that short time a small crowd had gathered, and Trip immediately had the sense that someone had taken charge and done the logical thing.
A tall and lanky Vulcan, wearing sturdy and stained work clothes, spoke rapidly into a communicator. After few sharp words that Trip couldn’t understand, the man snapped the device shut and stepped quickly towards a middle-aged woman exiting the desert flyer that had landed nearby. Closer by, two other men had climbed beyond the broken railing and closer to the edge of the pool, half-hidden now by the sloping sides of the feature. Trip could see a thick strap coiled around the shoulder of one. The young couple, the child’s parents he assumed, clung to the edge of what remained of the ornate railing, eyes locked on the still pool of water below. Four others stood nearby, two young women and an elderly couple, in what appeared to be comforting closeness.
He frowned and coughed. “Why don’t they just…”
He stopped and looked at T'Pol, who turned back towards him and nodded.
“It is likely no one can swim,” she said, in a tone tinged with enough distress that he could hear it in her voice and not just feel it in his mind. Her typically calm visage radiated tension and she gave him a concerned, appraising look. “However, they appear to be doing what they can. We should not have run this distance. You…”
“I’m fine,” Trip cut her off. Then, more gently, partly because he instantly regretted his sharpness and partly because he was painfully out of breath, “Really.”
Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply and willed his heart to stop pounding against his chest before he ended up with a headache. “We’re at a lower altitude now. I just need a minute.” Opening his eyes and avoiding hers, he nodded at the scene in front of them. “What are they saying?”
T'Pol looked him up and down for a moment before turning towards the group, listening.
“Attempts are being made to locate the child,” T'Pol translated from the numerous conversations going on. “To bring him to the surface. The park’s botanist has called emergency services and medics. The superintendent has brought what equipment she could think of.” She paused and Trip stepped to her side.
“Apparently no one has ever fallen in.”
“No… Not in their memory, but…” She paused again, listening.
Trip looked from one face to another, feeling powerless yet again. The agitation was palpable. Despite the fact that Vulcans often professed that they experienced no emotions, he knew that they actually did actually have them. Strong emotions were a part of their ancient history, the violence of them etched across the very landscape they stood on, though time worn now into soft shadows and gone from living memory. The last several years of Starfleet service with and around Vulcans had taught him how important their culture of logic and control was to them, to the strength their society, to their own peace of mind. But despite the activity around him, Trip was certain now that he could sense a sort of grimness about the group. Despair even.
Vulcans might be able to control their emotions through the application of logic, and conceal any failure to do so via rigidly held bodies and stoic expressions, but their eyes revealed all. The younger man that Trip assumed was the child’s father, had glanced at him when he arrived. Trip instantly recognized, in those Vulcan eyes, the same desperate hope that had gripped him while standing over Elizabeth’s bio-bed in sickbay.
“Not in at least four centuries, according to park records. And even those unfortunates from centuries prior, did not fall into a deep system…”
T'Pol trailed off, her voice bringing him back to the present moment. The way her shoulders suddenly dropped, along with another wave of strong emotion in the back of his mind, made Trip realize it was not the couple that was struggling with feelings of despair, but T'Pol.
“The child is likely…” her voice broke.
Oh no. Oh HELL no.
Trip grabbed T'Pol hand. Not so soon after losing their own child! The determination in his thoughts must have been a category five hurricane in T'Pol’s mind because her eyes went wide. He mustered everything she’d ever taught him about breathing and control to calm his mind, for both their sakes.
It worked, because another thought occurred to him. He spun her around and grabbed her shoulder to look her in the eye. “I know Vulcan physiology is different from Humans. How long can a Vulcan child hold their breath?”
T'Pol was not reassured by the hopeful thought. “Considerably longer than a Human child. But it has already been too long, and he has not resurfaced.”
“Maybe not here. But… the ranger said… ‘a deep system’. Do they mean a cavern system?”
“The park superintendent. Do they have a map?”
T'Pol apparently understood where he was going with that question, because she nodded. Together they hurried over to the two Vulcans near the desert flyer.
“I am…” T'Pol began to introduce herself.
“Commander T'Pol and Commander Tucker. Starfleet.” The middle-aged woman spoke in understandable Standard. “I am Neavik.” Her voice was even and calm but her eyes wide as she glanced from Trip to T'Pol and then briefly up at the mountain monastery. All of Vulcan probably recognizes us by now, Trip thought.
“Do you have a map of the cave system below this feature?” T'Pol asked.
The tall and lanky man, the park’s botanist, handed over a PADD and tapped the screen. A detailed map of the underground aquifer system appeared, with multiple vertical shafts, caverns of every size and long, stair-stepped horizontal systems.
“Evkah and I have discussed the possibility the child may have emerged in a side shaft,” Neavik said, echoing Trip’s own thoughts. Her finger tracing down one vertical shaft to the first horizontal one and up again. “Here. Or here.”
“But those are closed systems,” added Evkah. “There are no surface entrances from those that I have observed.”
Trip examined the map, his heart sinking.
“We have called for submersibles, but it is taking longer than expected to locate a functioning one.” Neavik added. “These maps are old and might not be reliable source of information.”
“How old?” asked T'Pol.
“Four hundred years.”
Trip’s head shot up and he blinked. “Four hundred years?” The hope he’d had was dwindling fast and the tension he’d felt all afternoon returning to every muscle in his body.
Evkah regarded him. “The aquifers are performing efficiently. There has been no need for a renewed survey in the last two generations.”
“If the boy tried to surface but became trapped in a side shaft, then there is a chance he is alive,” T'Pol said, her voice quiet.
“Not according to the map,” Neavik contradicted gently. “These…” She tapped the two possible contenders for the child’s location. “…would have no breathable air.”
Evkah canted his head. “It is possible that multiple surfaces breeches, of any size along here,” he indicated on the map, “over the last four centuries could have brought in surface air. My observations of bacterial colonization of pfalla root structures indicate this may be a possibility…”
That was all Trip needed to know.
He didn’t remember even thinking about it, but in one quick motion he’d dropped his ceremonial robe to the ground and then pulled off his boots. After a moment’s hesitation, in which she looked as if she was weighing whether or not dissuade him from what he was about to do, T'Pol helped him off with his tunic even as he moved towards the gap in the ornate iron fencing. As the group of Vulcans stared, he stripped down to his underwear and then slid down the remaining feet of distance from the path to the edge of the water.
Without explaining anything to anyone, he took a deep breath, slid over the travertine edge and plunged beneath the surface.
Author's note: OMG, I'm so sorry. I never meant to make y'all wait almost a year for another chapter! In fact, my original goal had been to put this chapter out by Christmas 2020 or New Year's Day and then wrap it up around Valentine's Day 2021.
But. Three freak snowstorms, power failures in sub zero temperatures, three hail storms, a new roof, a totaled car, some insane work hours, a Delta surge, and a couple of dire family emergencies later? 2021 has really tried to outdo 2020 in my neck of the woods and it's not done yet.
So. Anyway. How are you? That's nice. Good to hear. Here is chapter four. Finally.
P.S. THANK YOU to all who stuck around hoping for more of this story and to all of you who said nice things about it. It's so very much appreciated, you have no idea. Given the state of things the final chapter of this story may be delayed as well, but hopefully not nearly as long.
This was a spectacularly bad idea.
The second the waters closed over his head, Trip knew he'd made a grave mistake. Everything he'd ever learned about diving, every rule, every safety procedure, every lecture about how even experienced divers wound up dead, came screaming back through his brain at a million miles an hour.
To make matters worse, he'd plunged right into a dense silt cloud. Superfine particles of sediment were still suspended in the narrow vertical shaft, likely from deposits disturbed by the child's fall. Visibility was near zero past his feet and even the light from the Vulcan mid-day sun, shimmering and wavering through the water above his head, was rapidly growing dimmer as he sank.
Ordinarily he would stop, float, and wait for the particle cloud to settle while keeping an eye on his tank levels. But he didn't have tanks. Or fins. Or a mask. And he was sinking fast.
Too fast, he realized abruptly. Vulcan's higher gravity was pulling him down more rapidly than he was used to on Earth, and right through the kind of disorienting whiteout conditions that made cave diving so deadly. He hadn't expected to free-dive to scuba depths without a counter weight against buoyancy so he hadn't bothered to grab a boulder or large rock to help him descend. Or, well, he hadn't bothered to a grab a rock because he hadn't actually planned this through, he reluctantly admitted to himself, but he was still sinking fast and unexpectedly. He was just heavier here, and just barely enough so as to throw off his expectations of how he should be moving.
Alarm gripped him as the already dim sunlight above him finally vanished before he could stall his descent. He fought back the urge to take a deep breath to quell a rising panic.
He needed light. He needed a guideline.
He needed air.
Out of nowhere, an unassailable sense of calm came over him, the panic immediately banished for a sudden and startling clarity of mind. That, too, was bad news, he realized, since a sudden sense of tranquility could be the signs of nitrogen narcosis. But, he pondered, as he stretched out his arms and pushed out with his feet to brace himself against the ever-widening vertical shaft, that usually came with an overblown sense of confidence too.
He'd managed to halt his downward motion but he definitely didn't feel confident about going forward with this non-plan. He looked up from where he'd fallen. Apparently the sunlight hadn't completely vanished - he thought he could see just a tiny bit better now - and - he looked down again - he could just make out the dim edges of the bottom of the shaft. If he'd fallen any further, he'd have dropped out of the shaft and might never have found his way back up.
That thought alone should have sent his heart racing, but the preternatural sense of serenity still filled him. He had the skills to do this, yes. Even in an alien environment. He was Starfleet trained after all. But this unprepared dive wasn't working and he was going to drown himself if he didn't rethink and regroup.
With a shove against the surrounding rock that kicked up more of the fine silt, he blindly propelled himself back towards what he hoped was the sinkhole's entrance. Luckily, buoyancy - though weirdly off from his personal experience - still worked according to the laws of physics. He was propelled towards dim light once again, breaking the surface just as he though his lungs were going to explode.
Strong hands helped to lift him out of the water until he came to rest on the crumbling soil and rock side of the sinkhole. He'd barely managed a deep breath while he lay there, sprawled across the ground, before he was surrounded.
"Your mate has provided an equipment list..." started one of the Vulcan youths who'd helped pull him up.
"...and the military will transport it here momentarily." The other youth finished the thought. "For now, the Superintendent has located some kefsov and has gone to retrieve it in case it is needed."
"Kef-what?" Trip coughed as he glanced around, trying to catch his breath.
The first of the younger Vulcan males still held Trip's arm in a strong grip while he lay there on the unstable ground but the calm that had suddenly filled him moments before fled just as suddenly, leaving him wildly disoriented. In its wake, he felt a rush of emotions: defeat by the circumstances and shame at his own impulses, frustration and embarrassment at the wasted precious time. But if anyone else noticed, they were too busy to say anything.
He'd emerged into a veritable hive of activity.
The park's air vehicle was airborne again and halfway to the landing pad on the mountainside. Another air vehicle, one with an emblem he couldn't place, was kicking up dust as it settled where the park's service vehicle had been. Medics had already arrived and were speaking softly with the parents, who sat on a stone bench nearby. To Trip's left were the two youths - young adults or perhaps only in their late teens, Trip couldn't quite tell. Nearby were several other Vulcans, other park visitors from the looks of it, systematically climbing up and over natural features, and peering down into the crevices between exposed tree roots.
And then there was a cluster of monks from the monastery, seated close together on the ground and circled around an exhausted looking T'Pol. She was kneeling on the ground, head in her hands. Trip frowned and started to rise.
"Kefsov," said Evkah, as he stepped into Trip's view, halting his attempt to get up. "It is, essentially, a supplemental air supply. Many are primarily oxygen. The Ministry of Transportation ensures emergency supplies are at all points of entry for our off-world visitors."
Disoriented again, Trip just stared up at the lanky botanist.
Evkah raised an eyebrow. "This is perhaps not the use it was intended for, but it should assist your efforts until personnel and equipment arrive from a research team in the Voroth Sea." He indicated the park's returning air vehicle with a jerk of his head. "Neavik went to fetch several canisters."
He held out a PADD, so Trip reached out and took it, even as he tried to peer around Evkah at the monks and T'Pol, trying not to let his hands shake as he did so.
"As I said before you suddenly began your rescue," Evkah continued smoothly, "My observations of bacterial colonization of pfalla root structures indicate there may indeed be a surface breach here..." he leaned down to indicate the spot on the map. The nearness seemed to clue him into to Trip's disorientation, because his expression and voice suddenly softened. "Do you require oxygen now?"
All three Vulcan males leaned in to stare in concern at Trip, who suddenly felt every inch the fact that he was soaking wet and in nothing but his underwear in a public place. It was either the embarrassment, or the calm determination of those around him, but something seemed to settle inside of him.
"No," he shook his head. "I just need a second to catch my breath and regroup." He looked at the PADD, trying to ignore the stares and refocus on the task at hand. Precious minutes were slipping away. "If there's air getting' through, why not try to reach the child from the surface?"
Evkah nodded at the various search parties covering the nearby tangles of roots and rocky uplifts. "We are. But the conditions here are similar to The Forge," he used the Standard term for it rather than the Vulcan name, "and scans are unreliable at best."
Trip's heart sank and he quickly looked down at the PADD, trying not to let his thoughts show on his face. If they couldn't detect the child via scans, unreliable or not, the kid was probably already dead. A tangle of emotions starting bubbling up in his chest again and he white-knuckled the PADD.
"We are certain he's still alive," a gentle voice added, and he looked up to find Neavik returned, canisters in hand. We may not express emotions but we are sensitive to them. That's what T'Pol's mother had said to him years ago. The last few days had been proof enough of that.
"Is she okay?" Trip asked, craning his neck to indicate the figure at the center of the circled monks, concern coloring his voice.
Evkah glanced back at the group and then stepped aside for Trip to get a better view. "She is tired but she will recover. The monks have agreed to help your t'hy'la with the kash-naf."
"My what with the what now?"
Neavik looked as if she was about to explain, when a pile of equipment materialized in the pathway. For the next few minutes everyone's attention was focused on distributing lights and scanners and soon Trip was being handed things.
The speed at which it all came together was impressive but not surprising. He had to admit, although his working career with Vulcans had started out a little rocky, Trip had come to appreciate their sense of purpose and efficiency.
Well... maybe one particular Vulcan's sense of purpose and efficiency most of all. But still - he glanced over the gathered equipment and then let his gaze take in the search parties and the medics - he was really getting to like these folks as a people.
He now had a belt with a thin guide rope in an easy-release coil as well as a collection of duranium u-pins to secure it with. A light was strapped to his left and another to his right ankle, and a couple of canisters of oxygen were taped around the back of his waist. (He smirked at the hack. Straight from the engineer's unofficial flow chart: Should it move? No? Use duct tape.)
Ordinarily he'd have a mask, fins, BCD, regulators as well, but this would have to do. Well, he did have a mask now, but not necessarily one that was meant to be used underwater. He hefted the modified medical mask, then pulled it on his head, suitably impressed with the alterations one of the young Vulcans had quickly made to it with some sort of coating and indicator out of the supplies in the park's air vehicle, a small knife and some adjustable straps. He'd have to find out if that kid was interested in a career in Starfleet engineering. Later.
There was one problem, though. He judged there to be only enough oxygen for half to be used on the way down, and the other half on the way back, completely ignoring the rule to have a third left in reserve. He was likely to need that extra to bring the kid back up with. At least now he had a clear sense of where he was going to try to look, PADD in hand. And he had a scanner. It was unlikely to be terribly reliable, and it'd probably be completely ruined once it got waterlogged but he just need it to work for a minute or two once he was down there. But even better prepared as he was he hoped the crew from the Vorath Sea got there before he needed to surface again.
As ready as he'd ever be, Trip indicated a rope in the pile nearby. "Secure that end and then send the other on down. As far as you can. We'll need that to get the kid back up here." He didn't voice his concern that he might not have the strength to bring the child back to the surface in Vulcan's gravity and thin atmosphere. Just the short dive-mostly-falling-down had nearly wiped him out. "If you turn up any other oxygen canisters, just send ‘em on down to the end of the rope."
This time, when he looked up again from one last review of the underground cavern system, he caught T'Pol's eye from where she sat in the circle of monks across the pathway.
She looked recovered, but he silently mouthed, "Are you okay?" anyway. She nodded, looking more her usual confident and unflappable Vulcan self than she had in days.
He straightened up and nodded back. They'd find this kid. All of them, together, they'd find the child safe and sound and bring him back. They had to.
He looked in turn at Evkah, Neavik, and the two teenagers whose names he still hadn't caught, nodded to himself and, without another word, took a gulp of air, slipped the mask in place and dove back into the sinkhole.
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