At the end of a long day, Major Reed came down to Engineering to see Charles in his office. Charles couldn’t remember a time he had been there.
“I heard you gave the prisoners food,” Reed said as soon as he saw him.
“You want Tucker to be productive and share his ideas with us,” Charles was tired and in no mood for discussion with Reed. “He needs food to do that.”
Reed looked at him coldly. “There’s nothing wrong with working on an empty stomach. And the best tool for persuasion is still the agony booth.”
“That would work only for a short time with Tucker. I get better and quicker results when I offer him food and support. You can tell the Empress that.”
Reed smiled like he understood. “Guess you know the man better than me. He is kind of a weakling, isn’t he?”
The insult was also directed at Charles, but he didn’t care. Reed was a coward, masking his weakness with cruelty. Trip was a strong man, perhaps stronger than he thought himself.
“Tucker just came up with the idea of cloaking a shuttle pod,” he replied, ignoring Reed’s remark.
“Why would we want to do that?”
“Think about it. A cloaked shuttle pod is a great tool for spying on our enemies.” Now he had Reed’s attention. “It’s also a great instrument for exploration. You can travel to planets; see what’s there, and no one would know. It saves costs because you don’t have to send a whole ship which is much harder to cloak.”.
Reed scowled at his last words and interrupted him halfway. “You heard Enterprise is on her way to us? We’ll meet in about two hours.”
Charles nodded. He wasn’t surprised the Empress had ordered the second best ship of the Terran Empire, - the best being the Defiant - to join them. The Defiant was too important to be out of sight. The ship was an essential tool to keep Sato in power. He didn’t doubt she had been in contact with Reed continuously during their mission.
Reed asked him some other questions and then, to Charles’s relief, he left. Charles went to check on Trip. Earlier in the evening, they had been working on the warp core again. Two hours before he had left Trip to complete the repair on his own while he did several tests to make sure every other system was functioning well again.
Charles liked walking in these late hours in Engineering, with the smell of iron and lubricants in the air, feeling the familiar vibration of the warp core beneath his feet. The lights were dimmed except in the areas where repairs were still being done. He had sent most of the day crew to bed for a couple of hours sleep. His team had done an amazing job, working tirelessly.
Trip had grime on his face. Sweat plastered his hair to his skull, and his coverall was dirty and wrinkled. He looked pale, with dark circles under his eyes.
“We’re done here,” Charles said. “We’ll discuss tomorrow’s work in my quarters.”
A flash of disappointment went over Trip’s face. He probably had thought he would get some sleep. He nodded, moved to a console, checked the readings, made a final scan of the warp core, checked the readings again, and closed the console. He showed Charles the readings. “Looks good.”
Charles nodded. “Follow me. We’ll get a meal at the dining area and take it back to my cabin. We can discuss tomorrow’s work there.”
He rarely invited people into his own personal space, but he didn’t mind Trip being there. Maybe Trip could also take a shower. He looked like he could use one. Charles didn’t know if he thought of a shower because of his irritation with Reed or because of Trip’s tired and dirty face. Probably it was both. Spending more time with Trip in a somewhat relaxed environment would also give him an opportunity to gain more information about him and his universe. That was one of the things he had been ordered to do.
Trip’s face lit up. “What about T’Pol?” he asked.
Charles wasn’t in the mood for her company, but he knew Trip wouldn’t rest before she got a meal. He called for her and the two guards who were ordered to stay close to Trip and T’Pol. T’Pol looked pale, her eyes dark, and she moved slowly. The three of them headed to the dining area of the Defiant, guards in tow.
As they entered the dining area, it was dim and almost deserted. There wasn’t any food on display, but the smell of herbs and spices still lingered. Chef Hazal, an old Denobulan woman, was cutting vegetables in the corner, the first preparation for the next day’s meals. As she saw Charles, she came to him with a broad smile. For some reason, Hazal had a soft spot for him.
“Commander Tucker,” she said cheerfully. Her short gray hair was tucked away under her white chef hat, making her bright, gentle brown eyes even more clear. In contrast to her fellow Denobulan Phlox, there was no hint of sarcasm or cruelty in her face.
“I’m glad to see you here. You need to eat well,” Hazal said. She turned to Trip. “You must be Commander Tucker’s double. Welcome, sir.” Then she spotted T’Pol, and her smile froze.
“What’s she doing here?” Hazal said, contempt in her voice. “I thought she was still serving prison time. She should be locked up.” T’Pol raised an eyebrow at her remark, but she stayed silent.
“She’s with my double, from that other universe,” he said. Hazal looked surprised. She snorted. “We’re better off with no T’Pol, and now we have two. I don’t have to remind you to watch your back.”
“I will, Hazal,” he said. “I’d like risotto, a green salad and a fruit salad for each of us.”
Hazal packaged the food and added pecan pie for Charles and Trip. She also packed food for the guards.
The five of them went to the turbo lift which would bring them to his quarters. T’Pol stood close to him. She smelled the same as his T’Pol. He felt irritated by her close proximity.
“Is the T’Pol from this universe in prison?” she asked.
“Yes.” Charles turned his back on her and tried to push himself into the turbo lift wall. He needed to create more distance between them.
Suddenly images entered his mind, flooding him with alien emotions, feelings that weren’t his: fear, despair, pain, loneliness. And in the background, there was a whisper, a female voice that sounded like his T’Pol’s. The sound became stronger, repeating aksh'lz, asksh’lz, asksh’lz. A feeling of nausea came up. He tried very hard to stand still and keep his face straight.
To his relief, the lift stopped. He turned to the group. “Into my quarters. We have work to do.”
He let Trip and T’Pol into his quarters. The guards stationed themselves outside the door. It had been a long time ago since he had had guests. His quarters were clean and spare. A picture of Lizzy was the only decoration.
But it was that picture of Lizzy, still with her long blond hair and a broad smile on her face, which caused his guests to react.
Trip’s face turned pale and grim. Charles could understand his pain. He had read in Trip’s file on the Defiant’s computer that the Lizzy of his universe had died.
But T’Pol reacted in a way he didn’t understand. As far he could tell, Trip’s T’Pol had never met his sister in that other universe. But when she saw the picture of his sister, her face turned dark.
She sat down on the bench beside Trip with her package of food still in her hands. He noticed how Trip placed his arm around her. He seemed to want to protect her.
Charles handed her the cutlery and asked her if she would like something to drink. She looked up. Her expression could only be described as raw pain. It reminded him so vividly of the way his T’Pol had looked, the morning after their first night, with those naked eyes, like she was carrying the whole weight of a life full of suffering and almost would collapse under it.
In silence, they started to eat their evening meal. To break the tension in the room, Charles started a conversation with Trip about the repairs and the work that had to be done tomorrow. T’Pol began to eat, but she didn’t seem to pay much attention to her food. Trip searched for and found her hand. Her small hand disappeared in his. It was a unique display of two people comforting each other in silence.
“You can have a shower if you want,” he said to Trip, nodding to his bathroom. “I’ll get some fresh clothes for you and T’Pol.”
“That would be great.” Trip smiled. “But it’s your cabin, so please go ahead first.”
Charles concluded the couple wanted some time alone, so he went first. While he was enjoying the hot streams of water, he could hear T’Pol’s soft, sad voice and Trip’s gentle, reassuring one. The fact that those two were comforting each other caused a pang of envy in his heart. He shrugged, turned off the water and dried himself. “Don’t be so sentimental, monster,” he mocked himself, staring at his disfigured face in the mirror.
T’Pol looked calmer when Charles emerged from the bathroom. She took a quick shower before Trip took his.
While Trip was in the shower, Charles was alone with T’Pol. It was a situation he had been trying to avoid. She sat on the bench dressed in a coverall. Her hair was still a bit wet, her face fully neutral,
“Thank you for taking care of us,” T’Pol said softly.
“I take care of my workers. They work harder and more efficiently if I do,” he said coldly.
“I understand.” In the awkward pause that followed, her eyes wandered to the picture of Lizzy.
“I have a question,” Charles said.
“I have many questions as well,” T’Pol responded, “Perhaps this is the time we should both ask them.”
“All right,” Charles agreed. “You know, this ship is from the future and from your universe. So we have a whole database about your time and about Trip. I have read both of your files, and something really doesn’t fit the way you’re acting today. Like Trip, he supposedly blows himself up, because he’s such an admirer of Admiral Archer, using a method not even the lowest ranking officer in my engineering department would use. It’s so stupid. And you and Trip are not together anymore, and you’ve never met Lizzy. But judging from the way you looked at Lizzy’s picture, it’s clear you have.”
“I agree with your first points,” T’Pol said. “Historical files aren’t always accurate; they typically fit the needs of the persons in power. Trip would never blow himself up. As to your second point, we are together, but that has taken a lot of effort on both our parts. This is a difficult time for us.”
Her voice started to waver, and then she regained her control.
“You became upset when you saw Lizzy’s picture. This is not just a difficult time for you because you’re in a different universe. How is this related to Lizzy?” He was very curious about that other Lizzy in Trip’s universe.
“I have never met her. But she was very important to Trip,” T’Pol said. She sighed, hardly audible, but with his experience with T’Pol, he could tell. “I am telling you this because you will find out anyway. In the data files you saw, is there a mention of Trip’s and my daughter, Elizabeth? She was named after Trip’s sister,” T’Pol said, her voice cracking ever so slightly.
Suddenly it became clear to him. The data files had said the death of his little daughter had been a terrible blow for Trip. It must also have been a horrible ordeal for T’Pol. And that event just happened in their universe. This was a couple in grief.
He looked at T’Pol. “You just lost your daughter.”
She nodded, pained by his words.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. He stood up, unable to say more and made coffee for himself.
In the silence that followed, Charles tried to imagine losing a child. He always had wanted children, but now, after his incident, he couldn’t have them. The sadness he always felt about that mixed with the sense of the overwhelming grief and pain Trip and his T’Pol must be going through. He was surprised he felt that way.
Then, without thinking, he made T’Pol chamomile tea and gave it to her. “La masu,” he said in automatically in Vulcan, using the few words he knew. “Drink it.”
T’Pol took a sip. “You’re familiar with my counterpart and with Vulcan culture.”
“A bit. Your counterpart is a lying bitch. She seduced me, invaded my brain and manipulated me. It’s better you don’t know her. I want nothing to do with her.”
“I see.” If she was shocked by his remarks, she didn’t show it. Her eyes were emotionless again.
At that moment, in the middle of the night, someone knocked on his door. He thought it was the guards, probably to complain about waiting so long for the prisoners to return to the brig. He opened the door and saw Reed.
"I’m a man of my word, Tucker." He grinned. "Welcome your prisoner." Reed pushed a woman inside, turned around, and left.
It only took a second for him to realize who she was: T’Pol. The T’Pol from his universe.
She looked pale and emotionless, and her steps were stiff. Her eyes were half closed. In the back of Charles’ mind a voice started to sing over and over again: aksh'lz, aksh'lz, Then her eyes went wide. She looked at the other T'Pol. Her eyes went to Charles’ coffee cup and the cup of tea in the other Vulcan’s hand. Slowly Trip’s T’Pol placed her cup on the table.
At that moment, the other T’Pol frowned, pursed her lips and glowered at her double. “T'nash-veh!” she hissed. She ran toward her, grabbed her, and slammed her against the wall. Trip’s T’Pol leaned over and placed two fingers on the other woman’s shoulder before she could strike again. The woman froze before she fainted and fell to the floor.
Trip stepped out the bathroom fully dressed. “What’s going on here?” he shouted.
Charles pointed to the woman lying unconscious on the floor. “Meet the T’Pol of this universe.”