When he learned the name of the movie, Malcolm's first reaction was to look at Trip and say, "We don't have to stay if you don't want to."
"Why?" asked Trip. "Is it that bad?"
"I don't know. But the title's similarity to the last movie makes me rather dubious about its quality."
"Excuse me, sirs," said Lawless from not far away. She didn't want to interrupt, but felt the need to speak up in defense of the film. "I couldn't help but hear. It's really pretty good."
"You've seen it, Ensign?" asked Trip.
"Twice. It's actually considered a classic in its genre."
"What genre would that be?" Reed wanted to know.
He looked at Trip, reiterated, "Really. If you want, we can go."
Tucker laughed. "Let's give it a shot. I trust Lawless to work on the warp engines, and this isn't nearly as dangerous a prospect. I think we can trust her here."
At that moment, Cormack stepped up beside Mae. "Here's your stuff," she said, handing over the promised soda and a large bag of popcorn. "So, what's going on?" she asked, her eyes moving from Mae to Malcolm to Trip and back again.
"Ensign Lawless here was just assuring us of the high quality of tonight's movie," answered Malcolm.
"Really? How helpful." She flashed a tense, too-wide smile at the group.
"Right," interjected the dark-haired woman. "I wouldn't call it your classic first date movie, but if you can suspend your disbelief of the film's pretext, it's really good."
Most of her statement was lost on her listeners. At the words "first date," Malcolm's eyes narrowed, and he flashed an accusatory glance at Cormack. For her part, Stephanie turned wide, surprised eyes back at him, gave the tiniest shake of her head. Trip was the only one who actually heard the whole thing.
"So, what's the pretext?" he wanted to know.
Yanked from their silent exchange, both Reed and Cormack looked at him, saying, "What?"
"Of the film?" he clarified.
"Just that radiation from space could turn dead people into flesh-eating zombies," said Mae cheerfully.
"Between this and 'Night of the Killer Androids,' I'm beginning to think these are less movie nights and more someone's psychology experiment," said Cormack cynically.
"I heard that," said a pleasant tenor voice. She glanced behind her to see Dr. Kyrin Douglas, the ship's counselor, approaching. "And I just want to say I resemble that implication. How are you all this evening?" he asked, looking around the small group. There were various mutterings of "Fine" and "Good, thanks." "Glad to hear it! Commander Tucker, you will tell me if you have any more dreams like that last one, won't you? Fascinating."
Trip blushed, gave the psychiatrist a scathing look, which the tall, round-faced man cheerfully ignored.
Noting the growing tension, Stephanie looked at Mae and said pointedly, "We should probably find a seat. Did you want to join us, Doc?" she added to Douglas, determined to give Malcolm and Trip every excuse to be alone together.
"No, thank you, my dear. I'm meeting someone. In fact," he said, glancing toward the Rec. Center's door, "there he is now." He waved a hand at the crewman who'd just entered; the young man waved back, smiling. Douglas excused himself and crossed to where he stood waiting.
Cormack watched him cross the room, recognized the fellow she'd noticed in the mess hall earlier that evening. Whaddaya know? she thought. "Let's find a seat. Excuse us, Commander, Lieutenant." She took Mae by the elbow, guided her away from the men.
"Bye," said Lawless over one shoulder. "What was that all about?" she demanded quietly as they claimed spots toward the front of the room.
"All what about?"
"All that," she repeated as if it would clarify everything.
Lawless's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Is this the same nothing you were talking about at dinner?"
"I give up." Mae took a bite of her popcorn, washed it down with a sip of soda.
Left finally to their own devices, Reed and Tucker took seats toward the back of the hall. There wasn't a large crowd--not surprising, considering the last movie offering--and they found themselves the only occupants of their row.
Despite his best efforts, Malcolm was drawn into the film. Lawless was right: if you could accept its pretext, it actually wasn't too bad. She was also right that it wasn't really a prime choice for a "first date" film, but his options were severely limited, and he had to make do with what he was given. He would have preferred something a bit less gruesome and a bit more romantic, something that offered an excuse to move a little closer to his companion, perhaps even slide an arm around the back of his chair. But no such luck. So, as the credits ran and the lights came up, he found himself no closer to his ultimate goal.
"That was pretty good," announced Trip, mildly surprised.
"Yes," agreed Malcolm, "surprisingly."
"I'm glad you suggested this. I've been needing some down time."
"Me, too. In fact, how about a drink?" Reed crossed mental fingers, hoping he wasn't pressing his luck.
The engineer considered for a moment. "I don't know. It's getting kind of late."
Malcolm made a noncommittal noise, tried to keep his disappointment from showing on his face.
Stephanie stood and stretched, looking around the emptying Rec. Center. Spotting the scene at the back of the hall--and Malcolm's slightly crestfallen expression--she said quickly to Lawless, "You still up for that bevvy?"
"You still buying?"
"Good. I'll be right back." She slipped out of the row and took the few short steps back to where Reed and Tucker stood. "Hey," she said by way of greeting. "Lawless and I are going for a drink in the mess hall. Perhaps you gents would like to join us?" She looked pleasantly from one officer to the other. Noting their hesitation, she gave the added incentive, "I'll buy the first round."
Reed waited silently, willing the commander to change his earlier decision. "Well," said Trip, finally, "why not? The ship's run fine so far tonight. I expect she'll manage a little longer without me."
"Yes, all right. That sounds good," the lieutenant said a little too quickly.
Cormack looked over her shoulder, called out, "Mae, you ready to go?"
"You bet," she answered.
As the four left the Rec. Center and headed to the nearest lift, Malcolm took a split-second to look at Cormack and mouth the words, Thank you. They slowed their pace slightly, allowing the others to get a step or two ahead.
"How's it going?" asked Cormack, sotto voce.
"I wish I knew."
"Give me the word, and Lawless and I will be out of there in a millisecond."
"Hey," called Trip from where he stood, holding the lift door open. "You two coming?"
"Sorry," said Cormack as she stepped inside, followed closely by Reed. Lawless gave her a quizzical look, which she chose to ignore.
There were only a few people scattered around the mess hall. The lights were dimmed, denoting the late hour and offering the suggestion that perhaps it was time for bed. The foursome picked a table near the windows, and all but Cormack sat. "I know what Mae wants," she said. "But let me see if I can guess what you fellows would like." She considered the men at the table, pointed first to Malcolm. "You look like a Guinness man to me, yes?"
"Quite," answered Reed with a bemused smile.
Stephanie turned her attention to the Chief Engineer. "Whisky and soda?"
"How'd you know that?" Trip asked.
"I worked my way through college as a bartender."
"Mostly. Mae, come give me a hand?"
"Sure." Lawless started to stand.
"Let me," said Reed, gesturing for her to remain seated. "Excuse us."
Left at the table with her C.O., Mae said, "So, Commander, did you like the movie?"
"Yeah. You were right; it wasn't too bad," said Trip.
She laughed. "It's a good thing you're an engineer and not a reviewer. That's hardly a ringing endorsement."
Over at the drinks dispenser, Cormack and Reed were having a quick, hushed conversation as Stephanie ordered up the drinks. "So?" she asked.
"So, what?" Reed wanted to know. "You've been right here. You know nothing's happened since the last time you asked."
She handed him the whiskey and soda, ordered the Guinness. "Do you still think he doesn't think it's a date?" she specified as the pint glass filled with treacle-dark liquid.
"I don't know." He was clearly frustrated and a little disheartened.
"Don't stress it. He's obviously having fun. Whatever else happens tonight is icing."
"I'm not looking for anything to happen tonight, particularly," said Reed quickly, somewhat taken aback by her easygoing assumption.
"Okay." She seemed unaware of--or at least unconcerned by--his small outburst. She handed him the glass of stout, ordered up Lawless's Cosmopolitan. "I just mean, relax. You're both enjoying yourselves, right? So everything will be fine."
"You're being quite generous with your alcohol ration," Malcolm said, not wanting to discuss it any more.
"I'm not using it for anything else," said Cormack, accepting the change of topic without comment. She carefully removed the filled martini glass, placed her own tumbler under the tap, saying, "Tonic with a twist of lime, cold."
"You don't drink?"
"Not anymore." It was said with simple finality and Reed, never inclined toward prying, didn't press the matter.
They carried the drinks back to the table where Tucker and Lawless were still discussing the evening's entertainment.
"I was a little disappointed in the ending," Trip was saying. "Thanks," he added as Malcolm set the whiskey and soda in front of him.
"Why's that?" asked Lawless, accepting her own drink from Cormack. She took a cautious sip before setting it on the table.
"It just seemed a little predictable, you know?"
"Ah. Now it seems predictable. You have to consider when the film was made. There wasn't the huge canon of science-fiction and horror movies we have now. Sure, there were a lot of silent horror films--Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, and whatever--but it was only 1968. The idea of space-born radiation that could affect human beings was still relatively new."
"You'll have to excuse Mae," said Cormack, cutting into her friend's lecture. "She sometimes forgets that not everyone is an aficionado of bad movies."
"They're 'B' movies, not 'bad' movies," argued Mae, a little annoyed.
"Actually, she has a point," said Malcolm. "Humans hadn't even landed on the moon then. They had no real way of knowing what was out there. Even today, we've barely scratched the surface of space, as it were. Yet despite the dangers, we'd rather see for ourselves what's here than trust probes to send back information."
"That's sure true," agreed Trip, "even when it's not necessarily the best idea." He spoke with the odd combination of self-deprecation and authority, having been a part of more than one ill-fated landing party. "Not that that'd ever stop us," he added with a sardonic chuckle.
"Yes, you know rather more about that than the rest of us, don't you?" Reed said, gently teasing.
"You and Cormack haven't had much better luck."
Malcolm thought about the missions he'd been on, and had to agree. "No, but if you total up the number of visits to sickbay, you're still at the top of the list." He kept his tone light, but his stomach was in knots at the memory of Trip's illnesses and injuries--from hallucinogenic pollen to second-degree burns. Every time the commander was on a mission without him, Reed worried. He couldn't help it. It was his job to protect Enterprise's crew; it was his passion to protect her Chief Engineer. It didn't matter that Tucker was trained on any and all hand weapons. It didn't matter that he was skilled in hand-to-hand combat. All that became irrelevant when Trip was in danger. Every time, Malcolm's first instinct was to go in with weapons blasting, get him out, and clean up the mess later. He silently admitted it wasn't the most practical of attitudes, but it was the way things were.
In his own defense, Trip was about to argue that at least he'd never died, but he caught a glimpse of Cormack from the corner of his eye and abruptly changed his mind. She was staring into her glass as if she didn't want to make eye-contact with anyone at the table. "You okay?" he asked, noting her somber expression.
"What?" She looked up, smiled too brightly. "Yeah. Fine. Why?"
Tucker was slightly startled by her abrupt change in demeanor. "You just looked a little grim there."
"Nope," Stephanie said with continued false cheerfulness. "Must've just been thinking too hard for a second there. I'm good, eh? What were we talking about?"
"Nothing important. I was just going to point out to Malcolm that I don't get hurt every time I leave the ship." He gave the Tactical Officer a look both kidding and a little challenging. "And I've never been set adrift in a leaking cargo hold."
"It wasn't something I had control over," Reed argued pleasantly. "That Ryan fellow was completely mad. You met him. You know what I mean."
The conversation continued, friendly banter being bandied back and forth across the table. Cormack tried to pay attention, but only heard about two-thirds of what the others were saying. Still, she laughed when appropriate and tossed in an occasional remark, hoping no one would notice that she wasn't really there.
She nursed her drink for nearly half an hour before finally tossing back a last swallow. "I think I'm going to turn in," she said.
"Sure you don't want another drink?" asked Tucker. "I'll buy the next round."
"No, thanks. I'm not much good at mornings, and another drink will only make it tougher," she replied, rising to her feet.
Reed and Lawless looked at her strangely, both knowing full well she wasn't actually drinking alcohol.
"I'm pretty wiped out, too," said Mae. She stood. "I'll walk with you. Good night, Commander, Lieutenant." She gave each of the men a pleasant smile.
"Thanks for the drinks," said Trip.
"My pleasure. Good night," said Cormack.
"See you tomorrow," added Reed. He gave her a concerned and inquisitive look. Cormack shot him a falsely reassuring smile as she and Lawless made their exit.
Once in the corridor, Mae turned to her friend. "I'm getting tired of asking this but--what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean I know there was no vodka or gin in that tonic, so why the pretence about another drink?"
"No reason. I'm just tired, and I figured it was as good an excuse as any for an exit." She continued walking, heading toward her cabin.
"But why did you need an excuse? What's up with you?"
"Nothing. I'm fine," Stephanie insisted a little sharply.
"Does this have anything to do with the same nothing we've been talking about all evening?" Mae asked, sudden inspiration striking.
"No." Thinking of that other "nothing" and its players back in the mess hall, she had to smile--her first sign of genuine cheerfulness since the movie. "Actually, no."
Back in the mess hall, Trip looked at Malcolm. "How about you? Another drink?" he asked.
"What happened to 'It's getting late'?" Reed joked with a smile.
Trip grinned. "I've decided late's just a state of mind. I haven't had an evening this relaxing since we came on board. We've both been working hard, and we both deserve an evening free of alarms and aliens. So, you want another beer?"
Trip stood and took their empty glasses to the drinks dispenser. Malcolm watched him cross the room, enjoying the view. He should always wear those jeans when he's off duty, he thought. Well, not always. He couldn't keep the slightly lascivious smile from spreading across his face, and didn't even try. Although he did try to tone it down as Trip returned with the drinks. Apparently, he wasn't entirely successful.
"What was that look about?" asked the commander, setting the glasses on the table and sitting down.
Reed took a slow swallow of his beer, enjoying the cool, rich taste. "What look?" he asked.
"You had a funny look on your face just then."
"Did I?" He was playing, and it was fun.
"Yeah." Trip looked at him quizzically. "What's up?"
Don't go there, Malcolm, his mind ordered sharply. One beer is no excuse. Go easy. You said yourself you weren't looking for that tonight. "Nothing," he said aloud. "Just enjoying the opportunity to sit back and not worry about the crew, the ship, the weapons systems, any of it."
"Yeah. I know what you mean." Tucker sighed, leaned back in his chair. He stared out the window, watching the stars slide by. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Mm. Yes," agreed Malcolm, not taking his eyes off the engineer. "There's nothing else quite like it."
She was relieved to find their quarters empty. She'd said good night to a puzzled Lawless, and didn't think she could handle any more friendly, pointless chatter tonight. Now, Cormack grabbed her pajamas and a towel, and headed for the showers, hoping a good dowsing would clear the unpleasant web of confusion from her mind.
She hadn't intended to ditch on the evening so early; and Malcolm hadn't given a sign that he wanted her and Lawless gone. Still, the talk of ill-fated away missions had started her thoughts spinning, and she hadn't been able to stop them. Usually, she just ignored any memory of her trip to the collapsing alien vessel, but for some reason tonight had been tough.
Stephanie reached the shower room, chose the stall farthest from the entrance, and shut its door behind her. She quickly stripped down and stepped under the tap, hit the jet. She let the hot water pour over her, trying to wash away images and emotions she couldn't control: the shipquake; debris and bodies floating around her in the zero-g vacuum; sudden panic as the bulkheads collapsed; and then nothing. Nothing, until she was choking her way back to life on the floor of the shuttlepod.
It was weeks ago, she told herself fiercely. Get over it. Move on.
She shivered despite the heat, leaned a shaking hand against the slick wall. She drew in a deep, shuddering breath, held it for a moment before letting it out in a silent sob. Without a sound, she leaned her back against the shower wall, allowing herself to slip gently to the floor where she sat, her tears mixing with the pounding water.
End Log 10
As of 1 Sept 06: