Reed and Tucker strolled casually down the corridor, enjoying a companionable silence.
"This is my stop," said Malcolm as they came level with the door to his quarters. He turned to face Trip, who stopped nearby. "I had a good time tonight." Well done. Could you sound any more banal? he thought disgustedly. Even after the success of the evening so far his self-doubt kept trying to convince him he could still ruin it.
"So did I," Trip replied with an uncharacteristically cautious smile.
Reed's eyes lit up ever so slightly. "I'm glad." Do it! "Perhaps you'd like to do it again sometime? Preferably when they're running a better film," he added lightly, hoping to ease his own nervous tension.
Trip stilled suddenly, his smile fading to a look of uncertainty. There was an increasingly nerve-wracking silence during which Malcolm silently berated himself. You've gone too fast, you stupid git. Here's the part where he gets all flustered and fluttery and says that, while he's really flattered by the attention, he's not actually interested in men--or, worse, not interested in you, particularly, and he hopes we can still be friends and that it won't affect our working relationship
His thoughts were interrupted but Trip's quiet question, "Are you asking me out on a date?"
Second date! Reed wanted to shout but wisely didn't. "Yes." He tried very hard to keep eye-contact with the engineer, wasn't sure if it was better or worse when Tucker was the first to look away.
There was another tension-building pause before Trip looked at him once more and said, "Yeah. I'd like that."
Caught dumbfounded, Malcolm's only response was a surprised, "Oh. Great!"
There had to be one, didn't there. His slowly emerging smile rapidly disappeared again.
"--I gotta tell you. I haven't been too successful in the relationship department in the past." He seemed unsure, awkward. Reed found it incredibly endearing.
"It's all right," he hastened to reassure him. "I don't have the most outstanding track record myself. And--" How to put it without seeming pushy and indifferent at the same time? "I'm not asking for a lifetime commitment." Yet. "I just mean I'd like to spend more time with you off-duty time."
Tucker relaxed a little at that. "Yeah. Okay," he said.
"I'll see you tomorrow. I'll be in the Armory for most of the morning, but maybe I'll see you on the Bridge later?"
Reed keyed the unlock code and opened the door to his quarters. "Good night, then."
Malcolm stepped inside and locked the door behind him. He let out a huge sigh and leaned against the door, almost positive his knees were going to give out.
He thought for a moment about what had just transpired. I asked him out--no possibility of him not knowing exactly what I was asking--and he said yes. He thought for another moment. He said yes! If he'd been the type to whoop with glee, he would have. Not being the type, however, he contented himself with a broad smile that lit up his face like a stellar aurora.
Out in the corridor, Trip took a moment to collect himself before heading to his own cabin. Once there, his reaction wasn't too different from the Tactical Officer's. He locked the door and sat heavily on the bunk. "Wow," he said quietly. He was frankly amazed at his reaction to Malcolm's invitation. It had been a long time since he'd been with a man, and that hadn't ended well. Of course, he had to admit his relationships with women hadn't been any more successful. Three serious relationships he'd had in his life. Three. And he'd been unable to make any of them work.
He wondered if he was being incredibly foolish. There were so many reasons not to get involved with another member of the crew on a mission like this. If it didn't work out--if things went sour between him and Malcolm--what would happen then? Trip took a deep breath and forced himself to stop thinking about worst-case scenarios. He was a professional; Malcolm was a professional. Whatever happened between them personally, he had to believe they wouldn't let it affect them on duty.
"Oh, Trip," he muttered. "You better not screw this up again."
Cormack had no idea how long she'd been sitting there. Without a hot water tank to run out, there was nothing outside herself to drag her from her reverie. Nothing to tell her how much time had passed.
Except that, she thought, squinting at her pruney fingers under the driving pressure of the shower jets. She pushed her hair back with both hands, closed her eyes once more against the water. Her back still pressed to the wall, she put a steadying hand on the shower's back wall and slowly stood. She waited a moment as the resulting mild headrush passed. When she was certain it was gone, Cormack opened her eyes and lowered her hand. She was about to shut off the water when the practical part of her mind said, Wash your hair. Do it now, or it'll be nothing but knots by morning.
Another part of her mind spoke up in support of the logic, while a third--the part that was beyond exhausted and in desperate need of sleep--argued that she could do it in the morning.
She sighed. It was a playing out of the ages old question: when you argue with yourself, who wins?
She washed her hair. Thoroughly rinsing out the ship's-issue, conditioning shampoo, she ran tired, wrinkled fingers through the long locks. Finally satisfied that she'd worked out all the tangles, she reached out and shut off the shower. Cormack wrung what water she could from her hair before grabbing her towel and drying herself off. Then, she wrapped the towel around her hair and settled it, turban-like, on top of her head. She quickly donned her pajamas against the growing chill.
Sitting on the cubicle's small bench, she folded the clothes she'd worn that evening. First the pants (her favorite old-fashioned, low-cut blue jeans), and then the sweater. She held the short, finely knit sweater up and stared at it. Why did I wear this? she thought, puzzled. It was a nice sweater in a shade of dark brown she knew suited her. She also knew it made her look even bustier than she naturally was. Normally she saved it for special occasions--occasions where she was looking to catch someone's eye. So what had possessed her to wear it tonight?
On the positive side, she tried to reassure herself as she folded the offending garment, it didn't seem to distract Commander Tucker from Malcolm. But, honestly, Stephanie. What the hell were you thinking?
Her task completed, she gathered her things and exited the cubicle. The shower room was still deserted. She didn't know how she looked, but she had a feeling it wasn't good. She tended to get puffy-eyed and red-nosed when she cried; the result was less than attractive. She crossed her fingers hoping she'd make it to her quarters unobserved.
Aside from one or two random Gamma shift crewmen, she was successful. She was surprised to find the quarters she shared with Ensign Cutler still empty. Hmm. At least someone's having a good night, she thought, unknowingly leaping to the wrong conclusion. Wonder if they're the only ones? She thought of Malcolm and Trip. I hope everything's okay with them.
By the minimal light provided by the passing star field, she put away her clothes, tossing her dirty laundry down the small chute. Once she'd scrubbed her hair as dry as she could, she sent the towel down the chute, as well. Stephanie crawled under the covers and let out a sigh of exhaustion. It wasn't long before she was fast asleep.
Late. She was late for her duty shift. Lieutenant Reed is going to kick my ass, thought Cormack, hurrying to the Armory. She'd been hoping to catch Malcolm at breakfast to ask how the rest of his evening had gone, but she'd overslept. She didn't have time to stop for so much as a latté; a little early morning dishing with the lieutenant was out of the question.
"Ah. Ensign Cormack," said Reed the moment she stepped through the door. "Glad to see you decided to join us."
She stood a little straighter, knowing she wasn't going to be able to slink in past his watchful eye. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir." She knew what was coming. It was standard procedure in Lieutenant Reed's armory that when you showed up late you got the crappiest job available at the time. She wondered what it was going to be.
For his part, the friend side of Reed wanted to let her off the hook, but the C.O. in him knew he couldn't. Despite the huge favor she'd done him the previous evening, rules were rules and he couldn't play favorites among his crew. He barely glanced up from the computer console he was studying, the slightest hint of apology in his expression. It was quickly replaced by professional impassivity as he said, "We're running diagnostics on all the defensive systems, and we need someone to go in and take a look at the targeting axis mechanism--the rotator appears to be jammed. You just volunteered."
"Yes, sir." It was the modern equivalent of being sent to the board to write "I will not be late for class" one hundred times. Cormack gathered up a tool kit and a personal communicator and headed to the jefferies tube nearest the area she needed to reach. She tucked the communicator into a sleeve pocket before removing the access panel to the jefferies tube. No one offered to help; she'd shown up late and nobody cared to draw their C.O.'s attention by relating too closely to her. She couldn't blame them. Setting the panel aside, she pushed the tool kit in and climbed after it.
She crawled several meters to reach the ladder to the next access point. Standing on tip-toe, she was just tall enough to lift the tool kit up and shove it a few centimeters into the connecting tube before climbing the ladder up to it. Once there, it was another ten-meter crawl to her destination. Reaching it, she removed the relevant access panel. She sat back in the tight space, opened the kit, and pulled out a hand-held scanner.
Her heart raced suddenly and she paused, drawing a deep breath. That was weird, she thought as the rapid pounding subsided to its normal rate. Shrugging it off, she proceeded with her scans, but to no avail. As far as the scanner was concerned, there was no reason the mechanism shouldn't be working. Puzzled, she laid down on her stomach, peered closely at it, scanned it again. Still nothing. Reaching around awkwardly with her free hand, she unzipped her sleeve pocket. She pulled out the communicator and flipped it open.
"Cormack to Lieutenant Reed."
"Go ahead," came the familiar voice through the comm.
"I'm not finding any problem here, Lieutenant. I've run repeated scans and done a visual survey and there doesn't appear to be anything wrong. Can you try a remote reset again?"
"Just a moment." There was a pause while Reed reset the system from the console in the Armory. "It's still not responding," he announced.
"All right. I'm going in for a closer look. I'll leave the comm open."
Cormack fished a sonic screwdriver from the tool kit in the hope that whatever was wrong would be a simple fix. Turning onto one side, she inched forward, slipping her upper body through the opening. The pounding of her heart leapt to record pace once again, and a wave of dizziness hit her. She shivered violently. She took another deep breath and looked around, trying to determine what in that little space could possibly be causing her to feel the way she was feeling. "Cormack to Lieutenant Reed."
"You're not picking up any unusual energy fluctuations or radiation in this area, are you?" she asked, trying to keep her voice from shaking.
"No," was Reed's answer. "Why? What's going on?"
"Not sure. Hang on. I'm within reach of the mechanism." She still couldn't see anything amiss. Half of her just wanted to smack the thing with a fist to see if it would help, but she suspected the lieutenant wouldn't appreciate that sort of "repair."
Ah-ha! she thought. There you are, you little bugger. "Found the problem, sir. There's a power coupling loose in here. Shouldn't take a minute. Wonder why it didn't show up in the diagnostic."
"Are you sure you're all right?" asked Reed from his post back in the Armory. "You don't sound like yourself."
"I'm okay," came Cormack's somewhat strained response. "Just in an awkward spot. It's pretty cramped in here. You might want to suggest a little more elbow room when they design the next ship, eh? All right." There was a brief pause in the communication. "I've got it tightened up and I'm back out in the jefferies tube. Try another re-start."
"Stand by." He initiated the reset once more. "Finally," he muttered. "That's done it," he added so Cormack would hear. "You can come out now."
There was silence at the other end of the comm.
"Reed to Cormack. Come in." He heard a shuffling sound he couldn't identify. More urgently, "Cormack, come in!"
"I'm here," said the ensign shakily. "Just packing up. I'll be right out."
"Are you sure you're all right?" he asked again.
Cormack looked at the walls of the jefferies tube around her. They were awfully close. She couldn't even sit up straight in the confined space. She took yet another deep breath, trying to calm herself down. What's the deal, Stephanie? she demanded. It's just a jefferies tube. You've seen the inside of plenty of them before.
"Ensign Cormack, respond!" Reed's voice came through once more, tension clear in his tone.
"Here, sir," she said. She gave a little shake of her head to clear it, grabbed the handle of the tool kit with her free hand. "On my way." She closed the communicator, effectively shutting off contact--then realized it was a mistake. Panic gripped her, and she began to shake once again.
Tool box in one hand and communicator in the other, she scrambled back up the jefferies tube to the junction. Not bothering with the ladder, she sat on the edge and jumped the two meters down. She stumbled a little on the hard landing, the tool box rattling loudly with the impact, but she didn't slow down. Shoving the box ahead of her, she made quick time back out into the Armory.
Reed was waiting for her. He grabbed the tool box, passed it off to a crewman, then helped her out of the tube. She was shaking and on the verge of hyperventilating. "Sit down," he ordered, easing her to the floor and kneeling beside her. "Put your head down and try to breathe normally." Dutifully, Stephanie dropped her head between her bent knees. Slowly, her breathing returned to normal and the pounding of her heart slackened its violent pace. She shivered a little in reaction.
"Better?" Malcolm asked gently.
Stephanie considered a moment before lifting her head and nodding cautiously. "Yeah. I think so."
"Can you tell me what happened?"
"I don't really know," she admitted apologetically. "I was fine, and then I wasn't." She inhaled deeply, fighting back a new wave of panic.
"Maybe you'd better report to sickbay."
"No! I'm fine," she protested vehemently. She climbed quickly to her feet, nearly blacked out from the intense and abrupt headrush.
Reed held her by both shoulders to steady her. "Yes. I can see you're perfectly well," he said dryly. "Griffith!" he called over one shoulder. The tall crewman jogged over from the other side of the room.
"Sir?" he said.
"Escort Ensign Cormack to sickbay." He cut off Stephanie's imminent protest with, "You're going, Ensign. That's an order."
She didn't argue. He was doing what any responsible C.O. would do; she didn't need to challenge his authority by getting belligerent. "Yes, sir." She handed over the communicator she still clutched in one hand, then turned and headed for the door, followed closely by Griffith.
"All right," she heard Reed say to the remaining tactical crew. "Excitement's over for the day. Let's get back to work. I want to know why that loose power coupling didn't register in the diagnostic."
In Engineering, Commander Tucker was having issues of his own. "Dillard, run a level two diagnostic on the magnetic constrictors. I'm showing a .09 variance in the positron flow," he said from the central console.
"Aye, sir," replied the ensign. He keyed in the program and they waited as the results came in.
"Yep," said Trip. "There it is. Section J-42." He climbed down to the main deck and was about to repair the malfunctioning constrictor when the page came over the ship's comm.
It was Captain Archer. "All hands alert. Senior officers, report to the Bridge."
Tucker gave a quick order to Dillard to take care of the malfunction, and headed for the nearest lift. It arrived almost immediately he hailed it, and he stepped in, joining Lieutenant Reed on his way up from F-deck. "Any idea what's up?" he asked as the lift resumed its course.
"No," said Malcolm. "I wish I knew."
The lift opened, and they joined the rest of the Alpha shift crew on the Bridge. Tucker paused for a split second to stare at the image on the viewscreen. "What the hell is that?" he demanded, continuing to his station. Reed immediately sat at tactical and began scanning the unfamiliar ship for any sign of hostile activity.
"Unknown," replied T'Pol in her imperturbable way. "They're still several hundred kilometers away and are not responding to our hails."
"But they're coming in fast," added Mayweather from his post at the helm.
"Slow to one-half impulse, Ensign," said Archer. "No reason to rush. Let's wait for them to get here."
"One-half impulse, aye," echoed the helmsman, carrying out the command.
"They're well armed," announced Malcolm. "I can't make out a lot of details at this distance, but I'm reading at least eight forward weapons ports. And they're all open."
"Are their weapons charged?" the captain wanted to know.
"They don't appear to be, but it's impossible to be certain."
"That's not a lot of details?" muttered Trip from the nearby engineering station.
"Not nearly enough," Malcolm declared quietly but firmly.
Unaware of the subdued exchange between the engineer and the tactical officer, Archer looked toward Sato. "Is the UT running?"
"It's ready, sir," she replied. "Assuming we get anything for it to analyze."
"Hail them again."
She did. "Still no response."
They'd just entered sickbay when the alert came. Cormack did an about-face and ran into Griffith, who blocked her path.
"Come on," she said. "You heard it. We need to get back to the Armory."
"No, ma'am," replied Griffith stoically.
Dr. Phlox rose from the station where he was working and approached them. "Can I help you?" he inquired.
"No thanks, Doctor," said Cormack quickly. "We were just leaving." She tried to step around Griffith, but the tall man shifted to stop her again. "This isn't funny, crewman," she said sharply.
"With all due respect," began Griffith, "my orders were to escort you to sickbay."
"You've done that. Now, let's go."
"What happened?" asked Phlox, pulling a small medical scanner from his pocket and pointing it at the ensign.
"Nothing. We need to get back to our stations."
"She had some sort of attack in one of the jefferies tubes," offered Griffith helpfully.
"Thank you," Cormack snarled at him.
The tactical crewman was undaunted. "Lieutenant Reed ordered her to report to you, Doctor."
"That was before the alert!"
"Thank you, crewman," said Phlox sincerely, disregarding Cormack's angry comment. "I'll take it from here." Griffith nodded and left, happy to escape Cormack's temper. Stephanie made a move to follow him, but Phlox stopped her in her tracks. "Not so fast, Ensign."
She turned to face him, saying nothing; the look on her face was eloquent enough without verbal back-up.
"The less you fight me, the quicker you can get back to work."
Cormack sighed, acknowledging the logic. "Fine," she said shortly. "Where do you want me?"
"Have a seat on the diagnostic bed, please." He gestured to it and she sat. "I can already see your blood pressure and heart rate are elevated," he continued, looking at the small scanner in his hand. "Can you tell me what happened? What this attack involved?"
"It was no big deal, I swear."
"Just tell me what happened, please."
"I just got a little freaked out. That's all."
"In what way 'freaked out'?" he inquired, continuing his scans. Dr. Phlox's patience had rapidly become legendary among the crew, but he found Ensign Cormack had a natural knack for straining it.
"I just got a little dizzy. And it was sort of hard to breathe. And then it felt like someone positively danced over my grave."
"I beg your pardon?" It wasn't a phrase the Denobulan had encountered before.
"You know, when you get a sudden shiver down your spine? You say someone stepped on your grave, but this was kind of more than that."
"I see. You say you were dizzy?"
"Have you eaten today?"
"No. I accidentally overslept. I didn't even have time for a cup of coffee." Indeed, she could feel the headache descending as she spoke. "But I've missed breakfast lots of times. It's no big deal," Stephanie added dismissively.
"So you said. Why don't you lie down, and I'll run a full scan."
The ensign laid back on the diagnostic bed and it slid into the large medical scanner. She tried to relax while the machine took its readings figuring the more relaxed she was, the less it would have to scan. Unfortunately, it didn't work. She'd never liked the big scanner, and she'd spent enough time in it the previous month to truly despise the thing. Cormack could feel her pulse increasing and fought to keep it under control, telling herself she was merely impatient to get back to work.
It felt longer than it really was before the door at her feet slid open once again and the diagnostic bed rolled out. She sat up on her elbows, glanced over at Phlox. "So? What's the verdict?"
"Physically, you're very healthy."
"Aside from the mild sprain to your left ankle and the abrasions on both hands."
"Huh?" She laid back again and took a look at her hands. He was right, of course. Her frantic crawl through the jefferies tubes had left both hands worse for the wear--especially the one that had been clutching the communicator. The knuckles were scraped and bruised.
"You hadn't noticed?" the doctor asked pleasantly as he carefully removed her boot.
"Sorry." He examined the damaged ankle, gently moving it one way then another, while Cormack made pained and increasingly angry noises. He registered them but made no comment. "Did you fall?"
"Jumped." He looked at her inquiringly. "About two meters."
"Ah. Well, it's minor, as I said, and easy to treat, as are the scrapes on your hands. Tell me, are you still doing yoga?" he asked as he gathered up the tools and medicines he needed to treat her injuries.
"What?" She sat up on her elbows again and looked at him, startled by the seeming non sequitur. "Yeah. When I can. It's been kind of busy in tactical lately, so I haven't had a lot of extra time. Why?"
He injected her with a hypospray--"To reduce the pain and swelling."--and wrapped her foot with practiced ease. "I recommend finding the time. Evidence indicates that what you experienced was a panic attack. Sit up, please."
Cormack sat up all the way, swinging her legs over the side of the bed. She stared at the doctor, stunned. "What?"
"I don't recall seeing a history of claustrophobia in your medical files," continued Phlox, unperturbed. He moved on to treat her scraped knuckles.
"That's because I'm not claustrophobic." She was getting more annoyed by the second. "Look, Doctor, we both know I'm a shitty patient. Neither of us wants to see me spend any time here unnecessarily. So why don't you just finish patching me up and let me go so I can get back to work?"
"It's not quite that simple."
"It never is," muttered Cormack.
"These scans " He indicated the panels with a tilt of his head. " tell me you experienced heightened anxiety while you were inside the scanner just now."
"You know I don't like this thing."
"Dislike and fear are different things."
And I'm really disliking this conversation, thought Cormack, but chose not to voice her thought. Instead she asked, "Okay. So what do I have to do to get you to let me out of here?"
Phlox regarded her seriously for several moments. "I want you to make an appointment to speak with Dr. Douglas."
"As you so colloquially put it, the shrink."
"Fine. I'm off duty at 1600 hours. Sign me up for 1615." She grabbed her sock and boot and pulled them on. "Can I go now?" she asked angrily.
"I'll inform Dr. Douglas of your availability. He'll contact you if there's any change of schedule," he answered shortly. Even the usually jovial Phlox had a limit; he was annoyed.
Cormack recognized the tone, took a split second to decide if she cared. She found she didn't. "Thanks." She stood and abruptly left.
Phlox stared for a moment at the door that closed behind her. He shook his head slightly before turning to clean up.
"Son of a bitch," breathed Trip.
The alien vessel ceased its approach. It hung on the viewscreen, ominous and intimidating and very, very large. The open weapons ports were clearly visible at this distance. Reed ran a quick scan and was surprised to discover the imposing ship's weapons were unarmed. He was about to say as much when Hoshi spoke up.
"Sir!" the comm officer said. "I'm getting a response! It's audio only."
"Let's hear it," Archer replied.
"The UT is having trouble locking in the syntax. I can't guarantee it's going to make much sense."
"I don't need a guarantee, Ensign. I just want to know if they're planning to kill us."
Sato had the decency to look chagrined at the Captain's tone. "Yes, sir." She punched up the comm signal.
To Archer's less trained ear, it sounded a good deal like Klingon--lots of sharp consonants and guttural sounds. Sato would have told him it sounded more like Georgian. Either way, the universal translator was working hard to decipher it. Slowly, interspersed with the alien language, certain words were coming through--words like "restricted space" and "identify" and "act of war."
"I'm trying, sir, but that's all I can get at this point," Sato apologized.
"Open a frequency."
Archer stood straighter in front of the captain's chair, began the standard Starfleet mantra: "My name is Captain Jonathan Archer of the Earth starship Enterprise. We mean you no harm. We're on a mission of exploration. Please respond."
Across the Bridge, Malcolm was getting anxious. His instincts were telling him it was well past time to polarize the hull plating, but Archer still hadn't given the command. He flexed his fingers over his control console, waiting. Meanwhile, the alien vessel continued to come closer, looming more ominously on the viewscreen every moment.
Little by little, the UT was making sense of the strange language.
"Captain Vaktse of the Estval Your presence violation of restricted space. Identify purpose in forced to respond seen as an act of war."
"We had no intention of violating your space," said Archer, guessing at the missing pieces of the alien's speech. "We're explorers. Our starcharts have no indication of your territorial boundaries."
There was a pause during which each of the bridge crew could only guess what the aliens were planning. Finally
"Show yourselves," said the alien--Vaktse, if the translator had picked up the name correctly.
Sato glanced to Archer, got a small nod of okay, and opened the visual link. Not receiving an image, themselves, Archer asked, "Are you receiving our transmission?"
"Yes," came the alien's response. It sounded almost hesitant. "Your species is unfamiliar to us. What do you call yourselves, and why are you here?"
"We're humans," the Captain began, deciding that with a dodgy UT he didn't want to confuse issues by mentioning the one Vulcan and one Denobulan aboard. "We come from a planet called Earth. We're here for exploration and to make contact with other species, such as yourselves."
"You have no designs on our territory?"
"No. We just want to get to know you." It sounded lame, even to his own ears, but with eight open weapons ports aimed in their direction, Archer would willingly suffer the hackneyed platitude if it meant getting his crew and ship out safely.
"Why do you not stand ready to defend yourselves?" Vaktse demanded then.
Reed was wondering the same thing and was curious what explanation the Captain would give.
"As I said, we're explorers. We're not interested in a confrontation. Activating our defenses without an immediate threat could have been seen as an act of aggression. Our sensors indicate that your own weapons are not presently armed."
Malcolm's spine stiffened. He'd never said that. It was true, now the alien ship was close enough to determine that kind of information, but Archer didn't know that. He hadn't asked, and there'd been no opportunity to inform him.
Trip noticed the sudden tension, guessed at its cause. "Relax, Lieutenant," he said softly enough not to be overheard by anyone but the Tactical Officer. "Captain's just trying to make nice."
Reed gave a short nod of acknowledgement, knowing he couldn't voice what he was thinking. It would be insubordinate at best, and he didn't believe in dissension on the Bridge--particularly when there was a potentially hostile alien hanging off the bow.
"I see the reasoning in what you say," Vaktse was saying. "Clearly, you are unlike us in many ways, but we are also interested in contact with other species. You've entered our territory, and this must be dealt with. However, if what you say is true, we may both gain from your error. My science officer tells me your atmosphere is comparable to our own. We will board your vessel, and learn the truth behind your actions."
"Sir!" Reed couldn't help but protest. Less than a week since they'd unloaded the pilgrims of Agosoria, and now more unknown aliens wanted aboard?
Archer held up one hand to forestall the argument he knew was coming. "I know, Lieutenant," he said quietly. To the alien captain, he said, "What assurance can you give us that your intentions aren't hostile?"
"You're not in a position to argue. I remind you it was you who violated our territory. But," Vaktse continued, "as a gesture of good will, I propose a trade."
"What do you have in mind?"
It didn't take long, and when the deal was made, Reed couldn't have been unhappier. The alien captain and three others would board Enterprise. In return, Commander Tucker and a security team would be sent to their ship. Reed was torn. He would be here to defend the ship and protect the Captain, but he had to entrust the safety of the Chief Engineer to someone else.
"Mr. Reed, prep a shuttlepod," said Archer.
"Aye, sir." He rose and headed for the lift, Tucker close behind him.
"And, Trip," the Captain added as they stepped inside, "be careful."
"You too, sir," Tucker replied with a nod.
End Log 11
As of 1 Sept 06: