Cormack stood in front of the door, one hand poised to ring the chime. Had it been an option she would have turned around and walked away. Unfortunately, it wasn't an option. Wishing she were anywhere but where she was, she rang the chime.
"Come in," came the immediate response.
Reluctantly, she opened the door and stepped into the room. It was a small cabin, sparsely but comfortably furnished with a couch, chair, small desk, and a case with a number of books in it. A tall blond man was seated at the desk, typing something into the computer. He glanced up and smiled. "Have a seat, Ensign. I'll be just a second."
She took a seat on the edge of the couch and glanced around. There were a variety of diplomas on one wall but she didn't bother to go to the effort of reading them. Her eye caught the small, framed photo next to the computer console, and she leaned a little forward to get a better look.
Doctor Douglas noticed and said genially, "My niece. That was taken on her first birthday. Isn't she the sweetest thing? I swear, sometimes I think I could just eat her up."
"She's cute," agreed Cormack. "I have a nephew who's three. He wasn't a cute baby."
Douglas chuckled. "Oh dear! And what did his parents do when you said that?"
"Kathryn was a little pissed. Gemma just laughed. She acted like she thought I was joking, but I think it was because she agreed with me but knew she couldn't say it without getting in serious trouble."
He glanced at her as he finished typing. Unable to hide his surprise, he said, "You told your sister her baby wasn't cute?"
"She asked," Stephanie replied matter-of-factly. "She knows better than to ask me a question if she doesn't want my honest opinion. She's had plenty of time to figure that out. I mean, I love my sister, but the kid was ugly. He's cute now," she offered, unexpectedly feeling like some sort of atonement was necessary.
The psychiatrist chuckled again. "Well, I can see you're honest. That's a good way start to our relationship."
"Huh?" She was suddenly on the defensive. "Is that what this was about? You were just tricking me into telling you something about myself? Oh my gods. Is this even really your niece?" she demanded, pointing at the photo.
"Of course it's my niece. I don't keep the picture there to entrap patients, and I had no intention of tricking you." Douglas sat back in his chair, rubbed a hand over his Vandyke beard. "I'm sorry if that's what you think."
Cormack shrugged. "It's okay. I mean, it's my mistake, right? No offense."
"None taken." He regarded her across the desk. She was still sitting stiffly on the edge of the couch—on the end closest to the door. "Sit back and relax, Ensign. May I call you Stephanie?" Cormack shrugged again. "So, Stephanie, why don't you tell me why you're here," he said pleasantly.
"Why are you here?"
"Because Doctor Phlox told me I had to be."
"I understand this appointment wasn't your idea. Why do you think he had you make it?"
"Haven't you read the medical report? He must have given it to you."
"I'd like to you to tell me."
Cormack heaved an annoyed sigh. "Fine," she said sharply. "I freaked out in one of the jefferies tubes and Doctor Phlox decided it was a bigger deal that it really was."
"It wasn’t a big deal?"
"No! That's what I tried to tell him at the time!"
"But your C.O. felt it was a big enough deal to send you to sickbay."
She shrugged noncommittally. "You know Lieutenant Reed. He's a great C.O., but he's a bit of a worrier."
"Is he? I don't really know him."
"It comes with the territory, I suppose. I mean, it's his job to keep the ship and the crew safe, right? So naturally he's going to be a little protective, I guess."
"So you think he overreacted?"
"A little," Cormack admitted. She didn't like saying something about Malcolm that might be misconstrued as negative.
"But the medical report I read said you had been injured."
"It was no big deal."
"And you hadn't eaten."
Cormack was growing more and more annoyed. "I overslept. I was running late. It was no big deal," she said more emphatically. "Listen, Doctor—"
"Please, call me Kyrin."
"I'd rather not. That implies that this is a friendly conversation when we both know what's really going on. "
"All right. You're certainly entitled to that opinion."
"Am I? 'Cause I'm just here because I was told I had to be. Far as I know, I'm not allowed an opinion in this matter."
"Come on," said Douglas, his pleasant tenor voice contrasting strongly with her angry alto. "You obviously have an opinion. From what little I know of you, you're not afraid to voice those opinions."
"So if I tell you I think this is crap, you're going to say I’m entitled to that opinion, too?" she asked sarcastically.
"Sure. That doesn't mean you're going to get out of this, however." He interlaced his fingers and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. He faced down her irate glare with a neutral expression. "Listen, Stephanie. You're here under duress; you've made that abundantly clear. But I’m not the enemy. I just want to help. I'm willing to bet there's enough fighting going on inside your head that you don't need to pick another fight out here with me. So, what do you say?"
Cormack looked at him carefully. She wanted to see something—biases, deceptions, agendas—she wasn't sure what. There was nothing like that. All she could see was another human being trying to do his job, and that job was to help her. She sighed and slumped back on the couch.
"It's like what Doctor Phlox said to me the other day," she said finally.
"What was that?"
"He said the less I fought him, the quicker I could get back to work."
When she didn't offer anything more Douglas asked, "Is that your only concern, then? Getting back to work?"
"Sure. There's a lot to do. It's been a busy week."
"I'm sure it has. First the pilgrims of Agosoria, then the Suliban, and after that the Estvali. And I believe we're scheduled to deploy a new subspace amplifier tomorrow. Quite a busy week. It certainly sounds like you've had a lot of work to do."
There was another small pause. "So," prompted Douglas, "that's all it is? Anxiety about work?"
"Well, sure," said Cormack.
"But you were working when you had the panic attack in the jefferies tube. Why do you think that was?" He looked at her with a friendly and inquiring expression on his round face.
Stephanie didn’t answer. She just stared back at him, thinking. It had been hard enough to admit even what little she had to Malcolm—and he was a friend. He was someone she already knew she could trust. But Douglas on the other hand He had an advantage over her, and she didn't like that. He already knew more about her than she did about him. Finally, Stephanie broke the silence.
"You first," she said.
"You first. Tell me something about you I don't know."
"Anything in particular?"
"I don't know. Something I wouldn't find out even if I went into the crew manifests."
"Hmm. You already know I have a niece. Her name is Leia." He considered for a moment. "I'm 36 years old, but that's in the file. I'm terrified of flying."
"Wait. What? Are you serious?" She looked at him doubtfully.
"And you work in space."
"Flying within a planet's atmosphere," he clarified. "It's a gravity issue. I’m working on it."
She stared at him for several seconds trying to determine if he was kidding. Suddenly, she burst out laughing. "Oh my gods. You're serious!"
Douglas gave her an ironic smile in return. "I'm afraid so."
"I'm sorry," she said, trying to catch her breath. "I don't mean to laugh at you. That was just so unexpected. Sorry."
"No need to apologize," he assured her. "It is funny, given my choice of working environment." He waited for her to calm down a bit more before continuing. "Feel better now?" he asked at last.
She met his open, friendly gaze with her own. "Yeah. I do."
"Okay. Then let's try this again. Why don't you tell me why you're here?"
Somehow, he just couldn't help himself. "Don't fall over," said Reed to the precariously balanced Cormack.
Predictably, she started to waver. The arm that was in front of her flailed out to one side as she tried to maintain her balance, but it was too late. Letting go of the foot she held up behind her, she staggered a few steps before awkwardly regaining her footing.
She gave Malcolm a joking glare. "With all due respect—" she began.
"Uh oh," interjected Reed in mock fear.
"—you little shit!" She laughed, and he joined her.
"What was that pose, anyway?"
"It was the standing bow. Now, it's me standing here doing this." She stuck out her tongue.
Reed laughed harder. "You're in a much better mood than you were this morning," he said. He took a seat on the bench that ran along one wall of the gym. Pulling a roll of tape out of a pocket, he wrapped his feet and hands as they talked.
"I am in a much better mood," Stephanie agreed. She grabbed her towel and plopped onto the bench next to him. She wiped the fine sheen of sweat from her hands and face.
"I'm almost afraid to ask ?" he began.
She knew where he was heading and let him off the hook. "My meeting with Doctor Douglas went better than I expected. No stunning revelations, of course, but it was a start."
"Me, too. And now I'm here, fulfilling the rest of Doctor Phlox's prescription."
"Yoga? But you've always done that," Malcolm said, puzzled.
"I'd fallen off the yoga mat, so to speak." She raised an ironic eyebrow at him. Reed had the decency to shrug contritely. Stephanie chuckled and let it go. "We've been so busy the past couple of weeks, I haven't had time for yoga. Phlox said I should get back in the habit."
"Yeah," she said, suddenly hesitant.
Reed looked up from his task. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
"It's okay. You remember what happened in the jefferies tube the other morning?"
"I’m not likely to forget. You scared the hell out of me, you know."
"I—" She wasn't sure what to say. That he would state his concern for her so blatantly took her by surprise. "I'm sorry."
"You don't need to apologize," he replied quickly. "I know it wasn't intentional. But I interrupted. Go on."
"Doctor Phlox said I had a panic attack—brought on by claustrophobia, of all things."
"Claustrophobia?" Reed was stunned. His eyes widened as he recalled something. "And I trapped us in the lift between decks just the morning. I'm so sorry!"
"No, it was fine," she assured him quickly. "I was fine. I'm not claustrophobic. That's why Phlox sent me to Doctor Douglas. And why he told me I should get back to my yoga. Which, if you'll excuse me " She stood.
"I'm not going to be too distracting for you, am I?" he asked.
She looked down at him where he still sat. "Only if you knock me over," she said wryly.
"Right." He grinned. "Hey, before you're standing on one foot again "
"Do you want to get dinner after this?"
"You don't have a date?" she asked, wiggling her eyebrows teasingly.
"It's a school night," he joked. "Trip's dining with the Captain and Sub-commander T'Pol."
"Then you're on. Now go beat up your punching bag. I'm sure it's getting lonely."
Dinner turned out to be a larger affair than either had anticipated. They'd only been seated a few minutes when Mayweather and Cutler appeared. "Mind if we join you?" asked Liz. "It's kind of crowded tonight." She glanced around the busy mess hall and looked back to Reed and Cormack.
"Not at all," said Malcolm, ever the gentleman. "Please."
"Thanks." She and Travis sat.
"The fish looks great, doesn't it?" said Stephanie, noticing her bunkmate's choice of dinner options matched her own.
"Yeah. I love halibut! I tried to convince Travis here to try it but "
"I'm a meat and potatoes kind of guy," the handsome helmsman said with a smile. "What can I say?"
"I'm not terribly fond of fish myself," agreed Reed around a bite of steak. "I tried when I was living in San Francisco, but it wasn't my thing."
"Too bad. There's a lot of great seafood in San Francisco. I remember there was this one restaurant I used to just love. On the Embarcadero," Cormack said enthusiastically. "Can't remember what it was called for the life of me."
"That one with all the icons on the walls, and the heavy wood beams?" asked Cutler.
"Yeah! What was it called?"
Liz shook her head. "I don't remember."
"I know the one you mean. I actually ate there several times," put in Malcolm.
"And you don't like fish?" demanded Stephanie. "Explain."
"My friend Mark liked to go there. We were there so often we got to know one of the waitresses pretty well—charming young woman named Maureen. I think Mark might have fancied her. He always made sure we were seated in her section, at any rate. You can make of that what you will."
Stephanie chuckled. She turned to her bunkmate. "So, Liz, how'd that experiment you were working on come out? Did the bugs breed?"
Liz blushed. She wanted to smack her friend, but didn't want to give away their "secret code" if she could help it. Instead, she quickly collected herself while the men at the table exchanged a mildly puzzled glance. "No," she said. "We haven't gotten the conditions quite right on that experiment yet. The female keeps going through the mating postures, but the male seems indifferent so far."
"What experiment is that?" asked Travis.
"Just something I've been working on. How's the steak?"
"Great!" He took another bite to emphasize the point.
With Travis successfully distracted for a brief moment, Liz took the opportunity to shoot a quick glare at Stephanie. Cormack just grinned teasingly and gave a quick wiggle of her eyebrows. Malcolm caught the exchange between the women. He suddenly realized what they were really talking about—and just as suddenly wished he hadn't. He turned to Travis.
"So, Travis, are you excited about launching the subspace amplifier tomorrow?"
"You know, it's funny," the helmsman said thoughtfully. "I feel like I should be more excited than I am. Maybe it's because my family'll still be out of range. It'll be good to get more news from Earth, though."
"I can't wait," said Stephanie emphatically. "I haven't gotten a baseball update in a month! I'm going nuts!"
"You see what I have to live with?" Liz joked. "I don't know if it'll be better or worse once she knows what's happened."
"Better! Much better!" insisted her bunkmate.
"That's your opinion. Besides, I thought hockey was your national pastime."
"That's my nation's pastime, not mine. I'm a firm believer in the sanctity of baseball," Stephanie declared proudly.
"You're a nut." Everyone chuckled at Liz's simple statement of fact.
Stephanie accepted the declaration with a good-natured shrug. "All right. What are you looking forward to, then?" she asked.
"Talking to my family." Liz pointedly drew out the word "family."
"I'm looking forward to that, too," Stephanie insisted. Intentionally playing on her bunkmate's belief that she was completely hopeless, she added mischievously, "Where did you think I was going to get the latest stats? And Wilson was on the DL last I heard. I need to know if he's back in the line-up!"
Cutler just shook her head and laughed.
"How about you?" Stephanie looked at Malcolm. "What are you looking forward to once we get the new amplifier up and running?"
"Oh, I don't know," he answered noncommittally. "Right now I'm just looking forward to a clean launch."
Trip's day had started out fine. The amplifier was launched without any hitches—despite the appearance and disappearance of the unidentified alien vessel. Everything was running smoothly. He'd gotten a number of letters from home, and he enjoyed catching up on what his family had been doing over the past several weeks. There were also plenty of engineering updates to read. Then he read the letter from Natalie—the 'Dear John' letter. It didn't surprise him. She was in Pensacola; he was 100 light-years from Earth.
He sighed, thinking, Chalk up another one in the failed relationships column. Keep it up, Trip, and you might just make it to an even dozen before you turn 40. A thought suddenly struck him. Malcolm had asked him out, and he'd accepted before he'd officially split up with Natalie. How the hell was he going to explain that? Why the hell had he done that? He supposed he'd known for a long time it wasn't going to work out with Natalie, but that didn't justify it. He was sure the ship's counselor would have a field day if he knew about it; there were bound to be a great variety of psychological issues involved.
He put the thought out of his mind. He knew he'd have to deal with it before long, but right now he had enough work to do to keep him happily distracted.
He was busy working when Captain Archer and Porthos caught up with him. The men talked as they worked their way along the deck, checking systems. The little beagle trotted eagerly along with them. As they entered Main Engineering, Archer asked, "What's the word from home?"
"Oh, the usual: engineering updates," Trip answered. "Oh, and Duval got promoted. They're giving him the Shenandoah."
"Duval got his own command? Thank god we're a hundred light-years away," Archer said only half-joking. Trip could only agree.
Then it came down to it. If there was anyone he could tell, it was Jon. "And I got a letter from Natalie."
"The Natalie? From Pensacola?" Archer asked.
"Yep. Natalie from Pensacola," Trip replied unenthusiastically. He checked his scanner. "Looks like we've got a charge imbalance in this manifold. I'll get right on it."
Jon looked at him, concerned. His tone was a far cry from the way he'd heard his friend talk about Natalie in the past. "Trip?"
Tucker gave a small shrug. "They say long-distance relationships never work. Well, this is about as long-distance as you can get."
"Oh, yeah, I just I just wish I'd have had the chance to say good-bye face-to-face," he answered. He walked past the Captain. Archer followed him out into the corridor.
Sensing Trip wasn't ready to say more just then, Archer changed the subject. "Let me ask you something. Do you spend much time with Malcolm?"
Tucker was glad for the change—he only wished Jon hadn't chosen that particular topic. "I was in the Armory yesterday for a few hours swapping out some power relays," he offered, knowing full well he wasn't directly answering the question.
"You talk about anything interesting?"
"I talked to his parents this morning."
"Really?" He stopped at a junction, scanned the systems. He'd never heard Malcolm mention his parents, although he had a vague recollection of passing comment about a sister somewhere.
"Yeah." Archer glanced over one shoulder at Porthos. "Stay here," he said quietly. Obediently, the beagle sat. He glanced back to Trip. "If I asked your parents what you like to eat, would they be able to tell me?"
"Are you kidding?" They continued down another corridor followed closely by the little dog. "My mom would give you her recipe for pan-fried catfish and wouldn't let you go until you promised not to screw it up."
Archer chuckled. Then his expression turned serious once more. "Malcolm's parents didn't know what his favorite food was. They didn't even know he was an armory officer."
Trip was stunned. He knew Malcolm was a very private individual, but it had never occurred to him that would extend to his family. It made him feel even worse about what he'd done. I've got to talk to him, he thought. Tell him about Natalie. It's only fair to give him the chance to back out. It was fatalistic of him, but he couldn't help thinking it.
Burying all his conflicting and confusing emotions, he said simply, "That's strange."
Caught up in his own musings, Archer didn't notice Trip's hesitation. "It made me think," he said. "We don't know that much about Malcolm, do we?"
Trip was carefully considering his response when the comm beeped and T'Pol's voice came through the speaker. "Bridge to the Captain."
Archer hit the comm panel to respond. "Go ahead."
"The alien vessel has returned."
The men exchanged a look before Archer headed quickly for the bridge and Tucker hurried back to Engineering.
The attack was brief, and the damage was limited. They'd been lucky. Still, Trip didn't think it was reason enough to head back to Earth. Malcolm had to agree. Understandably, the Captain wanted the phase cannons installed in case of another attack. They believed they could do it on their own. The three were in the Armory, arguing the point.
"Just give us two weeks, Captain," insisted Reed.
"I know we can do it. Most of the stuff we need is already on the ship," Trip added.
But Archer was adamant. "The armory team at Jupiter Station is trained for this kind of work. If we're going to do this, let's do it right."
"My engineers are just as good as they are."
"I know that, Trip. But we have other systems that could use overhauls." He paused, looked at the engineer. "Look at the bright side. You'll get a chance to say good-bye to Natalie." He turned to go and so missed the expressions on the faces of both officers.
Reed was the first to pull himself together. "Sir?" he began, stopping Archer at the door. "With your permission we could at least begin the work. Get a few things started for Jupiter Station."
Trip was tremendously grateful for the diversion. This wasn't how he'd wanted to bring the subject of Natalie up with Malcolm, and this really wasn't the time to deal with it. He looked at Archer and said, "It'll cut down the time we have to spend in spacedock."
The captain considered the two officers. They clearly believed in what they were saying and wanted this opportunity to prove themselves. He couldn't deny them that. "Do what you can," he said. He tapped the comm panel. "Archer to Mayweather."
"Go ahead, Captain."
"We're heading home."
Hoshi wasn't the kind of person who shirked her duties. She certainly wasn't the kind of person who went against a direct order from her Captain. However, that didn't stop the idea from crossing her mind. For a split second she contemplated trying to pass her assignment off to Doctor Douglas. He was accustomed to delving into people's lives and learning their secrets; her skill lay in deciphering languages, not people. With a sigh, she let the idea go.
After Archer's dead end with Lieutenant Reed's parents, he'd given her the unenviable task of figuring out what Malcolm's favorite food was. She'd asked several members of his family and still she'd come up empty-handed. Now, she was taking the briefest of breaks. Between her sleuthing and the diagnostic on the subspace transceiver array, she was up to her ears in "top priority" assignments and had only just managed to steal a few minutes to relax. She entered the mess hall and picked up an empty mug. Setting it under the dispenser, she said, "Green tea, hot." She pondered her options as the drinks dispenser filled the mug with steaming tea.
The door to the mess hall opened again and inspiration struck her. "Stephanie," she said to the new arrival. She'd heard Stephanie and Malcolm were dating about a month ago. The rumor had died a quick death, but Hoshi was sure she'd seen them at dinner together more than once. It certainly couldn't hurt to ask, and she was running out of ideas.
"Hi, Hoshi," Cormack replied. She collected a mug and she and Sato traded places at the dispenser. "How's it going?"
"Not bad. The new amplifier's working okay so far, but there's still a lot to do. How about you?"
"Don't ask. The Armory is a madhouse. You ever tried building a phase cannon from scratch?"
"Thankfully, no." Sato hesitated briefly, deciding on the best way to ask. "I was wondering if you could tell me something."
"If it's quick. I really need to get back. I only managed to finagle five minutes to come grab another cup of coffee."
"It'll just take a second. You know Lieutenant Reed pretty well, right?"
"Pretty well," answered Cormack. "Why?" She collected her filled mug, took a sip.
"You wouldn't happen to know what his favorite food is, would you?"
"Yeah. The Captain's trying to plan a surprise dinner for his birthday—"
Cormack started. "Crap!"
"Excuse me?" said Hoshi. It wasn't the reaction she'd expected.
"Nothing. Just remembered something I'd completely forgotten about. So, you need to know his favorite food for the dinner, eh?" She thought as she sipped her coffee, trying to remember if there was one thing Malcolm tended to gravitate toward when they ate together. "He's not real fond of fish," she offered, recalling the previous evening's conversation.
"That's great, but do you know what he does like?"
Stephanie looked at her apologetically and shrugged. "Guinness?"
"Guinness? As in beer?"
"Yeah. I know it's not so much a food as, well, a beer "
"Frighteningly enough, it's more of an answer than I've gotten from anyone else." Hoshi sighed.
"You might try to get ahold of Mark Latrelle. He was a friend of Malcolm's when they were in Starfleet training. He's mentioned him a few times. Maybe he knows something."
"Latrelle?" the communications officer repeated just to be sure.
"Great! Thanks!" Hoshi gave her a grateful smile and hurried back to her station.
Stephanie quickly tapped the comm panel by the mess hall door. "Cormack to crewman Martinez."
"Go ahead," came the response.
Cormack continued in a hushed tone. "Juliana, did you remember to pick up that item from the Quartermaster the other day like I asked?"
"Of course. I've had it since, but everything's been so crazy I forgot to tell you."
"No problem. I'm not sure when I can catch another break to come get it from you, though."
"Shall I drop it off outside your cabin?"
"Yeah. That'd be great! Thanks, Juliana," said Cormack appreciatively.
"Cormack out." She closed the comm and took a brief second to relax before returning to the Armory.
The second attack came late that evening. Reed was in the mess hall, having finally managed to take a break from the frenetic activity in the Armory. He'd brought some datapads to study while he ate. He was just refocusing his attention to them—after a brief and disconcerting interlude with Ensign Sato—when the first blows hit the ship.
He could feel the ship drop out of warp as he rushed to the window to see if he could spot the attacker. There was nothing to be seen from that angle other than the stars shifting from steaks of light to pinpoints as the ship slowed. He hurried to the comm panel by the door and hailed the Bridge. Getting no answer, he tried the Armory. Still nothing.
He glanced at the few other people in the mess hall. "Get to your stations. Move," he ordered before leaving to get to his own. He barely arrived before main power went down.
Overlooking the room from the catwalk, he could make out several figures in the dim emergency lighting. One, he thought it might be Griffith, was rapidly handing out flashlights. "Report!"
"Everything's down. Communications, engines, everything," said Trip, coming up beside him. The engineer handed him a communicator. "There's a team stuck in one of the jefferies tubes. I just sent Eddie in to find them, let them know what's going on."
"Where's Ensign Cormack?" Reed asked sharply, hoping she wasn't a member of that team.
"Right here," she answered, quickly climbing the steep staircase. "Power's out everywhere. All tactical systems are down. We've begun manual lock-downs on the torpedoes and phase cannons."
"I'm going to try to get to Engineering," Tucker said. "It's only one deck away. Shouldn't be too big a problem."
Reed nodded. "Be careful."
They weren't able to fully assess the damage until main power was restored. Reed was pleased when he learned the tactical systems were unharmed. Tucker, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. He hailed the captain.
"Go ahead," came the response.
"We've got the plasma leak under control but our port nacelle took a lot of damage."
"How long before we can go to warp?"
He hated to say it, but "A couple of days."
There was a momentary pause while Archer absorbed this new information. "What about impulse?" he wanted to know.
"Well, that's the good news," said Trip, climbing down from the central engineering station. "It should be back on-line in a few minutes."
"I'll take all the good news I can get."
Tucker heard the chirp as the comm line was closed from the other end. He spotted Dillard and Lawless consulting over a plasma manifold. "How's it going over there?" he asked.
"I think we're ready to bring the impulse engines back on-line," Lawless answered.
"Well, that's what I just told the Captain," said Trip with a wry smile, "so I hope you're right. Let's give it a try."
They brought the systems on-line, and Tucker was glad to see green lights across the board. "Good. I'm going to the Armory—see how it’s going there. If we can't get the warp engines running before those aliens come back, we're going to need all the fire power we can get. I'll be back in few minutes."
The hours flew past. Cormack had long ago lost track of the time; she couldn't with any certainty even name the date. All she knew at this point was that she was exhausted. Between the installation of the new phase cannons and the enemy attacks, she was wiped out.
The aliens were gone now—turned tail and ran after Enterprise managed to finally do some serious damage. Their own repairs were extensive, but not unmanageable. She'd helped get the forward cannons back on-line after the last attack, and they'd spent most of today getting the aft phase cannon up. At last, they'd all been told in no uncertain terms to get some sleep. So Cormack was turning in. Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed were the only ones left cleaning up the rest of the mess.
She passed the captain at the lift, and they nodded a greeting.
"Ensign," he said pleasantly.
"Sir," she replied. She was too tired to even notice the incongruity of what he carried: three glasses and a pitcher of what looked like beer.
She tried to be quiet as she entered her cabin, but was unable to avoid bumping into the desk chair as she made her way to her locker.
"You can turn the lights on," Cutler said quietly.
"Okay." Cormack turned around and found the switch entirely by sense memory. She turned on the light, and they both winced in reaction to the sudden brightness. "Ow." She quickly dimmed the lights. She squinted at her roommate who was just sitting up in her bunk. "Why are you up?" Stephanie flopped unceremoniously onto her own bunk and started pulling off her boots.
"Couldn't sleep," answered Liz a bit morosely.
Liz shrugged. "Travis."
"Oh. You want to talk about it?"
"Yes, but no, you know?"
"I get it. I'm here when it's just 'yes,' eh?"
"I know. Thanks." Liz decided it was time to change the subject. "There was a package in front of the door when I came back this evening. Do you know what it's about? There wasn't a note."
Stephanie perked up at this news. "Where is it?"
"There." Liz pointed to the item on the desk.
Energized by her excitement, Cormack practically leapt at it. She picked up the package and opened the paper just enough to peek inside. "Excellent!" she exclaimed happily. She quickly dug into her locker and pulled out a roll of brightly colored paper and a spool of ribbon.
Liz watched her. "What is it?" she wanted to know.
"A surprise." She quickly wrapped the bundle and tied a long string of ribbon around it. Next, she pulled a card from her locker and scribbled a quick note in it before sealing it in an envelope and tucking it under the ribbon.
"Surprise for whom?"
"Malcolm. Don't tell anyone one, but it's his birthday This is going to sound bad but, what's the date?"
"Today, then. What time is it?"
Cutler reached up to the shelf over her head and took down the chronometer. "2338 hours," she said.
"Yikes! Only twenty-two minutes to go."
"Are you really going to deliver it now?" Liz looked at her dubiously as Stephanie sat and pulled her boots back on.
"He's still in the Armory. At least he was when I left a few minutes ago. I'm just going to drop it off at his cabin and come back." She stood and picked up the present. "Back in a few. You want me to turn the light off?"
"No. You'll just run into the chair again when you get back," Liz teased.
Tucker and Reed were walking slowly back to their cabins. "I'm really looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow," said Trip tiredly.
"Me, too," agreed Malcolm. "Well done, getting the Captain to agree to that."
"I figured it couldn't hurt to ask." There was silence as they continued along the corridor. They passed no one—not surprising at that hour. It was just past 0100. "You just going to turn in, then?"
Malcolm glanced at Trip, wondering at the hesitant tone of his question. "I was planning to. Why?"
"I don't know. I'm just still a little wound up, I guess. I thought maybe we could talk."
Malcolm stopped walking and Trip came to an abrupt halt next to him. "Talk? About?"
Trip crossed mental fingers, hoping he wasn't doing the exact wrong thing. "About Natalie. There's some stuff you ought to know."
"Honestly, I don't know if I'm up to that conversation just at the moment," Malcolm said as gently as he could manage.
Trip could only nod. "Okay," he said at last. He was upset but tried hard to hide it. It was his problem; he was the one who'd screwed up. It wasn't right to make Malcolm feel bad for not wanting to discuss it yet. "That's fair. But I want you to know I was going to tell you. I didn't mean for you to hear about her like you did."
"All right. I believe you." He met Trip's uncertain gaze with a stoic look. "Good night."
Taking the hint, Trip turned to go. He wanted to say something more but thought better of it. He continued down the corridor in silence, alone.
Reed waited until Tucker was well out of sight. He didn't want to run into the engineer again tonight. Better to wait, get a good night's sleep, and tackle the subject tomorrow. Besides, he had to figure out how he, himself, felt before he could hear what Trip had to say. Natalie? he thought, shaking his head. He knew he shouldn't be surprised that Tucker's ex was a woman, but he'd never expected to be confronted with the fact quite so directly. Old lovers were one thing; the immediacy of Natalie was a bit much.
Guessing sufficient time had elapsed, Reed resumed his walk to his cabin. He was surprised when he reached it to see a largish package on the floor outside his door. It was wrapped in garishly bright paper with an almost fluorescent green ribbon. He glanced around as if the person who'd left it might be hiding near by, but the corridor was silent and empty.
He considered opening the card right then but decided against it. Instead, he keyed in his unlock code and stepped into the cabin. The door shut, and he turned on the lights, balancing the awkward and oddly squishy package under one arm. Figuring anything that soft wasn't likely to break, he tossed it onto his bunk and sat down next to it.
The envelope was unlabeled, and he looked at it dubiously before sliding a finger under the flap and opening it. Reed chuckled when he saw the front of the card. It was homemade and decorated by someone with obviously limited artistic skill, but the stick figures were still clearly identifiable—despite the party hats. He opened up the card and read the note that was scribbled inside.
Reed had a fair guess as to what the package contained now, and he ripped off the layers of paper. He was right. He laughed again as he held up the bathrobe. It was just like any other Starfleet issue robe except for one thing—it had been dyed to a dark claret color.
End Log 13
As of 1 Sept 06: