Stephanie glanced up from her book as the cabin door opened and her bunkmate entered. Liz's normally cheerful visage was rigid with anger. The door shut automatically behind her and she turned to face it.
"Some days I really wish this door was hinged," she snarled.
"And that would be why?"
"So I could slam it!" Liz sat heavily on her bunk then bounded up again and began pacing the narrow piece of floor in the middle of the room.
"Okay." Stephanie was wary. Her bunkmate didn't often get angry—at least not that she'd witnessed. It was a daunting and impressive sight. "You want to talk about it? Or do you just want to pace and be pissed off for now?" It was an honest question sincerely asked.
Liz stopped her pacing and looked at Stephanie. "Men!" she exclaimed.
"Ah." Stephanie tucked a marker into her book and set it aside. "Talk to me."
"Why do they think they have sole claim over the women they date?"
"I don't know. Did you have an example in mind?"
"I guessed that much. Come on." She patted the bunk next to her. "Sit. Tell me what's up."
Liz sat. "I invited Phlox to go to the movie with me tonight, and now Travis is mad at me. He already said he didn't want to see it. So why should he get mad at me for asking someone else?"
"You asked Travis first?"
"Yes! Pay attention!"
Stephanie decided to let the outburst pass. She knew Liz wasn't angry with her; she was just a convenient target at the moment. If it continued, however
"I mean," Liz was saying, "we never said we wouldn't see other people. We never made any kind of commitment. Hell! We've been going out for over a month, and we haven't even slept together!" She stopped short, realizing what she'd just said. "I can't believe I just said that. That sounded awful."
"No, it didn't," said Stephanie matter-of-factly.
"But I don’t usually I mean, I'm not "
"Let it go. Go back to the problem you started with. You're mad at Travis because ?"
"He thinks he has exclusive rights to my social life!" declared Liz, her momentary embarrassment forgotten in favor of her original tirade. "Why shouldn't I ask Phlox out if I want to?"
"No reason. You said it yourself. Travis said he didn't want to see the film; you never claimed your relationship would be exclusive."
"Huh." Liz looked at her friend. "Is that what you really think, or are you just saying what you think I want to hear?"
"Would it matter?"
Liz considered for a moment before replying. "Yeah. A little."
"It's what I really think."
"Yes. Look. Did you two agree on the nature of your relationship from the start? I mean, did you both know going in that it was just fun without any long-term strings attached?"
"I thought so. We said from the start we'd just see where things went."
"And have your feelings changed?"
"Has he told you that his have changed?"
"No. At least No. He hasn't told me that."
There was a pause while Liz thought about it. "Are you saying his feelings have changed? That he wants more now?"
"I'm not saying anything. The only person who could answer that is Travis. I'm just saying it's possible he sees things going in a different direction than you do. But if that's the case, it's up to him to say so. Of course, it may be that he's just a jealous prick."
"He's not a prick!"
"I didn't say he was."
"You did just now!"
"And now you're defending him."
"I—" Liz stammered. "But—" She growled. "Now I'm just confused."
"I have that effect on people sometimes," Stephanie said with mirthless irony. She looked at her friend kindly. "I'm sorry. I told you I was just saying what I thought. They're my opinions—that doesn't make them right. Not by a long shot."
Liz took a deep breath, sighed it out. "Okay."
"Feeling any better?"
"I'm less angry—but I'm more confused."
"Can I make one more suggestion?"
"Is it going to make my brain explode?" Liz asked wearily.
Stephanie smiled, chuckling. "I don't think so, but I can't make any promises."
"You should never say that to a security officer."
"Funny. What's the suggestion?"
"Don't worry about it. Go to the movie with Phlox. Have a good time."
"That's it. There's no point in beating yourself up over this when it's nothing you have control over. I think you should talk to Travis about it, but not today. You're pissed; he's probably still pissed. You both need to calm down before you deal with this apparent breakdown in communication."
Liz considered what her bunkmate said. "You're right. Thanks for letting me vent." She smiled gratefully.
"Any time. So, what's the flick tonight? Not another B sci-fi/horror movie, I hope."
"Thankfully, no," replied Liz, standing. She went to her locker, pulled out a brush, and gave her hair a quick once-over. "It's 'For Whom the Bell Tolls'. It's a classic."
"I've heard of it, but I've never seen it."
"You should go tonight, then! You'll love it. But bring tissues—it's a tear-jerker."
"Hmm. Don't know that I'm up for a tear-jerker tonight. We'll see," she said noncommittally. Stephanie knew she wasn't going to go once she'd heard this news, but she found people were less inclined to insist on something if she played it undecided.
"Have you had dinner yet?" asked Liz. "I think I've calmed down enough I won't make myself sick if I try to eat."
Stephanie looked up at the chronometer above her bunk. "Can you what half an hour? I'm supposed to meet Mae at 1930. You could join us."
"Sure. Sounds good." She looked around the cabin, momentarily at a loss. "Do you mind if I turn on some music?"
"Nope," answered Stephanie, picking up her book once more. "Go ahead."
Liz deliberated for a moment more before asking, "What was it you were listening to last night?"
"What?" Stephanie glanced up from her book distractedly.
"That kind of techno sounding group—with the Irish fiddles?"
"You mean The Hoolie-gans?"
"Is that their name? I want to listen to them. They sounded just angry enough for the mood I'm in."
Stephanie gave her bunkmate a wry, understanding smile. "You think so, eh?"
"Yeah." Liz nodded.
Stephanie chuckled. "Yeah. I can understand that." She set her book down again, crawled to the end of her bunk and reached over to the computer. Stretched out, she could just manage to balance and reach the keyboard. She hit a number of keys, and raucous and somewhat violent Celtic music filled the room. She turned down the volume a little and sat back on her bunk.
"Yeah!" Liz said again, enthusiastically. "That's what I want. They sound pissed off and unapologetic."
"I know," answered Stephanie with a grin. "They're my favorite band."
Stephanie turned back to her book, but Liz was getting into the music. She started to dance to the driving bass beat, gyrating more and more wildly with the frenetic rhythm of the fiddle. Stephanie began to nod her head to the beat, too. Slowly, it worked into her shoulders and down to her hips to where she couldn't sit still any longer. She tossed her book down and leapt to her feet. The two women danced unrestrainedly with the energy the music built in them until they both collapsed, laughing, onto their bunks.
"What did you say this band was called?" asked Liz as they caught their breath between songs.
"The Hoolie-gans. I think they're my new favorite band, too." She grinned.
"Am I wrong? Doesn't that seem just a bit—I don't know—strange to you?"
"Does what seem strange, exactly?" asked Malcolm. "The fact that she asked someone else to the movie, or the fact that it was Doctor Phlox?" He took a bite of ravioli while he waited for the answer. He was nearly done eating, but Travis's constant diatribe had assured that the ensign's dinner would be cold before he got half way through it.
"Well," Travis said, "the first part, mostly. I mean, we're supposed to be dating. That's what I thought was going on the last five weeks."
"Did you tell her you wanted to go?"
"To the movie?"
Travis looked at him like he'd just grown antennae. "I don't want to go to the movie."
Malcolm stared at him across the table. He wasn't sure how he'd become Travis's "agony aunt," but he had and he figured it was the least he could do to try and help his friend out. However "I'm not entirely sure I see the problem," he admitted. "You told her you didn't want to go."
"Did you offer an alternative?"
"Something else you did want to do tonight instead?"
"Then why shouldn't she go to the movie with someone else?"
"You're not listening!" declared Travis, frustrated.
"I'm listening," insisted Malcolm. "Apparently I'm just not understanding you."
"She's my girlfriend, and she's going to a movie with another man!"
Realization struck Malcolm. "So you think it's a romantic liaison she's planned with Phlox?" he asked.
"Why can't it just be two friends? Did she say something to you that implied more than that?" He took a last bite of his dinner, washed it down with a swallow of water.
"Not directly. But—"
"But nothing. Relax. There's no point jumping to conclusions."
"I just feel like I should do something about it!"
"What?" asked Malcolm practically. "Hit her with a club and carry her off like a Neanderthal?"
"Well, that's a little extreme, but—"
Malcolm shook his head. "Stop talking. Eat your dinner. There's nothing sensible to be done about it right now. Do something you want to do tonight," he suggested. "You can talk to Liz tomorrow if you're still upset." He watched the ensign closely, waiting for his reaction. Was I ever that young? he asked himself. Then had to admit, yes, he had been once. He shook his head again but at himself this time.
Travis reluctantly acquiesced. "Okay. I suppose you're right." He took a bite of his food, made a face.
"Cold, is it?" Malcolm teased lightly.
"Mm-hmm." Travis swallowed. "Next time I go off like this, remind me not to do it over dinner."
"I'll try to remember that," said Malcolm dryly.
Stephanie and Liz sat and waited while Mae finished getting ready. "Sorry to make you wait," Mae said as she emerged from the lav. "I got out of Engineering a little later than I thought I would." She fished a hairbrush out of her locker and quickly brushed her dark, shoulder-length hair. Stephanie chuckled at the replaying of the same ritual she'd witnessed Liz performing earlier. "What?" asked Mae, tossing the brush back into the locker.
"Just had to laugh," answered Stephanie. "I don't even own a hairbrush."
"You curly-haired types can get away with that," put in Liz.
"Wait. How do you braid your hair every morning without brushing it?" Mae wanted to know.
"Years and years of practice. Come on." Stephanie stood. "Let's go. I'm starving."
They didn't know it, but it was a lucky chance Mae had been running late. As a result, they just managed to miss bumping into Travis and Malcolm. The men left the mess hall less than five minutes before the women arrived.
The trio chatted and laughed over dinner, Liz's earlier temper at least momentarily forgotten. Suddenly, Liz glanced at her watch. "Shoot! I've got to go," she exclaimed and quickly stood. "Sorry to eat and run."
"That's okay. Have fun at the movie," said Stephanie.
"Thanks." She paused, smiled at her friend, and said deliberately, "I will."
Mae watched her hurry away. When the mess hall door closed behind her, Mae looked at Stephanie. "What was that about?"
"Oh, no. Don't start that elusive thing again."
"I'm not!" insisted Stephanie. At Mae's doubtful and accusatory look she added, "She was in a bad mood earlier. I told her to just forget about it and have fun tonight."
Stephanie laughed. "Don't sound so disappointed."
Mae shrugged. "I'm not. What was she upset about?"
"Oh?" The engineer perked up the tiniest bit at that, her curiosity engaged. "Wait. And now they're going to the movie?"
"No. She's going with Doctor Phlox."
"Nothing." Mae shrugged dismissively.
But Stephanie wouldn't let it go. "No. What is it?"
"It's nothing," insisted Mae.
"You sure?" Stephanie gave her friend a concerned look.
"Sure." May smiled. "You want some dessert? I think I saw cream pan up there.
Stephanie sighed and leaned back in her chair. "That sounds so good, but I'm stuffed."
"Well, there's still time to catch the movie. You want to go?"
"No, thanks. Liz said it's a tear-jerker. I don’t think I’m up for that tonight."
Mae looked briefly disappointed, but shook it off. "So, what are your plans the rest of the evening?"
"You looking for an invitation?" teased Stephanie, grinning.
"It's Saturday night, and I have nothing to do," her friend replied flatly.
"I'm afraid I was just planning to wash my hair and then kick back with my book. It's not an exciting plan, but you're welcome to join me."
"Hmm. Tempting." They traded provocative leers, then laughed. "But I think I'll pass. Actually " She sat up a little straighter. " I think I'm going to try to catch the movie." She stood. "See you later?"
"See you later," affirmed Stephanie with a smile.
The "message waiting" light on the computer was flashing when Stephanie returned from the shower room. She double-checked that it was actually for her before sitting down and playing the transmission. She was pleasantly surprised to find it was a video letter from her sister-in-law, Gemma. Stephanie ran her fingers through her damp hair, working out the worst of the tangles as the message ran.
"Dear Stephanie," Gemma began in the Indian accent Stephanie had always adored. She and Kathryn were both suckers for it, and she'd always been envious that her sister got to listen to it every day. "First of all, Kevin sends his love. I promised him I would tell you that before I put him to bed. Three years old and he has me wrapped around his little finger. I can only imagine it will get worse." Gemma gave a gentle laugh. "That said, on to my reason for this letter. I know Ryn's been sending you articles about your beloved Orcas, but I'm willing to bet it's just not enough for you. I know you too well, little sister," the image said with a smile. Stephanie chuckled at the old endearment. "So, I've devised a treat for you. Sometimes it pays to work for Canada's largest television network—and to have an editor who owes one a favor. Bear in mind that as I send this there are still two weeks to go before the playoffs, so it's not complete. But I think you'll enjoy it nonetheless. I hope I was right when I picked the music. Namaste, little sister. Come home safe to us all. Yours, Gemma."
The image of her sister-in-law faded and was replaced by the prompt "Play attachment?" With a tingle of excitement, Stephanie ran the file.
Thirty minutes later, she was still sitting at the desk. She wasn't entirely sure she'd even blinked in all that time. Stephanie had run the thirteen-minute recording of the Orcas' season highlights twice. The music choices Gemma had made were perfect. And whoever the editor was who'd owed Gemma the favor—well, now Stephanie felt she was in their debt. Gemma had supplied the editor with music from The Hoolie-gans, Cordelia's Sisters, and Hobbiton Army, and that person had mixed them brilliantly to back the images of home runs, diving saves, clutch hits, and stolen bases that marked the Orcas' incredible season. She'd have declared it the best birthday present in history if her birthday wasn't seven months away.
"I have the best sister-in-law ever," Stephanie declared aloud to the room. She played the highlight reel one more time.
Glancing at the chronometer, she realized she really ought to get to bed. She stood, tossed her laundry down the chute, and went into the lav to brush her teeth. By the time she came out, Liz had returned.
"Hey!" said Stephanie. "How was the movie?"
"Brilliant as ever," replied Liz with a smile.
"And Doctor Phlox?"
Liz's smile grew coy. "Fine."
"Oh, spill it!" demanded her bunkmate. She sat crossed-legged on her bunk. "I know that look, and I want all the juicy details."
"There's nothing that juicy."
"Then why are you blushing?"
"I'm not blushing!"
"You are by my definition. Now give!"
There was the briefest of hesitations while Liz considered. "I kissed him," she said quickly.
"You did?" asked Stephanie with glee.
"Just on the cheek!"
"And nothing." Liz sat opposite her friend, pulled off her boots.
"What'd he do?"
"Mostly just looked surprised."
"Good surprised or bad surprised?"
"Good I think."
"But " Liz's face turned suddenly pensive. "I still need to talk to Travis."
"You wouldn't have any more helpful advice on that front would you?" she asked hopefully.
"When have I ever provided 'helpful' advice?" replied Stephanie, only half-joking.
"You know what I mean."
"All right. I'll tell you what I think. Just remember what I told you before: this is just my opinion, and that doesn't make it right."
"I know, I know. Now what is it?"
"Be honest. Be straightforward. Don't beat around the bush. Tell him straight out what you think, then let him do the same. You'll know soon enough if you're on the same page."
"And if we're not?"
"Then you have to either find a way to get there, or move on."
Liz let out a tired sigh. "Easier said than done."
"It always is. Unless of course, you're trying to speak Klingon. Have you ever tried wrapping your mouth around that freaky language of theirs? I swear, it's enough to make you choke on your own tongue." Stephanie's random and unexpected comment had the desired effect. Liz laughed.
"Thank you," said Stephanie with a smile. "We aim to please."
The weight of his lover's head on his chest was warm and comfortable. He sighed contentedly, felt his partner's arm settle more securely around him. He smiled and ran gentle fingers through tousled brown hair. His partner pressed a kiss into his chest in response.
"Go back to sleep," whispered Trip.
"Mmm," sighed Malcolm. "Still awake?" He raised his head just enough to look up at the engineer.
Malcolm sat up further and gave his lover a concerned look. "You feel all right?" he asked.
"Terrific." Trip shifted to lean on one elbow so they were lying side by side, looking at each other.
Malcolm regarded him through sleepy blue eyes. "You're so handsome," he said, placing a palm on Trip's rough, stubbled cheek.
The engineer gave a self-deprecating smile and a small shake of his head. "Nah," he said softly. "That's just the sleep in your eyes."
"You're wrong," replied Malcolm equally quietly but leaving no room for argument. He leaned in and pressed a kiss against his lover's lips.
Trip woke slowly to the chirping of his alarm. His dream was lost to the moment between sleeping and waking, but there was a smile on his face as he opened his eyes. "Computer, alarm off," he said. He had the vague idea his good mood this morning was something to do with his dream, but couldn't recall what he'd been dreaming about. Still, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he accepted the cheerful feeling. In fact, it was a nice change.
He knew he'd been a bit moody lately. If it kept up much longer, his crew were going to start noticing it, too. He knew what would shake him out of his funk, but it was something he didn't really have control over. He needed to talk to Malcolm. Unfortunately, the armory officer had done a fair job of avoiding any chance for them to be alone together, even on duty. Tucker would never bring the matter up while they were working—Reed must have known that. Still, he seemed to have learned a lesson in evasion from the wily Ensign Cormack.
Maybe if I trapped us in a turbolift like he did to her No. He shook his head, discarded the thought. Bad idea.
The movie the other night had helped Tucker come to terms with some of his own issues. He'd always been a sucker for Ingrid Bergman, and the classic film had given him a sense of closure, allowed him to say an internal good-bye to Natalie. The discovery of the drifting alien ship yesterday had also been a good distraction, at least for a while. Now that they were in orbit over Valakis, though, there was little for an engineer to do. This mission was strictly one for the medical teams.
Trip considered his options as he grabbed a quick shower. When it came down to it, there wasn't a lot he could do. He'd managed to catch Malcolm off duty two or three times; each time his attempt to talk had been firmly shut down. Until Malcolm was ready to hear him out, he would just have to wait. He couldn't let it get to him. Refusing to lose the good mood he'd woken with, he put all thoughts of Reed, personal relationships, and explanations aside. He dressed quickly and headed to the mess hall for some breakfast.
He was enjoying his juice and pancakes when a familiar voice said, "May I join you, Commander?"
He looked up at Lieutenant Reed, surprised. "Sure," he said quickly. "Have a seat."
"Thanks." Reed sat, setting his plate of scrambled eggs and his mug of tea on the table. "How are the repairs to the port nacelle going?" he asked offhandedly.
"Good," replied Tucker. He wasn't sure where this was going, but he was happy for any communication with the lieutenant at this point. "Everything's fixed up. We've just got some fine tuning to do. I figure most of today'll be running diagnostics and finding every last little thing that might need tweaking back into place."
"Glad to hear it."
There was a pause during which the two men ate their breakfasts. After several minutes, Tucker couldn't stand the silence any more and asked, "How are things in the Armory? I know you got all three phase cannons on-line finally. Everything okay with them?"
"Fine, thanks. Of course, we won't know absolutely until we've had a chance to test them physically. But the diagnostics and the simulations all look good."
"Good Good." Tucker returned his attention to his meal. There was more he wanted to say, but it wasn't entirely up to him. All he could do was be patient and respect the Tactical Officer's wishes.
"I was wondering," Reed began, "if you're free this evening. There are some matters I'd like to discuss, if you have the time."
Tucker was immediately on the alert. "Sure. What time?"
"Are you free at 2130 hours?"
"Yeah." He assumed he was. If there was anything on his schedule, he'd change it. "Where?"
"Why not here?" suggested Reed with false casualness. No one observing them would have had any idea of the actual subject of their exchange.
"Sounds good to me." Tucker restrained himself from any further comment. He'd been presented with a time and a place to talk. He could wait a few more hours.
It was late when the landing party returned to the ship. Archer and T'Pol both headed to the bridge. Sato and Cutler were in sickbay helping Doctor Phlox unload all the samples they'd collected from the Menk.
"I think that's all of them," said Cutler wearily. She'd had an exciting and tiring day, which had left her with much to think about. "I'm going to turn in unless you need anything more?" She looked at the Denobulan questioningly.
"That's fine, thank you," he replied. "I appreciate the help you've both given me today. Good night."
"Good night, Doctor," Sato said.
"Good night," echoed Cutler.
The two women strolled out of sickbay and headed for the crew quarters. "I think I'm going to stop at the mess hall for a late-night snack," Cutler decided suddenly. She wasn't quite ready to sleep and hoped a mug of hot chocolate might relax her a little. "You want to come?"
"No, thanks," Sato replied. "I'm beat. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay. Good night."
Liz made her way to the mess hall, lost in thought. Things Phlox had said while they were on Valakis were gnawing at her. His casual acceptance of the relationship between the Valakians and the Menk disturbed her even more than did his revelation about his three wives. He'd asked her then if she was ready for a relationship with someone so culturally different from herself. It was a fair question. In some ways she felt she'd evaded it. In others, she believed her answer was perfectly fair. "Let's just see where it goes," she'd told him.
The mess hall was mostly deserted at that hour. She noticed Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker at a table in the far corner, talking quietly. She collected an empty mug and placed it under the drinks dispenser. "Hot chocolate." As she waited for the mug to fill, the mess hall door opened.
Liz glanced up. "Travis," she said.
"Hey," he replied. "I heard you were back."
"Yeah, just a few minutes ago."
"How was it?"
"Great! Fascinating. Educational. It felt good to get some fresh air," she finished lamely.
"Good," he said, nodding.
They stood there looking at one another, both awkward and uncomfortable, neither sure how to continue. Finally Travis pointed to the filled mug sitting under the drinks dispenser's tap. "You going to drink that?"
"Huh? Oh. Right." Liz picked up the mug, took a sip. She sighed happily at the rich chocolatey taste.
"So," Travis began again. "How was it working with Doctor Phlox?"
Liz regarded him through eyes turned suddenly wary. "Fine," she answered. "He's very skilled."
"What does that mean?" the generally good-natured helmsman asked bitterly.
"Nothing, Travis. Look. Before we both get upset again, maybe we should try talking about this rationally."
Travis took a deep breath and let it out resignedly. "Okay. Let's talk." They chose a nearby table and sat down.
Across the room, another discussion was taking place.
"I'm not sure what else you want me to say," Trip said.
"I'm not entirely certain, myself," admitted Malcolm. "There's a part of me that's saying it isn't important. Your past relationships are your business. I think what's bothering me is that this Natalie wasn't a past relationship when I asked you out and you said yes."
Trip looked down at his drink, trying to decide how to respond. He hadn't thought of anything before now to explain his actions; he didn't know what made him think he would have some sort of flash of inspiration at this point.
"My question is—" continued Malcolm, "—and I know you're under no obligation to answer this—but, I wonder how seriously could you have taken that relationship to respond as you did to me?" Malcolm looked at the engineer, caught his eyes, forced him to face him. "If that was how you treated her " He didn't continue—didn't want to continue.
Trip thought carefully before answering. "I thought I loved Natalie," he said finally. "I still think I might have. But I also think there's a part of me that knew it was over, even before I got that letter from her. When I was posted to Enterprise, she said she was happy for me. Maybe she really was. But there was something about the way she acted I don't know." He took a swallow of his drink, considering. "I was so excited, I couldn't see it then. And maybe I'm just imagining it now. Trying to convince myself that there were signs I missed so I can explain what I did. I don't know," he said again.
Malcolm regarded him across the table, sipped thoughtfully at his mug of tea. "Are you all right?" he asked gently.
It wasn't what Trip expected him to say. "Huh?" he said and immediately regretted his lack of eloquence.
"I'm asking as your friend now, not just as someone with an interest in future developments." Malcolm gave him a wry but sympathetic smile, which the engineer returned with a shyness that made Malcolm's heart practically melt. He fought the urge to reach out physically to him, to comfort him in some way. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah," Trip said finally. "It was tough. But it's getting easier." He hesitated, uncertain if he was once again making a big mistake. For crying out loud, Trip, he thought. If not now, when? With this thought to buoy him, he asked, "Do you think we could try again? Sort of start over?"
Malcolm considered very carefully before answering. "What do you propose we start?" he asked.
"Let me put it this way." The engineer held out a hand across the table. Uncertain, but willing to play along, Malcolm took it. "Hi. I'm Trip. I was wondering if you'd like to go out with me sometime."
A small smile curled the corner of Malcolm's mouth. "Pleased to meet you, Trip. I'd like that."
End Log 14
As of 1 Sept 06: