They only spent a few days orbiting Valakis. Everyone assumed Phlox hadn't been able to help them, and so Enterprise was moving on. Still, thought Cormack, he's a doctor, not a miracle worker. She knew from Liz that he'd found a medication to help ease the Valakians' symptoms. Really, what more could he have done?
It was another quiet morning on Enterprise. They'd dropped out of warp unexpectedly a couple of hours ago. Unfortunately, it was nothing that was going to make her day any more interesting. She was dead curious about the shipwrecked vessel in the gas giant's atmosphere, but knew she wasn't about to see anything of it first hand.
She'd hoped they might find somewhere to test the phase-cannons today. She knew Lieutenant Reed was planning to ask the Captain about it. Maybe they'd get lucky and find an asteroid field near by to play in. For now, though, time was dragging and Cormack was bored. Routine maintenance was necessary, but that didn't make it interesting. It was her turn to do inventory and maintenance on the ships' stores of hand weapons; she and her team had been at it all morning.
Stephanie was glad for the distraction of lunch when it rolled around. She picked up a spinach salad and a glass of lemonade and found a spot to sit near the mess hall door. She really preferred the tables by the windows, but so did everyone else. You had to come earlier than she had in order to get one.
She spotted Lieutenant Reed and waved him over. "Lieutenant," she said. "Care to join me?"
"Thanks," he replied, sitting.
He seemed tired to Cormack. "You look kind of beat. Were you working late last night?"
"Not particularly. I am a bit tired today, though. I don't think I slept very well." Listlessly, he took a bite of his soup and put the spoon back down again.
"Not hungry?" she asked.
"Not really, no. I'm not feeling too well to be honest. It's probably nothing."
"Maybe you should see Doctor Phlox," she suggested, washing down a bite of salad with her lemonade.
"I don't want to bother him. He's been working hard the last several of days."
"But he's done with that now. I bet he'd be glad for something routine."
"If you're sick, you should go see him," Cormack said practically. "This ship's a closed system, after all. If you've caught some sort of bug, there's a damn good chance everyone else will too, and then where will we be?"
"I really don't think it's anything like that," Reed insisted. "After all, where could I have picked it up? It's probably just some allergy acting up. I've certainly got enough of them Although where I'd have encountered tropical grasses lately is beyond me," he added ironically. He sneezed suddenly.
"Gezundheit," said Cormack and handed him a napkin. "I don't have any tissue," she added with a shrug.
She regarded him closely. "You really don't look so great," she said at last.
"Thanks so much," the lieutenant replied acerbically.
"And you're unusually grumpy. Huh. I'm kind of glad now I've been out of the Armory all morning."
He looked at her, a scathing retort on the tip of his tongue. But before he could get it out, he sneezed again. He blew his nose and then heaved an exasperated sigh. "A cold. Wouldn't that be just perfect? I'm supposed to be going on an away mission shortly."
"That shipwreck we found?" Cormack asked. He nodded. "You sure you're going to be okay for that? I mean " She let the sentence hang in the air, unfinished. When Reed didn't respond with anything more than another caustic look, she tried another tactic. "You remember when you ordered me to sickbay after that incident in the jefferies tube?" Reed nodded again, sniffing. "And remember how I didn't want to go, but it turned out you were right—I was injured?"
"I get your point, Ensign. There's no need to continue. I'll see him now. If you'll excuse me?" He stood.
"Of course," she said. "Go. Feel better."
The injection Phlox had given him was working wonders. Reed still felt sub-par, but at least now he could breathe. Not well, but at this point he was happy with at all. He was headed for the launch bay to get suited up for the away mission when Cormack caught up with him. She was carrying a silver case slung over her shoulder, and he had a good guess as to what it contained.
"Lieutenant," she said as they walked along the corridor toward the launch bay. "How are you?"
"Better, thanks," he replied.
"Good. I just wanted to let you know the weapons inventory is done. And I have the phase pistols you requested for the mission." She indicated the case she carried.
"Thank you." He stopped. "I'll take them from here."
Reluctantly, Cormack stopped walking and handed over the case. "Are you sure you're up to this mission?" she asked finally. "I know I’m out of line, but you don't know what you'll be walking into over there."
Reed looked at her kindly. "I appreciate your concern, but I'll be fine. I don't expect to be down there long. That ship, whomever it belongs to, is sinking. We're not going to be able spend much time on it before we'll be forced to leave or be crushed by the atmospheric pressure."
"Oh, well, that's reassuring," Cormack replied dryly.
Reed gave her one of his patented half-smiles. "See you in an hour or two."
Cormack nodded, dissatisfied but knowing there was nothing more to be done. "See you."
Tucker wasn't overly concerned, although it had made him a bit nervous when they'd discovered the shipwreck was a Klingon vessel. The comm connection with the boarding party was iffy, but it was hanging in there. As long as they had some sort of contact with them, he felt okay. Then the comms went completely off-line.
"Can you get them back?" asked Archer.
"I can try." Tucker hurried to the communications station and tried to reconnect. He thought he could hear T'Pol say something more, but it was lost in noise. "Damn static!" he cursed, unknowingly echoing Reed's comment down on the Klingon ship. "I think they may have dropped out of comm range," he added more helpfully, examining the panels.
"Take us in closer, Travis," the Captain said to the helmsman.
"Aye, sir," Mayweather replied.
Archer looked back to Tucker. "Let me know when we're within range."
There were several moments of silence as Tucker continued working on the comms. Finally, he leaned on the console saying, "Try it now."
"Archer to T'Pol," the Captain began, sitting up a little straighter in his chair. "What's your status?" When there was no response, he gave the engineer another inquiring glance.
Tucker returned it with a small half shrug and a concerned look. "They're back in comm range," was all he could offer. He'd done all he could with the equipment at their end.
Then the unexpected occurred. The shuttlepod appeared on the screen heading into deep space. When it didn't respond to hails, Tucker tried locking onto the pod's comm frequency. "I'm picking up something," he said, punching up the connection. An unfamiliar female voice came through the speakers.
"That sounds like Klingon," Archer commented, approaching the comm station.
Tucker looked at the console uncertainly. He was brushing up on all sorts of rusty skills today. "I'll try and tie in the UT." He let muscle memory guide him as he hit a number of switches. The UT kicked in and he felt a brief moment of satisfaction, which was rapidly replaced with anxiety when they discovered what the woman was saying.
"We've been attacked by an unknown ship—designation Enterprise NX-01. Any warships in range, respond."
"Set a pursuit course," said the Captain as he returned to his chair.
"Aye, sir," replied Mayweather, laying in the course.
Archer looked over at Tucker once again. "Bring the grappler on-line."
The engineer gave a quick nod and headed back to the tactical station. As he crossed the bridge once again, the random thought ran through his mind that they really should have ordered the Beta-shift bridge crew to report. Somehow that little detail had been missed. He put the thought aside and brought the grappler on-line. "Target acquired."
"Reel her in, Commander."
Tucker fired the grappler and was gratified when both lines made contact. "We've got it."
Archer hit the comm on his chair. "Bridge to Security. Send a team to Launch Bay One. Trip," he nodded to the engineer to follow him as he headed for the lift. "The bridge is yours, Travis." The two officers stepped into the lift and the door shut behind them.
"Captain, you're breaking up," Sato said urgently. Any reply was lost in static. "Captain?" she tried one last time with no success. "So much for the cavalry." She closed the communicator and put it away.
Archer had tried to bring the ship down to them, but Enterprise had been unable to withstand the atmospheric pressure at this depth. Sato wondered just how much longer the Klingon vessel was going to hold up as the ship creaked under the increasing strain on its structural integrity.
"We should continue working to bring the engines back on-line," said T'Pol.
"Right," agreed Reed. "The question is, where do we start? We know the pressure failed in the fusion manifold. Anyone care to take a guess as to where we might find it?"
There was silence punctuated only by the continued creaking of the ship's hull. It was Sato who spoke first. "Maybe we can find a log entry."
"To what end?" asked T'Pol, beating Reed to the question by a split second.
"There might be a record of the repairs they were doing when the neurotoxin hit them."
"You assume they were doing repairs."
"If we don't start somewhere " Sato offered.
"I suppose it is as logical a place to begin as anywhere," T'Pol said.
Reed wiped a sleeve across his forehead. "Is it just me, or is it getting hotter in here?" he asked.
T'Pol pulled out a scanner and checked the environment. "The temperature has increased by eleven degrees since our arrival," she confirmed.
"Good." At her inquisitive look, he added, "That means it's not just me. I'm getting out of this EV suit." He began to remove the heavy outer layer. "It'll be easier to work without it, too."
"Agreed." She and Sato followed his lead, stripping down to the gray EV undersuits.
They collected the shed gear and put it with the helmets and other paraphernalia they'd removed earlier.
"I'll see what I can do at the helm station while you two look for anything that'll tell us where else to look," said Reed.
It didn't take him long to determine there was nothing he could do. The alien technology was just too different. While he had a strong working knowledge of Enterprise's engines and guidance systems, he was lost in the Klingon systems.
The confrontation in Enterprise's launch bay didn't last long, and when it was over they had one very pissed off Klingon in sickbay. Trip knew he didn't have the cleanest vocabulary, but the Klingon woman was putting him to shame with her ingenious and lengthy epithets. On one level, he had to admire her creativity. On another level, he was almost sorry he'd managed to get the Universal Translator working; his ears were beginning to feel as if they needed cleaning.
They'd finally gotten the woman to shut up long enough to learn a few facts. Her name was Bu'kaH, the ship was called Somraw, and they'd made an enemy of the Klingon Empire again. Trip shook his head at the alien woman's stubborn attitude. He had to fight back a laugh when Archer, finally giving up trying to reason with Bu'kaH, muttered, "Remind me to stop trying to help people," as he passed him on his way out of sickbay.
Trip was about to follow when Doctor Phlox stopped him.
"One moment, Commander," the Denobulan said.
"What is it, Doc?"
"Have you been able to re-establish contact with the boarding party?"
Trip's face darkened in frustration for just a brief moment as he thought about the recent failed attempt to retrieve the team. "Not yet," he admitted unhappily. "We had them for a little while when we tried to take Enterprise in to get them. But the hull pressure was too high, and we had to ascend out of comm range again." He wished he knew just what that Klingon ship was made of that it was holding up under the pressure the gas giant was putting on it. Even with their hull plating at maximum, Enterprise had been forced to abort their rescue attempt—the stress on the hull was just too great.
Trip's feeling of urgency reasserted itself. Without more information, they had no definite way to determine how long the alien vessel would last. They had to find a way to get the team out of that gas giant—and fast. He wondered how quickly he could escape the conversation with the habitually chatty doctor.
Unaware of Trip's inner dilemma, Phlox was still talking. "Can you please notify me when you do? I'd like a chance to check on Lieutenant Reed's condition."
"His condition?" Trip looked at the doctor quizzically.
"He's suffering from a cold. Just the normal human variety, fortunately, but I can only estimate how long the injection I gave him will last."
"Wait a minute. Are you telling me he went down there when he's sick?"
"I tried to dissuade him, but he was adamant that the Captain needed him on this mission."
"Great," the engineer said sarcastically. Trip didn't know who he was more annoyed with—Malcolm for being stubborn enough to go or the doctor for letting him do so. It didn't matter that he'd have done the same thing had he been in Reed's position. That wasn't the point, in his opinion. He buried his annoyance as best he could. Getting angry with Phlox wasn't going to do anybody any good, and he had more pressing matters to deal with. "I'll let you know when we get ahold of them," he promised.
"Thank you, Commander."
Cormack was on the bridge when the Archer and Tucker returned from sickbay. Mayweather delivered the status report, for what it was worth. "I think they've sunk another 900 meters," the helmsman said. "But I'm having a hard time keeping any kind of lock on them. Much farther and the interference is going to make our sensors completely useless."
"What have you found out about that ship?" the Captain wanted to know.
"Not a whole lot." Mayweather transferred the research he'd been doing to the conference area behind the main bridge.
Archer looked over at Cormack at the tactical station. "Ensign," he said. "Take the helm."
"Aye, sir." She relieved Mayweather at the helm.
"Travis, take us through what you've learned."
The three men gathered at the back of the room and Mayweather gave them what little information he'd managed to get about the Klingon vessel from the Vulcan database. In his opinion, although he didn't voice it, their odds of rescuing the boarding party were particularly grim. But then Commander Tucker spoke up.
"What if we use duratanium braces to reinforce a shuttlepod? It won't look pretty, but it might hold up long enough for us to get our people out."
"Our only other option is for T'Pol and Malcolm to fix a broken-down Klingon ship and fly it out themselves," put in Mayweather.
Archer considered his options. It didn't take long. "I don't think we're going to get any help from our guest in sickbay," he said. Mayweather and Tucker exchanged a glance of agreement. The captain looked at the engineer. "Get started on those braces." Tucker nodded and turned to go. To Mayweather, Archer said, "Keep an eye out for any Klingon ships coming this way."
Mayweather was just reclaiming the helm from Cormack as the lift doors shut behind the Chief Engineer. Finding himself alone for the first time all afternoon, Trip took a moment to really think about what was happening. He'd been burying his emotions ever since the Klingon woman had stolen the shuttlepod, stranding the boarding party on her ship. He was concerned about the whole team, of course, but it was worry over Malcolm that was driving him. He only hoped his solution would work. Wouldn't that be just my luck, he thought bitterly. Does it count as a failed relationship if the other person dies before you even get the chance to kiss? Abruptly, he shook his head in self-disgust. Damn it, Trip! he snapped at himself. Get off the self-pity kick and keep your mind on the job at hand. Getting all maudlin and self-indulgent isn't going to help anyone.
He emerged on D-deck and hurried to Main Engineering. The first person he spotted was Ensign Lawless. "Mae," he called out as he gathered up the tools he'd need.
She looked up from where she was working, took in his stony expression with some trepidation. "Sir?"
"I need your help. Get a couple of the guys and collect some duratanium beams from stores and bring them to Launch Bay One."
"How many?" she asked hurrying to keep up with him as he grabbed a variety of tools and a pair of welding helmets.
"As many as the three of you can carry. And make it fast!" he added as he rushed out again.
"Yes, sir!" she called after his retreating form. She gave a quick glance around. "Billy, Eddie." The two men glanced over to her. "Come with me."
"The one time we need the Chief Engineer," Reed said tiredly, "is the one time we leave him behind."
"Take a look at this," said Sato suddenly. She was standing by a console near what they figured must be the captain's station. Reed and T'Pol joined her and she played back the recording. It was the Klingon captain's last log entry.
"Sounds like we need to find the port fusion injector," said Reed when the recording ended. He glanced at the women hoping one of them had a clue to its location.
Sato spoke up. "Wait, I think I saw that somewhere." She moved to another panel and called up a schematic of the ship. "Here. One deck below us. It's in the reactor pit."
"Reactor pit? Could that be Engineering?"
"Could be," the ensign confirmed.
"Then let's go."
They gathered their equipment and moved cautiously through the ship. Reed was ready this time should they encounter another Klingon as lively as the one who'd jumped him and stolen their shuttlepod. Fortunately, everyone they came across was as unconscious as the bridge crew. They found the reactor pit and located the port fusion injector control. T'Pol and Reed had to remove an unconscious Klingon from the console before setting up shop and getting to work.
Reed did the best he could in the adverse conditions. The temperature was continuing to rise and he could feel the effects of the injection he received before leaving Enterprise beginning to wear off. Still, there was nothing for it but to keep going. Scanner in one hand and spanner in the other, he crouched next to the console and made another adjustment to the alien system. Suddenly, he lost his grip on the spanner. He let it fall and set down the scanner as a wave of dizziness washed over him. He steadied himself against the panel, then stood uncertainly, taking as deep a breath as he could manage. Feeling light-headed, he staggered a step or two before catching his balance against a metal conduit. He immediately regretted it and cried out as the surface of the tube burned his outstretched palm.
Sato hurried over. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," he said through clenched teeth, trying to ignore the searing pain. "I seem to be getting a little light-headed. Yeahhh!" he grunted as his hand suddenly throbbed more vehemently. "Must be the heat." He fought the urge to lean back and use the column for support. That was what had caused him to be injured in the first place.
T'Pol examined him quickly with her Vulcan scanner. "You're dehydrated," she pronounced. "You need some water."
"I saw a galley on the schematics," offered Sato. "Deck four, blue sector. I'll see what I can find." Traipsing alone through an alien ship full of potentially deadly Klingons wasn't on the top of her to-do list, but she steeled herself for it. The lieutenant needed water; she could handle it. Nevertheless, she was relieved when T'Pol spoke up.
"You shouldn't go alone." The Vulcan moved to join her
"Watch yourselves," said Reed as they moved off. He shook his injured hand, willing the pain to go away. It didn't really help, but he tried to pretend it did. Otherwise, he couldn't get on with his work.
He sat next to the console he'd been working on and took a brief moment simply to be still. He really was having a rotten day. He wished, not for the first time, that Trip was with them on this mission. Not that he wanted the engineer stranded on a sinking ship. It was just that he would have given almost anything at that moment to have Tucker there. For his technical expertise, of course, he told himself. It wasn't the whole truth, but if he let his mind wander too far, he'd never get the injector fixed. Still, he couldn't help thinking how nice it would be to just relax into Trip's strong arms for even a brief moment.
"No," he said aloud. "You don't have time for this. Get back to work."
Trip was beyond frustrated and well on his way to pissed off. He was stuck here on Enterprise instead of over on the Klingon vessel. If the engines were damaged, he was the logical choice to be over there working on them. In all fairness, they hadn't known when the away team left that the engines were damaged. Hell, we didn't even know the ship was Klingon. He found neither thought helpful. It was bad enough that for no reason he could understand, Archer had decided to send T'Pol on the mission instead of him, but it also meant Malcolm was over there without him.
He wished he could have gone in the Tactical Officer's place, would have insisted on it if he'd known at the time what he knew now. Ordinarily he wouldn't have been quite so anxious. He believed Malcolm could handle whatever the Klingons might throw at him under normal conditions—and if Bu'kaH was any indication, they had a lot to throw—but Malcolm was sick. Drawing on his own limited experience with Klingons and what he'd heard of Archer's visit to the Klingon homeworld, Trip was willing to bet the environmental conditions on their ship were only going to make him feel worse.
Now he was doing the only thing he could: work on a way to get Malcolm and the others back. The duratanium reinforcing for the shuttlepod wasn't a perfect solution, but it was the best he could come up with. Time was growing short and the Klingon ship was only going to sink deeper. He wished he could just talk to them, make sure everyone was okay. The only way to do that is to get this shuttlepod geared up to go, he reminded himself, refocusing on the task at hand.
Archer had left a short time ago to start some much-needed research on the Klingons. Trip hoped he'd be more successful on that front than he'd been with Bu'kaH. Her arrogance had astonished him. Still, he thought, there must be something to her threats. The Klingon Empire couldn't have lasted as long as they have without the firepower to back them up. It wasn't a comforting thought, and he redoubled his efforts on the reinforcing beams.
A few minutes later it was done. Tests were showing the shuttlepod's hull would withstand the pressure within the gas giant up to ten kilometers below Somraw's last known position. If they continued to sink at the same rate, they should still be well within the new tolerances. He wanted to run one more structural integrity test before launching the pod, but first he needed to talk to the Captain. He'd tried once already to convince Archer to let him take the pod down to collect the team. So far, he'd had no luck. He planned his newest attack as he made his way to the captain's ready room. Not yet ready to admit his deepest motive for wanting to get down there himself, he hoped he could make the same arguments sound more convincing this time.
He reached the door and rang the chime.
"Come in," Archer called from inside.
Tucker entered and waited for the door to close behind him before he spoke. "The shuttlepod's just about ready to go," he began.
"Good," said Archer, glancing up from his computer.
The engineer decided to dive right in. "Are you sure you don't want me to pilot it? I know you said you were going to do it but—"
"Trip," said Archer in a tone Tucker recognized too well. "We've already discussed this."
"I know, " he agreed. Still, he had to give it one last try. "But it's bad enough we've got three bridge officers down there. I just don't think it's a good idea to put Enterprise's Captain at risk, too."
"You think she'll be better off risking her Chief Engineer?"
"I have a better chance of being able to get their engines going again. We might be able to fly that ship out of there under her own power."
"That's no longer an option. They've sunk too far. We're running out of time." He turned back to his computer, ending the argument once and for all.
Tucker didn't like it, but he nodded. He just wasn't prepared to tell the Captain the whole truth. He tried to justify his cowardice in the matter to himself by deciding that telling Archer wouldn't have done any good anyway. "Okay." Shaking off his frustration, he pasted on his normal pleasant smile and handed over the datapad he carried. "I'd like to run one more structural diagnostic before you launch."
Archer's response took the engineer completely off guard. "Q'apla."
"Beg your pardon?" he asked with a slightly baffled look.
"'Success'," replied the Captain. "I decided to take your advice about thinking like a Klingon. The Vulcan database has about 900 pages on them."
Tucker leaned in across the desk to get a better look at the computer screen. "Learn anything?"
"Plenty. They're driven by a warrior mentality. They tend to view anyone they meet as a potential enemy."
"That may explain why our guest is so irritable."
"They also have a strong sense of duty. Uh " Archer quickly scanned down the screen until he found what he was looking for. "Heh CHo' mruak tah. 'Death before dishonor.'" He stopped suddenly as an idea struck to him. He quickly handed the datapad back to Tucker and stood. "Finish up that diagnostic. I'll be in sickbay."
"Going to put your homework to use?"
"Something like that," replied Archer as he stepped out the door. Tucker followed him out and across the bridge to the lift. A quick descent later they parted ways on E-deck, Archer heading for sickbay and Tucker for the launch bay.
Whatever the captain had said to Bu'kaH, it seemed to have worked. Tucker sat in the captain's chair and watched the newly reinforced shuttlepod descend into the gas giant.
"Sir," said Cormack from Tactical. "I'm reading fluctuations in the planet's atmosphere."
"What kind of fluctuations?" Tucker demanded. They were too close to lose the away team now. Add Captain Archer into the equation, and he silently cursed himself for not fighting harder to take the pod in himself. Maybe if I'd told him he thought, but pushed the thought away. There'd be time for self-recrimination later.
"The shockwave patterns look like they were caused by weapons discharges," Cormack replied, puzzled. "Some sort of torpedo, I'd guess."
"Weapons?" Tucker was immediately on his feet and at her side. "That's got to be Malcolm."
"Yes, sir," the ensign agreed. A thought struck her and she looked up at the engineer. "Maybe they're trying to use the shockwaves to push them into a higher orbit?"
"Maybe. They'll be lucky if they don't blow themselves to bits in the process, though." He moved quickly over to the comm station. "Damn! I can't raise the shuttlepod. Those explosions are just making the interference worse. Travis, do you still have a fix on their coordinates?"
"Yes, sir," the helmsman answered. "They're still descending."
"I'm reading another explosion!" said Cormack. "A lot bigger this time, and a lot closer."
"I'm picking up something on the sensors," added Mayweather. "Coming up fast near the shuttlepod."
Tucker hurried back to stand behind the young man. "Can you identify it?"
There was the barest of pauses as Mayweather scanned the anomaly. "There's a lot of debris. I'm not sure Hang on It's the Klingon ship!" He continued to study the scanners closely. "It looks like the pod is docking with it," he said finally.
Tucker sat once more, allowing himself a split second to relax the tiniest bit. His tension returned ten-fold at the helmsman's next announcement.
"Sir, there are two ships approaching at high warp. I think they're Klingon."
"How long 'til they get here?"
"Sixteen minutes." The comm beeped then. "We're being hailed. It's the Captain!" announced Mayweather, relief clear in his voice.
Trip practically bounded from his seat to stand behind him once again. "On screen," he ordered. The image that appeared was enough to make his heart leap. There were Jon, T'Pol, Hoshi, and Malcolm all standing around the seated Klingon woman on the bridge of the scout ship. The original away team looked worse for wear, but all appeared to be in one piece.
"This is Klingon Raptor Somraw, hailing Enterprise," said Archer formally. "Request permission to disembark four passengers."
Tucker let out a relieved sigh as he exchanged glances with Mayweather. The engineer couldn't help but chuckle a little as he said, "Well, I don't see why not." The connection terminated, and he returned to his seat. "Ensign Cormack," he said looking over to her at Tactical. "You can return to your post. I think we've got everything under control for the moment. We should be well on our way before those other Klingon ships get here."
"Yes, sir," she said, rising. "Permission to stop by the landing bay on my way?"
He looked at her uncertainly. She simply raised an eyebrow. It suddenly occurred to him what she meant by her request. He'd known she and Malcolm were friends; he hadn't realized until then that she was aware of his own personal connection to the Armory Officer. "Granted," he said with the smallest nod of thanks.
Archer cleared the bio-scan quickly. The others, however, were detained in DeCon for over an hour. Not that any of them minded. They actually managed to finagle an extra thirty minutes by convincing Doctor Phlox to run all his tests a second time. Reed was especially happy for the time to simply relax and let the chamber do its job. It couldn't cure his cold—viruses were outside the purview of the system—but it certainly made him feel better.
When the trio finally emerged, he was feeling almost normal again. He knew it wouldn't last, but he relished the moment. They dressed and emerged from the chamber.
Phlox was waiting for them. "You're all off duty until tomorrow," announced the Denobulan, "except you, Lieutenant." He looked at Reed.
"Sorry?" said Malcolm, thoroughly confused.
"You are off duty until I say otherwise. And you're confined to quarters for the duration of your cold. It's a stop-gap measure, certainly, but I want you isolated until I'm certain you haven't infected anyone else."
"But—" the Tactical Officer tried to protest.
"No arguments this time. There's no shipwreck, no alien vessels are attacking. In fact, there's nothing going on that can't go on without you for a day or two. I'll assign a crewman to bring you your meals, and I've already arranged for a security guard to escort you to your cabin—just to make sure you go directly there. I'm sure you understand." He tapped the comm panel and spoke into it. "Ensign?"
The doors opened and Cormack stepped into the room. She moved aside to allow Sato and T'Pol to exit. She caught the amused look on Sato's face as the ensign passed her, and had to fight to keep her own expression neutral.
"If you'll come with me, Lieutenant?" Cormack said. Without a word, Reed followed her out the door. "This wasn't my idea," Stephanie said quietly.
"I didn't think it was," Malcolm replied.
She wasn't sure she believed him. "I was just handy, I think," she continued, feeling some explanation was necessary. "I came to check on you all, and the doctor asked me to do him a favor. I kind of figured I owed him, considering all the crap I've given him when I've been a patient."
"It's all right," Malclom assured her. "Honestly, for once I don't mind being forced to take a little time off. Usually it drives me crazy not having anything to do. But just now, all I want to do is sleep for the next week."
"Well, I doubt you'll be off the hook for that long," said Stephanie with a smile.
"No," Malcolm agreed. "And that's probably for the best." He sniffed then, his sinuses once again beginning to clog up. "So much for that," he said with a tired sigh.
"Commander Tucker was worried about you," Stephanie said out of the blue. "I let him know you were okay, just stuck in DeCon for a while."
He wasn't sure what to say. "I Thanks," he managed at last.
"How did he take it? You knowing about us, I mean?"
"I think he was a little surprised," she had to admit. "But I think he was also sort of glad. You know how you feel when you share a heavy secret? How all of a sudden it seems a little easier to handle?"
Malcolm nodded. "I know exactly what you mean."
"I think maybe it was like that."
"Good," he said quietly. They arrived at his cabin, and he keyed in the unlock code. "Thanks for walking me home," he joked.
"Any time," said Stephanie. She gave a small chuckle that unexpectedly turned into a cough. Malcolm looked at her suggestively, and her eyes widened. "No. Absolutely not."
"That's how mine started."
"You're making that up to freak me out," she accused desperately.
He shook his head. "I'm afraid not."
"Well well shit!" she swore vehemently and coughed again—harder this time. She sneezed suddenly.
"Hang on." Malcolm stepped into his quarters and emerged a second later with a handful of tissues. "That should be enough to get you back to sickbay," he said, handing them to her.
"Thanks so much," she snarled.
Twenty minutes later, Reed was ready for bed. He was just about to climb under the covers when he heard the door chime.
"That must have been the shortest quarantine in history," he muttered. He moved tiredly to the door and called out, "Who is it?"
"Doctor Phlox," came the reply.
Reed opened the door and leaned on the frame. "What can I do for you, doctor? You can see I'm following your orders, if that's what you're wondering."
"Not quite. I have something for you." Phlox stepped to one side revealing a miserable looking Ensign Cormack. She held a small case in one hand and a pillow in the other.
"I'm really sorry, Lieutenant," she said, sniffing. "It was Doctor Phlox's idea."
Reed looked from her to Doctor Phlox and back again. "I'm confused," he said at last.
"Your confinement is no longer solitary," the doctor said. "In you go, Ensign." He gestured Cormack into the cabin. Reluctantly, she entered and stood just inside and to one side of the door. She couldn't meet Reed's quizzical gaze. Phlox continued. "You've got the same cold, and leaving her in her own cabin would have meant relocating her roommate. It seemed simplest to quarter her here with you."
"But—" Reed tried to protest.
"Ah, ah," the doctor interrupted. "None of that. It will be less work for the ship's internal air filters if you're both in the same place. And you'll both have someone to keep you company." He handed a small stack of blankets to the lieutenant who took them out of reflex. "Get some sleep. I'll be by to check on you both tomorrow morning. Good night." He turned and left, the door sliding shut at his departure.
There was a silence in which Reed continued to stare at the closed door. Eventually, his glance shifted and he looked at Cormack.
"I'm really sorry," she said wretchedly. "I feel bad enough just from the cold. I tried to tell him I'd be better off in my own quarters. Liz wouldn't have minded for just a couple of days, but " She trailed off, not really knowing what to say.
"It's all right, Stephanie," he said. "The lav's there." He pointed to the small door at one end of the room. "Why don't you give me the pillow and go get ready for bed?"
Stephanie just nodded and went into the little room. When she emerged again, she was wearing her long, red-plaid pajama bottoms and a white tank top with a red maple leaf and the slogan "Canadian Girls Kick Ass" on it. She set her boots on the floor under the desk and placed her folded uniform on top of the boots.
Malcolm looked up from where he was spreading the extra blankets on the floor, caught sight of the shirt and had to chuckle. Stephanie glanced down at it and gave a slightly embarrassed shrug. "It's from when I was in a band," she said.
"You were in a band? Didn't you once say you wouldn't be caught dead in front of an audience?"
"That's acting. A band is different. Can I give you a hand?" she asked, pointing to his task.
He shook his head. "No. I've got it. What kind of band was it?"
She sat in the desk chair, grabbed a tissue to stifle a sneeze. "You're going to laugh."
"I won't, I promise. I don't have the energy."
"It was kind of Wiccan Punk." Despite his claim, Malcolm had to stifle a choking laugh. "Aw. You promised!" groaned Stephanie, not really mad but needing to tease. "We called ourselves Daughters of Lear. It was just me and a couple of girlfriends. They go by Cordelia's Sisters now. They changed the name when I left for Starfleet training and they decided to keep playing music."
"You were Cordelia?" he asked, making an accurate guess from the band's name change.
"Hard to believe, I know," she answered wryly. "Noel's stage name is Goneril and Lynn's is Regan. They're really good. They got a contract with a big label last year."
"Good for them." He sat back on his heels, his job complete.
"Thanks," said Stephanie, looking at her "bed" for the night. "Just don't step on me in the dark, okay?"
"It's not for you. You can take the bunk."
"I can't do that. It's bad enough you've got company you didn't ask for. I can't take your bed, too!"
"Will you please just go to bed? I'm too tired to argue."
"Good. So get in the bunk, I'll take the floor, and we can both get some sleep."
"Ensign—" he began.
"No, Lieutenant," she countered quickly. "You're not pulling rank this time. We're neither of us on duty, so it's not going to work."
"This is going to go on all night, isn't it?" said Malcolm wearily.
"Only if you keep arguing."
"Fine. If you're that adamant, we can share the bunk. It's not huge, but we should both fit." Stephanie stared at him, bewildered. "I'm not letting you sleep on the floor."
"Stephanie. You know I'm not going to try anything. I wouldn't even if I were healthy."
"That's not what I meant," she said hastily. "I just " She sighed. "Okay. Like you said—I'm too tired to fight anymore. Hand me my pillow?" she asked reaching out a hand.
"It's on the bunk. This one's mine." He picked up the one from the makeshift bed on the floor.
"You just weren't going to let me win, were you?"
"What kind of gentleman would I be if I had?" he countered gently.
She looked at him, perplexed. "I'm sure there's a hole in your logic somewhere."
"You can ask T'Pol about it later."
"Yeah," she said sarcastically. "Like that's going to happen." She crawled wearily into the bed, scooted over as far as she could to make room for Malcolm.
"Settled?" he asked.
"Good." He shut off the light and took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim starlight coming through the port. Satisfied he wasn't going to trip over anything, he made his way to the bunk and climbed in. "Good night, Ensign," he said with a slightly joking tone, amused by the absurdity of the juxtaposition of the formal title with the intimate situation.
The irony was lost on the ailing Stephanie. "Night," she mumbled from the depths of her pillow.
Malcolm shut his eyes and was soon asleep.
End Log 15
As of 1 Sept 06: