Log Rhythms
By DNash

*****

Author's Note – This is where my Schroedinger's Cat (I call him Leo.) becomes most apparent. For the first time, I've taken scenes from the episode but changed the actual dialogue. Unfortuante in a way as this was a very well-written ep, in my opinion. But we do what we feel we need to do.

*****

Log 18
(Takes place during Shuttlepod One.)
[Rating – PG]

*****

Enterprise's crew had completed their scans of the F-class star system and continued on their way. Now, they were mapping an asteroid field. There wasn't much for Cormack to do in the circumstances. With Lieutenant Reed off testing the targeting scanners in Shuttlepod One with Commander Tucker, the Armory was more than usually quiet. Not that Cormack was complaining. A little peace and quiet was welcome…occasionally. This peace and quiet had gone on a little long for her liking, though.

There had been some excitement that morning when they picked up a distress call from a badly damaged vessel. Cormack was on the team that had helped the Tesnians on board once their escape pods had managed to dock in Enterprise's landing bay. They hadn't arrived without incident, either. It was bad enough their ship's navigation and helm controls had suddenly failed, causing extensive damage to the starboard door of Launch Bay Two when they attempted to dock. Now that ship was scattered over a square kilometer of one of the larger asteroids.

Still, everything was under control again. Enterprise was hurrying to return the stranded crew to their homeworld, Tesnia. Their projected schedule would bring Enterprise back to the asteroid field days before Reed and Tucker were expected to rendezvous, but Cormack was uneasy about the situation. She didn't like the feeling of having stranded them out there in deep space, even though she knew they'd done nothing of the sort. But she knew from Ensign Sato they'd been unable to reach the pair before altering course, and this was what niggled at her conscience. It bugged her that Malcolm and Trip didn't know the ship was gone, and Hoshi hadn't been able to determine why she couldn't contact them. Unfortunately, they had limited time to get the Boron-breathing Tesnians home and so couldn't investigate the issue.

She tried to content herself with the thought that at least their mission would give the two men some uninterrupted alone time. Meanwhile, all she could do was go about her own life.

Tonight was the night they were finally going to begin Liz's new and oft-delayed role-playing game. The scanning and other work the crew had been doing on the F-class star system had forced the group to postpone their first gaming session. Now however, they were all free for the first night in nearly a month, and they were going to take advantage of it.

Stephanie and Mae had rolled up characters with Liz's guidance earlier in the week. This way they could come in marginally prepared to start the game. According to Liz, Travis and Ethan were planning to play with the characters they'd created for their previous game.

She stopped at Lawless's quarters and rang the chime. The door opened almost immediately. "Hey," said Stephanie at Mae's sudden appearance.

"Hey, yourself," replied her friend. "Come on in. I'm almost ready. What's the datapad for?" she asked, gesturing to it.

Stephanie stepped into the cabin. Aside from the small personal touches, it was identical to her own. "Travis said to be ready to take notes."

"Notes? I have to take notes? Liz said nothing about notes. What, is there a quiz at the end?" She made a show of searching through the datapads on the desk until she found one she felt she could devote to the RPG.

"I don't expect so," replied Stephanie. "From what Travis told me, we'll be lucky if we make it to the end without getting killed off."

"Great." Inside, Mae was grinning. She didn't know all the details of the RPG by any means, but she'd worked with Liz on the basic scenario. It wasn't often she got the chance to plan such an elaborate prank, and she was living it up. "Okay," she said. "Let's go." They left the cabin and made their way quickly to the mess hall.

The others were already there waiting for them. "Glad to see you decided to join us," teased Liz.

The pair decided to ignore the quip and pulled up chairs to the large oval table. There were still a few folks scattered around the other tables, but it was getting late and most people had cleared out.

"Stephanie Cormack, Mae Lawless, this is Ethan Novakovitch," Cutler said, gesturing to the science crewman. Hellos were exchanged as the women sat and made themselves comfortable. "Do you have your character sheets?"

"Yep," answered Cormack promptly.

"Nope," replied Lawless equally promptly.

Cutler gave the engineer a sardonic look. "Remind me why we rolled them up in advance?" She shook her head. "Luckily for you, I keep meticulous notes. Ready?"

Lawless picked up the datapad she'd tossed onto the table and sat ready to input her character's information. "Go ahead."

"Name: Barbarella."

Cormack laughed. "Are you kidding?"

Lawless looked at her defensively. "What? What's wrong with that?"

"Nothing, nothing." She shook her head.

"You wouldn't be making fun if you didn't know where the name comes from. What does that say about you?" Lawless gibed.

"Fair enough."

Cutler gave them both a slightly irritated look. "May I continue?" Receiving silence as her response, she went on. "Strength, five; Intelligence, three; Charisma, seven; Dexterity, seven; Luck, four. Got it?"

"Got it," said Lawless.

"Good. Now, usually the character with the highest charisma leads, but Barbarella and Travis's character Unk both have a seven. However, Unk is carrying experience points so he is your de facto leader."

"Works for me," said Cormack.

Lawless nodded. She was happy to defer to a player with more experience. That way if someone got killed, he could take the blame.

"All right. Here's your scenario," said Cutler, now in full Game Master mode. "You've received a distress call from a passenger carrier. They've been attacked by an unknown foe and forced down onto a small planetoid."

"What kind of ship do we have, and what are the armaments and defenses?" Mayweather wanted to know. He already had his datapad ready to capture the information Cutler provided. Cormack took a cue from him and picked up hers as well.

Cutler quickly briefed them on the ship, its engines, and its defenses and weaponry.

"Hang on," said Cormack. "What are these 'ship's phasers'? Is that like Enterprise's phase cannons?"

"Yes and no." Cutler had done some extra research, knowing her bunkmate was a stickler for detail when it came to her chosen field. She had tried to make the fictional weapons different from the real thing but still believable. "They have the same range as the phase cannons, but can be set for either a stun or kill setting. And they can be fired in bursts of one second up to ten seconds."

"Wicked," Cormack murmured, nodding appreciatively.

Cutler was gratified that her work hadn't gone unnoticed, but didn't let on. She had her GM face on and wasn't about to let any inadvertent expressions give away her secrets.

"I want to know about these engines," put in Lawless. "No ship that small has room for a warp engine."

"No real ship that small," argued Mayweather. "Not real, remember?"

"Yeah, Mae," agreed Cormack. "You're good at suspending your disbelief over those B-movies of yours. Just apply the same principles here."

"All right, all right." Lawless looked over at Cutler. "What's our objective?"

"Simple," said the GM.

"I doubt it," muttered Novakovitch, exchanging a look with Mayweather who chuckled softly.

Cutler chose to ignore them. "You have to rescue the crew and passengers of the downed transport."

"What's the catch?" asked Mayweather.

"You don't know who attacked them. You have no transporter of any kind. Oh, and the life-support systems on the transport are damaged so you're working within a limited time frame," answered Cutler with a serene smile.

"How limited?"

"You don't know."

"Number of people we're looking to rescue?" asked Cormack.

"You don't know."

"Then how do we know they'll all fit on our little-bitty ship?"

"I think we have to assume they will," put in Novakovitch. "Otherwise, we'd stand no chance of achieving our objective."

Cormack nodded. "Good point."

"Before you start, you might do a quick run-down on who's at what station," advised Cutler. "Compare your numbers and see who goes where."

Quickly, the four players compared notes. With her dexterity of ten, Cormack was the logical choice for pilot, while Novakovitch was at tactical. Mayweather was on the comm, leaving Lawless happily running the engines.

"All right," said Cormack. "We've picked up the distress call. Kiki is flying the ship, so I lay in a course based on the direction of their transmission."

"And you make fun of my character's name?" Lawless muttered.

"Am I getting anything on sensors the closer we get to the signal's origin?" asked Novakovitch.

"Depends what you're scanning," was Cutler's cryptic reply.

"Space. We're not close enough for us to pick up the transport crew yet, and if whoever forced them down is still out here I want to see them coming."

"In that case, yes, you're picking up something on your sensors."

"How far away? Are we talking long-range or something closer in?" the science crewman turned tactical officer wanted to know.

"Mid-range."

"How fast are they coming in and can I tell what their weapons are?"

"What're your strength and luck quotients combined?"

Novakovitch checked his notes. "Eight."

"All right." She handed over two six-sided dice. "Roll."

He rolled and totaled up the numbers. "Eight."

"They're coming in at warp one, but you can't tell what their armaments are." In truth, it didn't matter what Novakovitch had rolled; Cutler would have given the same information no matter the total. It was part of the GM mystique to look like she had all sorts of statistics at her fingertips. Besides, she liked to keep her players guessing.

"Just one ship?"

"As far as you can see."

"Good. We still have time to get to the planetoid," put in Cormack. "Can they see us?"

"You don't know, but they haven't picked up speed or changed course."

"I'm trying to hail the downed transport," Mayweather reminded the GM. "Any chance of contacting them now that we're closer?"

"You're picking up more of their hail, but they can't hear you."

"What more are we picking up?"

"Intelligence quotient?"

He glanced at his datapad. "Eight."

Cutler pretended to check her notes once again, handed him three six-sided dice. "Roll." He did, coming up with thirteen. "Crew compliment of two plus three passengers. Earth-origin."

"Well, that's a plus," said Mayweather. "If they're human, we should have whatever we need to help any injured parties."

Cutler fought back a surprised expression. Mayweather had had an annoying habit of getting ahead of her when they'd played previously. He was staying true to form today. Not for the first time, she wondered if it was really wise to game with your significant other…or to date one of your gamers. She pushed the thought aside and focused on the game. Fortunately, she had a good supply of curves to throw him and the rest of the group before this little campaign was done.

Wait until they find out the planetoid is in an asteroid field. Cutler chuckled inside, no sign of her mirth evident in her face or body.

*****

Unbeknownst to the group in the mess hall, Tucker and Reed were presently preparing to leave a real asteroid field—the one Enterprise was supposed to be mapping. With their sensors and comm down, the only way to spot their mother ship was with their eyes, and when they had it had been too much to take in at once. There were the remains of Enterprise scattered over a large asteroid, the 01 of her serial number still clearly visible on a ripped piece of hull.

The lifeboats were nowhere to be seen. There was no sign of life on the asteroid or in the space surrounding it. They were absolutely and irrevocably alone. Slowly, as the reality of their situation sank in, each man turned to old familiar behavior patterns in an attempt to deal with the inexplicable, terrible destruction of Enterprise and her crew.

After a brief shouting match about what they should do—an argument neither could nor did win—they set out in the direction they hoped would eventually bring them to the subspace amplifier Echo Three. Barring accidents or rescue, they'd arrive there in about three weeks—dead.

Reed took some comfort in the belief that at least the mystery would be solved for those left behind on Earth. Starfleet could never recover the rest of the crew, but maybe their families would be able to find closure by learning what had happened to their loved ones. As a result, he was recording a log entry in which he tried to explain what they'd found, the devastation he and Trip had seen.

Trip was working on the shuttlepod's sensor array, the need to keep busy overwhelming everything else. It was as if he could deny reality if he simply kept busy. He truly believed it would have worked, too, had not Malcolm been recording a positively funereal log entry.

Finally, Tucker couldn't take it anymore. "Why don't you cut the crap and get back here and help me?" he snapped.

Reed stopped the log recording and swiveled around to look at Trip. "What would you like me to do?" He found the commander's answer unsurprising and ultimately unhelpful.

"I don't know. You could hold this flashlight or turn down the heat. Whatever you want. I'm just getting a little tired of listening to all your pessimism." It was harsher than he'd meant it to come out, and Reed responded accordingly.

"If there's something you need me to do I will be more than happy to comply, but I'm afraid 'pessimism' is simply not an accurate description of my log entry," he said in clipped tones. Then his voice softened a little and Trip could hear the pain in it. "I'm just being realistic, Commander."

It was clear Malcolm was hurting, but this fatalism on his part really got to Tucker. Trip wondered how he could care so much for someone so different from himself, and how that same someone could care for him as he believed Malcolm did. Still, he pushed his personal feelings for the lieutenant aside. If he gave in to them now, he was bound to spiral beyond them into his feelings for Enterprise's crew and all the friends he'd lost there…including Jon. He simply wasn't yet ready to face that reality. In truth, he didn't know if he'd ever be ready.

There was a tiny part of him that hoped he'd never have to—that they really would be dead in barely a week and a half. Could he ignore the truth that long? He didn't know, but he was willing to give it a try. He clung to his illusions with an iron grip of will. "We've got nine days," he said emphatically. "We're bound to find someone out here."

"At warp…perhaps," argued Malcolm. "But at impulse?" He couldn't understand why Trip didn't seem to get what he was saying. It was as if he was deliberately denying the facts. He tried to pay attention as Tucker listed half a dozen alien species.

"God knows who's going to be lurking around the next planet we run into," the engineer insisted.

"But that's just it, sir," Reed replied, trying to keep the argument on a professional level. "At impulse, we're not likely to be running into any planets. Not for at least six or seven years." He fought hard to keep his voice from breaking but had only marginal success.

"Then somebody can run into us. You ever think of that? Or see us on their sensors. The possibilities are endless." Part of Trip was trying to stay calm. The rest was determined to get and stay pissed off. Anger was good for keeping other more painful emotions at bay. However, being a normally good-natured and cheerful individual, he was fighting an uphill battle. Malcolm's pained tones and expression, no matter how he tried to hide them, were only making it more difficult.

"I'll heat up some rations," the lieutenant said, and Tucker's control almost failed him. Then Reed continued acerbically, "Unless you'd prefer to wait for a ship serving proper meals."

It strengthened Trip's resolve. "Rations will be fine."

It was while they were deciding on dinner that Malcolm found the bottle. "Kentucky bourbon," he said, reading the label.

"Huh," replied Trip. "The Captain was planning to give that to somebody. Can't remember who." He gave the smallest of shrugs, barely kept the fatalism from his voice as he added, "Guess it's ours now."

Reed set the bottle aside, saying nothing. In truth, he didn't know what to say. While he had become close with a few members of the crew and had really begun to feel as though he belonged on Enterprise, he knew Trip considered many of them friends—and then there was Captain Archer. His bland stoicism over that loss especially had Malcolm thoroughly puzzled.

He was thinking hard as he put Trip's choice of rations in to heat. He'd meant for some time to ask Trip about his history with the Captain, but there'd never been a moment when it seemed appropriate. He wasn't the sort who liked to pry, and he didn't want to appear jealous of the relationship the engineer shared with Archer. In truth he was a little jealous, though he would barely admit that even to himself. More than that, he wanted to know more about Trip. How had he and Archer met? Why was he so devoted to him? He knew the captain had saved Trip's life several years ago; he even knew a little bit about the circumstances. But what was it in their history that had caused Tucker to trust Archer so completely? He knew it didn't really matter. It was past. But not irrelevant, he told himself. Everything Trip had ever experienced went into making him the man he was now—the man Malcolm cared for more than anyone he'd known his entire life. And every little thing he learned about him made him love the engineer that much more.

He was about to broach the subject when the heater hummed and slid open, revealing the now steaming meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Reed carefully handed over the hot tray, the moment lost. He popped his own choice in and waited the brief time for it, too, to heat.

"What's that?" asked Trip.

"The sea bass," replied Reed. He took a cautious bite of the fish. It was far from his favorite, but he figured he'd rather have it now than save something he didn't like for his last meal. And he was sure one of the ration packets would indeed be his last meal.

"How is it?"

"Mmm. It's lovely," Malcolm said, not entirely truthfully. "Thank you."

They continued to eat in silence. Each caught in his own turbulent thoughts and memories.

Malcolm thought of Ensign Cormack, the woman with whom he'd become fast friends in the brief months they'd been aboard Enterprise. He'd requested her for the tactical department based solely on her service record and the recommendations in her Starfleet files. It had never occurred to him at the time how close they would grow. In a way, he wanted to regret his choice of adding her to the staff. Surely if he hadn't she'd still be alive, maybe even getting promoted and given the position of Armory Officer on one of the new NX-class ships being built at Jupiter Station. But he couldn't regret the friendship they'd had. It meant a lot to him that someone had actually tried to get to know him. It wasn't something he was overly familiar with, that interest in him as person. He'd never been good at making friends, but somehow with Stephanie it had been almost easy, natural. Now she was dead. He cleared his throat, blinking back tears that threatened to emerge.

"You okay?" Tucker looked at him, uncertain.

Reed nodded. "Just something down the wrong pipe," he lied.

Trip acknowledged this with a small nod of his own, then fell back into his own musings. He was trying hard to keep his mind on practical matters such as repairing the comm system. If the sensors were fried, the next best bet to help them get out of this jam was communications. And he had to believe there was a way out. He flatly refused to accept that this was where it was going to end. At least you're going to die with the man you love, a little voice in his head told him. Shut up, he argued back. We're not going to die here. Then there was a moment of stunned silence in his mind as he realized just what that little voice had said.

Malcolm noticed him sitting there, wide-eyed and suddenly very still. "Are you all right?" he asked, concerned.

Trip started at the unexpected sound. "Huh? Yeah… Yeah," he repeated, cursing his inarticulation. "I'm not hungry anymore. I think I'm going to try to get a little shut-eye."

"Will it bother you if I record some letters?" Malcolm asked hesitantly. "I'll try to keep it down, of course."

What could he say? "No. Go ahead."

An hour and a half later, Trip was regretting his decision immensely. Not just telling Reed to go ahead and record his letters, but also his own decision to try to sleep. He'd spent the time tossing and turning on one of the padded but still impossibly uncomfortable benches in the back of the shuttlepod. At first, he'd though maybe Malcolm's constant quiet chatter would lull him to sleep; he did love the sound of the tactical officer's voice after all, rich and lilting with its British accent. (Not that he'd ever have admitted it to him—he was sure he'd never hear the end of the teasing if he did.) At the very least, the continuous one-sided conversation gave Tucker's mind somewhere to focus besides on all the people he'd lost in the destruction of Enterprise.

Trip took some slight comfort when he heard Malcolm actually mention him to his sister Madeline. Although from his words, it was a toss up whether Madeline would think they were friends or just two guys who happened to work together once in a while and were now stuck in a shuttlepod together to die. Still, it was more recognition than anyone else had gotten so far. Tucker wondered just what that meant, in the grand scheme of things. Should he be flattered that Malcolm told his sister about him when no one else was getting even a mention? He didn't know. He decided to take it as a compliment. He rolled over yet again, tried to will himself to sleep.

He failed. After listening to Malcolm prattle on to his sister, his aunts, and now his parents, Trip was about at the end of his rope.

"Malcolm!" he finally said sharply. "You've been at it for hours now. Don't you think it's time to give it a rest?"

Reed paused only momentarily before continuing into the recorder. "As I'm sure you must have heard that was my esteemed colleague Commander Charles Tucker." Reed looked pointedly at Trip while he continued to speak into the pod's recorder. "Mr. Tucker doesn't share my belief that it is essential to say what must be said, to leave a record—tie up loose ends." He looked away again, gave an ironic, mirthless chuckle. "Mr. Tucker is laboring under the false hope that we are going to be miraculously rescued before we both suffocate."

That was when Trip hit the breaking point. It had been a long and miserable day, and he was worn out. He threw off his blanket angrily and covered the distance between himself and Reed with a stride. He knelt next to him and faced the recorder, spoke into it. "Mr. and Mrs. Reed, I realize you've just begun a period of mourning and that I'll never get an answer to this question, but I've got to ask it anyway. Was Malcolm always this cynical?"

Reed and Tucker exchanged glances, one sad, one frustrated. Trip refused to see the pain in Malcolm's eyes as he hid his own behind a mask of hostility. He couldn't break now. He refused to give in to despair.

"In a few days," said Malcolm coldly, "when the reality of this situation actually begins to sink in, you may decide you want to record some logs of your own. You have my word I will not interrupt you."

"I just need to get some sleep, Malcolm," snarled Trip through clenched teeth. "Is that so hard to understand?" Do you think I don't care? he wanted to shout. Do you think it doesn't rip me apart to think of everyone we've lost?

Malcolm fought to keep his voice even as he replied. "We have less than nine days of air left. It seems a waste to use it up sleeping." He cursed himself internally as he heard the catch in his voice. In his own way he, too, was fighting not to give in to despair. He was determined to face his fate without desperation or fear, but with calm realism and as much dignity as he could muster.

"If I don't waste some oxygen sleeping," argued Trip, "I'm going to start getting real cranky. And you don't want to spend your last nine days cooped up with me when I'm cranky." Trip stood again as best he could in the tight space of the shuttlepod. He reached angrily across Malcolm where the lieutenant sat at the pod's helm. "So turn that thing off…" he continued, shutting off the recording. The device gave a satisfying beep as it terminated. "…and get some rest!" He lay back down on the hard bench and pulled the blanket over himself once again, shooting a final angry glance over his shoulder at Reed before turning to face the bulkhead.

Furious and frustrated, there was nothing more Malcolm could do. He couldn't sleep; he knew that without even having to try. Instead, he picked up the datapad he'd discarded shortly after they'd spotted the wreckage of Enterprise, and he began to read. If he was lucky and what everyone back in university had said was true, he should be out cold about ten pages into his electronic copy of Ulysses.

*****

"Ugh," moaned Stephanie at the sound of her alarm. "Where are those two extra hours when I really need them?" But that bet was over and gone nearly three weeks ago. Today, she had no choice but to roll miserably out of her bunk and get ready for another morning bridge shift. Usually, she enjoyed the time she got to spend on the bridge. It didn't happen every day, and she was proud that she'd been the one Lieutenant Reed had selected take his Alpha-shift position while he was away from the ship. But today she just wanted to go back to bed and sleep for another six hours.

"Shut that thing off, will you?" complained Liz from own bunk barely a meter away.

"No. Get up. It's you're fault we were up so late, so if I have to get up now, so do you." She left the alarm beeping infuriatingly as she stumbled into the lav. She winced as the bright light came on automatically when she entered.

"How do you figure that?" demanded her bunkmate belligerently, still stubbornly under her blankets.

"Because it was your game," called Stephanie through the door. She emerged and mercilessly turned on the cabin light to full.

Liz groaned and tried to hide her face in her pillow. Stephanie pulled it out from under her. "Bitch," Liz muttered. She sat up slowly, blinking and rubbing sleep from her eyes.

"Thank you," Stephanie replied acerbically. She opened her locker and pulled out a clean uniform while Liz made her unsteady way to the lav.

In truth, neither woman was mad at the other. They'd simply been up far too late the previous night gaming, and Stephanie wasn't one for mornings on the best of days. She finally shut off her alarm and took a moment to bask in the silence. Then she stripped out of her pajamas and pulled on a set of blues. "I had the weirdest dream last night," she said, suddenly remembering.

"Yeah?" replied Liz over the sound of water running into the lav's polished aluminum sink. "What was it? Asteroids and aliens?"

"No. Got enough of that when we were playing that damned game of yours."

Liz snorted derisively, but it went unnoticed by her bunkmate. She dried her face, and the two traded places at the sink. "So what was it about?"

Stephanie splashed her face with hot water, scrubbing well to wake herself up before she answered. "I'm not really sure," she said. Reluctantly, she shut off the water and dried herself off. "I think I was floating," she continued. She moved back to her locker and pulled on the black turtleneck that went under the Starfleet coveralls. Liz dressed as she listened to her bunkmate's brief narrative. "Wherever I was, it was cold. And I was alone."

"Could you see anything around you?"

"No. But I don't think it was dark. Though I wouldn't say it was light, either." Stephanie shook her head and ran her fingers through her long, unruly hair, trying to get it under control enough to begin braiding it. She looked at herself in the small mirror. "Screw it," she muttered. She pulled the wild curls back and wrapped a band around them.

"That's a break with tradition," joked Liz.

"It may become a new tradition if we have any more nights like last night," Stephanie replied flatly. "I'm completely wiped." She stepped into her uniform and did up the zip, then sat and pulled on socks and boots. That done, she moved to the sink once more.

"Tell me more about your dream." Liz sat on her bunk, gave her hair a quick brushing.

"That's all I can remember." Stephanie loaded her toothbrush with toothpaste and began cleaning her teeth.

"That's it? You said it was really weird. I was hoping for pink elephants at least." Liz shoved her feet into her boots and joined her bunkmate at the sink. Their conversation was temporarily suspended while the two stood there brushing their teeth.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Stephanie said when she'd finished, replacing the brush in its holder. "But I don't really think of my subconscious as a place for a modern retelling of Fantasia."

Liz gave a one-shouldered shrug and quickly rinsed her mouth. "Maybe you should talk to Doctor Douglas about your dream," she suggested.

"Good idea, but my session isn't until tomorrow. I expect to be unconscious by then."

Her bunkmate chuckled. "Grouchy," she teased.

Stephanie looked at her expressionlessly. "You are way too freaking chipper in the morning. Remind me to shoot you later."

"Come on," Liz said amiably. "I know what you need." She steered her friend out the cabin door and into the corridor. They made their way to the mess hall where Liz picked up two mugs. She placed the first one under the drinks dispenser and said, "Café latté, three shots, non-fat milk, hot."

"Extra foam," muttered Stephanie.

"Extra foam." The machine dutifully dispensed the beverage, and Liz carefully handed it to her bunkmate.

Stephanie took a moment to inhale the aroma before taking a sip. As always, she sighed. This morning it was an even more heartfelt sigh than usual.

Liz tried not to laugh as she set her own mug on the small platform, saying, "Hot coffee, black and sweet."

That was where Mae found them when she arrived seconds later. "I will kill you for this," were her first words. It wasn't clear exactly which of them the comment was aimed at, so Liz and Stephanie each decided it was meant for the other. Liz claimed her filled mug and wisely got out of Mae's way. The engineer put her own mug under the tap. "Espresso, two shots, hot."

Stephanie shuddered at the order. Mae scowled at her. "It's not my favorite morning beverage either, but if I'm going to stay awake through my shift today, it's necessary. Lieutenant Hess is great, but she wouldn't understand if she found me face down in the matter/anti-matter intermix chamber."

"Morning, ladies!" said Travis cheerfully, joining the group. All three just glared at him. "What?"

Stephanie looked at her bunkmate. "Is he always like this in the morning?"

"I couldn't say," replied Liz. "But I think so, yes."

"And you're still dating him?"

"You get used to it."

Stephanie looked up at the tall young man. "I doubt it. I'm going to the bridge."

"I'd finish that coffee first," Travis advised. "The Captain's pretty cool about that sort of thing, but the bridge stations don't come with cup holders."

"Really," said Stephanie to Liz, "and somehow you've managed to not kill him?" Liz just shrugged, an expression of 'What can I tell you?' on her face. Stephanie shook her head in amazement. "Well, if I have to stay here, I'm sitting down." She spotted fresh pastries on her way to a table and grabbed an apple danish. Not bothering with a plate, she sat heavily at a table and took a bite of the sweet. "Goddess bless Chef," she said with a sigh.

The others joined her shortly, each with her or his own eclectic breakfast selections. Mae with her bowl of cereal: "Peanut butter crunchies," she said with her first smile of the morning. Liz with her Vulcan plomeek broth… "It's actually pretty good." …and a small bowl of fresh fruit. And Travis with a heaping plate of hashbrowns and scrambled eggs and a glass of orange juice. "What now?" he demanded as the women stared at him.

"Nothing," Liz assured him. She gave the others a warning look and they eased off.

"So, are we on again for tonight?" the helmsman asked, oblivious to the danger of the question.

Surprisingly, Mae said, "I'm in." Stephanie looked at her with as much shock as she could muster. "But we're setting a time limit tonight. No more of this all-nighter crap."

"Agreed," said Liz quickly. "Stephanie?"

"Yeah, all right. It's not like it wasn't fun," she admitted. "I just need to get more than four hours of sleep—especially when I'm supposed to be on the bridge first thing in the a.m."

"Okay. I'll make sure it's good with Ethan. Assume it is unless you hear otherwise."

"Any chance we're going to finally find that downed transport tonight?" Travis wanted to know.

"I don't know," Liz replied coyly. "Are you going to figure out what's disrupting your sensors?"

"Bitch," mumbled Stephanie around a bite of her pastry.

"Hey!" protested Travis on behalf of his girlfriend.

"It's okay," Liz assured him with a small smirk and a sidelong glance at her bunkmate. "It's just girl-talk."

*****

So much for denying reality, Trip thought. At Malcolm's announcement of the punctured O-2 tank, his heart had sunk. At his further declaration that their remaining air supply was less than two days' worth, he closed his eyes and ran a hand hopelessly through his short-cropped hair. Suddenly, all the work he'd done to get the communications receiver repaired seemed like an exercise in futility. You can do this, Trip, he told himself firmly.

"I'll get the valve sealant," he said, sitting up from where he was sprawled on the pod's deckplating. The mashed potatoes Malcolm had used to temporarily plug the tiny hull breaches weren't going to hold for long…and it gave him something to focus his mind on besides the fact that they were now one week closer to dying.

They got the tiny holes in the hull sealed up, and Trip turned to other matters. With the O-2 tank now empty, he was looking for ways to squeeze every last molecule of oxygen from the shuttlepod's systems. An idea struck him, and he turned to Malcolm who sat across from him at the rear of the pod.

"Would another half day be worth freezing your butt off?" he asked.

"What are you talking about?" Reed wanted to know.

"If we lower the thermostat in here to about minus-five centigrade we should be able to use that power to boost the efficiency of the atmosphere recyclers."

"Hm. Our last two and a half days freezing versus our last two days toasty warm. What a delightful choice," he said wryly.

"I'd pick freezing," opined Trip. "Another half day's another half day."

"Freezing it is, then."

"Besides," Trip continued with a shy sidelong glance at Malcolm. "There are other ways to stay warm." He looked back to the panel where he was working and lowered the thermostat, trying not to appear as nervous as he felt as he waited for Reed's reaction.

Aside from Cormack's off-hand suggestion a few weeks back, they'd not broached to subject of physical intimacy. At least not in so many words. There'd been times where Tucker had wanted to, and he was pretty sure Malcolm had, too. But somehow the moment had never been quite right. Whether it was an issue of duty-shifts getting in the way or simply inappropriate timing in general, they'd not yet taken that particular step.

Several moments passed, and still Malcolm said nothing. Great, thought Tucker. All the talking he's done in the last 30 hours, and he picks now to be the strong silent type. "Cat got your tongue?" he said aloud, glancing apprehensively in Reed's general direction. There wasn't really any place else to look in the confined space of the pod, but he did his best to read the expression on Malcolm's face without actually making eye-contact with him. "You're the one who believes it's necessary to—how did you put it?—say what must be said. Tie up loose ends."

Reed was caught by his own words. "I did say that, didn't I?" he said quietly. How to put what he was thinking now into words? That was challenging enough, but words that would make sense to another person? He sincerely doubted he could do it. He looked at Trip who was obviously trying not to look back. He owed it to him to at least try to explain.

Dive in, Malcolm, he said to himself. Pick a place and start. "I do want to." That's a hell of a place to pick! his mind exclaimed. "I'm embarrassed to admit just how many times I've dreamed of just that." He couldn't stop the self-deprecating chuckle, didn't even try. He was gratified by a similar response from Trip.

"Yeah. I know what you mean," the fair-haired engineer replied, his cheeks pinking ever so slightly. Reed wondered if it was from the admission or the rapidly cooling temperature.

Malcolm continued. "But I don't want to here. Not now." Trip finally looked directly at him, puzzlement in his pale blue eyes. "Oh I have no qualms about the surroundings," Reed assured him lightly. "You wouldn't believe… Never mind. No need to go into that now." It was Malcolm's turn to blush.

Trip filed the information away for further inquiry. When they got out of this mess, he was definitely going to follow up on that little confession. "So, why not here? Why not now?" he asked instead.

"Because…" Malcolm worked hard to get what he wanted to say just right in his mind before saying it out loud. "Because we'd both wonder if we were only doing it because we're about to die."

"We're not gonna die!" exclaimed Tucker angrily.

"My God!" Malcolm replied disgustedly. "It's not just a river in Egypt, is it?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Denial, Commander." He deliberately switched back to the formal title, the intimacy of the moment gone. "How can you continue to sit there and deny the fact that we are going to be dead in a little over two days?!"

"I'm not denying anything! I'm just trying to hang on to a little hope! Damn it, Malcolm, I love you!" Trip shouted furiously. "Although the way you've been acting since we saw that wreckage is really making wonder why. You say you've been dreaming about me? Well, I've had my share of dreams too, and I'm sick and tired of waking up from them all hot and bothered and alone! But that's just fine," he continued in a tone that proved there was clearly nothing fine about it. "If that's the way you want it, that's the way it's going to be."

He stood and fished in the port side storage locker. "Here." He thrust a jacket and cap at Reed who took them reflexively. "It's getting cold." Trip pulled another set out and put them on. "I'm going to see if I can do anything with the transmitter." Taking the damaged board in one hand, he sat on the floor next to his open tool-kit and began his attempt at repairs.

Reed didn't move—couldn't move. He just sat there in stunned silence, Trip's words still ringing in his ears. Several minutes passed, the only sounds the hum of the pod's engines and the small noises as Trip worked on the transmitter. Finally, Reed spoke.

"I had no idea," he said huskily.

"Yeah? Well now you do," answered Trip curtly, not looking up from his work.

"I'd hoped… Wondered… But I never thought…"

"Never thought what?" the engineer said, not really expecting an answer.

"Never thought I'd hear anyone say that to me."

Tucker froze at the quiet sadness of that simple confession. He looked up at Reed where he still sat on the starboard bench. He tried to wrap his head around what he'd just been told. Never expected someone to say they loved him? his mind asked. But why…? "What about your family?" he asked gently.

Malcolm laughed mirthlessly. "If you'd met them, you wouldn't need to ask that."

"But what about…relationships?" Trip hated to bring it up. Malcolm hadn't told him much about past lovers. He knew he'd had them, but he'd always assumed from Malcolm's reluctance to discuss it that he'd had his heart broken at some point, and didn't want to open up old wounds. It seemed he was wrong.

"Relationships?" Reed shook his head. "I'd hardly call them that. Random encounters, maybe. Flings, more likely. But not relationships. I never could get very close to any of them, to be honest." Except one… He shoved the thought aside and gave another sardonic, self-deprecating chuckle. "Wonder why."

It broke Trip's heart. Unable to stand it any more, he set aside the components he held. He knelt before Malcolm who continued to sit there, staring at nothing. He looked so forlorn Trip could think of nothing to say that might cheer him. Instead, he took the coat and hat from the tactical officer's cold hands. Slowly, tenderly, he wrapped the jacket around Malcolm's hunched shoulders and placed the baseball cap on his head. Then, he took Malcolm's hands in his own and placed gentle kisses upon them.

"I'm so sorry," he said softly, looking up into desolate blue eyes. "I promise you'll never have to wonder again. Whether we live for two more days or two hundred years…" Malcolm had to laugh at the absurdity of the comment. Trip chuckled, too, but went on. "…I promise you'll never have to wonder if you're loved. You are, and you always will be, by me." He released his hands and rose up higher on his knees so they were on a level, eye to eye. Tucker placed his palms on Malcolm's stubbled cheeks and pulled him close in a long, sweet, loving kiss.

*****

Malcolm shivered and glanced at the instrument panel. The temperature had dropped significantly in the hours since Tucker had turned it down. Frost had formed on the controls, and the pod's windows were rapidly icing up. He sighed and could see his breath.

Suddenly, the comm crackled with static. Tucker quickly grabbed the datapad that was linked to it to see if he could determine the source.

"A ship?" asked Reed, trying not to get his hopes up too high. It would be too easy to have them dashed again. Besides, he was feeling surprisingly content. He may only have two days left to live, but at least he would be spending every minute of them with someone he loved and who loved him in return. There are worse ways to die, he thought.

"It's a little more modulated than the last time but it could be just a random gamma-ray burst."

Malcolm nodded, accepting the statement without surprise. His mind drifted to Enterprise's lost crew members. He was startled when Trip spoke again to discover the engineer's thoughts were paralleling his own.

"Travis and Hoshi couldn't have been more than 24 or 25 years old," he said, a touch of sadness in his voice.

"If the Captain were here with us now I wonder if he'd feel guilty about bringing them on this mission," said Malcolm softly, remembering his thoughts of Stephanie the day before.

Tucker shook his head firmly. "Not for a minute. They died doing what they loved."

"I don't remember Hoshi loving much about being in deep space."

"Ah, she was coming along. She saved our asses on more than one occasion."

Malcolm had to nod in agreement. He'd lost track of how many times the comm officer's linguistic know-how had gotten them out of potentially lethal situations.

"Well," continued Tucker, climbing to his feet, "I'm getting nowhere with this damn transmitter." He'd been working on the thing for over an hour and couldn't honestly claim to have made any progress. "You want something to eat?" He knelt and opened the locker where the rest of the rations were stored. Sitting on the edge of the open locker, he asked, "What'll it be?"

"I'm not hungry."

Trip spotted something in the locker, pulled it out. "Well, then how 'bout a drink?" he said, eyeing the bottle of Kentucky bourbon appreciatively.

"I don't drink on duty."

"Are you serious? Who's going to report us? What's the matter, Lieutenant?" he teased, trying to lighten his lover's morose mood. "You afraid the autopsy'll show your blood alcohol level was too high to pilot a shuttle?" He pulled out a box containing drinking glasses, and then stood, letting the top of the locker fall shut. He sat on the bench and opened the box, pulling out two tumblers and setting them upright next to him. Next, he opened the whiskey and poured a good shot into each one.

Trip carefully recapped the bottle before picking up the glasses. He held one out to Reed, saying, "Live a little. That's an order." He gave the lieutenant a quirk of a smile so he'd know he was only teasing.

Grudgingly, Malcolm took the glass, but he didn't drink. Tucker swallowed half of his in one gulp, then knelt at the back of the shuttlepod, released a catch in the deckplating. A section of the floor slid up revealing emergency supplies. Without a word, he got out one of the oil candles and lit it.

"Do you really think that's going to provide any heat?" asked Malcolm.

"The bourbon'll provide the heat. The candle's just for mood." He looked up, noticed Reed was still just sitting there, shivering and staring blankly into the glass of amber liquid. Trip sighed, watched his breath puff out in a cloud of white. It hurt his heart to see Malcolm like that, so he did the only thing he could think of. Raising his own glass, he gave a toast he knew the tactical officer couldn't let pass. "To the brave men and women of the starship Enterprise."

Reed glanced at him, almost smiled. He raised his glass in salute, and they both drank.

*****

T'Pol stepped onto the bridge from the captain's ready room and stopped immediately at the tactical station. "Ensign, is Shuttlepod One within sensor range?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied Cormack. "They came into view just ten minutes ago."

The Vulcan turned and approached the helm. "Mr. Mayweather, change course for the following coordinates." She recited them precisely, and Mayweather input them into the system.

He made the quick mental calculations. "At our current speed, we should be there in just under forty-two hours." They had left the Tesnian system a few hours previously, having delivered the refugees safely home. The aliens were still shaken from their ordeal, but otherwise well.

Nodding in acknowledgement of Mayweather's statement, T'Pol turned to Sato at the comm station. "Hail Shuttlepod One. Tell them we need to rendezvous at the new coordinates."

"Yes, ma'am," replied Sato, opening the comm.

Over at Tactical, Cormack watched these exchanges with interest. She wondered at the sudden change in plan, but didn't expect the Science Officer to explain on her own. She'd had little direct contact with the Vulcan, but had quickly learned she wasn't one to share information unnecessarily.

"Ma'am?" Cormack said, hoping she wasn't going to regret her actions. "May I ask why the change?"

T'Pol studied her momentarily, her expression seemingly blank. In fact, she was assessing the fair-haired tactical ensign. So far, she'd proved reliable and competent while carrying out her duties in absence of Lieutenant Reed. T'Pol saw no reason not to answer her inquiry.

"Our sensors detected the presence of micro-singularities in the area of the asteroid field where we were scheduled to meet. Were the shuttlepod to encounter one, it would be damaged. We're altering course in an attempt to avoid that possibility."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Sub-commander," said Sato, tension in her voice, "I'm not getting a response from the shuttlepod."

"Keep hailing them. Ensign Cormack, notify me when we are close enough to the shuttle to pick up life readings."

"Yes, ma'am."

*****

"Does that sound modulated enough for you?" Malcolm asked.

"Modulated?" Trip looked around the shuttlepod, trying to figure out what the other man was talking about.

"The radio. Or is it just the galaxy giggling at us again?" Malcolm chortled merrily. He reached for the now half-empty bottle of whiskey and took a swig.

"It can giggle all it wants," declared Trip, "but the galaxy's not getting any of our bourbon." To punctuate his point, he took the bottle from Malcolm and made a show of taking a good long drink.

He looked at Malcolm though glazed eyes, appraising him. Malcolm was drunk. He looked more intently. Yes. He was definitely drunk. Hell, so am I. Who'd've thought he was such a happy drunk, though? Trip puzzled, amused.

"What are you grinning at?" slurred the chuckling Malcolm. He pulled his blanket tighter around himself against the freezing cold.

"I'm not grinning," Trip argued. He shook his head exaggeratedly, his fine motor control long lost to the cold and the liquor.

"Yes you are. You're grinning right now." He reclaimed the bottle and took another swallow.

Trip put a chilled hand to his face, felt it as best he could with numbed fingers. "Huh. You're right." Snickering, he reached out and took the bottle from Malcolm once again.

"You're awfully cute when you grin like that."

Trip nearly choked on the bourbon. "What?"

"I mean, I've always found you quite handsome," the tactical officer continued lightly, "and dead sexy." Trip snorted with laughter. "But I never realized how cute you can be."

"You've had too much to drink," said Trip handing him back the bottle.

"Yes," agreed Malcolm with a broad and emphatic nod that just made Trip laugh harder. Then the lieutenant underscored his declaration with another drink.

Suddenly, they heard static crackling over the faulty comm system.

"It's probably nothing, right?" asked Malcolm, always the optimist.

Trip scrambled to the pilot's seat and tried to force his fingers to function enough to work the comm panel. "It's definitely not nothing," he answered.

"Well then that means it's something!" declared Malcolm eagerly, coming to stand by his side. He leaned against the chair, unable to hold himself upright without help. "What is it? Is it something or someone? Because if it's someone…"

"Shh!"

"Sorry." Malcolm shut up, held his breath while Trip did everything he could to enhance the signal they were receiving.

"Definitely someone."

"We have no way to respond, do we?" said Reed in a low voice. Trip didn't answer, all his attention focused on the incoming message. "This is like the plane flying over the desert island in a lost-at-sea movie!" Malcolm practically wailed.

"Malcolm!" snapped Trip.

"Sorry," the lieutenant whispered again. He shut his eyes. "Happy endings. I must think happy endings." He muttered it over and over to himself like a mantra.

Then they heard it, buried in static but definitely identifiable. "Shuttlepod One, this is Enterprise. Please respond." Malcolm's eyes flew open at the sound.

"That's Hoshi!" Trip cried, incredulous. "That's impossible."

"Don't be so pessimistic! It's Hoshi! They're okay!" shouted Malcolm joyfully. He grabbed Trip's shoulders in his numbed hands and kissed the engineer squarely on the lips. "Enterprise is okay! It's Hoshi!"

Caught in Malcolm's exuberance, Trip smiled broadly, kissed him in return. They held each other and laughed, listening jubilantly to the sound of Ensign Sato's voice over the comm.

"Adjust your heading to the new coordinates," she said. "We will rendezvous in two days. Commander, Lieutenant, please respond."

"Rendezvous!" cried Malcolm. "What a beautiful word." But Hoshi's words had penetrated Trip's liquor-soaked mind and he hung his head in despair. Malcolm looked at him, suddenly worried. "What's wrong?"

"They're still two days away."

Finally, slowly, Malcolm understood. "And we only have a little more than one day's air left."

"And no way to tell them to get here sooner."

*****

"We are transmitting new rendezvous coordinates. We were forced to change our heading due to an encounter with a micro-singularity. Shuttlepod One, this is Enterprise. Please respond." She'd been trying to contact the away team for nearly fifteen minutes and still had gotten no response. "Adjust your heading to the new coordinates. We will rendezvous in two days. Commander, Lieutenant, please respond." Sato transmitted the coordinates yet again.

She looked at Captain Archer. "Still no response, sir," she said regretfully.

"Keep trying, Ensign."

"Aye, sir." She returned to her task hoping this time she would get something in return.

Archer, unable to sit still for more than a moment at a time, crossed over to T'Pol at the science station. "Can you pick up any life signs?" he wanted to know.

"We're still too far away to tell," she replied. "I'm continuing to scan."

It was as close to concern as he'd ever seen her, and he appreciated it enough not to comment on it. Instead, he crossed the bridge to Tactical. "What have you got, Ensign?"

"Nothing new, I'm afraid, sir," Cormack answered reluctantly. "We're still a quarter of a light-year away. The shuttlepod's not much more than a blip on the screen."

The Captain nodded, tight-lipped. He knew his crew was doing everything they could, but there just wasn't enough information. He tried to convince himself that no news was good news, but it didn't work. He had a bad feeling about the situation although he had nothing on which to base it but gut reaction.

"Sir!" exclaimed Mayweather suddenly. "They've changed course!"

"Confirmed," said Cormack. "They're headed to the new rendezvous coordinates."

With a sigh of relief, Sato paused in her hails. She took a moment to enjoy it, then continued to try to raise the shuttlepod.

"That still doesn't tell us why they aren't responding," said Archer, frustrated.

"It is logical to assume their comm system is malfunctioning," said T'Pol matter-of-factly. "It's entirely possible their transmitter was damaged while the receiver was not."

Archer couldn't argue with her. She was absolutely right. But it didn't make him feel any better. "Hoshi?"

"Still nothing, sir." At his disappointed look, she offered hopefully, "At least we know they're alive."

This time it was Cormack's turn to exclaim. "Sir! I'm picking up a fluctuation in the readings."

"Specify," the Captain said, hurrying back over to the tactical station.

"It looks like an explosion, sir."

Archer didn't want to ask it, but he had no choice. "The shuttlepod?"

"I'm not sure yet." Her hands flew over the board, gathering as much information as she could from the ship's long-range sensors. "No," she said finally. "They're still there, but something's not right."

"Ensign…"

"They're still coming towards us but their trajectory is erratic. And I'm no longer reading the energy signature from their impulse engine."

Realization struck Archer like a duratanium beam. "They've blown up their engine," he said softly.

"Sir?" Cormack asked, uncertain if she'd heard him correctly.

But he wasn't listening to her. "Travis, go to warp 3.5," he ordered, sitting in his command chair.

"Warp 3.5, aye," the ensign responded. He complied with the command, and Enterprise increased speed.

"How long to the shuttle at current speed?"

"Sixteen hours and thirty-three minutes," replied T'Pol.

*****

Sixteen hours and thirty minutes later, Archer was back at his post. He'd tried to get some rest, do some work, do anything to fill the time until they reached the shuttlepod. He'd been unsuccessful at all of it.

"Life signs?" demanded Archer as they closed on the crippled shuttlepod.

"Two, but very weak," T'Pol answered from the science station.

Cormack looked up from her panel at Tactical. "They're in range of our grapplers now, Captain."

"Fire away and reel them in."

"Aye, sir."

"Hoshi, tell Doctor Phlox to get his team and meet me in the landing bay." He stood and moved quickly to the lift. "Sub-commander, you have the bridge."

He descended to the shuttle bay where he was met by the Denobulan physician and a team of four med-techs. They watched in silence as the pod was guided in by the grapplers and gently released. The bay doors quickly closed and the hangar began to repressurize. Automatic systems kicked in running the standard bioscan.

"They're clean of any microbes or foreign bodies," said Phlox, checking the sensors.

"Good."

A light flashed over the door to the landing bay's upper deck, signaling that it was now safe to enter. Archer did so, followed closely by Phlox and his team.

Archer released the seal on the pod's starboard door and a rush of freezing air surged out at him. He shivered involuntarily but climbed inside. There were Trip and Malcolm lying on the deckplating. They were huddled close together under the two blankets from the shuttlepod's standard emergency kit. Clearly, they had tried to contain and share their body heat before losing consciousness. He put one hand on Trip's unshaven cheek and was shocked at the chill he felt there.

Phlox was next to him, though he hadn't noticed the doctor's approach. He knelt and ran his medical scanner over the two men.

"Are they—?"

"They're alive," the Denobulan said. "They're suffering from a severe case of hypothermia."

Archer checked the pod's environmental systems in an attempt to figure out what had happened. The med-techs, under Phlox's direction, carefully loaded the unconscious officers onto gurneys while the Captain worked. "They turned down the heat deliberately," he muttered to no one in particular. Then the mystery became clear. "The O-2 tank's been punctured. It's completely empty." He checked the back-up systems only to discover they'd recovered the men just in time. "They only had a few hours of air left."

"It's going to take some time to warm them up," said Phlox. "Their body temperatures are several degrees below what they should be. I'll contact you when they're ready for visitors." He looked at his team who were just securing the unconscious men to the gurneys. "Let's go."

Left alone, Archer continued to try and learn whatever he could from what remained of the shuttlepod. The hand scanner he carried revealed the two tiny hull breaches, patched with valve sealant. From the line of trajectory, he guessed it had been one micro-singularity that caused both holes and then continued out through the O-2 tank. More research revealed another micro-singularity had taken out the pod's sensors and comms.

He blew on his hands to warm them, the chill receding only slowly from the deep-frozen shuttlepod. He reached over and turned the heat back up to normal, wondering why he hadn't done so sooner. Stepping back from the panel, he nearly tripped over something in the chaos that cluttered the cabin. He reached down and picked up the empty whiskey bottle, chuckling a little. "I expect that helped keep them warm," he muttered. Then he became truly puzzled when he noticed the phase-pistol lying near by. "Should be an interesting story there." He picked it up and looked it over. It was still fully charged as when it had been placed on board, and it was set to stun. "Well that's encouraging."

Taking one last look around the pod, he shut off his scanner and stepped out into the landing bay. He'd learned all he could with what equipment he had on hand. He'd have to assign a team to go over the pod with a fine tooth comb—and a good long talk with Trip and Malcolm wouldn't hurt either.

He checked the time, surprised to discover he'd been working for over an hour, and even more surprised that he'd not been interrupted. Climbing the stairs to the upper level two at a time, he tucked his scanner into a pocket and headed for Sick Bay.

*****

Slowly, Reed's eyes fluttered open. He took in his surroundings with a gasp. "We're back," he said, his voice husky from the prolonged time in the cold. "How did…?" He tried to sit up, only to be pushed gently but firmly back down by the Captain's strong hand.

"Easy, Malcolm," Archer said. "You fellows had a nice little bout with hypothermia."

"Trip?" he asked desperately.

"He's going to be fine," Archer answered. He looked over his shoulder to where Phlox stood by the sleeping commander's bedside, sought confirmation of his claim.

The doctor nodded. "It took nearly three hours to get your body temperatures back to normal." He sounded almost scolding, but Archer put it down to the Denobulan's alien speech patterns.

"You must have seen the explosion," said Reed with a tired sigh.

"Hard to miss. You know, you guys only had two or three hours of air left."

Malcolm took in this information and gave the smallest of ironic smiles. "You don't say." Then memories surfaced and he said, "We saw debris from Enterprise on one of the asteroids. We assumed… We thought you were all…" He fought back tears at the memory, not wanting to lose control in front of his Captain, but nearly overcome with so many different emotions he could barely contain them all. Unable to complete the sentence, he merely shook his head.

Recognizing the need to rescue him from an outburst the younger man wasn't prepared to face, Archer said, "I'll tell you all about it in the morning. Right now, you and Trip need to get some rest." He patted the lieutenant on the shoulder, offering what comfort he could.

Reed gave him a small but appreciative nod at the unspoken understanding.

"Good night, Lieutenant," Archer said, and departed.

Doctor Phlox followed him to the door, dimming the lights so his patients could sleep.

Left alone, Malcolm looked over to the nearby bio-bed where Tucker was sound asleep. He wanted to reach out and touch him, confirm that this was real and they were home. But he simply didn't have the energy to move.

"Trip?" he asked quietly, knowing he'd get no response from the sleeping engineer. "Sleep well, my love." He closed his eyes and drifted off to the soft hum of the medical equipment and the steady sound of Trip's breathing.

*****

End Log 18
(Completed 6 March 02)

Continued in Log 19
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