Log Rhythms - Season Two
Reed was carrying out one of his least favorite and one of his most difficult duties. He was waiting.
He had delivered the prisoner, Plinn, to Captain Archer for questioning. Then he'd stood guard at the door.
Now he waited.
Several minutes later Sub-commander T'Pol arrived, looking like some sort of Vulcan Inquisitor, and joined Archer and the prisoner.
Trip had been abducted. Enterprise couldn't find him.
And Malcolm waited.
A childhood memory came to mind. It was a passage from a book he'd read, which had always stayed with him. The picture it painted was of a young girl sitting at a railway station and waiting with every ounce of her being. There was nothing else she could do in the situation, so she focused all her energy into the one thing over which she had control, and she waited to the very best of her ability.
Malcolm wished he had that sort of focus now, but he couldn't even focus enough to remember the title of the book—only that he had borrowed it from his little sister, Madeline. It was all he could do not to fidget as he stood sentry outside the room where Archer and T'Pol interrogated the prisoner. His jaw ached from the fury with which he clenched it, and his hands itched with inaction. Trip was missing, and all he could do was stand there, waiting, while others tried to find him. It was maddening.
Reed snapped to attention as T'Pol suddenly emerged from the darkened mess hall that currently served as an interrogation room. The doors slipped shut behind her, and she looked at him.
"At ease, Lieutenant," she said with what Malcolm could have sworn was a hint of wry humor in her voice.
He relaxed marginally. "Have you and Captain Archer made any headway with the prisoner?" he asked her.
"Plinn became increasingly agitated during the 'tribunal'," she replied, "but I am doubtful as to whether it will lead to a satisfactory conclusion."
"I see." Reed tried to keep the concern and disappointment from his voice. T'Pol's unchanging expression gave no hint as to whether or not he had succeeded.
The mock-up "tribunal" had been his own idea, and the premise was simple. Captain Archer played the axiomatic "good cop" to T'Pol's counterpoint "bad cop." Plinn had no way of knowing how Starfleet or the Vulcans treated prisoners or what their interrogation methods entailed. There was no reason to assume he wouldn't believe Archer's threats. What not even Archer knew was that Reed was willing to follow through on those threats. I hope it doesn't come to that, he thought. But he knew in his heart if that was what it took to find Trip, that was what he would do.
"Perhaps if I made an appearance " he offered. Malcolm knew what he was suggesting, and wondered if T'Pol recognized his deeper meaning, too.
The sub-commander regarded him, observing the increased tension in his stance and face. She doubted others aboard would have noticed the subtle changes but Lieutenant Reed, despite his propensity to shoot first and ask questions later, was more like a Vulcan than any other human she had encountered. It made him easier to work with and easier to read, in her opinion.
It was clear to her he had been under a great deal of stress since Commander Tucker was abducted by Plinn's unscrupulous partner, Goff. It was equally clear to her what he was proposing.
"I doubt it would make a difference," she replied evenly.
"You don't think he'll give us the information?"
"I'm not certain he has the information we're seeking."
Malcolm had no reply. All his hopes were based on the belief that Plinn could give them the warp frequency for Goff's ship. If he genuinely didn't know it, their chances of tracking Goff and finding Trip were next to none.
The mess hall door whooshed open unexpectedly at that moment, taking both T'Pol and Reed by surprise.
"Lieutenant, escort Plinn back to the brig and then meet us on the bridge," Captain Archer said as he emerged.
"Yes, sir," replied the startled armory officer.
Archer met T'Pol's inquisitive gaze. "We've got a lead," he told her. "Let's go."
His words were music to Reed's ears. Either Plinn had given them what they wanted, or luck had smiled on them and the ship's sensors had detected the trail. At this point, the lieutenant didn't give a damn which it was. He entered the mess hall as the captain and T'Pol headed off to the bridge.
Reed gave Plinn a severe look. "Come with me."
"Where are we going?" queried the terrified alien.
"Back to the brig."
Oddly, this seemed to bring Plinn a modicum of relief. He rose willingly and preceded Reed from the room.
Enterprise dropped out of warp. Goff's ship was nearby, somewhere in the solar system before them. They'd found him; now all they had to do was catch him.
Ensign Sato looked up from her console. "Captain, we're picking up a signal," she announced.
"What is it?" asked Archer immediately.
"The frequency matches the comm frequency of Goff's ship, but it's coming from one of the planets."
He looked toward Reed. "Any sign of Goff?"
The lieutenant quickly double-checked the ship's sensors before responding. "Yes, sir. His vessel is in geosychronous orbit over the equatorial region of the planet in question."
"Life signs?" Archer turned to T'Pol.
"None aboard the ship," she replied. She scanned the planet. Malcolm held his breath. "Three humanoid life signs detected."
"Travis," Archer said, turning forward to look at the helmsman, "bring us into orbit next to Goff's ship." He rose, glancing at his comm officer. "Hoshi, tell Shuttle Bay One we're on our way, then contact the armory and have someone meet us there with phase-pistols."
"Yes, sir," said Sato.
"Malcolm, T'Pol, you're with me." Archer headed to the turbolift, closely followed by the two officers.
Less than two hours later, Reed returned to the bridge. Archer turned, looking over his shoulder at him. "Have you delivered the prisoners?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant replied. "I transferred custody to the Krios ship's head of security."
Archer turned back to the main viewscreen, and Reed crossed the bridge and took his usual seat at Tactical. He quickly checked the status of the alien vessel with which Enterprise was presently docked. Their systems were ready for departure, but apparently they were still waiting for one thing.
A hail came over the internal comm. "Tucker to Bridge."
"Go ahead," the captain replied.
"The First Monarch is aboard her ship, Captain. They should be ready to go any minute."
"Understood." Archer turned to his comm officer. "Hoshi—" he began, but before he could tell her to hail the Krios battlecruiser, the alien ship hailed them.
Sato put the communiqué through to the main viewer. A dark-skinned alien woman in obviously military dress appeared. "Captain Archer," she said in greeting. "We are ready to depart."
A glance to Reed confirmed that the docking clamps were being disengaged as they spoke. Archer looked back to the Krios captain. "Whenever you're ready, Captain," he informed her.
"Your assistance in the recovery of the First Monarch will not be forgotten. All of Krios thanks you."
"We're glad we could be of assistance."
The alien captain nodded once and closed the comm line. The viewscreen once again showed the star field before them.
"Not much on small talk, is she," Archer muttered dryly.
"They're disengaging," Reed announced.
In moments, the Krios ship had moved away and gone to warp.
Malcolm sat at the desk in his quarters, sipping a mug of Assam tea and reading an electronic copy of Rabindranath Tagore's Fireflies. He wasn't overly familiar with the poet, but in his search of the ship's database for something new to read, Tagore's name had caught his eye. He recognized it from a class at university years ago, but he'd never read any of his works before. Now he was sorry he'd waited so long.
He was pondering one piece in particular when the door chimed and then slid open. Trip stuck his head in and smiled. "Can I come in?" he asked.
"Always," answered Malcolm, setting down his tea and the datapad. He rose as Trip entered the cabin and the door slipped shut behind him.
"It's good to be home," said Trip, taking a step toward his lover.
But Malcolm didn't step into what he knew was the coming embrace. Instead, he turned away and moved to the small window. "It's good to have you back."
It was clear to the engineer that something was up. He followed Malcolm a few paces, but stopped, not wanting to encroach on his partner's personal space. "What's the matter?" he asked, cutting to the chase.
"I'm a little curious," Malcolm began, still looking out the port, "as to the condition in which we found you and the First Monarch Kaitaama, is it?" He saw Trip's reflection in the window nod in response. "At the time, I didn't really think about it. I was so happy to see you alive and in one piece, the fact that you were soaking wet and once again in your underwear didn't register until later." Finally, he turned to face his lover. He tried hard not to sound accusatory in any way. He didn't want to give Trip the impression he didn't trust him, but his own past experiences forced him to ask the question. "I'm sure there's a logical explanation, and I'd very much appreciate it if you could tell me what it is."
"We needed a decoy," said Trip immediately. "The homing beacon in the escape pod went off, and we figured it must be Goff tracking us. We stuffed my uniform with leaves and things so it would look like Kaitaama and I were both just sitting there at the campfire waiting to get caught."
"And you were ?"
"Up in a tree in my underwear."
Slowly, quietly, Malcolm began to laugh. It started as a chuckle deep in his chest, then moved up and out into full-throated guffaws. Trip joined in, suddenly equally amused by the image he must have presented to the rescue party—knee-deep in the small jungle pond, wearing nothing but his bright blue Starfleet skivvies.
"I expect I looked pretty silly when you found us," the engineer said. He sat heavily on the foot of Malcolm's bunk, his laughter slowly abating.
"Exceptionally," agreed his partner. Malcolm sat at his desk again, his mirth also fading. He took a sip of tea and made a face. "Cold," he said in explanation. Then he continued, "So I presume you jumped Goff when he came within reach."
"Yeah, right into that damn pond. I hit him hard, and he still wouldn't fall." Tucker flexed his fingers painfully. "My hands still hurt. It was Kaitaama who finally knocked him out with a tree branch."
"She sounds like a resourceful individual."
"When she has to be," agreed Trip. "Once she got off her high horse, she was okay."
Something about the way Malcolm was sitting and fiddling absently with the handle of his mug made Trip pause. His posture sent up warning signals the engineer had learned not to ignore; something was definitely bothering him, and he was trying to hide it. Trip fleetingly considered telling his lover about the kiss he and Kaitaama had shared, but he refrained. It had been a bizarre and brief interlude brought on by the desperation of their situation. It had only taken a moment for Trip and Kaitaama to recognize the absurdity of their actions, and both had been happy to pretend it never happened—particularly the First Monarch, who had initiated the contact. It was nothing, Trip reminded himself. There's no reason to bring it up now. It'd only hurt Malcolm, and I'm not gonna do that.
Trip shrugged. "Yeah. Okay," he said aloud. "She'll make a good leader, I think, if she can just remember not everyone's a servant. She was nice enough when she wasn't acting all royal and self-important, but I can think of someone else I'd much rather be stranded with." He smiled at Malcolm, indicating just whom he'd prefer.
Malcolm looked up at him and smiled back. It was a tentative smile, edged with relief, concern, and remembered fear. "When Goff kidnapped you " He paused, gathering his thoughts, and began again. "We took his partner, Plinn, into immediate custody, of course. When he wouldn't cooperate, the Captain and Sub-commander set up a 'tribunal'." Trip gave him a curious look. "There are some advantages to being a relatively unknown quantity in the galaxy. New species don't know how far we might be willing to go to get what we want. The idea of the tribunal was to scare Plinn into giving us the information we needed to track Goff's warp signature."
"Of course." Trip nodded. "Good idea."
"It was, and it worked." He chuckled darkly at the memory of it. "Captain Archer was playing 'good cop' to T'Pol's 'bad cop'. It's amazing what other races will believe about Vulcan discipline and punishment." Malcolm shook his head. "The thing is " he continued hesitantly, wondering if he should admit this even to Trip. "The thing is, I would have done anything to find you."
His tone carried an edge that made Trip sit up a little straighter and pay closer attention. "What do you mean?"
"All the threats the Captain made Of course I couldn't reach into Plinn's mind and take the information, as he suggested T'Pol could and would, but the rest of it " He trailed off, his implication clear. He looked at Trip, waiting for his reaction. Would he be upset, disgusted that Malcolm was willing to resort to physical violence to get the information he needed? What would he say if he knew how afraid Malcolm had been that he would never find Trip? What would he say if he knew the level of anger that had swelled in him when Plinn wouldn't tell them what they wanted to know?
Trip met Malcolm's guarded, steady gaze. "You'd've done that for me?" Malcolm nodded, his expression unchanged. Trip thought carefully before replying. At last, he said, "I'm glad you didn't have to."
Malcolm relaxed. There was no note of horror or disgust or judgment in the engineer's voice. Trip understood, and everything was all right. "So am I," he agreed softly.
"What do we have today?" the captain asked his assembled senior bridge crew.
T'Pol called up a series of images and data gathered by the ship's long range sensors. "There is a binary system only one-point-two light-years off our current heading," she replied. "Sensors indicate there are five planets in the system—one appears to be Minshara class."
Archer clapped his hands together once and rubbed them like an excited child. "Excellent. What else?"
The captain looked across the situation room console at the Vulcan. "Nothing?"
"Nothing in a closer vicinity," clarified T'Pol. "There is a brown dwarf system and a pair of neutron stars at the edge of our sensors."
"That's it?" He glanced around the rest of the group and got only shrugs and nods in return from his officers. "In that case " He looked to his helmsman. " Travis, when we're done here you can lay in a course for the binary system, warp three."
"Does anyone else have anything to report?" Once again he looked at each person for a response.
"No, sir," said Sato.
"Tactical systems are functioning within normal parameters," answered Reed.
"Nothing, sir," replied Mayweather.
"No engineering problems were reported overnight," added T'Pol on behalf of Commander Tucker's Gamma shift engineering team; Trip himself was currently in Main Engineering.
There was a brief silence. "You're kidding," Archer said at last. He was met with oddly apologetic silence. He paused again, waiting for someone to tell him something was malfunctioning somewhere; it just couldn't be possible that there was nothing to report. Finally he had to accept the fact that his ship was running entirely without impediment. "Well, I suppose we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," he declared at last. "Dismissed." As the meeting broke up and the officers returned to their stations, Archer added to T'Pol, "You have the bridge, Sub-commander. I'll be in my ready room if anything happens."
"Understood," she replied with a nod.
Barely thirty-six hours later, Archer was longing for the quiet of a smoothly running vessel.
The hail from a small alien craft had been serendipitous, to say the least. Without their warning Enterprise wouldn't have seen the coming neutronic wave front until it was too late. The ship would have been lost with all hands. Now, however, they had a little time to prepare to protect themselves.
Very little time, the captain thought morosely. Then he thrust the feeling aside. We're not out of it yet, he told himself firmly.
He picked up the datapad before him. It contained everything they knew about neutronic storms. There was a lot of information—more than enough to make him doubtful about Enterprise and her crew's chances of safely riding one out. The heavier shielding of the nacelles would protect the crew—and the three alien refugees who had alerted them to the danger—from the radiolytic isotopes carried by the wave, but that meant flying by sensors alone. If he wasn't happy about it, he could only imagine what his helmsman was feeling right about now.
He set down the pad and opened a comm line to the team working to transfer the ship's vital systems to a make-shift bridge in one nacelle.
It was Tucker who responded. "Go ahead, Captain."
"How's it coming, Trip?"
"We're working as fast as we can. Travis and I should have the navigational arrays patched through in another fifteen minutes. We won't have any windows to look out, so I want to make real sure every sensor we've got is telling us what's out there once the wave front hits."
"Keep me apprised. Archer out." He closed the comm and sat back. He reached out to the desk in front of him and picked up the datapad once more. He shook his head, tossing the pad down and sighing in frustration. Time was running short, and nothing he read could make the situation better.
In the port nacelle, Tucker and Mayweather exchanged a glance. "He didn't sound too happy," commented the ensign.
"Can't really blame him," the engineer replied. "Hand me that hyperspanner, would ya?" Mayweather passed him the tool. "Thanks. Only thing that'll make him happy is to get through the next week or so without anyone getting hurt."
Mayweather only nodded in reply, remembering the Class-three neutronic storm the Horizon had been forced to weather when he was child. He didn't look forward to flying through the Class-five that was hot on Enterprise's heels.
Approaching footsteps along the metal grid of the catwalk announced a new arrival. Mayweather looked toward the newcomer. "Hey, Stephanie," he greeted her.
Tucker's shoulders stiffened at her name, but he didn't look up from the panel he was rewiring.
"Hey, Travis," she answered. She turned to Tucker. "Commander?"
"Ensign?" was his tight reply.
"I'm here to help get the tactical systems transferred over."
"Then you need to talk to Lieutenant Hess. She's over there." He pointed with a thumb off to his left. "Around that bank of consoles."
"Thank you." Cormack hesitated as if there was something more she wanted to say. In the end she simply walked away, rounding the bulkhead he'd indicated and disappearing from sight.
Mayweather watched the brief exchange curiously. He waited until he could hear the muffled voices of the two women discussing hull plating and command pathways. When he spoke it was softly, so as not to be over heard by them. "What was that about?"
"What about?" replied Tucker. "I need a plasma torch."
Mayweather found one and traded it for the hyperspanner the commander had been using. "With Ensign Cormack."
Tucker paused in his work to look Mayweather in the eye. "I don't know what you're talking about, Ensign," he said evenly.
Something in his tone made Mayweather leery. He let the subject drop.
"Hmm. Cozy," said Stephanie, eyeing the bunks that were bracketed to the bulkhead on either side of the catwalk. She looked at Liz. "You want the top or the bottom?"
"Top, if you don't mind," the exobiologist replied.
"That's fine by me." Stephanie tossed her small duffel bag onto the lower bunk.
"Hello?" The greeting came from the other side of the curtain hanging at the foot of the bunks. It was immediately followed by Bonnie's smiling face. "Hey, neighbors."
"Hey, yourself," replied Stephanie, returning her smile.
"You guys all settled in?"
"As we'll ever be," answered Liz. "I'm really not looking forward a week of this."
"Better this than radiation poisoning," Bonnie pointed out.
"I suppose I can't argue with that sort of logic." Liz smiled wanly. "Of course it also means a week without any real privacy "
"So a week without your man," Stephanie completed for her, teasing. "I think you'll survive."
"Besides," added Bonnie, "girls are more fun." She grinned broadly. "And you can take that any way you like." She popped back behind the curtain, stifling a giggle. Her heart was racing, and she was felt a little bit giddy. She sat on the lower bunk and tried to calm down. Come on, Fraser! she chided herself. You're a natural flirt. No one's going to think twice about what you just said. The thought bummed her out a little, and she no longer had to fight back her laughter.
But I want her to, she thought, frustrated. She raised a hand and idly scratched the opposite eyebrow with her thumb.
Forget it. You know it's hopeless, so stop wanting it so much.
The little voice in her head was logical, sensible, and absolutely not what she wanted to hear. Shut up.
"Hey," said Mae. Bonnie looked up as her bunkmate slipped through the railing and into their temporary billet. "You look like someone just kicked your dog," the engineer continued. "You okay?"
"Sure! Couldn't be better!" answered Bonnie too cheerfully. She shot her bunkmate a warning look and then gestured with her head toward the curtain separating them from their next door neighbors. Mae nodded in understanding and gave her friend a sympathetic smile. She tossed her duffel onto the upper bunk.
"I'm assuming you're okay on the bottom?" Mae said to the seated helmsman.
Bonnie took a cleansing breath and answered in her usual suggestive fashion, "Well, I'm usually on top, but I suppose this'll do."
From beyond the curtain, they heard Stephanie's reply. "I'm going to remember that." All four of the women laughed.
To the other side of Cormack and Cutler, a young, strawberry-blonde ensign couldn't help but overhear their chatter. She picked up the datapad on which she kept her private diary and turned it on. Personal log: September 18, 2152, she entered. It's going to be an interesting week.
At that moment, Captain Archer's voice came over the comm. Everyone stopped what they were doing to listen.
"All hands, this is the captain. This catwalk is going to be our home for a while; a week, maybe more. You may not be comfortable, but you'll be alive. We've got the best crew in the fleet, and the sturdiest ship. I promise you we'll get through this."
It wasn't long before the ship began to shake. Rumbling like an avalanche assaulted their ears as they neared the leading edge of the neutronic storm. The young ensign looked at the woman who would be her bunkmate for the next week. Hoshi looked back at her, trying to give her an encouraging smile while quelling her own internal fears.
The shaking grew stronger, and again Captain Archer opened a comm. "All hands, brace for impact."
All along the catwalk people took hold of anything that was screwed down: bunks, railings, the grid flooring, ceiling beams—anything that was within reach and promised to stay put.
Thirty seconds felt like an hour as the ship was buffeted by the wave front. Hoshi was thrown forward and nearly fell from her bunk. Bonnie and Mae held onto the railing for dear life as they were tossed back and forth. Liz kept a death grip on the metal walkway beside her. Stephanie remained seated, hands firmly grasping the edge of her bunk. She closed her eyes, trying to relax into the wild pitching of the ship.
Finally, the turbulence ceased and a slightly stunned calm descended over Enterprise's crew. There was a moment of silence before everyone moved at once, righting themselves and their belongings, and talking quietly.
"That was a hell of a ride," commented Stephanie, trying to sound casual and failing. She released her hold on her bunk. Her fingers were white with the force of her grip, and she massaged the blood back into them.
Liz looked at her dubiously. "Are you all right?" she said. Her bunkmate looked pale and, despite Stephanie's attempts to hide it, Liz could see her hands were shaking.
"Sure. I'm good. It's just last time I was on a ship that shook like that it collapsed around me, you know?"
Liz sat down next to her friend, putting a steadying hand on her shoulder. "I didn't think of that," she admitted. "Are you going to be okay? We'll be in here for a while."
Stephanie snorted derisively. "I kind of have to be, don't I?" She took a calming breath and added more easily. "I'll be fine, thanks."
"Uh-huh. It's cool." She gave an ironic chuckle. "And here I used to love roller-coasters."
"How many more days of this are we going to be subjected to?" muttered Malcolm. It was a rhetorical question, but Trip answered it anyway.
"At least six."
"Thank you." The armory officer said nothing more. He was fairly certain anything he said right now would come out sounding unnecessarily snarky. He wasn't enjoying the confined quarters, the lack of privacy, or the motion sickness that kept sending his stomach into his throat. Coincident with that thought, a mild grav-shear pulled the ship unexpectedly to port. Malcolm couldn't hold back a groan at the unwelcome movement. He laid down on his side, one hand wrapped protectively around his belly.
Trip looked down at his lover where he lay curled up on his bunk. Malcolm's grey-green pallor was a stark contrast to his dark blue uniform. Trip frowned in concern. "You don't look too good," he said gently.
"Thanks ever so," snapped Malcolm, barely above a whisper. He didn't care for their conversation to carry beyond the thin barrier of the curtains.
Trip let his snippy tone go; he knew it was the discomfort talking. "Why don't you go see Phlox?" he suggested. "I bet he could fix you right up."
"That would require standing and walking."
"I'll give you a hand."
"No." Slowly, Malcolm sat up on his own. "Thanks, but how would that look? You escorting me to sickbay."
"Everyone knows we're together," pointed out Trip, misunderstanding.
"That's not what I meant. I don't care to have it broadcast to the crew that I get motion sickness."
"You're entitled. You're only human, and a lot of people get motion sickness."
"Not the Reeds." He rose, one hand on Trip's shoulder to steady himself. A wave of nausea hit him, and he took a deep breath to quell it.
"Sure they don't," said Trip sarcastically. "Let me help you." He tried to put an arm around his partner, but Malcolm moved away from his touch.
"No. Thank you."
"Now you're just being stubborn."
"Yes. Excuse me." He moved past Trip, who stepped out of his way, drawing the curtain open as he did so.
"See you for dinner?" the engineer said, a hint of sniping in his voice.
Malcolm paused at the railing. He glanced back at the engineer. "That was spiteful and unnecessary," he said tightly. He slipped between the rails and up onto the catwalk.
"Malcolm—" Trip tried to stop him, but Malcolm moved quickly away in the direction of Phlox's temporary sickbay. Trip let the curtain fall and sighed angrily. Smooth, Trip, he thought. Real smooth.
Stephanie stood alone on the sailboat. It bobbed lightly in the waters of English Bay, and she looked out over the boat's railing at the shoreline of Vancouver. It was twilight, and the lights of the city were coming on. It was beautiful. She sighed.
A warm hand rested on her shoulder, and she smiled.
"I love this city at night," her father said.
"Mm-hmm," agreed Stephanie. She shivered in a sudden breeze.
"You cold, Spitfire?"
"Nah." It was a lie; she just didn't want to move. She was afraid if she did, he would vanish.
The gentle bobbing of the boat grew. Stephanie gripped the rail more tightly as an unexpected swell heaved the small vessel up and dropped it down abruptly.
"Whew!" she said, laughing nervously. "That was like a flash-back to zero-G training."
Another swell surged, tossing the boat to one side
"Wha—?" Cormack woke just in time to keep herself from being thrown from her bunk. Others weren't so lucky. She heard a thud followed by a vehement curse. Cormack chuckled at the string of colorful invective coming from next door.
The ship's violent shaking diminished to a manageable level, so she climbed out of bed. Steadying herself as best she could, she poked her head around the dividing curtain to where the curses had emanated. There was Lawless, stifling her laughter from her perch in the upper bunk, and Fraser rising to her feet and rubbing her shoulder.
"You two okay?" Cormack asked, fighting back her own mirth.
"Yeah, thanks," said Fraser grudgingly. "Just feeling stupid now."
Lawless quelled her merriment long enough to say, "I bet you're glad you weren't on top that time."
"Oh yeah. You're funny," Fraser replied, although she wasn't really angry. She was more annoyed with her rude awakening than she was with her bunkmate. She picked up the blanket that she'd pulled with her when she'd fallen, a mildly disgruntled expression on her face.
Cormack couldn't help but giggle. "Good night." She waggled her fingers in good-bye, and slipped back behind the drape.
One section over, the strawberry-blonde ensign pulled her diary from under her pillow. Personal log: September 20, 2152, she began. Wondering about neighbors. All nice enough, but one has vocabulary like sailor. She thought a little before continuing, then smiled. Think I could learn a lot. She seems to have a knack, and I've never been good at it. Will listen more closely from now on.
The smell of smoke was actually a welcome distraction. At first, Malcolm and Trip's mild sniping had merely amused their fellow poker-players, but it had grown spiteful. Neither Hoshi nor Travis cared to witness a full-blown lovers' spat.
Had Cormack known their thoughts, she would have agreed. She'd been trying to read, but the overheard snippets of conversation that reached her ears were too distracting to ignore. It's just the stress of the situation talking, she assured herself, trying now to block out the noise of Commander Tucker attempting to remain polite while chewing out their guests.
"Are you aware you're sitting on top of a plasma manifold?!" she heard him exclaim. "You've got to turn that thing off!"
Curiosity drove her to rise and peek out around the curtain. She couldn't see much, but from the smell she guessed the aliens were having a barbecue. Their words confirmed it.
"We've had trouble digesting your food," one of the men said.
A hail came through from Archer to the commander at that moment, and was immediately followed by a wave of spatial turbulence. Cormack held tight to the catwalk's railing. She couldn't make out what anyone said next, but it wasn't long before Tucker was heading toward the command area and Reed was carrying a large pan of something that looked like raw meat toward Chef's temporary galley. The look on his face was enough to make Cormack's stomach turn in sympathy.
She slipped out onto the catwalk. "Lieutenant Reed?" He paused and looked back at her, clearly impatient to be off and rid of his burden.
"I'll take that for you," she offered. "I could do with a walk."
Reed paused only briefly before replying. "Thank you." He handed the pan off to her. "Just ask Chef if he could heat it up for our guests. Tell him it's Commander Tucker's orders."
"Will do." She steeled herself to face the imposing Chef, clinging tightly to Reed's words. Commander Tucker's orders, she repeated internally as she strode purposefully along the metal grating. Let's hope he's past his 'kill the messenger' phase.
Reed watched her for a moment, thankful for her intervention. He fought back another surge of nausea. I think a quick stop by Dr. Phlox is in order. Then I'll head up to the command area to see what's going on.
Cormack stood with her pulse rifle ready. Below her was Ensign Young, also armed and waiting for the captain's next order. It was a bizarre way to conduct an interrogation, with Reed, Tucker, and T'Pol leaning over the catwalk railing and Archer facing down the three alien "refugees."
It turned out they were deserters from the Takret Militia—the very group whom Tucker had just discovered had boarded Enterprise and were currently attempting to re-initialize the warp engines. It seemed clear they didn't know the crew were aboard. From what one of the deserters said, it was equally clear it wouldn't have mattered if they did.
An eddy from the storm rocked the ship, but Cormack braced herself and held onto her weapon securely. There were hostile aliens trying to hijack Enterprise; if it came down to a fire-fight, she was ready.
But the Captain had other ideas. Leaving the security team with the trio of deserters, he headed toward the command area with Reed, Tucker, and T'Pol in tow. Reed offered to take a team and collect more EV suits; the three they had weren't enough if they were going to attempt an attack on the invaders. Archer denied the request.
"Even if we could get the suits we only have twenty-two minutes in the radiation. Hard to believe we could re-take the ship in that am—" A mechanical groaning sound interrupted the captain's speech. The small group froze in its tracks. The yellow light of the coils surged on above their heads; the intruders had gotten the warp drive back online. Archer looked at Tucker. "How long do we have?" he asked quietly.
"It'll take the warp coils a while to charge," the engineer said.
"How long?" reiterated Archer as they continued toward the command area.
"Twenty minutes tops."
Tucker sealed the helmet of Reed's EV suit. He wished he could go with him and T'Pol—or better yet go instead of him and T'Pol—but it was out of the question. They had twenty-two minutes; after his earlier excursion to engineering when he'd first discovered the Takret troops, he had only a nine minute window open to him. He gave his partner a thumbs up, which Reed gamely returned before climbing down the access ladder from the catwalk into the main body of Enterprise. T'Pol followed him down.
Archer used one gloved finger to open the vox on his own suit. "Sorry, Trip," he said as he waited for the officers to descend.
"As long as they get the job done, there'll be nothing to be sorry about," Tucker said with as much sincerity as he could manage.
Archer gave him an encouraging smile before following the others. With a resigned sigh, Tucker shut the access hatch behind them.
"This is so not good," Cormack muttered through clenched teeth. She was on her bunk, sitting with her knees up and her back pressed firmly against the bulkhead. Cutler sat beside her. The pair held on tightly as the ship shook more and more vehemently. Sweat trickled down Cormack's cheek, and she released her hold long enough to wipe it away with a sleeve.
"Hang in there," Cutler said encouragingly. She bent forward and blotted her damp forehead on her bent knees.
"If they don't get those injectors offline again soon, we're gonna cook in here."
Another wave of turbulence wrenched the ship just as Ensign Fraser was passing. She was thrown to one side and against a railing. "Shit!" she exclaimed, catching her breath from the impact.
"You okay?" asked Cormack, looking up at the helmsman.
"I'm gonna need a week in bed after this," Fraser replied. She held the rail with one hand and massaged her bruised ribs with the other.
"I'll keep you company," quipped Cormack. She hadn't meant it like it sounded. In fact she was feeling too battered and shaken to even realize what she'd said.
Fraser, on the other hand, grabbed onto her words and held them. She laughed as casually as she could manage under the circumstances, trying to act as if she hadn't picked up the innuendo.
The hum of the warp reactor slowed and ceased, the yellow lights above the catwalk going out with it. The drop in temperature was almost immediate. "That's better," said Cutler hopefully. Another grav-shear tossed the ship then, dampening her momentary optimism.
"Damn! Who's flying this bird, anyway?" asked Cormack half-rhetorically.
"Travis," answered Fraser. She sat where she was, wrapping both arms firmly around a support rail. "I was just up there, but they didn't need me hanging over their shoulders and backseat driving."
"It feels like he's deliberately looking for turbulence."
"He is. We're heading towards a plasma eddy. Captain's orders." Cormack and Cutler stared at her, aghast. She felt obliged to explain. "They're trying to scare off the intruders."
"They're gonna scare off my lunch if this keeps up much longer."
At that moment, the turbulence eased then ended completely. Slowly, people began to stir throughout the compartment. Fraser rose, and Cutler and Cormack both stretched muscles that were tight with tension. Cutler climbed off the bunk and fished in her duffel for a small towel. She wiped the residue of sweat from her face.
"Thank goodness that's over!" she said with a relieved sigh.
"We're hardly out of this storm yet," her bunkmate pointed out cynically.
"But we're through this particular ordeal, and for that I'm grateful."
"I'm with you there," agreed Fraser. She put a hand to her side again where she'd impacted the railing. "I think I'll go see the doc. Catch you two later."
"Like you could avoid it," joked Cormack, her sense of humor slowly returning.
"Like I'd try," Fraser replied. She gave a smile and was about to head off towards 'sickbay' when Archer's voice came over the comm.
"All hands, this is the captain. We've successfully disposed of the hostile force that had invaded Enterprise. With a little luck the rest of this trip will be smooth sailing. Archer out."
The three women exchanged relieved smiles. "That's good news," said Cutler.
In the next set of bunks over, Sato and her roommate couldn't agree more. Sato looked at the petite red-head. "Sounds like we've had our crisis for the time being," she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt.
"I hope so," the young woman agreed fervently. She climbed up onto her bunk and took out her diary. September 21, 2152, she typed. Crisis averted. Aliens gone. She paused. What else had happened today that she wanted to note down? Then she remembered. Think two of my neighbors are flirting with each other.
Up in the command area, the captain placed a congratulatory hand on Mayweather's shoulder. "Well done, Travis," he said.
"Thank you, sir."
"And to all of you." He looked at T'Pol, Tucker, and Reed individually. "Good work."
There were subdued thank-yous from Reed and Tucker; T'Pol nodded in recognition of the commendation.
Archer shifted the EV suit helmet he carried under his arm. "Whew!" he said lightly. "It's pretty pungent in here, isn't it?"
"Temperatures like we had'll do that to you," Tucker commented, his face still flushed with the recent heat.
"Yes. If you'll excuse me," T'Pol said. She left the command area, intending to get out of her EV suit and then take an extra dose of her nasal numbing agent.
Archer chuckled amiably, correctly guessing the reason for her departure. He clapped a hand on Tucker's shoulder. "Too bad there wasn't time to build a shower, eh, Trip?"
The engineer pursed his lips as he shot a surreptitious glance at his lover. Reed gave him a pleasantly neutral look in return. Mayweather kept his eyes trained on the sensor readings before him.
"Yes, sir," Tucker finally managed to say.
Stephanie stood alone on the sailboat once again. It was exactly as it had been before. She looked out over the boat's railing at the Vancouver skyline. The lights of the city were coming on against the growing twilight. It was beautiful. She sighed.
A warm hand rested on her shoulder, and she smiled.
"I love this city at night," her father said.
"Mm-hmm," agreed Stephanie. She shivered in a sudden breeze.
"You cold, Spitfire?"
"Nah." It was a lie; she just didn't want to move. She was afraid if she did, he would vanish.
Her father knew it and wrapped an arm around her. She leaned her head on his strong shoulder, soaking in the warmth of him. They stood that way a long time, just staring at the cityscape as the sky darkened.
"I miss you, Daddy-o," Stephanie said, breaking the long silence.
"I miss you, too," he replied.
Stephanie felt someone else approach and glanced toward the newcomer. "Hey, Ryn!" she said, excited. "Look who's here."
Ryn tossed her long hair over one shoulder. She smiled, but her eyes were melancholy. "I know. That's why I came."
"Eh?" Stephanie tilted her head to one side, puzzled.
Her father stepped away from her and reached out a hand towards her sister. "Ready to go, Cookie?"
"No," Ryn replied, but she took his hand anyway.
"Wait!" exclaimed Stephanie. "What're you doing?" She turned pleading eyes on her father. "Dad, you can't!"
"You're too far away, Spitfire," he said gently but with a heavy finality in his voice.
"No!" She reached for them, but her hand passed through their clasped ones. "No!"
Cormack woke with her heart pounding in her ears. She took a deep breath, steadying her nerves. Her dream was slipping away fast, but she didn't try to hang onto it. It was enough to know she felt sad and frightened all at once. She lay there in the dark, listening to the sounds around her. As best she could tell, the majority of the crew were asleep. Good, she thought. At least I didn't wake anyone else up.
There was a quiet rapping of knuckles on metal. She sat up. "Hello?" she whispered.
Bonnie poked her head around the drape at Stephanie's feet. "Everything okay?" she asked softly. "I thought I heard something."
"Just me and my freaky dreams." There was a mix of annoyance and embarrassment in Stephanie's voice.
"I'm sorry," apologized Fraser, thinking it was she who had irritated the blonde. "I'll leave you alone." She was about to close the drape once more when Cormack stopped her.
"No. It's okay. I'm just annoyed with myself." She looked at the helmsman, Bonnie's form blurred in the shadows. "Go for a walk?" Stephanie said impulsively. She didn't think she could sleep again right away, and she didn't want the helmsman to go, but neither did she want their chatting to disturb Liz or Mae.
Bonnie was surprised, but nodded. "Let me grab my clothes," she said softly.
Stephanie nodded, and Bonnie disappeared. She rose and pulled her uniform on over her blues. They'd all been wearing the same uniforms for nearly a week now; but most everyone had determined early on that this didn't mean they had to sleep in them.
As quietly as she could, Stephanie pulled back the cloth that separated her billet from the walkway and slipped between the rails up onto the metal grating. Bonnie joined her moments later.
"Aft?" the auburn-haired woman whispered.
Stephanie nodded, and the two padded barefoot to the far end of the nacelle, waving a silent hello to Phlox as they passed him and his medicinal menagerie.
The two sat down behind the latrines. "Amazing," murmured Stephanie. "It actually smells fresher here than anywhere else along the catwalk."
Bonnie chuckled. "I think Lieutenant Reed was onto something the other day when he was bitching about there not being a shower."
"Don't tell Commander Tucker that." She laughed softly, then grew serious. "He and his teams worked their asses off getting this place habitable."
The pair fell silent and several minutes passed by as they sat there, content just to be in one another's company.
"What were you dreaming about?" Bonnie asked eventually.
"I don't know. Something depressing."
"You don't remember?"
Stephanie shook her head. "Nope. I just know it didn't end well." A sudden shiver ran through her, and she wrapped her arms around her bent knees.
"We should've brought a blanket."
Another silence fell. Only the soft humming of the ship, an occasional chirp or squawk from one of Phlox's animals, and the inevitable ambient noise of eighty-plus sleeping people could be heard. They were quiet so long that Bonnie began to wonder if Stephanie hadn't fallen asleep. But then the blonde woman spoke.
"Sorry if I woke you up."
"I was awake already," Bonnie assured her. "Otherwise I'd never've heard you."
"What did you hear, anyway?" asked Stephanie with some anxiety.
"Nothing intelligible—except at the end. I heard you say 'no' pretty vehemently."
"It's okay." Bonnie thought hard, trying to remember anything else she might have overheard. There was nothing. "You don't remember anything?"
"Nope. Well " Stephanie paused, thinking. "I might've been on our sailboat. I remember it bobbing up and down on the water."
"Probably because that's what Enterprise was doing right before you woke up."
"Was it?" She turned her head and looked at the helmsman.
Bonnie nodded. "Nothing big. Just a little jostling."
"Oh." Stephanie shivered again, pulled her knees closer.
"You are cold. Here." Bonnie scooted over closer to her so their sides were touching, then wrapped her arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. She rubbed her hand up and down Stephanie's arm, trying to warm her up.
"Thanks." A tremor shook the ship slightly and Stephanie tensed, instinctively leaning in closer to Bonnie. "Damn," she muttered.
"Turbulence never used to bother me."
It wasn't a direct answer, and Bonnie didn't press for one. She simply held Stephanie closer, hoping her presence would help calm her fears.
Several minutes later, it appeared it had. Stephanie's head rested on Bonnie's shoulder, and the helmsman was fairly certain she was asleep. Bonnie was torn. She knew if Stephanie spent the rest of the night like that she'd wake up sore in the morning. On the other hand, the warmth and weight of the security officer sleeping against her was a very welcome feeling. Bonnie decided to let her rest for a little while before rousing her.
She wondered again what the other woman had dreamed about. It had obviously upset her, even if she couldn't remember it in any detail. Bonnie tightened her hold around Stephanie's shoulders comfortingly. She smiled as the sleeping woman relaxed further and instinctively snuggled into the embrace.
Soft footsteps approached. Fraser looked up to see a puzzled Commander Tucker looking down at them.
"Everything all right, Ensign?" he asked quietly.
"Yes, sir," Bonnie replied in a whisper. "She wasn't sleeping well."
"And she's sleeping better here?" he joked mildly. "It doesn't look like the most comfortable place."
"No, sir. I was just thinking the same thing." She used her free hand to brush loose strands of hair from Stephanie's face. "Hey," she said softly. "Wake up."
"Mmm," was Stephanie's only reply.
Tucker gave a low chuckle. The scene reminded him of times Malcolm had tried to wake him when Trip really didn't want to be woken up. "You need a hand?"
"No, thanks." Bonnie shook Stephanie gently. "Come on. Time to go back to bed."
"Huh?" Stephanie's eyes fluttered reluctantly open to reveal Bonnie's face only centimeters away. "Oh. Sorry," she said, sitting up and rubbing both hands over her tired face. She looked up again, and this time saw Commander Tucker standing over them. "Commander." She stood quickly, tried futilely to smooth the wrinkles from her uniform. Bonnie rose beside her.
"You feeling all right, Ensign?" Tucker asked solicitously.
"Yes, sir. Thank you." She turned to Bonnie and said less formally, "Thank you."
"Anytime," Bonnie replied.
Cormack turned back to Tucker. "Good night, Commander," she said.
"Night," he replied as the women stepped past him. Huh, he thought, shaking his head in mild puzzlement, wonder what that was about? He let the thought go; it was none of his business, after all. He opened the door to the latrine and stepped inside the small space. Tinier than any outhouse, he said to himself. But at least it doesn't smell like one.
When he emerged a few moments later, Cormack and Fraser had disappeared from view. He made his slow, silent way back along the catwalk to his billet. He hesitated briefly at the drape next to his own, wondering if Malcolm was awake behind it. Then he shook his head and moved on to his own compartment. He pulled the curtain aside just far enough to slip between it and the one hanging at a 90 degree angle to it. He unzipped his uniform, wondering how many more times he would be able to force himself back into it before he couldn't stand it anymore.
Wish we'd had time to build a shower, he thought, echoing Jon and Malcolm's comments of earlier in the week. Not that I'm ever gonna tell either of them that, he added. He folded the coveralls and set them on the floor below the bunk. Malcolm'd be proud of me, he thought with irony.
A soft voice startled him from his thoughts. "Well done. Good to learn you actually know how to fold a piece of clothing."
Trip grinned and looked over at his lover, whose head was poking around the drape that separated their billets. "Sure I know how," he answered equally quietly. "I just don't always choose to."
Malcolm returned his impish grin with a wry smirk. "Somehow that makes it worse. What are you doing up?" he asked, shifting topic abruptly. "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah. Just had to pee." Trip thought then of the two women whom he'd seen sitting so snugly at the aft of the catwalk.
"What is it?" asked Malcolm, noting Trip's suddenly thoughtful expression.
"Do you know ?" But he trailed off. Somehow he couldn't bring himself to tell Malcolm what he'd seen. He couldn't face the prospect of another argument about Ensign Cormack—particularly not in these close quarters with the potential for eighty witness to overhear. He shook his head dismissively. "Nothing." He stepped over to Malcolm and kissed him gently through the gap in the drapes. "Sweet dreams."
"I'm certain they will be," Malcolm replied with a smile. "Good night."
Malcolm closed the curtain, leaving Trip in relative solitude. He pulled back the blanket and fell heavily into bed. He was damn near worn out, and there were at least a couple of days left before they would able to emerge from their confinement.
Trip tried to make himself comfortable, but his body was missing the warm presence of his lover. The quick kiss they'd shared only heightened the feeling of emptiness. He sighed in quiet frustration. The armory officer was bunked down less than a meter away, but there would be no sharing his company—or his bed—until they were through the neutronic storm. Damn. Was his birthday really only three weeks ago? It seemed like a lifetime. He remembered the night they'd had, and he smiled. Then he took a deep breath and shoved the memories back. Don't go there, Trip, he told himself firmly. There's nothing to be done about it, so just don't even go there.
He rolled over and faced the bulkhead, pulling the blanket up over his shoulder. Eventually he drifted off to sleep.
Two days later, the haggard crew of Enterprise emerged from the catwalk. The atmosphere was subdued. Tucker headed first to his quarters to drop off his small bag of belongings, then went immediately to Main Engineering. As desperately as he wanted a shower, his primary order of business was to restart the warp engines. He'd worry about cleaning out the extra wiring and whatnot from the nacelle once Enterprise was well away from Takret territory.
He checked internal sensors to be certain no one was left in the catwalk. Satisfied the area had been vacated, he brought the matter and the antimatter injectors online. The hum as the warp coils charged was a relief to every cell in his body; he just didn't feel right when his engine wasn't running. He heaved a heavy sigh and opened a comm line to the bridge.
"Go ahead," came the reply from Reed.
"Engines are warming up," Tucker informed him. "I'm gonna run a quick diagnostic now, then when the warp coils are fully charged, I'll do a more in-depth check of the systems."
"Hey, are our guests gone yet?"
"They're leaving the launch bay now," the tactical officer informed him.
"All right. Tucker out."
On the bridge, Reed closed the comm. He sat back at the tactical station, watching the readings as the small alien vessel that had been sitting in their docking bay made its way back into open space.
"They've cleared the bay," Ensign Mayweather said from the helm.
"So I see."
The little ship hailed them, and Reed responded. "This is Enterprise."
"Thank you once more for your hospitality, Enterprise," said the leader of the trio, Tagrim.
"You're welcome," the lieutenant replied. "Good luck."
Tagrim simply nodded his final thanks and closed the line. The vessel went to warp and disappeared.
Reed looked over at Mayweather and asked wearily, "Tell me, Ensign. How did we end up stuck with the first bridge duty?"
"We drew the short straws," Mayweather replied without his usual vigor.
"Ah yes. The short straws."
Reed began running a diagnostic of the ship's power grid. It had been offline for over a week and while it seemed no worse for its idleness, he knew he would feel better once the systems had been thoroughly checked out. Mayweather was doing the same thing with helm control. It had only taken moments to transfer command functions back to the bridge.
"I never realized how comfortable this chair is," Mayweather commented. "Of course, anything is more comfortable than a storage canister—even with a cushion on it."
They continued to work in silence. It was Reed who finally broke it. "Looks like the power grid is as good as ever," he said. He rose and crossed the bridge to the communications station, began a preliminary diagnostic of those systems as well.
"Warp engines are back online, Lieutenant," Mayweather announced.
"Excellent." He opened a comm. "Bridge to Captain Archer."
There was a pause before the captain responded. "Go ahead."
"Warp engines are online, sir. Your orders?"
"Stay on our current course and go to warp two. I'll be there in fifteen minutes."
Archer shut off the connection with one damp finger, then continued rubbing a large towel over Porthos. "There you go, pal," he said, rumpling the dog's ears fondly. Porthos barked once and shook himself vigorously. He gave Archer a sour look and padded out of the bathroom, plopping down sullenly on his pillow.
Archer rose and followed him to the doorway. He leaned a shoulder against the door frame. "Some thanks I get," he said to the dog. "I even let you have the first bath. And don't try to tell me you didn't need it." He tossed the damp towel at the beagle who just watched as it sailed over his head and landed in the far corner of the cabin. Jon chuckled at his own poor aim and returned to the bathroom. He stripped off his uniform and blues, chucking all of it into the laundry chute before stepping into the shower and hitting the jet.
He sighed happily as the hot water coursed over him, and reached for the shampoo. He wanted to stand there for the next hour, but he'd told Reed he'd be on the bridge in fifteen minutes. Why did I say that? he asked himself, lathering the shampoo into his short brown hair. Oh well. What's he going to do if I'm a couple of minutes late? Reprimand me? He chuckled as he rinsed away the suds. He picked up a loofah, squirted shower gel onto it, and began scrubbing eight days of sweat and grime from his body.
There was a line at the shower room. Cormack wasn't surprised, but that didn't make her any less annoyed at having to wait. The sound of running water taunted her from every stall. She sat heavily on the long bench that ran the length of the room and gave a wan smile of greeting to the two crewmen waiting ahead of her.
Behind them, the door opened and Lawless entered. "Cool," the engineer said, plopping down next to her friend.
"Cool?" echoed Cormack.
"This line's shorter than the one by my quarters."
They heard a single shower shut off, and it wasn't long before a crewman emerged from the cubicle in question. She politely held the door open for the next person in line. The man at the end of the bench rose.
"Thanks," he said as she handed the stall off to him.
"No problem," she replied as she departed.
The three on the bench slid down one spot. They didn't have long to wait before another shower opened up. The crewman in front of Cormack stood tiredly and entered the cubical, shutting its plexiglas door behind him.
"Just you and me now," Stephanie said, sliding down the bench once again.
Mae followed her. "Good," she said softly, suddenly adopting a secretive attitude.
"What happened with you and Bonnie?"
Stephanie looked at the engineer blankly. "And again I'm forced to say, 'Huh?'"
"The other night," Mae said as if this clarified everything.
"Do I have to grunt at you a third time?"
"I woke up the other night, and she was gone. When she came back, I asked what was up."
"Ohhh!" said Stephanie, light finally dawning. "The night I had that dream, I bet."
"Yeah. She said you'd had some weird dream, and she kept you company for a while."
"Right." Stephanie felt disinclined to tell her friend how she'd fallen asleep on Bonnie's shoulder. It was an especially good memory, and for now she wanted to keep it for herself.
There was a silence broken only by the sound of the showers running.
"That's it?" asked Mae, disappointed. She'd gotten no satisfaction from her bunkmate, and had sincerely hoped for more from Stephanie.
"What did you expect?"
"I don't know. Something more exciting than that, I guess."
A shower shut off.
"Sorry to disappoint you," said Stephanie sarcastically.
"I'm disappointed for you, not me."
Mae realized her tactical error. I must be more tired than I thought. "Nothing."
The cubicle at the far end of the room opened up, and Ensign Young emerged wrapped in a bathrobe and toweling his short ginger-colored hair.
"It's all yours," he said amiably. "I think I saved you some hot water," he added jokingly.
"I hope so," quipped Cormack, rising and slinging her towel over her shoulder. She gave Mae a look before heading to the stall. "You and I are going to continue the little chat later."
"Sure," replied Mae.
Stephanie eyed her dubiously. "Hmm." She wanted to know what Mae was hiding, but she wasn't willing to give up her turn at the showers to find out right now. She closed the stall door, positive that her friend would be long gone before she ever emerged. That's okay, she thought as she hung her robe on a hook and stripped out of her dirty clothes. It's a finite ship. I'll find her eventually.
Archer stepped onto the bridge only two minutes later than he'd said he would. Reed gave no indication that he'd noticed his slightly tardy arrival. "Report, Lieutenant," the captain said.
"Diagnostics are all coming up green so far," Reed informed him. "Preliminary checks of the comm system indicate we have a lot of delayed communications coming in."
"That's not surprising. We were out of contact for over a week, and I only had a little time to inform Starfleet of what was happening." He headed across the bridge. "I'll be drafting a report to them if I'm needed."
Archer exited to his ready room.
"Hoshi and her team will have their work cut out for them sorting this lot," Reed remarked to Mayweather, watching as scores of messages downloaded from the nearest sub-space relay.
"Yeah, but I bet everyone will be glad to have some news from home," said Travis.
"I expect you're right." He paused as something on the communications console caught his eye.
All the communiqués with an Urgent tag were automatically sorted by the computer into a file separate from the regular correspondence. Normally anything with those tags was addressed to Captain Archer and/or Sub-commander T'Pol, but one that had flashed past on the screen had another name on it.
"That's odd," he muttered. When the backlog of communications had completed its download, he called up the Urgent file and scanned the screen. There were only three entries: two for Captain Archer and one for Ensign Cormack.
"What's up, Lieutenant?" asked Travis, glancing over from the helm.
"An urgent communiqué for Ensign Cormack."
"Oh." Travis shrugged. "Well it is late September. What do you want to bet it's a baseball update?" he joked.
Malcolm chuckled. "You're probably right. No doubt she'll be thrilled to find out what the Orcas have been up to, and we'll all get to hear about it for the next week at least," he quipped dryly. He entered a simple command to forward the three messages to their intended recipients, then returned to Tactical. He sat down wearily.
Travis glanced over at him. "Cheer up, Lieutenant. Only four hours until someone comes to relieve us."
"Splendid," was Malcolm's sardonic reply. "Four hours until I can shower and get a decent meal."
"It could be worse."
"We could be with Liz helping Phlox return all his animals to their usual homes."
Reed considered, a repelled look crossing his face as he thought of the Edosian slugs, the Pyrithian bat, and the damned Regulan blood worms, as well as the rest of the doctor's menagerie. "I think you're right, Ensign. I'll take a nice quiet bridge shift over that lot any day."
Mayweather was emphatic in his agreement. "Yes, sir!"