Log Rhythms - Season Two
"Ensign Cormack," snapped Reed sharply.
Cormack's head jerked up and she looked at him, startled. "Yes, sir?"
"Glad to see you're actually awake. Now if you would start paying attention, I might not have to repeat myself quite so often."
"Sorry, sir." Cormack tried hard to focus on the lieutenant's words, but she was having trouble concentrating. Listen! she ordered herself angrily. Reed was talking about inventory. Ensign Young was to take a team and continue yesterday's project--inventory and maintenance of all the weapons lockers. Lieutenant Reed wanted to be absolutely sure the Takret Militia hadn't damaged anything or gotten away with anything that didn't belong to them. Meanwhile, the lieutenant, Cormack, and Martinez would follow up yesterday's diagnostics on the ship's heavier artillery and defensive systems with firing tests and combat simulations.
"That is assuming you can stay with us long enough to do the job," Reed said pointedly to Cormack.
She stood straighter and looked him in the eye. "Yes, sir."
"Good. Are there any questions?" There were none. "Dismissed."
Ensign Young and two crewmen collected datapads and a maintenance kit and left the armory.
Reed turned to Martinez. "Lock down the torpedo tubes. I know they're empty, but I'm not taking any chances."
"Yes, sir," she replied and began the lockdown.
"Ensign," he continued to Cormack, "take all the weapon systems off-line and put them in simulation mode."
"Yes, sir." She moved to the armory's main computer console and began methodically changing each weapon relay from active to simulation mode.
Reed hailed the bridge. "Captain, you asked to be informed when I took the ship's offensive systems off-line."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Archer replied over the comm connection. "Do you have an estimate on how long they'll be down?"
"I'm afraid it will take the better part of the day, sir. I'll alert you as soon as the work is done."
"All right. Archer out."
"Are you about finished?" Reed asked, turning to Cormack.
She looked away from the console distractedly. "Yes, sir. Just finishing up now." She'd been working quickly, trying to make up for her earlier inattentiveness.
"Good." He looked over at Martinez, judging her progress as well. The crewman finished locking down the starboard torpedo tube and moved to the aft one. When that was done, she gave her C.O. a nod.
Now the simulations began. Cormack found it a fairly dull process on the best of days, and she was not having the best of days. A part of her kept saying she should be glad to have something so mundane to focus on, but it was difficult. She hadn't slept well the last two nights. Her mind wandered repeatedly, and she had to force herself to keep her eyes on the panel before her. She wished for another cup of coffee.
Reed typed in a code for a pre-programmed simulation to test the torpedoes' targeting scanners. It would allow them to assess the system's current state and compare it to earlier results of the same program. This one used only the port forward torpedo.
"Run the simulation, Ensign," he said.
It took Cormack a second to register his words and move her hands to comply. The firing sequence ran. The data it produced immediately recorded in the ship's computer and displayed on the screen. Reed called up the results of the control test against which he compared the new results. He nodded in approval.
"It's a good start," he said with satisfaction. "Let's run it again, and rotate the targeting axis by point-three microns."
"Point-three microns," echoed Cormack for her own benefit more than to assure her C.O. she'd heard the order. She input the command and re-ran the simulation. It came up a near-perfect match.
"Rotate another point-zero-five microns."
This time it was a perfect match.
"Once more for good measure," Reed said.
Once more brought the same results, and the lieutenant smiled. "Excellent."
It went like that for some time. Testing each torpedo's targeting scanners, launch command pathways, every niggling little thing that might have been disrupted by either the Takret Militia or the neutronic storm Enterprise had weathered. When those were done, the trio moved on to the phase canons and, in the same methodical manner, began testing each one's systems individually.
"All right. We're moving aft again," Lieutenant Reed announced. The aft phase cannon was the last to check. Then the team could break for a quick lunch before returning to run multi-weapon and combat simulations. "Let's run sim APC-020."
"APC-020," echoed Cormack once more.
Reed glanced at her from the corner of his eye. Her responses all morning had sounded almost mechanical, and he wondered briefly at the reason. She was rather quiet yesterday as well, he thought. There were all sorts of reasons she might be quieter than normal. It could be she'd slept poorly, or hadn't gotten enough coffee that morning; or it could be because he'd reprimanded her earlier. He gave a mental shrug. Possibly it was all three. The rebuke had been a mild one, and it had been deserved. He reckoned she was simply trying not to step out of line again.
In truth, Cormack barely remembered the brief exchange. It seemed irrelevant, and she'd dismissed it from her thoughts. She called up program APC-020 and input the command to run it.
A warning light flared on the secondary control console Martinez was monitoring. "Lieutenant, I'm reading an active circuit in the arming mechanism," she announced immediately.
"I see it!" exclaimed Reed in surprise. He immediately punched in the override code to cancel what was supposed to have been a simulated firing sequence.
At the same moment, there was a hail from the bridge. "Archer to Lieutenant Reed," came the captain's urgent call. "What's going on?"
Reed opened the comm line. "Everything's under control, sir." His hands skipped over the panel before him, tracking down the errant circuit. He found it quickly and shut it down, his eyes widening when he realized the implications of the error.
"What happened? I thought all weapons were supposed to be offline."
"A miscommunication, Captain. It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't."
The line chirped closed.
Slowly, Reed turned to look at Cormack. His expression spoke volumes; his anger obviously held in check by sheer will. Cormack looked back at him, her face blank. At the secondary control panel across the room crewman Martinez desperately wished she could escape the scene she was certain was about to come.
"What happened?" Reed demanded in a terrifyingly calm voice.
"I must have missed one," Cormack replied flatly.
He stared at her, stunned. She appeared unconcerned at her transgression. "You must have missed one?" he echoed in astonishment. "The power-up was live, but the firing control wasn't. You do understand what that means, I presume?"
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."
Reed exploded. "Do you have any idea the danger your negligence put this ship in? If that phase cannon had reached firing point, Enterprise would have one hell of a hole in her right now. And the three of us, and a lot of others, would be quite, quite dead. "
Cormack continued to return his angry look with her own impassive one. She knew she was in trouble. She knew she'd screwed up. She couldn't find it in herself to care. The lieutenant's words came to her as if he were speaking from the far end of a long, narrow hallway; by the time they reached her, they were devoid of feeling or meaning. He was talking about failed safety protocols, back-blasts, containment breaches, all sorts of devastation. None of it reached her.
Her bland silence only made Reed angrier. "We would have been witness to one hell of an explosion. Sadly, none of us would have lived to tell anyone about it!"
Finally, something in his words reached Cormack's numbed brain. "Ex explosion?" she asked quietly.
"That is the usual outcome, yes," he snapped. The stricken look on her face should have been a clue, but he put it down to her finally understanding the consequences of her mistake. "You're relieved of duty until I tell you otherwise. We'll discuss this tonight." He'd moved from hot anger back to quiet fury. Even across the room Martinez could feel the change in his manner. She didn't look forward to being stuck here with him alone for the rest of her shift.
Cormack didn't move.
"Ensign!" Reed snapped.
The blond woman's eyes widened minutely and she stiffened almost imperceptibly. She swallowed hard, gave one sharp nod, and left the armory.
Reed took a moment to collect himself. A little voice in his head told him there was something he was missing, that Cormack's behavior was rooted in something he should know. He ignored the voice. She was a friend, but she was under his command, and her actions had endangered Enterprise and her crew. She could stew in her quarters and think about what she'd done. Right now he had a job to do.
"Crewman," he said, glancing back at the worried Martinez. "Double check that all weapons systems are running in simulation mode this time. I don't want any more surprises."
Cormack walked stiffly to her quarters. She felt she was watching herself from outside, not really a part of what her body was doing. She entered the empty cabin and stopped.
I can't be here, she thought. Like a trapped animal, she looked around the small space. I can't.
It was nearly lunchtime. She considered going and getting something to eat, but decided against it. The prospect of facing her friends and telling them what had happened was too dismal to consider. Instead, she'd wait until the bulk of Alpha shift were back at their posts. But what could she do in the meantime?
Stephanie sat down at the computer and began searching through the ship's movie database. Surely there was something mindless in there that she could watch. Something stupid and funny, but good enough to hold her attention for a little while. Her eyes found a title she remembered Mae recommending once. It was one of the engineer's beloved B-movies, and it was just what she was looking for. Cormack called it up. She moved to her bunk, shoving the desk chair aside as she went so she had a clear view of the monitor. It wasn't a large screen, so she laid down on her stomach with her head at the foot of her bed, tucked a pillow under her arms for a little support, and settled in to watch Earth Girls are Easy.
A little over an hour and a half later, she was still there. The end credits rolled as she slowly sat up. Her back and shoulders ached from not moving for so long, but she didn't care. She checked the time. Good, she thought. She'd stalled just long enough that the mess hall should be about empty. She could grab something and get back to her quarters and only meet a minimum of people.
Or I could do yoga first, then eat something, her mind suggested. Her brain was coming back to reality, the distraction of the film only lasting as long as the film itself. Yoga. That's a good idea. She opened her locker, quickly changed into workout gear, and grabbed her mat. If she was lucky, the calm she usually found in yoga would help her focus and forget.
She met no one on her way to the gym and was pleased to find the place empty when she arrived. Cormack unrolled her mat and began.
It took less than twenty minutes for her to realize it was a lost cause. All the sun salutations and balance poses in the world weren't going to give her what she needed. The quiet internal reflection brought by the repetition of the postures only intensified the thoughts she didn't want to face. She cursed softly, dropping unceremoniously out of the asana she held. She rolled up the mat and returned with it to her cabin.
"Damn," she muttered to herself. "Damn, damn, damn!" She shoved the mat into her locker and slammed the door on it violently, taking a brief flash of comfort in the noise it produced. She sat abruptly on the corner of her bunk, then stood just as abruptly only seconds later.
"I can't be here," she said aloud. She was antsy. She needed to do something. She couldn't go back to the armory. Lieutenant Reed had made it quite clear she wouldn't be welcome there.
"Mess hall." All of a sudden Stephanie realized how hungry she was. She'd had nothing, not even a glass of water, since her usual latté and a small muffin at breakfast. "Food's a good idea," she muttered to herself. "Food and something to drink."
A craving rose in her and she froze where she stood.
"No," she said firmly. She grabbed a pair of sneakers and sat again, pulling them on. "Food. You're hungry. Go eat something."
She left the cabin and headed for the mess hall.
It was late afternoon and the mess hall was blessedly empty. Stephanie scanned what was left in the way of food options, settling on a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. She took the plate to a table and sat. "Drink," she remembered. "Can't ever do anything in one trip, can you?" she chided herself.
She rose and went to the cabinet where the mugs and glasses were stored. She picked a tumbler and put it under the drinks dispenser, then just started at it in silence for several moments. Stephanie wanted to say, "Water." That was all, one word--water. But somehow it wouldn't come out. It was as if she was no longer in control, as if she was floating just a bit outside herself.
When she finally spoke, the words came from somewhere far away. She listened, knowing it was her voice but unable to control it.
"Vodka, straight up, very cold."
The machine blinked at her, requesting her alcohol ration code. It was an opportunity to stop, but it was as if her hand belonged to a stranger. She watched as it reached out and typed in the code.
The clear, chill liquid poured into the glass. Stephanie stared as if hypnotized.
She continued to watch as her hand reached out and picked up the tumbler. She examined it, a mildly curious expression on her face. The glass against her fingers was cold and smooth, with beads of condensation already forming on the surface. No scent rose from its contents. She had the passing thought that whoever had programmed the drinks dispenser knew his booze.
The door next to her slid open, and she glanced at the new arrival. "Hello, Commander," she said blandly.
"Ensign," replied Tucker, surprised to see her there and out of uniform. "Aren't you supposed to be on duty?"
She shook her head slightly. "No, sir."
They regarded each other in silence for a moment. Tucker was puzzled, but shrugged off the feeling. He didn't generally check Reed's crew assignments beyond looking to see when Malcolm was or wasn't working. Apparently this was Cormack's day off. When she continued to stand there, unmoving, he spoke up again. "Excuse me," he said, indicating the tray of clean glasses behind her.
"Sorry." She stepped aside, allowing him access to the glasses and the drinks dispenser.
He found a mug and placed it on the pad. "Black coffee. Hot," he ordered. Obediently, the machine dispensed the dark liquid. The scent rose to Cormack's nostrils and she inhaled it appreciatively, the ghost of a smile crossing her lips.
Her behavior struck Tucker as even odder than usual. She was never comfortable around him due to his own projected discomfort whenever in her presence, but this was something completely different. He wondered if it had anything to do with the night on the catwalk when he'd found her and Ensign Fraser huddled together behind the latrines. "Everything all right, Ensign?" he asked her, as he had asked Fraser then.
"Fine, sir. Thank you."
Her vacant look and innocuous smile should have been a warning, but Tucker couldn't see it; he'd never made a study of her facial expressions. "All right," he replied, taking her at her word. "See you 'round." He claimed his mug of coffee and departed, happy to be rid of her company.
Left alone once more, Stephanie sat at the table she'd chosen. She shoved the plate with her sandwich to one side, then set her drink in its place. For some time she simply contemplated it. It was crystal clear, almost pristine in its appearance. She picked it up again, the condensation leaving a wet ring on the tabletop. Cormack held the glass up to the light, turning it this way and that. She was very close to dumping it down the recycler. Instead, she put it to her lips, opened her throat wide, and downed the liquor in one swallow.
The burning sensation was more intense than she remembered. She was out of practice. Then the wave of heat and pain faded to an old, familiar warmth, and she sighed.
It was dinnertime, and the mess hall was hopping. Lawless and Cutler shared a table, waiting for Cormack and Fraser to join them. It wasn't long before the helmsman appeared. Fraser selected a bowl of soup with a thick slice of dark bread, got a glass of water, and joined the other women.
"Hey," she said, sitting. "Where's Stephanie?"
"Late," answered Lawless easily.
"Oh." Fraser tore off a bit of bread and dipped it in her soup.
The trio chatted lazily about their days, but as time progressed each began to wonder where their missing companion had got to.
"Maybe there's a project in the armory that she can't leave?" suggested Cutler eventually.
"Maybe," agreed Lawless, "but she usually lets someone know when that happens. It's not like her to just not show up."
"Was she in your cabin?" asked Fraser.
Cutler shrugged and shook her head. "I don't know. I haven't been back there since I went on duty this morning."
"There's Lieutenant Reed." Lawless nodded to where the armory officer had just entered with Commander Tucker. "So it's probably not work that's keeping her."
"Maybe not. Or maybe she did something to piss him off and she's stuck doing some tedious crap job again," suggested Fraser. "It's happened before."
"And the lieutenant doesn't look like he's in the best mood," added Cutler.
"He always looks like that."
"No he doesn't," Cutler protested. She took a bite of her supper before continuing. "We could ask him where she is."
"I'm not doing it," declared Fraser with finality.
"Me, either," agreed Lawless. "Even if he's in a good mood, I'm not about to interrupt him and Commander Tucker while they're having dinner."
"Chickens," accused Cutler lightly, but she had to admit they had a point. She watched surreptitiously as the men chose their meals and found a seat in another part of the mess hall.
"How's your day?" Trip asked his partner, spreading butter on his bread. "Weapons check out okay?"
"Yes. Everything seems to be perfectly fine. We've run more tests than I care to remember, and it all looks good."
"I heard something happened this morning. With the phase cannons." Trip only knew what Archer had told him at lunch--that the aft phase cannon had activated briefly before being quickly shut down.
Malcolm's expression darkened. "Yes," was all he said.
It was clear to the engineer he didn't want to discuss it. That didn't stop Trip asking. "So?"
"Ensign Cormack failed to fully disable the aft phase cannon's power-up command before we began running our firing simulations," he explained flatly.
Trip whistled. "That's "
Then Trip remembered something. "Hang on. Cormack wasn't on duty today."
"She was, until I relieved her of it."
"That is an understatement."
"Now I get it." Trip scooped up a bite of sausage from his soup and blew on it to cool it before putting it in his mouth.
"Get what?" Malcolm wanted to know. He had to wait for the engineer to finishing chewing and swallowing before he got his answer.
"I ran into her in here this afternoon. I asked her if she was supposed to be in the armory, and she said no. Now I know why."
Malcolm nodded. "I'm going to talk to her after dinner." He didn't sound pleased about the prospect.
Stephanie was jamming. Her Daughters of Lear recording played at high volume, and she sang along and played air-guitar in true rock-star-wanna-be fashion. On the shelf over her bunk, a half empty bottle of vodka waited patiently for her. It wasn't long before she paused in her wild gyrations to grab the bottle and take a good swig.
The song came to an end and silence fell over the cabin. Stephanie was faced with a choice: replay or pick something new. She held the liquor bottle in one hand, using her free hand to push the loose wisps of hair away from her sweat-dampened face.
"This's boring," she said out loud to the empty room. She pouted. Then a slow, sly grin spread across her flushed face. "Wonder what Bonnie's up to?" Not letting go of her vodka, she wove the few steps to the computer and entered a command to locate the helmsman. As luck would have it, she was in her cabin. Stephanie ran another quick search. Bonnie was alone. "Good." She grinned salaciously.
She took a moment to put herself in order. She straightened the tank-top she wore, shook out her loose pants so they were hanging properly, and looked to be sure her shoes were still tied. Next she glanced into the small mirror. She frowned a little, trying to tidy the hair that had come loose from her braid. In the end, she decided it just looked rumpled and sexy as it was.
Finally, she searched around until she found the top to the vodka bottle. She took one more swallow before capping it, then dropped it into a deep pocket. It was an awkward weight, but she didn't have far to go with it.
She took a deep breath and stood as straight as she could manage, then opened the door.
Bonnie jumped when the door chimed. "Come in?" she called, setting aside the datapad she'd been reading. The door slid open and Bonnie smiled in pleasant surprise. She rose from her seat at the desk. "Hey, Stephanie. What's up? We missed you at dinner."
The blonde woman pushed away from the wall where she leaned and stepped into the room. The door slipped shut behind her, and she turned to face it.
"What are you doing?" queried Bonnie.
Stephanie didn't answer. Her fingers found the control panel and she typed in an override locking code--one only security personnel and senior officers could break. "There," she said, and turned to face Bonnie once again. A smile spread across her face. "Hey."
"Hey, yourself." Bonnie eyed her uncertainly. Something in the smaller woman's manner was setting off alarm bells in her head. When Stephanie reached into a pocket a pulled out a bottle, the bells became a siren. "What the hell?" Bonnie looked at her friend closely. "You're drunk."
Stephanie held up a hand, thumb and forefinger held roughly a centimeter apart. "Little bit," she answered with a grin. She uncapped the bottle and took a drink. "Want some?"
"No!" declared Bonnie. "And neither do you!" She tried to grab the bottle, but Stephanie snatched it out of her reach.
"Ah-ah-ah," she said in a scolding tone. "If you don't want some, then it's just more for me." She went to take another drink, but this time Bonnie managed to intercept her. She grabbed the bottle away, inadvertently splashing some down Stephanie's shirt, and retreated towards her bunk. Stephanie looked down at herself. "That's a waste," she said, carefully enunciating every word. She didn't want Bonnie to think she was so drunk she was going to pass out. Stephanie had other plans before she would let that happen.
She took two steps toward the auburn-haired helmsman, grasped the front of her uniform, and pulled her close. Bonnie was surprised at her strength, considering the amount of alcohol she must have consumed.
"Pretty," said Stephanie looking up into Bonnie's eyes. "Green."
"Oh shit," muttered Bonnie. She tried to dislodge the armory officer with one hand, the other still occupied with keeping the bottle of liquor out of her reach.
Stephanie held on. She kissed the taller woman abruptly, trying to sneak one hand up to reclaim the vodka Bonnie held.
But Bonnie was taller, quicker, and unhindered by alcohol. She pulled her lips away from the other woman's at the same time she wrenched her uniform free. Stephanie stumbled at the loss of contact and support, nearly falling onto the nearby bunk. She frowned.
"I'm sorry," Bonnie said. She tried another tactic. "Why don't you sit down, and I'll pour us both a drink?"
Now Stephanie grinned. "Yes, please," she replied, sitting on Bonnie's bunk. She bounced up and down a little. "Mmm. Comfy."
Shit, shit! thought Bonnie. This is not how I pictured this! "There are glasses in the lav," she said. "I'll be right back."
"I'll miss you," the blonde said with a suggestive pout.
"Yeah." Bonnie ducked into the lav. She's gonna be furious, she thought as she emptied the last of the vodka down the drain and threw the bottle into the trash chute. She quickly grabbed a pair of drinking glasses and filled them with cold water.
Stephanie was where she'd left her, sitting on the edge of the bunk. "Here." Bonnie handed her a glass. "Drink this."
The armory officer smiled and raised the glass in a toast. "You're gorgeous, you know," she said with a lopsided smile. She took a swallow of water and choked. Instantly Bonnie was at her side. Setting her own glass on the nightstand, she took Stephanie's now empty one from her and put it there, too. She wrapped an arm around the coughing woman, holding her until she could catch her breath.
"You okay?" Bonnie asked, rubbing her hand up and down Stephanie's back to comfort her.
"What the fuck?" Stephanie finally gasped. Her eyes were glassy, and her cheeks were now pale instead of flushed. Slowly, a stern look tried to manifest itself on her face. "That was a rotten trick," she scolded.
"I'm sorry, but you've had enough booze," Bonnie said firmly. "Have some more water." She reached for the second glass, but she never got there. As she leaned over, Stephanie took advantage of her brief imbalance to knock the helmsman down onto the bunk. "Wha--?" Before Bonnie could get out another syllable, Stephanie was straddling her, pinning her down and kissing her furiously. The helmsman struggled, her brain whirling.
This is what you wanted, the little voice in her head reminded her.
Not like this! she protested. Not when she's drunk! Not when she doesn't even know what she's doing!
Stephanie's tongue snaked into Bonnie's mouth and began exploring.
Seems to me she knows just what she's doing, Bonnie's little voice countered slyly. Almost against her will, the helmsman found herself kissing back, enjoying the play of their lips and tongues.
No! Then out loud, "No!" She pushed the smaller woman off, knocking her into the bulkhead. Stephanie grunted with the impact. "Not like this," Bonnie continued. She sat up and caught her breath.
Stephanie fought to rise to her knees, but it was a challenge. The alcohol was starting to win out, and the wind had been knocked out of her when Bonnie had thrown her off. She crawled the short distance and put a hand on Bonnie's shoulder, pushing herself up. "Come on. It'll be fun," she murmured into the helmsman's ear.
Bonnie pulled away and stood abruptly, causing Stephanie to fall flat on the bed. "Ugh!" she grunted as she hit.
"I'm sorry!" exclaimed Bonnie. She knelt next to the bunk and put a gentle hand on Stephanie's cheek. "Fuck," she breathed, dismayed, as she gazed into the blonde's glazed eyes. "You're so wasted."
Now that Stephanie was laying down, she didn't want to get up again. She closed her eyes, consciousness drifting away and back again like waves lapping at the beach. The image and the feeling made her stomach turn unpleasantly. She frowned.
"Uh-oh," said Bonnie recognizing the signs. "No, no." She hauled the smaller woman to her feet. Stephanie moaned in protest at the movement. "Hang on. Almost there." Bonnie maneuvered them both into the lav and lifted the seat on the head. She eased Stephanie down as smoothly as she could, but it wasn't smoothly enough.
One hand clutched at her stomach, Stephanie fell the last centimeters to her knees. She tensed as the nausea became too much and she vomited. Bonnie knelt beside her, one arm around her shoulders and the other hand gently supporting her forehead, keeping the loose wisps of hair from her face.
It wasn't long before Stephanie's stomach was empty. She'd eaten nothing all day, so there was nothing to expel but the alcohol she'd consumed. She sat back with Bonnie's help, and the helmsman removed her hand from Stephanie's forehead, using it to wipe a tear from the blonde's cheek. Stephanie had been vomiting so hard, her eyes had watered and spilled over from the strain.
"Be okay for a second?" Bonnie asked softly. Stephanie looked at her, managed a weak nod. Bonnie rose and grabbed a washcloth. She ran cold water over it and wrung it out well before kneeling beside Stephanie once more. Tenderly she cleaned the smaller woman's face of tears, sweat, spit, and bile.
Stephanie closed her eyes, the gentle touch lulling her. "Sorry," she muttered weakly.
"Shh. It's okay." Bonnie held her head in one hand, supporting it under her chin. "You think you're done?" Stephanie nodded. "Okay. We're gonna get up, and you're gonna get in bed. All right?" Stephanie nodded again. "Here we go." Bonnie put Stephanie's arm over her shoulder, snaking her own arm around the blonde's back, and they rose shakily. Slowly they made their way to Bonnie's bunk. Once there, the helmsman paused and pulled back the covers with her free hand before gently lowering the semi-conscious woman onto the bunk. Bonnie lifted Stephanie's feet, getting her whole body on the bed. The armory officer curled up on her side facing the bulkhead, shivering. Bonnie removed Stephanie's shoes and then pulled the blanket up over her.
The helmsman placed a soft kiss on Stephanie's temple before standing back and looking down at her. "Damn," Bonnie whispered. She turned on the small light over her roommate's bunk, and then shut off all the other lights in the cabin. It wasn't long before Stephanie's breathing evened out and her body relaxed in sleep. What the hell happened to her? Bonnie mused, worried. I need to find Mae. Maybe she has a clue. She knew her bunkmate had planned to stop by engineering to check on a program she was running. It was a good bet that was where Bonnie would find her.
Judging it would be several hours before Stephanie woke, she decided it would be safe to leave her alone for a minute or two. Bonnie tried to open the cabin door, but it was locked. Annoyed, she punched in her unlock code. Still the door wouldn't respond. "Dammit!" she cursed softly, and tried again. No luck. There was a small light flashing on the control panel, and realization finally hit her. "Security lockdown. Fuck." She briefly considered trying to break the code, but promptly discarded the idea for two reasons. First, it would take longer than she was willing to spend right then. Second, it would undoubtedly raise all sorts of alarms, and this was a situation she wanted to keep as quiet as possible. She was stuck. She couldn't get out, and when Mae returned she wouldn't be able to get in. She needed "Lieutenant Reed."
Malcolm had rung the chime a number of times. Finally he had to conclude that Stephanie wasn't in her quarters. Even if she wanted to avoid him, she wouldn't blatantly ignore the repeated ringing of her doorbell. There were a number of places she might be, and he didn't care to waste time searching them all to find her. He resolved to return to his quarters and query the computer to track down her location. He wasn't looking forward to the confrontation with the ensign, but the incident that morning had to be resolved as soon as possible so he could get his department running properly once again.
It was as he waited for the turbolift that he received the hail.
"Ensign Fraser to Lieutenant Reed."
Puzzled, he opened the comm line. "Reed here. Go ahead, Ensign."
"I need your help, Lieutenant," came her reply. She sounded odd, but Reed couldn't quite place the tone of her voice.
"In what way?" he asked.
"I'm locked in."
"What?" He was now puzzled and annoyed. "I'm not a lock-smith, Ensign," he told her, mildly chiding.
"I know, sir. It's There's a security lockdown on my cabin door. I can't override it."
"How on Earth ?"
But Fraser cut him off. "Please, Lieutenant. I'll explain everything, but could you come unlock the door?"
"Where are you?" She gave him the location of her cabin. It was only a few corridors away. "I'll be right there. And you had best have a very good explanation when I arrive."
In her darkened cabin, Fraser looked over at the sleeping Cormack. "Oh, I do, sir. Guaranteed."
Reed and Lawless arrived at the cabin door at the same time. She was coming from engineering, her project secured for the night.
"Hey, Lieutenant," said Lawless amiably. "What's going on?"
"It seems your bunkmate has locked herself in," he replied tersely.
"We'll find out together, shall we?" He typed in the command code that would override the security lockout on the door, and it slid open. "All right, Ensign," he began, stepping into the room.
"Shh!" Fraser hushed him vehemently. She all but forced him and Lawless back out into the corridor, letting the door close once more.
"What is going on?" demanded Reed and the same time Lawless asked, "What's up?"
"Stephanie's asleep," Fraser answered softly. Then she added with some trepidation, "Well, really, she's more passed out than asleep."
Lawless's eyes widened in shock. "She's not ?"
Fraser nodded. "She is. She's completely wasted."
"What the hell happened?!"
"I don't know! She showed up half an hour ago, drunk and horny as hell. I got the booze away from her and put her to bed." She shrugged helplessly. "I've got no clue what set her off."
Reed was watching the exchange between the two women with a concerned but analytical eye when a terrible thought struck him. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, gaining the ensigns' attention. "I yelled at her," he said softly. The women stared at him in surprise. "This morning," he added. "She made a mistake--a very dangerous one--and I relieved her of duty. I was just looking for her to discuss it when you hailed me."
It was clear to Fraser and Lawless what he was thinking. It was Lawless who spoke up. "No. That can't be it," she said with certainty. "She's been acting kind of weird ever since we got out of that neutronic storm. That can't be it," she repeated. She looked from one concerned face to the other. "You don't think she might have some kind of radiation poisoning, do you?" she asked, the idea suddenly occurring to her.
"Maybe," said Fraser.
"No." Reed shook his head. "I don't think that's it, either." Something he'd forgotten all about had just leapt to mind. He looked at the anxiously waiting ensigns. "She received an urgent communiqué the other day. It was in the massive download Enterprise picked up when we emerged from the storm. I assumed it was news about the World Series." He shrugged lamely.
"That's got to be it. We need to know what was in that message," declared Fraser. "Lieutenant, can you find out?"
"I'm not accustomed to breaking into others' private correspondence, Ensign," he informed her firmly.
"Fuck privacy!" Fraser suddenly remembered who she was talking to and belatedly added, "Sir." She took a moment to collect herself. "I'm sorry, sir. But if you won't do it, I can. You know I'm good at code-breaking," she reminded him.
"Yes, I do," he replied dryly.
Lawless was at a loss until she remembered last month and the radiation that had caused the crew to obsess over bizarre things. Fraser had broken into the classified crew files. It now occurred to Lawless just whose files she'd accessed. "You've busted into her files before!" she exclaimed.
"Sh!" Fraser shushed her sharply. "Yes. And I'll do it again." She looked at Reed. "But if you do it, it's only a breach in protocol, not regulations--at least, not in the strictest sense."
The lieutenant considered carefully before nodding once. "All right."
"We can use the computer in here," Fraser said, gesturing to the cabin behind her. "As long as we're quiet she's not gonna wake up for a while, and I don't want to leave her alone too long. She might get sick again."
The trio entered the cabin quietly. Cormack hadn't moved a muscle. Lawless approached and put a warm hand on her cheek. "Poor buddy," she murmured. "What did this to you?"
Reed sat at the computer and began his search. It was simple to find Cormack's personal sub-directory. He narrowed his search to the past fifty hours. "There it is," he said softly. Lawless and Fraser flanked him, each looking over his shoulder at the screen. He used his command codes to override her lockout, hating every moment of the invasion of his friend's privacy.
He glanced at the women on either side of him. "Are you certain you want to do this?" he asked.
"Of course!" Lawless said, beating Fraser to the punch by a millisecond. She looked at Reed, concern clear in her brown eyes despite the low light. "She hasn't had a drink in ten years, Lieutenant. Whatever sent her over the edge, we need to know so we can help her get back."
Put that way, even Malcolm's reservations vanished. He called up the urgent communiqué. The three watched as a man appeared on screen. He looked tired, with dark shadows under his deep brown eyes.
"Who is that?" asked Bonnie in a whisper.
"Her brother-in-law, Marston," answered Mae just as softly.
The man began to speak in a lilting Indian accent. "Stephanie, I'm afraid I have bad news. Your sister There was an explosion in your sister's laboratory at the university. Something to do with fertilizers, I think. Something was leaking, they say, and when she began an experiment with her class I don't know. The authorities are still investigating the cause. Two of her students were killed in the blast. Ryn was hurt badly. She's in surgery now. I I wish I had more to tell you. Something positive and hopeful. I don't. The doctors don't know yet if she'll recover, or if she wakes what damage may linger. I hate having to tell you this when you're so far away. I know there's nothing you can do, but Gemma and your mother agreed you should know what was going on. They send you their love. I promise you they or I will contact you as soon as we know more. I'm sorry, Stephanie."
The message ended, and the trio continued to stare at the screen in silence.
"God damn," breathed Mae finally. "Not again." Malcolm and Bonnie looked at her, confusion plain on their faces. "Her dad died in an explosion. He was an armaments specialist--not with Starfleet, with the provincial militia. Old school. His grandfather was a soldier during the Eugenics Wars. Had a big influence on him when he was a kid." She realized she was babbling information that she probably shouldn't be sharing, so she stopped. Unable to contain herself, however, she burst out angrily, "I cannot believe her mother okayed that message!"
At that moment, Stephanie muttered something in her sleep and rolled over. They glanced towards her and then at each other, all reaching the same unspoken decision. Malcolm shut off the computer and the three stepped back out into the corridor.
"Can you two look after her tonight?" Reed asked. The women both nodded. "I'll tell Phlox what's happened. Don't worry," he added at their distressed looks, "it won't go any further. I doubt anyone on this ship is better at keeping secrets than the good doctor, despite how we all try. I'll ask him to come by here in the morning. She's bound to have a hell of a hangover, and he'll be able to take care of it."
"Thank you, Lieutenant," said Fraser.
He looked at her, and the guilt he felt was written on his face in spite of his attempt to hide it. "It's the least I can do." Considering my part in this mess, his mind added silently.
It was as if Fraser could read his thoughts. "It's not your fault, sir. None of us had any way of knowing what was wrong."
"No. I suppose not," he said, although he didn't really believe it. "Excuse me, Ensigns. I'll go speak to Doctor Phlox." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and strode away in the direction of sickbay. The women watched him go, then turned to look at one another.
"One of us should tell Liz that Stephanie won't be home tonight," said Mae finally.
"I'll go," offered Bonnie, though she really didn't want to.
Mae shook her head. "I'll do it. You stay with her. She shouldn't be alone when she wakes up."
His next stop after sickbay was an obvious one. Malcolm opened the door to Trip's quarters and stepped inside. "Mind if I come in?"
"You already have, but come on in," joked Trip, happy to see his lover. His smile faded as he took in the expression on Malcolm's face and the defeated slump of his shoulders. "What's wrong? Did you talk to Ensign Cormack?" He felt a protective flare swell inside him, wondering what she'd said or done to make his partner look so downhearted. He stood and approached Malcolm, but the armory officer moved away and sat heavily on the end of the bunk.
"I didn't speak with her, no," Malcolm said, as Trip sat down beside him. "I couldn't."
"Why not? She hiding from you again?" Trip asked, remembering her past patterns of behavior.
"She's drunk. Passed out."
"What? She doesn't drink," protested the engineer, confused.
"She used to."
Slowly, Trip understood. He'd never bothered to put the pieces together before. "She's an alcoholic, isn't she?" Malcolm nodded. "Then what the hell's she doing on a Starship?" he demanded angrily.
Startled by his lover's sudden angry turn, his own temper flared a bit. "She's not had a drink in ten years," he declared, remembering what Lawless had told them. "Or rather, she hadn't."
"That doesn't mean--"
Malcolm cut him off. "What? That she couldn't break down anytime? She's human, remember--like you and me. She's doing the best she can, Trip, just like everyone else on board. You can't condemn her for her past, particularly when you don't know anything about it!"
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, okay?" Trip took a deep breath. He looked into Malcolm's blazing eyes and what he saw there frightened him. He'd never seen anything like it. "What's wrong?" he asked softly. Cautiously, he reached out a hand and rested it on the older man's shoulder. "What can I do to make it better?"
Malcolm shook his head. His anger had faded, leaving the same feeling of helplessness he'd had when he arrived on Trip's doorstep. "Nothing."
They sat in silence for a while until Trip ventured another question. "Do you know what happened? What caused it?"
Another brief silence. "You can't say." It was less a question than a statement of understanding.
"No. I can't."
"Is she gonna be okay?"
"I don't know. I expect so." How could he explain? It wasn't Stephanie who was lying in a hospital bed back on Earth. Whatever happened back home, she'd survive, but how would she cope with that survival when she woke up tomorrow morning? There was no way to guess.
"Are you gonna be okay?" Trip asked him gently.
Malcolm didn't respond. There were too many thoughts and emotions roiling around inside him. He couldn't help thinking he ought to have noticed something was wrong. Stephanie hadn't been herself since they'd come through the storm. He'd dismissed her unusual behavior as the residual effects of being stuck in a small space with more than eighty other people for eight days. Now he knew it was something else entirely, and he blamed himself for not realizing it sooner.
"Malcolm?" Trip was worried, and it came through in his voice. "Talk to me."
"I should have known something was wrong. I'm supposed to be her friend as well as her C.O. If I'd paid attention, I'd have noticed. I could have found out before " He let the sentence trail off.
"Before what?" prompted Trip.
"Before I yelled at her," Malcolm finished despondently. "Before I sent her over the edge."
"Malcolm," said Trip deliberately. "You're not a mind-reader." Gently but firmly, he took Malcolm's chin between his thumb and forefinger, turning the his lover's head to face him. "I don't know what happened, and I don't know Stephanie like you do, but I've seen enough of her to know that getting yelled at by her C.O. isn't enough to make her do what she did."
"Not alone, no," agreed Malcolm. "But in addition--"
"No. You can't blame yourself for something you had no control over." He looked deep into his lover's bright blue eyes. "It's not your fault." Slowly, Malcolm nodded. Trip wasn't entirely sure he'd gotten through to him, but he took what he could get. He released his hold on Malcolm's jaw. "All right. You want to stay here tonight? I have to get up earlier than usual tomorrow, but I'll stay with you as long as I can."
"I'd like that," Malcolm said quietly.