Log Rhythms - Season Two
Author's note: My sincerest apologies for the huge delay in getting this chapter posted. I won't go into my tale of woe (some of you know it already), but let me just say water and computers just don't mix well. Thanks to everyone still hanging in there and reading. It's much appreciated!
Mae sipped appreciatively at her coffee. To her right, Liz was equally engaged by her grapefruit juice. The other two at the table were less intrigued by their beverages and more intrigued by each other. Mae and Liz exchanged an amused glance as Bonnie and Stephanie traded yet another lascivious look.
Liz set aside her juice and asked, "So what's everyone planning to do when we get to Dekendi Three?" Another lustful look passed between Bonnie and Stephanie and Liz fought back a chuckle. "Travis and I are planning to do some sight-seeing," she added, trying to keep the conversation clean.
"I read in the Vulcan Database that there's a great art museum in the city where they're holding the medical conference," put in Mae.
"I'm not much into art museums, are you?" Bonnie glanced again at her girlfriend.
Stephanie shook her head and met the auburn-haired woman's gaze. A tiny but undeniably salacious smile quirked her lips. "Uh-uh. Too stuffy. I thought we could go hiking. There's a great nature reserve outside the city. I could really use some fresh air."
"You've been doing some research, too, I see," said Liz dryly. Her eyes met Mae's and she shook her head in amusement. The engineer gave a small nod of understanding and agreement. Their friends obviously thought they were being subtle, but their desire to be alone together glowed like a neon sign.
"Well I'm going to the museum," Mae announced, startling the pair from their absorption with one another.
"Would you mind company?" asked Liz. "I'd love to see some local culture, and I'm sure I can talk Travis into it."
"That'd be great." Mae fixed her bunkmate and best friend with a pointed yet humorous look. "It doesn't look like anyone else is interested."
Stephanie realized suddenly that she and Bonnie had been caught and a moment of guilt hit her. "We could all meet for dinner one of the evenings we're there," she offered in apology. "We have three, right?"
"Two. Movie night is the second night we're there. I have a plan for that night."
"Why does that sound so ominous to me?" asked Stephanie rhetorically.
Mae just grinned and laughed maniacally, startling a passing crewmember. Liz recognized the medical assistant and smiled at him reassuringly. "She's gone mad. We're sending her to see you in sickbay once we're done here. We think medication may be in order."
"I uh " Ensign Cohn was taken aback but gamely replied, "I'm sure Doctor Phlox can devise an appropriate treatment," before hurrying away.
"Was he blushing?" asked Bonnie, watching him go. "I think he was blushing."
At another table in a corner by the windows, Kyrin and Liam ate breakfast and discussed similar plans.
"I've found the most wonderful restaurant," Kyrin told his partner, smiling. "It's elegant, discreet, and is purported to have outstanding food."
"And where'd you learn that, then?" asked Liam. "I didn't think anyone on board had been there."
"They haven't as far as I know. But I've been studying up on Dekendi Three. You'd be surprised at the depth of information in the Vulcan Database."
The comm officer laughed wryly. "I would indeed if it actually gives an opinion on the local cuisine."
Kyrin almost blushed. "I'll admit it didn't describe it as 'outstanding', but it did say the food was 'quite flavorful and pleasant'. That's high praise coming from a Vulcan."
"It is at that." Liam smiled broadly. "It sounds perfect."
The mess hall door opened at that moment and Malcolm and Trip entered. Each grabbed a mug and Trip placed his under the drinks dispenser. "Coffee, black and hot." The mug began to fill.
"I can't believe you shut off the alarm before I ever woke up," hissed Malcolm under his breath. They'd overslept and were running late.
"I'm sorry, Malcolm," Trip apologized for the umpteenth time. He collected his drink and moved aside so his lover could order his usual cup of Assam tea. "I don't even remember shutting it off. Are you absolutely sure it was set?"
Malcolm gave him a stern look. "Yes." He picked up his tea and headed to the buffet of food.
Trip followed closely, still speaking in a low tone. "Well it's not like either of us is gonna be late for our shifts."
"No," conceded Malcolm, claiming a plate of scrambled eggs and toast. Without waiting for the engineer, he headed toward an empty table. Trip grabbed a pecan sticky bun and a handful of napkins and quickly joined him.
"Then why are you still mad?" he asked, sitting.
Malcolm finally relented. "I'm not. I'm just a bit out of sorts because I didn't get to shower. You know I don't like having to go through the day " He gave his lover a significant look, willing him to understand what he meant.
Trip knew immediately. "Smelling like sex?" he asked playfully.
The younger man couldn't help but grin lecherously. "I like it. It's kind of like I've staked my claim in case there's still someone around who doesn't know you're taken."
"Thank you," replied Malcolm sarcastically. "That's charming."
"If it makes you feel better, I smell like you." Trip took a sensual bite of his pastry, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.
"Oh that's worlds better."
"C'mon, Malcolm. Lighten up," Tucker said once he'd swallowed the bite.
Reed sighed. "I'm sorry. But you don't have to work with T'Pol."
"Let's forget about it, okay? What do you want to do when we get to Dekendi Three?"
"I hadn't thought about it," Malcolm admitted. "Won't you be working on installing the new microscope?"
"That won't take every minute. We'll have plenty of time to visit the planet."
"In that case, I'll see if I can't come up with something." The dark-haired man smiled for the first time since they'd risen that morning. "Goodness knows you can't be trusted to make shore leave plans."
"One little mugging!" protested Trip but he laughed good-naturedly, knowing that if Malcolm was teasing him everything was once again okay. "You gotta agree it was an eventful shore leave."
"Yes, well, I'll pick the 'events' this time if you don't mind."
"That's fine by me. I'm looking forward to whatever you come up with."
"You just get that microscope working so we have plenty of free time," Malcolm said in a teasingly strict tone.
"It'll be a snap. Phlox's wife is coming aboard to work on it and she's an expert. Shouldn't take us long at all to get it working. I'm sure it'll be a routine job."
No matter how he rehearsed the scene in his head, it never ended well. Tucker walked quickly away from sickbay, past the first turbolift, and around a corner. He made several more turns until he felt he was far enough away to be safe. He stopped in a corridor in the crew quarters section of E-deck and hailed a lift.
A door opened behind him, and Trip jumped and spun around. "Oh! Hey, Mae," he said, hoping his greeting sounded more nonchalant to her than it did to him. His hopes were dashed by one look at her expression.
"Hey, Commander," the off-duty ensign replied curiously. "What're you doing in this neighborhood?"
"Just taking the scenic route back up to B-deck," he answered half truthfully. He glanced anxiously toward the lift door, willing it to open. It didn't.
"Actually, I'm glad I ran into you. I wanted to ask you about something."
"Huh?" He turned back to Lawless distractedly.
"I understand you're in charge of picking tomorrow's movie?"
Tucker's eyes widened. "Damn! I forgot!"
Mae saw her opportunity and grabbed it. "If you don't have anything picked out yet, I have a suggestion."
"Great!" Trip exclaimed as the lift finally arrived. He stepped inside.
"Don't you want to know what it is?" Lawless asked quickly before he could disappear.
"I'm sure it's fine. Just get it confirmed on the schedule, okay? Then let me know. Thanks!" He smiled and gave a brief wave as the door closed, separating him from the ensign.
Mae stood there, staring bemusedly at the lift door. Then she grinned. "Right on," she said to herself in satisfaction.
In the lift Trip was still going over what he was going to say when he saw Malcolm. He wasn't looking forward to the confrontation he was sure would come. Briefly he considered going to his quarters and asking Malcolm to join him there, but he decided against it. Better to go directly to Reed's cabin as previously arranged and talk there. The armory officer would be less likely to go on the defensive in the psychological comfort of his own space.
The turbolift stopped on B-deck and Trip stepped out. He'd been in such a hurry to get away from sickbay; now he was hesitant to go any farther. He found himself walking more and more slowly toward his lover's cabin.
All too soon he reached the door. He knew Malcolm was inside; they'd planned to meet there and go to dinner together. He almost rang the chime but stopped himself, realizing it would only start the scene off on an odd note if he rang the bell instead of just entering where he had been told he was always welcome. Steeling himself, he opened the door and went inside.
Malcolm smiled as he looked up from the computer. "Hello!" he said happily, rising to meet Trip.
"Hey," said the engineer. He hesitated only two steps into the cabin.
Reed met him where he stood. "It's good to see you. Are you ready for dinner?"
"Almost?" echoed Malcolm.
"Yeah." Trip moved away, not meeting his inquisitive gaze. Malcolm frowned in puzzlement. "There's something I've gotta tell you."
"You make it sound dire," commented Reed. Worry laced his tone as he asked the younger man, "Is something wrong?"
Trip heard it and was quick to reassure him. "No! Nothing's wrong exactly."
Tucker inhaled and let the breath out slowly, facing his lover once more. "It's Feezal. Phlox's wife, you know?"
"I've not met her, but yes, I know who she is." Reed was even more confused now. "What does she have to do with anything?"
"You know how I've been working with her to install that neutron microscope this afternoon?"
All Trip's practicing on the way there wasn't helping him at all. "Well, we've been working pretty closely " he began and then trailed off, thinking hard.
"And?" prompted Malcolm. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited for Tucker's reply.
"And I think she's "
"She's what?" Reed's heart raced. Trip's manner and halting words put him on edge. He wanted to know what was going on, and he wanted to know now.
"She's been hitting on me," blurted Trip at last.
Dead silence fell in the cabin.
Malcolm's shocked mind processed Trip's announcement.
Trip waited anxiously for Malcolm's response to his confession.
It was Reed who broke the silence. He erupted in laughter. "She what?" he exclaimed through gasping guffaws.
Tucker couldn't help but be drawn into his partner's mirth. He nodded, chuckling uncertainly. "Uh-huh." He leaned back against the nearby bank of drawers, taking strength from its cool, solid surface. Of all the scenarios he'd imagined, this wasn't one of them.
"Uh-uh." Trip shook his head.
It only made Malcolm laugh harder. He sat on his bunk, unable to remain upright in his hilarity. "What makes you think so?"
"I think I know the signs, Malcolm!" countered Trip, his amusement growing with the armory officer's. "She keeps brushing up against me while we're working, finding excuses to reach around me. She keeps sniffing me!"
The last sent both men into paroxysms of laughter. It took several moments for it to subside to where they could once again speak.
"Does Phlox know?" the lieutenant asked eventually, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.
"I don't think so," Tucker answered, regaining his breath.
"Good. Keep it that way."
Reed was serious now. "Don't tell him. Just because Denobulans are accustomed to polygamous marriages doesn't mean he'd be thrilled to hear one of his wives was coming onto you."
"But, Malcolm," Trip protested, "I've got to tell him!"
"No, you don't."
"Of course I do! I owe him that much respect at least!"
"Don't do it," advised Reed more firmly.
"Okay, what if I don't? What if I don't but he finds out anyway? From her or from I don't know."
"Does anyone else know?" Trip just shook his head. "Then don't worry about it. She's hardly likely to mention it herself, I imagine."
"But it's gonna take a couple more days to get that microscope installed and calibrated and all. What am I supposed to do?" Trip wailed.
Malcolm rose and crossed the room to stand before the engineer. He put a comforting hand on Tucker's arm. "Love, as long as you don't act on her advances, it's really not my concern," he said, fighting back another wave of laughter at his lover's plight.
Trip's face fell. "You're a big help."
Reed grinned. "You're a grown man. I think you can handle it." When he saw that Trip obviously wasn't satisfied, he suggested, "What would the captain say in the circumstances?"
"I know just what he'd say," Tucker answered with a grimace.
Trip met Malcolm's gaze and sighed. "Suck it up and deal."
Cormack and Fraser stood on the street corner and tried desperately not to look like the tourists they were. It was Enterprise's first day in orbit of Dekendi Three where the Interspecies Medical Exchange was hosting a conference. The entire crew was free to visit the planet during off-duty hours. The women had donned their civvies and were taking advantage of a free evening to explore the alien city.
After two hours of mostly window-shopping with a little real shopping thrown in, they decided it was time for a break. Shifting her purchases to one hand, Stephanie looked around and then consulted the map she'd downloaded into a datapad before leaving the ship. "Okay, we're here," she began, nodding at a blinking point on the small screen. Bonnie leaned over her shoulder to see. "And according to the Vulcan Database's info on the area the plaza or piazza or whatever where we're supposed to meet the others for dinner is " She thumbed a key and the screen shifted slightly. " two blocks that way." The women looked up and off to their right.
"Cool," said Bonnie. "How long until we're supposed to meet up?"
"Hang on." Another press of a button and the ship's time appeared in the corner of the screen. "Oh we're good. We've still got nearly forty-five minutes. We could even go for a walk along that little lake we saw earlier and make it back in plenty of time."
"D'you remember where that was?" Fraser was doubtful.
"No, but I marked it on the map so we could find it again. If we didn't go today, I figured we could go tomorrow." The blonde gave her companion a look that was hopeful and a little sly. She was thrilled to be with Bonnie, out of uniform, and off the ship. She aimed to spend as much time as humanly possible in exactly that way while Enterprise was at Dekendi Three. "The lake is this way," she added, glancing at the datapad and then pointing across the road. The pair crossed the street and continued walking in the direction indicated on the map.
Bonnie smiled widely. "Planning ahead, eh?"
Stephanie's smiled mirrored the helmsman's. "I try." Then her smile wavered. "You do want to come back tomorrow, right?" she asked, suddenly uncertain.
"Sure." Then Bonnie's face fell and she exclaimed, "Oh! We can't."
"I promised Mae I'd go to movie night tomorrow."
"What?" Stephanie's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "What's so big about tomorrow's movie night?"
"She was going to try to get them to run some cheesy old horror movie. She thought we could have a bit of a chicks' night."
Recollection dawned on the armory ensign. "Ah. Right. I forgot."
"Come with me to the movie?" asked Bonnie hopefully. "I'll buy the popcorn."
"Yes on the movie. No on the popcorn. But you could buy me dessert tonight?"
Fraser smiled. "Deal."
They stopped at an intersection and checked the map once more. "Left," announced Stephanie. "Besides," she said, continuing their conversation, "we have a few days and nights here." There was a slight hesitation before she added cautiously, "It's just too bad we have to go back to the ship every night, eh?" She avoided looking at the woman beside her, pretending to study the map as they walked. Stephanie was unsure how Bonnie would take her comment. They'd only been dating a few weeks. Despite the helmsman's flirtatious nature and the signs she was sure she'd been getting, Stephanie didn't know how far Bonnie would go or how quickly.
It was a good thing she kept her gaze averted because Fraser's expression was suddenly serious. She knew what Cormack was implying and as much as she wanted it, she wasn't ready to deal with what she had to do first. Memories of their one-night stand years ago, completely forgotten by Stephanie, and the promise Bonnie had made to herself regarding the incident leapt to the helmsman's mind. She beat them back and tried to keep her tone light when she replied. "Yeah. It's a bummer."
"Whose idea was this movie?" murmured Liz to Bonnie who sat beside her on the Rec. Center bench.
"Whose do you think?" the helmsman replied just as softly, tipping her head in Mae's direction just in front of her.
Mae overheard them and leaned back, whispering, "It's a classic. Lugosi and Karloff were masters."
"You just keep thinking that," replied Bonnie.
On Liz's other side, Travis bit back a chuckle at their chatter.
Several minutes passed before Liz spoke again. "You'll never believe what happened at dinner tonight," she breathed so only her companions could hear.
Bonnie's interest was piqued. "What?"
"Phlox's wife was flirting with Commander Tucker."
"Shh!" A crewman in the row ahead of them shushed them in annoyance.
"Sorry," said Liz and Bonnie almost simultaneously, then immediately stifled their giggles at being caught.
They could only stay silent so long, however.
"So what happened?" whispered Bonnie even more softly than before.
"I didn't see it, but Hoshi told me about it. She was having dinner with the Commander tonight, and Feezal sat down with them. She and Hoshi started talking in Denobulan, and Tucker got nervous. You know what it's like when people speak a foreign language and keep glancing at you?" Bonnie nodded and Liz continued. "Well, Feezal said they were talking about how handsome he is."
"Yes! Denobulans are polygamous, remember. I guess that doesn't preclude dating outside their species, too."
"Dating or mating," quipped Bonnie under her breath.
Liz had to stifle another snicker. "Yeah, but I bet Lieutenant Reed would have something to say on the subject of her dating—or mating—Commander Tucker."
Bonnie peered cautiously through the relatively small movie-going crowd to where Tucker and Reed sat near the front. The men sat close to one another, sharing a bowl of popcorn in apparent contentment. "Everything looks okay from here," she announced softly.
"Then the Lieutenant must not know," asserted Liz with certainty.
Travis leaned in from his seat next to Liz. He'd finally had enough of their gossiping. While he couldn't deny it was interesting listening, he felt like they'd crossed a line. "Maybe," he suggested with quiet censure, "it's not any of our business, either."
From the other side of Bonnie, Stephanie overheard him and had to agree. While she'd enjoyed the chatter thoroughly, she'd refrained from participating. It really wasn't any of their business. That didn't mean she wouldn't make it hers. After all she'd seen Feezal, if only briefly. In her opinion the Denobulan woman was quite pretty. But more worrying than that, she was short and blonde—just the type to which Tucker had admitted being attracted in the past. Stephanie nodded to herself. She would definitely have to follow up on this rumor.
Bonnie saw the movement and determined expression out of the corner of her eye. She leaned in closely to Stephanie and whispered in her ear. "What are you plotting?"
"Plotting?" answered the blonde woman too innocently. She wouldn't meet her date's eyes. She popped a soft, chocolate-covered mint in her mouth, hoping to avoid further discussion.
"Don't get involved," warned Fraser uselessly. Damn. Liz and I shouldn't've been gossiping. She knew the woman next to her well enough to know her words were falling on selectively deaf ears. Still, she tried again. "We were just gabbing. You know Tucker wouldn't act on it even if the woman was hitting on him. And you don't know she was."
"You're right. I have no evidence that Feezal was hitting on Trip."
Stephanie's whisper carried a tone Bonnie couldn't pinpoint, but it made her uneasy nonetheless. She wanted to know what her companion was up to, but she didn't push it. When Stephanie made up her mind to do something, there was no dissuading her. Bonnie just hoped she hadn't made up her mind to do something stupid.
"We're still on for going to the surface tomorrow, right?" she asked, deliberately changing the subject.
Finally Stephanie looked at her and gave her a genuine smile. "Absolutely."
Bonnie smiled back, thinking danger was averted. "Good."
Cormack and Fraser had the whole day off duty, and they would be catching a shuttle to the surface at 1000 hours. But there was something Stephanie had to do first.
She stopped by sickbay immediately after breakfast. She claimed to have slept strangely and woken with a bit of a headache, which wasn't entirely untrue. As Phlox examined her, she kept an eye on Feezal and Tucker across the room. They were allegedly calibrating the neutron microscope, but they seemed awfully close to one another in her opinion. Phlox appeared not to notice.
"One moment, Ensign," the physician said. He left her momentarily to prepare a hypo with a mild analgesic.
Stephanie continued to watch Tucker and Feezal, and what she saw displeased her. The rumor that the Denobulan woman had been flirting with Trip was indisputably confirmed as Stephanie saw her rub one hand suggestively along Tucker's back and down to his rear-end. Cormack was about to interrupt—rather loudly—but Tucker was quicker. He sidled swiftly away from Feezal. His movement turned him just enough that Cormack was able to make out his expression. It was a mix of embarrassment and discomfort. He was obviously unsettled by Feezal's attentions.
The ensign relaxed and smiled slightly. Nothing to worry about there, she thought positively. She was relieved. Now she could enjoy her day off with Bonnie without having any worries about her friends niggling at the back of her mind.
Phlox returned at that moment. "Here you are." He pressed a hypo against Cormack's neck, releasing the painkiller into her system. She flinched instinctively, but inside she knew it was a small price to pay for the piece of mind she'd also gotten from her visit.
She smiled at Phlox, surprising him. "Thanks, Doc." She hopped off the diagnostic bed and left sickbay.
Instead of shopping as they had on their previous visit, on this trip Bonnie and Stephanie stuck strictly to sight-seeing. There were all sorts of things to marvel at in the city and the surrounding area. About mid-morning, they took a transport out of town to the surrounding countryside. Bonnie was particularly excited to have time in the open air, having drawn a short straw the previous year when Enterprise had visited Risa.
They spent the morning hiking in a nature reserve several kilometers outside the city. Towering coniferous trees shadowed well-worn trails throughout the preserve. Despite the obvious upkeep of the area, they'd not seen another sentient being all morning. Small mammals chittered in the concealing underbrush, and every now and then birds sang back and forth in the tall trees. The women stopped and stood very still, taking in the sounds, smells, and sights around them.
"Damn, I've missed fresh air," sighed Bonnie softly. The beauty around her was almost overwhelming, and a wave of homesickness washed over her. A breezed touched them, blowing her hair into her face. She absently tucked her short auburn curls behind her ears.
"And evergreens," agreed Stephanie. "I miss my trees, you know? Green is my favorite color."
It was a warm day, but the shade of the trees kept the forest floor cool. Stephanie shivered and zipped up her jacket.
"Cold?" asked Bonnie, looking at her companion.
"Just a little. I'll warm up when we start walking again." She slipped an arm around the taller woman's and snuggled in close to her. "Or you could keep me warm," she suggested coyly.
Bonnie extricated her arm and then wrapped both around the blonde. She rubbed her hands briskly up and down Stephanie's back, causing her to sigh contentedly.
"Mmm. Much better." Cormack leaned into Fraser, returning her embrace and enjoying the soft warmth her body radiated.
Bonnie stopped rubbing and the two women stood for several minutes in silence, holding one another. It was a nearly perfect moment, and Fraser wanted to hang onto it as long as she could—if only that little voice in the back of her head would stop reminding her that she still hadn't come clean with Stephanie about their shared past.
Finally the helmsman reluctantly pulled away from her companion. "We should start back," she said regretfully.
"What's the rush?" murmured Stephanie. She slipped her hands inside Bonnie's open jacket and ran them over the soft cotton of her shirt around to her back. Stephanie let her chest rest once more against Bonnie's, wishing she hadn't zipped up her coat earlier. Twenty-twenty hindsight, her mind chided lightly.
Bonnie searched frantically for a reason to take them away from this place and remove herself from the temptation of the blonde in her arms. "It's going to take a while to walk back to the transport pick-up point. And we have to catch the next one if we want to get back to town in time to have dinner before going back to Enterprise," Bonnie reminded her hurriedly. Her hands rested on Stephanie's hips as the blonde continued to massage her back gently. Stephanie nuzzled at Bonnie's neck, every now and then kissing her lightly, and Fraser found it more and more difficult to concentrate.
"I'm not hungry for food," murmured Stephanie, nipping at Bonnie's earlobe playfully. Her hands crept lower to the waist of Bonnie's hiking pants and down into her back pockets. She massaged the helmsman's buttocks playfully through the lightweight fabric.
All of Bonnie's arguments for returning right away were fading fast. There were limited transports back to town. They needed to be at the pick-up point on time or they'd have to wait an extra two and a half hours for the next shuttle. She still hadn't told Stephanie the truth. She'd made a promise But it was beautiful there, and she really didn't want to leave. Stephanie's actions excited her, encouraging her to throw away the constraints of responsibility and get it on right there on the forest floor. Fraser was torn, fighting her reservations and the promise she'd made to herself. Stephanie's words and actions suggested something Bonnie had wanted for many months; the added bonus of being on an alien world in a secluded, sylvan setting was almost too much.
When Stephanie slid her hands up under Bonnie's shirt, the helmsman knew she couldn't resist any more. She kissed Stephanie gently at first, then with growing passion. She caught the blonde woman's bottom lip and nibbled it lightly, eliciting a low murmur of approval from Stephanie.
They separated long enough to find a relatively clear area free of rocks and undergrowth. Only a light scrub-grass covered the ground.
"It's not real flat," said Bonnie in a brief flash of uncertainty.
"It'll do," answered Stephanie breathlessly. She had already removed her jacket and tossed it down. Her nipples were hard from arousal and the sudden chill of the lost layer of clothing. Bonnie sucked in a breath, impatient to taste the nubs hidden under the thin fabrics of Stephanie's shirt and bra. "Besides," the blonde continued with a seductive look, "you don't need to worry about it. You'll be on top."
Kyrin Douglas left the lecture hall for the cool evening air outside. He'd thoroughly enjoyed the conference and had learned a great deal about several new psychological studies. This was his third seminar in two days. The focus of this one had been on the problems experienced by individuals who'd had to adapt to long-term stays in alien societies, whether by choice or necessity. It was a fascinating topic, and one in which he had particular interest. He hoped that, should Phlox or T'Pol ever need his assistance in this area, his studies at the conference would be of help.
He tucked his datapad of notes into a pocket of his uniform, then stretched, inhaling the fresh air. A quick check of the time brought a smile to his handsome face. He rubbed his beard thoughtfully. He had just enough time for a pleasant walk to the shuttleport before the evening shuttle from Enterprise arrived bearing his partner, Liam. It would be the first time they'd been off the ship together since shore leave on Risa, and Kyrin couldn't wait. He'd done a great deal of research on the area and found what he'd determined to be the most romantic restaurant in the city. He set off toward the port with a bounce in his step.
Shuttlepod Two arrived only two minutes after Kyrin. It took a few minutes for the crewmembers to go through Dekendi disembarkation procedures and the psychiatrist waited impatiently. When Liam finally emerged into the reception area, Kyrin met him with a huge smile and a warm kiss, which the comm ensign returned with enthusiasm.
"You must have had a good day," quipped Liam with a grin.
"It was fabulous, and made even more so by your presence," Kyrin answered emphatically.
Liam laughed. "You know all the clever things to say, don't you?"
"Only when they're true."
"I brought you some civvies like you asked," said the younger man. He held up the small silver case he carried. "But I don't know where y'expect to change into them."
But Kyrin's research hadn't been limited to restaurants. "This way," he said, taking the case. "This is a major transport hub for the entire planet," he continued as they walked. "There are restrooms, showers, and dressing rooms where weary travelers can refresh themselves."
"You're a thinker," replied Liam with another broad grin. "That's one of the things I love about you."
Kyrin returned the grin. "Wait until you see what I've thought up for dinner."
Liam Donnelly wasn't the only person who arrived on the evening transport from Enterprise. Tucker and Reed were also taking advantage of the chance for R&R off the ship. It was their last night in orbit, and this was their first chance to visit the alien world.
Malcolm had made the plans for their evening. Remembering their ill-fated trip to Risa, and several other mishaps the two had experienced since, he'd decided not to leave it up to his lover. "This way," he said, directing Trip toward a stand where they could catch transportation to their destination.
"You're still not going to tell me where we're going, are you?" asked Trip, following him. He shoved his hands into his pants pockets in mild consternation.
"Come on, Malcolm—"
"No," repeated Reed. He hailed a green hoverpod—identified in the Vulcan Database as the equivalent of a local taxi system—and they got in. Malcolm gave the driver an address, pronouncing the alien words with confidence and precision, and they sped off into the growing dusk.
"You got Hoshi to teach you that, didn't you?" remarked Trip with a small smile.
"I did," his lover affirmed pleasantly.
The lights of the city came on little by little. By the time they reached their destination, the sky was dark but the streets were illuminated by myriad lights, giving the square where they stopped a festive air. Malcolm thanked their driver, paid him, and then he and Trip stepped out of the cab.
Tucker looked around. They stood in a large plaza, open at the corners for traffic such as theirs, and sided by stone buildings housing shops and restaurants. While the architecture looked decidedly old, the windows of all the shopfronts were new and welcoming. Several people of a variety of species were coming and going from the various establishments. It was obviously a popular part of town.
"We're going to that one," said Malcolm, pointing to a cozy looking restaurant at the end of the block. A hand-painted sign over the door said something in the native language. Tucker was a little dubious, but he trusted Reed to have done his homework before selecting the place.
They entered the restaurant and were greeted by a soft-spoken, smiling woman of unfamiliar species. "Good evening," she said.
"Good evening," replied Malcolm. "Reservations for two."
"Under what name?"
The hostess checked her list and smiled at the men once more. "This way."
Trip remained doubtful. There were no tables he could see, only narrow corridors lined with curtained nooks. But Malcolm seemed unconcerned, so he kept his doubts to himself as the hostess led them down the strange, winding hallways. They arrived at a secluded booth and he realized that was what they had passed all along the way. The curtains hid the booths, providing privacy to the restaurant's diners. The floor of the booth where they stopped was raised about fifty centimeters from that of the restaurant, and a low table stood in the center at just the right height for the servers to set their orders down without having to bend over. Trip was impressed by the ingenuity, although he wasn't really keen on the idea of sitting on the floor to eat dinner. Still, he thought, when in Rome
The men sat on soft cushions on the booth's floor and the hostess placed menus before them.
"Enjoy your meal." She closed the draperies around them and wafted away, leaving them to ponder their dinner choices. Malcolm withdrew his scanner and downloaded the menu into it. He quickly ran it through his Universal Translator. A fair number of the words didn't translate, being local foods with no exact Earthly equivalents, but it was enough to give them an idea of what was there.
"What do you see?" asked Trip. Having finally gotten his long legs folded into a comfortable position, he leaned in across the table to peer at the readout.
"A lot, but not everything. I have an idea." Malcolm handed the translation over to his partner and continued. "Why don't we order the local beer and then see what the waitstaff recommends to go with it? There's a description of something there that sounds remarkably like Guinness."
Trip perused the menu for a moment but finally gave up. "Sounds like a good idea to me," he agreed. He sat back and looked around. The walls of the booth were covered in soft fabric that complemented the carpet and the cushions perfectly. The lighting was low enough to provide a romantic atmosphere without being so dim you couldn't read the menu. He liked it. "This is a real nice place."
"And we have the booth all evening," replied Malcolm. "No one will bother us unless we page them." His implication was obvious in his suggestive tone and licentious look.
"Is that so?" Trip knew his lover had a taste for sexual encounters that involved a bit of risk, but this little divulgence surprised him.
"It is. I chose this place for a number of reasons—one of them being their reputation for discretion."
Trip grinned. "I'm leaving all the shore leave planning to you from now on!" he declared happily.
Unbeknownst to them, another pair of Enterprise crewmembers arrived only minutes later. Kyrin and Liam were led to a similar booth in a different corner of the restaurant.
"This place is swank," Liam commented quietly once they were alone. "No wonder you wanted to wear something besides your uniform."
"One of the reasons," Kyrin agreed. He crossed his legs under the low table, unaccustomed to sitting on the floor. "Shall we ask for a recommendation?" he asked, eyeing the alien menu a little uncertainly.
The comm officer shrugged. "We could, but I've been studying up on the local dialect. You trust me?" He smiled sweetly at his date.
Kyrin returned the smile warmly. "Implicitly."
The last shuttlepod back to Enterprise was delayed. Liam and Kyrin sat together in one corner opposite Malcolm and Trip. All four men were relaxed and content, having consumed delicious repasts and copious alcohol. They'd run into each other—almost literally—outside the restaurant where they'd dined. The drinks both couples had consumed made the meeting far less awkward than it might otherwise have been, and they all chuckled knowingly at one another as they shared a hoverpod back to the shuttleport.
Crewman Rostov was at the shuttle's helm, waiting. He checked the time and shook his head.
"Shouldn't we be headin' back?" asked Trip a bit more loudly than he'd intended. He always got a little loud when he was drunk, and he was self-aware enough to know he was drunk. He cleared his throat and tried to sound more sober as he continued. "Are we waitin' f'r someone?" He glanced at Malcolm as if he'd know the answer. The smirk on his lover's face told him his sober act had been unconvincing.
"Yes, sir," answered Rostov, valiantly ignoring the fact that everyone else there outranked him, and they were all three sheets to the wind. "There should be two more coming." He checked the time again. "But they're late."
At that moment, two figures appeared at the gateway to the launch pad. They sprinted toward the pod and practically fell into it, gasping and laughing. It was Fraser and Cormack. Stephanie was the first to recover and rose enough to close the hatch in the pod's side. "Whew! In just under the wire!" she declared.
"Actually, ma'am," said Rostov, "you're six minutes late."
Bonnie snorted. "Whoops!" The two women burst into laughter once more, and the drunken officers joined in.
Rostov just shook his head and opened a comm to the port control. "Enterprise shuttle requesting permission to leave."
"In your own time," came the reply.
Rostov couldn't be sure, but he though he heard sarcasm in the alien port controller's voice. "Thank you." He closed the comm and calmly took the shuttlepod out. I just hope none of them gets sick between here and home, he thought fervently. I do not want to have to clean it up!
Bonnie leaned against the back of Rostov's seat. "Sorry we were late," she apologized, chuckling. "We kind of lost track of time." She and Stephanie exchanged a look and the helmsman wiggled her eyebrows. Cormack just smirked and raised a single eyebrow in return. It only made Bonnie laugh harder.
"Let me guess," giggled Liam, slowly focusing on the two women, "you were attacked by the local plant life and only just managed to escape with your lives."
Stephanie was amused but puzzled. She looked at him questioningly. "Eh?"
Trip's deeper chuckle joined Liam's laughter. "There's twigs in your hair, Ensign," he informed her with a knowing smirk.
"Oh." Cormack blushed and ran a hand over her wild curls, pulling out a tiny stick and dislodging numerous evergreen needles—to the great mirth of the men.
"I never thought I'd live to see you blush!" exclaimed Tucker too loudly. Malcolm tried to shush him, but he was laughing too hard to be effective.
"Lock it in your memory," countered Stephanie, doing her best to maintain her dignity. "You're not likely to get another view."
Only Bonnie didn't join in the hilarity. She remained stiff and silent amidst the laughter. Her smile never wavered, but it no longer touched her eyes. Shit! I still haven't told her! Her panicked eyes scanned the occupants of the shuttlepod. And I sure as hell can't tell her here. Now what am I gonna do?
Enterprise left orbit of Dekendi Three early the next day. They stayed only long enough to see Phlox's wife delivered safely back to the planet. There was a rumor that during their stay Phlox had been banned from attending the conference after the first day. Supposedly Archer had gone down to argue on his behalf, but without success.
Liz and Hoshi discussed the matter over lunch. "I can't imagine Phlox doing anything to get himself banned from the conference!" declared Cutler.
"I'm just telling you what I heard," Hoshi replied defensively. "I was hoping you could tell me whether or not it was true."
"I don't know. But I can't imagine—"
Sato cut off the coming tirade. "I know. But I also know he didn't go down there at all after the first day, and the Captain had at least one meeting with the Vulcans who hosted the conference. Are you sure you haven't heard anything?"
Liz despondently shook her head. "Nothing."
"Commander Tucker was in sickbay a lot the past few days," suggested Hoshi. "Maybe he knows something."
"You think maybe he overheard something? Or maybe Feezal knows what happened and told the Commander?"
Sato shrugged. "Maybe. It might be worth asking." She glanced surreptitiously across the mess hall to where Tucker, Reed, Mayweather, and Young were eating lunch and chatting. She looked back at Liz. "You want to work on Travis? He might know something."
"I'll try." Cutler's doubt was obvious in her tone.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I just don't think Travis will talk even if he has heard something. He wasn't overly thrilled with our little discussion at the movie the other night."
"Discussion?" Hoshi had been on the planet that evening and missed out on the conversation in question.
"I told him what you told me about Feezal and the Commander."
Hoshi's eyes widened. "Liz!"
"The movie was that bad! I had to do something to stay entertained!" exclaimed Liz.
"So what happened?"
"So we stopped discussing it."
"Hmm." Hoshi was thoughtful. "I'm sure you can come up with something," she assured her friend at last. She glanced again at the table where the men sat. "I'll try talking to Ensign Young," she suggested suddenly.
"Ensign Young?" Liz gave her a puzzled look before sneaking a quick glance at the ginger-haired armory ensign. "You really think he knows anything?"
Hoshi shrugged nonchalantly. "It's worth a try. Tucker might have said something to Lieutenant Reed, and he might have said something to Young. You never know."
"Hmm, I suppose. But if that's the case, he'd be more likely to mention it to Stephanie." The exobiologist thought her friend was way off base, but she was willing to try any avenue to find out whether there was any truth to the rumor of Phlox's banishment. At that thought, she came to an unexpected decision. "You try Ian; I'll try Phlox."
"Phlox?" echoed Hoshi, shocked.
"When you want information, you might as well go to the source."
"But what if he gets angry that you're snooping?"
"I think I'm a bit more subtle than that," countered Liz. "I'll ask him this evening."
Sato was doubtful but made no further argument. "Good luck.
Lawless stretched out on her bunk and opened her book. She called up her electronic marker and began reading where she'd left off the night before. It was snowing in the story, and the heroine had just taken her harp to the guitar-maker's shop when Mae was interrupted by Cormack's unexpected arrival.
"Hey," said Mae. "What's up?"
"I need to talk to you." The cabin door had barely closed behind her when Stephanie pulled out the desk chair and turned it around. She sat straddling it, facing her friend, and crossed her arms over its back. Clearly this was to be a lengthy visit.
Mae placed a new marker in her book and set the datapad aside as she sat up. "Okay."
"Has Bonnie said anything to you about me?" Cormack demanded without preamble.
"Huh? No. Why?"
Stephanie gave a sigh of disappointment. "It's just " She hated this. She wasn't accustomed to worrying what someone else might be saying or thinking about her when she wasn't around, but this was an unusual situation. "We " She hesitated, trying to decide how much information was enough without going over the line. She decided to start simply with the events of that day; she would work her way back to the previous day only if absolutely necessary. "We were supposed to meet for a quick cup of coffee this afternoon. I had a break around 1400 hours, and she was going on duty when I came off later, so it was the only chance we were going to have to see each other today."
"She didn't show up."
"That's what I thought! I figured maybe she forgot, but that's not like her, you know?"
"Yeah," agreed Mae. "Did you hail her?"
"No. By the time I realized she wasn't coming, I had to get back to the armory." Cormack slumped forward, resting her chin on her forearms. "I left her a message, though. Nothing heavy. Just a 'missed you this afternoon' thing."
Mae shrugged. "That makes sense."
"I thought so, but she never replied."
Stephanie looked more and more frustrated and dejected as the conversation progressed. Mae wondered what was really going on inside the blonde woman's head. "She's probably having a busy shift," suggested Lawless. "She's in Stellar Cartography today, and they almost always have lots to do." She was puzzled as to what the problem was, but tried hard to be encouraging and helpful. "She probably hasn't seen the message yet."
"Yes she has. I got a confirmation when she picked it up."
"Okay. Maybe she's just really busy," Mae reiterated. "Why are you so freaked out? You've gone without talking to her for longer periods of time."
"Those times we hadn't—" Stephanie stopped herself. "Never mind."
"What?" Now Mae was beyond puzzled and into baffled. "What's going on?"
"You know that Too Much Information line you don't like people to cross?" Cormack answered question with question.
Lawless nodded. "Yeah."
"Answering that'd cross it."
"You ?" The engineer's mind put the pieces of the puzzle together. Her eyebrows raised in shock as she guessed the full implication of her friend's words. "God damn," she breathed. "She told you."
"What?" Cormack frowned at her in confusion and sat up straighter. She hadn't expected any specific reaction, but her friend's response had come from completely off her radar. "Told me what?"
Too late Lawless realized her mistake. "Nothing."
"Liar. What the hell's going on?"
"Nothing!" insisted Mae, desperately feigning innocence. Inside, her mind was screaming at her. Idiot! God damned idiot!! Lawless knew things Cormack didn't, and she hated keeping secrets from her best friend. In her sudden relief at believing she no longer needed to, she might have just ruined everything. She knew all about Fraser's decision regarding Cormack. The helmsman had promised herself, and made her bunkmate act as reluctant witness, that she wouldn't take her relationship with Stephanie to a physical level without first telling her about their drunken tryst of years ago. Stephanie's warning regarding the "TMI line" seemed to confirm that the two had taken the step into a sexual relationship, and Mae had logically assumed Bonnie'd stuck to her promise and told Stephanie the whole story. Now Mae was just confused. "What happened on the planet yesterday?" she asked finally.
"I told you you don't want to know."
"I know, I know. But I changed my mind."
"Why'd you change your mind?" Stephanie eyed her suspiciously.
"Can't I just be interested in your life?" It was lame and Mae knew it. Again she cursed herself inwardly.
Stephanie let it go. She was too angry to care about others' motives any more. She said snidely, "I'm surprised Bonnie didn't tell you already. Although considering how she's avoiding me now, maybe I shouldn't be."
"One missed engagement and an unanswered message don't mean she's avoiding you. And why the hell would she?"
Stephanie fixed the engineer with an angry sneer. "Oh I don't know. Maybe because we spent much of yesterday naked in an alien forest fucking like bunnies?"
Lawless visibly winced. She desperately wanted to cover her ears and start chanting la, la, la as she had when she'd first learned of Fraser's secret history with Cormack. But now was not the time.
Cormack noticed her reaction and snorted derisively. "What? Didn't she tell you? I'd've thought she'd've been boasting all over the ship about her conquest."
"Stephanie!" snapped Mae, appalled. Her shock at what she'd just learned was overcome by her shock at Cormack's particularly bitter accusation. "She'd never do that!"
Stephanie took a deep breath, shoving her fury down. No matter how pissed off she was right now, she knew Mae was right. "No," she agreed finally. "You're right. I'm totally overreacting." Her expression was resolute, but her words sounded hollow even to her own ears.
"I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding." Mae tried to reassure her friend, but she had doubts. It was obvious Stephanie still didn't know about the one-night stand despite everything that had happened. The engineer had the sinking feeling Bonnie really was avoiding her. "You want me to let you know when she gets in tonight? It'll be late, but I can call you."
The blonde considered the offer in angry silence. "No. I'm not going be one of those clingy, dependent losers who waits by the comm for her girlfriend to call. Bonnie knows where I am. She'll find me when she's ready." She rose sharply. "I'll see you for breakfast." She left the cabin as abruptly as she'd arrived.
Mae was left in impotent frustration. Her instinct was to find Bonnie immediately and determine if she really was avoiding Stephanie. What Mae would do if she was, the engineer didn't know. She wanted to smack the helmsman up one side and down the other, but it was a good bet that would only make things worse.
She let out an aggravated sigh and snarled, "Shit."
Liz entered sickbay with a determined stride. She hesitated only slightly when she saw Ensign Cohn was there inventorying the supplies they'd picked up at Dekendi Three; she wouldn't be alone with Phlox to question him. Undaunted, she simply adjusted her plan and forged ahead.
"Hi, Ari," she said pleasantly.
The slim, dark-haired man glanced up from his datapad. "Hi," he replied before returning to his work.
"Ah, Liz!" Phlox appeared from behind a bank of equipment and smiled at the new arrival. "What brings you here? Are you feeling all right?"
She returned his smile. "I'm fine."
"Then to what do I owe the pleasure?" he continued.
"Actually, I wanted to ask you about something." She moved to the port research station, trying to get as far from Cohn as possible without it being obvious. She didn't want anyone overhearing her.
"Yes?" Phlox followed her over.
"There's this ridiculous rumor," she began, trying to sound nonchalant. Now that the moment had come, she was a little worried about how he might react.
"About?" prompted the Denobulan. He was certain he knew the answer, but he wanted to find out more about the rumor going around the ship.
Liz continued. "I heard you were banned from attending the conference after the first day." Phlox's usually cheerful face darkened somewhat and Cutler's eyes widened in surprise. "You mean it's really true?" she blurted before she could stop herself.
"Yes, it is. Was that all?"
"But But why?"
"That's none of your concern, Ensign," he said in a tone that brooked no argument.
"Yes, Doctor," replied Liz contritely. She put on a brave face and continued weakly, "At least that means you got to spend more time with your wife."
Phlox's expression was unchanged. "Yes. It does."
There was a sinking feeling in the pit of Cutler's stomach as she remembered the topic of gossip at the movie just two nights before. Oh no. He must have known! And he got himself banned on purpose so he could keep an eye on Feezal and the Commander! "I'd better go," she said aloud.
"Good evening, Ensign."
"Good evening." She quickly departed, not even sparing a good-bye glance for Ensign Cohn.
Phlox shook his head and chuckled to himself. He was fairly certain he'd effectively misguided Liz about the nature of his banishment. That should keep her busy until she loses interest, he thought. He glanced over at Ari who was still working on the new supplies. "Human curiosity is a two-edged sword," Phlox declared, approaching him.
The medical assistant glanced up. He was bemused by the physician's unexpected words, but nodded. "I suppose it is," he agreed. "Why do you mention it?"
"No reason, Ensign. How's that inventory coming?"
Cormack entered the gym. She was too wound up to sleep and she felt the need for some stress-relieving activity. Yoga wasn't going to cut it, but the punching bag looked inviting. She opened the small locker where there was a first-aid kit and extra supplies such as towels, chalk, and cloth tape. She pulled out a roll of the tape and took it to the bench. She took off her light sweater and tossed it down. Sitting on the bench, she removed her sneakers and wrapped tape around her bare feet and her hands. She wasn't thrilled about working out in her jeans, but the tank she wore was comfortable enough for a workout and she was too impatient to go back to her quarters to change her pants.
She did a perfunctory warm up and began vehemently assaulting the heavy bag. Before long a bright sheen of sweat covered her skin and blonde curls escaped her braid, clinging annoyingly to her face and neck. She cursed them under her breath, but let them be. It was another place to focus her anger, and on some level she was glad of it. She continued to mutter curses as she struck the punching bag, lashing out with fists and feet, elbows and knees. She fought dirty, but the bag didn't complain. She was completely unaware that she was still swearing, and she never noticed when tears began to mingle with the sweat that trickled down her face.
Stephanie sniffed and rubbed an arm across her forehead, then continued to strike out at the bag. As she pummeled it, her curses grew louder and her breathing shallower until she no longer had the breath to go on. With both hands, she stilled the swinging bag, pressing her wet cheek against its smooth surface. Slowly she slipped to the floor and sat gasping in air, choking back sobs that she'd not even known were there.
She angrily dashed the tears from her face. "This is bullshit," she declared furiously through gritted her teeth. "I will not behave like this. I am an adult, and I will act like one." She rose resolutely to her feet and crossed to the bench. Reclaiming her sweater and shoes, she strode purposely from the gym—and nearly collided with Malcolm just outside the door.
"Stephanie," he said, startled. He'd planned on a quick turn on the stationary bike before going to bed and was surprised to find anyone else using the gym at that hour.
"Lieutenant," was her tight-lipped reply.
He knew immediately something was wrong. Her appearance and demeanor alone were enough to tip him off, but her formal greeting was the absolute kicker. He expected she wouldn't say what had upset her, but it didn't stop him asking. "Everything all right?"
"Yes, sir. Excuse me." Before he could respond, she walked quickly away and disappeared around a corner.
Reed went after her. "Ensign," he called, catching sight of her down the cross-corridor.
Stephanie fought the urge to ignore him, pretend she hadn't heard and just keep walking. She forced herself to stop and wait for him to catch up.
Malcolm reached her and stood facing her. "What's wrong?" he asked, the concern in his blue eyes echoed in his voice.
"Bad day," answered Stephanie tersely.
He was certain it wasn't the whole story; she'd been fine on duty that morning. He tried to encourage her to go on, asking solicitously, "That's all?"
Stephanie pursed her lips and frowned, then she made a split-second decision. "You ever make a mistake that you thought was absolutely the right thing to do at the time?"
"I suppose so." Reed was puzzled but tried to answer honestly.
"I mean, it was absolutely right at the time, but then the next day you suddenly discovered it was probably the most absolutely wrong thing you could ever have done?" continued the ensign intensely.
He answered so genuinely this time that Stephanie paused and really looked at him. Her expression softened and her sadness suddenly turned outward, leaving a hollowness in its wake. "I'm sorry," she said simply. "That must have sucked."
Malcolm was at a complete loss. "Yes. You could say that." Unwelcome memories battered at his emotional walls, and he had more difficulty than usual beating them back.
Stephanie nodded. "Yeah. Good night."
This time when she walked away, he didn't pursue her. Instead he hailed the nearest lift and rode it to B-deck. Once there it was a short walk to Trip's quarters, which he promptly entered.
Tucker smiled, surprised to see his lover. He set aside the report he'd been studying. "Hey, Malcolm. You done working out already?" he asked.
"I decided to bag it for tonight, actually," Malcolm replied.
Trip gave him a quizzical look. "Everything okay?"
"I just decided I'd rather be here with you than there alone."
There was an odd tone in his voice that Trip couldn't pinpoint, but not being one to question when good things came his way, he simply smiled again. "Sounds good to me."
From a solitary spot at the far end of the mess hall, Ari Cohn surreptitiously regarded a table of three fellow ensigns. Cutler, Lawless, and Sato sat together as usual, but he could see they weren't their usual selves. The tension at the women's table was palpable even from his distant observation spot. He'd thought that morning might be a good chance to stop by and say hello. He knew Liz fairly well and was on friendly terms with Hoshi. It was time he branched out a little, in his opinion, and this ought to have been a perfect opportunity.
He watched as Liz said something and Mae subsequently passed her the pepper. Then the trio fell into awkward silence once more.
Maybe tomorrow, thought Ari. They don't look like they're much in the mood for company. He sipped his coffee in contemplative silence and continued to watch the women out of the corner of his eye.
Mae, Liz, and Hoshi ate their breakfasts in awkward silence.
"Where's Bonnie this morning?" asked Liz. She'd expected the helmsman to be there.
"Bonnie's on Gamma shift today," replied Mae. It was true, but not the whole truth. Bonnie had requested to be put on the night shift. Mae kept that bit of information to herself, not knowing how much the others knew about the situation between Bonnie and Stephanie.
Another uncomfortable silence ensued, this time broken by Hoshi. "Liz, did you have a chance to talk to Doctor Phlox?"
"Yes," was Cutler's terse reply.
A thought occurred to Mae. "I wonder if the doc ever found out his wife was flirting with the Commander," she pondered.
"I don't know," Liz said too quickly.
Hoshi and Mae looked at the exobiologist, equally perplexed but for very different reasons. It was obvious to Sato that there was something behind Liz's behavior. She must know something. Maybe Phlox's banning had something to do with his wife?
"Did you talk to Ensign Young?" Liz countered, then abruptly realized it was the wrong thing to ask at that moment.
Hoshi looked down into her tea. "No." She wasn't about to tell her friend that she'd gotten cold feet. The excuse she'd had to talk to him had seemed reasonable when she'd voiced it to Liz, but when it came to it she knew it didn't hold water. She'd chickened out.
Silence fell again.
"So I thought Stephanie was joining us this morning," Mae said, hoping to find a topic they could actually discuss.
"She went on shift early. Some project or something she wanted to work on." Liz decided not to tell the others the real reason her bunkmate wasn't there; Stephanie hadn't wanted to chance running into Bonnie, so she'd grabbed a latté earlier and escaped to the armory.
Yet another silence descended like a heavy cloud. The three women sipped at their drinks, each caught up in her own thoughts, musings, and secrets.
Damn, thought Mae, shifting uncomfortably and glancing down into her dwindling coffee. All we need now is a paper cut-out monster saying 'Grr. Argh.' and a fade to black.