Log Rhythms - Season Two
Log Disclaimer: Paramount's characters are theirs. My characters are mine. Ensign Ari Cohn is Squeaky Lightfoot's and is used with her kind permission. Isn't it nice how everyone gets along so well?
The trio returning from the surface passed quickly through the bioscans. T'Pol proceeded to sickbay and began working with Phlox to take samples of the plant they'd recovered. Malcolm and Trip were close behind her, both needing to know how the patient was doing.
"How is she?" Reed asked Ensign Cohn, who was monitoring Cormack's condition.
"Stable for the moment, sir," the dark-haired medical assistant replied. "You're welcome to talk to her. In fact, I expect Ensign Lawless would appreciate the help."
"What?" Malcolm looked at Stephanie and the woman sitting beside her. He hadn't even noticed Lawless was there. "Oh."
Tucker remained a silent presence behind the armory officer. He didn't want to interfere, but wanted to be there for his partner should Malcolm need him.
Reed joined Lawless and looked down at Cormack, who squinted back at him. "Malcolm?"
"Hello," he replied. He didn't know what to say but was saved from further comment as the ship jumped to warp and Tucker spoke up.
"What's going on?" the engineer asked, glancing from one crewmember to another. Phlox and Cohn seemed unconcerned by the sudden change. Only T'Pol appeared as intrigued as he was.
"I'm afraid I have no idea, Commander," replied Phlox distractedly.
Cutler entered sickbay then. She'd been freed from decon a short time before and was now cleaned up and back in uniform. "How can I help?" she asked before the door had even shut behind her.
"Take over for me, Ensign," said T'Pol. "I suspect I'll be needed on the bridge."
"Yes, ma'am." She took the Vulcan's place by Phlox's side.
"I'll come with you," Trip said, following T'Pol to the door. "We're at warp two point five and climbing, and I want to know what's up." He shot a quick glance at Malcolm. "I'll find you soon as I know what's going on."
Reed simply nodded. "I'll be in the armory," he said. T'Pol and Tucker disappeared out the door. Malcolm gave Mae an apologetic look. "I need to go."
"That's okay. We're just talking girl talk," Lawless joked lamely.
"Girl talk," murmured Cormack with a lopsided smile. For some reason she couldn't fathom, she found the comment incredibly funny; she just didn't have the energy to do more than chuckle weakly.
Malcolm patted Stephanie's uninjured shoulder encouragingly. "Hang in there," he ordered firmly.
She rolled her head to one side and looked at him. "Yessir," she managed to slur before her eyes slid shut.
Immediately Mae was there to rouse her from her stupor. "Hey, the man gave you an order!" she all but shouted in her friend's ear.
"'M'wake, 'm'wake," muttered Stephanie groggily.
Lawless turned to Cohn and asked angrily, "Don't I get any help here? Why don't you give her another stimulant?"
As Cohn tried to explain and Lawless continued to argue, Reed made his escape. He very much wanted to stay, but there was nothing more he could do for Stephanie right now, and there was undoubtedly a mission update he needed to know about. Before he left, however, he caught Cutler's attention briefly.
"Yes, sir?" she asked. She blinked wide eyes, forcing her mind away from antidotes and blood samples in order to focus on the lieutenant enough to actually hear what he said.
"Can someone let me know when there's any news about Ensign Cormack?"
"Yes, sir," Liz repeated, nodding. "I'll make sure you're updated " She glanced over at her ailing bunkmate anxiously. " as soon as we have anything to tell you."
Liz just nodded and returned to her work as Malcolm slipped out the door.
"Three days?" Trip echoed his Captain's words in distress. "You can't really expect the engines to last three days at top speed."
"I'm not asking for a steady warp five," Archer said patiently.
"That's good, because you wouldn't get it." At Jon's sharp look, Trip shut his mouth abruptly. He'd stepped over the line and did a quick about-face. "Sorry, sir."
Archer let it pass. "We're nearly twelve light years from Paan Mokar," he continued. "The situation between the Vulcans and the Andorians is extremely volatile. Admiral Forrest said they need us there as quickly as possible."
Tucker considered the situation before replying. His reluctance clear on his face, he said, "I'm sure we can get the injectors running higher than a hundred percent for a while, but I really don't want to push them too hard for too long. It won't do us any good if they crap out while we're still a couple of light years away."
"Just do what you can, Commander."
"Yes, sir. Anything else?" he asked, hoping there wasn't. He wanted to get to Main Engineering right away. He expected he was in for three very long days with very little sleep.
Archer surprised him with a non-sequitur. "Have you been to sickbay?"
"How's Ensign Cormack?"
Tucker could only shrug. "I don't know. She didn't look real good, but I was only there for a minute. I'm sure the doc'll take care of her," he added, doubt and encouragement warring in his tones. "We got him what he wanted from that moon, so he's that much closer to figuring it out."
Worry furrowed the Captain's forehead as he nodded. "All right. Thanks. Now get out of here," he said with failed lightness. "I've got work to do, and I know you're itching to get back to your engines."
Trip gave him a half smile. "There's only one other place I like better," he quipped. He was slightly more successful at lightening the oppressive atmosphere and was gratified when his old friend actually chuckled.
"Don't ever tell me where that other place is."
"My lips are sealed."
Cutler passed a slide to Phlox who slipped it under the viewer of the neutron microscope. It was the sixth specimen he'd examined, and so far he'd had no luck isolating the opiod that had infected Cormack.
"Her blood pressure is falling," announced Cohn abruptly from across the room. He'd been monitoring the armory ensign's vitals while Phlox and Cutler worked to find an antidote.
Lawless looked at him from her seat next to Cormack's bed. Since arriving in sickbay, she'd completely lost track of time. She had no idea how long she'd been sitting there, talking and making Stephanie talk back. Mae had asked her friend questions ranging from the philosophical to the ridiculous and covering such varying topics as religion, Ed Wood, sex, and baseball. Now she directed an order at Ensign Cohn. "Make it stop," she demanded.
Cohn didn't answer. He was too focused on the sudden changes in the scans. "Respiration is shallow and her heart rate is dropping."
Phlox quickly loaded a hypospray and joined Cohn at Cormack's bedside. "Let's see if this one does the job," he muttered, pressing it against the woman's neck. He waited a moment and dosed her again.
Cohn kept an eye on his scans. "Heart rate and breathing are stabilized but slow," he said finally. "Blood pressure is still low, but it's stopped falling."
"For the time being," added the doctor with unusual pessimism. He returned to the station where he and Liz were working. The readouts from the monitor over Cormack's biobed were being fed through to the monitor there so he could analyze the results of his work more quickly.
Cohn turned to Lawless. "Keep her talking."
"Give her more drugs!" countered the engineer angrily.
He answered her calmly. "I already explained why I can't do that. Overloading her system with stimulants isn't the answer. The first stims she was given increased the spread of the narcotic through her system; more will only make it worse."
Mae nodded angrily. She didn't like it, but she trusted he knew what he was doing. She focused again on her friend. "Hey. Look at me," she ordered Cormack sharply. When Stephanie didn't respond, Mae slapped gently at her cheek to rouse her. Her skin was pale and felt cold and clammy to the touch. Lawless continued to smack her until Stephanie's eyes sluggishly opened. "Talk to me. What're you thinking?"
Cormack only muttered incoherently in response.
"Come on! You love that stream of consciousness crap. I know you do! You're the only person I know who actually read all of Ulysses. Tell me what's in your head right now!"
But Stephanie was beyond communicating. Her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell into unconsciousness. It was a welcome relief to the tired woman. She hadn't slept well in quite a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Part of her mind wondered why her friend was trying so hard to keep her awake when just the night before Mae had encouraged her to go to Phlox for a sleep-aid. The logic escaped her.
She relaxed as darkness enveloped her.
Bonnie had been hoping for a reprieve but never like this. The second Ensign Tanner had come to relieve her from her bridge shift, she made a beeline for sickbay. Controlled chaos met her there. She stood in the doorway, trying to take it in. Her searching eyes caught sight of the focus of all the activity.
To one side she saw Ensign Cohn leaning over Cormack, examining her. She watched as he set aside an empty hypospray and ran a scanner along the blonde woman's unmoving body. "She's still unconscious, bradycardic, and diaphoretic. And she's breathing at a rate of four," he reported. "Her blood pressure remains low but stable." He set the scanner next to the hypo and pulled a narrow flashlight from his pocket. He opened each of her eyes with a gentle thumb and briefly flashed the light into them. "Pupils still constricted and unresponsive."
Phlox said nothing, his grim silence describing the dire situation more eloquently than any words. Cohn rejoined the doctor and Ensign Cutler at the counter where they worked.
Still unnoticed and doing her best to stay that way, Bonnie skirted the room to where Mae sat next to Stephanie. The engineer looked tired. Fraser stood a little behind her, not ready to alert her bunkmate to her presence. She was afraid Mae would tell her to leave. After their fight last night she was certain she would be unwelcome, but she had to come even if she was only allowed to stay for a moment. She had to see for herself.
From where she stood, things didn't look good. Mae's eyes were red-rimmed—whether from exhaustion or tears Bonnie couldn't tell. The engineer was speaking softly. Bonnie couldn't make out her words, but her voice was rough as if she'd been talking for a long time.
Fraser shifted her gaze almost reluctantly to the too-still figure on the bed. She stifled a sharp intake of breath with her hand.
Stephanie's face was unnaturally pale, her cheeks a sallow gray and covered with a light sheen of sweat. There was a tube tucked under her nose, presumably feeding her oxygen. Only the slightest rise and fall of her abdomen convinced the helmsman she was breathing at all. As Bonnie drew closer, she could see Stephanie's eyes darting back and forth behind closed lids.
Mae heard footsteps and looked over her shoulder. "Hey," she rasped, then cleared her throat.
"Hey," replied the helmsman softly. "I can leave if you want me to." It was clear from her tone that she didn't want to go.
"Don't you dare." Mae coughed and cleared her throat again. "It's your turn. I've run out of stories." She fixed the auburn-haired woman with a pointed look. "There's only one I haven't told her."
"Can she hear us?" Bonnie moved closer until she stood next to the biobed, looking directly down into Stephanie's face.
Mae shrugged. "There's no way to know. Phlox told me to talk to her, keep her awake. She's been unconscious for hours, but no one's told me to stop."
"Get some rest. I've got lots of talking to catch up on with her."
Lawless rose, relinquishing her seat gratefully to Fraser. She patted the helmsman on the shoulder encouragingly as Bonnie sat. "You know where to find me if there's any news." Bonnie nodded and Mae departed sickbay.
Ensign Cohn approached again, hypospray in hand. He acknowledged the new arrival with a nod.
"What's that?" Bonnie asked, pointing at the hypo.
"It's a tri-ox compound," he replied.
"She's breathing too shallowly to get sufficient oxygen. This will help her blood better utilize what she's getting without increasing her heart rate—" He was about to continue with a technical explanation but paused, sensing it would be lost on Fraser. She seemed less interested in the whys than Lawless had been, so he kept it simple. "—and that would be bad right now."
"Oh." She watched as he injected the drug into Stephanie's neck, checked her vitals with his medical scanner, and nodded in satisfaction. "Is she dreaming?" Bonnie asked, watching the frenetic movement under Cormack's eyelids.
Ari turned back to Bonnie. "Dreaming or hallucinating," he said regretfully. "Without knowing more about the poison, it's impossible to say." He gave her a sympathetic look before moving away.
Bonnie didn't even notice it. Her attention was focused on the unconscious woman on the biobed. "Hey there," she said quietly. "I hear you had a shitty day, eh?" It was banal and stupid, but it was the first thing that came to mind. She searched her mind for something to say, some story to tell. It occurred to her that now was the perfect time to tell Stephanie about their one-night stand, but she couldn't. It would be like cheating if she didn't know for sure that the armory ensign could hear her, and Bonnie wouldn't cheat.
Her scattered thoughts lit on her family and the stories she'd grown up hearing. "Have I ever told you about my great-great-grandfather? He was a Mountie—before the war, of course. Took a while to rebuild the RCMP after that, eh? Anyway he's sort of a family legend. I don't know if half the stories about him are even a quarter true, but they're still good stories, and there're a lot of them. There was one about a case he was on—a bank robbery " It was an old, old story, lovingly embellished by each subsequent generation. She fell into the telling with practiced ease, its familiarity bringing comfort to her even if her audience didn't hear a word of it.
Cormack's mind wandered
Stephanie stood at the railing of the family boat. The scene before her was the familiar skyline of Vancouver. Mid-day sun beat down on her shoulders and she looked down at her shadow in the waters of English Bay. Another shadow appeared to her right, and she smiled.
"Hey there, Daddy-O," she said without looking up.
"Hey, Spitfire. What're you doing?"
Stephanie shrugged. "Just hangin'."
"You've been 'hangin'' here a lot lately."
"Have I? I guess so. Can't seem to help it." Finally she turned to look at her father and was met by his blue-eyed gaze. He looked exactly as he had the last time she'd seen him alive. His blond curls were cropped close to his head. He was dressed all in black and carried a heavy jacket tossed casually over one broad shoulder. 'N. Cormack' was stitched in red over the left breast pocket of his shirt. It was the standard kit for an armaments specialist in the provincial militia. "How'd you know I've been here, anyway?" she asked suddenly. "I haven't seen you here since Ryn got hurt."
"No one was dying since then."
"Oh. Makes sense." Stephanie nodded thoughtfully. "You mean me, don't you?"
"I don't see anyone else here, do you?"
"There's almost never anyone else here. That's what I like about it." She turned back to the railing and squinted against the light reflecting off the water.
"So what happened this time?" her father asked gently.
"Fell out of a tree."
He chuckled lightly. "You've done that before. Never killed you then."
"Never got poisoned then."
The two stood in companionable silence for a long time. They watched as the sun continued its westward arc and slowly set. Lights came on throughout the city. A soft breeze blew Stephanie's hair across her face and she tucked the unruly strands behind her ears.
It was her father who broke the silence. "So, what're you really doing here?"
"Huh? I told you. Just hangin'."
"You have better things to do with your time than stand here staring at an imaginary skyline with a dead man."
She turned and glared at him. "What a shitty thing to say!"
"It's the truth. Why are you wasting your time here? You've got living people who want to talk to you, but instead you're here talking to me."
"I haven't seen you in so long, why shouldn't I talk to you?" protested Stephanie. Her father just fixed her with one of his stern, scolding looks she remembered so well from childhood. "I miss you," she added weakly.
"I'm right here," he said more gently. "You don't always see me, but whenever you come here, I'm here, too. I'm dead, Spitfire. Light-years mean nothing to me. I'll always be right here."
Tears ran down Stephanie's cheeks, but she smiled against the pain of his bittersweet words. "Promise?"
"I only ever broke one promise in my life. I'm not going to break one again—especially not a promise to you." He wrapped his free arm around his daughter's shoulders. She sniffed, swallowing her tears and enjoying the warmth of his embrace. "So," he continued lightly, "who's this Bonnie I've heard so much about?"
Stephanie stiffened in his arms. "Nobody."
"She didn't sound like nobody last time you were here."
"Not for me."
"Well I'm still alive, so they do for me," she countered bitterly. She pulled away from him and leaned over the boat's railing, staring down at where her shadow had been. It was full dark now; no moon glowed in the sky. The city lights were too far away to be more than tiny sparks in the distance. The water was an inky blackness she could barely see. Only the smell of the saltwater and the rocking of the boat assured her it was still there.
"She made a mistake, Stephanie. Isn't she allowed to make a mistake?"
"That's not it."
"It is. You're just too close to see it."
Stephanie had no argument. "Whatever."
They stood in silence again, the only sound the lapping of water against the hull.
"Do you hear that?" Nicholas said suddenly.
"Listen." They stood silently listening for several seconds. "There! You must have heard that."
"I don't hear anything."
He fixed her with another chiding look she could barely see. He was a darker point within the darkness, his black uniform making him nearly invisible. Only his pale face and blond hair told her where he stood. "Of course you can. If you couldn't hear it, neither could I."
She listened harder and finally caught what he was hearing. It was Bonnie's voice carried on the breeze. There were others, too—Phlox, Liz, and a second male voice she recognized but couldn't quite place—but they were saying things she didn't understand, so she tuned them out and focused on the helmsman.
"What the hell?" Stephanie muttered. "When did she get here?"
"When we were talking," said her father. "Now shush and listen to her. It sounds important."
"Why is she talking about an Inuit warrior in a snow storm? And why would you think that sounded important?" she demanded, rounding on him.
"Shh. She's telling a story," Nicholas whispered in his daughter's ear. "Pay attention."
Stephanie and her father listened together in silence.
"A black rabbit?" she exclaimed suddenly. She shook her head. "She's lost it."
"Shhh. Listen." His voice was softer now, as if he was walking away.
"Daddy-O?" Stephanie looked around her, eyes desperately searching the darkness for her father. "Don't go!"
"Gotta go, Spitfire. Do what I say. Follow her." He was gone.
Stephanie fought back tears. She was angry and alone yet again, but she would do what he said. She'd always done what he said. Listening intently to the helmsman's voice, she frowned. "She's totally whacked," she muttered. The story made no sense, and Stephanie wished Bonnie would shut up so her dad might come back.
No one paid attention to what Fraser was saying. She didn't care. Her stories were for Stephanie, not them. She spoke quietly, her lips close to the unconscious woman's ear, while the doctor and his assistants worked. Bonnie ignored them; all their medical jargon was over her head anyway.
Stephanie's eyes fluttered suddenly, and Bonnie paused in her storytelling. When nothing more happened, she continued her tale. She almost didn't believe it when she saw Cormack's lids lift sluggishly, revealing pupils so small they were almost lost in the surrounding irises.
"Stephanie?" Bonnie breathed, leaning in even closer. "Sweetie, can you hear me?" The blonde mumbled something she couldn't quite make out. "What? Talk to me."
Stephanie mumbled something else, and Bonnie strained to understand what she said.
" talk made go 'way go " Stephanie trailed off and turned her head away from the helmsman.
It didn't matter; Fraser had heard enough. She rose abruptly, her chair falling over behind her. The trio of medical personnel all started at the noise. "She's awake," Bonnie said, her announcement a mix of relief and pain. Stephanie was awake all right, and the first thing she'd done was tell Bonnie to go away.
Instantly Phlox was beside Fraser. "Out of the way please, Ensign," he said, his tone polite but commanding.
Bonnie stepped awkwardly aside, nearly tripping over the up-ended chair. She righted it and pulled it to one side so it and she were out of the doctor's way.
Phlox ran his scanner the length of Cormack's body and nodded sharply at the results. "The opiod is dissipating," he announced. "Heart rate rising. Blood pressure and breathing are returning to normal." He snapped his fingers in front her face. Stephanie winced and blinked several times. "Ensign Cohn," ordered Phlox.
Without needing further instruction, the medical assistant withdrew his narrow flashlight. He flipped it on and shone it into each of Cormack's eyes. She closed her lids reflexively at the intrusion and tried to turn her head away. With his free hand, he held her still; if she moved too quickly she would dislodge the oxygen feed. "Pupils are responding slowly," Ari said.
"It may take some time before they're able to react properly," said Phlox, nodding. It was the least of his concerns about the ensign's condition.
Bonnie held her breath as she listened to them. She wasn't entirely sure, but she thought they sounded encouraging. She caught Liz as the brunette passed within reach. "Will she be okay?" she asked.
Liz gave her a tired but happy nod, smiling. "Yes."
"I'll let Mae know." Fraser turned to go.
"Don't you want to be here when she's a bit more awake?" asked Liz quickly. After the hours she's spent sitting here, she must to want to stay, she reasoned.
Bonnie shook her head. "She doesn't want me here. I'll get Mae." She rushed from sickbay before Liz could stop her.
Ari glanced up as he heard the door suddenly open and close. "What was that about?" he inquired.
"She's gone to tell Mae that Stephanie's going to be all right," replied Liz. She kept the rest of what the helmsman had said to herself. She must be wrong, she thought. If Stephanie knew she was here, she'd want her to stay. But she knew that wasn't necessarily true.
Out in the corridor, Bonnie rounded a corner and took a moment to compose herself. She plastered on a smile before rushing to her quarters. She burst into the room and turned on the light, waking her bunkmate from an uneasy sleep.
"What the—?" sputtered Mae.
"Stephanie's awake!" Bonnie exclaimed.
"She's ?" It took the engineer's sleepy brain a moment to comprehend. "She's awake!" she echoed once the information had sunk in.
"You should go see her."
Mae was already out of bed and pulling on her bathrobe. "I am. Are you coming?"
Bonnie shook her head, using every ounce of willpower to keep smiling. "It's better if there's only one of us getting in Phlox's way, eh? You go. I've seen her."
"Okay." Mae surprised her bunkmate by hugging her tightly. "Thanks," she said, and hurried off to sickbay.
Finally alone, Bonnie's smile vanished and was replaced by a grimace. "I suck," she muttered to the empty room. She looked around, wishing there was somewhere she could go to escape, wishing she could get off the ship and never have to face Mae or Stephanie again. She bit the inside of her cheek to keep from screaming out her frustration. I suck. I totally suck!
It would be a couple more days before Enterprise reached Paan Mokar. Reed and his crew could use that time to calibrate the ship's weapons, run checks of her defensive systems, and maintain and inventory the hand weapons. Of course with everything running like clockwork already, those two days would more likely be spent doing triple and quadruple checks of the faultless systems. And polishing the consoles, Reed thought wryly. What a week.
He was still up and working at the computer in his quarters. In deference to the late hour, he'd changed out of his uniform into more comfortable clothes, but he had a little work to do before turning in. It doesn't help that the bunk is much less inviting without Trip in it, he thought, glancing over at the neatly made bed. He hadn't even gotten up the gumption to turn down the covers yet.
Ah well. He returned his attention to the duty roster he was putting together. Can't have what I want all the time or where would be the anticipation? He smiled dryly, his expression reflected ghostlike on the screen. He squinted briefly at the text before him and rubbed his thumb and forefinger over tired eyes. "Come on," he muttered to himself, "get this done and you can get some sleep."
It had been a bit of a challenge keeping up with the security crew duty roster lately. Normally he would have them prepared at least three weeks in advance, but nowadays he waited for the helm schedule to be posted. He was aware enough to know something had gone wrong between Ensigns Cormack and Fraser, so he had done his best to keep them off of the same bridge shifts ever since Enterprise had left the medical conference at Dekendi Three. He'd been successful so far, but it had meant a number of late nights putting his own schedule together. His roster was never late, but it certainly wasn't as early as Malcolm liked. He only hoped this change in his routine wouldn't pique the Captain's curiosity unduly. He didn't need anyone noticing the adjustment he'd made and asking questions. After all, he'd asked himself all those questions already.
Part of Malcolm's mind told him it was wrong to pander to the vagaries of people's personal relationships. On a ship like Enterprise one couldn't afford to worry about individuals' feelings regarding such mundanities as their work schedules. Another part of his mind told him that putting two volatile, reactive substances into a single container was only asking for an explosion. He wasn't averse to the idea on a chemical level, naturally, but when it came to people he tried to be a bit more careful.
Face it, he said to himself, it's not "people". It's Stephanie you're concerned about, and you're trying to protect her. Still, it's a small enough thing, and it's certainly not doing anyone any harm, he equivocated.
His thoughts inevitably led him to his injured ensign. He was having more trouble than usual making up the schedule, not knowing when or even if she'd be available again. The dire situation made his stomach turn with worry. The routine of writing up the duty roster gave him something productive on which to focus, at least for a little while. He had received a brief update from Ensign Cutler some time ago. It hadn't been good news. Stephanie had finally succumbed to unconsciousness, and the poison in her blood was still spreading.
Reality dictated that he couldn't protect the entire crew every minute of every day, despite his own desires on the matter. He chuckled mirthlessly. If I ruled the universe He shook his head at the game he and his sister Madeline used to play as children. But his mind continued on its own. If I ruled the universe, no one I cared about would ever get hurt and I'd always get to shoot the bad guys. It was a slightly altered version of one of his usual childhood responses.
And Maddy would always say that if she ruled, there'd be school every day but no exams. He chuckled again, more cheerfully this time. Slightly heartened by the fond memories, he gave the duty roster a final check and sent it off to Captain Archer for approval.
Malcolm rubbed his eyes once more and was about to shut off the screen when he spotted the 'message waiting' light blinking in a corner. "How long has that been there?" he wondered aloud. He called it up. It was a brief text-only message from Ensign Cohn. Stephanie was finally responding to treatment and had woken Malcolm checked the time. less than fifteen minutes ago. He smiled in relief and considered going to sickbay, but decided it would be best to wait until morning. Undoubtedly they would have their hands full and they didn't need him adding to the chaos. He would stop in before his duty shift tomorrow. Instead he sent a quick confirmation and thanks for the update before shutting off the monitor.
He stretched, yawning hugely. As he rose from his seat, his gaze fell once more on his solitary bunk. It looked no more inviting than it had earlier, but with one less worry on his mind he should find it easier to sleep.
Morning didn't technically dawn on Enterprise, but it still managed to come earlier than Bonnie liked. After working Beta shift and spending half the night talking to an insensate Stephanie, the last thing the helmsman wanted was to spend today's Alpha shift staring at star-charts in Stellar Cartography.
She rolled onto her side, snarling, "Computer, alarm off." Immediately the noise ceased. Bonnie's bleary eyes took in the form of her bunkmate across the room. Mae had returned while Bonnie slept, and now the engineer slept on as the helmsman reluctantly rose. Bonnie thought about waking her, but didn't. She wasn't sure what shift Mae was on but if it wasn't Alpha the last thing Fraser wanted to do was wake her unnecessarily. She shuffled to the lav and used it, then washed her face and brushed her hair and teeth. She felt a bit more awake and coherent when she emerged, but she would feel much better with a cup of tea and some breakfast in her.
She dressed quietly and left the cabin. Once in the corridor she paused, frozen in indecision. Her heart told her to go to sickbay, see how Stephanie was, let her know how worried Bonnie had been about her. Her head told her it was a selfish and stupid idea. Stephanie didn't want her there, and certainly Phlox didn't need her cluttering up the place with her presence.
Resignedly she started towards the mess hall, debating with herself at every step until she found she was actually on her way to sickbay. She turned the final corner and stopped. There was Lieutenant Reed at the end of the corridor, just entering sickbay.
Guess I'll come back later, Bonnie thought, doubting her own sincerity. She turned and headed resolutely for the mess hall.
In sickbay Reed quickly spotted Doctor Phlox. The physician was feeding the various fauna in his medical menagerie amidst a cacophony of chattering. The Lieutenant glanced at the curtained area behind which he presumed Ensign Cormack lay, but if she was actually asleep in this din he would have been surprised.
"Good morning, Doctor," he said, approaching Phlox. "I hear your patient is much better."
"Yes, indeed," replied the Denobulan pleasantly. He tossed something small and furry into a cage so filled with foliage its inhabitant wasn't visible and quickly closed the trapdoor. The metal structure shook violently for a moment before falling still and silent. "That's a good girl," Phlox cooed to the unseen critter. He stood up straight and faced Reed. "Ensign Cormack is ready for a bit of company if you'd like to see her."
"I would, thanks."
"Bear in mind she's still a bit groggy, but that will pass as the last of the opiod leaves her system." Phlox led him to the other side of sickbay and pulled back the curtain enough to step inside. "You have a visitor," he announced cheerfully.
Reed stepped in beside him and caught Cormack's unfocussed gaze. "Good morning," he said.
"Hey," the ensign replied. She tried to push herself up to a sitting position only to be chided by Phlox.
"None of that," he scolded. "I'm sure the Lieutenant will let it slide if you don't stand and salute." He smiled at both of them, pleased with a joke neither human recognized as such. "I'll leave you two to chat, but don't stay long," he said pointedly to Reed. Then he added in a conspiratorial undertone, "I don't think you'll find her coherent enough for much conversation anyway," before slipping out and closing the curtain.
Reed moved to stand by the head of the biobed, and Cormack looked up at him. "Hey," she said again.
"Hello. How are you feeling?"
She seemed to consider carefully before answering him. "Loopy," she said finally, a goofy smile on her face.
Malcolm chuckled. "I'm not surprised. Phlox said the drug in your system is an opiod."
"Yeah. I heard that, too," agreed Cormack. She frowned in puzzlement. "Were you here yesterday?"
"Only briefly," he admitted. "I couldn't stay. There was a new mission I needed to learn about, and I was in the way here. You had Ensign Lawless to keep you company."
Stephanie nodded slowly. "I remember that. Then " Here she paused, frowning again. " was Bonnie here?"
He was a bit surprised at the question, but kept his voice and expression impassive. "I'm afraid I don't know. I'm sure Doctor Phlox could tell you."
"I'll have to remember to ask him." She yawned languidly.
"How's that shoulder feeling?" inquired Malcolm.
She smiled again. "It's not. Dunno what all drugs're in me, but they're keeping it nice and numb." She yawned again, raising her good hand to cover her mouth and trailing an I.V. tube with it.
"I'd best go and let you get some more rest."
Stephanie didn't argue, only asking, "Come back later with coffee?" before he could depart.
Malcolm chuckled. "I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks." Her eyes drifted shut and she was soon asleep.
Reed slipped silently from behind the curtain and once again sought out Doctor Phlox. "She's sleeping," he informed the physician.
"Excellent. It was good of you to stop in to see her."
"I could hardly not. She asked me to bring her coffee later," Reed added with a light laugh.
Phlox nodded indulgently. "Well, it won't do her any harm. Just make sure it's decaffeinated; she needs to rest. Oh, and don't expect her to remember the request when you come back. Don't expect her to remember you've even been here."
"I understand." He gave half smile. "If she doesn't, it will make me look that much more thoughtful, won't it?" he joked, and the doctor chuckled in response.
"I'll see you later then. With coffee."
Reed left sickbay and headed to the mess hall. He wouldn't be meeting Trip this morning, unfortunately. Tucker was breakfasting with Archer and T'Pol to discuss the Vulcan-Andorian situation. In fact he hadn't seen his lover since the mission briefing yesterday evening. Malcolm realized he was frowning at the thought and chided himself silently. You'll survive. There are worse things in the world, and you're quite good at being alone. But just because he was good at it didn't mean he always preferred it.
As he reached the mess hall, the ship shook slightly and he paused in his stride before continuing through the door. The usual almost infrasonic hum of the engines had been replaced by a more audible low grumbling as they'd increased speed to nearly warp five yesterday. Shimmies like the one he'd just experienced were one of the reasons he hadn't seen Trip, nor was he likely to have any time alone with his partner until after their current mission was complete.
I hope it doesn't take long, he thought as he picked up an empty mug and ordered the drinks dispenser to fill it with hot Assam tea. He took the filled mug with him as he collected a plate of pancakes and sausage, and found a seat at an empty table. It was as he spread peanut butter on the pancakes that Hoshi arrived.
"Good morning, Lieutenant," she said. "May I join you?"
"Of course." He gestured with his free hand to the chair across from him.
"Thanks." She sat, placing her bowl of cereal and cup of tea on the table. She eyed his meal dubiously. "Is that good?" she inquired, pointing her spoon at the peanut butter-swathed flapjacks.
"Hmm." Sato continued to look doubtful.
"Just think of them as toast, but not as dry."
"I suppose." She decided a change of topic was in order as Reed tucked happily into his breakfast. "I hear Ensign Cormack is on the road to recovery."
The lieutenant nodded. He took a swallow of tea to wash down the peanut butter before responding. "Yes. I stopped in to see her a little while ago, but she wasn't overly lucid yet."
"I'm not surprised. From what Liz has told me, the substance that plant injected into her was hallucinogenic as well as toxic." The ship rumbled again at that moment, interrupting Sato's train of thought. She fought the urge to look around and make sure none of the bulkheads had shaken loose. She grimaced. "I hate that feeling. You'd think after that neutronic storm we went through last September I'd be used to a few bumps and shimmies." She took a calming sip of tea.
"I'm sure everything's fine," Reed reassured her.
Hoshi smiled gamely. "I'm sure you're right."
Mae was surprised when she woke before her alarm. After the stress and the late night, she had been sure she'd oversleep and be late for Beta shift in engineering. She wondered what had woken her, but didn't wonder too hard as the pervasive grumble of the engines peaked with a shake of her bunk.
She pushed back the covers and sat up. As usual, her roommate's bed was unmade and her pajamas were heaped on the deckplating at the foot. She shook her head. Yawning, Mae stood and turned on the cabin lights, blinking at the brightness.
"Computer, cancel wake-up alarm." There was a soft chirp that told her the alarm had been turned off. She looked at the chronometer and smiled. "Plenty of time, assuming I'm right." She padded to the computer desk and sat down, activating the monitor. A couple of quick searches found what she sought. She smiled again. "Right on."
Rising, she grabbed a towel and her bathrobe and headed for the shower room.
Thirty minutes later she was dressed and ready to face her duty shift, but there were two things she needed to do first, both of which required a trip to the mess hall.
She collected two mugs of coffee, one blond and both sweet. She wrapped the fingers of one hand though both mug handles and carried them to the buffet. Sliding open a particular cubby, she selected two cinnamon rolls and placed them on a single plate. She took her cargo to the door where she awkwardly activated the release with her elbow, nearly sloshing coffee over the rims of the mugs. Mae took a moment to let the precious liquid settle before heading out.
At the turbolift she ran into a bit of luck. Ensign Snider was there already waiting, and the door opened just as Mae arrived next to her. "Hi," she said pleasantly. "How's it going?"
"Not bad," the strawberry-blonde woman replied as they entered the lift. "What deck do you need?"
Snider pressed the buttons for both C- and D-decks.
They rode one deck in silence. The door opened onto D-deck where Snider departed. Mae continued up. She hung a right off the lift and passed two cross-corridors before turning again. Finally she reached her destination. More cautious of the coffee this time, she once again used her elbow to ring the cabin's door chime.
"Just a moment," called a voice from inside. The door opened to reveal a puzzled Ensign Cohn, his dark curls still damp from the shower, wrapping his bathrobe over his blues. He froze when he saw who was at his door. "Uhhh " he stammered.
"Hi. I brought you breakfast," said Mae, disregarding the fact that it was past midday.
"Um thanks?" He was too confused and shocked to even formulate a rational question.
Realizing his quandary Mae continued. "It's a peace offering," she explained, "and I wanted to say thanks for everything you did for Stephanie."
At last Ari regained some composure. "It's my job," he said simply. "You don't have to thank me for it."
"Maybe not, but I need to apologize. So, I'm sorry I gave you such a hard time yesterday. I know it didn't make your job any easier. Peace?"
Ari smiled despite his continued confusion. "Peace," he echoed.
"Good, then take the mugs and invite me in because I think my fingers are falling asleep."
"I Right. Sorry." What would Ian say if he could see this? he thought, for once wishing his roommate was there, then immediately retracting his wish. He was alone with Mae in a non-professional setting; the presence of his bunkmate could only spoil the moment.
Mae continued talking as Ari took the mugs and moved aside to let her enter. "You like cinnamon rolls?"
"Very much," he answered, setting the mugs on the desk and pulling out the chair for her. He's not going to believe it when I tell him about this.
"Right on," said Mae. "I could eat them both myself, but you'd probably see me in sickbay afterward." Mae picked up the coffee mugs and handed him the one without milk in it. "To your health," she toasted, grinning.
"And yours," added Ari.
They clacked the mugs together and drank. Ari smiled in surprised pleasure. "How did you know I like my coffee this way?" he asked as Mae sat in the desk chair.
She smiled back, claiming a cinnamon roll. "It just seemed right," she answered with a shrug. "Just like Stephanie likes her coffee to suit her temperament, I guessed you might, too. I'm glad I was right."
Again Ari was puzzled. "Pardon? I don't understand." He picked up the remaining pastry and sat on the end of his bunk to eat it.
"She's blonde and bitter, like a latté," Mae elucidated. She hesitated only briefly before continuing boldly, "And you're dark and sweet."
"I " He didn't know how to take her assessment of Cormack, but her description of him was flattering enough. He smiled a little self-consciously this time and said, "Thanks." Then feeling inexplicably brave, he asked, "So what does your coffee say about you?"
Mae glanced down into her mug thoughtfully. "That I'm a closet blonde with a treacle-sweet disposition," she quipped, looking back up at Ari.
He laughed. "I never would have guessed it." Then he continued hastily lest he be misunderstood, "The blonde part, I mean."
"It's okay," Mae chuckled. "I wouldn't've expected you to guess the sweet part either after all the crap I gave you yesterday."
"Forget about it. You were under a lot of stress, and you were worried about Ensign Cormack. No hard feelings. Peace, remember?" he added with yet another smile.
Mae was about to protest, but his tone was so sincere that she could only take him at his word. "Thanks."
Ensign Young entered the gym and nearly did an immediate about-face. Hoshi was there on the treadmill. She hadn't spotted him yet; he had a chance to escape. Chicken, his mind berated him. Fueled by the internal insult, he continued inside, crossing her line of vision as he approached the weight benches.
Sato smiled as he passed her, catching his eye and nodding hello.
He tried to look nonchalant as he gave a brief wave in return. "Hey," he said. He tossed his towel casually across a bench.
"Hi," she replied.
Silence fell between them, broken only by the hum of the treadmill and Hoshi's evenly paced footfalls.
The two hadn't talked off duty since the morning after their date, and Sato pondered how to start up a conversation with the armory ensign. Ironic, she thought. All the languages I can speak, and I can't think of anything to say. But Ian surprised her by speaking first.
"I hear Cormack's going to be okay," he said as he chose a pair of hand weights. He began a set of warm-up biceps curls.
"That's right," Hoshi confirmed.
"That's good. The sooner she quits shirking, the sooner the rest of us don't have to pick up the slack," he added with a smirk.
Hoshi brought her treadmill to an abrupt halt and fixed him with an angry gaze. "You'd better be joking," she stated challengingly.
"What?" Ian was surprised. He paused in his warm-up to meet her glare with his own perplexed look. "Of course I am."
"Hm. Good." Hoshi started up the treadmill once more, but Ian wasn't done talking.
"You didn't actually think I was serious?" he demanded.
"I wasn't sure," she admitted.
"Christ!" He slammed the weights back into their cradles. "You honestly think I'm that cold?"
"I Of course not," answered Hoshi, flustered.
"It sure sounded like it. Thanks a lot. I thought we'd gotten to know each other better than that, but I guess not."
"I never meant I'm sorry." She slowed the treadmill more gradually to a halt this time. "I didn't mean that."
"No? You could've fooled me," he countered bitterly. "You know, I almost thought we had something the other night. Guess I'm as dumb as I look, eh? See you around." He grabbed his towel and headed for the door.
Instantly Hoshi was off the treadmill and right behind him. "Ian, stop."
"No," he spat as he crossed the room. He paused barely long enough to slap the door control open.
"Fine." Hoshi stopped in the open doorway. "I was going to apologize, but never mind." She turned and went back into the gym.
The door whooshed open behind her only a second after it had closed. Young stood there, his arms crossed over his broad chest. "Go ahead then."
"Excuse me?" inquired Hoshi, raising one eyebrow eloquently.
"Go ahead and apologize. You all but called me a cold-hearted prick, so apologize like you said you were going to."
Sato eyed him, her jaw clenching defensively. "How about I all but apologize and we call it even?" she snarled tightly.
Young snorted derisively. "Perfect."
They continued to glare at each other, at an impasse. More than once Ian considered saying something, but he couldn't bring himself to admit how much her assumptions had hurt him. His jaw clenched and unclenched as he repeatedly stopped himself from saying something he would only regret. Forget about it, his mind told him. Forget about her. She doesn't get it, and if she doesn't get it, she's not worth it. He wasn't entirely sure what "it" was, but he pushed the fact aside.
It was obvious to Hoshi that Ian was experiencing some sort of inner conflict, but in regard to what she could only guess. She regretted her harsh assessment of him. She really should have known better. She knew he and Stephanie were friends—not close friends, but friends nonetheless. She'd treated him unfairly. And this isn't the first time, a little voice in her head said, surprising her with its truth.
Hoshi's anger abruptly deflated and was replaced with remorse. Her narrow shoulders slumped slightly. "I'm sorry," she said simply.
Her sincere statement was enough to cool Ian's boiling anger, although it didn't dissipate entirely. "Forget about it," he replied flatly.
Another silence fell, this time punctuated by the background noise of the ship's hard-working warp engines.
Again it was Hoshi who spoke. "Can I buy you a drink to make up for it?"
His hurt feelings somewhat appeased, Ian relented. "It's a start."
Phlox looked up as T'Pol entered sickbay. "Good evening, Sub-commander," he said pleasantly. "Am I right in guessing you're here to visit Ensign Cormack?"
She met his inquisitive smile with an impassive gaze. "You informed me she was awake, as I had asked you to, and you implied now would be an appropriate time to speak with her," she reminded him evenly.
"Yes, of course. She's right over there." He pointed to the biobed. The curtain was partially drawn, allowing Cormack some privacy but no longer isolating her from the rest of the room.
The doctor smiled. As T'Pol turned away from him and crossed the room, his smile grew coy. He so enjoyed baiting the Vulcan occasionally. He was absolutely certain she had a good sense of humor, and he randomly did what he could to draw it out. He wasn't often successful, but that didn't discourage him in the slightest. He enjoyed a challenge. Unfazed by his lack of success this time, he returned to his work.
T'Pol stood beside Cormack's bed, her hands clasped behind her. "Ensign," she began formally.
"Sub-commander," replied Stephanie. She was surprised to see the science officer; she'd never thought of the Vulcan woman as the type who made social calls.
"You appear to be feeling better."
T'Pol's awkward conversational style convinced Cormack that she was right. "Yes, thank you. I think I could sleep for a week, but otherwise I'm good."
"What about your shoulder?"
"Well, yeah, and that. The doc's kept it pretty pain-free, so I keep almost forgetting about it," she explained. Realizing she was on the verge of babbling just to fill an uncomfortable silence, Cormack shut up.
T'Pol remained impassive at this information, merely nodding. "Has Doctor Phlox told you when he plans to release you?"
"No, ma'am. Between you and me," Stephanie continued in a conspiratorial tone, "I'm trying not to ask. I think it annoys him."
"I see." T'Pol had rarely seen Phlox annoyed about anything, but mutterings she'd heard about Cormack's past visits to sickbay led her to believe the ensign's assessment was correct. "You've made a wise decision," she informed her.
Both women fell silent and once more Stephanie fought the urge to speak simply to fill the void. Why do I think it doesn't bother her in the least? she wondered idly.
"You acquitted yourself admirably on the away mission," stated T'Pol suddenly, surprising Cormack. "Many people would have panicked in your situation. You remained unexpectedly calm." Now the Vulcan raised one eyebrow ever so slightly and added, "Other than your particularly colorful vocabulary."
Stephanie bit her lips, flushing slightly. "Sorry, ma'am. I'm usually a bit more professional than that on duty."
"You were under extraordinary duress," conceded T'Pol.
"Yes, ma'am," Cormack agreed readily.
"I assure you it didn't appear in my report to Captain Archer."
Comprehension was creeping slowly into Stephanie's awareness. She's messing with me, she realized. No. She'd never— But her thoughts cut off as she looked at T'Pol more carefully. It wasn't so much the expression on her face as the energy she currently exuded. It's almost playful. Still not quite sure if her perceptions were correct or the result of the painkillers, Cormack smiled ever so slightly as she replied. "Thank you."
The tiniest inclination of T'Pol's head confirmed both her suspicions and that T'Pol knew Stephanie understood. "You're welcome," the Vulcan said. "I look forward to your swift recovery and return to duty."
"Thank you, Sub-commander."
T'Pol turned to go, pausing at the edge of the curtain to turn back to Cormack. "There will be no more climbing of trees, Ensign," she informed her succinctly.
"No, ma'am," agreed Stephanie. "There won't."
It was late when Reed was finally free to stop by Main Engineering. He came armed with a tray of food for Tucker. Subtle inquiries had determined Trip hadn't left engineering since 0700, and Malcolm was positive he hadn't taken a break in all that time. He knew his lover too well to believe otherwise.
He entered Engineering and went first to the workbench that doubled as Tucker's desk during busy times such as these. He set down the covered tray and looked around. The rumble of the warp engines was far more pronounced here than elsewhere on board. For the first time he found he was glad his cabin was fairly far away. Normally he wished it were closer to where Tucker worked so it would be a shorter trip from one to the other when the younger man came off shift.
Ensign Lawless rounded the end of the warp core at that moment and stopped at the sight of him. "Lieutenant," she said in surprise. "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Commander Tucker. At the risk of sounding like a steward," he joked, "I've brought him some dinner."
"I'll get him for you, but good luck getting him to sit down long enough to eat it." Before she went looking for her C.O. however, she added, "I went to see Stephanie this afternoon. I told her I'd come back later with a latté, but she said you'd already brought her one."
Malcolm wasn't sure what to say so he remained silent.
"That was cool of you," finished Mae, then she disappeared back the way she'd come.
Reed waited patiently, a bemused half-smile on his lips. It was only moments before Tucker appeared. "Malcolm," the engineer said in a pleased but frazzled voice. "What's up?"
"Geez, thanks, Malcolm, but I'm too busy—"
Reed cut him off. "You've been 'too busy' for nearly sixteen hours. Don't argue. Just eat and you can get back to work that much sooner."
"But I've gotta keep an eye on the injectors, and the plasma manifolds keep trying to run hot—"
"Which is why you have a talented engineering staff to help you. Look, I don't mean to mother-hen you, and if you're genuinely not hungry, say so. I'll take the tray and go."
Trip started to protest again but at that moment he caught a whiff of what was on the tray and his stomach growled loudly, giving him away. "I never said I wasn't hungry," he said, seeing Malcolm's gratified smirk. "Thanks for bringing me dinner."
"You're welcome. Just make sure you actually eat it."
Reed wanted to stay to be certain the engineer followed through on his words, but he didn't want to appear to be hovering. Instead he settled for asking, "Will I see you later?" He knew the answer from the immediate slump of Trip's already heavy shoulders. "I'll assume that's a no."
"I wish it could be yes, but I'm just—"
"Too busy," Malcolm finished for him.
Tucker nodded. "You understand, right?"
Malcolm forced himself to smile reassuringly. "Of course." In truth he did understand. Duty was very important to Reed, and he could hardly blame Tucker for holding his own duty as Chief Engineer above his lover's desires. "I'll leave you to it, then."
"I'll see you sometime," Trip offered lamely. "But I'm probably not even gonna see my own bed until we get to Paan Mokar, you know?"
"I know. Just make sure you manage a break every now and then before that. I think Engineering can do without you for an hour here or there."
"Right. Thanks again." Trip gestured at the covered tray that awaited him on the workbench.
Malcolm nodded. "I'll see you later." He left quickly.
Tucker watched him go, then glanced around engineering until he caught Lawless's eye. He waved her over.
"Yes, sir?" she asked.
"Keep an eye on the injectors for me. I'm gonna take a little break."
"And watch that the plasma manifolds don't get too hot," he added quickly.
Lawless nodded and climbed the short flight of steps to the warp engine's main control console.
Trip pulled up a chair and sat at the workbench. His stomach growled again as he removed the cover from the tray. He smiled. There was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and broccoli—several of his favorites. He wondered if the items had just happened to be on the menu that evening or if his incredibly thoughtful lover had somehow coerced Chef into making them. Then he considered Enterprise's stubborn culinary wizard and decided it must have simply been happy coincidence. He tucked into his dinner with relish.
Out in the corridor, Malcolm couldn't keep up the pretence any longer. He hadn't wanted Trip to see how disappointed he was, but once he was alone the smile fell from his face.
You can't have expected any differently, he said to himself. What is wrong with you tonight, anyway? He caught a lift and rode it to B-deck. You're acting like an insecure adolescent. The lift opened and he stepped out and continued down the corridor. It's only been a night and a day. There have been plenty of other, much longer stretches when you and Trip were too busy to be together. That's the way life works. What's different about it this time? He turned a corner and continued walking.
You're bored, a voice in his head told him. Plain and simple. There's virtually nothing to do in the armory. Trip's overwhelmed with work. Stephanie's stuck in sickbay. You have nothing to do and no one to play with, so you're bored.
It was a humiliating discovery, and he was very glad no one else knew of it. Here he was, the head of security for Earth's first warp-five starship, pouting over the fact that he was bored. The sudden insight was enough to shake him out of his gloomy musings.
That's pathetic, he mentally scolded himself. Read a book, for crying out loud. You never did finish Ulysses, and that was a year ago. You have no excuses now. You should finish it.
He reached his destination at the same time he made up his mind. He keyed open the door to Tucker's quarters and entered. He raised the lights to half and quickly prepared for bed, for once actually donning the pajamas he had stored there. Next he took a moment to download James Joyce's masterpiece from the ship's database into a datapad. Finally ready, he turned on the small reading lamp over the bunk, turned off the overhead light, and climbed into bed.
He had something to lull him to sleep, and he was where Trip would find him should the engineer actually take the much needed break Malcolm had mentioned to him. The situation was as ideal as it could be in the circumstances. He activated the datapad, trying to remember where he'd last left off. It wasn't long before he realized the attempt was hopeless. With a sigh of resignation, he keyed the pad to page one and began to read.
Bonnie was wiped out. She'd never realized before just how tiring it was avoiding someone. Somehow it had been easier to deal with when she and Stephanie were both healthy and working. Now that Cormack was laid up, it was absolutely exhausting. Bonnie figured it was the added guilt that was getting to her. Knowing exactly where to find Stephanie took her mind away from the worries of what to do should they run into one another inadvertently. When she added to it all the time she'd spent being absent or "asleep" whenever Mae was home, it became one mind-boggling and wearisome mess.
She checked the time. Nearly midnight. Mae would be back soon—sooner than Bonnie could undress and get to bed so she could pretend to be sleeping. Somehow I doubt that would work tonight anyway, she thought. There was nothing else for it. It was time to go see Stephanie.
She's probably asleep at this hour, her mind told her.
Even better, she answered herself. Then when Mae asks, I can genuinely say I went to see Stephanie but she was asleep.
Bonnie stalled her task a little longer, changing out of her uniform and into jeans and a loose-fitting green blouse. She quickly ran a brush through her hair and then paused at the absurdity of her behavior. You hope she's asleep, you're sure she hates you, and yet you're trying to make yourself look pretty? Loser. She tossed the brush onto her bunk in disgust. She slipped on the flat-soled sandals she wore when she wanted to go barefoot but didn't think it was appropriate, and left the cabin.
She passed a handful people on her way—crewmembers coming off Beta shift or going on Gamma shift, some people who simply hadn't made it to bed yet, like herself. She nodded to a few, traded hellos with one or two more, before reaching her destination.
She stared at the door to sickbay, swallowing hard against the butterflies threatening to rise up from her stomach. What are you so scared of? she demanded of herself. It's not like she's going to try to beat you up. Even if she wants to, she's probably still too sick to do it.
Taking your comfort in some pretty low places these days, aren't you?
I told you to shut up. Bonnie shook her head. I have got to get out of the habit of arguing with myself.
Bonnie took a deep, steadying breath and entered sickbay. At first glance she thought it was empty. The lights were low throughout most of the room and the only sound of life was the quiet chattering of some nocturnal animal of Phlox's. She looked towards where Stephanie had been the night before and her glance met nothing but a concealing curtain. Okay, so she's still here, Bonnie deduced. Where the hell is the doctor? Or at least a duty nurse?
Her question was answered when the curtain moved and Phlox emerged from behind it. Fraser started to say something, but was promptly shushed by the Denobulan. He led her to the far end of sickbay before speaking.
"Ensign Cormack is sleeping," he explained in an undertone.
Bonnie's voice was flat with disappointment when she replied. "Oh."
"You're welcome to stay." Phlox couldn't miss the slump of her shoulders and dejected expression.
"I really wanted to talk to her. I guess I should've known she'd be asleep at this hour, eh?" Told you so, her mind said. She shoved her hands into her jeans pockets disconsolately and dug a toe into the flooring.
"She's been through a great deal of trauma. She's been asleep more than she's been awake today. It's made my life much easier," quipped Phlox gently.
Fraser gave him a sympathetic half-smile. "Yeah, I've heard about her reputation as a patient."
"I think it's the feeling of helplessness that bothers her the most, but don't tell her I said that. She'll only argue with me about it at some inconvenient moment."
"Helplessness, eh?" queried the helmsman thoughtfully. She nodded. "I get that." She met Phlox's kind, patient gaze. "You said I could stay?"
"Yes. As long as you're quiet and don't wake her."
"She'll never know I'm there."
Phlox led her to the curtained bay and drew the drape back with one hand, using the other to usher her past it. Fraser smiled dispiritedly in thanks and slipped by him. She waited as he shut the drape before she turned to look at Cormack.
It was darker here, but she could make out Stephanie's face in the glow of the monitors. Even bathed in that unnatural light, her color was healthier than it had been only twenty-four hours earlier. The blanket that had covered her had been replaced by a lighter-weight sheet pulled up nearly to her shoulders. Her damaged arm was a silhouette under the fabric while her uninjured right arm lay atop the covers, connected to an I.V. Bonnie was pleased to see the oxygen tube had been removed and Stephanie now breathed easily on her own.
The helmsman rounded the foot of the biobed and sat in the chair on the other side, pulling it up so she was right next to the sleeping woman. This close to her, Bonnie could see that Stephanie was frowning in her sleep, her eyebrows furrowed together in pain or distress and her eyes darting back and forth under her lids. Even her jaw was tight with tension.
Wonder what she's dreaming this time? Fraser wondered. She reached out a tentative hand, brushing a tendril of hair from the blonde's cheek. Emboldened when Cormack didn't wake, she continued to stroke Stephanie's hair gently, hoping to soothe her into a less upsetting dream. But her actions had no effect.
Bonnie began to hum very softly. It was an old song from her childhood. Her father had often sung it to her when she'd been sick or had had a nightmare. She'd always found it comforting and hoped it would have a similar effect on Stephanie. As the tune reached the chorus, she added the words.
"And you brought me down gently
Slowly Cormack's face and jaw relaxed, and before long her eyes ceased their frantic movements. Bonnie continued stroking her hair and singing in her warm, gentle alto. As the song came around to the chorus again, Stephanie's eyes fluttered and opened a crack.
"Pretty," she murmured, only partially awake.
"Shh," Bonnie shushed her gently. "Go back to sleep."
But the words only brought Stephanie closer to wakefulness. "Bonnie?" she whispered.
Fraser moved her hand away, afraid Stephanie wouldn't appreciate the intrusion of the tender gesture. "Who else is dumb enough to do the exact opposite of what Phlox told her to do?" she asked self-deprecatingly.
"Only me. Why are you here?"
Positive the inquiry was about to lead to a dismissal, Bonnie rose. "I'm sorry. I'll go."
Hesitantly, the helmsman sat back down. "I'm sorry I woke you. Phlox'll be mad when he finds out."
"Then we won't tell him. If we're quiet, he'll never know." Stephanie smiled at the younger woman.
"It's good to see you," Bonnie said, trying to hide her surprise at the warm expression. "You look a lot better tonight."
"You were here before!" Cormack exclaimed softly.
Bonnie nodded. "Just before you came out of that coma or hallucination or whatever it was. You woke up and I went to tell Mae." She deliberately left out the part where Stephanie had told her to go away.
"I remember dreaming. My dad was there. And I remember Mae." She looked puzzled. "You didn't come back with her?"
"No. Too many cooks, eh? I didn't want to get in the way." It was only half of the truth.
"That explains that part of it."
Stephanie fixed the helmsman with an accusing look that stood out even in the minimal light. "If I'd known it would take a life-threatening injury to get you to speak to me, I'd've hurt myself days ago."
Bonnie flushed and looked down at her hands clasped in her lap. "I'm sorry."
"You should be."
Bonnie bit back a sharp retort, willfully clamping down on her notoriously short temper. "You're right," she replied contritely. "I've been a bitch."
"You haven't been around enough to have been a bitch. I'd have preferred it if you had. At least then I'd have some idea what the hell was up."
"I need to tell you something." Fraser's fingers were so tightly interwoven that her knuckles were white. She wanted to release them, but they were her focal point. All of her tension flowed into her hands, allowing her to calmly look into Stephanie's eyes and admit to what she had been hiding. "We had sex before."
"Duh. I was there, remember? Big green trees, fluffy white alien squirrels—"
Her tone was such that Stephanie paused mid-barb and fell into mystified silence.
"Before that," Bonnie said. A deep breath, a steadying of nerves, and she went on. "My cousin went to UNWT in Yellowknife."
Stephanie was about to comment that she knew where UNWT was, but refrained. Instead she waited. She had no idea what was going on or what to expect, but guessed her usual sarcasm would only muddy the situation further.
For her part, Bonnie appreciated the other woman's restraint. She guessed it was as difficult for Stephanie as it had been for herself to control her own temper moments ago. She continued. "My friends and I went to visit one year. For spring break. There was a band playing." She looked into Cormack's eyes again and saw a glimmer of recognition. "Daughters of Lear." The recognition turned to horror and Bonnie faltered. Is she horrified that I know about the band or does she remember what we did? her mind panicked, but she forged ahead. "My friends and I hung out after the concert. We even helped the band load up their gear then we all went out together. There was this one chick in the band—really hot with pink hair—"
"Fuck," whispered Stephanie even more softly than they'd been speaking already.
Fraser paused, uncertain how to go on or even if she should. She got her answer when Cormack spoke again.
"That was you."
Bonnie nodded reluctantly. "Yeah."
They were silent for several moments while Stephanie's stunned mind considered this revelation, analyzing and digesting it as best she could in the circumstances. Finally she asked, "Why didn't you say?"
"How? When? Wait—don't answer that. When should have been before we ever got to Dekendi Three. I know that."
"Hang on. Is that what this is all about?" she demanded only half coherently. Stephanie tried to sit up but was foiled by injuries and instruments. She snarled at both impediments then turned her blossoming anger back on Bonnie. "You've been avoiding me. You left me wondering if I'd done something so terrible you couldn't even stand to look at me. You didn't even have the decency to tell me it was over. And all because of that?!"
"Don't you dare shush me!" exclaimed Stephanie, but lowered her voice anyway. The last thing she wanted at that moment was to be interrupted. "One night of drunken debauchery and suddenly I'm not good enough for you? Is that it?"
"What?" Fraser was stunned. "No! Are you nuts? I was just as drunk and stupid as you were that night. I never meant "
"Then what? You thought I wouldn't like you any more when I found out it was you?" She was less angry now, but more confused and hurt.
"No." The helmsman took a deep breath, frantically trying to figure out how to explain. I've made such a fucking mess of this whole thing, she thought bitterly. How am I going to dig my way out of it? "I didn't want to ruin things. Everything was going so well between us, and I didn't know what you'd say or how you'd react if you found out. I promised myself but I Then when I didn't and then we did " She looked away and then back again. " I didn't know what to do. So I didn't do anything."
"Except clam up and make me think it was all my fault," accused Stephanie.
"I didn't think about it that way. I didn't realize what you might think."
"I'm sorry," Bonnie said yet again.
Stephanie ignored her repeated apology. She stared into the air, not really looking at anything. When she spoke, her voice was barely a whisper, but every word reached Bonnie's ears with distinction and precision. "You want to know what I remember from that trip to Yellowknife? Not a lot. We were doing a colleges tour and it was just one stop on the way. We did our show. We went out partying after. The others weren't quite the partiers I was, of course, but we had a few drinks with these kids we'd met. Then one girl and I kept partying long after the others were done. I think there was a frat house involved, and there was definitely a keg of something. It's all a big, painful blur. There was a lot of sex, I remember. And I'm not positive, but I think it was pretty damn good sex."
"It was," agreed Bonnie, but Stephanie either didn't hear or chose not to.
"I woke up alone, as usual, and still a bit drunk as usual. There was only one thing that made that night significant." She fixed Bonnie with a steady, unreadable gaze. "It was the last time."
Fraser's mind spun with the implication. "You ?"
"I never woke up that way again—until I woke up in your bunk that morning after Ryn got hurt. The band helped me make it through the rest of the tour, and when we got home to Vancouver I got help. Professional help. So, you wondered what I'd've said or done if you'd told me before?" She considered the possibilities. "I don't know," she said at last. "And now we'll never find out."
They sat there in silence for a long time. Bonnie couldn't bring herself to leave, but neither did she want to stay. She only remained because not making a decision was once again the easiest thing to do.
Stephanie had no choice but to lie there. She couldn't have left if she'd wanted to, which she didn't. Through half-closed eyes she watched Bonnie fidget. It was obvious the helmsman didn't know what to do. She alternately stared down at her hands, then up at the ceiling, then at the bank of monitors over Stephanie's bed—never once looking directly at Stephanie.
Cormack's anger was habitually brief and faded quickly. "You said you promised yourself something."
Fraser started at the unexpected sound. "What?"
"You said you promised yourself something. What?"
"Oh." She looked down again. "I promised I'd tell you about Yellowknife before we " She trailed off.
" got to Dekendi Three?" filled in Stephanie, understanding it was the events that had occurred there rather than the place itself.
"I couldn't even keep a promise to myself. How sad is that?"
"It shouldn't," countered Bonnie, still angry with herself at what she perceived as a failure.
"Lots of things happen that shouldn't. Me falling out of that fucking tree springs to mind."
Fraser chuckled at Cormack's dry tone. "Shit happens?"
"Shit definitely happens."
There was another pause before Bonnie went on. "I wish I could go back in time and not fuck this up, but that's not gonna happen. I wish I hadn't hurt you."
"Hmm. I'm thinking wishes, horses There's an adage there somewhere, I'm sure."
Bonnie looked into Stephanie's eyes and couldn't find anything there but wry humor and weariness. She didn't understand. "Why aren't you mad?"
"I was. Now I'm done. I'm too tired to stay pissed off right now. If it'll make you feel better, I'll try to remember to berate you when I'm feeling up to it," the armory ensign replied through a yawn.
"That's really not necessary." The younger woman dared a tiny smile. She didn't feel she had the right to ask for a second chance—as desperately as she wanted one—but this teasing from Stephanie was a good sign. Anything's a good sign, she thought, as long as she's speaking to me. "But I wouldn't blame you if you did."
"I'll think about it. I'm not good at grudges, though. Takes too much energy to keep them up." Stephanie tried to smile, but yawned again instead. "Gods, I swear I've been asleep all day. Why am I so exhausted?"
"I'm told near-death experiences'll do that to you," joked Fraser, but when Cormack answered her tone was serious.
"Yeah. They will."
"Oh! Sorry! I didn't—"
Stephanie shook her head once on the soft pillow. "It's okay."
"I'll go now so you can sleep." Bonnie didn't move.
"Wait," Stephanie said unnecessarily. "That song you were singing "
"It was nice. Sing it again?"
"Sure." She began singing again, low and sweet.
Stephanie closed her eyes. The words and tune were soothing, and she let them lull her. She felt Bonnie's gentle hand stroke her hair, and she smiled. Soon she drifted off into a calm, dreamless sleep.
Bonnie kept singing to the end of the song, wishing it wouldn't end but knowing it had to. Can't stop time, she thought as she continued to sit there and watch Stephanie sleep. Wonder if she'll ever sleep next to me again? Despite the horrible circumstances that had brought it about, the night Stephanie had crashed in Bonnie's bed was one of the best the helmsman had ever spent—just sleeping next to the blonde woman had been a comfort she hadn't known existed. At least we're friends again I think. No, I’m pretty sure. She shook her head, not wanting to get caught in the trap of self-doubt yet again. Burn that bridge when you get to it, she told herself firmly. Right now, just go to bed.
She stood, joints cracking a bit at having sat so tensely for so long. She stretched and slipped out from behind the curtain, drawing it closed once more around the sleeping Stephanie.
"Did you have a nice chat?" asked Phlox, startling her.
"Shit!" she exclaimed softly. "Where did you come from?"
He pointed to the only active workstation. "Right over there."
"I didn't mean to wake her up," said Fraser defensively.
"I'm sure you didn't. Did you have a nice chat?" he asked her again.
She shrugged. "Yeah. I think so." Her eyes narrowed. "How did you know she was awake?"
"I still have the monitors from her biobed routed to that console." He pointed again. "Don't worry. I didn't overhear anything, although there was a moment there when I almost came over. She was a bit excited about something momentarily, but it passed quickly enough that I decided to let you stay." His smile was pleasant, but there was a hint of steel behind it.
"We had something to work out."
"And did you?"
"Yeah. For the moment. I think."
Phlox's smile became sympathetic and indulgent. "Ah. I understand. Good night, Ensign." He ushered the bemused woman to the door and opened it for her.
She automatically stepped through it. "Good night," she echoed as the door slid shut, leaving her alone in the corridor. Bonnie continued to stand there for several moments, lost in thought. She had deeply mixed feelings about her conversation with Stephanie, but there was one thing in which she knew she could take solace. Now that she'd told the older woman about their encounter in Yellowknife, there weren't any secrets left to keep from her. And Mae won't be mad at me any more. She smiled, but the smile faltered. I hope.
Malcolm woke alone in Trip's quarters to the sound of the alarm. He ordered it to shut off and took a moment to take in the resultant quiet. He didn't remember turning off the reading lamp or setting down his book, but the light was off and there was his datapad resting on the nightstand. He reached over and picked it up, surprised to find he'd even managed to mark the page.
He set it down again and continued to lie there, listening to the rumbling of the warp engines. There was no doubt in the armory officer's mind that his lover had spent the entire night in Engineering with them. He found himself hoping Trip was breakfasting with the Captain again that morning. At least it would be a break from long hours of working, and Archer was sure to notice his Chief Engineer's unusual lethargy, tired eyes, and two-day growth of blond beard. Surely he'd order Trip to take a break
Reed shook his head at his musings. He could practically hear Cormack's voice: Project much? He pushed back the covers and sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bunk. His glance caught a light blinking on the computer monitor, and he rose and went to see what it was, forgetting it probably wasn't anything to do with him.
It was a 'message waiting' light. He was about to turn away when he saw there was more to it than that. A single sentence indicated the message was coded for Malcolm's eyes only. Who knows I'm here? he wondered. Unless He opened the file.
Trip's face appeared on screen, tired but alert and clean shaven. More surprising, he was obviously seated at that very desk. He spoke quietly, and Malcolm had to turn up the volume to hear him.
"Hey, Malcolm," the message began. "I did what you told me and caught a couple of hours of sleep. Sure was surprised at what I found in my bed." Trip grinned. "I thought about waking you up, but then I knew neither of us would get any sleep, and seeing as you didn't wake up when I slipped in next to you, I figured you needed it as much as me." The image of Tucker turned and glanced over his shoulder in the direction of the bunk. Then he faced the monitor again. "You must be wiped to still be sleeping over my talking." His expression grew more serious. "I know it's been a rough couple of days, and it's not over yet. Stop by again tonight if you want. Even if I can't join you, I can think about you here. It might encourage me to take another break, but I think I won't sleep next time." Now Tucker grinned again and waggled his eyebrows suggestively, making Malcolm chuckle. "I love you, Malcolm. I hope you slept well. I'll see you later. Oh! I hope I marked the right page in your book." The engineer's expression was momentarily puzzled. "I thought you read Ulysses last year. Whatever. I'll see you later."
The message ended and the screen went dark, but Reed continued to sit there and smile. "You're damned right you won't sleep next time," he told the monitor firmly. With renewed vigor, he rose and grabbed a towel, slinging it casually over one shoulder as he headed off to the shower room.
Cormack woke slowly to the pleasantly smiling visage of Doctor Phlox.
"Good afternoon," he said. "How are you feeling?"
"Thirsty. Could I have some water, please?"
"And a latté chaser?" Cormack added as the physician got her a glass of cold water.
He chuckled. "Perhaps later." He punched a button to gently raise the biobed to a more upright position and offered her the drink.
Stephanie wrapped a shaky, I.V.-laden hand around it and with the help of Phlox lifted it to her mouth to drink. When she'd had enough, she relinquished the glass to his steadier hand. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. You'll be happy to know," he continued, setting the glass aside, "that the opiod is completely gone from your system."
"So we can proceed with the surgery on your shoulder right away."
"Bad. Are you sure it needs surgery?" she queried, a hint of fear in her voice. She'd managed to conveniently forget he'd mentioned this possibility before.
"Yes. Don't worry, it's a straightforward procedure. You can even be awake for it if you'd prefer."
"Thank you, no." Cormack shuddered. She relaxed back into the pillow. "Let's just do it. The sooner it's done the sooner I can—"
"Get out of here," Phlox finished for her. "Yes. I seem to recall hearing that refrain from you before."
She had the decency to look contrite. "It's not you, Doc, honest."
"I'll take you at your word," he replied with a teasing smile.
At that moment, both were startled by the sound of the door opening, followed by the inquisitive voice of Ensign Sato.
"Hello?" she called uncertainly.
Phlox opened the curtain after a quick go-ahead nod from his charge. "Over here, Ensign," he greeted the comm officer. "Can I help you?"
"I've brought the mail." She turned her smile on Cormack. "How are you?"
"Better, thanks," the blonde answered.
Hoshi handed a datacard to Phlox. "I have communiqués for both of you," she informed them. She approached Stephanie's bed. "I took the liberty of loading yours into a datapad. I didn't know if you'd still be here or back in your quarters."
"Thanks." Cormack took the pad in her good hand, trying to ignore the slight tug of the I.V. needle in her flesh.
"I need to get back to the bridge, but I thought you two would appreciate the break in the monotony."
"You thought Phlox needed a break from me, you mean," joked Stephanie.
"Something like that," admitted Hoshi with a grin. "I'll see you both later."
"Good-bye, Ensign," said Phlox. "Thank you for the delivery."
"No problem." The comm officer left them to their correspondence.
The doctor turned to his patient. "Would you like some privacy?"
"Um, yeah, actually. Thanks." Cormack stared bemused and excited at the datapad Sato had given her. "It's from Ryn," she added.
"Uh-huh. I haven't heard from her directly since the accident. It's just been a few second-hand or dictated letters through Mom or Gemma."
"Well enjoy. Excuse me." Phlox pulled the curtain around her again, leaving her in relative solitude.
Cormack thumbed a key on the pad, starting the message from home. She was surprised to see it was an actual recorded message. Her sister preferred typing her letters; this break with tradition caused a knot of concern to form in Stephanie's stomach.
Ryn sat propped up in bed. Her normally tanned complexion was much paler than usual, except for the bright pink patches of new skin on her face and arms. Her formerly long hair was a short, haphazardly-cropped mass, lacking the usual highlights from the sun. But the warm smile on her face was exactly the same as it had always been. The smile and the sound of Ryn's voice combined to quell Stephanie's worries.
"Hey, Sis," the familiar alto voice greeted Stephanie cheerfully. "I'm sorry it's been so long, but you know how docs are. You wouldn't believe what Gemma finally had to do in order to con the hospital staff into letting her hook up a datacorder for me. I think she's going to be supplying direct feeds of Orcas games to the doctors' lounge for the next year at least—all with the Don Newcastle commentary, of course." Ryn's smile widened briefly into a wicked grin; she had no more use for the Orcas' second-string commentator, Bob Thistlewaite, than her sister did. "Of course, this means I get the feed as long as I'm here, too. Which won't be much longer if I have anything to say about it." She automatically pushed her hand through her hair in the old, familiar gesture, then scowled. "Argh—I hate this short hair! I'll never understand why docs can regrow skin in a matter of hours, but not hair." She leaned forward conspiratorially. "Between you and me, I think they can, but the nurses don't want to have to deal with washing it for me until I can do it myself." She sat back and continued in a more normal tone. "At this rate it'll be six months at least before my hair is back to a proper length." She gave the camera a rueful glance, her blue eyes sparkling. "I know I shouldn't be complaining, all things considered—but hey, one of the benefits of surviving is that I still get to complain."
Stephanie chuckled despite the somewhat gallows humor of her sister's words.
On the small screen, Ryn's expression grew serious. "Speaking of surviving, I hope you're all right. I've been really worried about you ever since I heard about Marston's message, and the whole communications debacle between him, Gemma, and Mother. I'm so sorry, Sis. I know how hard that must have hit you. I can't believe Gemma and Mother let their issues get so in the way that this could have happened." She ran a hand through her hair again, but this time the fierce scowl wasn't directed at her shortened locks. "I've spoken to both Gemma and Mother about it. Trust me, nothing like that will happen ever again."
Stephanie knew her sister rarely lost her temper completely, and even more rarely put her foot down with the people she loved—but judging from the look on Ryn's face and the implacable tone in her voice, Stephanie knew Ryn had done both. When that happened, issues got resolved and stayed that way. Stephanie just hoped that the cost to her sister hadn't been too high.
As if reading her mind, Ryn's image looked back at the screen, seemingly fixing her eyes directly on Stephanie, and the familiar wry smile appeared again. "Oh, don't worry; everyone survived it, and I'm fine. I think Gemma and Mother might even finally have found something in common—if only the deep desire never, ever, ever to see me that angry again." Ryn chuckled. "That's fine with me. I don't particularly want cause to be that angry again. And a little fear can be a good thing."
Now Stephanie laughed outright. It was one of the things she and her sister had in common—a firm belief in the usefulness of judiciously applied intimidation.
Ryn visibly hesitated, and once again her eyes unerringly met Stephanie's. "I've been dreaming about Dad a lot lately." She gave a half-grimace, as if anticipating Stephanie's reaction to her statement. "I suppose it's not too surprising, given what happened. The similarity wasn't exactly lost on me. I would have been really pissed off if...well." She shrugged. "I don't really understand why I keep dreaming we're out on English Bay, but that's a separate issue. It's been good talking with him, even if it's only in my dreams. Among other things, we talked about you, which led me to realize I needed to say something to you." Her blue eyes—eyes exactly like their father's—reflected both calm and concern. "I'm okay. I think he's okay. I need to know that you're okay, that you're letting yourself be okay. I know how easy it would be for you to not let yourself be okay about this—but you had nothing to do with it. So don't beat yourself up about it—or anyone else for that matter, either. All right?" Ryn smiled, affection lightening her features. "I love you, Sis. Don't forget that while you're out there."
A chime sounded on the recording, and Ryn made a face. "Damn. I guess it's time for me to go make the physical therapists earn their combat pay. Take care of yourself, Sis, and let me hear from you soon."
The screen went dark and Stephanie sat there, staring at it with glistening eyes. She was touched by the concern and love in her sister's message, but more than that she was astonished by news of Ryn's dreams of their father out on English Bay. More than ever she wished her sister was only a comm call away. Unfortunately personal comm time was virtually impossible to acquire unless it was an emergency. Somehow she doubted unexpected conversations with a dead man counted as an emergency in the eyes of Starfleet.
A bizarre idea struck her. "Hey, Doc!" she called abruptly.
He responded quickly, pulling back the drape and stepping around it. "Yes? Is something wrong?"
She shook her head. "No. When can you do the surgery?"
Surprised at her apparent eagerness but not prepared to look a gift-horse in the mouth, he answered, "Any time."
"Good. I'm ready when you are. There's someone I need to talk to."
"Ensign," Phlox said, his tone gentle but firm, "you do realize you're not making a great deal of sense."
"I do, but I know what I mean, and that's all that matters."
Unconvinced, the doctor pulled out his small medical scanner and ran an additional check of her system. Finally satisfied that the alien poison really was gone, he put it away again. "Very well. I'll contact Ensign Cohn to come and assist."
He left her alone once more. She could hear him hailing Cohn, followed by the sounds of him presumably preparing for the operation. Stephanie smiled to herself. "See you soon, Daddy-O," she said softly. She turned her smile on the datapad still in her hand and chuckled mischievously. "And you, too Cookie."
Content for the first time in weeks, she relaxed and closed her eyes. Between her talk with Bonnie and the letter from Ryn, it felt like her life was finally back on track.
'The Man in the Moon' lyrics copyright 1993 by Bill Dickson