Log Rhythms - Season Two
Hoshi walked determinedly along the E-deck corridor. Several days had passed since she'd caught Ian and Michael together in the turbolift, but she was so torn up about it that she still hadn't reported the incident to Captain Archer. She had tried to do so on four separate occasions, but each time her nerve had failed her. The fact was she still wasn't convinced reporting it was the right thing to do. So she'd made an appointment with Doctor Douglas to discuss the problem. I hope he knows what to do, she thought.
She'd spent much of the past week silently cursing Ian and Michael for being stupid enough to get caught together, and even more of the week cursing herself for being the one to catch them.
Why couldn't I have stayed later at the party? she silently bemoaned for the umpteenth time. Her head was so full of 'ifs' and 'might-have-beens' that she was driving herself crazy—and that just made her angrier with herself. It's past time I talked to someone.
She turned the final corner before Douglas's office and, reaching the door, rang the chime.
"Come in," he called.
Hoshi opened the door, but she remained standing just outside. "Hi, Doctor Douglas," she began a little awkwardly.
"Please, Hoshi. Call me Kyrin. I don't like to stand on formality in my office. Speaking of which," he added, a twinkle in his blue eyes, "why don't you actually come into my office and have a seat?" He smiled invitingly.
"Right." Hoshi entered the room and the door closed behind her. She sat down on the couch and folded her hands in her lap formally.
"So, what was it you wanted to see me about?" Kyrin inquired.
"I saw something " she began, then paused, marshalling her thoughts. The best thing is just to say it, she told herself firmly. Hoshi took a steadying breath and tried again. "I caught an officer and a crewman in a compromising situation on New Year's Eve."
"I see." Kyrin's tone and expression were mild. In his opinion, it wasn't terribly surprising that fraternization had occurred between an officer and a crewman—particularly on such a festive night. He understood well that human nature couldn't always be controlled by rules and regulations. "Have you reported this to the Captain yet?"
"No." Hoshi looked chagrined. "I've tried. I even made it all the way into his ready room twice, but I couldn't do it. I came up with lame cover stories both times. I think the Captain thinks I'm finally losing my mind."
"He hasn't mentioned such a concern to me, so I don't think he's too worried about that yet," Kyrin said with gentle humor.
She smiled at him, genuinely relieved. "That's good."
"Can you tell my why you haven't been able to report this incident to Captain Archer?"
"This is all completely confidential, right?" Hoshi couldn't help but ask.
"This officer I'm afraid if I report him " She found she couldn't meet Kyrin's kind, inquisitive gaze any longer, and she looked away. She shook her head at herself. "This sounds really childish."
"That's all right," he assured her. "I'm not here to judge anyone. I'm just here to listen and hopefully to help."
She glanced at him briefly before turning away again. "If I report him—the officer, that is—I'm afraid he'll hate me."
"And this worries you?" the psychiatrist asked, concerned that she might be feeling threatened by this unnamed officer.
"Worries isn't the right word." She frowned, thinking. "I care about him. A lot. God, this really does sound so childish!" She paused again, and Kyrin waited patiently for her to go on. "I'm afraid it will ruin any possibility of the two of us getting back together," she announced at last.
"Ah. You mean Ian Young." It was common knowledge that the two had been dating, and also that they had broken up.
Hoshi nodded miserably.
Kyrin was thoughtful. He didn't want to jump to any conclusions, but there was a question he had to ask. He approached it directly, but phrased it as delicately as he could. "Tell me, did you get the impression his contact with the crewman in question was at all non-consensual? On either person's part," he hastened to add.
"What?" Hoshi exclaimed, shocked. "No! How can you even suggest that? Ian would never do something like that!"
Kyrin pressed the matter gently. "Are you positive? I saw him at the party that night. He had quite a lot to drink. It's possible he may not have been in complete control of himself."
Hoshi shook her head and said decisively, "No. He'd never do that. Besides," she continued in an odd mix of reluctance and earnestness, "Michael looked just as...eager as Ian did."
Kyrin fought to keep his surprise to himself, but with limited success. "Michael Rostov?" It was an obvious assumption; there was only one Michael on the ship.
Hoshi looked mortified, but she nodded. "I wasn't going to tell you. I don't want anyone to get into trouble."
"You certainly do face a dilemma," he sympathized. He leaned forward, rested his elbows on the desk, and laced his fingers together. "I can't tell you what to do, Hoshi. I can only remind you that the regulations against fraternization between officers and crewmen are there for a reason. They protect both sides from manipulation and harassment."
"I realize that, but " She paused, not wanting to voice what she was thinking. If what she feared was true, it was yet another brick in the wall between Ian and herself. She fell silent.
When Hoshi hesitated, Kyrin decided to take a different approach. "You might not know this, but I do have a unique insight into this issue." When she looked at him with a puzzled frown, he explained. "Liam wasn't an officer when he was assigned to Enterprise," he reminded her. "It wasn't easy for us in the beginning. Even as we discovered how we felt about each other, we knew there was nothing we could do about those feelings. Fortunately, Liam passed the officers' exams on his first try." He allowed a note of pride to creep into his voice.
Hoshi couldn't ignore the nagging voice in the back of her mind any longer. "But what if Ian and Michael really care about each other? Like you and Liam?"
Kyrin grew serious once again. "In that case, they should respect each other enough not to put one another in this sort of situation. But that's not your problem, is it?"
"Isn't it?" She looked at him with pleading and determination in her eyes. "I think that's exactly my problem. I still care about Ian. I think I might even love him. But if I report him like I should, I destroy any chance I have of ever getting him back. But if I don't report him, then he'll keep on seeing Michael and I'll still never get him back." She grew more upset as she went on. "There's nothing I can do. I'm stuck in this horrible position and it's all their fault! Why did they have to be in that turbolift right then? Why did I have to be the one to find them there?"
"I don't have those answers for you," said Kyrin apologetically. "You can keep on worrying about what might have been, but that's not going to change what is." He sat back again and tried another tactic. "Have you spoken to Ian or Michael about the incident?"
Hoshi shook her head. "I can't."
"Can you imagine what it was like for me?" she demanded. "I don't think I can look either of them in the eye ever again."
"Then there's not much point in worrying about whether or not you'll ever get Ian back, is there? Either way, it's unfair of you to leave them wondering when and where the hammer will fall—or even if it will fall at all."
"Unfair to them?!"
"You have the power in this situation, Hoshi. Don't forget that. Whatever you decide to do, you need to decide it soon."
She knew he was right, but that didn't make the choice any easier. She sighed heavily. "I still don't know what to do," she said in frustration, and looked at him imploringly. "Tell me what to do."
"You know better than that. I can't make the decision for you."
She sighed again. "I know. I know." Placing her open palms on her knees, she met Kyrin's compassionate but unwavering gaze. "I guess I'd better go do some more serious thinking." She rose. "You're really not going to tell anyone what I told you?"
He shook his head.
She hung her head in disappointment. "Damn. Thanks for your help," she said sincerely. She hadn't gotten the answer she wanted, but that didn't mean talking to him hadn't at least helped her to organize her thoughts and give her a new perspective on them.
"Come back anytime if you need to talk more."
"Thanks," Hoshi said again, and then departed.
"Are you sure you don't want me to come with you?" Liz asked.
Travis shook his head, not meeting her gaze. "I'm sure."
Liz sat cross-legged on Travis's bunk while he slowly packed a bag with a few essentials. Both of them had red-rimmed eyes, and Liz's nose was still pink from crying. The news of his father's death had hit Travis very hard, and Liz hated to see him in so much pain. Even though she'd never met any of his family in person, she felt like she knew them all from stories he'd told her and letters he'd shared.
Travis stuffed one last shirt into the small duffel and zipped it up. Then he stood staring down at the bag for a moment. He couldn't explain to Liz why he didn't want her along. He didn't mean to exclude her, but his homecoming would be hard enough without worrying about her, too. His family had had time to deal with their loss; six weeks had passed before word of his father's death reached Travis on Enterprise. He needed time to assimilate it, too, and he didn't think he could do that if Liz came with him.
Liz's heart ached for her lover. She wished there was something she could do to make it better, to stop him hurting. It was a futile wish, but she couldn't help believing he would be better off if she went with him. "You're really sure?" she asked again. "I'm sure Captain Archer would approve my leave if I asked."
Finally Travis looked at her directly. His eyes shone with all the tears he'd already shed and those he fought to keep back. He stepped over to her, leaned over her seated form, and kissed her tenderly.
"Thank you," he said with utter sincerity. "But this is something I have to do on my own. Do you understand?"
Liz nodded, then shook her head, not trusting herself to speak. She didn't want to start crying again for fear it would set him off, too. She took a deep breath and nodded more firmly. "I love you," she whispered past the lump in her throat.
"I love you, too." They kissed again before Travis picked up his bag and slung it over one shoulder. He held out a hand, which Liz accepted, and he helped her to rise. "Walk me to the airlock?"
Malcolm and Trip sat at a table in the mess hall, enjoying a quiet meal together. Enterprise had just completed its rendezvous with the Horizon to drop off Ensign Mayweather and was now back en route to its current assignment.
"How was Travis when you saw him off?" Malcolm asked.
Trip shrugged, chewing thoughtfully on a muffaletta sandwich. He swallowed the bite before answering, "As well as can be expected, I suppose. Liz was there, too, but she didn't go with him. They both looked like they'd been crying." He shook his head sadly. "I can't even imagine what he must be going through."
"He and I were having lunch together yesterday when he got the call from his mother, you know. He was saying how he thought Starfleet should put families on their ships so no one would get homesick. I told him Doctor Douglas would have customers queued up for the next two years solid if that were the case."
"And you'd be at the head of the line?" teased Trip, trying to lighten the heavy mood.
"Too right," agreed Malcolm emphatically.
"I wouldn't want my family on board, either. I like knowing they're all safe back on Earth. Besides," he went on, smiling across the table at his lover, "my mom would get her hands on you, and I'd never have you to myself again."
Malcolm chuckled doubtfully. He'd only heard Trip's stories about his family, and he had a hard time imagining what they must be like in person—particularly when they all gathered in one place, as they seemed prone to do. The idea that Trip's mother would be so taken with him seemed unlikely to Malcolm. He thought it much more likely she would find him dubious at best and dangerous at worst. After all, he sincerely doubted he was exactly what she'd hoped for for her second son. "You must be joking," he said.
"Nope," Trip insisted. "She'd go wild for you. She'd tell you you're too thin and then try to stuff you full of blackened catfish or black-eyed peas and collard greens..."
Malcolm made a face despite his best efforts.
"...and pecan pie. Once you escaped from her, my brother'd be right there, ready to regale you with one of his fly-fishing stories about the 'one that got away', or my dad would make you come look at whatever new truck he'd just gotten. Or my sisters would try to steal you away to interrogate you like they did to everyone I ever dated in high school."
"Well," Malcolm said, trying to remain staunch in the face of such potential horrors, "I expect I could manage your family during the day, as long as I got to spend every night with you."
Trip laughed. "That'd be guaranteed."
"It would have to be," his lover quipped back, joining in his laughter.
"What would your family do when they met me?" Trip asked suddenly.
"Oh, well," Malcolm hedged, considering, "Maddy would like you once she'd finished questioning you."
"Your sister does that, too?"
"I think it's a universal constant among sisters."
"What else? What would your folks say?"
"Assuming my father was speaking to me at the time, which isn't a guarantee, he'd be pleased you're an engineer, but annoyed that you're American."
"Never really forgave the colonies for getting all uppity, huh?" joked Trip.
Malcolm smiled wryly. "I wouldn't put it past him. Most of all, he'd be annoyed that you're Starfleet. He still hasn't gotten over me joining, and the fact that I've fallen in love with a career Starfleet officer would leave him quite thoroughly nonplussed."
"Hang on. You're talking like you haven't even told him about me."
"I...haven't. Not directly, that is."
"What?" exclaimed Trip, garnering startled looks from the other people currently in the mess hall. He lowered his voice, but remained insistent. "We've been together for over a year. We're even living together now. And you haven't felt compelled to share this information with your family?"
"I've told Maddy about you, " Malcolm replied defensively. "Not that we've moved in together, of course; I haven't written to her since before the New Year. I mentioned you to Aunt Sherry as well, so undoubtedly she's told my mother, who...may or may not have mentioned it to my father."
"Great communication network your family has," said Trip dryly.
"It avoids unwanted contact," Malcolm countered evenly.
"My father and me, for the most part."
"Yep." Trip nodded sagely. "Real healthy."
"I never claimed it was a healthy—except that it keeps my blood pressure from rising to dangerous heights."
Trip shook his head and took a long swallow of iced tea. "If you ask me—"
"I didn't," Malcolm cut him off. He went on before Trip could take too much offense. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be rude, I just don't think a chat about my family is really going to make the evening more pleasant."
"You're right. I'm sorry. I know what'll make your evening more pleasant."
Malcolm looked at him, a tiny, lascivious smile barely tweaking the corner of his mouth. "What might that be?"
Malcolm's expression went blank. "Excuse me?"
"Movie night tonight. I convinced the Captain to make every night movie night until we're done with our current assignment. There's nothing much to do while the sensors take all their readings on that planet we're gonna be monitoring for Starfleet. Now I'm not saying volcanology isn't fascinating," Trip went on, although his tone belied his words, "but it's got nothing on the classics of twentieth century cinema."
"Frankenstein?" echoed Malcolm dubiously. "Which Frankenstein?"
"I said it was a classic," Trip answered as if this made it obvious which one he meant. It did, and Malcolm's face fell. Trip continued, oblivious of his lover's feelings on the matter. "And Bride of Frankenstein tomorrow night, followed by Son of Frankenstein the night after that."
"There's a Son of Frankenstein?" queried Malcolm, appalled. "Mary Shelley must be spinning in her grave. Did you and Lawless drug the Captain to get him to agree to this plan of yours?"
"Didn't have to." Trip smirked smugly.
Malcolm shook his head in mock despair. "My issues with Captain Archer's command style are suddenly resurfacing with a vengeance."
Trip just laughed.
"I think I have something I have to do tonight," Malcolm went on. "And tomorrow night, and the night after that."
"Come on. I thought you said you wanted to spend every night with me."
"I do. I just don't care to spend them with you and Bela Lugosi."
"Actually, it's Boris Karloff."
"There's a difference?"
"I admit that to the uneducated mind the differences are subtle," answered Trip wryly.
"Well that explains it. My university education didn't cover B horror movies," Malcolm wisecracked back at him.
"And here folks say the British education system is better than ours."
"It all depends on your point of view, I expect."
"I expect," echoed Trip, and they both chuckled. "You know," he went, turning back to their earlier topic, "Echo Three will be in range the entire time we're at the planet."
Malcolm didn't immediately make the connection. "Your point?"
"We ought to be getting a big download of mail since we're so close. It's a good time to send messages home, too. You could send a letter to your sister and maybe I could add a paragraph or two."
"I don't know."
"What? Are you afraid I'll embarrass you?"
"Not exactly," Malcolm hedged again. In truth he was concerned that his lover's naturally candid nature might reveal things Malcolm wasn't prepared to share with his sister.
"It'll be fun," insisted Trip. "Tell you what. You let me share in your letter to Maddy, and I'll let you in on my letter home. Sound like a fair deal?"
Malcolm could see there would be no getting around it. I suppose I could do some judicious editing if necessary he thought. He nodded reluctantly. "That sounds fair to me."
Trip grinned. "Great!"
The cabin door slipped open and Stephanie entered. Liz was already there, sitting on her bunk with her knees up and her back to the wall. On one side of her was a half-empty box of tissues, on the other side was a pile of crumpled, used tissues.
"Hey you," Stephanie said, sitting on the foot of her friend's bunk. "How're you doing?" Sensing that Liz could use a little human contact, she rested a hand on her bare foot.
Liz gave her a wan smile. "You know, I feel sort of dumb," she said with a sniff.
"I never even met Travis's dad. I've seen pictures, but I never spoke to him, never even heard a voice letter from him. So I can't help thinking that it's dumb of me to be so upset that he's dead." Liz shrugged and wiped her eyes with a fresh tissue.
Stephanie shook her head. "It's not dumb at all. You don't have to know someone to mourn for them. In a way, you're really mourning for Travis. For what he's lost. Does that make sense?"
Liz thought about it, and then nodded. "Yeah, I think so," she said. Then her tears welled up and she choked back a sob. "I love him so much."
Immediately Stephanie moved up to sit beside her friend, brushing the pile of dirty tissues onto the floor to make a place for herself. She wrapped strong arms around Liz and held her until she cried herself out.
When Liz's tears finally abated, Stephanie reached across her and pulled a wad of tissues from the box. "Here. I'll get you a glass of water, okay?"
Liz nodded. "Thanks." She blew her nose and did her best to dry her cheeks. Stephanie returned from the lav with a glass of cold water in her hand. "Thanks," Liz repeated, taking it and drinking deeply.
Stephanie sat again. "So what say you and I go to the movie tonight?"
"I don't know if I'm up to it."
"It promises to be a night of mindless entertainment," Stephanie coaxed encouragingly.
Liz considered it before answering. "Come to think of it, that sounds like a great idea. Assuming I can make myself presentable in time."
"We can arrive a little late if we have to—once it's dark, so no one'll see."
Her suggestion elicited a tiny smile from Liz. "You have an answer for everything."
"Well, almost everything," Stephanie admitted with false modesty.
Liz's smile widened minutely. "I'll clean up, and then we can go."
"Sounds like a plan."
It was the second day of Enterprise's observation assignment. The planet they were monitoring was being turned inside out by the gravitational forces of two gas giants. There was little for most of the crew to do while the six imaging relays they'd dropped into orbit automatically recorded and uploaded the geologic activity.
Watching the eruptions held some interest for Ensign Donnelly, but the novelty soon wore off. There were only so many ways something could explode, after all. It was one of the reasons he'd chosen to go into communications rather than armaments.
He was sitting at the bridge comm station, bored, when a light flashed on his console. "Incoming message from Starfleet Command."
T'Pol looked up from the situation room's main console where she and two members of the science team were examining data from the thermal scanners. "What is it?" she inquired.
Donnelly smiled. "Mail download," he announced, and saw his smile mirrored on the face of Ensign Fraser at the helm.
Lieutenant Reed acknowledged the news with a glance across the bridge in Donnelly's direction, but Reed's face was as impassive as T'Pol's.
"It's a big one," Donnelly went on. "I think they're making up for lost time. Taking advantage of the proximity to dump everything they have for us."
"Thank you, Ensign," T'Pol said with a note of finality in her voice. She found the young man chattier than necessary much of the time, and this was no exception.
Donnelly got the hint and shut up. He began the process of sorting the downloaded communiqués.
Cormack was thrilled when her armory shift ended. It had been a deadly dull day, which was sure to be followed by another deadly dull day until they completed their mission and got back underway.
"I hope you brought a book," Cormack quipped as she handed her shift report over Martinez, who was stuck covering Beta shift.
Martinez just smiled and pulled another datapad from a pocket. "Better. I got two letters from my parents, one from each of my sisters, and one from my cousin, Edgar."
Cormack's eyes lit up. "Mail? We got mail?"
"Groovy! I'll see you later!" She hurried off to her cabin to see what might be waiting for her.
She wasn't disappointed. There were letters from her mom and from Ryn, and a third letter that surprised her. It was a message from her old friends Lynn and Noel. Shock overrode her desire to see what her family was up to, and she opened that file first.
Two cheerful faces smiled at her from the screen. Stephanie grinned back, amazed and bemused. Aside from the documentary footage her sister-in-law had sent well over a year ago, she'd not seen anything but promotional pictures of her old bandmates. She wondered what had possessed them to contact her now and how they'd even found her so many light-years from Earth.
"Computer, play message."
A brief pause, and the image on the screen leapt into life.
"Hey you!" exclaimed the petite redhead, waving.
Stephanie waved back playfully, giggling absurdly at this unexpected delight. "Hey yourself," she said to the prerecorded image.
"I bet you're wondering how we tracked you down," Lynn chimed in. Her brown hair was longer than Stephanie remembered, and streaked with silver. It looked good. "Let's just say that someone at Starfleet Command is a big fan of Cordelia's Sisters." She gave a sly wink.
Noel shoved her friend in the shoulder. "She's kidding. We knew you were in Starfleet. After that, it was easy."
"The guy was still a fan," protested Lynn, overlapping her friend's words.
"Yes, okay." Noel looked directly at the datacorder, addressing Stephanie. "That part was true, but it didn't have any effect on this message."
"Which, by the way, includes a download of our newest album—"
"Yet to be released to the public."
Lynn cut in again. "Well, it isn't out now when we're recording this message for you, but who knows when this'll get to you, eh?"
Stephanie laughed. Watching the message play was just like being with them again—the way they talked over one another, contradicted each other with practiced ease, and did all the silly things that good friends who've known one another for a long, long time do. Even though it was years since Stephanie had so much as sat down with them for coffee, it felt like no time at all had passed.
"Okay," Noel went on, "so there's another reason we wanted to contact you. And this shouldn't be public knowledge yet either—"
"Unless it takes, like, three months for this to get to you."
"It didn't," smirked Stephanie. The date stamp on the file was only three weeks old.
"Unless it takes three months to get to you," echoed Noel with a grudging nod. She hesitated, looking at Lynn. "You want to go first?"
"You go first."
"Sure. Go ahead."
Stephanie continued to chuckle even as a part of her grew impatient at their back-and-forth banter. It really is just like old times, she thought. "One of you tell me something!" she ordered the recording.
As if she'd heard her, Lynn took the lead. She looked directly into the datacorder. "I'm getting married."
"And I'm pregnant!" exclaimed Noel gleefully.
Stephanie's eyes went wide at both announcements. "Holy crap!"
"So you can see why this'll be common knowledge before too long," Lynn continued. "She's already getting fat."
"Funny. Bitch." Noel punched her on the arm in mock anger. "You're just jealous because my tits are bigger than yours for once." She turned back to the camera, adding gleefully, "They jiggle now!"
"You probably don't know either of the guys."
"Matt, the father of my fabulous baby girl, is a bioengineer. And her man—"
"—is a sound tech for Hobbiton Army."
"At least they're not one and the same guy," Stephanie quipped, wishing she was back home to share in the celebrations.
"We wanted to let you know personally because, like we said in that crazy documentary last year—"
"Did you even see that?" Lynn asked earnestly, as if she might actually get an answer.
"—we really do miss you," Noel concluded. "Anyway, I hope you're doing well out there."
"Who'd've thought our little 'sister' would end up in space?" sighed Lynn theatrically.
Noel looked at her critically. "I did—I just didn't figure it'd be so literal." Then she grinned at Stephanie from the screen. "Kidding!"
"If you ever get shore leave back on Earth, contact us. Our manager's information is attached. We would have given you our own info, but Noel was paranoid someone would steal it."
"I had a stalker issue a couple of years ago. It's not a problem now, but you can't be too careful."
"So enjoy the new tracks!"
"And write to us sometime."
"Smooches!" said Noel, blowing a kiss at the camera.
"Goddess bless!" added Lynn. The pair waved a good-bye and the message ended.
Stephanie sat staring at the screen for several seconds. "How surreal was that?" she asked the empty cabin rhetorically. She quickly opened the music file, and the signature sounds of Cordelia's Sisters began to play. She turned the volume down to a background level and let it run as she opened the message from Ryn.
Once again it was a recorded message, rather than a typed letter. Stephanie had only a few moments to wonder why before the image appeared on the screen. Her jaw dropped.
"Hey, Sis." The rueful look on Ryn's face was matched by the wry tone of her voice. "I'd have just sent a letter, but you didn't say anything about it the last time I saw you." Her eyes uncannily fixed on Stephanie's for a moment, and her head bobbed slightly before she continued. "I knew you wouldn't believe it unless you saw it, so " She ran a hand through her hair, pulling it fully into view. It was longer now, almost brushing her shoulders. Half of it was the same as it had always been; brown, straight, with the red and gold highlights that time in the sun always brought out in it. But the rest the rest was white. Not just white—it was curly.
"It figures, eh?" Ryn pushed her hair back and favored the datacorder with a wicked grin. "All those years envying you and Dad for your curly hair, and all I had to do was give myself an extra-crispy scalp treatment to get some of my very own. I finally have proof that you're a hothead—the Cormack hair gives it away." Her grin turned into a grimace as some of the white, curly locks flopped forward across her face, but the laughter never left her eyes. "What's really ironic is that now that I have it, I hate it just as much as you said I would. Granted, I might not dislike it so much if all of my hair was like this, but as it is, it's a gods-awful mess." She sighed and rummaged for something off-screen, her voice only slightly muffled by facing away from the recorder. Seen from behind, Ryn's hodgepodge of hair colors and textures was even more startling. "The doctors say that the effect might be only temporary, that as my body gets over the shock, the regular color and texture of my hair might return to the burned areas. We'll have to wait a few more months to see." Ryn finally turned back toward the datacorder with a brightly-patterned fabric headband in one hand. With an ease that spoke of much recent experience, she pulled it over her head and then settled it halfway back on her head, confining the brown-and-white mishmash of locks away from her face. "On the bright side, Kevin's been having a lot of fun making these headbands, and he's very proud every time he sees one of his mommies wearing one." Ryn's smile turned positively devilish. "And yes, Gemma's been wearing them too, even to work—although whether out of solidarity with me, or because Kevin's turning into just as effective a manipulator as his uncle Marsten, I wouldn't care to guess."
"Speaking of Kevin " Ryn launched into a long spate of family news and gossip, catching Stephanie up on all the various doings. Stephanie had to pause the recording several times to get her laughter under control. In particular, the mental image of her mother with an upended container of strained beets and carrots on her head, the contents streaming down through her hair and a splotch of the vile stuff clinging stubbornly to the tip of her nose, had Stephanie rolling for a solid minute and giggling intermittently for the next five—and the story of Gemma's meeting with a know-it-all CBC executive was almost as hysterical.
Near the end of the recording, a fussy cry interrupted Ryn. Her sister leaned down out of frame and re-emerged with a squirming, blanket-wrapped bundle in her arms. "I guess Lalita wanted to say hello directly," she commented even as she rocked her soothingly back and forth. "Say hello to your auntie, 'Lita," she crooned. A single fist emerged from the blankets and waved energetically back and forth for a few moments, and the crying stopped. "That's a good girl," Ryn approved. "She's a much easier baby than Kevin ever was, thank the gods, but I'll have to go in a minute and change her." She glanced away from Lalita, once again meeting Stephanie's eyes. Dimly, Stephanie wondered how her sister managed the trick. Ryn's blue eyes were practically hypnotic, impossible to look away from. "I've attached a copy of the picture you wanted. I hope it doesn't lose any data in transmission; I'm still not confident about the compression software Starfleet uses for these messages to you. I hope it comes out well, and that you enjoy it. And, Ephie—it never was your fault, you know. You did what you could. The rest just was as it was—and I guess it still is." A momentary expression of sadness crossed her sister's features, followed almost immediately by a fierce scowl. "And you'd better write soon and tell me all about things, because I'm going to die of curiosity otherwise!"
A squall from Lalita caused Ryn to look away from the datacorder, and Stephanie almost felt as if she'd been released from a physical grip. Her sister glanced back up at the screen, affection and exasperation in her gaze. "I guess that's my cue. Seems like I'm always being interrupted in these messages to you—and that the zingers wind up coming out last. I'll have to work on that, I guess." Ryn winked. "I love you, Sis. Now write to me!" The image faded out, but the warmth of Ryn's final smile still lingered in the room.
Stephanie sat in silence for over a minute as she tried to assimilate her sister's parting revelation. Maybe I'm wrong, she thought. Maybe I misunderstood. But all she had to do was open the image attachment Ryn had sent to know she wasn't mistaken.
She had wondered if her bizarre appearance in Ryn and Gemma's living room had been as real as it had felt. The alien entity that had forced her out of her body had told her she could go to any time or place she wanted, and she had ended up there. When she'd left there in favor of a day over fifteen years in the past, she'd been unable to affect anything. Apparently that wasn't the case for the present. The proof was in front of her—the picture of her father, Ryn, and her on the family sailboat. She had asked for a copy, and here it was.
"Damn," she breathed in amazement. "It was real, and she knows it, too. Computer, start video and audio recording." A quiet chime let her know the computer was ready. She looked into the screen and began her letter.
"Hey, Sis. Just got your latest. I'm glad to hear everyone's doing so well—in spite of idiot bosses and baby food attacks." She chuckled. "Love the new 'do, by the way," she wisecracked. Then she smiled wickedly. "It suits you. I think you should keep it. You should dye the brown bits electric blue and then get a job singing back-up for Cordelia's Sisters. They'd totally dig the punk look you've got going on. I like the headbands Kevin's been making for you and Gemma, too. The boy's got a real sense of style."
Her smile grew a little guarded as she went on. "Thanks for the picture. It came through fine. I'd ask how you knew I wanted it, but " She trailed off. "I don't really understand it, and I can't go into detail. I'd be breaking all sorts of regs if I leaked that kind of stuff to a civilian. Starfleet's not military, but they make a pretty good show of it sometimes, eh? I don't think it'll cause trouble to say we had an interesting encounter with an alien species. They had some amazing abilities—one of which you witnessed. I can only describe it as a sort of forced astral projection. Although I haven't heard of anyone else who went somewhere in real time; everyone I've talked to went to places in the past." She looked directly into the screen, hoping to imitate Ryn's uncanny knack for eye contact across light-years. "That didn't work, by the way. I think you know that, judging from what you said. I just figured I'd tell you you were right, now and the last time we talked."
She continued to talk, telling Ryn about life in general. She recounted how she'd made cookies for Malcolm, and briefly mentioned the jungle moon where she'd climbed a tree; Stephanie felt it was best not to go into detail on what happened to her once she'd climbed it.
"So, do you remember me mentioning Ensign Fraser? Bonnie is her first name." She shifted awkwardly before going on. "Well we've really hit it off, eh? It's cool. I mean it's not all perfect—you know, ponies and rose petals and all that crap. It's real. She's " She struggled to find the words that would describe Bonnie so that Ryn would understand. "She's everything, you know what I mean? I haven't told her that, of course. I don't want to push it too fast. She did join me for Winter Solstice, though," she added encouragingly, and then wondered whom she was trying to encourage. "That was amazing. It's been a long time since I shared that holiday with anyone but family. Not since I left the band and graduated from university. Anyway, I thought you'd like to know." Stephanie hesitated, squirmed a little again. "And I thought maybe you'd light a candle for us next Sabbath? You probably won't get this message until after Imbolc, but maybe. You never know. There's always Beltane. Anyway " She trailed off again, not really sure what else she wanted to say.
"Tell Mom hi for me. I'll send her a letter, too, but if you get yours first you can assure her that there's one on the way for her." She smiled wryly. "You know Mom. Give my love to Gemma and the kids, too. I hope I get to see them all before Kevin's high school graduation. I love you, Ryn. Bye."
She shut off the recording manually, and then checked the time. "Damn!" It was later than she'd thought. She'd have to hurry if she was going to meet up with Mae in the gym before dinner. "Sorry, Mom," she said to the empty cabin, "you're going to have to wait."
Mae entered her cabin to find a message light blinking on the computer. She'd heard a rumor that they'd received a huge download of mail, and she'd hoped she would hear from her brother this time. It had been several months since his last letter. She didn't expect to hear from either of her parents. Her mother never communicated unless she wanted something, and what could a daughter provide from deep space? Her dad was an okay correspondent, but he was usually extremely busy. When he did manage to drop her a message, it was always one recorded as he was rushing to or from somewhere. Oddly enough for a professional writer, he always sent recordings rather than typed letters. Friends from Starfleet training and her previous position on Jupiter Station were the most reliable correspondents. Of course they had the advantage of sending letters without having to go through civilian channels.
She didn't bother to sit down as she told the computer to play the first message. The recording began. It was a video letter from her brother, August. As usual, he launched into his message without preamble, talking as if she were sitting there with him. Mae loved that he did that.
"Look at these curls!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. He pointed to the baby who sat in a highchair facing the datacorder. "Did you ever think anyone in our family would ever have such curly hair? Man, I hope it lasts. Yay for Rebekah's genes, huh?" He grinned. "She says hi, by the way. She had a meeting early this morning, or she'd be here. I could have waited until she got home to talk to you, but I really I couldn't. She'll catch you next time. Wave to Aunt Mae-Mae, Sam." He took the baby's hand and waved it at the camera before turning the highchair so it was at right angles with the recorder. He sat down in a kitchen chair opposite his son. That was when Mae noticed the small containers of baby food on the table.
"Aw, you're not, are you?" she said, sitting on the foot of her bunk and pulling off her shoes.
"I know you hate it when I multitask like this, but it's breakfast time so you'll just have to deal with it." August picked up a cup of something too purple for Mae's comfort and tried to scoop a tiny bit into the baby's mouth. He had limited success as it went in and was then spat out. "At least I'm doing this over the breakfast table and not over the changing table."
"Good point." Mae continued to change out of her uniform and into workout gear as the recording went on. She planned to get in a quick weight session and a shower before dinner and movie night with Ari.
"Dad's doing well. Busy, of course, but what else is new? He's really excited about the new script he's writing for A.C.T. He told me what it was about, but you know me and theatre. In one ear, yadda yadda. He sends his love. Well, he would if I'd seen him lately and he knew I was contacting you. You know how it is." He wiped glooped plum purée off of himself and the camera lens before going on. "I'm willing to bet you haven't heard from Mom lately."
"Safe bet." She leaned into her locker, looking for a t-shirt.
"She's getting married."
Mae jumped so high she hit her head on the locker's upper shelf. "Ow! Computer, pause and rewind five seconds. Play," she ordered, rubbing her head with one hand.
" heard from Mom lately," the recording replayed. "She's getting married."
Now certain she hadn't misheard or imagined it, Mae sat down in front of the computer to pay full attention. She yanked on a shirt as the message continued.
"His name is Franklin Ostram. Nobody you should have heard of unless you're into politics." It was clear from August's tone that he wasn't particularly impressed with their mother's choice of new husband. "He's from Florida, or Georgia, or somewhere overly humid. Maybe it was Wisconsin." He shrugged and traded the purple stuff for something green. Mae wondered if he'd gotten any of the first one into the baby's mouth; it all appeared to have landed on the boy's face, or the highchair's tray, or August himself.
"Anyway, the wedding is here in town in March. I think she's having it here just to piss Dad off, but I could be wrong." His voice belied the doubt in his words.
"She doesn't do everything just to piss Dad off," protested Mae pointlessly. She had a greater tolerance for their mother than August did, although she never would have said she liked the woman. Loving her and liking her were two very different things, in Mae's opinion. At least she took us to the Giants games a lot, she thought.
"They're honeymooning in Fort Lauderdale. Fort Worth? Maybe it was Florence, Italy. I wasn't really listening, obviously. I don't know if you want to send her a wedding card or not. I'm stuck actually attending the damned thing. You're lucky you're in deep space, Mae-Mae. It gets you out of pretending you're thrilled that Mom's marrying a chinless politician. Sorry. I only found out about the wedding last night. I haven't quite resigned myself to the horror of it yet." He visibly shook off his unpleasant demeanor. "I've only met the guy once. Maybe he's a perfectly nice guy and I just need to get to know him." But his voice lacked conviction.
"It's okay," Mae sympathized. "I understand."
"Anyway, everything else is good here. Bekah is up for a promotion that I really think she's going to get. Sam is happy and healthy, as you can see. I'm doing well. Everything's good." He finally set down the container of food and looked directly into the recorder. His expression was sincere and grave. "Everyone misses you, though. I know you love your job, but I think it sucks even more than when you were at Jupiter Station." He paused dramatically. "I could really use a babysitter here!" he concluded with a joking grin. "Gotcha! But seriously, we do miss you. I hope you're doing well. Let me know what's up. Bye, Mae." Once again he took his son's hand, this time covered in purple and green goo, and waved it at the camera. Then the screen went blank.
"Bye," replied Mae, overcome with a wave of homesickness. She wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. "Little shit," she muttered. "He gets me nearly every time." She took a moment to collect herself before rising and pulling sneakers from her locker. "Mom's getting remarried. Well goddamn and good luck to her and to him." Resolving to write to each member of her immediate family before Enterprise's observation mission was over, she tied her shoes and headed to the gym.
Ian looked up from his datapad and tried not to feel jealous or bitter. It was obvious Ari had a date tonight, which wasn't surprising considering it was movie night and the offering was an old horror flick. Ian wasn't a fan of the genre, so he hadn't bothered to remember the name of the movie. He had a vague memory of it being a sequel to whatever crap had run the night before. The way he felt, he was beginning to think an evening of mindless entertainment might not be such a bad idea—even if he didn't have a date for it.
"Going to the movie again?" he asked, even though he knew the answer.
"Yeah," Ari replied as he put a shine on his black loafers. Satisfied, he slipped them on and rose from his seat on his bunk, brushing nonexistent wrinkles from his pale blue shirt.
"Meeting up with Mae again, too, I suppose."
"Yeah." He paused and looked at his bunkmate with concern. Ian had been decidedly grim and even more uncommunicative than usual lately. Ari was mildly surprised that he had actually attempted to start a conversation, uninspired as it might be. "What are you doing tonight? I get the impression you're not going to the movie."
Ian shrugged. "I don't know. I wasn't planning to, but I might. There's nothing else to do tonight, anyway."
"Not for you or me, no. There are a few people who are really excited about the planet we're orbiting, but the rest of us are pretty much in a holding pattern until we're done here."
"Yeah." His reply was unenthusiastic.
"Why don't you and Michael go for a drink or something?" Ari suggested innocently. The reaction he got to his question stunned him rigid.
"Fuck no!" exclaimed Ian vehemently.
Ari froze. Suddenly his friend's recent mood and behavior seemed to make sense. "Sorry!" he apologized quickly. He proceeded with caution. "Did you guys have a fight or something?"
It was all Ian could do to keep from yelling at him. Ari's sympathy wasn't what he wanted just then. But as quickly as his anger had flared, it faded. "I wish," he answered dully.
Ari's brows furrowed in puzzlement. "I'm confused."
"It doesn't matter. You should go. You're gonna be late."
"I have a little time." Ari sat down again on the end of his bunk to indicate he was ready and willing to listen to whatever his friend had to say.
Ian shook his head. He recognized the movement for the offer it was, but he didn't feel like sharing. It's better this way, he tried to convince himself. The less he knows, the less he can be held responsible for not saying anything. It was a completely absurd rationalization, but he wouldn't allow himself to think about that. The truth was that if anyone found out that Ari knew about him and Michael and hadn't told the Captain, nothing Ian could do would protect him from the consequences—just as he wouldn't be able protect himself or Michael from them once Archer found out.
"Mae's waiting for you," he said.
Ari couldn't deny it. "You're sure you're okay?" he asked, rising reluctantly.
"Sure," Ian lied. "Have fun."
"Thanks." Still hesitant, Ari left the cabin and hurried to meet Mae.
Ian was happy to be left alone with no worries of being disturbed. Ari was gone for the evening, and Michael wouldn't be stopping by. He had no reason to expect anyone else to check up on him. He had at least a few hours in which to wallow in solitude and self-pity.
"You're a pathetic fuck, Young. I guess some things really don't ever change." Chucking his datapad aside, he stood up and paced the little cabin.
He hated this helpless feeling. There were two things he knew he could do to alleviate it, but neither one appealed to him. He'd been weighing those two options for days, trying to decide which was the least objectionable, and he still hadn't reached a conclusion. The frustration built in him as he once more considered his limited alternatives.
He could go to the Captain himself and be done with the all the worrying and fretting about what was going to happen, or he could go to Hoshi and beg her not to tell Archer what she knew. The former would require a conversation with Michael first. The latter meant seeking out Hoshi and having what would undoubtedly be a painful and ugly conversation.
Of all the things she's good at, talking is right there at the top of the list. That alone put him at a disadvantage. There was no way he could expect to come out of that conversation a winner. He continued to stalk back and forth across the small patch of empty floor as he thought about it.
Why do I have to win anything? he asked himself. It's not a damned competition. I just need to talk to her and find out what she plans to do.
I know what she plans to do, another part of his mind reminded him. She made that pretty clear.
Then why hasn't she done it yet? That was the big question, and one he couldn't answer on his own.
He stopped in front of the wall where a small mirror hung beside his and Ari's lockers. The image it reflected was twisted with indecision and weakness and fear. It brought his anger and frustration to a head. "This sucks!" he declared to the empty cabin. In a burst of impotent rage, he punched his reflection, shattering the mirror and driving shards of glass into his knuckles.
"Shit!" He breathed in deeply against the pain. The throbbing and searing feeling was enough to clear his head of any other thoughts, and he welcomed it. He considered the mirror—the broken glass that now lay below it on the floor, the blood that tinted the shards. Then he looked at his bleeding hand. He tried flexing and bending his fingers, but the motion sent a sharp stab of agony up his arm. He decided not to do it again.
Using his good hand, Ian took a towel from the lav and wrapped it awkwardly around his injured hand. Next, he slipped his bare feet into a pair of sneakers. He couldn't tie them, so he left the laces dangling as he headed out of the cabin and off to sickbay.
Michael was at loose ends and it annoyed him. He had no idea when Ensign Sato would speak to the Captain; he only guessed she hadn't done it yet because he hadn't been hauled up before Archer. He laid back on his bunk and stared at the ceiling. His bunkmate was on duty, so he was alone in the cabin. He wished Ian were there, even though that was what had gotten them in trouble in the first place.
How could we have been so damn stupid? he wondered for what seemed like the millionth time since Sato had caught them in the turbolift on New Year's Eve. He could have sworn he or Ian had hit the button for the deck they wanted, but clearly neither of them had. So the lift had simply sat there until someone hailed it—and that someone had been Sato.
He almost felt it would have been better to have been caught by Captain Archer. At least then they wouldn't be stuck in this awful limbo, waiting for the axe to fall.
Maybe she won't tell him. But it was an idle hope. She'd said it right then, and her voice had echoed in his mind ever since.
"Save it for Captain Archer."
So why hasn't anything happened? He supposed it was possible that she'd reported him and Ian, and the Captain had decided not to act on the information. Michael tried to convince himself this was the case. He'd been trying for days.
We're in deep space, he rationalized. This is a situation that Starfleet's founders couldn't have considered when they made the regulations. The pressures of deep space exploration, the long-term aspect of it, make the old regs outdated and obsolete.
Just keep telling yourself that, another part of his mind said. You might even believe it someday.
What was I thinking? He rolled onto his side. He knew he wouldn't sleep well that night, if he even slept at all. He needed to talk to someone. Ian was out of the question; the two hadn't spoken since the incident. Why can't we talk? There's no regulation against officers and crewmen talking to each other.
And what would I say to him? Tell him I love him? Even if it was true he wouldn't want to hear it. He probably wouldn't even believe it.
Since it isn't true, he answered himself silently, why should I expect him to believe it?
The possibility brought him up short. Michael sat up straight, sleep no longer even a remote possibility. In all his mental meandering, this was the first time he'd ever faced this particular question. Normally he wasn't an overly introspective person; he took what came at face value, never wanting to stake too much on anything or anyone. Lately that had changed, but he couldn't put his finger on precisely when or why. Now the consequences of that change were staring him in the face and he had no idea what to do about it.
He threw off the covers and rose. Dressing quickly in jeans and a sweatshirt, he grabbed a half-empty bottle of vodka and a glass from his locker and left the solitude of his cabin for the solitude of the aft observation lounge. At least there he had something to look at besides the walls of the tiny room he shared with Singh. He only hoped the lounge wasn't already occupied, or he'd have to find somewhere else to be alone.
On the way, he almost changed directions towards engineering. He found the deep hum of the engines calming. Unfortunately if he went there he was bound to be questioned by the Gamma shift duty officer—particularly if he showed up toting a bottle of strong Russian vodka. That's the last thing I need.
Michael met no one as he walked to the observation lounge. It was barely 0100 hours and the corridors were correspondingly dark and quiet.
The lounge was just as vacant as the corridors when he reached it. The lights came on to half power, triggered by his entrance.
"Computer, lights off," Michael snapped, even before the door had time to shut automatically behind him. Immediately the room darkened again. He nodded in satisfaction. He just wanted to sit, watch the stars go by, and try not to wonder what the morning might bring.
He sat on the small sofa and poured himself some vodka. He tossed it back, relishing the heat as it burned a comfortable path down his throat. Staring out the large window at the passing stars, he did his best to let their hypnotic motion lull him into quietude. When it didn't work right away, he poured another glass of vodka and drank it quickly. If the stars wouldn't do the job on their own, he would help them along.
Michael had no idea how much time passed while he sat there staring and drinking. He only knew that the bottle he'd brought with him was empty, but he couldn't be bothered to go get another one.
The door opened and the lights again came up automatically. Michael turned to see who the newcomer was, but his movements were lethargic as if he were doing it because he thought he should, not because he actually cared.
Ian stood just far enough into the room to make the door close behind him. One of his hands was deep into the pocket of his faded blue jeans. The other was bandaged and dangled at his side. His white t-shirt hung loose around the waistband of his jeans. He wore sneakers that he hadn't bothered to tie. "The computer said I'd find you here."
Michael used one hand to push himself up straighter in his seat. The empty glass slipped from his other hand and clinked noisily against the bottle at his feet. He didn't reach down to retrieve it. "You actually bothered to ask it?"
Ian frowned. "Yeah, though now I wonder why. I'll leave you to your drinking." But he didn't move.
"Whatever." Michael slouched back into the small couch.
They remained there, unmoving, for over a minute.
"You finish that whole bottle on your own?" Ian asked eventually.
"It was only half full."
"Too bad it's empty now. I wouldn't've minded drowning a few sorrows, myself."
Ian finally moved away from the door. He pulled his hand from his pocket and sat on the arm of the sofa. Michael glanced sidelong at him, then he turned his attention back to the stars. They were more difficult to see with the lights up, but he couldn't be bothered even to tell the computer to turn them down again. Probably better not to risk getting caught together in a dark room anyway, the still sober part of his mind pointed out.
"What are you doing here?" Michael asked, only half interested in what the answer might be.
"I was looking for you."
"I figured Maybe we should talk or something."
Now Ian had Michael's full, if fuzzy, attention. His dark brows furrowed into a deep frown. "You haven't spoken to me in a week. I left you messages and you never returned them. You've been deliberately avoiding me since you know. Why the change now?"
"I think we should tell Captain Archer what happened."
Michael wasn't so drunk that he couldn't be shocked into alertness, and this more than did the trick. "You what?" he exclaimed, sitting up ramrod straight. "Are you nuts?"
"Would you rather keep waiting until Hoshi tells him?" countered Ian.
"Maybe she won't."
"I know what she said, but that was days ago. If she was going to tell him, she'd have done it by now."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"Why wait?" Michael wanted to know. "It doesn't make sense. She's got nothing to gain by torturing us like this." His eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Unless there's something I don't know about."
Ian shook his head. "There's nothing," he said.
"Are you sure about that?"
Not a hundred percent, Ian thought, but he wasn't about to admit that out loud. "Yeah, I'm sure. I don't think she's doing this to torture us. I think " Despite the hours he'd spent pondering this very question, he had difficulty putting his ideas into words. "I think she doesn't want to tell."
"Then she needs to say so," countered Michael bitterly. "I don't appreciate being jerked around like this." He glared at Ian. It was clear he wasn't referring solely to Hoshi.
"What are you talking about?" Ian demanded, immediately on the defensive.
"What do you think I'm talking about? Do you even like me, Ian? Do you have any feelings for me at all? Because frankly, I don't know."
"Are you nuts? I broke up with Hoshi so I could be with you!"
"Did you? That's what you said then, but is it true? Or was I just a convenient excuse because you were getting in over your head with her? Things were getting too serious, so you freaked out and took the first escape that presented itself." Michael watched the stunned look on Ian's face, and his lips twisted in a mirthless smile. His words had hit the mark, and no protest from Ian would convince him otherwise. "Thought so." He bent to reclaim his empty glass and bottle, and then rose to his feet. He headed for the door.
As Michael passed him, Ian reached out with his bandaged hand. "Michael, wait."
But Rostov easily avoided his clumsy grasp. He paused briefly and gave Ian a look that was a confused mix of disappointment, hurt, and disgust. "Do whatever you like, Young. I'll see you around." He turned and walked out.
Hoshi woke with a feeling of determination in her heart. She'd finally made up her mind. She still dreaded the coming interview, but now she felt she was prepared to face it head on. Or at least I will be once I've had a shower and a quick cup of tea, she thought.
A short while later, she was washed and dressed for duty. There was plenty of time before Alpha shift for her to resolve the issue that had been plaguing her since the New Year.
But first, tea, her mind prompted her. There's no reason to go in there without a little fortification.
She reached the mess hall, promptly claimed a mug, and ordered Chinese green tea. Once she had that, she picked up a slice of buttered toast to go with it.
"That's not much of a breakfast," Cormack commented, coming up beside her. The armory ensign carried a foam-topped latté and a pumpkin scone.
"And that is?" Hoshi replied, nodding to the blonde woman's breakfast fare.
"It's more substantial than that, but you have a point. Join me?"
Hoshi hesitated then nodded. "Sure."
They sat down at an empty table. Cormack set down her latté and broke off a bit of her scone, popping it into her mouth and chewing happily. "Almost as good as my sister's," she commented once she'd swallowed the bite.
"Your sister bakes?" Hoshi asked, more to be polite than out of any real interest. She was too distracted to engage properly in any conversation.
"Yeah." Cormack raised an eyebrow at her. "You know that. Remember the cookies?"
"Oh! Right!" Hoshi smiled awkwardly. "How could I forget?"
Silence fell between them, and despite her own desires Hoshi broke it. She didn't want the other woman wondering what was going on, so common sense told her to make conversation. "How's Liz doing?"
"Okay. She'll be better when Travis gets back, though."
"Mm." Hoshi nodded. At the risk of appearing rude, she quickly finished her toast and drank down the last of her tea. She stood. "I need to get going."
"Oh. Okay. It was nice chatting with you," replied Cormack with a hint of irony in her voice.
Hoshi completely missed the mild sarcasm. "You, too. Sorry I have to rush off."
"Not a problem. I'll see you around."
"Sure." Hoshi headed to the door, her pace only a hair shy of a brisk jog.
Cormack watched her go, bemused. "Wonder what's up there?" she muttered to herself.
Hoshi's pace didn't slow once she'd escaped the mess hall. She dearly wanted to be done with this before her shift started, and time was passing.
She reached her destination and rang the chime. She was absurdly surprised when a sleepy-looking Ensign Cohn opened the door. "I'm sorry," she said. "Is Ian here?"
Cohn shook his head. "No." He yawned, covering his mouth with one hand as he did. "Excuse me. No, he took off early this morning."
"Did he say where he was going?"
"Something about the Captain's Office," offered Cohn obscurely. "I don't know anything else. He shot out of here pretty quickly."
But Hoshi didn't need to hear any more. Her stomach lurched unpleasantly. "Thanks," she said hurriedly and rushed off, leaving Ari standing bewildered in the open door way.
Please be wrong. Please be wrong, she thought over and over as she rode the turbolift to the bridge. The door opened and she stepped out. "Is the Captain in his ready room?" she asked the crewman at the comm station.
"Yes, ma'am, but—"
Before the young man could tell her Archer was already with someone, she rang the chime and opened the ready room door without waiting for an answer.
"Excuse me, Captain," she began before Archer even had a chance to open his mouth. "I'm sorry to interrupt. I didn't realize you were with someone," she lied quickly. As she babbled, she tried to catch Young's eye. There was no way to tell what he may or may not have already told Archer, but she was desperate and determined to stop him before he said anything more. But he wouldn't even look at her.
Archer frowned at her. He glanced briefly at the man standing at attention before him; Young hadn't looked over at Sato's entrance, hadn't so much as blinked. "I am, and you're dismissed," the Captain replied in a clipped fashion.
"Yes, sir, but—"
Archer cut her off. "I don't like repeating myself, Ensign." His tone was cold, his expression stony.
"I " Sato realized there was nothing she could do. Everything about the Captain's posture, voice, and expression informed her that she was too late. She'd failed. "Yes, sir." Deflated and defeated, Sato left the ready room.
Archer focused on Young once more. He said nothing about the brief and startling interruption. It was obvious to him that it had something to do with the reason Young was there. He picked up a datapad from his desk and appeared to study it intently, although his eyes only skimmed the screen; he already knew what it said. What he didn't know was how Sato fit into the scenario. Since she couldn't be the crewman involved, he decided he didn't want to know.
Young was silent. He simply remained staring straight ahead while the Captain reviewed his report again. He'd felt detached and almost analytical since handing over the datapad Archer now held. He'd spent the remainder of the night after speaking to Rostov writing up the report the pad contained. He'd carefully avoided any direct mention of Rostov in his confession of their illicit relationship. He didn't want to get him in trouble, too, even though there was a part of Young that blamed the crewman for what had happened.
He started it, Young had thought repeatedly over the few hours until Alpha shift. He'd answered himself the same way every time. And I didn't stop him. Logically, he knew they were both at fault, but he felt it was up to Rostov to come clean on his own. Ian wouldn't take Michael down with him.
Archer watched Young for several seconds, trying to see beyond the ensign's rigid stance. Unable to read anything beneath the surface, he heaved a weary, internal sigh. Outside, though, his demeanor remained severe. Of all the broken regs he'd expected to face on this mission, he had dearly hoped this wouldn't be one.
He set the datapad down. "Your disregard for regulations is appalling." He paused for a brief moment before going on. "However, you came to me with this information of your own volition, and you've assured me your relationship with the unnamed crewman is over. Since I haven't received any complaints on this matter, I will assume for the time being that it was consensual, as you say. Be aware I will be making inquiries with Doctors Phlox and Douglas, as well as with Lieutenant Reed. If I find evidence to contradict your claims, you'll be facing an immediate full investigation and potential court-martial. Do you understand?"
Young's eyes were wide, but his face remained otherwise expressionless. His heart beat wildly, and he hoped the Captain couldn't hear it. "Yes, sir."
"It would help your situation if the crewman involved came forward." Archer's implication was clear: Tell me who it was.
"That's not up to me, sir."
Archer was disappointed but not surprised. "You're relieved of duty until further notice. Dismissed."
Without another word, Young turned and left the room.
Once the door shut, Archer leaned back heavily in his chair. He took a moment before leaning forward again and reaching to open a comm line.
On the other side of the door, Young quickly crossed the bridge to the turbolift. He stared straight ahead, although from the corner of his eye he could see Lieutenant Reed at tactical, Fraser at the helm, and Sato at the comm station. He paused to hail the lift, stepping inside just as he heard the Captain's voice over the comm.
"Lieutenant Reed, report to my ready room."
Young accidentally caught Sato's eye before the lift door closed. The look of anguish on her face was unmistakable. It made him sick.
Malcolm sat at the computer in Trip's quarters. He still couldn't quite think of the cabin as "theirs", although he was getting better about it. He no longer automatically headed towards his old cabin after coming off shift. He hadn't quite abandoned it, though. A few of his lesser-used possessions were still there, and neither he nor Trip had mentioned their new living arrangements to anyone. It was Malcolm's safety net. He knew it bothered Trip, but so far the engineer hadn't said a word.
The door opened and Trip entered. "Hey, Malcolm," he said in greeting. "You about ready for dinner?"
"Hello. Not quite," Malcolm replied distractedly.
Trip sat on the end of the bunk and gestured to the computer. "Don't tell me you're finally writing a letter home."
"No. I wish I were."
He sounded so discouraged that Trip rose again and crossed the room. He laid his hands on Malcolm's shoulders and massaged gently. "What's wrong?" he asked.
"I'm rewriting my duty roster for the next few weeks. Of course, if all goes well, I'll just have to change it back again in a couple of days."
Trip frowned. "What're you talking about?"
"The Captain has relieved one of my ensigns of duty," Malcolm answered flatly.
"What?" Trip was surprised. He knew Cormack well enough to know she could be a bit insubordinate at times, but he had a hard time believing she'd crossed the line far enough to be relieved of duty. "What did she do?"
Malcolm paused and turned in his seat to look up at the younger man. "Why do you assume it's Cormack? I have two ensigns under my direct command."
"Sorry," Trip backpedaled. "I didn't mean it like that." Before he could dig himself in even deeper, he asked, "Which ensign is it?"
"It's Young, as a matter of fact. But you haven't answered my question."
Trip shrugged and leaned against the desk, crossing his arms over his chest. "I just know she's unpredictable sometimes. And you haven't really talked about her much lately. I figured maybe there was something wrong, and now she'd, I don't know, pushed it too far."
Malcolm was about to argue that it was the Captain, not he, who had made the decision, when Trip's words sank in. It was true that hadn't spoken of Cormack lately—primarily because he hadn't spoke to her lately. It had been several weeks since he'd had any real social contact with her. Every encounter had either been on duty or in passing. He considered it, wondering why and when things had changed, and why he hadn't noticed. Before he could come up with any answers, Trip interrupted his thoughts.
"Malcolm? Are you okay?"
Snapped from his musings, Malcolm nodded once. "I'm fine. I just need to get this done." He turned back to the computer.
"I'll leave you alone, then." Trip pushed away from the desk. "Are we still on for dinner and the movie, though?"
"Dinner, sure, just give me another ten minutes. But you're not tricking me into agreeing to go to movie night."
"It was worth a shot," quipped Trip, a smile on his lips.
Malcolm looked apologetic and said in an overly sincere voice, "I fear that, not having seen the first two films, the subtleties of the plot of Son of Frankenstein would be lost on me."
Trip chuckled. "I think you're underestimating yourself, but it's your decision. So," he went on, despite having told Malcolm he would leave him be to finish his roster, "while I'm at the movie, you're going to be writing that letter to your sister. Right?"
"I hadn't specifically planned to, but it's not impossible."
"And then you're going to write to your folks and tell them all about me. Right?" Trip pressed.
Now Malcolm fixed him with a keen look. "Is that really what you want?"
"Of course," exclaimed Trip, suddenly serious. He'd been stewing over the subject since they had discussed it two days before. "Malcolm, I love you. I'd be happy if the whole world knew it. But that's not what I'm asking. All I'm asking is that your family knows."
"I think you're overestimating the value of anonymity where my father is concerned."
"I'm willing to take that chance. But that's not the point."
"Forgive my bluntness, but what exactly is the point?" Malcolm asked sincerely.
Trip paced the cabin. "I don't know. Maybe I just want some sort of recognition. Something outside our lives here on the ship that confirms that you care about me as much as I care about you." Now that he'd begun to voice his concerns, they came tumbling out in a rush. "It's like you're trying to hide something. Like you don't want them to know about us. But why? I've told my family all about you."
"All?" Malcolm was suddenly worried.
"No, not all all. You know what I mean. The stuff you tell your family when you've met the love of your life. Now, I know your family isn't like mine. I don't pretend to understand the way you all relate—or don't. But I have to wonder where you think we're going, if you won't even tell to them about us."
Malcolm was shocked by Trip's easy use of the phrase "love of your life" and tried to respond. "Trip—"
"Are you ashamed of me?"
"Then what is it? You do love me, right? You've said you do."
"Of course I do!"
Trip continued without pause. "So I've got to believe you, because if I don't " He couldn't complete the thought, and Malcolm seized the opportunity to break in to his rant.
"Trip, you don't understand."
"Then explain it to me!"
"Then stop pacing. I can't talk to you while you're stalking back and forth," Malcolm said sharply.
Trip stopped and stood staring at him expectantly.
It took Malcolm a moment to decide where to begin. "I don't talk to my father," he stated simply and unequivocally. "I have occasionally tried, but since I joined Starfleet he's never acknowledged any letter I've sent. So I gave up. Before I even finished Starfleet training, I gave up. I write to my mother twice a year. On her birthday, and at the New Year." Trip looked surprised, and Malcolm went on before he could interrupt. "I'm a little behind on that one. I was planning to write to her tonight while you were at the movie, as a matter of fact. I didn't tell you because " He hesitated. "Well, it doesn't matter why because I have told you now."
"Please let me finish. My mother is a good person. That doesn't mean I tell her everything."
"I'm not asking for 'everything'—" Trip interrupted again. And again Malcolm cut him off.
"I know that. Just let me do this my own way. Please." There was a pained but hopeful look in his eyes. Tension was evident in every muscle. "I promise I will get there eventually, if you'll just continue to be patient."
Trip pursed his lips in dissatisfaction and crossed his arms over his chest defensively. When he spoke, his words surprised Malcolm. "I'm not Rupert, you know."
"I never said you were."
"No, but you keep acting like I'm gonna turn on you. Like you think if you let your guard down, I'm gonna hurt you—deliberately hurt you."
Malcolm rose and finally came out from behind the desk. "I know you wouldn't do that."
"Yeah? I think you really mean that, but I also think there's still a part of you that's afraid I'm gonna turn out to be just the same as that son of a bitch. And that hurts, Malcolm."
Malcolm reached out a hand towards Trip's arm, hoping his touch would say what his words couldn't. But the engineer stepped back before he could make contact. "Trip—"
"You know what? I'm not real hungry anymore." He dropped his arms and moved toward the door. "I'm gonna go do something." He really had no idea how he was going to fill the time until the movie, but it wasn't going to be here with Malcolm. "Leave you alone so you can finish what you're doing."
"Trip, please don't go."
"Make up your mind, Malcolm. What do you want?"
"Stay." Malcolm steeled himself for what he was about to say. "We'll record that letter to Madeline that we talked about, and then we'll record one to your family. Just like we said the other day."
"And your letter to your mom?"
"I'll record it while you're at the movie, just like I'd planned before. That's all I can promise right now." I just hope it's enough for you, he added silently.
Trip considered Malcolm's suggestions before replying. It wasn't what he'd hoped for, but it was more than he'd expected. Hell, I didn't even expect to have this conversation! he thought. He hadn't planned to grill his lover about their relationship or Malcolm's family. It had just sort of happened. "Okay," he said at last. "Let's talk to Madeline."
Malcolm visibly relaxed; he even came close to smiling. "Okay."
Stephanie entered the mess hall with heavy, tired steps. She chose a particularly large mug and set it under the drinks dispenser. "Triple grande latté," she ordered. She'd stayed up late last night, listening to her new music and replaying her mail. It was after midnight when she'd received a message from Lieutenant Reed stating that the armory team's duty roster had changed abruptly. Suddenly she was stuck doing a bridge shift, half a shift off, and then a half shift in the armory. Now she had to tell Bonnie that she couldn't meet her for dinner and the movie as they'd planned. Movie night every night this week and when they finally show one I want to see, this happens, she thought in irritation.
Taking her filled mug, she walked along the breakfast buffet, eyeing her options. In the end, she decided she deserved an almond croissant as compensation for her stolen evening.
A smile and a wave from across the mess hall caught Stephanie's attention. She smiled back and wove her way through the tables to where Bonnie and Mae already sat.
"Hey there, beautiful," Bonnie greeted her lover happily.
"Hey, yourself." Stephanie set down her breakfast and kissed her good morning before taking a seat.
"Did Mae tell you her news?"
"Huh? No." Stephanie glanced at the engineer curiously. "What news?"
Mae looked annoyed, but whether it was with her bunkmate or someone else was unclear. "I got a letter from August yesterday."
"Cool. How's he doing?"
"Fine. Great. Mom's getting married to a 'chinless politician'."
Stephanie nearly spat out her coffee. Fortunately, she was able to swallow the precious liquid, only just managing not to choke on it. "Oh!" she coughed. "Uh congratulations?"
"Thanks," Mae said flatly, not even smiling at her friend's near spit-take. She downed the last of her own latté and then ran a finger along the inside of the mug, collecting the leftover foam. The look on her face dared her friends to chide her for her table manners as she licked it from her finger.
Stephanie wasn't about to challenge her. As far as she was concerned, Mae had earned that foam. "At least you don't have to go to the wedding," she offered in consolation.
"Am I being childish?" Mae asked her friends suddenly.
"Only with the foam," teased Bonnie.
"Is it stupid not to want her to marry some guy from someplace humid? It's not like it even affects me."
"It affects you. I think the problem is that you can't affect it," Stephanie suggested.
Mae and Bonnie both looked surprised. "That was pretty deep for being mostly pre-caffeine," said Mae.
"Yeah, it was." Stephanie shrugged. "I have my moments," she added with a joking smile.
"So, did you get any interesting mail from home?" Mae wanted to get the topic away from herself.
"Yeah, actually, I did." Stephanie wasn't quite ready to share the stranger parts of her letter from Ryn, but she did pass on the particularly funny story about her mother and a container of strained beets.
Mae laughed. "That sounds like my brother's letter. He was feeding Sam at the time."
Stephanie chuckled. "I'm so glad I don't have one of those," she said emphatically.
"A baby or a brother?" joked Mae, already knowing the answer.
"I don't have any amusing baby food stories to share," Bonnie interjected, "but I got two new Rowan's Circle songs from my cousin."
"Cool! I can't wait to hear them!" Stephanie was about to tell her about the new Cordelia's Sisters album she had gotten, but then she remembered the bad news she had to share. Her face fell. "I almost forgot. I can't do dinner and the movie tonight."
Bonnie's expression was equally disappointed. "What happened?"
"I got stuck with a half shift in the armory tonight—second half of Beta shift, to be precise. I'd've preferred doing a straight twelve hours and going from the bridge to the armory, but no such luck."
"But what happened to change the schedule?"
"I wish I knew." Stephanie took a bite of her croissant, scattering crumbs on her small plate and the table around it. She glanced down at the mess grumpily and chased the bite down with a long swallow of her latté. "Should've gone for the scone, I guess."
"So, what?" Bonnie pressed. "Lieutenant Reed just dumps this on you without an explanation?"
"He's my C.O. He's not required to explain when he changes a duty roster."
"No, but it would be nice. He's been kind of a jerk to you lately. This just ices the cake."
"What?" Stephanie frowned in puzzlement. "He didn't screw up our date on purpose. He probably didn't even know we had a date."
"Par for the course," said Bonnie as if the blonde woman's words simply confirmed what she, herself, had already said.
"What course? It's too early to be so cryptic."
Mae watched the dialogue in cautious silence. She and Bonnie had discussed this very thing more than once over the past month. She wondered if Stephanie was even aware of the increased distance between herself and Reed.
"I mean," Bonnie said intently, "you and the Lieutenant have barely spoken to one another since the armory fire when he was such a complete prick to you. I don't know what bug is up his ass, but he needs to get over it."
"Whoa, whoa! Where the hell did this come from all of a sudden?" asked Stephanie in shock.
"It's not sudden. It's been going on for over a month. I can't believe you haven't even noticed."
Stephanie was about to protest, but stopped. She took a moment to think about what Bonnie was saying, and once she had, she realized her lover was right. Not that she would admit it out loud. "I don't know," she said. "He's busy. I'm busy." She shrugged noncommittally.
Bonnie gave her a disparaging look. "No one on this ship has been 'busy' for days. How come you and he haven't even had breakfast together? You used to do that at least once every week or two."
Now Stephanie squirmed like a kid caught with a hand in the cookie jar. "I did ask him if he wanted to join me for lunch one time last week. He said he had something to do that couldn't wait. No big deal."
Bonnie and Mae exchanged a knowing glance. Bonnie turned back to Stephanie. "You should talk to him."
"Supposedly he's your friend as well as your C.O. Friends talk to each other—about non-work stuff," Bonnie added before Stephanie could make that particular argument.
"If he has a problem with me, why wouldn't he just tell me?"
Finally Mae spoke up. "Not everyone's as direct as you are about that kind of stuff."
"About personal stuff?" countered Bonnie.
"Well, okay, not so much, but I've never had a problem communicating with him or vice versa," insisted Stephanie, conveniently forgetting the several occasions when she'd been unable to talk with her C.O. for one reason or another.
"As far as you know."
"Bonnie's right," said Mae. "If he didn't talk to you about something, how would you know?"
"Now who's being too deep and thoughtful before coffee?" challenged Stephanie in mild pique.
"I've had my coffee."
"Me, too," Bonnie added.
Stephanie eyed her friends for several moments. She tried to remain resolute, but her resolve crumbled. "Maybe I should talk to him."
"Maybe yeah," agreed Bonnie harshly.
"Can I finish my coffee?"
Brought up short by Stephanie's sharp retort, Bonnie and Mae exchanged a contrite look before the engineer replied. "That's probably a good idea."
"But you need to talk to him," Bonnie insisted.
"I will! Geez!" exclaimed Stephanie defensively. She looked intently at her lover. "This is really bugging you, isn't it? And you, too," she added, looking at Mae.
Mae shrugged, but Bonnie nodded. "Yeah, it really is."
Now that it had been brought to her attention, Stephanie had to admit—at least to herself—that it bothered her, too. She missed hanging out with Malcolm during their down time. It was never a particularly frequent thing, but she’d missed the recent lack of social time with her C.O. even before she’d realized it might have been deliberate—or that she might not ever have it again. Now she wanted to be sure she got it—and her friend Malcolm—back. "Okay. I'll talk to him."
Travis was happy to be back on Enterprise. He set his duffel bag down on his bunk, and then sat next to it. His visit with his family had been unexpectedly eventful, but he wouldn't have traded a moment of the time. Before he could even begin to unpack, the door chimed. He had a fair idea who it was. "Come in," he called, rising.
Liz entered and immediately embraced him. "Welcome home," she said.
He returned the hug enthusiastically, and they kissed. "Thanks. It's good to be back." They released one another and sat down on his bunk side by side.
"How are you?" Liz asked, resting her hand on his.
"I'm really good," Travis answered with a smile. He turned his hand palm up so he could lace his fingers with hers.
"And your family?"
"They're good, too. Paul's getting the hang of being the Captain. Mom's keeping the ship and the crew together, just like she always has."
"That's good." She held back what she really wanted to say—that she was sorry she hadn't gotten to meet them. She understood Travis's reasons for wanting to go alone, but Liz couldn't help feeling left out and almost cheated of the opportunity to meet his family.
"You know," Travis went on, almost as if he'd read her mind, "they're going to be around for another day or so. There's a little problem with something on the hull, and I told them Lieutenant Reed could help with it."
"Wouldn't Commander Tucker be more helpful if it's a problem with the hull?" asked Liz, puzzled.
"Not this time. It's a long story," he added, before she could inquire further. "I thought maybe you'd like a tour of the Horizon while it's here."
Liz's face lit up as she guessed where he was going. "Really?"
"Yeah. And maybe there'd be a little time for you to meet my mom and Paul."
"I'd really like that!"
Travis smiled broadly. "You think you would. You haven't met them yet," he joked.
"I'm not worried," replied Liz boldly. "If your brother is anything like you, he'll be an absolute doll. And your mom must be fabulous to have raised a son as terrific as you."
Travis considered her assumptions and laughed. "Well you're half right," he said. "But I'm not going to tell you which half."
"I can handle it."
He looked at her. Her determined expression made her round face that much more beautiful, and he smiled a soft, tender smile full of warmth and love.
Liz shifted a little awkwardly, uncertain at his sudden scrutiny. "What?"
"You're amazing. You're beautiful; you're smart; you're fun." A thousand words rushed into his mind, choking him with their truth. "I love you."
Liz felt her cheeks flush. "I love you, too."
"Come on." Travis rose and pulled her up with him. "I'll take you on that tour."
"Don't you want to unpack first?" she asked, surprised.
He shook his head. "Plenty of time for that later. Now it's time for you to meet my family."