Log Rhythms - Season Two
The command bridge staff and Doctor Phlox stood around the table in the Situation Room. Archer rubbed his temple absently and cleared his throat. He was sure it was his imagination, but were he back on Earth he would have been positive he was coming down with something. Here on Enterprise, the possibility was slim. He cleared his throat again to hide a cough and ignored an inquisitive look from Phlox.
"Sub-commander," he said instead to his Science Officer, "you requested this meeting."
"Yes," she confirmed. T'Pol looked at each of those present to be certain she had everyone's attention. "The system we're approaching has a white F-type star and six planets, the fourth of which is M-class. However, it appears to be undergoing an ice age. Over sixty percent of its surface is covered by glaciers. No sentient life forms have been identified, and there is no indication of any centers of habitation." She tapped a command sequence into the console and a thermal image of the planet appeared on the wall screen.
"Is there any reason to check it out further?" asked Archer, examining the screen. The area around the planet's equator appeared almost temperate, but only a few degrees from it in either direction the world became a frozen wasteland.
Phlox spoke up. "I believe there is. From what little we've learned thus far, it's possible that there might be some potentially useful organisms down there."
Archer looked doubtful. "There were a lot of qualifiers in that sentence, Doctor."
"Yes," admitted the Denobulan reluctantly. "However, I could make a more definite determination if we were to, say, orbit the planet for forty-eight hours?"
"How long until we reach it?" the Captain asked his helmsman.
"At current speed, less than a day," Mayweather responded immediately. "If we pick up the pace a little, we could make it late tonight."
Archer considered it, glancing around to see if anyone else had an opinion. No one did. He stifled another cough before going on. "All right. Increase speed to warp three point five." He looked at Phlox. "You'll have your two days." As the bridge crew headed back to their stations, Archer added more quietly to the doctor, "May I have a word with you in my ready room?"
They entered the small room.
"Have a seat," Archer said, taking one behind the desk.
Phlox sat down opposite him. "Are you feeling quite well, Captain?" he asked.
"I'm fine, thank you. I want to talk about Ensign Young."
"Ah!" It wasn't what Phlox had expected to hear, but neither was it surprising. The two had been in discussion about the situation since shortly after Archer had become aware of it. "You want to know if anything new has come to light since we last spoke."
"Yes. I'll be talking to Reed and Douglas, too, before making my final determination." He raised a hand to the back of his neck and rubbed it. He definitely had a headache. Must be stress, he thought. I'll be glad when this Young problem is dealt with.
"There's nothing new to tell you. Whether that's a good sign or not is anyone's guess. The last time I spoke with Ensign Young was when I did a final examination of his hand."
"Did you ever find out exactly what happened?" Archer asked, wondering briefly if it would be breaking doctor-patient confidentiality for Phlox to tell him. As it turned out, there was no confidence to break.
"Not officially, no," Phlox said. "I stand by my original judgment. I think he struck something—most likely a mirror, based on the debris I removed from the wound."
"The quartermaster's records support that. His bunkmate, Ensign Cohn, put in a request for a new shaving mirror two days after the incident."
Phlox nodded, unsurprised. "I also think he was alone at the time."
"Why do you say that?
"Oh, his appearance when he came to see me, and the way the hand was bandaged. I use the term 'bandaged' loosely."
"And you've seen nothing in any other member of the crew that would suggest he or she was the crewman involved in the relationship? Nothing that suggests someone was coerced?"
"Nothing. You're welcome to read the official medical records on any of the crew, but I can assure you that no one has come to me with any sort of injury or condition that would suggest abuse or coercion of any kind."
"No one has come to you," echoed Archer. "That's where the system falls down."
"If this unnamed crewman doesn't choose to come forward, there's little to be done about it," Phlox said with a mix of resignation and consolation.
"I could order Young to give up the name."
"Yes, hmm. Excuse my assumption, Captain, but if you intended to do that, surely you would have done so by now."
It was true. Archer had been counting on the unknown crewman to have the same intestinal fortitude as Young had shown. Unfortunately, that hadn't been the case. It was an ugly and unpleasant business all around. He didn't enjoy investigating a member of his crew. He didn't like thinking that any one of them could be capable of the behavior the situation implied. Everyone on board had been either hand-picked by Archer or his chosen department heads, or they had come to him with high recommendations and outstanding records. These were circumstances he—perhaps foolishly—had never anticipated.
"Captain," Phlox went on, "I know this is difficult. However, there is only so much you can do without stepping over boundaries you clearly don't wish to cross."
"It shouldn't be about what I wish," Archer said, playing devil's advocate against himself.
"No. It should be about what's best for the crew. If you feel it's best to let this matter rest, then there's nothing more to be done."
Archer took a moment to consider what Phlox said. Sometimes he found it helpful to have a member of his staff with a cultural viewpoint so different from his own. At other times, it just gave him too much to think about. "Thank you, Doctor," he said now.
Phlox recognized it for the dismissal it was. Unoffended by the abrupt end to the conversation, he rose. "Now, Captain, if you'll kindly accompany me to sickbay, we'll see what I can do for that headache and cough you have," he said.
Archer feigned ignorance. "What?"
"It's obvious you're not well, Captain, and I'm sure you know how dangerous an uncontained virus can be in a closed environment."
"Where would I have caught anything? Like you said, this ship is a closed system."
"Lieutenant Reed caught a cold that had been dormant for months in a case of plasma coolant that was sealed back at Jupiter Station," Phlox reminded him. "It could be that the Vissians brought over something our regular bioscans didn't pick up. Whatever the case, Captain, I recommend you come with me to sickbay now." The tone of his voice was more order than request.
Archer knew he was right. The last thing he needed was to infect the crew with a virus, whether alien or human in origin. "All right," he agreed, and rose to his feet with an effort he tried to conceal. "I could use a change of scenery."
Phlox rolled the diagnostic table out of the large medical scanner.
"That wasn't really the scenery I wanted to see," Archer joked weakly once he'd emerged. He sat up on his elbows, trying to ignore the pounding in his head. "So what's the word?"
"I have the flu?" Archer was incredulous. He sat up all the way and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. "Where did it come from? The Vissians?"
"No. It's a standard Earth variety," Phlox informed him.
"Remember Lieutenant Reed and the plasma coolant? Can you think of anything you might have come in contact with in the last week that could have contained a dormant virus?"
But the Captain already knew. He moaned. "My parents' anniversary."
Phlox looked befuddled. "I beg your pardon?"
Archer tried to think of a brief, simple way to explain that his parents' anniversary had passed last week and he always marked the occasion with a toast to their memories. This year that had required opening a new bottle of single malt scotch—a bottle that was sealed inside an airtight container by someone in Edinburgh over two years ago.
"I opened a sealed container on my parents' anniversary last Wednesday," he said at last.
"That could well be it. Was anyone else with you?"
Phlox crossed to a comm panel and opened a line. "Phlox to Commander Tucker. Please report to sickbay immediately." He closed the comm without waiting for a reply. Next he filled a hypospray and administered it to Archer as he spoke. "This will alleviate a good deal of your symptoms for the time being. I'll see that you're given a booster in twelve hours. Now you have a choice, Captain. You can either spend the next three days quarantined here or in your quarters. If Commander Tucker has also contracted the virus, then you'll have company either way."
Archer considered the choices: trapped in his quarters alone; trapped in his quarters with Trip; or trapped in sickbay with Phlox, Phlox's menagerie of exotic animals, assorted medical staff, and any other crewmembers who happened to stop in. "I'll return to my quarters." He rose.
"Go directly there," Phlox advised. "I'm sure I needn't remind you about the danger of spreading the virus."
"I know my history." Archer departed, passing the newly arrived Tucker as he went.
"Captain?" the engineer asked, concerned to see him looking so unwell.
"He'll explain," Archer replied, gesturing unceremoniously at Phlox with his thumb. He left his friend standing bemused in the doorway.
Stephanie stood at the head of the weight bench, spotting as Mae lifted.
"Is Liz joining us?" the engineer asked between presses.
"Nope. She started Beta-shift today."
"Oh," grunted Mae.
Stephanie continued carrying the conversation so Mae could put her energy into her workout. "She was a little annoyed at first since Travis usually works Alpha-shift, but apparently the gods are smiling on her. He's on Beta, too, starting tomorrow. It makes me wonder if the Captain isn't just a little bit partial, you know?"
"What d'you mean?"
Stephanie shrugged although her friend wasn't looking at her. "Don't get me wrong. I don't begrudge them the time together. I just wonder if Captain Archer doesn't maybe see the science team's schedule and then plan accordingly, eh? I'm probably just jealous," she admitted. "I start Gamma-shift tonight, and where will Bonnie be? Sleeping so she can be awake for Alpha-shift bridge duty."
Mae returned the weight bar to its rest and sat up. Stephanie handed her a towel as they traded places.
"I know where you're coming from," Mae said. "But I don't think the Captain figures personal relationships into his calculations when he schedules the bridge crew rotation. I can't believe he has time for it."
"You're right I'm sure," answered Stephanie, beginning her last round of bench presses. "Like I said just jealous."
Mae chuckled at her friend's obvious frustration. "You should bake something."
"Remember? Women bake to resist "
Stephanie joined her half-way through the saying. " to resist the urge to merge." She let the bar rest in its stand for a moment as she tilted her head enough to make eye contact with the engineer. "You know me too well."
Mae gave her a cheeky grin in reply.
"Maybe I can talk Chef into letting me bake cookies again. If I offer to make enough for dessert for the whole crew, he might just go for it. And if he still thinks I can't be trusted in his galley without supervision, I bet Hoshi would be up for it. We had fun last time, and she seems like she could really use a pick-me-up." Stephanie took hold of the bar again and returned to her workout.
"If not, I'll keep you company," Mae offered. "I know I don't hold the credibility with Chef that Hoshi does, but at least I'm considered the responsible type."
Stephanie grunted a laugh as she lifted. "In what alternate universe?" she joked.
They continued in silence for a while. The only noise was their breathing and the ever-present low hum of the engines. It wasn't until they'd swapped places again that Stephanie went on.
"I bet Bonnie'd like to bake cookies with me."
Mae raised an eyebrow and looked up at her from the weight bench. "Is that what the kids are calling it these days?"
Stephanie smirked back. "You have your euphemisms; I have mine. But in this case I actually just meant baking cookies. Of course, we could also make some other things while we're there. Chocolate body paint comes to mind."
Mae's immediate intonation of "La-la-la-la " made Stephanie laugh. "Okay, okay. I'll stop."
"Thank you." Mae finished her final set of presses in silence, and the pair moved to the nearby treadmills. They both started up at a slow jog.
"I hate running," Mae said flatly.
"It is demon-spawn," agreed Stephanie.
"If we had any sense, we'd stop."
"And yet our legs keep moving."
"I wonder if we're ever going to finish that RPG we started last year."
Stephanie glanced at her sidelong. "Non-sequitur theatre?"
"Of course," quipped Mae.
"Somehow I doubt we'll ever finish that game. With Hoshi and Ian's break-up and the fact that they don't even seem to be talking to each other any more "
"Yeah. It sucks. It was getting really good."
"I know! The tachyons, the time travel, the covert ops " Stephanie sighed in disappointment.
"Maybe we could go on without them?"
"I asked Liz about that, actually. A couple of weeks ago."
"And she said we'd have to convince them both to let someone else play their characters through the end of the campaign." It was clear from her tone that she doubted the likelihood of this happening.
"Hoshi might go for it," speculated Mae. "But Ian..."
"Unlikely," Stephanie finished for her. "And seeing as he's got nothing better to do right now, I really can't imagine it." She had known right away when Young was temporarily relieved of duty, but she'd kept it to herself. Now that word had filtered throughout the crew, she felt no compunctions about discussing it openly. No one in the know was talking about why it had happened, so the rest of the crew were left to wonder and speculate. Even the armory team didn't have all the details, and they were the ones pulling additional shifts as a result.
Stephanie was personally annoyed by it all. She hadn't been able to get so much as a hint of explanation from Lieutenant Reed. The wall that had built up between them continued to keep her at a distance. It had really begun to bother her—and not just because it meant she wasn't privy to inside information.
"I wonder what the hell he was thinking," Mae said, pulling Stephanie from her musings.
"I wish I knew."
"He was an idiot to dump her."
Stephanie realized they were talking about completely different things and redirected her thoughts accordingly. "He didn't dump her," she protested, automatically defending her fellow armory ensign. "He just Never mind. He did dump her. The git." But her heart wasn't in the insult. She wasn't sure why, but she felt as badly for Ian as she did for Hoshi, possibly even more. I mean, he's a total prick sometimes, but he was definitely happier when they were together, she thought.
They jogged in silence for a while, each lost in her own thoughts.
"Maybe Ian would turn his character over to Ari," Mae said suddenly, surprising Stephanie.
"I said, maybe Ian would turn Butch over to Ari. They're best friends, bunkmates. He might do it."
Stephanie couldn't help smirking a little. "And you don't have any ulterior motive other than wanting the game to continue."
"I never said that." Mae grinned.
"It's worth a shot, but we'd still need a replacement for Hoshi."
"Or, if Ian will give over Butch, maybe Hoshi would come back to the game."
"I'd be cool with that, but it's not exactly fair to Ian."
"Ian's the one who screwed things up in the first place."
"I suppose so," Stephanie reluctantly conceded.
There was another long pause punctuated by the rhythmic pounding of their feet on the treadmills.
It was Stephanie who broke this silence. "You and Ari going to the movie tonight?" she asked.
"Planning on it, yeah. How cool is it that he's into B-movies, too?"
"Very cool. And I'm sure it's completely coincidental."
Stephanie replied too innocently, "Nothing. He's practically perfect in every way."
"He's not Mary Poppins."
"No." Stephanie shot Mae a sly glance. "I just wanted to make sure you understood at least one twentieth-century film reference that wasn't a cheesy horror flick."
"Ha, ha. You coming tonight?"
"Nope. I'm getting tired of a diet of black and white cheese."
"But it isn't tonight. It's an old Hollywood movie musical."
"I'll pass. Besides, Gamma-shift, remember? We finish here, I'm catching a shower, some dinner, and then a nap."
"What about cookies?"
"Ugh. Forgot." Stephanie thought for a moment. "Tomorrow. I'll ask Chef when I come off duty in the morning."
"Don't forget. I want cookies."
"So you'll have to run an extra kilometer?"
"So I have a reason not to die after running this kilometer."
Stephanie would have laughed if she'd had the breath to spare. As it was, she merely grunted once. Then they both upped the pace on their treadmills, and all talking ceased.
Phlox smiled as he pored over the data before him. Now that Enterprise was in orbit over the frozen world, sensors had been able to pick up some very interesting things. Several microorganisms looked promising, as did a few larger species. One arachnid had particularly captured his interest, and there were some intriguing equatorial plants he wanted to investigate. Teams would have to be sent to the planet to collect samples, but with the evidence he had he was certain the Captain would agree to the mission. Despite being confined to his cabin, Archer had left orders that he was to be kept apprised of all mission information. Since it was easier to appease him than convince him not to worry about it, Phlox had agreed to the request.
As luck would have it, his examination of Commander Tucker had shown the chief engineer to be free of the influenza virus. Phlox had been quite relieved, but he also planned to remain vigilant. He had studied a great deal of Earth's medical history and knew the damage that could be done by the illness humans innocuously called "the flu".
He glanced at the chronometer. It shone a bright green 0329. No matter Archer's wishes, Phlox couldn't possibly contact him for several hours. Phlox had ordered bed-rest, after all. It wouldn't do for him to countermand his own order.
He decided to put the intervening time to good use. He turned back to the sensor data and found four promising landing sites to back up his proposal—two for the flora he wanted, and two for the fauna. Then he downloaded the information to a datapad to be presented to the Captain when he went to check on him in the morning.
Next Phlox made certain the day's duty nurse had complete instructions for dealing with Archer while Phlox was on the planet—including advice on how to bully him into following doctor's orders even when the doctor wasn't there. He checked to see who was scheduled, and smiled at what he found. Med-tech Northfield was due in for Alpha shift. She was strong-willed and knew her job. She would have no trouble "pulling rank" on the Captain if necessary.
All this was done in less than two hours. He still had time before he could contact Archer. He contemplated running his suggested landing sites by T'Pol to get her input, but even she was unlikely to be awake at this early hour.
"I suppose I could use a break and a snack," he said to no one. His Pyrithian bat chattered in reply, and he rose and crossed sickbay to look into her cage. "You want a snack too, hmm? All right." He moved to another cage containing several small, furry mammals resembling shrews. He carefully opened the cage and deftly grabbed one of the occupants. Holding it by the scruff of its tiny neck, he secured the cage door and went back to the bat. "Here you go," he cooed, lifting the feeding door and dropping the shrew inside. There was a brief flurry of activity, and then the bat went quiet, happily gnawing its treat.
Phlox's stomach growled suddenly. "Now it's my turn for a little something." He briefly considered having one of the shrews himself—they were tasty and high in protein—but he decided he wasn't in the mood for anything furry. Instead he headed to the mess hall to see what he might find.
Cormack tried unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn as she handed over her shift report to Lieutenant Reed. "Excuse me, sir," she said.
"Difficult night?" he inquired.
"Not so much. I just get jet-lagged whenever I start a round of Gamma-shift."
"Ah." He looked at the datapad she'd given him. "Everything looks to be in order. You're relieved."
"Thank you, sir." She started to go and then hesitated, remembering her promise to Bonnie that she would speak to Malcolm. It had been weeks, and she still hadn't done it. She just didn't know where to start. "Lieutenant."
Reed had already crossed to the main control console. He turned back, surprised to hear her speak. He'd assumed she'd gone. "Yes, Ensign?"
"I " She hesitated again, not at all sure what she was going to say, but knowing she had to say something if she was going to regain his friendship. "I got the new Cordelia's Sisters album—in the big mail dump a while back. Maybe you want to listen to it sometime?"
"Yes, thanks," Reed answered, his tone a mix of formality and discomfort. "Have you downloaded it into the main computer so I can access it later?"
Cormack's heart sank. It wasn't at all the response she'd hoped for. She shook her head. "No. But I'll do that today now I know you're interested. Good-night, Lieutenant." She didn't wait for his reply. Really, what's to say? she thought morosely. She was tired and disappointed—and she still had to stop by the galley before getting some sleep. Unfortunately, cookies no longer sounded as appetizing as they had the evening before.
Reed didn't watch her go. Her voice was enough to tell him she was unhappy; he didn't need to see it in her face, too. He heard the familiar sound of the door sliding shut, and relaxed marginally. He knew what the problem was between them, and he felt bad about it.
He ignored the feeling, tucking it neatly away in a dark corner of his mind.
Reed turned to the task of monitoring the ship's defensive systems. However, orbiting an uninhabited and apparently unclaimed planet, simply monitoring wasn't enough to keep his mind occupied. It strayed back to Ensign Cormack. The disappointment in her voice when he'd turned down what had obviously been an invitation was only the most recent sign of the rift between them—a rift he knew he had caused and which he knew he would have to be the one to mend. He had rebuffed her attempts at sociability so many times now that he was surprised she even bothered to try anymore.
Hmm. What does that tell you? he asked himself. But he still wasn't able to make himself talk to her, explain to her why he had reacted the way he had to her actions during the armory fire—for that was definitely when he'd caused the break between.
He looked around the armory now. If he hadn't seen the damage with his own eyes, he would never have believed it. His team, together with Trip's engineers, had put the place back together with incredible skill and speed after the accident. He tried to wonder if he'd ever told Cormack personally how impressed he'd been with her during the repairs, but he knew he hadn't. Even if he didn't admit it aloud, he couldn't deny to himself how thoughtless he'd been. He'd commended her actions during and after the emergency in his final incident report, but unless the Captain had told her of it, she didn't know.
He probably thinks I told her...like I ought to have. Face it, Malcolm. You've not only been a poor friend, but you've left a lot to be desired as a commanding officer. He wasn't sure he could do anything about the former, but he resolved to deal with the latter. He would speak to her at the next opportunity that presented itself.
As Reed reached his decision, Cormack reached her cabin. She'd taken a quick side trip to the galley and spoken with Chef, getting the go-ahead from him to bake cookies later that week. She entered the cabin and was surprised to see her bunkmate awake and dressed in a cold-weather uniform.
"Hey," Stephanie said in greeting.
"Hi!" replied Liz enthusiastically.
"What are you doing up? I figured you'd be sleeping in." The blonde woman sat on her bunk and pulled off her boots.
"I would have been, but Phlox needs me for an away mission."
"For what? Setting up an eighteen-hole golf course over a glacier?" She rose and began to remove her uniform. Even with the nap she'd had the previous evening, she was tired after her night shift. She was looking forward to sleeping.
Liz knew her well enough not to take her sarcastic tone personally. "There are some interesting entomological finds on the planet. Ari and I are going to check them out. See if there's anything worth bringing back. I'll let you know if the place is good for snowshoeing," she joked.
"Don't freeze to death," Stephanie quipped dryly in reply.
"I'll try to remember that. See you later."
Liz left her bunkmate alone in the quiet cabin. Stephanie finished getting ready for bed, turned out the light, and climbed under the covers. It wasn't long before she was fast asleep.
Cutler met Phlox and crewman Doyle in the launch bay. Along with Ensign Fraser, who would be their pilot, they were loading collection equipment and backpacks of cold-weather supplies into Shuttlepod One. Cutler pitched in to help as Ensign Cohn emerged from the staging room with warm jackets for them all.
With the last of the gear stowed, Cohn passed around the jackets and everyone climbed into the pod.
Doyle shut the port hatch as the others got settled. Fraser took her place at the helm. She opened the comm and hailed the bridge. "Shuttlepod One ready for launch," she informed them.
"You have a go," answered Sato.
The bay doors opened and Fraser guided the pod into space.
Cutler and Cohn stood in the snow beside the shuttlepod at the foot of a frozen mountain. The air was tight with cold, and the sounds of distant, shifting glaciers reached their ears. Not a single cloud dotted the sky as the light of the early morning sun filtered over the mountain, reflecting off the unbroken layer of snow that covered the ground in all directions. It promised to be a beautiful, bitingly cold day.
Cutler adjusted her polarized goggles before reaching out a gloved hand to take the silver case Phlox held. It contained the equipment they would need to collect the various specimens on their list.
"We'll be back for you in three hours," Phlox said, his breath coming out in puffs of cloud.
Cohn nodded and resettled the pack on his back. A shiver ran through his body as a gust of icy wind passed over them. "I look forward to it."
Phlox pulled the hatch shut, and the pod lifted up off the hard-packed snow.
Left on their own, the ensigns looked around. Everything was sparkling white, from the mountain that loomed over them, to the scattered and stunted trees several meters off to their right.
Cutler scanned the trees, their twisted branches heavy with ice. She smiled. "Perfect. Let's go."
They headed out, snowshoes flapping softly with every step.
Young woke very slowly. Since being relieved of duty, he'd pretty much given up on following standard ship's time. He'd been up very late the night before, drinking by himself in one of the lesser-used observation lounges. He'd found it was a good place to go to be alone with little possibility of interruption. He was feeling the aftereffects of his binge now.
He sat up, his head vehemently protesting the motion. The blinking light on the computer indicated he had a message waiting, but he decided it could keep waiting. He doubted he could read it with his head pounding, anyway. He rose and groped his way to the lav. The light came on automatically as he entered, making him flinch and cover his eyes with one hand. His other hand fumbled for the control and turned off the light.
Continuing to feel his way, he found the medicine cabinet over the sink. Eventually, his hands landed on the bottle of painkillers he'd swiped from sickbay. He poured out the few pills that remained and swallowed them dry, trying not to gag. Need to get more of those, he thought, filling a glass with water and drinking it down. It had been easy last time. Ian had simply taken the bottle from a supply cabinet while the duty nurse was out of sight. That was the day Phlox had done a final check of his busted up hand. He flexed the hand instinctively, remembering the damage he'd done when he'd punched the mirror. Not doing that again.
He set down the glass and made his way back to his bunk, still ignoring the blinking message light. He climbed between the stale sheets and was soon asleep.
As Phlox had done earlier, Fraser handed a silver case out the pod's hatch. This time it was crewman Doyle who took it.
"Thanks," he said.
"Are you guys sure you don't need any help?" she asked. Botany was vaguely interesting to her, and it sure beat the heck out of twiddling her thumbs and waiting with the pod. Although she had to admit it was tough to beat the view. The shuttlepod currently sat on a natural stone shelf just one hundred meters from the dark blue ocean and half that distance from a lush, temperate rainforest. While the air certainly wasn't warm here on the planet's equatorial coastline, it was far more pleasant than where they'd left Cutler and Cohn—even if that snow-covered vista did remind her of home.
"No thank you, Ensign," Phlox replied. "We'll hail you if we need assistance. Otherwise, expect us back in two hours."
"All right." She handed one last piece of gear to Doyle, holding onto it until he met her gaze. "Don't bring back any poisonous orchid vines this time, okay?" she said only half-jokingly.
"You have my word, ma'am," the young man replied with sincerity.
Fraser nodded and let him go. She watched them make their way out towards the rainforest and called after them, "Watch out for Bigfoot!"
Doyle waved back in reply, and Fraser continued to watch until the two men reached the treeline. She turned away from them then and faced the ocean, zipping up her jacket against the damp breeze. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the smell of the salt water on the rocky shore. "Damn, I wish Stephanie could see this—and smell it. She'd love it." Fraser hadn't grown up near the ocean like Cormack had, so she didn't miss it the way her lover did. It made her feel a little guilty, knowing Cormack was missing out on something she would so enjoy.
The gray clouds overhead chose that moment to drop the moisture they held, and the rain began to patter down gently. Fraser took a moment to stand in the drizzle, her eyes closed and face turned up to the sky, soaking in every sensation on behalf of her lover who was stuck on Enterprise. This is for you, sweetie, she thought, imagining Stephanie by her side. She stood there for over a minute until the chill began to seep into her skin. Shaking the moisture from her auburn hair, she slipped into the shuttlepod and closed the hatch.
Aboard Enterprise, Stephanie smiled in her sleep and dreamed of rain on the beach at English Bay.
Cutler sealed two pale gray arachnids inside a specimen container, and then turned to Cohn. "That's it." She stowed the jar carefully with the others in the refrigerated case. Sealing it up securely, she set it next to the case they'd filled earlier, which rested at the base of a small tree.
He checked the datapad he held. "You're right," he confirmed. "That's everything on the list and a couple of bonus bugs." Cohn tucked the datapad into a deep pocket in one of his pant legs. Then, using one gloved hand, he angled the strap on his backpack so he could reach the tube there with his mouth. The tube connected to a hydration bladder situated inside his pack, between his shoulder blades. He took a long drink and then grimaced. "Warm."
"Better that than frozen," Cutler replied, amused.
He nodded. "I know, but I keep thinking there must be a happy medium."
"If you find one, let me know." She checked the time. "We still have most of an hour before the others are due back."
"Do you want to see if they're ready to come get us?"
Cutler looked around. The sky was a clear blue and there wasn't another sentient soul in sight. "Absolutely not."
Cohn grinned. "I was hoping you'd say that." He took a deep breath and sighed it out in a chilly puff. "You know, I don't think it's as cold as it was when we got here."
"I think you're right. This will sound strange, but it doesn't feel like my nose hairs are freezing anymore."
This time Ari laughed. "I was thinking the same thing," he admitted. "Are you hungry?"
"No, but we should probably eat, huh?"
"Yeah. It takes a lot of energy to keep warm in this sort of environment." Ari took one more swallow of water before removing his backpack. He set it down next to the two containers of chilly specimens, knelt awkwardly on his snowshoes, and rummaged in the pack for food.
While Ari dug out a snack for them, Liz moved a few steps away so he couldn't see her without turning around. Feeling playful from the combination of fresh air and sunshine, she bent down and scooped up a handful of snow, compacting it between her gloved hands. Just as Ari rose and turned to face her, she lobbed the snowball at him. It hit him squarely in the chest.
Liz laughed at his startled expression, and then quickly made another snowball and threw it at him. With energy bars in each hand, Ari had no defense but to dive out of the way, which he did just in time for the snowball to go sailing over him and smack into the stunted tree.
Continuing to laugh, Liz reached down to him and took one of the bars. Then she offered him a hand up. Ari took it and regained his footing. He brushed snow from his clothes with his empty hand. "Your aim is entirely too good," he said with good humor.
"Women's varsity baseball," she offered in explanation. "Left field."
"I never knew that."
"This is the first chance I've had to use it since we left Earth." She grinned and tucked her energy bar into a pocket. "Watch." Scooping up yet another handful of snow, she packed it carefully to roughly the size of a baseball. Looking into the widely scattered trees, she picked one far enough away to make her point. She was about to throw her snowball, but paused to remove her backpack first. Comfortably divested of the extra weight, she took aim again and threw. The snowball impacted the tree with a satisfying whomp.
Unfortunately, she'd unknowingly chosen a tree with an inhabitant, and that inhabitant wasn't pleased at being so abruptly awakened. All they saw was teeth and claws in a ball of gray fur as the animal leaped from a hollow in the tree and dashed toward them over the snow, snarling furiously.
"Run!" shouted Ari, grabbing Liz by the arm and pulling.
It was all the jumpstart the exobiologist needed. They ran, snow kicking up behind them like the wake of a hydroplane. They were out of the small forest and a good way towards the mountain when Liz stumbled and fell. It took Ari several more strides to realize he'd lost her. He turned back for her and pulled her to her feet. She started to run again, but Ari stood his ground, staring intently back along their path.
"It's stopped," he announced. Through the polarized lenses of his goggles, he could just make out the angry animal against the base of a tree at the very edge of the woods. "I think it just wants to be left alone."
"You can't be sure of that," argued Liz.
"No, but why else would it just stay there instead of coming after us?"
"Any number of reasons!" But she cautiously made her way back to stand by Ari's side.
Ari dug in a pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small pair of binoculars. Removing his goggles so they hung around his neck by their cord, he looked through the binoculars at the creature. It continued to sit there, fluffed and hissing like an angry cat. "Hopefully it'll decide we're not a threat and go back to its hollow." He handed Liz the binoculars so she could see for herself.
She peered through them. "I think you might be right. It looks like we're safe here until it goes away."
At that moment, the ground under them gave way and they plummeted into frozen darkness.
Stephanie woke abruptly, jarred into consciousness. She blinked twice. Gods, I hate those falling dreams, she thought. She stretched and rolled over, resettling the blanket over herself before drifting back to sleep.
Liz opened her eyes and blinked several times. All she could see was the rough ground on which she lay and the frozen rock face only centimeters from her face. The arm of her goggles pressed against her temple and she used one hand to pull them down. Something dug into her hip, and she wondered if she'd landed on a rock. Carefully, she pushed herself up, turned, and sat upright. Putting a hand on her sore hip, a brief flash of hysteria caused her to bark out a laugh. She hadn't landed on a rock; she'd landed on the phase-pistol she wore. Every member of the landing party had been issued with one. It was standard procedure. In the panic of the moment, she had forgotten all about it.
She took a deep breath of cold air. There was no sense fretting what was past, so she determined to focus on the present. She had lost one snowshoe, but the other was still with her. She straightened her leg and removed the shoe, wincing as it tugged on her ankle. It felt like a bad sprain, but she thanked her lucky stars it wasn't worse. A cursory check of the rest of her body found no broken bones, but she had a lot of bruises that were going to ache for days. She looked around.
Peering into the dimness around her, she realized she was in a cave. Slightly shiny streaks of ore ran through the rock walls, reflecting the little sunlight that filtered down through the ice roof and the hole through which she and Ari had fallen. "Ari!" she exclaimed as the memory hit her. It took only a moment to spot him, lying in a twisted heap just a meter away. She crawled quickly to him, every millimeter of her body protesting the movement. "Ari? Ari?"
Ari shifted minutely and groaned. Liz felt weak with relief to find he was still alive.
It was bitterly cold underground and out of the sunshine. Her breath fogged in front of her as she spoke, and the little cloud seemed to hang in the air for a long time. "Don't try to move," she advised.
"Have to," he protested weakly. "Arm...hurts."
She looked more closely. Nothing about the position in which he lay looked at all right. He'd been fortunate enough to lose both snowshoes so there hadn't been that added torque on his legs when he landed, but that was about the only good luck he'd had. From what she could see, she guessed that he'd collided with the uneven cave wall before landing on the tumble of sharp stones where he now lay. Suddenly her own straight-line plunge struck her as incredibly lucky.
His left arm was bent beneath him at a curious angle. That's broken, she thought, as she looked him up and down. I hope that's all that's broken. "Okay. Let me help." She pushed several impeding rocks away from him so there was room to move. Then she cautiously helped him roll onto his back, gingerly shifting his arm so it didn't take the weight of the movement. Ari bit back a curse at the stab of pain the movement caused. "Sorry! Sorry."
"Not...your fault," he tried to assure her. He spoke through tightly clenched teeth. "It's broken."
"I know." Even if she hadn't seen it first, she could feel it through the fabric of his sleeve.
"You have to set it," Ari ground out. He didn't need a medical scanner to know that neither bone in his forearm was where it was supposed to be. He considered it with as much analytical detachment as he could manage. "At least there's plenty of ice to keep the swelling down," he said in a weak attempt at distracting humor.
"Here." Liz took off a glove and placed it in his mouth. "Bite on that."
Ari bit down and braced himself, but it wasn't enough to stop him crying out as Liz set the bones in his arm.
Liz gingerly removed her glove from his mouth and put it back on her cold hand. "I'm so sorry." She looked around for something that might serve as a splint. Her discarded snowshoe was too damaged to be of use. Beyond that, all her searching eyes found was stone and ice. "I'm sorry. I don't see anything..."
"Datapad in my pocket. It's not much "
Liz quickly found the pad. It wasn't nearly long enough to do as proper splint, but it was better than nothing at all. She set it to one side and carefully removed Ari's goggles from around his neck. "I can't think what else to tie it with," she explained, pulling the cord from them. She repeated the process with her own so that she had two cords with which to secure the pad to his arm.
"Just do what you have to do." He didn't tell her that the broken arm was only one of his injuries. His head throbbed so much it hurt just to keep his eyes open. There was no way to be certain without proper diagnostic equipment, but he was pretty sure he'd broken a rib or two. He couldn't breathe without it hurting like a knife in his chest.
Once Liz finished securing the makeshift splint, Ari took as deep a breath as he could manage, trying to calm his racing heart. Not wanting her to inquire about any other injuries, he asked, "How long have we...?"
Liz shook her head. "I don't know. Not long, I think." She groped awkwardly in her sleeve pocket for her communicator. Let it work, she prayed silently. She flipped it open and was relieved to hear it chirrup as a comm line opened. "Cutler to Enterprise. Medical emergency."
There was a pause long enough to set her stomach churning.
She tried again, punching each word and enunciating as clearly as she could through her chattering teeth. "Enterprise, Cutler. Medical emergency. Request immediate assistance."
Silence met her plea.
"Maybe they're out of range," she said, knowing as soon as she did that the idea was ridiculous. Where else would they be? she reminded herself. "They'll have to come looking for us soon. When we don't show up or report in, Phlox and the others will notify the ship, and they'll send out search parties."
"Where are they going to look?" asked Ari. He felt uncharacteristically pessimistic. May have something to do with the fact that I'm going to die here on this frozen rock, he thought. He coughed and winced at the pain it caused.
Liz helped him to sit up and lean against the cave wall as she spoke. "They'll find our gear and the track that leads from it to where we fell through the ice." She paused and looked upward at the small hole nearly twelve meters above them. "I just hope they don't fall through, too," she added, thinking out loud. "Or bring the roof down on us."
On the bridge of Enterprise, T'Pol listened intently to Fraser's report. The transmission was staticky and she had some trouble making out everything the ensign said.
"We've been unable to contact the rest of the landing party. They didn't check in at the half hour, and they aren't at the landing site."
"Initiate a standard search pattern," T'Pol replied. "We'll try to contact them from here."
"Yes, ma'am. Shuttlepod One out."
T'Pol looked at Sato. The comm officer was already tying to hail Cutler and Cohn.
"No response on standard frequencies," Sato said in answer to T'Pol's look. "Switching to emergency."
Reed looked up from the sensors at tactical. "There's a heavy concentration of an unusual magnetic ore in the rock surrounding their proposed excursion site. It may be what's affecting communications."
T'Pol nodded in acknowledgment and took her usual station. "I'll attempt to adjust sensors to compensate," she said. Then she added to Sato, "Continue hailing."
"Do you hear something?" Liz asked. There was a strange hum in the air, but distorted as it was by the cave they were in she couldn't quite identify it.
"Sounds like a shuttlepod," said Ari raggedly. He looked up, but didn't move from where he sat. His throat was dry and he coughed, causing spasms of pain to shoot through his chest. He raised his uninjured arm and wiped his mouth. His glove came away bloody.
Liz was too preoccupied to notice. She immediately opened her communicator. "Cutler to Shuttlepod One!" There was a crackle of static, but no reply. "Bonnie, do you read me?"
"They can't hear you." Ari's chest shook with each breath, and he could hear the quiet gurgling of blood gradually filling up one of his lungs.
"Shuttlepod One, come in!" Liz continued to hail them frantically. "Please, come in!" The near panic was clear in her voice.
"Liz, stop. They're gone. Listen."
He was right. The hum of the engines no longer reverberated against the cavern walls.
"They'll come back," Liz said, trying to believe it. "They won't stop looking until they find us."
Archer would have paced if he'd had the energy. Instead, he lay limply on his bunk with Porthos by his side. Med-tech Northfield—sporting a filter mask usually reserved for mildly toxic atmospheres—had been in to check on him earlier. The medicine she'd provided reduced his fever and dulled the aches and pains throughout his body, but he was still exhausted and grumpy.
He'd contacted the bridge a short time ago, hoping to learn something interesting about the current away mission. Now he wished he could take it back. He'd learned the "interesting" news that two of his ensigns were missing, and there was nothing he could do about it.
He coughed, and his throat burned in reaction. He moaned and rolled over onto his side to find Porthos staring at him sadly. The dog gave a pathetic whine.
Archer's lips quirked in a mirthless smile. "You took the words right out of my mouth."
The glare of the sun on the snow dazzled Fraser's eyes. She found herself squinting against its brightness even through the protective pod windows. "Can one you of you guys hand me a pair of shades?"
It was Doyle who brought them to her and then returned to his seat at the sensor station. "I'm not picking up their life-signs or any open comm frequencies," he said
"Continuing standard search pattern," Fraser replied, although she had her doubts about them finding the missing ensigns that way. But it was a starting point, and they had to start somewhere.
Ian stood on the back porch of his family's ranch house. He stared out over a wide expanse of open prairie drenched in summer sunshine. Someone rested a hand on his shoulder, and he turned.
"Cody. I never expected to see you here again."
Ian sighed. "I asked you not to call me that."
"It's your name, son," his father said.
"Maybe on paper, but I told you when I was seven that I was going by my middle name from then on. What makes you think I'd change my mind?"
To Ian's surprise, his father smiled. "You're right. I should know better than to argue with you. You've got too much of your mother in you for me to ever win an argument with you."
It was then Ian noticed his mother. She sat at the small table at the far end of the porch. It was her usual fair-weather spot for doing the books, which was what she appeared to be doing now.
"You still haven't told me why you're here," his father went on.
"I could ask you the same thing, but it's my dream so I won't bother. Neither of us is really here."
"If you say so."
While they stood there in silence, a dark speck appeared on the horizon and began moving towards them.
"Friend of yours?"
Ian squinted against the sun that backlit the distant figure. "Can't tell."
They continued to stand there, watching as the person approached and gradually became clear.
Smiling, Ian waved and called out, "Ari! Hey, buddy! What's up?"
Ari reached them and smiled back. "Not a lot. I just felt like hanging out for a while." He shivered and wrapped his arms around himself. "Cold."
"Are you nuts? It's got to be twenty degrees out here. It's gorgeous. Haven't seen a day like this since we left Earth."
"You didn't have to go so far, son," his father spoke up.
Ian looked annoyed, but Ari smiled again. "You must be Mr. Young." He held out a hand, which the elder man shook. "I've heard a lot about you."
"All bad, no doubt."
"What do you expect?" snapped Ian. "I was always a disappointment to you. You couldn't expect me not to feel the same about you."
"Now isn't the time for that," his father scolded. "Now's the time to talk to your friend here. He can't stay, so you'd best make good use of the time."
"Huh?" grunted Ian, confused.
"He's right," Ari confirmed. "I can't stay. I have a couple more stops to make. I just wanted to see you first to say good-bye."
"Good-bye? What are you talking about?"
Ari shivered again and shook his head self-deprecatingly. "I can't imagine why I left my coat behind. That wasn't one of my smartest moves."
"What the hell are you talking about?" Ian repeated more insistently.
But Ari didn't answer him. Instead he looked at Ian's father. "I expect I'll see you again soon."
"I look forward to getting to know you. My son thinks very highly of you."
"Thank you, sir."
Ian woke abruptly. His head still ached, but it wasn't the nauseating throb of earlier. "That was just weird," he muttered. Too disturbed to sleep any more, he rose and turned the cabin lights on to one-quarter power. His eye caught the blinking message light, and he crossed to the computer and sat down.
"Computer, open message."
It was a text message from Ari.
Hey, Ian, it read. I'm headed down to the planet for some specimen gathering, so I won't be around for lunch like we planned. How about we make it dinner instead? And before you make some crack about me having a date with Mae, I don't tonight, so we're cool. Right? See you at 1900 hours.
For no reason Ian could think of, the note struck him as oddly sinister. Must be that freaky dream, he thought. But he couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong—something to do with his bunkmate. He nearly hailed the bridge to find out the status of the mission Ari was on, but he doubted anyone there would share the information with him. He didn't hold much credibility at the moment.
Maybe I should go see Doctor Douglas. The thought was a fleeting one. Although his limited experience with Douglas had been okay, he'd never liked shrinks and balked at going to see one voluntarily.
Damn it! He'd only ever felt comfortable talking to three people on board. Ari was the first. The next was Hoshi, but she was out of the question for a number of reasons. The only other person he might be able to talk to was Cormack. They certainly weren't close, but they did have some rather significant things in common. He was sure she would at least listen to him, and there was an outside chance she might even believe him when he said he thought there was something wrong with Ari.
As quickly as he could, he washed up. Then he changed his pajamas for a clean uniform—the first time he'd worn the blue coveralls in quite some time—and left the cabin.
"Ari? Ari, wake up!" Liz's tone was sharp.
"Tired," he protested weakly.
"I know you're tired, but I need you to stay awake." She patted his cheek with her hand, trying to rouse him without hurting him. Her efforts had mixed results. Ari winced, and his eyes fluttered open. "Sorry," said Liz. "You've got to try to stay awake. You're in shock and you have a concussion."
"You find a...medical scanner...somewhere?" he joked lamely.
"I don't need one to know your pupils aren't reacting properly, or to see the huge bump on your head." In fact it was more than a bump. She could see where blood had coagulated and matted the hair behind his right ear. She just didn't think it would be helpful to tell him that. "Here." She dug into her coat pocket for the energy bar he'd given her earlier. "You need to eat something to keep up your strength until we get out of here," she went on as she unwrapped the bar clumsily. Even through the insulated gloves, her fingers were chilled. Liz had experimented with trying to heat some stones with her phase-pistol, but she'd had minimal success. A shot on the kill setting exploded the first stone, scattering gravel like shrapnel. While a long burst on the stun setting warmed the rocks, the warmth never lasted long enough to take the chill out of the air. The power cell in her own weapon was already nearly depleted from trying; she saw no point in emptying it in a useless cause. "You eat some of this, and then I'll see if I can climb out of here."
"What about your ankle?"
She shrugged. "Would you rather try?"
His mind was fuzzy with the cold, but he thought seriously before responding. "No."
Liz broke off a bite-sized portion of the energy bar and offered it to Ari.
"No," he repeated.
"I'm not hungry."
"You don't have to be hungry. You just have to eat. You said yourself that it takes energy to keep warm."
He closed his eyes again, and shook his head minutely. "Thirsty."
"Yeah, well..." Liz looked at the ice that surrounded them. There were plenty of smallish chunks scattered around, dislodged by their fall. "Let me see what I can do." Without rising from his side, she searched the nearby ground for pieces small enough to suck on. She found several and picked them up, brushing dirt from one. "Here." She turned back to Ari with it. "Open up."
Ari didn't move.
"Ari? Come on. Don't do this. Wake up." Her voice grew more panicked when he still didn't respond. "Ari, wake up!" She dropped the ice chips and pulled off her gloves. With cold, shaking fingers she felt his neck for a pulse. "Come on, come on. It has to be there. It has to be there!"
Stephanie shivered and pulled the covers more tightly around her. A dream about skiing naked in Siberia had woken her, and the residual chill of the dream still clung to her. She shivered again. "This is stupid," she muttered. Now that she was awake, she knew there would be no sleeping again until she warmed up.
She sat up, reached across the small cabin, and grasped Liz's blanket. Pulling it from the other bunk, she draped it over her own and snuggled in again. When several minutes passed and the chill didn't go away, she began to wonder if it was more than just her subconscious messing with her.
She rose and crossed to the comm panel, finding it by habit and the dim light reflecting off the sliver of planet visible outside the window. "Cormack to Engineering."
Crewman Kelly answered her hail. "Engineering. What can I do for you, Ensign?"
"Is there a problem with environmental controls on E-deck, crew quarters?"
"Just a moment." There was a pause. "No, ma'am. Internal sensors show everything is normal."
"Thanks." Stephanie closed the line. She put a hand to her forehead, wondering if she'd somehow come down with something and was running a fever. "That never works," she said to herself, lowering the hand again. She could never tell if her forehead was hot or if her hand was just cold. I'm up now, she thought. I should go to sickbay and find out what's wrong. But she didn't move. The last place on the ship she ever wanted to go was sickbay. So she hesitated, hoping another possibility would suggest itself.
The door chimed, startling her. That's unexpected but fortuitous. She glanced at the chronometer and wondered who could be standing on her doorstep in the middle of Alpha-shift.
"Hang on," she muttered, not really intending the unknown visitor to hear her. Raising the cabin lights to half, she opened the door. She was surprised to see Ian standing there, an oddly haunted look in his pale eyes. "Ian? What are you doing here?" she asked, all tact lost from lack of sleep.
"Can I come in?" he asked without preamble.
She frowned in puzzlement, but moved aside so he could enter the room. "What's up?"
He paced the narrow strip of floor between the bunks. On the way to her cabin he'd tried to think where to begin the conversation. He still had no idea, so he plunged in at random. "You ever have dreams you think are real?"
"Okay, not so much real, but like they could be real?"
"What do you mean?" Stephanie sat on the end of Liz's bunk and watched him pace.
Ian felt like an idiot and already regretted having come there. He took a moment to settle his rattling nerves, reminding himself that of all the people currently on board, Cormack was the only one he had any faith would believe him. "Like they're trying to tell you something. Something bad."
Stephanie's face went very still. "Why do you want to know that?"
Ian stopped in his tracks and stared at her. His gamble had paid off. "You have."
"Once or twice," she hedged. "Why?"
"Something's wrong down on the planet. Something with Ari."
"You dreamed it?"
Ian quickly summarized his dream, leaving out the little things he didn't want to share and that didn't seem directly relevant to the situation.
Once he'd finished, Stephanie asked, "Have you ever had a dream like that before?"
"That's a plus." She pulled the blankets tighter around herself. "Is it cold in here, or is it just me?"
"It's just you."
"Damn." She definitely needed to go to sickbay, but it would have to wait. "We need to find out what's going on."
"What else do you suggest?" argued Stephanie. "If you have another idea, I'm happy to hear it."
"I don't want anyone else knowing about that dream," Ian insisted.
"I'm not going to tell anyone about it, but I'm not going to ignore it either." She paused and then tried to explain. "If it was just you, I'd figure it was only a dream. But I've been having some really vivid dreams this morning, too, and now I'm freezing in a room that's the same temperature it always is. Now what does that tell you?"
"Maybe you're sick."
"Maybe. Or maybe Liz and Ari are freezing to death."
Ian glared at her as he digested this new information. "You said you've had dreams like mine."
She fixed him with a cold, even stare. "Yeah. And one of those times, my dad died."
After another tense silence, he relented. "All right. But I still think you're just sick."
"I hope you're right. I'll find out after we talk to the Captain." Stephanie stood and once more crossed to the comm panel. "Cormack to Bridge, please respond."
To her surprise, it was T'Pol who replied. "What is it, Ensign?"
"This may sound odd, Sub-commander, but has something happened to the landing party?"
There was sudden silence on the other end of the line. It was brief but telling. She didn't need to hear an answer to know she was right. "They need to get back to the ship as soon as possible."
To her credit, T'Pol didn't ask how she knew it. "We're working on that now, but so far we've been unable to locate Ensigns Cutler and Cohn."
Stephanie and Ian exchanged a look at this new bit of information. "I think someone might have an idea about that," Stephanie said. "Is the Captain there?"
"Captain Archer is ill and confined to his quarters. What do you need, Ensign?" T'Pol answered evenly.
Stephanie winced a little at her tone. She found it hard to believe the Vulcan woman wasn't offended by her query. "Request permission for Ensign Young and me to join you in the Situation Room."
"As soon as possible," agreed T'Pol, and closed the comm.
Ian immediately protested. "I'm not doing this."
"You want to find Ari?" Stephanie countered.
"That's a stupid question."
"Then stop whining and deal."
Ari looked around, mildly surprised to find himself standing on the upper level of Enterprise's engine room. I must be dreaming again, he thought. It's so warm here. Much warmer than Ian's family's ranch.
He walked down the stairs to the main level. No one so much as glanced at him, which simply strengthened his belief that it was all a dream. He walked up beside the main reactor and placed a hand on its surface. Warm. He smiled.
It was Mae.
"What are you doing here?" She looked at him, perplexed but not displeased.
"Mae," he said, cherishing her name. "I'll miss you."
"You'll...what?" Now she frowned. "Where am I going?"
He chuckled. "You can always make me laugh."
"Great, but what do you mean—?"
"I love the way you make me feel," he went on, saying things in his dream that he'd been too afraid to say in reality. "I love you. Good-bye."
Mae was dumbfounded. "You—? Good—?" Mae closed her eyes for a brief moment, trying to get a handle on what was going on. When she opened them again, Ari had disappeared. "What the hell?" She looked around, caught crewman Kumata's eye. "Did you see where Ensign Cohn went?" she asked him. The man shook his head.
The main door opened at that moment and Lieutenant Hess entered. Mae approached her. "Lieutenant, did you see Ensign Cohn just now?"
"Didn't he just pass you in the corridor?"
Hess looked at her in puzzlement. "No."
"But he must have. Where else would he have gone?"
"I can't help you, Ensign. I didn't see him."
Mae turned to Kumata who still stood nearby—although his stance clearly indicated he wished to be anywhere else. "You saw him, right?"
Kumata shook his head again. "Sorry, ma'am, but I didn't see anyone."
"How could you miss him? He was just here. I talked to him. He didn't make a lot of sense, but we talked."
"Are you feeling okay, Ensign?" Hess asked solicitously. "You could be coming down with the same bug that got Captain Archer."
Mae was stymied. "Maybe "
"Why don't you take a break? You've been working hard "
"I'm not crazy, and I don't think I'm sick. But I will take a break. Maybe get a cup of coffee or something. I'll be right back."
"Take your time," Hess said. "And stop by sickbay just to be sure." It was more an order than a suggestion.
"I will," agreed Mae, as if it were her own idea. She walked purposefully out of Engineering.
Shuttlepod One finished their search of the ten square kilometer area around the original landing site. "Search pattern completed," Fraser informed Enterprise. "No sign of Cutler and Cohn." She was surprised to hear Archer reply.
"Keep looking," he ordered, his voice rough from coughing. He was miserably ill, but that hadn't stopped him wrangling updates from his bridge staff. He was determined to command during this crisis, even if he had to do it from his sickbed. "Open the windows and use binoculars if you have to."
Fraser turned to Doyle at the sensor station. "Break out the binoculars." As he went to get them, she looked forward again and went on. "I suggest one of you take port and the other starboard. I'll monitor the sensors—for all the good it'll do, what with all the magnetic crap I'm picking up—and keep my eyes peeled up front." She began another search pattern, this time from an altitude so low they barely needed the binoculars at all.
T'Pol, Cormack, and Young stood around the large table in the Situation Room. Cormack had traded her pajamas for the warmest clothes in her locker, and she still retained the two blankets wrapped around her. The layers didn't stop her shivering. T'Pol looked at her inquisitively.
"I'm headed to sickbay after this, I swear," Cormack said.
"See that you are," T'Pol replied, and then turned to the matter at hand. "You say you have an idea on how to find Ensigns Cutler and Cohn."
"I don't, but Ensign Young does."
The Sub-commander turned to him. "Ensign?"
"I don't know where they are," he protested.
"What do you know?"
"He knows that Ensign Cohn is hurt," offered Cormack.
Young glared at her angrily. "I don't know know." At T'Pol's pointed look, he added, "But I believe it, ma'am."
"Why?" T'Pol asked.
"I had a vision." He barely managed to stop himself from saying "dream". Somehow he felt that a vision might carry more weight than a mere dream, as melodramatic as it sounded even to his own ears. When T'Pol said nothing, he went on. "Ari was there. He said he was cold, even though in the d—vision it was the middle of summer. Then he said he wanted to say good-bye. And my father said he looked forward to getting to know him. Ma'am " He looked at her intently. " my father's been dead for over fifteen years."
T'Pol took this information in with her usual impassivity. "I see. Do you believe you may be able to contact Ensign Cohn again?"
"I Maybe, but I don't know how. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before."
The Sub-commander was silent for a moment, an inscrutable expression on her face as she thought. "I have an idea."
"This is pointless," said Young for the fifth time in as many minutes.
"That's not an attitude that will help us," T'Pol replied.
The pair sat opposite one another on the floor of the Sub-commander's quarters. A small altar stood between them, atop which was a single lit pillar candle.
"Calm your thoughts. Concentrate on the flame," she said. "Focus your eyes on it, and allow your mind to follow."
Young stared for several seconds before letting out a frustrated sigh nearly heavy enough to blow out the flame. "This won't work. I'm not psychic. We're just wasting time!"
"You're correct. You are wasting time. If you wish to accomplish anything, you must focus."
Young glared, but said nothing. In his heart he knew this might be the only chance Ari and Liz had, but his brain kept protesting that staring at a candle while his best friend was probably dying was just plain stupid. "Cormack should be doing this. Not me. She's the one who has dreams that come true."
T'Pol was surprised. This wasn't something she'd heard of before. In the here and now, however, it was irrelevant. "The vision of Ensign Cohn is yours. Now, focus on the flame." She was done explaining and would tolerate no more delays.
Young once more turned his gaze to the candle.
"Focus on the point at the very center of the flame," T'Pol instructed. "Let go of your preconceptions and inhibitions. Relax."
It was as if something clicked inside Young's head. He felt suddenly relaxed and alert at once. The room around him receded and his vision tunneled so that he saw neither T'Pol on the other side of the altar, nor the altar itself. The world of his perceptions narrowed to include only the flame, and then narrowed further to its dark center. He knew T'Pol was speaking, but her words became nothing more than a gentle drone, and then nothing.
The world expanded again slowly. The darkness opened up to reveal a cave, dimly lit and so cold it made his bones ache. He saw it all in an instant—the stone walls with their threads of ore; the ice roof with the hole no bigger than a meter or two across; Ari's too-still form seated on the ground; Liz standing awkwardly on one foot, trying to find handholds in the frozen rock. It looked like she was crying.
Young started violently and looked around, disconcerted to find himself back in T'Pol's quarters.
"What is it?" she asked immediately.
"Do you know where he is?"
"Yeah. I think so. They're in a cave underground."
T'Pol blew out the candle and rose smoothly to her feet. Young stood quickly and followed her into the corridor.
"That would explain why our sensors have been unable to pinpoint them," she said. "The rock of that cave likely contains high concentrations of magnetic ore. Do you know where the cave is?"
Young had begun to feel hopeful, but now his heart sank. "No. Not a damn clue ma'am."
"Never mind." They reached the turbolift and rode it to the bridge. Almost before the door opened, T'Pol spoke to Sato. "Hail Shuttlepod One."
It felt like they'd been searching for days.
"Can you see anything?" Doyle asked in frustration. He peered out the starboard hatch's port, binoculars pressed against the transparent aluminum.
Phlox was similarly engaged on the opposite side of the pod. "No."
"T'Pol to Shuttlepod One." The voice through the comm startled them all.
"Go ahead, Sub-commander," Fraser replied.
"Alter your course to one-five-nine mark eight."
Fraser complied, but said, "That will take us back to the rendezvous point."
"That's correct. I believe the ensigns are within no more than a kilometer of where you expected them to be."
Fraser was still doubtful. "We've searched that area twice."
"And you'll search it again. This time look for their gear rather than them."
The comm closed abruptly.
"I think I pissed her off," muttered Fraser to no one in particular. Moments later she said, "We're over the site now. Anything?"
"I've got something!" Doyle exclaimed almost instantly. "To starboard."
"Hang on." She veered sharply to starboard. "Where?"
He joined her at the bow and pointed to what at first looked like a lump of rocks at the base of a tree. "There's their equipment."
Phlox joined them and raised his binoculars. "You're quite right. And look. There's a trail leading away from it." The disturbance in the snow was practically invisible. Only the angle of the pod combined with the angle of the sun had made it clear.
"I see it, but " Fraser banked slightly port, following the path in the snow. "It just stops. Oh this is so not good." She immediately hailed Enterprise. "We've found something. A trail in the snow leading away from the excursion site. But it stops in the middle of nowhere. I think there's a good chance they've fallen through a fissure in the ice." Growing up in Inuvik she'd heard of similar incidents—even among more experience glacier hikers, which Cohn and Cutler weren't. Why the hell did they leave their designated research area? she wondered worriedly. And without their gear?
T'Pol spoke up quickly. "I agree with your assessment, Ensign. Detailed scans indicate the area is riddled with sinkholes. Hold your position and stand by for further orders. Under no circumstances are you to land the pod."
"Understood," Fraser replied and closed the comm. "Not even if you ordered me to," she added to herself.
Aboard Enterprise, T'Pol looked across the bridge to Commander Tucker, who sat at the science station. "Are you having any more success with the sensor modifications?"
"Some," he answered. "But I'm not making any promises. We're lucky you and Hoshi got the comms cleaned up the little you did. I've never seen magnetic interference patterns like this before. Screening them out of the sensors is gonna be tricky."
She joined him and the two worked together in silence. Suddenly, Tucker exclaimed, "I got 'em. Two life-signs. Both faint and intermittent."
"You and Lieutenant Reed get to the transporter chamber," T'Pol ordered. "I'll continue trying to refine the sensor data."
Reed and Tucker were at the turbolift before she had finished speaking.
"Ma'am!" It was Young. He had been watching the action from the back of the bridge, waiting for an opportunity to help. "Request permission—"
"Go," T'Pol said.
He needed no further urging. He joined Reed and Tucker in the lift, and the three were whisked away.
Several tense, silent moments passed. The comm chirped, the sound ominous and urgent.
"T'Pol, you having any luck with that data?" came Tucker's query.
"I'm unable to refine the sensors further."
"Damn! That magnetic ore is playing holy hell with the transporter systems. We can't get a lock. We're not gonna get them out this way."
"Then we'll have to try something else," T'Pol replied. "Lieutenant Reed?"
"Go ahead," answered Reed.
"Who among your team has alpine rescue training?"
At the sound of the sickbay door opening, Lawless and Northfield looked over to see who had arrived.
"Ensign Cormack," the med-tech said, "what's the trouble?"
"I'm freezing," Cormack answered, taking a seat on an unoccupied biobed and pulling her blankets close. "I think I'm sick."
"Any other symptoms?"
Northfield began her examination as Cormack looked over at Lawless. "What are you doing here?"
"Apparently I'm here going nuts," her friend answered. "Turns out I'm not sick, so I must be seeing things."
"What are you talking about?"
Lawless gave her a brief run-down of the bizarre conversation she'd had with Ari in Engineering. When she'd finished, Cormack just stared at her.
"What?" demanded Lawless after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
"Ari's not on board."
"Mae, he's still down on the planet somewhere."
Northfield interrupted. "I'm not reading anything unusual. Let's move you to the diagnostic table and see what we can find out."
"Oo, my favorite thing," Cormack replied so dryly the words almost crackled. But she acquiesced and allowed herself to be rolled into the medical scanner. When she emerged moments later, Lawless picked up their conversation as if there had been no pause at all.
"What do you mean by 'somewhere'?"
"He and Liz are missing." Cormack went on to explain the situation. Lawless's face grew paler with each new revelation.
"God damn!" she exclaimed finally. "And no one bothered to come tell me this?"
"I guess everyone's so caught up trying to find them that no one thought of it." Cormack's eyes widened in sudden realization. "I bet Travis doesn't know, either."
"You're fine," Northfield announced, once more breaking into their conversation.
"What do you mean?" demanded Cormack. "I'm freezing! I must have a fever or something."
"The Captain has the flu," Lawless commented.
"You're fine," repeated Northfield. "There's nothing wrong with you."
"Except the fact that I'm so cold I want to curl up in a little ball wrapped around a flaming log."
"I don't know what to tell you, Ensign." Northfield looked apologetic and yet adamant. "Perhaps when Doctor Phlox returns he'll be able to tell you more, but for now I can only suggest you bundle up."
Cormack gave her one of her most annoyed looks. "Like I'm not already," she snarked.
"Enough!" exclaimed Lawless. "You're cold. Grab another blanket. Meanwhile Ari's who-knows-where and probably freezing to death!"
Cormack shoved aside her own petty frustrations. "You're right. He and Liz both. And there's nothing we can do about it."
Reed had a rescue plan formulated before he even determined who would accompany him on it. He quickly ran the plan past T'Pol and Tucker, both of whom supported it. Probably more because they can't come up with a better one than because it's a wise plan, he thought. It didn't matter. It was the only plan they had.
Tucker was already engaged in making the necessary modifications to Shuttlepod Two. Now all Reed had to do was assemble his team. He sat at his station on the bridge and called up the profiles of the armory crew, sorted by alpine rescue experience. He was momentarily taken aback to see that the first name that came up was Ensign Young. Young had volunteered for the mission the moment he heard T'Pol's order, but Reed wanted to examine his options before including someone whom the Captain still hadn't cleared for duty. Reviewing his file now, Reed saw that Young did indeed have the greatest level of alpine training of all his staff—just as he'd claimed only minutes ago.
To hell with it, Reed said to himself and marked Young for the mission. At that moment, skill was more important than regulations. Lives were at stake.
Next on the list was Cormack. While not as experienced as Young, her training was extensive. She would likely need to be woken, having come off Gamma-shift that morning. But did he want someone who wasn't necessarily one-hundred percent alert? Before making a decision, he queried the computer for her location. He was surprised to see she wasn't in her quarters, but in sickbay. He frowned, concerned. He knew she hated sickbay. If she was there, it had to be for a good reason. That decided him. If there was even a possibility she wasn't feeling well, he didn't want her out there risking her life and others'.
Whom do I have left? The answer was immediately apparent: crewman Griffith. Right. Now I just need Mayweather.
Liz's attempt to climb out of the cave had been met with failure. Even fully healthy, she doubted she could have made it out without proper climbing gear. She silently cursed herself for the snowball that had landed them in this situation. If I hadn't been showing off, none of this would ever have happened.
Since then, she had put her energy into keeping Ari alive. She sat next to him and held the unconscious man to her for warmth. She talked constantly to him, hoping he would hear her words and hang on until help arrived. Her voice was rough with stress and cold. "You hear the shuttlepod up there? They're coming to get us out." In fact she believed she was imagining the sound of the pod above them, but she clung to her dream as the only possible reality. If it wasn't true, she and Ari would soon be dead.
"They'll be here any minute. They'll take us back to Enterprise where it's warm and safe. You know what I'm looking forward to the most? Hot chocolate." She began to paint the scene with her words. "I'm going to have a big mug of hot chocolate with a pile of whipped cream so tall it almost falls over. But I manage to catch it before it does, and I slurp it down. And then I sip the chocolate that gets richer and richer as the whipped cream melts into it. Doesn't that sound good? Hmm?" She looked at Ari's pale face, and gently wiped a smudge of grit from his cold, slack cheek. "Hang on, Ari." Her voice carried a quiet urgency that contrasted starkly against the soothing, almost lyrical tone she had used up to now. "We're so close. Just hang on."
Reed, Young, Griffith, and Mayweather, all dressed in winter gear, settled themselves and their equipment into Shuttlepod Two. Reed was the last inside, sealing the hatch as he spoke. "You have the coordinates?"
"Yes, sir," Mayweather replied, taking his seat at the pod's helm. His voice betrayed none of the tension in his gut. He had taken the news about the current situation with outward calm. No one knew that inside his heart raced with worry.
T'Pol's voice came through the comm. "Launch when ready."
Mayweather glanced at his passengers. They were ready enough. "Launching now." The bay doors opened and he guided the pod out.
Reed finished briefing his team on the situation. "Fraser has located the sinkhole where we believe the missing ensigns are. We can't land, and there's no guarantee that even if we were to hike into the spot we wouldn't end up in the same situation. The area is only going to get more unstable as the day warms, and waiting for it to freeze again is not an option."
"How do we get them out, then?" Griffith asked, beating Young to the question.
"We're going to try something rather tricky."
As the Lieutenant went on to explain the plan, Young decided "rather tricky" was one hell of an understatement.
"Coming up on Shuttlepod One," Mayweather announced.
Reed looked at his team. "Prepare to move out."
Mayweather opened a line to the other pod. "Shuttlepod One, you're clear to return to Enterprise."
"Understood," answered Fraser. "Good luck." Her mind was crowded with all sorts of things she wanted to say, but she kept them to herself. She had to have faith that Lieutenant Reed and his team knew what they were doing. There's nothing more you can do here, she told herself firmly. Just get Phlox to the ship so he can be ready when they bring back Liz and Ari. She banked the little pod to starboard and pointed its nose toward space.
The four men in Shuttlepod Two didn't watch its departure. Reed took the co-pilot's seat and Griffith sat at the sensor station while Mayweather carefully maneuvered the pod into position above the sinkhole. Left alone in the back, Young gave their gear one final check.
"Thanks for trying."
Young looked up, startled. There, sitting directly across from him, was his best friend and bunkmate. "Ari?"
"All this." Ari gestured at the pod, the gear. "I appreciate the effort." He smiled a little coyly. "You can be one hell of a prick sometimes, but you've also been one hell of a friend."
"You're not here," said Young firmly.
Reed glanced back at him. "Is there a problem, Ensign?"
Young looked at his C.O. "Sir, it's–" He looked quickly back at Ari, only to find him gone. He paused. It was bad enough he'd had to undergo that candle thing with T'Pol. He didn't need to compound the weirdness by telling the Lieutenant what he'd just seen. He'll think I've finally gone off the deep end. "No, sir. No problem."
"Then get hooked up. We're in position." Reed rose and opened the port hatch. The warm air in the shuttle whooshed out, creating a cloud of fog that soon dispersed in the gusting wind.
Before they'd left Enterprise, Commander Tucker had bolted a winch to the pod's deckplating just inside the hatch. Attached to it and currently dangling out the open hatch were climbing ropes. It was a dangerous proposition, rappelling in sub-zero temperatures. Lieutenant Reed's plan was even more treacherous.
Young looked outside and down toward the planet's surface. The pod hovered several meters above the ground, painstakingly aligned with the sinkhole where Cohn and Cutler were trapped. It was Mayweather's job to hold the pod in position while Reed and Young made the rescue. Griffith would man the lines and haul them up once they had the others.
At least that was the plan. Young had his doubts about its potential success, but he was determined to do everything he could to get his friends out of there.
He and Reed locked onto the lines, checking and rechecking the connections.
"Ready?" the Lieutenant asked. Young nodded in mute confirmation. "Let's go."
Phlox, Doyle, and Fraser cleared the bioscans with suspicious swiftness, but knowing the seriousness of the situation no one questioned it. Leaving the others behind, Phlox raced to sickbay. He knew only what T'Pol had told him about Young's vision of the missing ensigns. He had limited time to prepare, and he had to be ready for the worst. He didn't bother even to entertain the thought that Reed's team wouldn't get them out. It was simply an unacceptable scenario.
Before the door had closed behind him, he called out to med-tech Northfield. "Prep a station for emergency surgery!"
"Yes, Doctor." She immediately set to work.
Phlox moved swiftly. He called up Cohn's medical history on the computer, refreshing his memory of any salient points. That complete, he looked up and froze.
Ensign Cohn stood in the middle of sickbay, not two meters away from him.
"Ensign?" Phlox said, knowing it was impossible.
"I just wanted to see you before I leave," Ari said.
Phlox moved toward him, reached out a hand. It passed through the young man. "You're not here."
"No?" He glanced down at himself. "I guess not."
"Ari, listen to me. You need to go back to where you're supposed to be."
"I don't want to." Ari shook his head sharply. "It's cold there, and it's painful. Very painful."
"I understand that, but you have to go back. If you don't, I can't help you. You want my help, don't you?"
Ari paused, and then nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Then go back and wait for Lieutenant Reed. You won't have to wait long."
Ari's voice was small, childlike in his need for reassurance. "Are you sure? It's really bad back there."
"I promise you it won't be long."
Ari vanished and Phlox heaved a sigh. He spoke softly to the air. "Don't make me a liar, Lieutenant."
Ari opened his eyes, but it took several moments for his muddled brain to make sense of anything he saw. "Ian?" he rasped.
Ian looked down at him in surprise and continued to secure him to the metal-framed mesh stretcher that would carry him out of the cave. "Right here, buddy."
"Save it for later, eh?" His tone was short, intent as he was on getting his best friend safely out. Inwardly he grinned and his heart leapt to see Ari awake and reasonably alert. He stood directly below the hole in the ice ceiling and spoke clearly into his communicator. "Young to Pod Two, I'm ready to bring Cohn out."
"Understood," Griffith answered.
Young and Cohn began to rise as their lines slowly winched up.
Reed finished securing Cutler to his own line as she watched the others go, waiting for her turn to be drawn up and into the safety of the shuttlepod.
"I didn't think you'd find us," she said to the Lieutenant, as Ari and Ian disappeared from sight. She looked at Reed who held her upright, supporting her weight to protect her injured ankle. "Sometimes it's really great to be wrong."
Mae sat in the mess hall, a mug of coffee in her hands. Over two hours had passed since Liz and Ari's rescue from their frozen prison, and she'd heard nothing about either of them.
Stephanie sat across the table from her, no longer bundled in her blankets and sweaters. Ever since Reed's team's return to Enterprise she'd no longer felt the bitter, biting cold that had gripped her all day. She only hoped no one else had noticed the correlation. She didn't want to have to explain it; it was disturbing enough coming to terms with it herself. "Can I get you another cup of coffee?" she asked Mae, breaking the heavy silence that surrounded them.
The door opened, and they looked up anxiously.
"Travis," called Stephanie, waving him over. "Any word?"
He pulled up a chair and sat down. "Liz was released an hour ago. She's resting now. I came to get her a mug of hot chocolate, so I can't stay long."
"What about Ari?" Mae asked, not entirely sure she was ready for the answer.
"Still in surgery last I heard," Travis answered. "I'm sorry." He rose again and went to get the promised cocoa.
The ensigns in the mess hall were unaware that their concern was echoed by an isolated figure, alone but for a small dog.
"Any word?" Archer asked through the comm. He coughed harshly, and Porthos whined in sympathy.
"Negative," replied T'Pol from the bridge. "I will contact you as soon as I know anything," she reminded him.
"Understood. Archer out." He closed the line and sat on the bed next to Porthos, fondling the dog's ears affectionately.
He was annoyed that no one had consulted him over the rescue plan, but he had to admit—even if he never admitted it out loud—that he could have been of no help in the situation. Even healthy, he wouldn't have felt entirely confident in his own ability to do what Reed and his team had done. He knew it was just the flu making him petulant, but it still rankled.
Jon sighed and laid back on his bunk, pulling the tumbled covers over himself. Porthos barked once at the disruption, and then settled down on the other side of the bed.
"Guess I'd just better get over it," he said to the beagle.
Porthos barked once more and laid his head on his paws.
"That's what I thought you'd say."
Several anxious hours later, Mae stood at Ari's bedside. His face was still terribly pale, but Phlox assured her that he would make a full recovery in time.
"You're welcome to stay," the doctor went on in a quiet voice. "But it will be some time before he wakes from the anesthetic."
"That's okay," Mae said softly. "I'm not going to stay long."
Phlox nodded and left her alone, pulling the curtain around the recovery area as he went.
Mae sat heavily in the single chair. She rested her elbows on her lap and her chin on her balled fists. She'd already cried out her relief. Now she simply watched with reddened eyes the gentle rise and fall of Ari's breathing, aided as it was by tubes and instruments she didn't begin to understand.
"What am I going to do?" she asked the sleeping figure. "Your job's supposed to be safe. You help save lives; you don't risk your own. Now this. I know it wasn't on purpose, but There's a reason I don't date security personnel, you know? I don't know if I can deal. I have to think. You understand, right?"
Of course, Ari didn't move. Not even an eyelid flickered in response to her words.
Mae rose heavily to her feet. Placing a tender, feather-soft kiss on his cheek, she whispered, "I love you, too." The she turned and left, the curtain falling shut behind her with a soft whisper of fabric.
Bonnie rang the chime to Stephanie's cabin promptly at 2030 hours. The door opened instantly. "Hey," she said, grinning. "Ready for dinner?"
"You call it dinner; I call it breakfast," quipped Stephanie.
"You can call it high tea, second breakfast, or a midnight snack for all I care. I'm just glad we get to eat it together."
They linked arms and headed toward the mess hall. Two days had passed since the rescue of Liz and Ari, and between debriefings and conflicting duty schedules this was the first opportunity they'd had to see one another.
"I hate working opposing schedules," groused Stephanie.
"It's not forever."
"No, just the rest of the month. At least it's a short month."
Bonnie peeked at her out of the corner of her eye. "You're cute when you pout."
Her words made Stephanie smile. "I can't pout when you say things like that," she jokingly protested.
They reached their destination and went inside. There were maybe a dozen other people scattered around at the tables. Most looked like they were finishing meals rather than starting them.
Stephanie didn't hesitate to get herself a double tall latté. Bonnie went for a more sedate glass of iced mint tea. That decided, they headed to the food.
"Oo! Cookies!" exclaimed Bonnie. She picked up one and took a bite. "Mmmm! These are fabulous!"
"You think?" Stephanie felt a surge of pleasure at the praise.
"Did you make them?"
The blonde woman nodded, grinning.
Bonnie kissed her cheek, leaving a smudge of chocolate behind. She laughed and wiped it off with her fingers. "When did you have time?"
"After shift this morning. I set it up with Chef a couple of days ago."
Bonnie finished the cookie and snagged another before loading up a plate with spinach salad and a small steak. Stephanie—true to her Gamma-shift schedule—chose a stack of French toast and a side of bacon.
"You never eat like that when it's actually breakfast time," Bonnie commented.
"I've been up for a while this time. Morning is too early to eat properly."
They proceeded to a table in the farthest corner of the room and sat down.
Bonnie took a sip of tea. "So," she began, "how are you? I've hardly seen you since the new shift rotation started. I miss you."
"I miss you, too." Stephanie looked at her adoringly, and Bonnie blushed.
"Sorry," replied her lover unapologetically. "Tell me about the mission the other day." She smothered her French toast in butter and powdered sugar, and began to slice it up.
"It started out great. You would have loved the place where I waited for Phlox and Doyle. Ocean beach, salt-smell in the air, drizzling rain. It was exactly your kind of place." Bonnie grinned and Stephanie couldn't help but grin back.
"I can imagine." Then Stephanie's expression grew more serious. "What about the rest of it?"
Bonnie's face also grew grim. "The rest of it was insane and awful. I wish I wish a lot of things about that day. Mostly that it hadn't happened. I'm just glad everyone's all right."
"Mm-hmm," agreed Stephanie around a mouthful of toast.
"What about you? Mae said something about you getting sick?"
Stephanie washed down the bite with a swallow of her latté before answering. "Not exactly. I just got cold and couldn't get warm."
"Are you okay? Do you know what it was?" When Stephanie gave no reply, Bonnie looked at her quizzically. "What am I missing?"
"You won't tell anyone, right?"
"Not even once I know anything worth telling," pledged Bonnie.
Stephanie looked around before going on. When she was certain no one was within earshot, she said, "I'm pretty sure my chill coincided with Liz and Ari being stuck in that ice cave."
"Are you serious?"
"Unfortunately. I checked the times in the mission reports. And I had some really vivid dreams that morning—one of which included falling." She looked at her lover pointedly, and Bonnie's eyes widened at her implication. "I woke up again later, and for the life of me I couldn't get warm."
"That's wild." The helmsman took a bite of salad and considered this new information. "What are you going to do?"
Stephanie's answer was quiet but emphatic. "Nothing."
"But why not?"
"I've had stuff like this happen all my life and, frankly, little good has ever come of it." Her tone was bitter. "I'd rather just forget all about it."
Bonnie was dubious of this choice, but decided to save it for another time. "So that's why you weren't on the rescue team—because you had that chill."
"Your tone suggests otherwise," challenged Stephanie. She'd heard the note of suspicion in Bonnie's voice, and she had an idea what it meant.
Bonnie tried to shrug it off, but she couldn't resist getting in a dig on a topic she felt had gone unresolved for far too long. "It's nothing—as long as that's the reason Lieutenant Reed didn't choose you."
"Of course it was," Stephanie said, hoping to end the discussion before it became an argument. To solidify her point, she added, "He even asked how I was doing when I went off duty this morning."
"Two days after the fact."
Stephanie frowned. "Can we not do this tonight, please? I just want a nice meal with my girl. Is that too much to ask?"
"No. Of course not," Bonnie relented. She reached across the table and squeezed her lover's hand. "I'm sorry."
They ate in companionable silence for a while. Before long, Stephanie said, "I heard a rumor that we got another mail dump today."
"That's true," Bonnie confirmed. "Right before I went off duty. Donnelly probably has it sorted and distributed by now. You expecting something?"
Stephanie thought of the most recent letter she'd sent to Ryn, and wondered if she'd gotten it yet. She'd told her sister about Bonnie and asked her to light a candle for them on the next Sabbath. Imbolc was now past. Had a candle been lit? Maybe by Beltane, she thought.
"No," she said in answer to Bonnie's question. "I sent Ryn something, but I doubt she'll have responded yet. It's too soon."
Young once again stood in front of Archer's ready room desk. The Captain sat behind it—just as he had on that fateful morning. It was Archer's first day free from quarantine and he felt oddly rested and yet weary. He still wasn't entirely healthy, but Phlox had deemed him non-contagious and had released him that afternoon. He needed to conclude this interview quickly before the good doctor found out he was working late.
"Over the past two days since the rescue of Ensigns Cutler and Cohn, I've had plenty of time to review everyone's mission reports," he began. "Lieutenant Reed was very impressed with your actions, as am I."
"I was just doing my job, sir," said Young stiffly.
"And that's the point of this interview." Archer took a moment before going on. "Ever since you came to me with your confession—for lack of a better word—I've thought a great deal about what to do. My investigations have revealed neither your partner in your illicit relationship, nor any indication of any further wrong-doing on your part. I don't condone your earlier behavior, but the fact that you came to me of your own accord speaks well of your strength of character. So I'm pleased to inform you that you're hereby reinstated. Lieutenant Reed will expect to see you in the armory first thing in the morning."
Young didn't know whether to cheer or collapse in shock. He decided both would be inappropriate and so said only, "Thank you, sir."
"Keep in mind that this will remain on your record, and another such incident won't be tolerated."
"I understand, sir."
Young turned sharply and left the room. Not until he reached the solitude of the turbolift did he allow himself the sort of sigh that only comes from knowing one has avoided the noose.
It had been quite a week. So much had happened in such a short time. He smiled wider than he had in what seemed like months. Finally he felt like his life was back on track.
His step was light as he reached his cabin and went inside. Ari was still in sickbay, and would be for a couple more days, so he had the room to himself. It was late, but he was too keyed up to sleep. He needed something to distract him until his mind calmed down.
That was when he noticed a new message light on his computer. "Now what?" he muttered. "It can't be from Ari this time. I talked to him this afternoon."
To his great surprise, the message was from his brother, Brady. A chill ran down Ian's spine. His brother never wrote to him, and he certainly never sent a video letter—which was what this was. "Computer, play message."
"Hey, little brother," Brady's image said. His eyes were tired and his voice lacked the usual spark and spite Ian expected. "I've got bad news. Mom's dead. I told her a million times to see a doctor, but you know her. Stubborn as any old mule." He took a breath and sighed it out, then ran a hand over his crew-cut hair. Ian recognized the habitual motion; it was what Brady always did when he was forced into an uncomfortable situation. "Anyway, turns out it was cancer. Stupid, eh? Something so easy for the docs to cure, and she let it go 'til it was too late. I don't expect you can make it back for the service. Hell, I don't know if this'll even get to you before then. I just thought you ought to know. So now you know. Bye."
Ian sat in dumbfounded silence. Slowly a memory came to him: his mom sitting at the table on the porch, checking over the books for the ranch while his dad and Ari shook hands.
He stared at the frozen image on the screen. It couldn't be real. The coincidence was too creepy. He forced himself to say the words that would make the computer play the message again.
There it was, immutable and unmistakable. The news of his mother's death hit him like a blow to the gut. But it was the connection to his dream that was the sucker-punch, sending his mind reeling.
I don't want this, he thought, rising to his feet so quickly that the chair tumbled over and hit the wall. I don't want any of this. I didn't ask for it. "No, no, no," he muttered, pacing the cabin like a caged animal. He bumped into the desk and kicked the fallen chair. "No. No!"
Unable to stand the confined space, he left the cabin. It has to stop. It has to stop. I don't want this! I don't want it!! Make it stop. Make it stop.
His pace increased as the words pounded in his mind, echoing until they lost all meaning. He reached his destination without knowing how he'd gotten there. He didn't care. He rang the chime.
Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop, his mind repeated over and over.
The door opened, and the words tumbled from his mouth.
"Make it stop!"
T'Pol looked at him. "Ensign Young," she said, surprised by his unexpected appearance. "I don't understand."
"The vision, dream, psychic thing," he replied, intense and nearly incoherent. His eyes were wild, and his tone grew more frantic with every word. "Make it stop. I don't want it. Make it stop!"
"Ensign, calm down." She raised her voice to be heard over his frenzied babbling.
"No!" He grabbed her by the shoulders, startling her, and shouted, "You have to make it stop!"
Without word or pause, T'Pol twisted agilely from his grasp and reached out a hand. She pinched him firmly half way between his shoulder and the curve of his neck. Ian went rigid, his eyes rolling up in his head as he collapsed. The Vulcan woman caught him as he fell and lowered him smoothly to the deckplating. Then she opened a comm line.
"T'Pol to sickbay." She glanced down at Ian's unconscious form. She suspected he was more in need of psychiatric help than medical, but in the meantime she did what she deemed most logical. "Request assistance."