Log Rhythms - Season Two
Ian awoke with a splitting headache. He laid still, eyes closed, trying to determine what had caused it. He came to the immediate and obvious conclusion that he'd gotten blind drunk, passed out, and now had one mother of a hangover. After all, it wouldn't be the first time. But as he continued to lie there, he began to doubt his hangover theory. Yes, his head pounded, but his stomach wasn't upset and his mouth wasn't even dry.
All at once, memory hit him: his dream; his brother's letter; his mother's death. His panicked plea on T'Pol's doorstep. Then nothing.
Ian groaned and opened his eyes.
"Ah, Ensign Young. How are you feeling?"
He looked up into the solicitous visage of Doctor Phlox. "Like crap. What happened?"
"You collapsed outside Sub-commander T'Pol's quarters." It was essentially true. Phlox didn't mention what had caused the ensign's collapse, although he knew. T'Pol had explained why she'd used the Vulcan nerve pinch on Young, and Phlox had agreed it was the most logical action under the circumstances.
Ian slowly sat up on the biobed, one hand to his temple. "I must have hit my head when I fell."
"Here," Phlox said, pressing a hypospray to Ian's neck. Immediately Ian began to feel better.
"Thanks. Can I go?"
"If you're feeling up to it. There's no medical reason to keep you here overnight."
"What time is it?" Ian stood, taking a moment to regain his equilibrium.
"Not quite midnight. Plenty of time for you to get some rest before Alpha shift." Phlox smiled. He knew Young had just been returned to duty; Archer had posted the notice to his department heads before turning in for the night.
"Wait. Can I see Ari before I go?"
"He's asleep. You're welcome to come by tomorrow afternoon."
"I'll do that. After I get off shift." Ian was surprised at how good it felt to say that.
"And after that, you're expected to report to Sub-commander T'Pol."
"She left orders for you to see her at 1800 hours tomorrow."
Suddenly Ian's stomach didn't feel so good anymore. He wished he could fall back on his hang-over theory to explain it. "Did she say why?" he asked, although he already knew why.
"You're welcome. Good-night, Ensign."
"Night." Ian left sickbay, glancing briefly at a dark, curtained bay where he guessed his sleeping bunkmate was concealed. Better get some sleep, myself, he thought as he walked slowly back to their cabin. Big day tomorrow. The words held none of the anticipation he'd felt earlier that evening.
The cabin door chimed and Liz called out, "Come in!" She smiled when Mae entered, but didn't rise from where she sat on her bunk. Her legs were stretched out in front of her with a pillow under her healing ankle. "Hi there. Are you looking for Stephanie?"
"No," Mae replied.
"Good, because she's not here. What's up? Have a seat."
"Thanks. Sorry to stop by so late."
Liz shrugged and smiled. "Obviously I was still up." She had only changed into her pajamas a few minutes before, and was now going over some alien entomological data before turning in for the night.
Mae sat in the desk chair. "How's your ankle?" she asked, although her heart wasn't in the inquiry. Her expression was grim, and a small frown creased her usually smooth forehead.
Liz noticed her demeanor. "I'll be fine," she said dismissively, then asked in concern, "Is everything okay?" She set aside her datapad.
Mae answered with what Liz at first thought was a non-sequitur. "When you thought Travis was dead, and then you discovered he wasn't, what did you do?"
"What? I don't know, really." Liz thought about it. "I didn't believe it at first. Then when I did I cried with relief, I know. Why?"
"Well, yeah. Right on. But I mean how did you deal with it?"
"Deal with what? I'm sorry. I don't understand what you're getting at." Liz gave Mae an apologetic look.
The engineer paused before replying. "Maybe I'm just being dumb. We're all at risk all the time, right? So why should I be so freaked out about it this time?"
Finally Liz had an inkling of what was going on. "This is about the away mission Ari and I were on."
"Yeah," Mae admitted. "I mean, I didn't expect it, you know?"
"Neither did we," Liz replied wryly.
"Well, yeah, no. Of course not." Mae paused, trying to collect her thoughts. "I don't date security personnel, you know? I thought " She trailed off, not really sure what she thought.
Liz could see the trouble she was having and made a guess. "You thought dating Ari would be safe."
"Yeah." Mae nodded, glad she didn't have to explain it herself. She doubted she could have done it as succinctly as Liz.
"But we all risk our lives every day just by being out here."
"I know. See? I'm just being dumb."
"No, you're not," Liz reassured her. She hesitated, worried that her next question might be prying. Mae was a private person, not in the habit of openly sharing the details of her personal life. "Have you talked to anyone else about this?"
"You mean Ari? No," admitted Mae. She'd hardly even visited him in sickbay, and then only when she knew he was asleep. She couldn't talk to him until she knew what to say. So far she didn't have a clue.
"Actually, I meant Doctor Douglas. He really helped me out when I thought I'd lost Travis. And after I got him back."
"Huh." They sat in silence while Mae considered this. "What did he say?"
Liz thought back. Nearly a year had passed since they'd found that strange and treacherous repair station. "He reminded me that we're at risk every moment we're out here. It's not just the security team who risk their lives. We all do. He helped me understand that and accept it, and he showed me that I had to decide."
When Liz paused, Mae prompted her. "Decide what?"
"Whether I loved Travis enough to lose him."
Mae frowned. "Um I don't get it."
Liz sat up straighter and leaned forward. "The closer you get to someone, the harder it is to lose them. I had to decide if I was willing to risk that kind of hurt. I don't know how you and Ari feel about each other, and it's none of my business so I won't ask. But I think you do need to ask yourself that question, and I think you should talk to Ari."
There was a lengthy silence while Mae mulled this over. Do I love Ari? If I do, is it enough? He said he loves me, she thought, remembering the strange conversation with Ari when he'd suddenly appeared in Engineering. Or I thought he said he loves me, but if he wasn't on board Did I really imagine it? What does it mean if I did? Does that mean I want him to love me, and if that's true, I must love him, right? Otherwise why would I imagine what I think I imagined? Her head swam. If I wasn't nuts then, I will be before I figure this out.
Mae was quiet for so long that Liz began to wonder if she'd overstepped the engineer's boundaries and offended her. When Mae eventually spoke, it didn't clear up the exobiologist's concerns. "Huh." She stood.
"You don't have to go," said Liz hurriedly. She was convinced Mae was leaving because she was upset with her.
"No, I should go. It's late. Thanks for your help."
"Are you sure? Really, you can stay if you want."
"No, thanks. You're right. I need to think about things some more."
"I'm here any time if you need to talk again."
"Sure," said Mae, genuinely appreciative of the invitation, even though she didn't expect to take Liz up on it. "Thanks."
There was nothing else for Liz to say. "You're welcome."
Mae gave her a small nod and left the cabin.
The diagnostic bed slid smoothly out of the imaging chamber, and Ari sat up. He was still sore from his recent injuries, but he managed to turn just enough to read the results of his scan.
Next to him, Phlox examined the data, too. "Very good!" he encouraged, smiling. "You're making excellent progress."
Phlox called up the previous day's scans and compared them with the new results. "Excellent progress," he repeated. "In fact, when we're done here, you'll be free to go."
"So I can sleep in my own bed tonight?" While not the most comfortable mattress in the world, Ari definitely preferred his bunk to the beds in sickbay.
"And go back on duty tomorrow?"
"Half shift, light duties."
Ari gave the doctor an ironic smile. "My C.O. will make sure I take it easy."
"Hm?" Phlox looked at him directly and realization dawned. He chuckled. "I'm sure he will. Lie back, please."
Ari lay back down while the doctor continued his examination with a hand-held medical scanner. "So, Phlox " Ari began, and then hesitated.
"Did I have any visitors last night?"
"Last night?" Phlox's attention was more on his scans than on the conversation. It took a little prompting from Ari to fully register the question.
"While I was asleep."
"Ensign Young was here."
"Were you expecting someone else?" Phlox asked, finally shutting off his scanner and tucking it into a pocket.
"Not exactly. I just thought Mae might have stopped by."
"She's been in a few times," confirmed the doctor, "but not last night."
"Oh. Has she?"
Ari's tone was casual, but his feigned indifference didn't fool Phlox. "Is something wrong between you two?"
Before Ari could answer, the door swooshed open and Ian entered. He waved a hello, calling to his bunkmate as he crossed the room. "Hey, buddy. How's it going?"
"Okay," Ari said, sitting up once more and carefully swinging his legs over the side of the bed.
"Good evening, Ensign," Phlox said.
"Evening," Ian replied.
"Guess what? I'm getting out of here tonight," announced Ari.
"So I'm stuck with you again, eh? I suppose I can deal with that." Ian's grin belied his grousing words. While there was something to be said for bunking alone, there was also something to be said for having his best friend back where he could talk to him privately. "But don't expect me to clean the cabin for your homecoming."
Ari laughed. "They'd have to put me back in here if you did. I'd be in severe shock." He looked over at Phlox. "Are we done?"
"We are," the doctor replied. "I'll see you back here in the morning for physical therapy and your half shift of light duties."
Ari smirked at the overt reminder. He looked back at Ian. "You want to get dinner?"
Ian's face darkened almost imperceptibly. "I've got to be somewhere in a few minutes. Can you wait until 2000 hours?"
"Sure. It'll probably take me that long to shower and get dressed anyway," Ari joked. "Why?"
"I'll tell you over dinner. See you later." Ian left, relieved that Ari didn't press the matter and confident that Phlox wouldn't mention it. He'd been dreading his upcoming meeting with T'Pol ever since Phlox had told him of it late last night. He was sure it would involve more sitting on the floor and staring at candle flames. On the other hand, he'd ask for this. He'd gone to her of his own choice, even if he hadn't been entirely rational at the time.
Suddenly he heard Cormack's voice in his head, repeating words she'd spoken to him just a few short days ago. "Stop whining and deal," she'd said. The advice was as appropriate now as it had been then. Ian headed to T'Pol's cabin.
Reaching it, he took a moment to steel himself before ringing the chime. The door opened almost immediately.
"Ensign," said T'Pol in greeting.
"You wanted to see me?" Young felt it was best to get to the point and get the interview over with as quickly as possible.
"Yes. Come in." She ushered him inside and allowed the door to close.
Young surreptitiously looked around the cabin. He was relieved yet wary to see that the altar they had used previously had not been set up.
"Last night you asked for my help," T'Pol began, also intent on getting to the heart of the matter. "You were highly agitated at that time. I must ask if your request still stands."
Young looked at her, trying to guess what she was thinking. All day long the memory of what he'd done had niggled at the back of his mind. Even with the constant, silent reminder, he hadn't been able to decide whether he regretted his actions or not. And now here was T'Pol, apparently giving him the chance to back out. But is she really? he wondered, looking at her. Her inscrutable expression gave him no clues. "Do I have a choice?" he asked finally.
T'Pol's expression grew curious. "Of course. I won't force you to face whatever disturbed you so greatly that you came here in the state you did."
There was another pause while Young considered what she said. For supposedly being unemotional, she sure is good at emotional manipulation. "Permission to speak freely?" T'Pol nodded once. "I don't want to be here. I don't want to stare at candles and do whatever other mumbo jumbo you might come up with. But " He paused, bracing himself as he had outside her door. "I need your help."
Trip and Malcolm sat on adjacent stationary bikes, pedaling in a leisurely way to warm up their legs.
"So how d'you like having your whole team working again?" Trip asked.
Malcolm considered his answer before replying. Young's first week back on the job had been unexciting but productive. He'd simply picked up his duties as if he'd never left them. "It was fine."
"Just 'fine'? Are you sure you're not being overly enthusiastic?" teased the engineer.
Malcolm gave Trip a look acknowledging the quip, and then followed it up with a shrug. "I'm not sure what more you want. I'm pleased to have a full team again, of course. Working extra shifts and split shifts was beginning to wear."
"You're telling me." Trip had noticed his lover's increased fatigue and tension during Young's absence from duty. He'd lost some weight he could ill afford to lose, and now the gray t-shirt he wore hung too loosely on him, as did his workout pants. His eyes had grown tired and dull. He looked all in.
In that moment, Trip made it his mission to see that Malcolm ate regularly and got enough sleep. He hoped it wouldn't be long before the sparkle was back in Malcolm's bright blue eyes. Trip hated when it was missing and he could do nothing to fix it.
Malcolm shot him a curious glance. "I'm not quite sure how to take that."
"Then take it as me being glad you won't have to work quite so hard anymore. You deserve a break."
"I haven't done anything extraordinary," protested Malcolm. "Everyone aboard works hard. I just think of the past month as balancing out some of the quieter days."
"You mean duller days," said Trip, knowing how Malcolm preferred being busy to being bored.
A tiny smile quirked the armory officer's lips. "Quite." He reached out and adjusted the controls of his bike, increasing the resistance. "What about you? Have you and T'Pol made any progress studying those magnetic interference data?"
Although they no longer orbited the frozen world, examination of what they had found there continued. Phlox and his team studied the plants and animals, which had been retrieved after the rescue of Cohn and Cutler. Trip and T'Pol had the task of trying to determine why they'd had such a hard time filtering out the interference from the magnetic ore.
"Some," Trip replied, "but not enough. The wave patterns are inconsistent, and they don't match anything I've ever seen before. I wish we had a sample of that ore."
"Sorry. I suppose I ought to have loaded up my pockets before getting the ensigns out of that cave." Malcolm's tiny smile grew into a teasing smirk as he spoke.
Trip chuckled. "Yeah. What the hell were you thinking?" he joked back.
"I can't imagine."
Phlox sat down and set the large container of popcorn he carried on his lap. Ever since he'd learned what this week's movie was about, he'd looked forward to it with acute anticipation. He hoped it would give him a bit more insight into certain human mating rituals with which he was so far only vaguely familiar.
"Are these seats taken?" a voice to his right asked.
Phlox looked up and smiled. "Not at all! Please, join me."
Kyrin and Liam sat down, exchanging pleasantries with the Denobulan as they did.
"Popcorn?" He held up the bucket in offering.
"Thanks," said Liam, taking some with his free hand. In his other, he held a large glass of a liquid so dark it practically absorbed the light. "I don't know what it is about popcorn and Guinness, but I've always loved the combination." He tossed back several popped kernels and washed them down with a swallow of beer.
"I will never understand your affinity for that particular beverage," Kyrin said, eyeing the pint glass with distaste.
"It's good for me!" The young Irishman took another drink and smiled in satisfaction. He gave a deliberately exaggerated sigh of contentment. "Ahh! Better than mother's milk."
"It's bread in a glass. I don't know how you can stomach it."
Phlox listened to their banter in fascination and amusement. It was clear each man enjoyed teasing and baiting the other, and he found the interplay as intriguing as ever. He was positive he would never tire of watching humans interact with one another—particularly mated pairs of humans. He took a bite of popcorn and once more offered it to his seating companions. This time both took him up on it.
"On Denobula," Phlox said when the others' mouths were full, "there's a drink that's particularly enjoyed in the Kaybin Bars. It sounds similar to your Guinness. Many people find it enhances the experience."
"The experience?" asked Kyrin curiously.
"Yes. The purpose for going to a Kaybin Bar—"
But before Phlox could elucidate, the lights in the Rec. Center dimmed. Several people shushed the chatty physician, and the movie began to play.
Bonnie rang the chime to Stephanie and Liz's cabin. The door opened almost immediately, revealing a smiling Stephanie.
"Hi!" she said eagerly.
Now that Stephanie had had time to get used to her Gamma shift routine, the couple were able to spend many of their evenings together. Bonnie felt a little guilty about taking so much of her girlfriend's down time. She knew Stephanie could really use some extra rest. She'd begun to look worn out, even when Bonnie knew she'd slept well. The helmsman was certain she knew what was causing it, but she kept quiet. She didn't want to start another argument. Especially not tonight. Tonight was movie night, and they had a date.
"Hi," echoed Bonnie. "Sorry I'm late. You ready to go?"
"Not quite," Stephanie said.
"The movie's starting any minute. We're going to miss the beginning."
"Actually I hope you don't mind, but I thought we could spend the evening in."
"I thought you wanted to go to the movie."
"I want to see the movie," agreed Stephanie. "I just don't want to see it with everyone else. So " She backed up and finally let Bonnie into the room. " I took the liberty of ordering in."
The door slid shut behind Bonnie, and she looked around the cabin. Two covered plates sat on the desk. Next to them were two wine glasses and a bottle of dealcoholized white wine in a cooler.
"I hope that's okay."
"Of course. What's for dinner?" Bonnie asked. She gave Stephanie an inquiring look, and Stephanie nodded for her to go ahead and see. Bonnie lifted the cover on one of the plates. She smiled, inhaling the spicy, exotic scents that rose on the released steam. "Chicken Pad Thai," she began, examining the plate. "Jasmine rice, and something in peanut sauce."
"Rama Garden," Stephanie told her. "And some Gewürztraminer. I always prefer sweet wine with spicy food."
"Always." Bonnie smiled and replaced the cover to keep the heat in.
"You don't mind watching the movie on a small screen, do you?"
"Hmm." Bonnie pretended to consider her choices. "Watching on a big screen with lots of other people, or watching on a small screen with no one around but me and you, with the option of pausing the film at any moment so I can fondle and perhaps even ravish you. Gee I don't know "
Stephanie laughed. "Okay, okay. I just wanted to give you the choice."
"Tough choice. Pour the wine," Bonnie ordered, grinning.
"Yes, ma'am!" Stephanie snapped briefly to attention, and then went to open the wine. As she poured it, Bonnie kicked off her boots and took a seat on the bunk.
"Tell me again what this movie is," she requested.
"It's called Secretary. It's a sweet, romantic little Dominance and submission flick." Stephanie set down the wine bottle and handed a filled glass to her. Bonnie took it, thanking her, and Stephanie went on. "I saw it once years ago, and I'd completely forgotten about it until I saw it on the schedule for tonight. It's okay for a group viewing, but if I'm remembering it correctly, I'd prefer a private viewing for just you and me. Hungry?"
Bonnie nodded. "Mm-hmm." She set her glass on the nightstand and took the uncovered plate Stephanie offered.
Stephanie dimmed the lights to half, quickly set a Do Not Disturb order on both their comms, and locked the door. She started the film running on the computer, and then grabbed her own plate of food and settled in on the bunk next to Bonnie. Stephanie smiled to herself. If she'd planned the evening right, she would go on duty later wearing a satisfied grin while Bonnie slept the sleep of the sexually sated.
Bonnie glanced at her as the movie began. "What's that smile for?"
"You'll find out," Stephanie replied cryptically, a lascivious gleam in her eyes. "Watch the film."
Cohn, Young, and Mayweather sat at a mess hall table. Each man had a beer and at least one empty in front of him. Young swigged back the last of his drink and set the pint glass on the table. "Who's up for another round?" he asked.
"Sure," said Mayweather, gauging what he had left. "It's not like I'm the one who has to get up early in the morning."
Young looked at his bunkmate. "Ari?"
"Why not?" Cohn answered. "This one'll be empty by the time you get back."
"You want a real one this time?"
"No, thanks. Mixing alcohol with pain meds isn't a good idea." Cohn was drinking non-alcoholic beer that night. It wasn't his favorite beverage, but he was still occasionally taking an analgesic for his recently healed injuries.
"I dunno," Young joked. "It sounds like good chemistry to me." He rose and went to get them all fresh drinks.
Mayweather took a swallow of beer. "So where's Rostov? He hasn't joined us for a guys' night in weeks."
Cohn kept his tone casual. He knew why Rostov wasn't there, but it wasn't for him to say. That was Young's secret. "I think he's just been really busy."
"We haven't had more than three guys' nights in the past two months," Mayweather pointed out. "He couldn't make even one?"
"I guess not." Cohn's eyes flicked to where Young stood waiting for the next round of beers. The last glass was filling. "Bad timing, I guess."
Mayweather downed the last of his drink just as Young arrived with new ones. Cohn took advantage of the moment, quickly changing the subject. "How's Liz?" he asked Mayweather, as Young passed around the drinks and sat down.
"Great! Her ankle is healed, and there's not a bruise left on her."
"You checked that out thoroughly, eh?" said Young suggestively.
"I sure wasn't gonna let you do it," Mayweather retorted.
Young and Cohn laughed, and Mayweather grinned at them, a twinkle in his deep brown eyes. Young raised his glass in toast to his friend's quick come-back. "Cheers."
"So how's it feel to be a working man again?" Mayweather asked.
"Who? Me or him?" Young replied, tipping his head toward his bunkmate.
"Both of you, now that you mention it, but I was talking to you." He nodded to Young.
There was a brief pause.
When Mayweather realized that Young didn't plan to go on, he said, "Okay," and turned to Cohn. "How about you?"
Cohn answered him eagerly. "Excellent. It's great to be back to full-time, too. I like being in sickbay, just not as a patient."
"Liz said the same thing."
"They say doctors are the worst patients," put in Young.
"I wouldn't go that far," Cohn said. "Have you ever been in sickbay when Cormack was there? It's not a lot of fun. After a day or two, even Phlox finds her annoying."
Young pursed his lips. "Yeah. That's one word for her."
"I thought you guys got along okay," said Mayweather.
"Usually. It's just sometimes she can be " Young took a swallow of beer while he sought for the right word. " pushy."
"Yeah." Young was good at holding grudges, and he had a bit of one going against his fellow armory ensign. He held her responsible for telling T'Pol about his premonitory dream. He couldn't argue that if she hadn't forced him to talk about it they might never have found Ari and Liz, but that didn't stop him from resenting her interference. Even though it had been his choice to go to her in the first place, and later to approach T'Pol for help, he still felt it was Cormack's fault that he was in his current situation. On an unconscious level, he even blamed her for his psychic episodes.
It doesn't help that I'm getting nowhere in those damn sessions with T'Pol, he thought in grumpy frustration.
"Is there something I'm missing?" Mayweather looked from Young to Cohn and back again. He couldn't tell if Cohn knew what was up, but he was sure Young was keeping secrets.
"Yeah, there is," affirmed Young. He raised his beer to his lips only to discover he'd already drunk it all without realizing. He set the glass down again.
"Are you gonna tell me what it is?"
Young looked at Mayweather. The beers he'd consumed had shortened his temper and loosened his tongue, or he might have kept his mouth shut. However, sober judgment wasn't his strong suit on the best of days. "Sure. You're missing that I'm going fucking nuts. I'm dreaming about people dying, and then they turn up dead—or almost." He glanced at his bunkmate, who looked surprised at this revelation. "What? You don't remember showing up in my dream? Or in the shuttlepod?"
Cohn's face went pale. Young had confided a little of why he was seeing T'Pol, but this was news to Ari. "I hallucinated that."
"Right. Hallucinated yourself into my head. And now I'm stuck staring at candles with Sub-commander T'Pol, and it's totally useless."
"Wait," interrupted Mayweather. "What are you guys talking about?"
"I'm talking about all this time I'm wasting trying to have another vision so she can teach me how to make it not happen."
"That doesn't make sense."
Young sighed in aggravation. "She said I have to understand what I can do before I can learn how to counter it."
"But if it's not happening, why does it matter?"
Young paused. He didn't have a good answer. "It just does! I don't want it to happen again, so I need to make it happen, so I know how to stop it happening."
Cohn remained silent as they continued to argue. He was stunned. This was the first indication he'd had that the hallucinations he'd experienced while trapped in the frozen cavern had affected anyone but himself. He clearly remembered the dream Young mentioned. He remembered meeting Ian's father and seeing his mother seated at a table near by. He remembered the shuttlepod where he thanked Ian for trying to save him. Ari never imagined any of it was real.
"Excuse me," he said, rising abruptly.
The others looked at him, startled by his interruption. They'd been so involved in their debate that neither had noticed Cohn's silence.
"You okay?" Young asked, concerned at his friend's pallor.
"I need to go see Phlox."
"You need someone to take you?"
"No. Excuse me," repeated Cohn as he moved away.
Mayweather glanced at Young, and then back at their departing friend. "He doesn't look so good."
"Yeah," agreed Young. "I'm going after him—make sure he gets there okay. See you later." He rose and followed his bunkmate out into the corridor. "Ari?" he said, catching up to him. "What's going on?"
"I need to go see Phlox," Ari said again.
"Okay, but why? Are you feeling okay?"
Ari stopped in his tracks, bringing his bunkmate up short beside him. "You saw me. I was in that cave, but I talked to you and you heard me."
"Yeah." Ian didn't like it, and he hadn't meant to mention it tonight. In fact he wished he could take it all back. Now it was out, though, there was no point denying it.
"I talked to Phlox that day, too," Ari went on. "He told me I had to go back. Then I woke up and saw you. At first I thought I was imagining you again, but it hurt too much not to be real."
"Hang on, hang on." Ian took a moment to think as the reality of what he was hearing sank in. "You mean it wasn't just me?"
Ari's temper snapped. "Are you even listening to me? No, it wasn't just you! Now I need to know if Phlox remembers like you do, because if he does—" He stopped short.
"What? If he does, what?"
"Nothing. I've got to go." He strode quickly away, and this time Ian didn't follow him. Ari was glad. He wanted to be alone. He wanted to talk to Phlox without anyone else around to overhear or ask questions. Please let him not remember, he thought. In his mind, he finished what he'd nearly blurted out to Ian. Because if he does, then Mae probably does, too.
It would certainly explain a lot. He and Mae had begun to grow very close prior to the mission, but she had acted strangely towards him ever since he and Liz were rescued. Ari couldn't understand it—until now. Now he had a fair idea what was wrong.
I told her I love her.
His mind was in turmoil. Do I love her, or did I only think I did because I thought I was dying? And how does she feel? I have no idea. Does she even know what I said? Ian remembered at least one of Ari's out-of-body visits, but perhaps that was only because they'd known each other such a long time. Are Mae and I close enough to have connected that way, too? I don't even know how we did it. Neither of us is psychic. His spinning mind stopped on a sudden thought. At least not that I know of. Ian is working with T'Pol. Maybe he just never said anything before.
I've got to talk to Phlox. Once I talk to Phlox I'll have an idea.
He didn't know what he would do then, but at least it was a starting point.
Archer and his department heads stood around the situation room table. The weekly briefing had so far brought only routine information. Having already heard reports from Sato, Reed, and Phlox, Archer turned next to his Chief Engineer.
Tucker knew what was coming. He had been working on isolating, identifying, and counteracting the interference patterns they'd encountered on the frozen planet where they'd nearly lost Ensigns Cutler and Cohn. Even with T'Pol's help, he'd had little to no success on the assignment. He wasn't looking forward to giving the captain yet another unsatisfactory report.
"Commander?" asked Archer.
Choosing to delay the inevitable, Tucker launched into a report on warp and impulse engine efficiency, various systems' status, and the general excellence of his engineering team. When he ran out of good news, he hesitated.
Archer directed his next question not only to Tucker, but to T'Pol as well. "How's that research going?"
Tucker looked at T'Pol and then back at the Captain. "We've isolated the interference pattern," he said.
"You'd done that last week," Archer reminded him.
"Yeah. The thing is that the pattern isn't consistent. According to the data we recorded, it looks like it's almost random."
"There are sections we've found that repeat, but not consistently. That's why we had such a hard time countering the interference in the first place."
Phlox spoke up. "I wonder," he began, "If I could take a look at the pattern data?"
Tucker was mildly surprised, but he wasn't going to turn down any request that could lead to a solution. "Sure." He typed in a command on the console in front of him, and the interference data appeared on the wall screen.
Phlox stepped around Tucker to get a closer view of the screen. He didn't have a solid theory when he asked to see the data, only a supposition. Ari's visit to sickbay the previous night had given him the idea.
"Do you see anything interesting, Doctor?" Archer asked.
"I do." Phlox glanced back over his shoulder. "Commander, would you please transfer a copy of this to the sickbay computer? And any results of your own research would be helpful, too."
Tucker felt a mixture of excitement and annoyance. "You recognize something?"
"Possibly." Finally Phlox turned to face the gathered officers. "The patterns presented here bear a surprising similarity to a human EEG—or, more accurately, several EEGs."
"EEG?" asked Tucker, before anyone else could speak up.
"Electroencephalograph," the Doctor clarified. "A visual representation of a brain wave."
Tucker was incredulous. "Are you trying to tell me those rocks were sentient?"
"Not at all." Phlox fell easily into lecture mode. "Every kind of matter as we know it gives off an electrical charge—whether minute, like a lemon, or powerful, like a lightning strike. There's no reason to be surprised that there is a mineral that happens to mimic a human brain wave. The surprise comes in us finding it by random chance."
T'Pol chose that moment to comment. "It would help explain the difficulty we've had countering it. Humans have no standard method of blocking mental communication."
"And it would explain some of the stranger incidents experienced by certain crewmembers during the emergency." Phlox met her gaze deliberately and was pleased to see she understood what he meant. He was aware of the meditative sessions Ensign Young and T'Pol were having—and about their failure to achieve anything.
The rest of the department heads looked at the pair curiously, but it was only Archer who felt the authority to inquire. "Do you two care to explain what you're talking about?" Although he phrased it as a question, it was clearly more than a simple request.
"There was some unusual psychic activity during the crisis," T'Pol said cryptically.
"I see." Archer paused, waiting for her to continue.
"Perhaps the Sub-commander and I could speak with you privately," suggested Phlox.
The Captain looked around at the curious expressions on the other officers' faces. They can keep wondering, he thought. I need to know what's going on. "Does anyone have anything more to report?" The response was negative. Archer looked at T'Pol and Phlox. "All right. In my ready room."
Before they could disappear, Tucker said, "Captain?"
Archer met his inquiring and hopeful gaze, and made a quick decision. "Join us, Commander. You've worked more on this project than anyone."
The four of them squished into the Captain's ready room where none of them sat down. Even Archer chose to stand behind his desk. "All right. Who's going to start the explanations?"
T'Pol looked at Phlox. "It's your theory, Doctor."
"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a theory," Phlox disagreed, but seeing the look on Archer's face, he went on. "There were a number of unusual incidents during the time when Ensigns Cutler and Cohn were trapped."
Archer's patience was growing short, but he kept his tone even. "So you said."
"Ah, yes. Well I was one of those who experienced such an incident."
"What do you mean, exactly, by 'incident'?"
"I suppose it would best be described as a psychic projection."
"Psychic projection?" echoed Archer doubtfully.
"According to one crewmember," T'Pol said, "he was visited twice by Ensign Cohn while the ensign was trapped on the planet. Once in a dream, once while he was awake."
"I see." Archer was still dubious, but willing to listen. He turned again to Phlox. "And were you 'visited' by Ensign Cohn, too?"
"I was," the doctor confirmed. "It was shortly before he was rescued, in fact."
Even as he spoke, Archer could hardly believe the words were coming from his own mouth. "Do any of the crewmembers involved have any history of psychic abilities?"
"None, which is why I'm intrigued by the patterns Commander Tucker showed us. It's possible that the energy put out by the magnetic ore actually enabled Ensign Cohn to contact others—people with whom he feels particularly close, for example."
"Which would explain why he spoke to you, his immediate superior." The Captain tried, but he was having trouble digesting all this new information. He'd never been a great believer in psychic phenomena. Why not? he asked himself. What makes it any crazier than Daniels being a 30th century time traveler?
T'Pol had more to say on the matter. "It would also explain why the crewmember he contacted twice has had no further incidence of psychic activity." At the enquiring looks she received from Archer and Tucker, she added, "I have been working with the crewmember—at his request—to explore and block this ability. Thus far we've had no success triggering it."
"You think that's because ?"
"We are no longer in proximity of the magnetic ore," she finished for the Captain.
"All right." Archer took a moment to think. "Trip, give Phlox everything you've got. Doctor, let me know as soon as you have anything new. T'Pol, work with Phlox on this one. And from now on " Here he fixed his Science Officer and Ship's Physician with a pointed look. " I want to see more thorough mission reports. Dismissed."
Phlox hesitated, waiting for Tucker and T'Pol to leave before turning back to the Captain. "I'd like your permission to run some tests on certain members of the crew," he began.
"Nothing drastic. I want to see if there's a physiological correlation among the people who came into contact with the ore and those who experienced psychic activity aboard the ship—including myself, of course."
Archer considered. He doubted Phlox would come up with anything concrete, but he saw no reason to deny the request. "Go ahead. Just keep me informed."
It was easy getting Ensign Cohn to agree to the examinations he wanted to make. Immediately after the staff meeting, Phlox took a variety of very specific scans of the med-tech's brain. Next he submitted himself to the exact same scans. Despite the differences between Denobulan and human physiologies, he believed there must be a common element that had allowed Cohn to speak to him telepathically.
That complete, Phlox contacted the armory. While Reed hadn't been in on the meeting in Archer's office, he was at least aware of Phlox's hypothesis. It was no trouble convincing him to send Young up to sickbay straight away, and to come himself later.
Young arrived in sickbay soon after Phlox spoke with Reed. He submitted to the scans without protest. He wasn't thrilled with the situation, but he was willing to go along with it if it meant finding out he wouldn't have to worry about any more visions. "Do you really think you'll find something?" he asked as he was rolled out of the large medical scanner.
"I'm sure I'll find something," Phlox said. He gave Young a brief but pleasant smile. "Whether or not it will help me reach a solid conclusion is up for debate."
Young sat up. He wasn't willing to let it go that easily. "But there's a possibility—a strong possibility—that I'm not psychic."
"A possibility," concurred Phlox.
"A strong possibility," insisted Young.
"It does seem likely, but with the little in—"
Phlox didn't get any further as Young cut him off. "Great! That's great. So I'm done here?" he asked eagerly.
Phlox decided not to argue the point. While he didn't have enough information to prove Young right, neither did he have enough to prove him wrong. Best to wait until I've examined all the data. "Yes. Thank you for letting me interrupt your day."
"You're welcome." He glanced over at Cohn who was assisting Phlox in collecting data. Cohn smiled encouragingly. "See you later," Young said.
"See you," his bunkmate echoed.
Once he was gone, Phlox turned to Cohn. "You said last night that you also spoke with Ensign Lawless."
"Yeah," confirmed Cohn a little reluctantly. He still hadn't really talked to Mae, and he had no idea how she would react when he did. Now he was about to find out. Phlox would hail Engineering, Mae would come to sickbay, and the proverbial cat would be out of the bag.
Phlox examined Lawless's medical records, unaware of Cohn's apprehension. "Hmm."
"Hmm?" asked Cohn.
"I'd almost forgotten." Phlox didn't look up as he went on. "Ensign Lawless was here shortly before I returned from the planet. I saw it in the records, but never bothered to find out why. That was remiss of me."
This was news to Cohn. "She was here?"
"Yes. Apparently she was in because she thought she was coming down with something. Emily checked her over, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Hm!" he grunted in surprise. "Ensign Cormack was in that day, too, while Lawless was here."
"Really?" Cohn joined him at the computer and read the screen over the doctor's shoulder. "That's strange."
"It is. This says she was complaining of a severe chill, but again Emily found nothing that might be causing it. Since neither of the ensigns returned later, there was no reason to look back at the records before now."
"I can't believe Cormack came in here just because she was cold."
"It does seem unlikely," agreed Phlox. He'd found there were only two ways to get Cormack into sickbay—unconscious or under a direct order. He turned to Cohn. "You didn't contact her while you were incapacitated, did you?" It seemed the most likely possibility.
Cohn shook his head. "No. At least I don't remember contacting her. I can't think why I would have anyway."
Another thought struck Phlox. "Has Liz mentioned anything?"
"Hmm " He grew thoughtful.
"Are you going to examine Cormack, too?"
"I'm considering it. I think she would be worth adding to our sample, don't you?"
"I suppose, but she won't like it."
"No. But if she comes in with Liz, we might just get her to agree."
"What time is it?"
"Nearly Beta shift."
"Really?" Phlox was surprised.
"Time flies when you're having fun," joked Cohn.
"I suppose it does. Well," Phlox said, "first things first. Let's get Ensign Lawless in here, hm?"
"She'll be off duty soon," said Cohn quickly. "You might as well wait—since it's so close to the end of the shift, I mean." He didn't want to be there when Mae came in. He wanted to see her and talk to her, but not in an official capacity and not with Phlox there. "If she and Cormack come at the same time and while Liz is on duty, you'll have an even better chance of getting Cormack to agree to the scans."
"That's a very good point. It's waited this long. There's no harm in waiting a little longer."
"Right." Cohn smiled in relief. It was only a temporary reprieve, but he would take what he could get.
"Explain to me again what I’m doing here?" Cormack said in annoyance. "And why it couldn't have waited until I'd had a latté." She stood stubbornly in sickbay's open doorway, arms crossed over her chest. She was in uniform, but she clearly hadn't been awake for very long. Her hair was in a sloppy ponytail instead of her usual tidy braid, and she had shadows under her eyes.
"Everyone who experienced anything unusual while Enterprise was in orbit over the frozen planet is going through this same procedure," Cutler told her. "Mae's inside the medical scanner right now."
"Why do you think I experienced anything unusual?"
Phlox answered without turning around. "You came here yourself complaining of a severe chill."
"I thought I'd caught the captain's flu." It wasn't entirely true, but it was true enough as far as Cormack was concerned. "I hadn't."
"Sub-commander T'Pol was told you have dreams that come true."
Cormack stood up straight. Her arms dropped to her sides and her hands balled into fists. She took a step forward, and the door slid shut behind her. She didn't notice. "How the hell does she know that?" she demanded angrily.
"So it's true." Phlox opened the medical scanner, and the diagnostic table slid out.
Lawless sat up and looked around, a wary expression on her face. "I missed something."
Cormack glared at the doctor. "I want to know where Sub-commander T'Pol got her information," she ground out, her jaw tight. She had an idea, but she wanted to hear Phlox say it.
"She didn't say. I assumed you told her yourself."
Lawless rose slowly, hoping to avoid either Phlox's or Cormack's attention. She sidled over to Cutler. "What's going on?" she asked under her breath. Cutler just shook her head, certain the answer would become evident more quickly than she could explain it.
"I want to know exactly why I'm here," Cormack said, her voice grown suddenly too calm.
Phlox used his most soothing voice to reply. "I'm looking for a correlation between the interference caused by the magnetic ore and the unusual psychic activity experienced during our time at the planet."
"I didn't experience any unusual psychic activity during our time at the planet." Her words were clipped and precise.
Phlox regarded her, trying to remain tolerant. She didn't look well. She didn't really look ill, either—only tired. Frazzled, was the word he'd heard Cutler use when speaking of her bunkmate lately. He wasn't familiar with all its nuances of meaning, but it certainly seemed an accurate description. "You're not required to agree to the scans," he said gently. "I only ask that you do because it may help my and Commander Tucker's research."
Cormack frowned. "Commander Tucker?"
"He's researching the magnetic ore's effects on the ship's systems."
"Yeah. I know."
"And I'm researching the ore's effects on the crew."
"I wasn't there. I never came into contact with any ore."
"Nor did I, but that didn't stop me having a vision of Ensign Cohn while he was trapped on the planet."
Lawless started in surprise. "You saw him?" she asked.
Phlox turned to her, relieved to speak to someone not overtly hostile. "I did, shortly before he and Liz were rescued."
"Well I didn't," interrupted Cormack.
Phlox turned back to meet her angry gaze. "But you did experience a prolonged drop in your body temperature while Liz was trapped," he replied more sharply than usual.
Cutler spoke up, hoping to placate both her C.O. and her bunkmate. "I would have frozen to death down there. Maybe—maybe—you picked up on that because the ore in the cave amplified my feelings."
"All right, all right." Cormack stepped forward. She didn't want to hear any more; she just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. "Do what you want so I can go."
Phlox ushered her to the diagnostic table where she laid down, her aversion to the machine obvious without her having to speak it. Once she was inside, Lawless spoke up again.
"Are you done with me?"
"Yes, Ensign. I'm sorry. You're free to go." He smiled at her a little wearily. "Thank you for your cooperation."
Lieutenant Reed sat up on the diagnostic table and swung his legs over the side. He looked up at the scan results, but the readings meant nothing to him. "I hope you find something you can use," he said.
"I hope so, too," smiled Phlox.
"Is there anything else you need from me?"
"In fact," Phlox said, looking at Reed carefully, "I was wondering if you needed anything from me."
The lieutenant looked puzzled. "I don't understand."
"Are you sleeping all right?"
"Well enough." Reed had a moment of concern, wondering if somehow Phlox had heard that he and Tucker were actually living together. "Why?"
"You appear frazzled." The Denobulan enjoyed using the new word, and he felt it was as accurate a description of Reed as it was of Cormack. "I expected you to start looking a bit less frazzled once you had your team back to full capacity, but you haven't. I noticed the same problem with Ensign Cormack earlier today," he went on. He appeared to be preoccupied with his scan results, but watched Reed from the corner of his eye to gauge his reaction.
"I see," Reed replied. He pressed his lips together until they were a thin, sharp line. "The entire department has been working hard. I suppose it's simply taking time to recover."
"I suppose," said Phlox, "but I'm concerned. Have you experienced any dizziness or headaches lately?"
"An occasional headache," Reed reluctantly admitted.
"Mm-hmm. Faintness? Ringing in the ears? Rapid heartbeat?"
"No to all of the above."
"That's good. Still, I'd like to run a test for anemia, if you have no objection."
"Roll up your sleeve, please. I'll need a small blood sample."
Reed did as instructed while Phlox gathered the equipment he needed. It took only a few moments to collect the sample, and soon Reed was rolling his sleeve back down. He wondered if Phlox had done the same with Cormack, but he didn't ask. It wasn't his business, and he didn't want the doctor to know he was curious. "Is there anything else?"
"No. Thank you for your cooperation." Phlox held up the sealed vial of blood. "I'll let you know what I learn from this."
"Thanks." He doubted Phlox would learn anything other than, perhaps, that his "frazzled" state wasn't medically based. I wonder if he already knows that. There was no way to know without asking, and again Reed had no intention of asking.
He stood. "Good evening, then."
As Reed departed, Phlox watched him out of the corner of his eye once more. He glanced down at the vial, and then called over his shoulder. "Liz?"
The ensign appeared from where she was working at a console just a few steps out of sight. "Yes?"
"Run an anemia test on this for me please." Phlox didn't expect her to find anything, but it would at least rule out an obvious physical reason for Lieutenant Reed's ongoing fatigue.
"Another one?" She took the vial.
"Yes. Do you have the results of the previous test?"
"Yeah. Everything was right on the money."
"Good, good. Thank you."
Liz disappeared again, leaving Phlox alone. He'd found during his time on Earth that anemia was a surprisingly common concern in Starfleet. So many officers and enlisted personnel had the bad habit of working too hard and not taking proper care of themselves. Reed, for one, clearly hadn't been eating properly; he'd lost nearly four kilos over the past month. And he wasn't the only one.
It had been a hassle getting Ensign Cormack to allow Phlox to take a sample of her blood, but learning that she was not anemic was worth it. Of course he'd never really thought she was, any more than he thought Lieutenant Reed was. I suspect this is a matter more for Doctor Douglas than for me, he thought. If things don't improve soon, I'll speak with him about it.
Travis looked around the mess hall. He spotted his quarry conveniently seated alone, and headed towards him.
"Hey, Malcolm," he said as he reached him. "Mind if I join you?"
Malcolm looked up from his lunch distractedly. "What? No. Go ahead."
"Am I interrupting anything?" Travis sat, setting down his tray of bacon, scrambled eggs, and orange juice.
"No," repeated Malcolm. "My mind was just wandering."
"That doesn't happen much. Is everything okay?" The helmsman tucked into his breakfast eagerly.
"Fine, yes." Malcolm smiled, although it was somewhat distracted and forced. He'd not spent much time with Travis lately, and he was genuinely pleased for his company. His mind simply wasn't on the moment.
Travis, on the other hand, was there on a mission. He was under instruction from Liz to do some snooping. She was worried about Stephanie. The armory ensign was looking particularly ragged lately, and she was certain it was more than just the switch to Gamma shift that was responsible. For reasons Travis wasn't entirely clear on, Liz was convinced it had something to do with Malcolm. Despite his own doubts, Travis had given in to her coercion. He'd even gotten up early for Beta shift so he had a better chance to catch Malcolm at lunch.
"You been up on the bridge today?" Travis asked between bites.
"No. I've had things to do in the armory."
"I just wondered how Bonnie was doing." At least it was true. Travis wasn't a great liar, and he knew it. Hopefully the approach he'd chosen would distract Malcolm from his real purpose.
Malcolm heard the curiosity in the younger man's voice and decided to tease him a little. "You wondered how she was doing on your shift, you mean."
"Things are sort of weird right now—with the shifts," Travis said, avoiding a direct answer. "I mean, I know it's just my turn to work Beta shift, and it's good because Liz is, too." Malcolm smirked knowingly. Travis flushed. This wasn't what he was here to talk about. He quickly went on. "How's your team doing? Now that you've got everyone back, and everything."
"Everyone's curious about that," Malcolm said dryly, remembering Trip's similar query the previous week and Phlox's comments only yesterday evening.
Travis shrugged, trying to look causal. He'd never heard why Young was temporarily relieved of duty. He had a feeling Hoshi knew what was up, but she'd refused to spill so he'd finally given up asking her. While he still wanted to know, that wasn't his current objective. "I just wondered because I think the extra workload—and now Gamma shift right after it—is getting to Stephanie."
Malcolm tensed imperceptibly. His voice betrayed nothing when he asked, "Why do you say that?"
"I saw her the other evening and she looked tired."
"Run down," Travis amended. "Liz is a little worried about her, actually. Do you have any idea what's up?"
"Oh." Travis took a bite of eggs and washed it down with orange juice. "I just figured you might know, since you're her C.O."
"Oh," said Travis again. He fell silent, apparently intent on his breakfast, but actually desperately trying to think of another tactic to gain the information he was after.
Malcolm was glad for the silence, strained though it was. It gave him time to collect himself and his thoughts. Internally, he squirmed. He had lied to Travis, and Travis didn't deserve to be lied to. But the helmsman seemed to have a knack for unknowingly asking uncomfortable questions. Or perhaps he does know, Malcolm thought. Considering it now, it seemed obvious that Travis must know everything. Undoubtedly Stephanie would have told Liz what was wrong, and Liz would surely have told Travis.
Enough is enough. Malcolm rose. "Excuse me."
Caught unprepared and with his mouth full, Travis could say and do nothing to stop him.
"It was nice talking to you."
Travis swallowed quickly and called to Malcolm's back, "I'll see you around."
Malcolm gave no indication whether or not he heard him. He simply left the mess hall. He found the nearest computer interface panel and queried it for Stephanie's location.
Naturally, he thought, learning she was in her cabin. He ran another quick query to be certain she was alone. It was one thing to wake her up—it was the middle of Alpha shift, after all—but it would be another thing entirely if he were to interrupt something other than her sleep. Of course, he remembered, Bonnie's on the bridge.
More confident now, he headed towards her quarters. He hoped she hadn't yet gone to bed. He really didn't want to disturb her, but he knew if he didn't go through with this now he might never do it.
He reached her door and rang the chime immediately, not giving himself the chance to back out here at the last.
There was a pause while he waited. He wondered if he had indeed woken her and that was what was causing the delayed response. Then he experienced a moment of absurd panic, thinking the computer had been incorrect and she was entertaining company.
The door whooshed open, startling him from his thoughts.
"Lieutenant?" Stephanie said in surprise. She shifted on her feet, unexpectedly uncomfortable to be standing in front of her C.O. in her pajamas. He's seen them before, she reminded herself. And he's the one who came looking for me. He'll just have to deal with what he's found. She stood up straight. "Is something wrong?"
Keenly aware of the inappropriateness of his request, he asked, "May I come in?"
"I suppose." She stepped back and he entered the cabin, but he stayed near enough to the door that it remained open. Stephanie noticed it, but made no comment.
"I wanted " Malcolm began, and then paused. Travis was right; she looked run down. The lines between her eyebrows were more pronounced than usual, and her eyes were shadowed and tired. Realizing he was staring, he cleared his throat and started again. "I appreciate the extra effort you put into your work while we were shorthanded. Your help was invaluable. You've been doing an outstanding job."
He paused again and Stephanie, taken by surprise and not knowing what else to do, said, "Thanks."
Encouraged, Malcolm took this as a cue to continue. "Perhaps I could come by again at a more convenient time, and we could listen to that Cordelia's Sisters album you mentioned a while back."
Stephanie was pleased, but wary. "I uploaded it to the main computer," she said, and then immediately wished she hadn't.
"I know. I just thought it would be nice to have some company."
"Uh, sure. That'd be cool." She smiled, but the smile was cautious and didn't entirely reach her eyes.
He smiled tentatively back. "Good. I'll leave you be, then. You're obviously " He gestured at her attire.
"Huh?" Stephanie glanced down at herself. She'd been so shocked by the conversation that she'd forgotten she wasn't exactly in uniform. "Oh!" She chuckled a little self-consciously and crossed her arms over her midriff. "Right."
"Good-night, then." Malcolm turned to go.
As he stepped out into the corridor, Stephanie took his place keeping the door open. "I'm glad you stopped by."
Malcolm smiled again and nodded once. "Sleep well."
"Thanks. Bye." She stepped back and let the door close. She stood there for several moments, a small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. It wasn't so much the praise that pleased her, although it was most welcome. It was the fact that at last Malcolm had spoken to her not just as a commanding officer, but as a friend.
She frowned suddenly in annoyance. And where are Bonnie and Mae? On duty where I can't exactly call them and tell them the good news. She considered the problem briefly before deciding it was okay. She would keep this new development to herself until she and Malcolm had actually spent some down time together. No point telling them yet. Not while there's a chance it'll fall through. That'd only make things worse.
She turned off the light and climbed into bed. I'll tell them later. After the fact.
With that thought firmly in her mind, she eventually drifted off to sleep.
Ari stood a few steps outside the door to Main Engineering. Mae was still inside even though Alpha shift was over. He was waiting for her. It was one of the scariest things he'd ever done.
What am I doing? he asked himself over and over as he stood there.
The door opened, and he jumped slightly. It wasn't Mae. He nodded pleasantly at the crewman who passed him with a puzzled look on his face. This is nuts. She's not going to be happy I ambushed her.
What if she goes out another door? Ari quickly queried the computer, and then let out a sigh. She's still in there. But why? He grew paranoid. Does she know I'm here and she's avoiding me?
No, no. Then she would go out another door. She's probably just finishing up a project or something. She's responsible that way. He smiled, and then jumped again as the door whooshed open once more.
This time he was in luck. "Hey!" Ari exclaimed, startling Mae in turn.
"Hey," she replied doubtfully. "What're you doing here?"
"I'm waiting for you."
"Oh." There was a brief, awkward pause. "I'm here."
"Yeah." Faced with her now, Ari didn't have the faintest idea what to say.
Caught completely unprepared, Mae was equally at a loss. "Yeah."
As they stood there in uncomfortable silence, the door behind Mae opened. A trio of engineering crewmen emerged. They looked at the ensigns curiously as they passed by.
Ari avoided their gazes. "Um Do you want to walk?"
"Sure." Mae didn't really want to, but it was better than standing there. They began to stroll slowly and aimlessly, taking random turns whenever the urge struck them.
Eventually, Ari asked, "How are you?"
"Fine," Mae replied so quickly she practically cut him off. "Fine. You?"
Ari's response was equally hasty. "Good. Thanks."
"Good." There was another short but painfully awkward pause. "So. You're all healed up, then?" Mae knew it sounded stupid and she mentally kicked herself for it.
"Oh, yeah. Great." Ari was annoyed with himself for his inane reply. Yet he compounded his inanity with more. "Still a twinge or two, but I'm doing really well."
"Good. That's good."
The walked in uneasy silence while Ari wracked his brain for what to say. He was anxious to know whether or not she'd experienced what he'd thought was his own private hallucination, but he didn't want to reveal anything if she hadn't. He was at a loss for how to ask. I'm a med-tech, not a spy, he thought in frustration. Extracting information from unwitting marks wasn't his strong suit. He simply wasn't sneaky by nature.
That wasn't all that held him back. He was afraid to learn the truth because in a small corner of his mind he believed he already knew.
Finally he spoke again. "I haven't seen you much lately."
"Yeah. I've been really busy." Don't ask what with, she thought frantically. If he did, she was screwed. The truth was she hadn't been busy, she'd been avoiding him. But she wasn't about to say so out loud because then Ari was bound to ask why. And then what do I tell him? If I admit I freaked out and why, he'll think I'm being ridiculous, or selfish, or just stupid. Mae knew they needed to talk, but she hadn't reached any conclusions on her own yet. She couldn't discuss her problem with him before solving it for herself. Knowing that Phlox had had a similar vision of Ari when he wasn't actually there only made matters more complex. And she still didn't know if Ari knew about any of it.
"I've missed you," Ari went on, unaware of her perturbation.
Mae was relieved, but still wary. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. I like seeing you every day."
"Oh. I like that, too."
"Yeah? That's great." Ari smiled briefly, then grew thoughtful. Say something else. You'll never get anywhere if you keep your mouth shut, he chided himself. "How are things in Engineering?"
"Busy." Mae cringed internally at the perpetuated lie.
"Oh yeah. So you said." He wondered how he could turn the topic to his advantage. "So Just routine stuff?"
"Yeah. I guess."
"Nothing out of the ordinary, then?"
Mae gave him a puzzled frown. She wondered where he was going with this odd line of questions. Caught up in her own problems, she decided it was just an excuse to keep talking. "Not that I know of."
"Oh. Good." He felt a moment of relief. Maybe she doesn't know.
A shot of paranoia struck her. "Why? Have you heard something?"
"No," Ari said quickly. "No, nothing."
They turned a corner and found they were once more outside the door to Main Engineering.
"We're back where we started," Mae said.
"Yeah. I guess so."
Another silence fell over the pair.
"Are you hungry?" asked Ari. He felt more confident now that he suspected Mae hadn't witnessed his death-bed declaration of love after all.
"I " She was, but she wasn't sure if she was ready to spend that much time alone with him making awkward conversation. "I was " Mae found she couldn't lie to him any more. "Yeah, I am."
"Do you want to have dinner with me?"
No, her mind said. But she found her mouth had other ideas. "Sure."
They began walking again, this time toward the mess hall.
Talk to him, Mae told herself. How are you going to know what to do if you don't at least talk to him? Before she could stop herself, she said, "So you're really okay?"
"After how badly you were hurt—you're really okay?"
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"Yeah. Good as new." Ari smiled reassuringly.
"But it was close." Now that the words were out there, she couldn't seem to stop more from following.
His smile turned to a small frown. "Yeah. It was."
"You scared the shit out of me, you know."
Ari jumped at her vehement declaration. "I "
Mae stopped walking and turned to glare at him. "I didn't even know you were off the ship until Stephanie told me you were missing. No one knew where you were. The sensors were all screwed up. I don't know how they finally found you. Then I saw you—in sickbay " Her voice caught. She swallowed and went on. "You were a mess. Wired up to all those machines " She shuddered.
Ari waited for her to go on. When it seemed she wouldn't, he decided he'd better say something. "I I didn't know."
"Didn't know?" Mae echoed blankly. "What?"
"I didn't know you were so upset."
Mae's eyes went wide. "How could I not be upset?!" she demanded. "You show up out of nowhere, you say you love me, and then you disappear. Then I find out you're MIA on a frozen alien planet. How could I not be upset?!"
"I say ?" Ari felt cold.
"You saw me in Engineering?"
"I thought so." Her tone was accusatory. "But you weren't there to be seen."
"Yes, I was."
"No, you weren't."
"Yes, I was."
"No, you weren't!"
"Yes! I was."
His tone was so firm that Mae actually paused in her rant. "What? You ?" He nodded, and she fell silent for several seconds. "How ? You " Her spinning thoughts landed on what she felt was the most salient point. "You love me?"
Ari took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I think so."
Mae was incredulous. "Wait. You think so? What the hell?!"
Ari winced. Wrong answer! Wrong answer! screamed his panicked brain. "I believed it when I said it to you."
"Now I think so." For God's sake! he shouted furiously at himself. It was wrong before, what the hell makes you think it's right now?!
Ari froze. He was afraid to ask exactly what that particular 'Huh' meant in this context. He waited in tense silence for her to say something else. After an interminable moment, she did.
He waited for more, but nothing was forthcoming. "Okay?"
She met his worried gaze with unanticipated calm. "Okay. I'm okay with that."
"I " Watch it! his mind warned him. " am?"
Mae nodded. "Good. So am I." She realized she really was.
When she again failed to go on, Ari couldn't help asking, "You ? What about you?"
"Me?" She looked at him. It didn't take a genius to know what he meant. "I'll let you know."
"You'll ?" Am I ever going to complete another coherent sentence?
"Let you know," she finished for him. "Okay?"
He thought about it before answering carefully, "Okay."
"Good. You ready for dinner?"
"Definitely." He was going to add, 'And a drink,' but two thoughts stopped him: I'm still on pain meds, and, Don't say it! He smiled back at her a little uneasily, and gestured for her to precede him into the mess hall. "After you."
Instead, Mae took his arm in her own. "I like this better."
Liz poked her head around the wall behind Phlox. "I've finished with my report on those Ice Planet arachnids," she announced, using the name she'd given the frozen world where they'd acquired the spiders.
Phlox looked up from his study of the interference data collected on the same mission. He smiled a little wearily. "Thank you."
"Is there anything else you need tonight? It's just that I'd like to go a little early if that's all right." It was unusual for her to make such a request, and she felt she should explain her reason for asking. "I want to try to catch Stephanie before she goes on Gamma shift."
"You're still concerned about her, I take it."
"Yeah." Liz leaned on the edge of the counter, her hands resting there on either side of her hips. "You saw her the other day. She's nearly burnt out. I'm afraid if things don't improve soon, something bad will happen."
"Hm. I have to agree. But what do you hope to improve?"
Liz looked suddenly sly and a little embarrassed. "Well I actually had Travis working on that." At Phlox's curious look, she went on. "I had him do a little snooping."
"Snooping?" Phlox asked, enjoying another new word.
"Prying, really. I had him go bother Lieutenant Reed. I want to know if he knows what's going on with Stephanie—and if he doesn't, I want to change that."
"Ah! So I'm not alone in thinking there's something going on between the two of them." It was an encouraging discovery—unlike every dead end he'd faced in his research on the magnetic ore.
"More like the lack of something going on. They were friends, and now I don't know what they are. I don't think they know either. Of course not speaking to each other outside of work is probably making it tough to figure out." There was bitterness in her voice on her bunkmate's behalf. "So if it's all right, I'd like to go early."
Phlox smiled again in understanding. "Of course. If it helps them both in the long run, I can certainly do without your assistance for the rest of tonight's shift."
She gave him an appreciative smile in return. "Thanks." She stood. "I'll let you know if I find out anything."
He simply nodded his own thanks, and she left.
Phlox took a moment to enjoy the quiet before turning back to his work. It wasn't long, though, until he reached out and shut off the screen. He'd spent many hours poring over not only the raw data, but all the information Commander Tucker had sent to the sickbay computer and the results of the scans he'd taken of the various crewmembers. Unfortunately he'd come to no more conclusion than the commander and T'Pol had. His recognition of the patterns' similarity to human brain waves seemed pointless now. It had so far led nowhere.
Not nowhere, he reminded himself. It does appear that the ore was the enabling factor in Ari's psychic projections. And I can think of at least one person who will be pleased to hear that—even if I can't prove or disprove it absolutely. I doubt that will matter to Ensign Young.
His Pyrithian bat chittered, drawing him from his thoughts. He rubbed his eyes and rose, crossing to the bat's cage. "Time to take a break, eh? I think you're right." He continued to talk as he fed first the bat, and then the rest of his menagerie in turn. "A little time away from the problem may be what I need to get a new perspective on it. Then again, it may be that the ore is just as inexplicable as the human mind."
Two years on Enterprise, plus the time he'd spent on Earth before that, wasn't nearly enough time to truly understand his human shipmates. Still, he enjoyed the process of learning about them. Every new discovery was fascinating on some level. "I suppose the problem with this data is that I haven't had a new discovery since the first one. It's a little discouraging."
He peered into the tank containing his osmotic eel. "You look hungry. We haven't had anyone in here for you to feed on lately, have we?" The process the eel used to heal wounds was a symbiotic one. In healing, it also fed. That meant that when the crew remained healthy Phlox had to supplement the eel's diet. He fetched a container from a refrigerated unit and used another station to warm it to body temperature. "Here you go." Using an oversized eyedropper, he sucked up liquid from the container and spread a thin layer of it over the eel. The eel squirmed as the stuff sank through its thick skin.
Phlox smiled. "Like that, do you? Well, I don't think seconds would do any harm." He repeated the process, and then closed the tank. As he returned the container of food to the fridge, the sickbay door slipped open and med-tech Northfield entered.
She smiled in greeting. "Good evening, Doctor."
"Good evening," he replied. "Is it that late already?"
"Midnight on the nose," she confirmed.
Normally Phlox was pleased to have company in sickbay. Denobulans were naturally social people who spent little time alone. Tonight was a rare occasion when wished he had the place to himself.
Ah well, he thought. Any time spent with a friend is time well spent. If nothing else, it was an opportunity to learn more about humans. There was something he hadn't had a chance to discuss with any female crewmembers, and he was eager to rectify that. Now he could. "Tell me, Emily, how did you enjoy the movie last week?"
As carefully as he could, Trip rolled over onto his side. Malcolm moved in his sleep next to him, but surprisingly didn't wake. Trip was glad. He didn't want his lover asking what was keeping him up—particularly when it was Malcolm's presence that was to blame for the engineer's restlessness.
And not in the good way, Trip thought. He loved having Malcolm with him every night. He was just tired of the two of them being cramped on a bunk that—while nearly wide enough for them to lie side by side—was really only meant for one person. There just wasn't enough room for Trip to spread out and get comfortable.
In the past it hadn't mattered. On the nights they spent together they would usually exhaust each other enough that sleeping afterwards wasn't a problem. Now that they were living together, even Trip had to admit he wasn't up to having passionate, exhausting sex every single night.
As he lay there, listening to Malcolm's quiet breathing, his mind wandered to the letters they'd recorded to his folks and to Madeline shortly after New Year's. He wondered if they'd been delivered, and then guessed that they had. The letters had been sent while Enterprise was still in range of Echo Three, and plenty of time had passed for them to have cleared both Starfleet and civilian channels.
Maybe now we've told them that we've moved in together, Malcolm will be willing to put in a requisition for a new bunk. Malcolm hadn't said it in so many words, but Trip was fairly sure this was what held him back. He could tell his lover wasn't ready for word to get out about their change in living arrangements. It frustrated him in more ways than one. He didn't like keeping secrets.
Feeling too warm, he removed his t-shirt and tossed it to the floor. Again Malcolm shifted, but didn't wake.
I wonder what Madeline thought when she got her letter, Trip pondered. It was a pointless musing. He'd never met her. All he had to go on were Malcolm's rare stories of their childhood, and that wasn't enough even to base a guess on. He couldn't begin to speculate on how she might react. His own parents, though They were another matter.
He'd kept them relatively informed about his life, including his relationship with Malcolm. The letters he'd received from his folks in reply were cautious and encouraging at the same time. His mother was all for whatever made him happy, but she also knew how Trip's heart had been broken more than once when past relationships had fallen apart. Trip's father was pleased that he'd finally gotten smart and fallen for a fellow Starfleet officer. He'd warned his son more times than Trip could count about the problems incurred when a career officer and a civilian tried to make it work. "It's just asking for trouble," the elder Charles Tucker always said. Trip's own experience had proved his father right. He hoped it was merely coincidence. Though he'd never voiced it to anyone, he harbored a fear that it was his own fault his earlier relationships had failed—not because he was career Starfleet, but because there was something fundamental in him that caused him to screw things up just when they seemed to be going right.
Trip realized sleep was temporarily out of the question; his mind was too noisy for it. He slipped from the bed, and then waited in silence to be certain Malcolm still hadn't woken up. He hadn't. Normally that would have worried Trip, but he knew Malcolm had been working extra shifts despite having his team back to full staff. He works too hard, he thought, taking an indulgent moment to stand there and watch his partner sleep.
Boxer-clad and barefoot, Trip padded across the cabin, picking up his shirt and tossing it into the laundry on his way to the desk. Before Malcolm, he would have simply let it lay there. Hell, I probably would've worn it again in the morning. He smiled at the obvious and positive effect Malcolm had had on him.
He sat at the desk. Making sure the screen was angled so its light wouldn't disturb Malcolm, he switched it on. Normally he preferred to video-record his letters, but he settled for typing this one.
Dear Lizzie, he began.
Sorry I haven't written in a while. Things on Enterprise are pretty busy most of the time, but they're good. We discover something new nearly every day.
He paused and reread what he'd just typed. Trip shook his head, and then deleted the last sentence.
He tried again.
Malcolm and I are doing really well. Mom and Dad have probably have told you the news. He and I finally moved in together.
He paused again. For some reason he was having trouble deciding what to write. It was weird. Usually he found his little sister easy to talk to. They were nearer to one another in age than either was to the rest of their siblings. Despite the normal childhood feuds, they'd always been close. Trip wondered why he couldn't think of what to say to her. It's just easier to record it, I guess. He often felt more comfortable talking than writing, and apparently that was carrying over to this letter.
Several minutes ticked past while he stared at the few lines on the screen. Giving it up as a lost cause, he deleted the letter. I'll record one tomorrow, he promised himself. Maybe I'll even get Malcolm to say something.
Still wide awake, he looked around for something he could do to pass the time until his mind was quiet enough to let him sleep. His options were limited, and he finally decided to read a book. Before he left the computer, though, he took a moment to fill out a requisition request for a bigger bed. He didn't send it, but saved it for the moment when Malcolm was finally ready. It was a moment that couldn't come soon enough, in Trip's opinion.
He shut off the screen and stood up. There was a datapad on the nightstand containing Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth. He retrieved it, taking it back to the desk and sitting down once more. He put his feet up and turned on the pad. The light of the screen was just enough to read by, although in his mind he could hear his mother scolding him for reading in the dark. "It'll make you squint and you'll get lines," she'd told him growing up. He chuckled softly, found his bookmark, and began to read.