Log Rhythms - Season Two
"But what on Earth could he want to talk about?" demanded Reed nervously.
"I don't know," answered Tucker for the nth time. "It's just breakfast, Malcolm. Relax. It'll be fine."
"Of course you'd say that. You've known him for years." He fidgeted with the collar of his uniform yet again.
The engineer grabbed his lover's hands and held them still. "Exactly my point," he said. "I know he doesn't have any dark ulterior motives. You're not getting fired. You're not getting busted. He probably just wants to get to know you better."
"He knew my service record when he recruited me. Since then he's found out my birthday and my favorite food. What more does he need to know?"
"Don't forget he knows you're sleeping with his best friend," teased Trip, trying to lighten his spirits.
"Thank you. That makes me feel particularly confident."
"You'll be fine." The blond man pressed a reassuring kiss on his partner's lips. "Just be you."
"With all due respect, love, that's not the most helpful advice you've ever given me."
Fiasco. That was the word that continued to run through Reed's mind as the lift took him and Captain Archer to the bridge. Breakfast had been a fiasco. Trip was going tease him about it when he found out, but he didn't care. He could handle a little ribbing from his partner better than a one-on-one meal with his captain.
But there was no time to worry about that now. The promise of a Minshara-class planet was a pleasant distraction even when it didn't rescue him from an awkward and unwelcome situation. He sat down at his tactical station and began checking the readings of the planet below.
Archer was happily making plans to visit the surface when all hell broke loose.
The explosion rocked the ship, all the more jarring for being so completely unexpected. Engineering was a madhouse. Tucker shouted orders as he tried to figure out exactly what had happened.
"Billy?" he called through sparks and smoke. "Billy!" The young crewman appeared beside him out of the chaos. Tucker clapped a firm hand on his shoulder. "Get a head count of everyone here. Make sure no one's missing. Then start getting any injured to sickbay."
"Yes, sir." The crewman began counting those nearest and moved off, working his way carefully through the confusion.
The comm chirped and Tucker heard, "Archer to Engineering."
"Captain," he answered, "what's going on?" The reply he got wasn't encouraging.
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"We've got plasma fires, an overload in the EPS grid, but whatever caused that explosion, I don't have a clue. Weapons fire? An asteroid?"
"Nothing on our sensors. How are your people?"
Tucker took a quick look around and spotted Billy. He gave the crewman a questioning look, which the young man returned with a thumbs up. "A few bumps and bruises," the relieved engineer told his captain. "But we're all right."
"Keep me posted. Archer out."
"All right, people," Tucker called to the room, "let's get these fires out so we can figure out what's gone up in smoke and what's salvageable."
The facts, when Tucker learned them, didn't make him feel better. They'd wandered into a cloaked minefield surrounding an M-class planet. The quantum beacons they'd used to detect the Suliban two months ago had allowed them to learn this much. It was one of these mines that had damaged Enterprise. Not long after the explosion, a second mine had attached itself to the ship's starboard side not five meters from the impulse reactor. A little luck was on their side this time as the mine's proximity sensors were damaged, and it didn't explode.
Trip knew he shouldn't have been surprised to hear Malcolm was out on the ship's hull trying to disarm it. It was exactly the sort of thing Enterprise's Armory Officer lived for. The fact that it tied Trip's guts into knots just thinking about it was irrelevant.
That's what you get for falling in love with a man who works with explosives, he chided himself. As far as comforting thoughts went, it wasn't high on the scale, but it was the truth.
Right now the ship was on maneuvering thrusters only, moving slowly out of the minefield under the steady hand of Ensign Mayweather. Somewhere behind them followed an alien ship. It had shown up to warn them off not long after Reed had gone out on his space walk. The vessel had re-cloaked after firing a couple of less than subtle warning shots across Enterprise's bow. Unfortunately, the quantum beacons weren't able to penetrate the ship's cloak as they had the mines'.
Tucker sat at the bridge's tactical station, coordinating efforts to detach the section of hull plating where Reed was working on the mine. It was going to take several hours and some serious re-routing of the already damaged EPS grid to do it. The Captain had promised it would be a last resort, and of course they wouldn't detach anything while Reed was still out there, but all his reassurances didn't help the twisted up, frightened feeling in Tucker's belly.
His eyes widened in alarm as he heard Reed's voice through the comm calmly announcing that a third magnetic spike had extended from the mine, joining its fellows in holding the explosive in place. On its way, the spike had gone through Reed's leg. Now the armory officer was trapped, pinned to the hull—the very piece of hull Tucker's team was working to remove.
"I'll be right there," Archer replied sharply. "You have the Bridge," he added to T'Pol. He was already half-way to the turbolift before Tucker could get a word out.
He rose, hurrying toward his departing C.O. "Captain, I should be the one to go out there. I'm the engineer." His look said what his words couldn't in the circumstances. Let me go. I have to save him! I need him!
Archer saw it, easily reading the expression on his old friend's face. "That's why I need you here, Trip," he said aloud. He hoped the younger man could read his own expression just as easily. I'll bring him back. I promise.
The lift door closed behind him, and he was gone.
Trip should have known it was futile to argue. No words, no pleading look was going to make the Captain change his mind and send Tucker out there instead. It might have, the engineer tried to convince himself. If he hadn't taken off so damn fast.
Now he was stuck waiting. Damage reports were still coming in, although they'd slowed considerably since the initial impact with the alien mine. He tried to throw himself into the task of preparing to jettison the piece of hull plating, but his heart wasn't in it—particularly not with Malcolm now pinned to that same piece of plating.
When T'Pol suggested a visit to Ensign Sato in sickbay, he was all for it. It was a distraction, and he expected it would be a productive one, too.
Out on the hull, work progressed slowly. Reed was feeling better after the hypospray Archer had given him for the pain, but he was anxious to get through this task and get back inside the ship. If I can, he thought dourly. Face facts, Malcolm. There's a very good chance you're not going to survive this one. He was a realist, and it was realistic to believe he was going to die out here. He hoped it wouldn't come to that, of course, but in his opinion it was a strong possibility.
Life gives no guarantees. It was something his father had often said while Malcolm was growing up. It was the argument he'd thrown back at his father when he'd joined Starfleet rather than the Royal Navy. He chuckled mirthlessly at the sheer irony of it being forcibly thrust in his own face now.
"Care to share what's so funny?" asked Archer. "I could use a little pick-me-up."
Reed's expression grew closed. "Just an old memory, sir," he said reluctantly. "Nothing important."
"Uh-huh." Archer didn't believe him, but he let the matter drop. He was concentrating on the detonation circuit he was disarming, gently turning each rod in whatever direction his Armory Officer instructed. "So," he said, feeling the need of conversation in the huge vacuum of space. "Tell me about you and Trip."
Reed was happy the captain couldn't see his expression at that moment. He was sure his wide eyes and gaping mouth were less than dignified. He tried to pull himself together before answering. A startled, "Sir?" was all he could manage.
"I'm not asking for details," Archer assured him, never taking his eyes from his work. "But I've known Trip a long time. In a lot of ways he's like a little brother to me. I think I have the right to ask what your intentions are toward him."
"Intentions?" Reed was stalling. What are my intentions? Dear lord! I didn't think anyone asked that anymore!
"Yeah. Your intentions." The captain stole a split second to glance down at the trapped lieutenant. He was too far away for Reed to see the sparkle of mischief in his eyes. He knew he was taking unfair advantage of the situation on several levels, but conversation helped him focus. That's my story and I'm sticking to it, he thought wryly. "I figure now is as good a time as any to ask. Unless you have somewhere else to be?"
I'd rather be anywhere else, thought Malcolm, for a number of reasons. "I think my schedule is clear," he said with just the barest hint of sarcasm.
Archer chuckled softly, eyes once again focused on the detonation circuit. "So? You certainly don't seem like the love-'em-and-leave-'em type to me, but I could be wrong."
You haven't asked around back in San Francisco, have you? thought Malcolm with dark self-derision. It had never been his intention to 'love-'em-and-leave-'em,' as the captain put it, but his inability to get close to any of his partners had led to something of the sort. It had left him with rather an unfair and unfortunate reputation in certain circles.
Apparently Archer felt he'd been silent too long. "I'm not quite certain what to say, sir," admitted Reed. "I have no intention of leaving Commander Tucker, if that's what you're asking."
"That's good to know. I'm done with this circuit," said Archer. He watched in relief as the now disarmed circuit went dark and slid back into its casing.
"Very good." Reed was happy for the change of subject. He consulted the large scanner he held, determining which circuit to approach next. "Move two panels to your right, and release the catch at the upper left of the roundel."
The captain did as instructed and another glowing detonation circuit extended. Reed began instructing him once again. It was a different sequence to deactivate this one, and the lieutenant had the sinking feeling every one of the five detonation circuits would be distinctly different. It was going to take even longer than he'd originally anticipated.
I hope we're done with the chit-chat, he thought.
As it turned out, Tucker was right about the visit to the communications officer. Productive, but not real comforting, he thought.
He and T'Pol listened to Sato's rough translation of the aliens' message. "They say they've annexed this planet in the name of something called 'The Romalin Star Empire,'" the ensign said.
Tucker was vaguely familiar with the name from what little Archer had been able to tell him. T'Pol, too, recognized it.
"Romulan," she said. "It's pronounced Romulan."
Sato relayed the rest of the message and promised to have a reply ready within an hour. T'Pol nodded and rose from her seat across from the ensign.
She and Tucker stood by the sickbay comm, and the Vulcan opened a line to the Captain. The science officer gave Archer a brief run down on the Romulans and the transmission they had sent, demanding Enterprise leave the system immediately.
Tucker crossed his arms and leaned tiredly against the bulkhead beside the comm panel. "How's it going out there, Captain?" he asked, hoping to hear they were almost ready to come back inside.
"We've taken two of the detonation circuits off-line," came Archer's slightly strained voice. "Three more to go. Keep me posted."
"Aye, sir." He closed the comm and exchanged a look with T'Pol. "I'm going to check on the progress my team's making on the hull plating."
"Understood," the Vulcan woman replied.
Trip pushed wearily away from the wall and headed to the exit. He gave Hoshi a reassuring pat on the shoulder and a smile he hoped was encouraging as he passed the injured ensign.
Once out in the corridor, he took a moment to collect himself. To all outward appearances, he was fine, other than his disheveled appearance and the dark circles under his eyes. The truth was he was strung tighter than a bow. He only hoped he wouldn't snap before the current crisis passed. He scrubbed rough fingers through already-tousled blond hair and let out a heavy sigh. He was dog tired, and here it was only a little past lunch time—not that he'd had a moment to eat anything.
Hell of a lot of stuff happening in a short period of time, he thought wearily. I hate days like this.
He headed aft to where his team was working on the hull plating. He was wrapped up in his thoughts as he hailed the turbolift and it carried him closer to his destination.
Trip trusted Jon to do everything in his power to get Malcolm safely back inside, but it wasn't the same as doing it himself. But he was too quick for me, like he knew what I was gonna say. He gave a self-deprecating shake of his head. Of course he knew what I was gonna say, he chided himself.
Thinking about it now, he almost wished the captain had sent out one of the ship's security personnel. At least they were ordnance trained. But who of them would you trust, Trip? he asked himself. He shook his head again, knowing the most qualified person for the job, after Reed, was probably Cormack. In light of current events, his dislike of the ensign seemed suddenly less important.
It occurred to him that he and Malcolm still hadn't had the promised discussion about her yet, either. He'd been dreading it since the end of March when he'd finally admitted his less-than-friendly feelings toward her. Now, he'd happily have that conversation any place and any time if it meant Malcolm was safe once more.
Hell, I haven't even gotten to tell him T'Pol's crazy story about her great-grandmother crash landing in Pennsylvania. And I was looking forward to that one.
By the time he reached his destination, he'd made up his mind. He checked in with Lieutenant Hess and found everything was running as smoothly as could be expected. "All right," he said to her. "Everything's under control here, so I'm going to go check on some other repairs. Keep me posted on your progress."
"Yes, sir." She nodded returned to the EPS conduit she was re-routing. It wouldn't be long before they would be ready to release the hull plating. Tucker tried not to think of his lover and his best friend still out on that plating.
Quickly, he accessed the ship's computer and located Ensign Cormack. Of course, he thought, seeing her location as the armory. He summoned a turbo lift and took it to F-deck.
The atmosphere in the armory was nearly as intense as that in Engineering. He spotted the blonde woman at the main console and descended the stairs to the lower level.
"Ensign Cormack," he said as he neared her.
Cormack started. "Commander! I didn't hear you." She turned to face him, keeping one hand resting lightly on the console. She was looking a bit worse for wear, but appeared to be unharmed.
Trip had an uncharitable moment of wishing she was the one out there on the hull, rather than his partner. He shoved the thought aside. He didn't want Stephanie hurt; he just wanted Malcolm safe and whole.
"What can I do for you?" asked Cormack.
"You know the situation topside, right?" he asked in return.
The woman's features darkened. "Yes, sir," she said grimly.
He wasn't sure how to continue. It felt strange, almost like a betrayal, to be here checking up on his captain with an ensign—an ensign he didn't even like. "What do you think the chances are Captain Archer'll be able to disarm that mine?"
If Cormack was surprised at his query, she didn't show it. "Better than most. If it can't be Lieutenant Reed or me doing it, he'd be my next choice."
"You think you'd have a better shot?" He leapt on the information.
"I don't know. I have the training, but I've only disarmed one live explosive. Other than that, it's all been training simulations." She noted the line of tension along Tucker's jaw, the little crease between his drawn brows. "Sir?" She was hesitant to continue. The vibes she'd gotten from the engineer lately made her unusually wary. "He'll be okay. I have faith in the Captain. He won't give up."
"No. He won't," agreed Tucker grimly. But I'm not so sure about Malcolm. It was well he couldn't know Cormack's thoughts were an echo of his own.
"Sir?" she continued, still hesitantly. At the commander's inquiring look, she continued. "If you talk to the lieutenant If he asks Tell him we're taking good care of his systems?"
Trip had a sudden moment of realization and recognition. The tone of Cormack's voice, the concerned tilt of her head—he knew them in himself, too. She was as worried about Malcolm as he was, but knew she couldn't say so out loud. Trip nodded a little stiffly, uncomfortable with this new discovery. "I'll tell him," he said, his voice unexpectedly rough with emotion. He cleared his throat, hoping the woman hadn't noticed.
Cormack gave him a ghost of a grateful smile. "Thank you, sir."
"What's going on out there?" Tucker asked, helping Archer release the locks on his EV suit helmet. The captain had come back inside with only four detonation circuits off-line and Malcolm still trapped. Tucker's heart almost stopped when he heard Archer's reply.
"We're going to detach the plating."
Trip went numb. He couldn't speak. He couldn't breathe.
Even T'Pol was taken aback at the news. There was a moment's pause before she said, "I'm sure you did all you could, Captain."
But Archer cut her off. "I'm going with him." He caught Trip's gaze and held it. He was relieved to see the engineer suddenly begin breathing again. Without taking time to explain his plan, he ordered Tucker to bring two shuttlepod hatches to the airlock.
Trip was confused, but he complied. Jon obviously had a plan, whatever it was, and Trip wasn't going to argue with him with a hostile enemy vessel hanging invisibly in space somewhere nearby.
The next several minutes went by in a haze for the engineer. He was trying not to think about what he was doing, what was happening. Just focus on the next step, he ordered himself firmly. Just forget that's your partner and your best friend out there. His efforts were having only limited success.
"Hang on, fellas," he said. He released the hull plating.
Seconds ticked past where he could do nothing. He found he was holding his breath, forced himself to release it and draw in another.
Even at over 700 meters away, the explosion's shockwave buffeted the ship.
T'Pol tried hailing Archer and Reed, but there was no response.
"Maybe their transmitters were knocked out in the blast," Tucker said, willing it to be true. "Travis?"
There was a brief pause before the ensign replied. "I see them," he said, a mix of relief and tension coloring his tones. "Bearing two-one-three mark four."
It seemed to take forever, but finally they had them aboard.
"Got to warp, Ensign," T'Pol ordered the moment the launch bay doors had closed behind the rescued officers.
Trip let out the breath he'd once again been holding. The immediate danger had passed; all that remained was to make certain the rescued men would be all right.
As soon as they were sure the Romulans weren't in pursuit, Tucker and T'Pol headed to the launch bay. Phlox met them at the door, and the three hurried inside.
Trip's relief at seeing the rescued officers was tempered by the metal spike that protruded from his lover's left thigh. Archer was supporting Reed in a sitting position on the launch bay floor. The heavier pieces of both men's EV suits lay in a discarded heap nearby. Phlox knelt next to the injured man, medical scanner humming as he examined his leg. T'Pol stood to one side behind the Denobulan. Trip took the next closest spot to the armory officer; he knelt at Malcolm's feet. At least here he could see his partner's face clearly and still be out of the doctor's way.
He gave Malcolm an encouraging smile. He was afraid to speak, afraid his emotions might burst through in an unseemly display that would have made everyone uncomfortable. He wouldn't have minded so much for himself, but he didn't want to do that to Malcolm. The dark-haired man had enough to deal with at the moment.
"We need to get you to surgery," Phlox told the lieutenant. "There's a litter on the way."
As he spoke, the door opened again and two med-techs entered with an anti-grav gurney. Trip reluctantly stepped aside so they could transfer Reed onto it. As soon as they were done, however, he moved to Malcolm's side and took his hand.
"It's all right," Malcolm said softly, reassuringly. "I'll be fine now."
"How many times do I have to tell you people to stop your self-diagnoses?" said Phlox amiably, although his light tone was laced with concern. "It's a strange habit humans seem to have." To his med-techs, he said, "Let's go."
Archer and T'Pol remained behind as the lieutenant was taken away. Tucker had other plans. The door was too narrow for him to remain at Reed's side as they passed through, but that didn't stop him staying close by as they made their way to sickbay. Once there, however, his intentions were thwarted.
"You'll have to stay outside," Phlox said gently but firmly when they reached the surgery. "You can wait for him in recovery if you like."
Things had calmed down in the medical bay since the explosion that morning. Phlox and his team had had a very busy day, but one by one the injured had been treated and released. Only the few worst cases were still there, sedated and resting quietly. Trip nodded mutely and immediately went to the smaller side room where those patients now slept.
That was where Archer found him an hour later. Divested of his EV suit and back in his uniform, the tired captain pulled up a chair and sat next to his friend.
"How are you?" he asked kindly.
Tucker didn't know how to respond. Wasn't this supposed to be the other way around? his mind wondered. Wasn't he supposed to be doing the comforting? Asking the solicitous questions? He looked at Jon in confusion, his thoughts spinning.
"Trip?" Archer's expression turned worried. "What's wrong?" He reached out a hand and placed it reassuringly on Tucker's shoulder. "Trip?" A little more anxiously. "Trip?"
"I almost lost him," the younger man said softly. "I almost lost you both." It was just above a whisper, but the words came clearly to Archer's ears.
"I wasn't going to let that happen."
"I thought When you said " He remembered the split second in which he'd thought Jon was going to cut Malcolm loose.
"Trip." There was a hint of command underlying Archer's tone. "I wasn't going to let that happen," he repeated firmly. "I wasn't going to let Malcolm die out there." He felt it best to keep his knowledge of Reed's own beliefs on the matter to himself. Prepared to die, my ass, the captain thought a little angrily, remembering the armory officer's words. Not on my watch, and not when you mean so much to Trip.
Trip said nothing more. He could barely formulate coherent thought at that moment; coherent speech was well beyond him. He stared straight ahead as if mesmerized.
"Look at me," said Archer. "Commander!" Tucker started and turned to look at his C.O. "Commander, report," the Captain ordered. It was the only thing he could think of that might snap his old friend out of the heavy funk that had fallen upon him.
Instinctively, Tucker sat up straight, eyes locked on a point in space directly in front of him. "Sir. Extensive damage to eight sub-sections of C and D decks. Emergency bulkheads holding and repairs proceeding. Large section of outer hull missing in starboard upper aft quadrant. Warp and impulse engines in fair condition. Repairs to EPS grid proceeding. Eighteen injured reported." It was all rattled off automatically and in one breath, but here his breath caught. "None dead."
"At ease, Commander," Archer said gently now.
Trip no longer sat ram-rod straight, but his shoulders and back were still stiff. He continued to stare straight ahead, lips pressed tightly together, hands resting on his lap. He looked to Jon as if he were holding his breath.
Then Archer understood. "It's all right," he said softly. "He safe now. We're all safe now."
At Jon's quiet words, Trip's shoulders slumped and he started to shake. Jon put an arm around his old friend, and Trip leaned against him. Silent tears spilled down the blond man's cheeks and onto the captain's strong shoulder. Jon said nothing, letting him cry out his relief, his fear, and all the tension the day had brought.
Phlox entered the recovery area quietly and noted the scene before him with a compassionate eye. He caught Archer's gaze with his own, and returned the captain's inquisitive look with a smile and a nod. Archer gave a small nod in return, and the doctor withdrew.
"Hey," said Jon softly, giving Trip a gentle squeeze with the arm that still encircled the younger man's shoulders. "Why don't we go see Malcolm."
Tucker sat up and looked at him. "He's ?" He couldn't finish.
"He's out of surgery. Phlox says he'll be fine." It didn't matter the physician hadn't actually said it; it was clearly his meaning when he'd smiled. "You might want to clean yourself up a little," teased Jon, looking at Trip's tear-streaked face and generally disheveled appearance.
"Malcolm'll never know. He's probably out cold," argued Trip dully. But he wiped his face with a sleeve and tried to tame his wild hair a little anyway. "Better?"
Jon couldn't help but smile. "No," he answered honestly. "But I'm sure Malcolm will forgive you."
"You don't know what a neat freak he is."
At this, Archer chuckled. If Trip was cracking jokes again, it was a good sign. "Let's go see him." They rose and entered sickbay proper.
The heavy plastic screens were hanging around Reed's biobed, separating him from the rest of the room. He wouldn't be moved to recovery until the anesthetics wore off and Phlox was sure he no longer needed constant monitoring.
Trip moved immediately to his bedside and took the sleeping man's hand in his own. He looked lovingly down at his partner's face. "He really gonna be okay, doc?" he asked Phlox without looking up.
"He'll be fine," the Denobulan reassured him. "He's a very lucky individual."
Tucker didn't argue, although he felt the doctor was wrong. I'm the lucky one, he thought, gently stroking Malcolm's dark hair with his free hand.
Behind him, he didn't see the silent exchange that passed between Archer and Phlox. He didn't even notice as the pair slipped away, leaving him alone with his sleeping lover.