Log Rhythms - Season Two
Isn't it supposed to rain on funerals? she thought, then let out a single mirthless chuckle. Of course it isn't raining.
The silence was oppressive, palpable. Not even the usual white noise of Enterprise's engines or the constant soft drone of the air cyclers penetrated the vacuum of sound that surrounded her.
The lights were dimmed in the launch bay. She stood alone. The others had left her to say her final goodbye to Travis Mayweather. The Captain's eulogy had been an equal mix of somber and heartening, recalling so many good things from the helmsman's too-short life. The others would all be waiting for her now in the mess hall where the wake would be held. All but Archer, who would open the bay doors, releasing the silver pod that contained Travis's body. It was programmed to enter a decaying orbit around the nearby red giant. Travis had first spotted the star only a few days ago.
She heard a rumbling noise, abrupt and jarring in the silence. Liz's eyes widened as she realized what she heard. The air in the launch bay was being sucked out. The cycle to open the bay to space had begun. Didn't the Captain know she was still here? She gasped in as much air as her lungs would hold and, sending a soundless good-bye to her dead lover, she raced for the stairs. There were only 42 seconds before the bay would be emptied of its air and the doors would open.
Liz counted the seconds in her head. Twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six
She'd almost reached the control room door when the bay doors began to open. No! she screamed in her mind. Too soon!
In her panic, she let go the breath she held and tried to catch another. But there was no air left. She was choking, unable to breathe, and her grip on the gangway railing slipped. She was falling inexorably toward the void of space
"Liz! Liz, wake up!" Stephanie shook her bunkmate, trying to wrest her from the dream that held her. "Come on, Liz! You're hyperventilating! Wake up!"
Liz's eyes flew open, but she continued gasp shallowly.
Stephanie quickly sat her up, swinging her friend's legs over the side of her bunk and immediately bending her over them so her head was at her knees. "What I wouldn't give for a paper bag," she muttered in impotent frustration. "Come on, Liz. Deep breaths, honey. Deep breaths."
Gradually, Liz's breathing slowed and deepened. After a minute or so, she sat up cautiously. Liz looked at her bunkmate. "What what happened?" she asked, still a little breathless.
"Your turn for the freaky dreams, apparently," Stephanie said. "Do you know what you were dreaming about?" When she saw Liz's eyes widen in horror, she was sorry she'd asked. "Never mind. You don't have to tell me. Forget I ever asked."
"It's okay," Liz assured her, but it was clear from the look on her face that nothing was really okay at that moment. "I need to see Travis."
The abrupt change of topic startled Stephanie. She glanced at the chronometer. "It's barely 0200."
"I don't care." Liz stood and wavered.
Stephanie put a steadying hand on her arm. "You sure you can make it on your own? I can walk you there," she offered.
"No. I'll be fine." Liz turned and pulled a blanket from her bunk, wrapping it around herself.
"You sure?" Stephanie repeated, dubious.
"Yeah. I'll be fine. See you later."
Without another word, Liz left the cabin.
Travis woke suddenly. He was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and his heart raced. His drawstring pajama bottoms clung to his damp skin. Snippets of his dream still swirled around his mind, but the harder he tried to grasp them, the quicker they vanished.
He started again when the door chimed suddenly. Confused and disoriented, he pushed back the covers and rose. He padded barefoot through the dimly lit cabin and opened the door. "Liz?"
"Can I come in?" asked Liz. Her hair was mussed from sleep, and she was wrapped in a blanket. She looked small and vulnerable.
"Of course." He stepped back, and she followed him into the room. "Are you okay?" he asked, closing the door behind her.
"Not really." She turned to face him, suddenly feeling shy and a bit silly. "I had a bad dream," she admitted.
She looked at him quizzically. "What was it?"
"I don't remember. There were voices in my head. But everything else disappeared when I woke up."
"Wish mine would," Liz muttered, mostly to herself.
Travis couldn't quite make out what she'd said. "What?"
"Nothing." She shook her head, trying to rid it of the all-too-clear images it held. "Can I stay? I I need you to hold me."
"Of course!" In a second he was next to her, taking her in his strong arms and holding her close.
Liz inhaled his scent, soothed by the warm humanness of it. She listened to his heart beating strongly in his chest, and she sighed. Calmed, she relaxed into his embrace.
Several minutes passed this way, each taking comfort in the other's presence. Finally Liz stirred. "I'm going to fall asleep on my feet," she joked softly.
"There's a bunk right here," answered Travis equally quietly. "You might be more comfortable in it than standing here."
"Only if you promise to keep holding me."
"Don't worry. I'm not going to let you go."
Together they climbed into the bunk, and Travis once more encircled Liz in his arms. In minutes both were fast asleep, and neither was troubled by dreams again that night.
"Morning, Stephanie," said Lawless, setting her latté and cereal on the mess hall table. She took a seat.
"Morning," was Cormack's unenthusiastic reply. She held her coffee mug in both hands as if she was afraid someone would try to take it from her. Dark circles ringed her hazel eyes.
"Up late last night?"
"Something like that."
Lawless just nodded, sensing she would be better off not asking what had happened. Her friend didn't look in the mood to discuss it. "You remember my roommate Bonnie?" she said, instead. She gestured to her bunkmate, an attractive woman with dark auburn hair and rich green eyes, who sat down next to her.
"Sort of," admitted Cormack abashedly. She perked up a little with the presence of 'company' at breakfast. "Nothing personal," she added hastily.
"It's okay," answered the new arrival. "We haven't actually worked together. I'm usually on Gamma-shift."
"Yeah, but I know we've met. Hang on. My brain's starting to function. You sang at the New Year's Eve party. You have a gorgeous voice!"
"Thanks." The younger woman smiled, flattered.
"Bonnie made ensign at the last reviews," Lawless reminded Cormack between bites of cereal.
"Oh yeah! Congrats!" said Cormack. Either the caffeine in her double latté was finally kicking in, or the blonde woman was abruptly and inexplicably energized by this information.
"Yeah. Ensign Bonnie Fraser," the newest officer said proudly, then added with some trepidation, "reporting for her very first Alpha-shift helm duty today."
"That's so cool!" exclaimed Cormack. "So you think they'll work you into the Alpha-shift rotation?"
"If I don't screw up too badly."
"You'll be fine," Lawless reassured her for what seemed like the seven-thousandth time since they'd risen that morning.
"Wish I could be on the bridge for you, but I'm stuck in the bowels of the ship this a.m., as usual," Cormack said. She took another swallow of her coffee.
"Does that bug you at all?" asked Fraser, sipping her own foamy, decaf latté. "I'd probably go ape-shit crazy if I didn't have any windows to look out all day." She looked at Cormack curiously, an intense expression on her face. She unconsciously tucked a loose lock of short, curly hair behind one ear.
"It gets to me once in a while," admitted Cormack, "but mostly I'm too busy to notice. And since Liz and I have a port in our quarters, I get my fair share of starlight."
"That's a life-saver, isn't it?" agreed Fraser. "I feel sorry for the people who're stuck in the inside cabins."
"Yeah." Cormack drained the last of her latté. "Well," she began reluctantly, "I better go. There's a lot to do after the last few days' activities." She meant, of course, the defense of the deuterium miners' colony from the marauding Klingons.
"Dirt in the hand weapons?" asked Lawless.
"Yeah. Who knew those guns could hold so much crap? I've got to get them cleaned out and charged up for use again. At least the landing party didn't take too many of them down to that planet."
"And we got a whole lot of deuterium in exchange."
"Were you in the landing party?" asked Fraser eagerly. Her only off-ship experience since Enterprise's launch had been as one of the shuttlepod pilots ferrying lucky crewmembers back and forth from shore leave on Risa.
"No. They only took a minimal complement. Enterprise needed to keep a low profile, so the fewer crewmembers down there fighting the Klingons, the better. So they said."
"We all know you wanted to go," teased Lawless.
"I'm still next up in the duty roster. I'll get to go next time." But the armory ensign sounded disappointed.
"But next time there might not be a planet with Klingons to fight."
"You got it," agreed Cormack. Her friend had hit the nail squarely on the head. "An alien planet and bad guys to fight." She sighed mournfully and shook her head. "It was a dream come true."
Lawless and Fraser both laughed at her despondent air. "You'll get over it," said the engineer.
"I'm sure there will be more planets and bad guys in the future," added Fraser consolingly.
Cormack knew they were making fun of her; she'd intentionally set herself up for it. She'd felt the need for a bit of humor this morning, and what easier way than making friends laugh at her? "You guys are all heart," she replied flatly. Then she dropped her sad demeanor and rose. "Gotta go. Good luck today," she said to Fraser.
"Thanks," replied the helmsman.
"See you later?" Cormack asked Lawless.
"Right on," she answered.
The bunkmates watched Cormack depart, collecting a second latté from the drinks dispenser as she went. As soon as the door shut behind her, Fraser turned to Lawless. "I know her from somewhere."
"The New Year's Eve party, maybe?" said Lawless with a tone of 'duh!' in her voice.
"No, somewhere else. Somewhere on Earth."
"Are you serious?"
"Totally. Where's she from?"
"Vancouver, BC. Don't mention the Orcas around her; you'll never get her to shut up."
"Orcas? The baseball team or the whales?"
"The baseball team," clarified Lawless.
"No problem, in that case. But I know I've seen her somewhere," Fraser insisted.
"Maybe it was back in training," suggested her bunkmate, sipping her espresso.
"Maybe. But I joined up the year you graduated from OTC, remember? We figured that out ages ago. I thought you said the two of you went through it together."
"So it can't be that." Fraser fell silent as she pondered the possibilities.
"You better finish your breakfast and get moving," Lawless said, breaking the silence.
Fraser started. "You're right. Crap." She quickly downed the last of her drink and grabbed the remains of her muffin to finish in the turbolift. She stood. "Thanks. See you for lunch?"
"If you survive the morning."
"I hate you."
Lawless grinned and winked at her friend. "Relax. You'll be fine. See you for lunch."
Travis was awake, but he didn't open his eyes. There was no reason to. He had the day off, and there was nowhere else he'd rather be than here in bed with Liz. The petite exobiologist was snuggled up next to him, so closely he could feel her breath tickle his skin every time she exhaled. He smiled and drifted back to sleep.
When he awoke again, Liz was looking at him. She lay on her side, her head resting on her bent arm. Her free hand reached out and brushed his stubbled cheek lightly.
"Morning," she said softly.
"Morning," he replied drowsily. Her touch on his cheek was like silk. While the gentle strokes threatened to lull his tired brain once more into sleep, other parts of his body had different ideas. He reached up and grasped her hand in his own. Bringing it to his lips, he kissed her fingers gently. She smiled. "How are you?" he asked.
Liz gave a one-shouldered shrug, her smile fading slightly. "I'm okay. I need to get up, I'm afraid," she added regretfully. "I have a mid-day shift, and there are things I need to do before that."
Travis shoved down his disappointment, and nodded. Duty before desire, he thought. What jerk thought up that rule? Still, he knew it was true, and there were a few things he planned to do with his day as well. The first and foremost was shower and eat. He was used to eating fairly early due to his regular Alpha-shift position, and it was well past breakfast time, in his book. His stomach agreed with his thoughts, and growled loudly.
Liz chuckled. "Hungry?"
"Very hungry," he confirmed. "Do you want to get breakfast?"
"Yeah. I need to grab a shower first, make a quick call, then I'll meet you in the mess hall. How does that sound?"
"Call?" the helmsman asked.
"I thought it might be a good idea to talk to Doctor Douglas—assuming he has an opening in his schedule today." She pushed back the covers and swung her feet over the side of the bunk. Travis sat up, too.
"Are you sure you're okay?" he asked.
The brunette nodded, not turning around. "Yeah," she tried to reassure him, although with little success. "I'm a lot better than I was when I showed up here last night." This, being the more honest answer, gave them both more comfort. "It'll help to talk to the doctor. Stephanie says he's very good at what he does." She stood and picked up the blanket she'd brought with her, once more wrapping it around her shoulders.
She turned to meet her lover's worried gaze, and smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging way. "Mess hall in thirty minutes?"
"Thirty minutes," Travis echoed.
Liz leaned over and kissed him. "See you there."
"Captain," said Sato, "we're being hailed."
"Any idea who it is?" asked Archer, glancing toward the comm officer.
"The UT is working on it, sir." Her fingers danced over her console as she tried to translate the incoming message. She paused. "That's odd." She looked up and met Archer's inquisitive gaze. "They're hailing us by name."
At the tactical station, Reed's head snapped up. He didn't like the sound of that. The reputation Enterprise had gained in its first year in space was a two-edged sword at best. He wondered what this new race of aliens had heard.
"The ship's design doesn't match anything in the database," T'Pol offered.
"Have you got a translation yet?" the captain asked Sato.
"I think so." She tapped one last button, and a female voice came through the comm.
"Enterprise, the is the freighter Aelouss. If you are reading us, please respond."
"Open a channel," said Archer. Sato complied and gave him a go ahead nod. "Freighter Aelouss," the captain said into the air, "this is Enterprise."
The response was immediate. "Wonderful! We are very relieved to hear from you. Is this Captain Archer?"
"It is. I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Aelouss. You seem to know us, but we have no record of you in our systems."
"Our apologies, Captain. We heard of you from our friends the Xyrillians."
Reed tensed despite the fact that their experience with the Xyrillians had been friendly. Too friendly, he thought.
The alien woman was still speaking. "We are Sosemma," she said. Before Archer had time to wonder if this was the woman's race or her name, she continued. "I am Aalounn, Captain of the Aelouss."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Captain Aalounn. I gather you were looking for us specifically. May I ask why?"
"We understood from the Xyrillians that you have an excellent engineer aboard your vessel. We wondered if we could perhaps avail ourselves of his skills?"
Which skills do you mean? thought Reed, leaping to ungenerous conclusions. Because if you're talking about anything but engineering, you've got another think coming.
"Our warp coils have depolarized. No matter what our chief engineer does, they continue to fail," explained Aalounn.
"One moment, Captain," said Archer. He gave Sato a look indicating she should pause the transmission. She did. Archer turned to Reed. "Have you scanned their ship?"
"Yes, sir," the lieutenant replied. "We're still a fair distance away, but what she says appears to be true."
"So you don't believe it's a trap?"
"I didn't say that, sir."
Archer nodded in understanding. "Ensign Fraser," he addressed the helmsman, "time to intercept at present speed?"
"Twenty-eight point six minutes, sir," she answered immediately.
"Hoshi, open up the comm again."
"Captain Aalounn, we'll be happy to give you any assistance we can."
The alien woman sounded very relieved at his words. "Thank you, Captain Archer! We are most grateful."
"We'll rendezvous with you in half an hour."
At Archer's glance, Sato closed the connection. "Get me Commander Tucker."
She tapped another key and nodded. "Go ahead, sir."
"Bridge to Tucker."
"Go ahead, Captain," came the unmistakable tones of the chief engineer.
"I've got a job for you, Trip."
"As opposed to what I'm doing now?" joked Tucker.
Archer chuckled indulgently. "Meet me in Launch Bay One, and bring your toolkit. You're going visiting."
Tucker was puzzled, and it showed in his voice despite his reply. "Understood." The comm chirped shut.
"Captain," Reed spoke up. "I think it would be prudent to learn a bit more about these people before sending our Chief Engineer onto their ship."
"You're absolutely right. You and T'Pol see what you can come up with. Between the data we got from the Xyrillians and the scans we can take before we reach them, we should be able to learn something useful."
"Yes, sir." Reed's reply was calm, contained. No one would have guessed that on the inside he was quite pleased at this sign that Captain Archer was at last taking his suggestions of caution more seriously. It wasn't quite the response he'd hoped for from his (in his opinion) overly-trusting captain, but it was an improvement over similar past situations. He couldn't stop Archer sending Trip over, but he could make certain the mission wasn't immediately dangerous. He intensified his scans of the Sosemma vessel.
"Hi, Doctor Douglas," said Cutler. She stood just inside the psychiatrist's office, not certain what she should do next. She'd only seen him for the standard crew psychological reviews; this was the first time she'd contacted him about a personal matter. "Thanks for fitting me in."
"It's no trouble," Douglas replied warmly. "And please, call me Kyrin."
"Why don't you have a seat?" He gestured to the couch.
Liz moved tentatively around the end of it and sat, folding her hands in her lap. "Thanks."
There was a pause while Kyrin waited for her to open the dialogue. When she didn't, he asked, "What did you want to see me about?"
She looked down at her hands. "I had a nightmare," she began hesitantly. "I know that sounds silly. Why go see a psychiatrist about a nightmare, right?"
"It doesn't sound silly at all. Obviously it upset you greatly, otherwise you wouldn't be here."
"It did." She nodded and finally looked up, made eye contact with Kyrin. "Travis was dead. In the dream," she clarified, tangentially referring to the discovery of what they had believed to be the helmsman's dead body in the launch bay a some weeks before.
Liz took a moment to collect her thoughts before continuing. "I was in Launch Bay One. I was standing next to his coffin. It was a pod set to fall into a red giant. Sort of like a burial at sea, you know?"
Kyrin nodded. "How did you feel?"
"I don't really know." She thought. "Sad, of course. Lost."
"Lost in what way?"
"I didn't know what to do. I was standing there, alone, staring at this shiny silver pod. I knew Travis was in there, but there wasn't anything I could do."
"Would it be reasonable to say you felt helpless?" he asked gently.
The young woman considered his words. "I suppose so." There was another silence as she tried to put into words what she had experienced in her dream. "I couldn't say good-bye to him and then it was too late."
"Too late because he had passed?"
"No." She shook her head. "Too late because the launch bay began to depressurize."
Kyrin tried not to look surprised. It wasn't what he'd expected to hear. "I see. What happened then?"
"I ran. I thought I could make it to the control room where the Captain was—make him stop the launch sequence." She was staring once more at her hands in her lap. They were clasped so tightly the knuckles were a glaring white. Liz forced herself to let go, and spread her hands flat on her knees. She took a deep breath before continuing. "I was too slow. Or the launch bay doors opened too soon. I'm not sure which it was now."
"Do you remember anything more?"
"No. That's when Stephanie woke me up. I was hyperventilating. I think I scared her."
"Fair's fair," said Kyrin with a small smile. "I know she's scared you once or twice."
Liz let out a nervous chuckle. "Yeah. I suppose you're right."
Having eased the tension a little bit, Kyrin returned to the subject of Liz's dream. "Let's get back to the launch bay, okay?" Liz nodded. "You said you were alone with the pod. Why was that?"
"Why was I alone?"
"Everyone else had left."
"So they were there earlier?"
Liz thought hard about this. "I think," she began slowly, "they left before the dream started. I knew in the dream that they'd been there and left, but no one else was ever in the dream. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, it does. You knew others were around somewhere, but you were alone throughout the dream."
"What about the Captain?"
"You said he was in the launch bay control room, correct?"
"Right. But I never got there. I don't know if he really was there, or " She shrugged. "Maybe the launch sequence began automatically? I know Captain Archer would never open a shuttlebay with someone inside, unprotected."
Liz was shocked. "Of course I do! There's no doubt in my mind."
"But in your dream, he was in control of the launch bay."
"If he really was there," countered Liz. "I never saw him. Just like I never saw anyone else. He was supposed to be there. I don't know that he was."
"He was supposed to be there," repeated Kyrin. "Maybe like he was supposed to be there to protect Travis?"
"What?" She looked at him, confusion clear on her heart-shaped face.
"Is it possible that you blame the Captain for Travis's 'death' back at the repair station? After all, he is by definition responsible for the crew."
Liz thought hard before answering. Did she blame Captain Archer for what had happened? He had made the choice to go to the station in the first place—although there had been little choice to make at the time. No one could deny they'd needed its services very badly. But the captain had rescued Travis from that very station at the risk of his own life. No, she thought, then said aloud, "No. It wasn't his fault. He can't be everywhere at every moment. One could just as easily blame Lieutenant Reed; he's in charge of security, after all."
"But Lieutenant Reed didn't figure in your dream."
"No. But I don't believe the Captain was at fault," she said firmly. "Besides, I was trying to get to him to help me in my dream. I believed he could save me."
Kyrin let that line of questioning go. Her response was reasonable, and she'd clearly thought about it. He might come back to it later, but for the moment he pursued another course. "Where was everyone? Everyone who left before the dream began?"
"In the mess hall," replied Liz immediately. "There was a wake. They were there waiting for me."
"But you never saw them."
"I never got there, remember? The launch bay opened; I freaked out; Stephanie woke me up."
"I remember. I just find it curious that you were alone at all times in your dream."
"Travis was there sort of. Although I never saw him. I just knew he was in the pod." She sat back on the couch, pulled her feet up to one side of her and wrapped a hand around her ankles.
"How did that make you feel?"
"Again?" puzzled Liz.
"You asked that already."
"Humor me," said the counselor with a small smile.
"Sad. Lonely. It was so empty in the launch bay. I couldn't even hear the ship. You know how, if you listen, you can hear the engines humming? It's a low, deep thrum. It's more like you can feel it through the deckplating," she clarified.
"I know what you mean."
She idly picked up a cushion from the other end of the couch and played with it as she spoke. "I didn't hear that, or feel it. It was as if I was in another world almost. I couldn't hear anything because there was nothing to hear." Finally, she sat still, holding the pillow in front of her.
"You felt isolated."
"How do you feel now?"
"What do you mean?"
"Do you feel alone? Isolated? Lost?"
She shook her head.
"Are you sure?"
"But you're afraid of feeling that way again, aren't you?"
She gave a one-shouldered shrug and held the pillow more tightly. "I don't think so."
"Look at the way you're sitting," suggested Kyrin.
Puzzled, Liz considered her position—back pressed deeply into the couch, feet tucked up, arms clutching the cushion like a lifeline. She willed herself to relax, but she didn't move. "You're suggesting I'm afraid to be left alone, right?"
Kyrin gave a small, noncommittal shrug. "Are you?"
"I didn't think so, but now I'm not so sure," admitted Liz. "I've never minded being by myself. I had a lot of time to myself when I was a child. It's nothing new."
"But being by yourself is very different from being left alone, or abandoned."
"I'm not feeling abandoned." Liz was surprised at his words.
"I didn't say you were. You're the only one who can tell what you're feeling." He paused, thinking, before he went on. "Being a member of Starfleet is risky business. We're exploring where no Earth ship has been before—often even where no Vulcan ship has been before. We're going to encounter a lot of new and dangerous situations out here, any one of which could result in the loss of a life, or several lives."
"I know that."
"I'm sure you do. I'm asking if you're ready to accept that the life lost might be that of the person you love?"
There was silence in the small office while what he'd said soaked into Liz's mind.
"That's it, isn't it," she said finally. It was less a question than an understanding. "Do I love him enough?"
Kyrin remained silent. He'd led her here. This was something she needed to work out for herself.
"Do I love him enough to stay with him even knowing that, at any time, I might lose him?" Liz asked herself softly. "Or should I walk away now? If I walk away now it will hurt less, I suppose, than losing him somewhere down the line. But there's nothing that says he won't survive this mission we're on. There's no reason to believe we won't all, eventually, return home." Logically she knew the odds were slim that the entire crew of Enterprise would survive their mission of exploration. After all, she thought, remember what happened to crewman Daniels. There were no guarantees in Starfleet or in life. The question was, could she live with that?
Liz looked up at Kyrin once more. "Yes," she said. "I do love him enough to take that chance," she answered her own question. Liz sat up straighter and set the pillow she held aside. She smiled. "Thank you, Kyrin."
They psychiatrist smiled back at her. "That's why I'm here."
Reed was almost disappointed when neither he nor T'Pol could find anything negative about the Sosemma. The ship that had hailed them was genuinely in need of repair. Its weapons were minimal—no more than short-range plasma cannons—and they had no shields beyond a very strong hull made of an unfamiliar alloy.
According to the minimal information they'd gotten from the Xyrillians, the Sosemma were a peaceful, matriarchal race. They came from a solar system boasting a Type A star and three planets, the second of which was home to their species. They called their planet Fojull.
There appeared to be no reason not to send Tucker over to make repairs.
"That's all we've got?" asked Tucker, when the news came to him through the comm.
"I'm afraid so, Commander," said Reed.
Tucker and Archer exchanged glances over the shuttlepod's landing strut. There were a number of reasons to send the pod over rather than having Enterprise dock directly with the freighter, as both remembered from their encounter with the Kreetassans and their unknown hitchhiker. Consequently, they were prepping a pod for launch.
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Keep me posted," Archer said.
"Aye, sir." They heard the comm close.
The captain looked at Tucker. "That doesn't sound too dangerous," he said.
"Yeah. Just like your visit to the Fortunate didn't sound too dangerous."
"That was a completely different situation, Trip."
"Right," agreed Tucker. "That time we were dealing with our own species instead of some unknown aliens."
"They're on friendly terms with the Xyrillians," the Captain reminded him, only to see his old friend tense at his words. "Trip? What's going on?"
"Nothing." The younger man stepped around the landing strut and climbed into the shuttle to continue the pre-launch checks. Archer followed him in.
"It's just a simple repair job, Trip."
"Yes, sir." There was a brief pause before Tucker said, "Are you sure you don't want to send Lieutenant Hess over instead of me?"
"Why would I want to do that?" Archer had a guess, but he was curious what the engineer would say.
"It's just that Malcolm said it's a matriarchal society. Maybe we'd be better off sending a woman over to help them out."
"They asked for you specifically. They heard about your reputation, and they wanted the best." He'd hoped his words would encourage is friend, but they seemed to have the opposite effect.
"Yes, sir," said Tucker dispiritedly.
Time to end this, thought Archer. "I get it," he said.
"You're worried about what else they might know about you—besides the fact that you're an excellent engineer."
Tucker gave a noncommittal shrug, and Archer knew his guess was right.
"Trip, I didn't see much of Ah'Len, but she didn't strike me as the type of woman who would go around boasting about her conquests."
"I wasn't a conquest!" protested Tucker vehemently. "I didn't even know what was going on!" Here he quieted a little. "That kind of makes it worse, in a way. You sure you don't want to send Lieutenant Hess? You know she could handle the job."
"There's no reason to think they know about what happened between you and Ah'Len," Archer said, ignoring the attempt to change the subject. "We don't even know if they've had direct contact with the ship we helped."
"Wouldn't need to. It's probably in the Xyrillians' cultural database by now." He pretended to quote from an imaginary text. "Note: Human males are compatible for reproduction. See sub-section A-four, paragraph thirteen, re: Tucker, Trip; Chief Engineer; Earth Vessel Enterprise."
Archer couldn't help but laugh.
"Sir, it's not funny!" exclaimed Tucker.
"I'm sorry." The Captain was genuinely apologetic. "I'm sorry," he repeated. "You're right. I just think you're worrying about nothing."
"I hope you're right."
The comm chirped and was immediately followed by the voice of Ensign Fraser. "Bridge to Captain Archer."
"We're in range of the Aelouss, Captain."
"Understood, Ensign. Bring us to station keeping with the vessel. I'll be right there." He closed the comm. Before leaving the shuttlepod, he gave Tucker an encouraging pat on the shoulder. "You'll be fine, Trip. Just behave like the gentleman and engineer I know you are."
"I did that before, and look what happened." Tucker sighed. "All right. I'll stop complaining. I know that's your nice way of telling me to suck it up and do my job. I don't want to make you say it outright."
Oh no, thought Tucker, not more scales. But a closer look corrected his initial impression. The Sosemma weren't covered in scales, although their skin was shiny and mottled like the lizards he'd seen during survival training in the Australian outback. The two people who stood facing him were greenish-brown in skin-tone. They were both hairless, and their eyes had slitted pupils. Despite the lack of scales, the resemblance to the Xyrillians was still too great for Tucker's comfort. He fought the urge to fidget.
The foremost of the aliens had just introduced herself as Captain Aalounn. The other was the Aelouss's chief engineer, Lossuularr.
"Pleased to meet you, Captain, Chief," Tucker said with a respectful nod to each in turn. The trio stood in a corridor of the Aelouss just inside the airlock. Tucker had his tool kit in his hand, and a desperate desire to be anywhere else in his heart.
"Welcome aboard, Commander Tucker," the Captain said pleasantly. "We are most grateful you are willing to help us. Lossuularr will take you to the engine room."
Aalounn departed, leaving the two engineers alone. Tucker's tension level dropped significantly once the woman was gone. At least this guy can't knock me up. Then a moment of doubt struck him. I hope. "Which way to engineering?" he asked, hoping the job would be a quick and easy fix.
"This way. Please follow."
"That coil's completely shot." Tucker wiped grimy hands on the towel Lossuularr offered. "Thanks. This one here " He pointed to the culprit. " is so badly corroded it's one step short of disintegrating, and it's throwing your whole system out of whack. I don't suppose you have a spare handy?" he asked, suspecting it was a hopeless query.
Lossuularr shook his head. "No. This was the spare. We have done everything we can to keep it functioning until we reach our destination, but as you can see we have had little success."
"Yeah. Where're you headed?"
"Home. We have delivered our cargo, and we are heading back to Fojull."
"Is it far?"
"At warp speed, we are still a month away. At slower than warp " He trailed off, the implication clear.
Tucker shook his head. He knew the math; it would be years before they reached home at that rate. "You might get another few light-years out of that coil, but I wouldn't want to bet on you getting home on it. So there's no chance of a rescue from home then, huh." It was less a question than a statement.
"No. Our communications do not extend so far."
"How 'bout the other end? Where you dropped your cargo?"
"It is even more distant."
"Damn. Let me head back to Enterprise, talk to my captain, and see if we can't figure out something."
"It would be most appreciated. Can we offer you refreshment before you go?"
"No, thanks." Tucker was leery of alien hospitality. After his experiences with the Xyrillians, and Zobral and his people, and the alien muggers on Risa, he just felt more comfortable on his own ship. "I'll contact you after I've had a chance to talk to Captain Archer."
Archer, Tucker, T'Pol, and Reed stood around the table in the situation room, discussing the issue of the Sosemma engines.
"Can we afford to give them the warp coil?" Archer asked. "I don't want to end up in a similar situation ourselves six months down the road."
"Yeah, we can spare it," Tucker assured him. "And I can rig it to work with their systems at least well enough to get them home."
"What would we get in return?" asked Reed. "Apart from their copious gratitude?"
Trip gave him an odd look, puzzled by his unusually snippy tones. It hadn't occurred to him that his lover might have similar reservations to his own regarding the Sosemma. "They've got a lot of medical supplies, according to our scans and what they told us. Maybe Phlox could use something? After the trades we made with the miners and all."
"You wouldn't rather swap for something your people can use?" put in Archer.
"We've got everything we need at the moment, Captain," answered Tucker with a shrug. "Medical supplies benefit everyone."
The captain looked to his Science Officer. "T'Pol? Do you have anything to add?"
"No," she answered. "I believe Mr. Tucker's suggestion is logical."
"That's a first," joked Tucker, with a wry smile at the Vulcan. She simply raised an eyebrow in reply.
Archer bit back a laugh at the exchange. "All right. Unless Malcolm has any objections ?"
"No, sir," said the armory officer.
"Then let's make the trade. Trip, get the coil, and you and Doctor Phlox head back over to the Aelouss."
Three hours later, both ships were on their way. Lieutenant Reed was pleased to see the back of the alien vessel. He relaxed visibly when the Captain ordered Ensign Fraser to take the ship to warp. Fortunately, no one was looking at him to notice the change in his demeanor.
"It's a shame we're not going in their direction," said Sato unexpectedly.
"Ensign?" Archer looked at her questioningly.
"I've been reading over the database they sent us," she explained. "Their planet sounds beautiful, sir. And they did extend an open invitation."
"Perhaps another time, Hoshi."
"It may be a viable location for the crew to enjoy shore leave, Captain," put in T'Pol, surprising everyone. "At some future date," she amended.
"It may at that," agreed the Captain. "In fact, I'll be in my ready room reviewing the data. Maybe that future date shouldn't be too far in the future. You have the bridge, Sub-commander." He rose and exited to his ready room.
Now it was Ensign Fraser's turn to relax, although her reaction was more subtle than Reed's had been. The departure of the captain put her in more familiar territory; she'd worked with T'Pol, Reed, and Sato singly or in combination a number of times. It was only the presence of Archer that had made her nervous.
Now that there're only two hours of the shift left, she thought with irony. On the up side, only two hours to go, and I haven't fucked anything up yet.
A comm line opened, and Cormack's voice came through. "Armory to Lieutenant Reed."
"Reed here. Go ahead," he replied from the tactical station.
"Request your assistance here, Lieutenant. We're having trouble with the targeting scanners on the torpedoes again."
After a quick glance at T'Pol for clearance, he said, "I'm on my way, Ensign. Reed out."
At the helm, Fraser had stiffened at the sound of Cormack's voice. Modulated through the ship's comm it sounded different than it had in person. She finally figured out where she knew the blonde woman from, and it was all she could do to keep from exclaiming out loud. She desperately wanted to talk to Mae, but there was no way until the end of Alpha-shift. Now even more than before, the last two hours of her shift couldn't go fast enough.
The door chimed at precisely 16:30 hours.
"Come in," called Doctor Douglas.
Cormack entered the office, closing the door behind her. "Hey, Kyrin," she said, taking a seat on the room's small sofa.
"Hello. How are you?"
There was a pause.
"You said you wanted to see me," Douglas started the ball rolling. "If memory serves, it was about the recent recurring dream you had."
"Yeah. You know how I told you I remembered more of it?" Douglas nodded. "I wrote it down." She pulled a datapad from her pocket and handed it over the desk to him.
The psychiatrist looked at it carefully. "Are these the people you saw in the pictures?" This time it was Cormack's turn to nod. "I recognize many of these names," he continued, still examining the list. Then suddenly Douglas's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Travis Mayweather?" Cormack nodded again. "But you said everyone in the dream was dead."
"And he was. At least, we thought he was."
"I see." He did see. Mayweather had actually come by earlier that day to talk to him about the incident in question. Liz Cutler, too, had sought his assistance on the matter. "But the first time you had this dream was before we encountered the alien repair station where Ensign Mayweather was abducted."
"This list " He indicated the pad. " doesn't identify everyone in the pictures."
"Not by a long shot," Cormack affirmed. "But " Here she hesitated.
"Go on," Douglas urged gently.
"Okay, maybe I'm just paranoid, but There's a definite pattern, isn't there? To the people in the pictures. Aside from just being dead, I mean."
"I certainly appears that way. What do you think about that?"
"What do I think? I think I'm going nuts, is what I think." She curled her feet up under herself and sat back deeper into the cushions of the couch. "I mean, it's one thing to have a dream about historical figures, people you can identify who you know have been dead for years, centuries even, but Travis, and the others—" She stopped herself, not knowing what to say. "That's just freaky."
"Tell me, is there a history of precognition in your family?" asked Douglas gently.
"What? Are you kidding? No! That's just—crazy."
"Not necessarily. There's been a lot of study done on the subject of extrasensory perception, including such sub-fields as telepathy, telekinesis, and precognition."
"Whoa. Whoa, whoa, whoa! You are totally jumping the gun here, Kyrin. I'm no psychic."
"It's all right, Stephanie. There's nothing wrong with it if you are or you aren't. Although you did score in a high percentile on the standard Starfleet ESP tests."
"What?!" she exclaimed again. "No, I didn't."
"I know Starfleet doesn't release the test results as a standard procedure, but they are available if you'd like to see them."
"No. No, I don't." Cormack wrapped her arms around herself as if she were suddenly cold.
Douglas recognized her increasingly defensive posture and eased off. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm not upset," denied Cormack. "It's just you're supposed to be the sane one here, and you're talking crazy shit. I mean, if I were—what did you call it? Precognitive?" Douglas nodded. "That'd mean that everyone in that dream—everyone I can't identify—well, that'd mean " She trailed off. She didn't want to think about what that implied. "No."
"It's all right," Kyrin said once more. He was surprised at her vehement denials. In his experience, people were generally pleased to learn they had a high ESP rating. This obviously wasn't the case with Cormack. "If we assume for the moment that you're not precognitive—"
"—and I admit it is quite a leap to make to assume you are—how would you explain the dream?"
"I wouldn't." She paused, knowing she wasn't going to get away with this simple answer. "I was just dreaming about the history of Earth's space programs. So, why not see Travis in that dream?"
"And the fact that everyone one on this list," the psychiatrist said, indicating the pad she'd given him, "died in the line of duty, if not in space itself, is irrelevant?"
"You know what?" Cormack sat up suddenly, swinging her feet back out from under her and planting them firmly on the floor. "I think I'd better go."
She rose, and so did Douglas. "Wait," said the doctor. Cormack paused. "I know you don't want to talk about this right now, and that's fine. But please don't simply dismiss what I've said. Think about it. That's all. Will you do that?" He knew it was pointless to try to convince her to stay. He'd worked with her long enough to know that when she made her mind up to leave, she was going to leave.
Cormack took a deep breath and slowly let it out through her nose. Finally, she nodded. "Okay. That I can do."
"I'll catch you later." Cormack quickly made her escape.
Douglas sat back down behind his desk and shook his head. Why do I ever bother to schedule a full session for her? She nearly always sprints out of here before her time is up.
The mess hall was crowded and noisy. For no reason Cormack could figure, the crew were particularly boisterous this evening. She spotted Liz and Travis through the throng. The couple sat at a table in the corner, as far from the bustle of the crowd as possible. Stephanie envied their relatively secluded spot.
"What up with this place tonight, eh?" she wondered aloud to her companion. "You'd think it was a holiday or something."
"It's Friday night," Mae answered with a shrug.
"As if that mattered out here."
"We have to hang on to some Earth-based biases or we'll go crazy. The illusion of a 'week-end' seems like a perfectly reasonable one to me. Besides, that means it's movie night tomorrow night. They're running Army of Darkness." She grinned.
"That is a good one," Stephanie admitted, smiling a little at her friend's glee over the B-movie. "But you know me and large groups of people," she continued, subdued. The two were slowly making their way through the food line, flanked on either side by burly, looming engineering crewmen.
"That didn't seem to bother you at your birthday party," said Mae.
"Totally different," argued Stephanie.
"What about the screaming crowds of adoring fans at your concerts?"
"Shut up!" Stephanie looked around quickly and was relieved to see that no one seemed to have overheard Mae's comment. "Do I have to kill you?" she snarled under her breath.
Mae laughed. "Sorry. I thought a joke might loosen you up. I guess I was wrong."
"You were." At last they reached the food, and Stephanie happily claimed a plate of steak and heaping mashed potatoes in mushroom gravy. "Thank the gods! I'm in the mood for comfort food tonight."
"Everything okay?" asked Mae, picking a plate of pad thai and taking a moment to shake extra hot pepper flakes onto it.
"Yeah. Just been a long day, I guess."
They continued to move with the flow of the crowd up to the drinks dispenser. Stephanie ordered a sparkling cider, and Mae opted for a beer. Stephanie raised an eyebrow in inquiry. "It's Friday," Mae repeated. "And like you said, it's been a long day."
"I just meant I'd've let you use my alcohol ration code."
The pair managed to find a table just being vacated by a group of crewmen, and claimed it instantly.
"It's almost as bad as being back in Starfleet training," commented Stephanie.
"The food's better."
"There you are!" exclaimed a new voice.
Both women started. "Hey, Bonnie," said Mae. "What's up?"
"I figured out—" But Bonnie's eye caught sight of Stephanie, and she stopped short. "Hey," she said.
"Hey," replied Stephanie.
"You figured out what?" asked Mae.
"Huh? Oh. Never mind. Hella crazy in here tonight, eh?" Bonnie said, looking around the mess hall.
"It's a mad house," agreed her bunkmate. "If you can find some food, why don't you join us?"
"Yeah. That'd be cool." But she didn't move. She glanced at Stephanie, then glanced away.
"Food's that way," the blonde woman said, pointing her fork in the direction of the buffet. The crowd around it had thinned noticeably in the past few minutes.
"Right. Be right back." She quickly departed and tacked herself onto the line of people waiting to get their dinners.
"Okay. That was weird," said Stephanie. "Or is she usually like that?"
"Not usually," answered Mae, glancing over her shoulder at her unexpectedly squirrelly roommate. "Maybe she's just wound up from her first Alpha-shift?" she suggested doubtfully.
"Maybe," agreed Stephanie, equally dubious. She watched the woman from across the room. "She looks like she's going to jump out of her skin, doesn't she? It's like she has some exciting toy she wants to play with but she knows she has to wait until her chores are done."
Mae eyed her. "Why do I think I just got a glimpse into your childhood?"
"Oh, like you weren't the same whenever you got a new hyperspanner or sonic screwdriver for your toolkit as a kid."
"I never denied it." Mae smiled too innocently, saying, "I still get that way when I get a new tool."
Stephanie paused, a bite of steak half way to her mouth. "Oh my gods. You have been hanging out with me way too long. That was awful."
"Thanks. Coming from you, that's a real compliment."
Stephanie cocked her head to one side, and looked at her friend slyly. She made a point of using her teeth to suggestively slide the bite of meat from her waiting fork and into her mouth, punctuating the action with playful snarl.
Mae burst out laughing.
Bonnie arrived at the table, having just caught Stephanie's motion. "I'd like to get me some of that action," she quipped. Her comment made Mae laugh harder. Stephanie almost choked, and her eyes watered. "Sorry," said Bonnie, not in the least apologetic, setting down her plate and taking a seat.
Stephanie swallowed the bite of steak with difficulty. "S'okay," she said. She coughed and cleared her throat. "I just wasn't prepared. I should be able to take as good as I give." She took a sip of cider.
Bonnie seemed to have lost her earlier skittishness and had settled right into the conversation. "Oo! I hope so," she replied. "You look like quite a giver." She took a mouthful of mashed potatoes, eyes watching for the armory ensign's reaction to her words. She was gratified to see the blonde woman smile widely.
"So how was your first day on Alpha-shift?" Stephanie asked, chuckling.
"Not bad. I didn't screw anything up, and the ship is still in one piece. I think the Captain might actually let me fly her again sometime."
"Right on," said Mae. "I told you you'd be fine."
"Did you get to see the aliens?" asked Stephanie.
"No." Bonnie sounded disappointed. "They never transmitted a visual image. It totally sucked."
"Hang on. Didn't anyone get to see them besides Commander Tucker?"
"I don't think so."
"I bet it was the one time he didn't have his camera with him, either," put in Mae around a bite of spicy shrimp.
"Wonder what they looked like?" pondered Stephanie.
"Better than the Estvali, I hope."
Stephanie shuddered. "Gods, don't remind me. Honestly, I thought it was a universal rule that furry things with big eyes were supposed to be cute. Sad to learn I was wrong."
Her companions laughed.
Across the room, two figures were discussing a similar topic.
"I wish I could have met one of them," Liz said.
"I'd have been happy just to catch a glimpse of one," agreed Travis. "But I heard they never transmitted a visual image. I wonder why?"
"Maybe their visual communications were down," suggested the exobiologist.
"Then why didn't they ask Commander Tucker to fix that, too?"
"I don't know. Maybe they were more concerned about getting the engines running so they could get home. Then they could fix the transmitter themselves on the way? Or maybe it was a cultural thing." Liz was on a roll now. "Some ancient Earth cultures believed that photographs would steal their souls. It could be something similar. Or maybe they simply aren't overly eye-oriented, and visual communication hasn’t ever been a priority to them."
Travis was happy to see Liz so energized, and he wanted to keep her talking. "What do you mean by 'overly eye-oriented'?" he asked.
"Just that. I read some of the database they gave us. No, there weren't any pictures," she added hastily, guessing at his next question. "But their evolution followed a reptilian rather than mammalian course. I'm suggesting that maybe their sense of smell is more the focus of their senses than their eyes."
"Then I sure hope Commander Tucker took a shower before heading over there!" joked the helmsman.
Liz laughed, and it warmed Travis's heart. She hadn't told him any specifics about her meeting with Doctor Douglas, but it must have done her some good as whatever had been bothering her last night seemed to be past. It didn't surprise him. He, too, had spoken to the ship's counselor today, and he was feeling much more settled than he had last night. And I couldn't really remember what I dreamed about, he thought. Must have been a lot tougher for Liz.
"Travis, you're awful!" said the pretty brunette, still chuckling. "What would he say if he heard you say that?"
They both knew the running joke about Tucker's gentlemanly manner. He truly was a gentleman when it came to meeting and working with new alien species; it just didn't always help him.
"He'd probably insist that he was a perfect gentleman." Travis flashed his brilliant smile, and the couple laughed again.
Liz looked at Travis, admiring his bright smile and rich brown eyes. She could have happily spent the rest of the evening just staring into the warm depths of those eyes. It affirmed her belief that she had reached the right conclusion that afternoon in the ship's counselor's office. Yeah, she thought. He's definitely worth it.
Travis noticed her staring at him. "What?" he asked, pleased but puzzled by the intensity of her gaze.
"You," said Liz simply. "I just love you. A lot."
The words were said with such sweet sincerity that Travis felt his heart melt.
"Cool," he replied, smiling even more broadly than before. "I love you, too."
"Cool," she echoed, and chuckled warmly.
The Sosemma were a popular topic of conversation that evening. At yet another table, Malcolm took a bite of his steak and chewed it thoughtfully. He washed it down with a sip of water, and then looked at his partner.
"What was it like over there?" he asked.
"Like an engine room," answered Trip with a shrug. "I wish I could tell you more, but it was all pretty ordinary. Kind of disappointing, in a way. An alien ship ought to look alien, you know?"
"What about the Sosemma?"
"They looked alien enough."
"Really? In what way?"
"They were humanoid, but they were sort of lizardy."
"Lizardy?" echoed Malcolm. "Care to be more specific?"
"Like they'd evolved from lizards instead of mammals, you know?"
"I had made that assumption," said Malcolm dryly.
Trip shrugged. He knew his partner would want more detail. "The ones I saw, and I only saw the two, were greenish-brown. And their skin was textured. At least it looked like it," he quickly amended. "Honestly, I didn't get close enough to touch either of them. Lucky they don't have the cultural habit of shaking hands."
Malcolm nodded. Now that his initial concerns were put to rest, he took the next logical step. "So," he began, "there weren't any holographic rooms or boxes of telepathic pebbles?"
"I wouldn't know. I wouldn't want to know. All I saw over there was the airlock and the engine room and the corridors that connected them." Trip eyed him closely across the table. "Why d'you want to know?"
"Just wondering," Malcolm said.
"Malcolm, you know I'd never do anything to jeopardize what we have. I love you."
"Then why'd you ask that question?"
Malcolm thought for a moment, trying to put into words what had prompted his inquiry without implying that he was doubting Trip's faithfulness. "It was the Xyrillian connection," he finally admitted.
Now Trip nodded. "Yeah. I thought a lot about that, too. That's what made me kind of paranoid about going over to the Aelouss in the first place. You know me. I'm not usually so reluctant to meet new people."
"Indeed. Quite the opposite, in fact," agreed Malcolm with a hint of wistfulness in his voice.
"Now what does that mean?" demanded Trip, suddenly defensive.
His partner started, surprised at his sharp response. "Nothing. Actually, I was just wishing I was half as good at making friends as you are. That's all."
"Sorry. Sorry," Trip said, backing down. "I'm overreacting. I've just been on edge all day."
"So have I," said Malcolm, chagrined. "And for pretty much the same reasons, I'd say. It's ridiculous, isn't it? The two of us reacting the way we did?"
"I don't think so, but I'm one of the two of us, so I'm not real objective." Both men chuckled at the truth of it. "I'm glad we've seen the last of the Sosemma," Trip continued. "Next time someone from Starfleet talks to them, I hope it'll be the next ship out here instead of us."
"Agreed. Although " Malcolm hesitated, then decided Trip would hear it from the captain directly soon enough. "Did you know the Captain is considering taking the Sosemma up on their offer of shore leave facilities?"
Trip paled visibly. "Really?" Malcolm nodded. "Damn. Well," he added, a thought occurring to him, "then it should be the people who didn't get shore leave on Risa who get to go. Right?"
"Yes," agreed Malcolm eagerly. He hadn't thought of that. "Excellent suggestion. Perfectly logical."
"Hell. I've been logical twice in one day? That must be some sort of record," joked Trip. "T'Pol would never believe it."
"Then I suggest we don't tell her."
"Good idea. No point in disturbing her world view."
Malcolm laughed. "Quite."
They continued their meal in silence for a little while. Eventually, the engineer broke it. "So, it's movie night tomorrow."
Malcolm was wary; he knew what was playing. "Yes. You're not going to suggest we actually go to see it, are you?"
"Actually, I was going to suggest a night in."
"Were you?" Now Malcolm smiled a little.
"We're not going to be in danger of interruptions again, are we?" The last time they'd opted to stay in on movie night, it had resulted in Malcolm's nose being broken. The memory was still quite fresh, despite the time that had passed since the accident.
"I'll put another 'Do Not Disturb' on our comms. Like I did the night I made it up to you for breaking you nose." Here Trip smiled lasciviously, and the expression was echoed by his lover.
"The Captain's going to get suspicious if he keeps seeing a DND order on both our comms at the same time."
"No, he won't," countered Trip. "He's a grown-up. I think he can figure out what we're up to."
"Thank you!" exclaimed Malcolm, laughing self-consciously. "That's certainly going to add to the atmosphere of the evening."
"I thought you liked the idea of a little danger of being caught. What about back on Dakala? When we were camping?"
"That's completely different," Malcolm insisted. Then he paused, considering. "Still, I suppose blocking the comms is better than risking another untimely interruption."
"Good. Because I've got some ideas that it just wouldn't do to have interrupted."
Malcolm glanced at his lover, a look of curiosity and anticipation on his face. "Is that so?"
"It is," answered Trip with a smug grin.
"Why wait until tomorrow, in that case? I don't have any pressing plans this evening."
"Because, I want to make you wait. It's part of the fun."
"Now I am intrigued." He remembered the fun they'd had the night Tucker had "apologized" for the broken nose, and wondered if it would be something similar.
"Good," Tucker said again.
"You're not even going to give me a hint?" asked Malcolm sweetly. He turned on his most charming smile.
It was almost enough to make the engineer cave, but Trip remained resolute. "Nope."
"It's going to be on my mind all night and all day, now, you realize."
"That's the idea."
Malcolm chuckled, knowing he'd been defeated this round. Trip's mind was obviously made up. Whatever was coming was going to remain a secret until the time arrived. "All right," he acceded. "No more questions. But you'll have only yourself to blame if the ship is suddenly in need of defense tomorrow, and I'm too distracted to do anything about it."
"Never happen," countered Trip.
"You don't know the extent of your own skills."
Trip smiled slowly. "That's real gratifying to learn," he said. "I'll remember that."