Log Rhythms - Season Two
"I'll see your three and raise you three more."
"I'm out." The redhead laid her cards face down and tucked a loose lock of hair behind one ear.
"That's six to me? All right." Several brightly colored candies clicked against each other as they were tossed into the pile in the middle of the round table. "There's six, and I'll raise you four."
"Playing hardball, eh?" said the fourth player, eyeing the woman to her right suspiciously. "I can do that. Your ten, and five more." A large candy joined the heap and was immediately followed by a smaller oval-shaped one.
The hand was back to the dealer. "I fold," she said. Hoshi collapsed her hand and leaned back in her chair to watch the rest of the action. That was how it had gone much of the night. She and Bonnie would end up folding early while Mae and Stephanie would try to out-bluff one another. In all honesty, she'd found watching the two of them battle it out to be more entertaining than actually playing poker herself.
"It's fifteen to you," said Stephanie.
"I see it," Mae replied. She considered her cards carefully, as if she didn't already know exactly what she was holding. "Your fifteen, and ten more." She tossed the corresponding candies into the kitty.
"The tension here in the arena is building," said Bonnie in the hushed tones of a golf commentator. "The stakes are high, and the combatants look tough. For the play-by-play, here's Ho-Ho McSwirl. Ho-Ho?"
Well familiar with the game from their long evening so far, Hoshi picked up easily. "Thanks, Cupcake O'Fudge. Our players are eyeing one another carefully. Clearly, a lot is riding on this hand."
"That's right, Ho-Ho. There's a lot of chocolate on that table," put in Bonnie.
"There certainly is. Cormack glances at her cards, down to her chips, and up again to her cards."
"You'd think she'd have them memorized by now, wouldn't you?"
Hoshi chuckled. "You sure would, Cupcake," she agreed. "Wait!" Her voice became suddenly excited, though still hushed. "She's reaching for her candies. She's counting them out "
"Your twenty-five," said Stephanie, ignoring the running commentary. "And ten more."
"Wow!" exclaimed Hoshi. "I never saw that coming! How about you, Cupcake?"
"Amazing!" agreed Bonnie. "Look at Lawless. She's so calm. How do you think she manages it?"
"I can't even imagine." Hoshi shook her head. "It's truly a sight to behold."
"Pure artistry of the craft, wouldn't you say?"
This time Stephanie waited silently to see what Mae would do. She didn't want to appear too eager by goading her into action again. Finally, her patience paid off.
"You're bluffing," said Mae.
"It'll cost you thirty-five to find out for sure," countered Stephanie.
There was another pause as Mae considered it. "I'll take that chance." She tossed three almond-shaped chocolates and one peanut-shaped one into the pile. "I call."
Stephanie didn't move. No emotion showed on her face. Mae waited. Even Hoshi and Bonnie were silent and still.
Finally, Stephanie spoke.
"Bitch!" she declared. Laughing at her own defeat, she threw her cards down on the table so the others could see what she'd held.
"You bet that much on a pair of eights?!" exclaimed Mae in amazement.
"Oh shut up. I bluffed you all with a pair of sixes earlier." Stephanie sat back from the table and watched as Mae claimed her winnings.
Bonnie leaned in to collect the cards into a neat stack. Hers was the next deal.
"Who's up for another round?" asked Mae gleefully.
"I'll pass," said Stephanie.
"Bummer!" said Bonnie, shuffling the cards. "I was going to make one-eyed Jacks and the suicide King wild in the next hand."
"Why do you have this bizarre fixation with one-eyed Jacks?" asked Hoshi. "Every hand you've dealt has had some quirk involving one-eyed Jacks."
"It was her dog," said Mae.
Bonnie piped up in explanation. "I had a dog called One-Eyed Jack-of-All-Trades when I was kid."
"Are you serious?"
"Tell me he didn't actually have only one eye," put in Stephanie.
"No. He had one blue eye and one brown eye."
"So," said Mae, trying to get back to the topic of poker. "Are we playing another hand or what?"
"I'm out," Stephanie reaffirmed her earlier statement. She stretched and yawned. "Some of us have early shifts tomorrow."
"Full day?" asked Bonnie.
"Thankfully no. Just a half-shift tomorrow, but that doesn't make it any less early. On the up side, I'll be done by 1000 hours. Anyone interested in joining me in the gym at 1015?"
"I can't," said Hoshi, nibbling her sparse poker winnings. "We're supposed to reach that M-class planet we spotted the other day. So far it looks like it's clear of any sentient inhabitants, but I'm supposed to be on hand in case our scans are wrong."
"If they need any security for a landing party," said Stehpanie quickly, "feel free to drop my name."
"I'll keep that in mind," said the comm officer with a half smile.
"I'll meet you tomorrow, Stephanie," Mae said, once again the one to bring the discussion back on topic. "I'm not due in Engineering until 1400. How about you, Bonnie? You interested?" She looked at her bunkmate inquiringly.
"Sure. Sounds good to me," Bonnie answered.
"Cool," said Stephanie. "Oh, Hoshi! I almost forgot. Are we still on for Wednesday night?"
"Sure. I've already cleared it," replied Hoshi.
"What's Wednesday?" asked Bonnie, an odd tone in her voice.
Only Mae noticed, and it took her a moment to place it. Suddenly she remembered an unfinished conversation she'd had with her bunkmate several weeks ago. She'd thought about it a number of times, but never when she could follow up on it. Maybe tonight would be her opportunity.
"Cooking," explained Stephanie. "I only have two weeks until Malcolm's birthday, and I need time to experiment with his present."
"And you need the galley for this?" asked Mae curiously.
"Yep." Stephanie yawned again. "Well, beautiful ladies, I'm going to take my chocolate and say good night." She scooped the candies into the bag that had held her original stake and pulled the string on it shut. She stood. "Good night. Thanks for playing hostess, Hoshi."
"No problem," Hoshi replied. "I'm glad I could join you this time."
Bonnie and Mae rose, too, having collected their own winnings into their sacks.
"You want help moving the table back to its usual place?" asked Mae.
Hoshi shook her head. "No thanks. I can get it."
Good-nights were said by all and the three women departed, leaving Hoshi in the silence of their wake. She sighed, smiling, and ate another chocolate before setting about returning the room to its normal state of order.
With a final tired, "G'night," Stephanie split off from the others at a cross corridor, heading to her cabin.
Mae and Bonnie continued in silence to the quarters they shared. It wasn't until they were inside with the door sealed behind them that Mae pounced.
"Tell me what happened after the concert."
Bonnie, her mind on tomorrow rather than the past, looked at her blankly. "What the hell are you talking about?" she demanded finally.
"The Daughters of Lear concert you saw."
"That? Shit." She was momentarily stymied. "I thought you'd forgotten all about that," she said, stalling.
"I did. Now I remember. So what happened?" Mae kicked off her boots and sat cross-legged on her bunk. She opened her bag of candies and began to munch.
Bonnie stood there, still unsure what to do. Her bunkmate looked like a kid waiting for a bedtime story, and she had the feeling she wasn't going to get off the hook without giving it to her. "You really want to know?"
"Uh-huh," affirmed Mae. "You were going to tell me before. Now you can tell me now."
"That made sense."
"Shut up and tell me."
"That made even more sense."
Mae eyed her intensely. "You are going to tell me now."
"Premonition?" quipped Bonnie, sitting on her bunk.
"Fact. I'm not letting you sleep until I know what the hell happened after that concert. I can wait. I got plenty of chocolate." She shook the bag for emphasis; candies clacked lightly against one another.
Resigned, Bonnie sighed. "Okay. But--" She paused to make sure she had Mae's full attention. She needn't have worried. "--you cannot tell anyone, ever. Especially not Stephanie."
"What?" This made no sense to the engineer. "What do you--?" Realization struck. "She has no idea you've met before, does she?"
Bonnie shook her head. "Not a clue. And it gets worse or better, depending on your point of view."
Now Mae was doubly intrigued. She hunched forward eagerly. "What happened?"
Bonnie had seriously mixed feelings about telling her friend the story. There were all sorts of possible ramifications, any one of which could make living together for the rest of the mission awkward if not impossible. She hoped she was making the right decision.
"Okay," she said finally. "Remember I told you she was really fucked up back then?"
"Yeah. I know. Go on."
"Well, my friends and my cousin and I were hanging out after the concert. Just standing around behind the gym where the concert was, waiting to see if maybe the band would come out past where we were. It was a pretty safe bet since there was this big truck there. Anyway." She paused in her narrative, collecting her thoughts.
"It was getting late. The others were ready to give up. It was Spring Break in Yellowknife, after all; hanging out behind a college gymnasium wasn't exactly the warmest or most exciting place to be. We nearly gave up. But then the band came out." She smiled, remembering the moment. "They looked just as cool lugging their shit to the truck as they did in concert. Cordelia was definitely the hottest. Pete argued that it was Regan, but he was so wrong."
"Whoa. Cordelia is Stephanie."
"I know that," said Bonnie with the tone one uses to instruct a particularly slow child.
"Sorry. Go on."
"I think it was the pink hair that won me over. Although the leather boots, the ripped up jeans, and tight t-shirt didn't hurt," she added lasciviously. "She has great tits, you know?" At Mae's impatient expression, Bonnie yanked herself forcibly back to the present and continued. "The others were kind of shy, but I was young and particularly stupid, so I asked if I could help them load their truck."
"They were thrilled to have the help. So we all helped them load everything up, and we got talking, and Cari said she knew a good bar we could go to, and we went."
"How old were you?"
"Seventeen. Don't ask."
"Okay. Go on."
"Well, I don't remember a whole lot, but I know we got pretty wasted, eh?"
"I guess that's why you don't remember a whole lot," teased Mae dryly.
"You think? Anyway, at some point Goneril and Regan--we never learned their real names--they wandered off to the motel they were staying at for the one night they were in town, and Cari and the others wandered off to Cari's place on campus." She paused again, not quite certain how to approach the next part of her tale.
"The others being ?" prompted Mae. She was into the story now, her bag of chocolates sitting discarded at her side.
"Cari and my friends, Pete and Darragh."
"Leaving you "
" with Cordelia." Bonnie paused again. "A very drunk Cordelia."
"And a pretty damn drunk Bonnie, I'd guess."
"So what did you do?"
"We found a party. You know, Spring Break?" Mae nodded and Bonnie continued. "We got a couple more drinks there--hell if I know what was in them, but they were strong. Then we found a room."
Mae's eyes widened. "You ?"
Bonnie nodded. "We spent what was left of the night fucking like howler monkeys."
Mae hadn't thought her eyes could open farther, but they did. "Oh my gods. You didn't," she denied, although she already believed it was true.
"We did." A smile split Bonnie's face. "It was great."
"Stop!" Mae stuck her fingers in her ears and started chanting, "La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la--"
Mae paused just long enough to say, "Do not say anything more. I do not want to know anything more." She resumed her chanting.
Bonnie gave a nervous chuckle, uncertain how to respond to her bunkmate's reaction. She'd tried joking over the noise, "What? You don't want to know what two chicks do?"
Mae let her hands fall from her ears. "I know what two chicks do! I just don't need images of my bunkmate and my best friend doing what two chicks do in my brain!"
Now Bonnie relaxed and laughed in relief. Mae wasn't really upset, just a little freaked out. "That's crossing that Too Much Information line you've told me about, isn't it?"
"Yes! What, weren't the fingers in the ears and the la-las enough to tell you that?" Mae took a moment to calm down. "Well," she said after a moment's thought, "I think it's safe to say that I will never, ever, share that story with anyone. Especially Stephanie."
"So are we cool?" asked Bonnie, just to make sure. Despite everything, she was worried things might have changed between them.
"Of course we are. It's going to be a week before I can look Cormack in the eye," Mae joked. "No. Seriously. It's cool." Now she regarded Bonnie carefully, and Bonnie squirmed a little at her scrutiny.
"What?" the helmsman asked.
"I always knew you thought she was hot," Mae said. Bonnie nodded in affirmation. "Just now I know so much more than I ever needed to."
"You asked," the auburn-haired woman pointed out in her defense.
"Yes, I did. Gods help me, but I did." Mae chuckled at herself. "So what are you going to do?"
"What do you mean?"
"You want to ask her out, right?"
There was no point denying it. "Yeah."
"Are you going to?"
"You should," repeated Mae more firmly.
"After what I told you, you say that?" Bonnie was dumbfounded. "I can't! A drunken one-night stand is one thing. A drunken one-night stand one person doesn't even remember Forget it. I can't tell her. And if we actually hit it off and started dating, I couldn't not tell her. No way. Absolutely not!" She shook her head emphatically.
"Hey, it's all right." Mae eased off. Her friend's vehement denial surprised her, but she thought she could guess the reason. "You really like her, don't you? I mean a lot."
"I don't know."
"I'll take that as a yes."
"Mae! Shit!" Bonnie was frustrated. "It doesn't matter. There's nothing I can do about it, so drop it."
"But you guys get along great! You'd make a cool couple."
Now the helmsman was angry. "Stop it!" she shouted.
Mae was completely taken aback. She'd known for a long time her bunkmate had a temper, she'd just never been so unfortunate as to have it directed at her. "I'm sorry. I'll stop."
"Thank you," said Bonnie sharply.
There was a silence while Bonnie calmed down and Mae considered her next words. "You still want to work out with Stephanie and me tomorrow?" she asked finally.
"Yeah." Bonnie gave her friend a half-smiling, half-sad look. "Just 'cause I can't ask her out doesn't mean I can't hang out with her, right?"
"Sure." Mae nodded, hoping she sounded encouraging. She felt bad for Bonnie, and already she was trying to come up with a way to fix the problem her friend faced. There had to be a way.
Bonnie noticed Mae scrutinizing her once again. "Now what?" she demanded, although her anger had already faded.
Realizing she suddenly needed a cover story if she didn't want to let her friend in on her scheming, Mae leapt on the first thing that came to mind. "Howler monkeys?" she asked skeptically.
"Have you ever seen howler monkeys at the zoo? They have a sexually structured hierarchy."
"Stop!" Mae help up a warding hand. "I know I asked for it, but just stop or I'm going to have to start going la-la-la all over again."
"You don't even know the half of it," Bonnie grinned wickedly.
Another chorus of Mae's chanting filled the cabin and was joined by Bonnie's laughter.
"Well, Trip," said Archer, smiling at his Chief Engineer, "I promised you you could go to the next M-class planet we visited. Now's your chance."
Tucker looked at his old friend curiously. "Not that I'm complaining, mind you, but you never promised me that," he said.
"Sure I did. You just weren't in the room at the time."
"Huh." Tucker nodded and decided to let the argument go. He was happy to be going on this mission; he didn't want to risk the captain changing his mind.
Lieutenant Reed climbed out of the waiting shuttlepod. "You're ready to go, Commander. The equipment is loaded, and Hoshi's waiting inside--rather impatiently, I might add," he said in mild amusement.
The comm officer stuck her head through the open hatch in the pod's port side. "That's right," she affirmed. "Let's go."
They'd spotted some interesting features on the planet they currently orbited. They couldn't be sure, but there appeared to be man-made caves in the mountain range of the southern hemisphere. Sato had fond memories of the Ajanta and Ellora Caves outside Aurangabad, India, and the beautiful murals and frescos there; she was excited to see if there was anything similar to be found below.
Of course, there was also the matter of the electrical storms that swept the area periodically. The nearest one was several hundred kilometers from their intended landing site, but there was no guarantee it wouldn't suddenly head in their direction. Sato wanted to be in and out before there was any chance of that happening.
Archer chuckled at the young woman's eagerness. It was gratifying to see her so excited. He'd worked hard to convince her to join the crew in the first place, and he knew she'd been far from comfortable for several months after leaving Earth. He was pleased she had adjusted so well.
"Duty calls, Trip," the Captain said and gestured to the open hatch.
Sato returned to her seat in the pod, making room for the engineer to enter. He paused at the hatch just long enough to whisper something in Reed's ear before climbing inside. Reed's lips turned up in the barest hint of a smile.
"See you in a few hours," Tucker added so both Reed and Archer could hear. He reached up and pulled the hatch closed, securing it.
The remaining officers quickly climbed the metal staircase to the upper level of the launch bay and entered the control room. A crewman stood ready at the console.
When the door to the room was sealed, Archer said, "Proceed with the launch, crewman."
"Aye, sir," the young man said. He entered the necessary commands, and the bay began to depressurize for the launch.
With nothing else pressing, Archer and Reed both decided to watch the shuttlepod launch. It would only take a couple of minutes, after all. Once the bay door was firmly sealed behind the departed pod, the pair made their way back to the bridge. The entire way, Reed's tiny smile never faded. Archer was dying to know what Tucker had said to the armory officer, but it was juvenile and beyond rude to ask. Still, whatever it was had had Reed smiling for nearly five minutes now. As far as the Captain knew, that had to be some sort of record. He sighed and mentally added it to the list of mysteries he'd never have answered.
In the small space of the turbolift, Reed noticed the sigh. "Everything all right, sir?" he asked solicitously.
"Just fine," replied Archer, thinking up a quick cover. "I just wish I was on the mission with Trip and Hoshi."
"You could have gone, sir," said the lieutenant, mildly puzzled. He didn't generally like the captain going on away missions; it made him far more difficult to protect, and Starfleet captains were valuable. This time, however, with no sign of sentient life below them, and the only apparent threat a storm several hundred kilometers off, he would have had no trouble with Archer joining the landing party.
"It was Trip's turn," Archer said. "And the job will get done faster without me there."
"Never mind." He would have explained, but they were nearly to the bridge, and he didn't feel the need to share the conversation with the rest of the bridge crew.
And Malcolm will never ask about it again, thought Archer. This was one of the many differences between Malcolm and Trip; Trip would have grabbed on like a dog with a bone until he got an answer. Malcolm would simply assume it was none of his concern and let the matter drop. Like he just has. Archer almost shook his head at the dichotomy of character of the two men, but stopped himself.
The lift opened then, and the two men stepped out onto the bridge.
"Typical," razzed Mae at Stephanie's late arrival. "You plan this little gathering, and you're the last one here."
"Oh, yeah. And I'm sure it was so difficult for you to drag yourself out of bed to get here at this incredibly early hour," was Stephanie's sarcastic rejoinder. "While some of us have been up since 0500." She stuck out her tongue, then tossed her yoga mat to one side and put up her fists. "Wanna fight about it?"
Mae laughed. "No." She turned to her bunkmate. "How about you?"
Bonnie considered the offer carefully. While the thought of a wrestling match with the blonde woman appealed, she'd have preferred it in a different location and with different accessories than the ship's gym provided. "I think I'll pass this time."
Stephanie lowered her arms and pouted playfully. "You guys are no fun. Weights?"
"Weights," the others agreed.
The gym was empty of other occupants that morning. The trio claimed a weight bench, and Mae set it for the first round of warm-up presses. She looked at Stephanie and gestured to the bench. "Age before beauty," she quipped.
"By six months!" exclaimed Stephanie. But she laid down anyway. "You're especially sharp this a.m. What gives?"
"I'll spot you," offered Bonnie. She tossed her head in the direction of her bunkmate. "She's had so much coffee, I'd be afraid to trust her not to drop the bar on me."
"Ha, ha," replied Mae, but she stepped aside to let Bonnie take her place at the top of the bench. She had no intention of getting in Bonnie's way if the younger woman wanted to get close to Stephanie.
Stephanie looked up from the bench at the auburn-haired helmsman. "Fine by me. It's a nice view," she said, smiling. She claimed the weighted bar and began her warm-up, not noticing the quick look exchanged by her companions. She was several presses in when she glanced up again and started laughing and nearly lost control of the bar.
Quickly, Bonnie took it from her and set in its rests. "What is so funny?"
"I just figured out what your shirt says," answered Stephanie as she regained her breath, and her laughter calmed.
Bonnie hadn't even thought about it when she'd dressed. She had just grabbed the first tank she found in her locker. She glanced down at herself, and then grinned at the recumbent armory officer. "Well it's true!"
"And it got you to look at her tits," pointed out Mae helpfully.
"Mae!" exclaimed Bonnie. Mae just winked at her.
This just made Stephanie laugh harder. "I think someone better take my place here." She sat up and swung her legs to one side. "Bonnie?" she offered.
Bonnie looked innocently at her bunkmate instead. "You said age before beauty," she said pleasantly.
Stephanie snorted. "Did I say you guys were no fun? I was so wrong!"
"Oh just get out of the way," said Mae. She wasn't at all upset with the ribbing, actually. It fit in well with her plan to get her bunkmate together with her friend--as had rearranging Bonnie's gym gear so that a particular shirt was on top that morning. She wanted to make sure Stephanie knew what her options were.
Mae laid back on the bench and took a moment to steal a glance at the others as she made herself comfortable. Already she had them laughing together; it was a good beginning. She re-read Bonnie's shirt, pleased that even upside-down and backward, Stephanie had gotten the bright purple message: Silly Boy! Girls Are Just Better.
She grinned and began her warm-up presses.
T'Pol had been watching her monitors closely over the last hour. She believed she finally had enough data to make her report. She opened a comm line to the captain's ready room. "Captain Archer to the bridge, please," she said.
"Acknowledged," came the reply.
T'Pol took a moment to transfer the data from her station to the large display table at the aft end of the bridge.
Archer emerged from the ready room. "What is it?" he asked
T'Pol rose and moved toward him. "I have some information." She looked past the captain to the tactical station. "Lieutenant, please join us." She led the way to the table.
Reed immediately recognized the data before him. It was a sensor reading of the diamagnetic storm patterns on the planet below them. He'd been keeping an eye on them as well, in case they made a sudden move in the direction of the landing party. They hadn't, and he wondered what T'Pol had found.
"This storm--" The Vulcan indicated a particularly nasty looking weather pattern. "--has been moving steadily south toward the mountains and the landing party."
"They're not in any immediate danger," Archer commented.
"No, but they will be should they remain as long as originally intended. I recommend they stay no more than another hour and forty minutes before returning to Enterprise."
Reed did some quick calculations while she spoke. "Agreed," he said. "Any longer, and they won't be able to fly the pod out safely."
"All right. Malcolm, let them know."
"Aye, sir." Reed moved to the unmanned comm station and opened a line to the surface.
It was Tucker who replied. "Thanks, Malcolm. We'll be sure to keep a close eye on the time."
Sato's voice came over the line. "Are you sure we don't need to head back sooner?" she asked.
"Sub-commander T'Pol's calculations are perfectly reliable, Ensign," answered Reed. He exchanged a mildly bemused look with the science officer, who had followed him back as far as her own station.
"Of course, Lieutenant. Thank you."
"You'll let us know if anything else turns up, right?" put in Tucker.
"Absolutely," Archer assured the engineer. He leaned against the rail that ringed the comm station. "Go have fun, but make sure you leave when T'Pol said."
Reed thought he sounded a bit condescending, but he realized by the smile on Archer's face that he was just teasing his old friend. For a brief moment, he envied Archer's freedom to behave in such a relaxed and comfortable way with a member of his crew while on duty. Then he remembered that was one of the things that bothered him about the Captain's command style. You can't have it both ways, he chided himself silently. Trip may be right. Perhaps I should reconsider my opinions on the matter.
"Aye, Captain. Tucker out."
The words pulled Reed's attention back to the matter at hand, and he closed the comm before returning to his seat at Tactical.
As it turned out, the landing party didn't have that much time. An unexpected storm front appeared, pushing the first, much smaller storm ahead of it. Now it was too late to fly out. The polaric energy would blow out the pod's system if they tried it, but they couldn't stay where they were, either. The caves were no guarantee of safety against a diamagnetic storm of such intensity. They would have to be transported out one at a time.
While Archer explained the situation to Tucker and Sato, Reed headed to the transporter chamber. He quickly but thoroughly checked the systems, making absolutely certain everything was functioning properly, then hailed the bridge.
"I'm ready to transport, Captain," he said when Archer answered the hail.
There was a moment's pause before a new hail came through.
"Tucker to Enterprise." Trip had to shout to be heard over the gusting wind and rumbling thunder.
"I read you, Commander," replied Malcolm.
"Ready to go."
Tucker didn't even have time to close his communicator before the transporter beam grabbed him. It was a disconcerting effect watching the world dissolve around him, but knowing it was he who was actually being disassembled. It was only seconds later that reality coalesced around him and he found himself back aboard Enterprise.
"That was a wild ride," he commented, happy to step off the platform.
Reed allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction before prepping the machine to transport Sato. Tucker took his place beside him as Sato's strained voice came over the comm.
"Safe and sound," replied Tucker.
"I'm on my way, sir." There was a pause as, presumably, Sato got into position outside the structure she and Tucker had been exploring. "Ensign Sato ready for transport."
Reed engaged the mechanism.
When Sato didn't immediately appear on the transporter pad, Tucker looked to Reed. "What's the problem?"
"The stream's too unstable," the lieutenant answered tightly.
A thought washed through Tucker's mind on a wave of guilt. I should've made her go first! Aloud he simply said, "Come on, Hoshi. Come on."
"You can do it, Ensign," added Reed softly, hands moving confidently over the transporter controls. "It's as easy as one, two " A shimmering figure began to coalesce on the pad. " three," Reed finished, smiling.
"Nice work, Malcolm," said Tucker, giving his partner a pat on the back. He took a step toward Sato. "See, I told you, piece of cake," he said encouragingly. He would have offered her a hand with the equipment case she held, but the ensign swiftly set it down and hurried past him.
"Where are they? We have to stop them," she said.
"Who?" Tucker asked, surprised.
Sato stopped and looked at him then at Reed. "You heard me? You can hear me? Do you see me?"
"Everything's fine, Hoshi," Reed tried to reassure her.
Sato would have none of it. "It's not fine," she insisted. "They put a bomb on the warp reactor." She tried to rush out, but Tucker caught her fleeing form, stopping her at the turbolift.
"Who?" demanded Reed. His concern for the ship's safety became concern for Sato when she answered.
"The aliens from the surface."
Tucker held her by the elbows. "There's no one on the surface--it's uninhabited," he reminded her, trying to calm her down.
She broke away from him. She was frantic. Why couldn't they understand? "What are you talking about? They kidnapped you and Travis! We've got to stop them!"
"Hoshi, the transporter was affected by the storms," Reed said calmly, hoping his tone would have an effect on her. "I had some trouble reintegrating your matter stream."
Finally, Sato's agitation seemed to fade slightly. She looked over at Reed. "Trouble?" she asked, confused.
"You were sort of trapped in the pattern buffer. But only for a few seconds." Tucker tried to sound reassuring, but was only marginally successful.
"Eight point three seconds to be precise," put in Reed, thinking that perhaps solid facts and figures would pull the ensign back to reason.
Sato thought about their words. "Are you saying that I was just on the surface?"
"You insisted on going second?" Tucker reminded her, his tone questioning.
Slowly, Sato's heart stopped its racing and she began to relax. "Do you have a mirror?" she asked suddenly.
Reed looked at her, bemused. "What?"
"Forget it." She gave a quick, embarrassed smile. "And I was sure I was going to be the next Cyrus Ramsey," she joked.
Tucker and Reed both looked at her, once again concerned. "Cyrus who?" Tucker asked.
Sato looked back and forth between the men, wondering if they were kidding. It was clear from their perplexed expressions that they were not. "Forget it," she repeated. "I think I'm going to go clean up."
"I think maybe you should stop by sickbay," suggested Tucker. Sato, though calmer than she had been moments ago, still looked flustered and a bit worse for the stress of her first transport.
She nodded. "I will. Thanks." She hailed the lift and, giving the men what she hoped was a reassuring smile so they wouldn't think she was completely insane, stepped inside and was whisked away.
Malcolm looked at Trip. "What was that all about?"
"I wish I knew." He shook his head in bewilderment. "Maybe we'll find out later?" He glanced down and realized the equipment they'd taken to the surface still needed to be cleaned up and put away. He sighed.
"I'll take care of it," Malcolm said, noticing Trip's gaze and his reaction to what he saw.
Trip gave him an appreciative smile. "Thanks, Malcolm. I'd kind of like to get cleaned up myself."
"Shame. I quite like the windblown, scruffy look you're sporting." Malcolm gave his partner a suggestive smile.
"Why, Lieutenant Reed," said Trip, playing at being shocked. "I never would have expected that of you. At least," he added, "not on duty."
Malcolm glanced surreptitiously around, making sure there was no one else nearby. Certain there was no danger of them being observed, he stepped closer to Trip and ran his fingers through tousled blond hair. When his touch reached the back of Trip's neck, he pulled the engineer's face toward his own and planted a long, searing kiss on the younger man's lips. Releasing the embrace, he stepped back once again and smiled. "I doubt you were expecting that on duty, either," he said.
"Uhh no," agreed Trip, a grin splitting his handsome face. "What was that for?"
"That was for transporting safely and successfully for the very first time."
"All I did was stand there," Trip pointed out. "You did all the work."
"Then perhaps you can find a way to thank me later," suggested Malcolm slyly.
Trip considered the possibility. "I'm sure I can come up with something."
Malcolm collected up the two cases of equipment as Trip hailed the turbolift. The doors opened, and the men stepped inside.
"You know," Trip began, "I didn't see you welcoming Hoshi home safe from her first trip through the transporter like that." His tone was teasing.
Malcolm looked at him sidelong. "I'm sorry. Did you want me to?" he asked too innocently.
"Uh. No," answered Trip firmly. Malcolm just grinned.
"Bridge to the Captain," said T'Pol.
"Go ahead," replied Archer over the ship's comm.
"The diamagnetic storms have cleared sufficiently for us to retrieve the shuttlepod. We have a window of approximately fifty-three minutes before another storm reaches the site."
"Thank you, Sub-commander. Archer out." The captain closed the comm over his bunk and looked down at Porthos, who was languishing on his dog-bed. "You want to go for a ride?" he asked the beagle. Porthos only yawned and stretched out on the cushion. "Are you still sulking because I wouldn't give you any cheese?" Archer shook his head, chuckling at the little dog.
He reached over and opened the comm once more. "Archer to Tucker."
The response was immediate. "Go ahead, Captain."
"There's a shuttlepod on the planet that needs to be brought home. Interested?"
"I parked it," joked the engineer. "I should probably go get it."
"I'll have Malcolm meet you in the launch bay," said Archer, making a sudden decision. He'd originally planned to go with Trip himself. He didn't know why he'd changed his mind on the spur of the moment, but he felt it was the right thing to do.
"He's right here, sir. He heard you."
Archer raised an eyebrow at this bit of information. "I see. I hope I didn't interrupt anything." He imagined he could hear Trip blushing.
"No, sir," the engineer said after a brief pause.
Jon smirked to himself. "Glad to hear it. Now you two get moving. We only have a limited window of opportunity here."
Archer closed the comm, then sat down on his bunk and looked over at Porthos. He patted the spot next to him invitingly. The beagle looked at him appraisingly before jumping up to join him.
"Finally forgiven me, huh?" he said, scratching the dog's head affectionately. "Don't think I'm going to break down and give you any cheese."
Porthos barked once and leapt off the bed.
Archer sighed. "Traitor." He glanced back at the comm panel, thinking of the conversation he'd just had. "At least someone on this ship is enjoying pleasant company this evening."
Stephanie sat on the edge of her bunk to pull on her shoes. Liz would be off-duty shortly and they were meeting for dinner. The pair hadn't seen much of each other lately; they'd been working different shifts and each had been busy with her own things.
Like Travis, thought Stephanie with a smile. Then her smile faded a little. She was glad Liz and Travis were so happy together, but it reminded her of her own unattached state. Since when has that bothered you? she asked herself.
She rose and moved to the mirror, and glared at her wild hair. Not having had to work that afternoon, she'd let it go free after her shower. Now the curls were starting to get in her face and on her nerves. She quickly fished a large silver clip from her locker and used it to leash her hair. Not particularly elegant, but efficient, she thought.
A quick glance at the bedside chronometer told her she'd better get going. She straightened her short brown sweater, checking her image in the mirror one last time before leaving the cabin.
As Stephanie walked briskly down the E-deck corridor, her thoughts wandered back to her bunkmate and she found herself frowning once more. What is your problem? You like Travis. He treats Liz well, makes her happy But she knew what the problem was, although she didn't like to admit it even to herself. Stephanie was jealous. She recognized it as a recent development, and wondered at it.
I've never minded being single, she thought as she walked. Always preferred it at least I thought so. So what the hell?
She almost ran into Hoshi before she realized the young woman was even there.
"Oh! Sorry!" she exclaimed, forcibly yanked from her musings.
"It's okay," replied Hoshi amiably. "You were obviously thinking pretty hard."
"Too hard. I think I hurt myself." Stephanie hoped it sounded like a joke, but wasn't sure she'd managed it. She was glad another subject suddenly occurred to her. "Hey! I heard you made your first transport today. How'd it go?"
The look on Hoshi's face spoke volumes. "I hope I never have to do that again," she declared fervently.
" According to all accounts, I got trapped in the pattern buffer for eight point three seconds." It was a number the comm officer was unlikely ever to forget.
"Damn," said Stephanie with genuine sympathy. "That must have been weird. I bet it felt more like forever, eh?"
"No. Just a day and a half."
Hoshi shook her head. "I'll tell you about it later, when I'm not so freaked out by it."
"That's fair. You can tell me while we're cooking on Wednesday."
"I think I'll be sane by then," joked Hoshi. "Do you have the ingredients list I asked for? I need to clear it all with Chef before we start, to make sure he has everything you need."
"Yeah. I'll send it to you after dinner. Now I've got to run. Dinner date," Stephanie added by way of explanation.
"Meeting up with Bonnie, huh?" asked Hoshi with a smile.
Stephanie froze for a split second. "No," she said. "Liz. Kind of sucks when you have to make a date just to see your own bunkmate, eh? We've been pretty busy lately, so when we realized we had the same evening free, we figured we'd meet up for dinner." She was babbling and she knew it. She forced herself to shut up.
"Oh! My mistake." Hoshi looked suddenly uncomfortable. "I better go. I'm pretty tired so I'm turning in early. Nice quiet evening with a good book, you know?"
"Right," agreed Stephanie, nodding too emphatically. "I'll see you around."
"Yeah. See you." Hoshi made a hasty exit, escaping into the nearest turbolift. She was mentally kicking herself for her assumptions. She'd honestly thought Stephanie and Bonnie were dating. Clearly she was wrong, and she felt like a complete idiot for mentioning it. But she was out of uniform! her mind insisted. She looked like she was going on a date.
She was dressed for a day off, not a date, she argued back at herself. She stepped out of the lift and walked quickly to her cabin. What's the old saying? "Never ask a woman if she's pregnant unless you can see the baby actually emerging from her body." Someone needs to make up a version of that for when people are going out!
Back on E-deck, Stephanie hadn't moved. Hoshi had unwittingly put her finger precisely on the problem that had been bothering Stephanie, clearly defining it for the tactical ensign. You've got the hots for Bonnie, she thought, bewildered but knowing it was true. Then she corrected herself. No. Not just the hots. You really like her.
The gentle tap on her shoulder caused her to start.
"Sorry," said Liz. "I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's okay," her bunkmate assured her as her heart returned from its frantic patter to its usual steady pace.
"What were you doing?"
"What do you mean?"
Liz chuckled bemusedly. "You were just standing in the middle of the corridor like you were in another world."
"Well don't hurt yourself," teased the exobiologist.
"Thanks," answered Stephanie dryly. She forced herself to smile, shoving her new revelation aside. Part of her wanted to talk to Liz about it, but first she wanted to think about it on her own. "Hungry?" she asked brightly.
"Then let's go eat. And you can tell me what all you've been doing lately."
"So," said Trip as he and Malcolm flew toward the planet below, "what do you want to do for your birthday?"
"I hadn't really thought about it," Malcolm admitted. "Why?"
"Why? Well, because it's your birthday, and I thought you might like to celebrate it somehow."
"You're not thinking of a party are you?" Malcolm asked with some trepidation.
"I think I know you well enough by now to know that wouldn't go over real well," answered Trip dryly. "I was just trying to think of something special we could do to mark the occasion."
Malcolm smiled. "That's very sweet of you, but you don't have to do anything for my birthday."
"Are you kidding? Of course I do. I just thought you might want to have a little input on it."
"That all depends. What did you have in mind?"
"Me?" replied Trip too innocently. "Nothing in particular."
"I know that tone. What are you planning?"
"Nothing much. I thought maybe a romantic dinner for two in the captain's private dining room might be nice."
"And which of us will be dining with Captain Archer?" inquired Malcolm wryly.
"Neither. He already said we could borrow it that evening."
Malcolm glanced over his shoulder at his partner. "You asked the Captain already?"
"I wanted to make sure it was okay before I suggested it to you."
"I see. What other plans do you have for the evening in question?"
"Nothing. Really. We could go to the movie if you wanted to." He paused. "Although I was hoping for some quality time with you."
"You haven't cleared that with the Captain, I trust."
"No!" Trip couldn't quite tell from Malcolm's tone if he was serious or just playing with him. He figured he'd better find out. "Everything okay?"
Malcolm sighed. "Yes," he said. "I do wish you'd asked me about dinner before you asked Captain Archer, but I'll get over it." Malcolm still had trouble with the fact that Trip was so comfortable making personal requests of the captain, but he knew it was his problem and he would continue to deal with it as best he could.
"So you're not mad?"
"No. Of course not. It was very thoughtful of you."
Trip smiled, although with his eyes trained ahead for their landing site Malcolm didn't see it. "In that case, is there anything special you want for dinner that night?"
"Anything but fish," Malcolm said. "Otherwise I'm sure whatever you decide will be fine. But good luck to you getting Chef to fix it."
"Oh, I'm sure he won't mind cooking whatever we want," said Trip confidently.
His tone sent up warning signals along the armory officer's skin. "You're going to get the Captain to ask him, aren't you?" he accused.
"I'm sure as hell gonna try. I think the Captain and Hoshi are the only people on this ship who Chef actually likes, and he won't take orders from Hoshi."
Malcolm laughed. "I think you're right."
Tucker checked the sensors while Reed guided the shuttlepod gently through the planet's atmosphere, eyes peeled for any unexpected storm fronts. "We're coming up on the landing site," the engineer informed him. "It's about ten kilometers dead ahead."
Moments later, Reed spotted the pod. "I see it. I'm taking us down." Skilled hands guided the shuttle to a gentle landing fifty meters from the other pod.
"Nice landing," commented Trip. "Real smooth."
"I know how you like it," replied his lover coyly.
"And I know how you like it." Without warning, Trip grabbed the pilot's seat and spun Malcolm around to face him. Then he straddled the lieutenant, pinning his arms to his sides and planting a hot, rough kiss on his unsuspecting lips. Malcolm reacted in kind, returning the kiss hungrily. It was Trip who finally broke the contact.
He released Malcolm and rose, taking a step back from where the dark-haired man still sat. He smiled. "See ya 'round," he said. Quickly, he released the shuttlepod hatch and leapt out.
Malcolm was on his feet and at the opening in time to see Trip's retreating figure jogging toward the waiting pod. "Bastard!" he muttered through stunned laughter. Trip's actions had taken him completely by surprise, despite his own baiting of the engineer. "'See ya 'round,' indeed!" he said, mimicking his lover's accent perfectly.
He watched until he saw Trip enter the other pod, then he sealed the hatch on his own. He sat once more and hailed him. "You left so quickly, I never got to thank you," he said.
"You can thank me back on Enterprise," replied Trip, satisfaction in his voice.
"You seem to think that by 'thank you' I mean something other than kicking your ass."
Trip's delighted laughter rang through the comm line, and Malcolm grinned. They'd been cooped up on Enterprise too long. It felt good to be out and about, even though it was within the confines of a pair of shuttlepods.
"Hey, Malcolm," said Trip.
"Race me? Where?"
A schematic of the mountain pass to their north appeared on his control console. "There," came Trip's reply. "Just up to that pass."
"Now why would I want to do that?" inquired the Brit.
"Hell, why wouldn't you? You don't really want to go straight back to the ship do you?"
"I can think of a reason or two to go, yes," replied Malcolm.
Trip laughed again. "Come on," he entreated. "Ship'll still be there. And a little fun down here might add to a little fun up there."
Malcolm considered the route Trip had sent over. It wasn't terribly difficult, but there was certainly an element of danger to it. "Since when are you an adrenaline junkie?" he asked.
"Since you lit my fire, Lieutenant," Trip replied, intentionally thickening up his Southern drawl.
Now Malcolm laughed. "You're on. First one to the pass buys the drinks."
"Fair enough. Remember I like whiskey and soda."
"What? Not straight up Kentucky Bourbon this time?" quipped Malcolm. He was rewarded by more laughter from his partner.
Both men fired up their pods' thrusters and the little shuttles rose into the air. They aligned the ships side by side and, glancing out to port, Malcolm could just make out Trip's grinning face in the other pod.
"Counting down five seconds from my mark," the engineer said. "Mark."
Malcolm locked in the countdown, watched the seconds tick past on the chronometer. At zero, he laid on the thrusters. It was enough to give him a split-second head start.
The comm line was still open between the pods, but neither of them spoke, intent as they were on their common goal. Malcolm swerved suddenly to port to avoid a looming stone outcropping. Trip was right behind him.
Hoping to outthink the younger man, Malcolm took his pod into a steep and sudden ascent. He was pressed into his seat for a brief second before the inertial dampers could kick in and compensate. He leveled off and banked to starboard around the side of sharp mountain peak.
As he rounded the peak, he momentarily lost sight of Trip on sensors. When the engineer was once more in view, Malcolm had to do a double take before he could believe the reading. Trip was directly beneath him. How in the world did he get there so quickly? he wondered.
His thoughts were broken when he heard the comm chirp unexpectedly. Sub-commander T'Pol's voice came through the new line, and he suddenly remembered he and Trip weren't really alone. He immediately slowed his speed, noticing that Trip had done the same, and closed the secure channel between the two shuttlepods.
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" T'Pol asked evenly.
It was Tucker who answered. "No problem, Sub-commander," he said, trying to sound as if he hadn't just been caught playing truant in a rather dangerous fashion.
"Then I recommend you both return to Enterprise immediately," the Vulcan continued. "The storm front approaching you was twenty minutes away from the landing site. Now it is eight minutes away from your current location, and you are still headed directly towards it," she added pointedly.
"We'll be right there, Sub-commander," replied Tucker contritely. "Tucker out."
There was silence in both pods as the men altered course to head back to the ship. Eventually, Trip opened another secure line to Malcolm. "Whoops," was all he said.
Despite the situation, or perhaps because of it, Malcolm laughed.
Reed and Tucker walked slowly along the corridor outside the landing bay. Neither spoke. Both were waiting for the hammer to fall.
"Wonder why the Captain hasn't ordered us to his ready room yet," puzzled Trip.
"Do you really want him to?" his partner asked.
"It'd mean the suspense would be over soon and we could get on with our lives."
"You have a point."
They continued their walk in silence until Malcolm said, "Are we actually going anywhere?"
Trip shrugged. "Not really."
"Then perhaps we should pick a destination. Neither of us won the race, but I know I could use a drink right about now."
Trip took a deep breath and let it out. "Good idea," he said firmly. At the next cross corridor, they hung a left and headed toward the mess hall. "Maybe the Captain's not gonna call us."
"Why wouldn't he?" argued Malcolmreasonably. "We were being unprofessional, behaving in a way unbecoming of Starfleet officers, and taking unnecessary risks with two shuttlepods."
"We were having fun," countered Trip
"Yes." Now Malcolm smiled a little. "We were."
They reached the mess hall and were happy to find it nearly empty. It was fairly late, after all. They had been forced to wait several hours before they could reclaim the pod from the planet's surface.
Malcolm picked a pint glass and ordered a Guinness from the drinks dispenser. Trip followed up with a tumbler and his own order for a double whiskey, neat. At Malcolm's inquisitive look he explained, "I don't feel like diluting it tonight."
They carried their beverages to a table in the farthest corner of the room and sat down. Eventually, the few other people in the mess hall departed, leaving them alone. Trip sipped at his whiskey, wanting to make it last as long as possible. Malcolm was doing much the same thing with his beer, nursing it until the moment came when they would be called to task for what they'd done.
Half an hour passed this way, with neither man saying more than a dozen words. Finally, Trip looked across the table at Malcolm. "Do you think " he began, but stopped.
"What?" prompted Malcolm.
"Maybe T'Pol didn't tell him?"
This possibility had never occurred to the lieutenant. "Why?"
"Why wouldn't she?"
"Maybe the question should be, why would she?" said Trip.
"What? Do I need to list the reasons I gave you before?"
"No. I just mean, there was no real harm done, right?" Trip was fishing and he knew it, but slim as the hope was he was going to hold onto it for all he was worth. "Everyone and everything came back intact. So, why would the Captain ever have to know?"
Malcolm considered this very carefully. "There is some logic to what you're suggesting," he admitted slowly.
"It sure would explain why we haven't heard a peep from him since we got back."
"He could just be asleep," Malcolm pointed out. "Perhaps T'Pol is waiting to give him her report in the morning."
"If that's the case, we still have the rest of the night, right?"
A sly smile curved Malcolm's lips. "One last reprieve before the axe falls?"
"Something like that," agreed Trip, smiling back at his lover.
"Then what are we waiting for?"
Trip shook his head. "I couldn't tell ya." He tossed back the last of his drink in one swallow.
The move excited Malcolm, and he shivered in anticipation. "Your place or mine?" he asked lasciviously.
"Mine," answered Trip. "If that's okay by you," he added, though he doubted his partner would have any objections. He was right.
"Then let's not waste any more time." Malcolm stood and waited for Trip to rise, too.
"Aren't you gonna finish that?" the blond asked, indicating the half-empty glass of beer.
"There are things in your quarters that are much more stimulating than alcohol. Shall we retire?" the Brit asked formally. He held out a hand to Trip, who took it and stood.
Malcolm gave him a small nod and, releasing Trip's hand, began walking toward the mess hall door. Trip took a moment to enjoy the view before following him. Suddenly he didn't care what repercussions the morning might bring, as long as the night was uninterrupted.