Damn. It had been such a good week, too.
Not everyone would have considered being chased and shot at by hostile aliens as a good week. But then, not everyone was the Tactical Officer on Enterprise. The point was Enterprise had gotten to shoot back, and while they hadn't won in the fire fight, they had won.
Despite the current situation, a small smile flashed across Lieutenant Reed's face at the recent memory. Now, however, Captain Archer and Commander Tucker were lost in a vast desert on an alien planet. That alone was enough to make him worry. Add to it that an antagonistic military force capable of disrupting Enterprise's sensors was hunting them, and worry became an inadequate description.
He leaned in more closely over the navigation screen, examining the flight path laid out by Zobral. The tall alien man was right; it was very difficult. But Reed hadn't been boasting when he'd claimed to be a quick study. He checked the time. Only another seven minutes before the window in the Torothan's orbital detection grid opened. Then they would have less than one minute to get from Enterprise's launch bay to the planet's low atmosphere, where they would be able to avoid detection even after the window closed.
"Are you certain you can pilot us in, Lieutenant?" inquired T'Pol evenly.
"No problem, Sub-commander," he assured her.
"I hope you are right," Zobral put in. His deep voice, roughened by long years in the desert climate, filled the small shuttlepod. "Or we are all dead."
"I see them," announced Cormack. She was manning the bridge tactical station in Reed's absence and was thrilled with the reappearance of the shuttlepod. She had mixed feelings about her next statement, however. "Five life signs including three humans—but one is very weak."
Mayweather had already opened the landing bay doors and extended the docking arm by the time she finished speaking. "Any sign of pursuit?" he asked.
Meantime, Sato was informing sickbay of the imminent arrival. She looked up from the comm station. "Doctor Phlox is ready for them."
There was a tense silence as they waited.
"They're on the docking arm," announced Mayweather at last.
Letting out the breath she'd been holding, Cormack checked her boards again. "Still no sign that anyone on the planet spotted them."
"They're in. Bay doors closing." Mayweather sat back and gave a small sigh of relief.
"Aren't you needed somewhere, Lieutenant?" asked Phlox.
Reed thought about it briefly and shook his head. "No."
"Let him stay, Doctor," Archer said in a dry, weary voice. It was a request, not an order; he knew orders would get him nowhere here in the domain of the ship's physician. "He'll stay out of your way." He glanced across sickbay from the bio-bed where he lay, making sure the lieutenant recognized this statement as the order it was.
The dark-haired tactical officer nodded. "Of course."
Phlox glanced at Reed and gave a small nod. Then he turned to Tucker. "Stay awake, Commander," he said, firmly but gently, to the rapidly fading engineer. "Look at me. "
"Uh-uh," Trip grunted. "Cap'n promised I could sleep once we got home."
"Soon, yes, but you have heat stroke. We need to get your temperature down and get you hydrated." Without further ado, he injected a hypospray into Tucker's neck. Trip groaned a little in protest; the pressure hurt against his sunburned skin. "I'm sorry about that, but you'll feel better soon," the Denobulan said gently.
Phlox turned and caught the eye of one of his med-techs, motioning her over. She'd just finished hooking Archer up to an I.V. and had another waiting. She brought it to him. A second med-tech was carefully treating Archer's sunburn with dermoline gel.
Reed watched the scene in frustration, helpless to assist. He had felt the same in the shuttlepod, but at least there he'd had something to do. Now the best he could do was stay out of the way as the Captain had ordered.
"Malcolm?" Trip barely had the energy to look around, but he managed it, turning his head just enough to catch sight of his partner.
Reed gave Phlox a hopeful look and was rewarded with another small nod. He quickly approached and stood by Trip's bedside, carefully keeping clear of the busy medical personnel. "I'm right here," he said softly. He reached out a hand and gently brushed dirty blond hair back from Tucker's face. It disturbed him to see how pale he was under his sunburn.
"When we get to Risa," Trip began weakly, "d'you mind if we skip that moonlit walk on the beach? I don't think I can take any more sand."
In spite of everything, Malcolm chuckled. If Trip still had his sense of humor, he knew he was going to be all right. "I thought you wanted to go swimming, too," he said softly.
"I'll stick to the pool."
It wasn't much later that Enterprise was on its way once more. After Archer had seen off Zobral, he'd seen no point in continuing to hang around. Not wanting to wait any longer, he opened a comm from the launch bay control room and hailed Mayweather.
"Resume course for Risa, Travis," he said. "And tell Hoshi if we hear any more distress calls, I don't want to know about it."
"Understood, sir." Mayweather hesitated slightly before asking, "Sir, what about Starfleet?"
Archer leaned his head against the bulkhead, enjoying the feel of cool metal against hot skin. He considered. A call from Admiral Forrest had been their first delay in the trip to Risa for shore leave. While it had inadvertently given them the exciting opportunity to push the Warp-5 Engine to Warp 5, it had also nearly gotten them killed.
He pondered the definition of the term "disobeying orders." Was it really "disobeying" if you never heard the orders?
"Captain?" Travis's voice came through the small speaker. The helmsman was beginning to wonder if Archer was still there, but he knew the comm was still open.
Archer sighed. "If Starfleet calls I'll be in my quarters." He closed the comm. T'Pol was on her way up to the Bridge. Phlox had recommended he take it easy, and in all honesty he was exhausted. There was just one stop he wanted to make before retiring for the day.
He headed back to sickbay. It wasn't more than thirty minutes ago the doctor had released him, but he felt the need to check in and see how Tucker was doing. They'd been through an ordeal in the desert, and Trip had fared the worse of the pair. Archer felt responsible; he'd convinced his old friend to come. He'd said it would be fun, a chance to spend some time together. It wasn't exactly the quality time he'd hoped for.
Things had calmed down in sickbay by the time he returned. Phlox and his med-techs were cleaning up. Malcolm had found a chair and was seated by Trip's bed. The captain approached the doctor. "How's he doing?" he asked quietly, nodding a head toward his chief engineer.
"I told you earlier he'd be fine, Captain. As will you if you get some rest as I recommended," Phlox reminded him, his tone kind but mildly reproving.
"I know, I know. I just had to check on him first." He leaned against the counter next to Phlox, arms crossed over his chest. "He didn't want to go, you know. This never would have happened if I hadn't talked him into coming with me. "
"Do you blame yourself for getting trapped down on the planet?"
Archer turned his head to look at him. "Wouldn't you? Given the circumstances?"
"You can hardly be held accountable for the actions of an alien government you'd never even heard of two days ago."
"No. But I can be held accountable for taking a member of my crew into a war zone."
Phlox was about to argue that none of them had known it was a war zone, but he refrained. He was still learning about humans, and right now what he'd learned about Archer was telling him this wasn't the time for a debate. Instead, he offered a suggestion. "If you feel that strongly about it, you do have the option of speaking to Doctor Douglas. The services of the ship's counselor are open to all."
Archer bit back his instinctual response to the offer. He wasn't a fan of psychiatrists—for no other reason than he believed in solving any personal problems he had by himself. "Thanks," he said. "I'll think about it." Then he quickly changed the subject. "Can I talk to him?" He indicated trip with a tilt of his head.
The Doctor glanced at his patient and the man attending him. He looked back at Archer. "If you don't have any qualms about disturbing such an idyllic scene," he said with quiet humor.
The Captain let out a soft chuckle. "I'll take full responsibility."
He crossed the room, catching Reed's eye as he approached. Malcolm started to stand, but Archer waved him back down. He gave him a small, supportive smile before looking down at Trip. He was relieved to see the light and clarity that had returned to his old friend's eyes. "How're you feeling?" he asked.
"Better," Trip answered. "Still pretty lousy, though."
"Phlox says you'll be up and doing fine before you know it."
"I already know it." It was as close to pouting as the younger man could come. "Can't I go to sleep now?" he asked plaintively.
"Doctor Phlox said not until you've drained that I.V.," Malcolm reminded him.
"I already finished one, and it's not like I can drink it faster." The I.V. was dripping at a steady, slow pace into his arm. "Please?" He looked back and forth at the men on either side of him.
Archer shook his head and laughed gently. He looked across the bed at Reed. "I'm glad he's not my boyfriend," he quipped.
Reed let out an exaggerated sigh. "Yes, sir."
At that, Archer laughed harder. "Malcolm," he began.
Reed rose, anticipating what his Captain was about to say. It was the second time in barely three weeks he'd put personal desire ahead of professional duty—and for the same reason. Less than a month ago Trip and Archer had been captured and nearly consumed by an alien life-form that had invaded Enterprise; Malcolm had spent more time than he knew he should making sure his lover was all right after that. "Yes, sir. I'll get back to work right away," he said.
"Sit," said Archer, surprising him. "I'm sure the Armory can do without you at least a little longer. I just wanted to say you did a great job today. As habits go, saving our asses is a pretty good one. I just hope we don't give you quite so many opportunities in the future."
Archer was slightly taken aback by Reed's reply, though he didn't let it show. He wasn't entirely sure the lieutenant was joking. He turned his attention back to Trip. "Behave yourself," he teased, knowing there was nothing the commander could do in the state he was in. "And do what the doctor tells you."
Phlox came over to the trio at that point. "As I recall, Captain, the doctor told you to get some rest."
"I'm going." Archer turned to leave. "Thanks, Doctor," he added.
The Denobulan simply nodded.
"Hey, Captain," said Trip with effort. "You promised me dinner."
"Prime rib, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, and broccoli," the captain dutifully recited. "I remember."
"And pecan pie."
"And pecan pie," he echoed with a smile. "Soon as you're on your feet, I'll let Chef know."
There was a small pause as Trip gathered enough energy to reply. "Thanks, Captain." He meant it for more than the remembered promise.
Archer just nodded. "Take it easy." He left the room.
Phlox checked Tucker's I.V.; it was nearly empty. "You're doing well, Commander," he announced, pulling out a tricorder and examining him. "Well enough that it's safe for you to get some sleep."
"Really?" Trip had been fighting to keep his eyes open. Now, he stopped fighting and gratefully let them shut. "I'm so tired." In moments, he was asleep.
Phlox looked over at Reed. "You're welcome to stay as long as you like, Lieutenant, but I'd be happy to contact you when he wakes up."
"I should go," Reed agreed, but didn't move. "Maybe just another five minutes."
"What's that?" Mae asked, glancing across the table at the datapad Stephanie held.
Stephanie swallowed her sip of her latté and said, "Vulcan database. I'm reading up on Risa."
"Are you learning anything interesting?" Mae dug into her usual breakfast of coffee and peanut butter crunchies cereal.
"Lots. I now know exactly what I'm doing when I get down there."
"I'm going shopping."
Mae eyed her suspiciously. "I thought you hated shopping."
"Not when there's a goal. I know what I need, and I'm finding out where to find it."
"It's like playing Twenty Questions," Mae muttered. "Find what?"
"Two things. Number one: a bathing suit. Not something I expected to need on a starship light years from Earth," Stephanie added in a wry tone.
Mae nodded. She'd had a similar thought just yesterday. They could easily get something from the quartermaster, but she was hoping the exotic alien setting would make the usually loathsome task more tolerable—possibly even fun. "I'll go with you, if that's cool. I need to find one, too."
"So what's number two?"
"You said you were looking for two things," Mae reminded her. "What's two?"
"Oh, right! Nearly forgot."
"Have some more coffee."
"Good idea." Stephanie took another appreciative swallow of her latté.
"Is coherency descending on your poor little brain?" gibed Mae.
"Slowly, slowly," was her friend's response.
There was another pause finally broken by Mae. "Number two?" she prompted.
"Number two! A Horga'han."
"I heard you. I just wondered if you were suddenly speaking in tongues."
"That's not my mythology."
"Ha, ha. Now what's a Horga'han, before I whack you with your own datapad?"
"Better that than spilling my coffee."
"No amount of provocation would lead me to that," Mae assured her, "for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is you'd kill me—once you got over the caffeine withdrawal."
"A Horga'han is a statue."
"Of anything in particular?"
"I'm not sure. There's no picture."
Mae shook her head. This is getting stupid, she thought. "Then how do you know you want one?"
"Your crunchies are getting soggy." Now that the coffee she'd had was sinking in, Stephanie was having fun baiting her friend. It was twisted, and it amused her.
"I can get more. Tell me about the goddamned Horga'han."
Stephanie laughed. "Okay, okay. Sorry. It's a statue. You put it out next to you—on the table, ground, wherever as long as it's nearby and easily visible—when you're seeking jamaharon."
"I know for a fact that wasn't English."
The engineer nearly choked, and she wasn't even eating. "Excuse me?"
"Jamaharon. Basically, it means sex."
"And you just put the little gorgon—"
"—Horga'han out, and people come and offer to have sex with you?"
"You're making this up."
"Could I make this up?"
"Okay, yes. But it's all right here in the Vulcan database. Check it out." Stephanie handed over the datapad.
Mae examined the page that was on screen. It corroborated everything Cormack had just told her. "Okay. So it's a little inanimate pimp." Stephanie snorted a laugh at the accurate if somewhat crass description. "What if you don't like the person who offers?"
"I'll burn that bridge when I get to it."
"I suppose that's fair." She returned the datapad. "And you know where to get one?"
"Yep. It says they're readily available in any boutique, or you can purchase one from any member of the resort staff."
"I'm not sure, but it looks like the whole planet is a resort."
"These are some very friendly aliens we're talking about."
Stephanie smiled wickedly. "I certainly hope so. We've been on this ship for nearly a year. The one person I was hot for is, and always was, unavailable—never mind that I'm no longer interested in that way." She briefly thought of the erstwhile crush she'd had on Lieutenant Reed and shuddered. "Ew! No. That'd be like boffing your cousin."
"Christ!" swore Mae. "I so didn't need that image this morning."
"Anyway, I'm looking for a little fun," continued Stephanie. "Or indeed a lot of fun. Risa looks like it's going to be a good place to find it."
"All right. So you have all this info. Why are you still studying the database?"
"I'm trying to figure out the native sexual taboos. So far they don't seem to have any, but the Vulcans might not have complete information on that point."
"You have just gone past the realm of Too Much Information into I Beg You To Stop."
Stephanie laughed. "Have some more coffee."
"Coffee? More like a stiff drink."
"Oh, you're funny." Then Mae's sluggish morning-brain suddenly registered something in the conversation. "Who the hell were you hot for!?" she demanded loudly, garnering them both more than a few interested looks from others in the mess hall.
It was Stephanie's turn to choke. It was several moments before she could reply. "Oh my gods, shut up!" she whispered harshly, gasping for breath.
Mae dropped to sotto voce, but refused to let the subject go. "But who? And why don't I know about this?"
"No one knows—okay, except Liz—and no one's going to know. I mean, shit! After that stunt you two pulled on me when we were gaming you think I was going to tell? And that only affected me. Besides," Stephanie added a little more calmly, "it was over before it began, okay?"
"Okay." There was a pause. "But who was it?"
"Come on. You could at least narrow it down for me. Gender? Rank? Hair color? Wait, I know you don't go in for blondes." Stephanie pursed her lips and gave her friend an arched-eyebrow glare. "Come on," Mae persisted. "If you don't tell me, it will force me to consider the possibilities from what little data I have." It wasn't an idle threat, and the engineer had proved herself to be remarkably resourceful.
"Consider all you want, just keep it to yourself," said Stephanie.
Mae contemplated her friend carefully, wondering if she'd actually crossed the line. It was such a rare thing with Stephanie, she simply wasn't sure. "I'm sorry. Does this really bug you?"
Stephanie sighed. "No, not really. It's just kind of embarrassing because I'm not usually so stupid. Do not comment," she added quickly with an ironic smile.
"I wasn't going to say a thing," lied Mae, equally amused. "Are you going to tell me who it was?"
"Don't take it personally, but no. Even the person in question will never know. Just call it one of life's enduring mysteries."
Mae let the subject drop, but filed away the information for later research.
"So, what are your plans when we get to Risa, Lieutenant?" asked Mayweather from the helm station. It was a quiet afternoon on the Bridge of Enterprise and, ironically, Travis wasn't the type to abide a vacuum.
"I haven't made any definite plans," said Malcolm. "You?" he asked in return, immediately and deliberately shifting the topic away from himself. It just wasn't in his nature to share personal information, even such innocuous information as Travis was seeking.
"I'm thinking about going rock-climbing," Travis said enthusiastically. "It's been a while, and I don't want to get rusty. Besides, it's fun."
"It doesn't to me," put in Hoshi. If it was quiet on the Bridge, it was quieter in subspace. There was nothing going on. While in a way it was a pleasant change, there were still several hours to pass before they reached their destination. "I'm not even sure I want to go."
"What? You must be kidding. Sun, sea, sand "
"Sounds a lot like Brazil, in which case there will also be snakes, spiders, piranhas "
"On an alien planet? Not likely."
"Or the local equivalent," Hoshi said, acknowledging the mild barb. "You know what I mean. Besides, I just want time to relax. I don't really care where that is."
"Not even interested in the local nightlife?" inquired Malcolm, deciding the subject was harmless enough for simple chatter. "A chance to get out, meet new people, go dancing?"
"Are you going dancing, Lieutenant?" she asked, suddenly curious.
He gave her an enigmatic smile. "Possibly."
"I didn't know you liked to dance," said Travis, surprised.
"You didn't ask," the tactical officer said. Trip did, his mind added. His smile deepened.
Travis immediately misinterpreted the expression. "Oh." He nodded knowingly.
Hoshi knew better. She looked at Travis, bemused. Did he really think Lieutenant Reed was going cruising for women to pick up? His expression said he did. She looked across the bridge to Malcolm. He was fighting back a chuckle. They caught one another's glance, and he shook his head as if to say, He'll figure it out eventually. Seeing this Hoshi, too, swallowed a laugh and nodded back.
"So," the comm officer began, "you're planning a guys' night out, Lieutenant?"
Malcolm recognized the game and approved; it wasn't the first time they'd played it. He decided to go along and see where the quiet, mischievous young woman took it. He'd been surprised when he first discovered Hoshi's subtly wicked sense of humor. Now, he simply enjoyed watching her work. It also helped that the anticipation of the upcoming shore leave had him feeling slightly giddy.
"Something like that," he said in answer to Hoshi's question.
"Not on your own, I presume."
"No. Commander Tucker and I thought we'd explore the nightlife see the sights, as it were." He gave her a suggestive look for the benefit of Travis. They were rewarded with another knowing nod from the young helmsman. Malcolm bit back a laugh.
"How's Commander Tucker doing, anyway?" continued Hoshi in seeming innocence.
"Quite well. The only lingering effects of his desert adventure are his bruised ribs and his sunburn. Fortunately, both are healing."
"That's good, especially considering Doctor Phlox will be in his hibernation period for the next week."
"How was he injured? Was it in the attack by the Torothan clan?"
"No. He and Captain Archer were invited to join in a game. I don't recall the name of it, but the Commander said it was quite physical."
"You sure he'll be up for sight-seeing?"
He'd figured it out now. Not only was she playing on Travis's misinterpretation of Trip and Malcolm's plans, she was out to confuse him even further. The small smile she quickly hid confirmed his guess. "Why? Were you interested in sight-seeing?" he inquired.
Travis's eyes widened ever so slightly as he glanced surreptitiously back and forth at the others.
"I might be persuaded," Hoshi said. "I hear there are some beautiful sights on Risa."
Now the helmsman's eyes were practically popping out of his head. Was Hoshi really suggesting she wanted to go trolling for women with the Lieutenant and the Commander?
Malcolm didn't know how much longer he could keep from laughing, but Hoshi looked calm and perfectly at ease. She looked at Travis, inquiring, "How about you, Travis? Up for some sight-seeing?"
He was shocked at her suggestion for several reasons. "I don't think so. I doubt Liz would like it," he said pointedly.
"Why not?" asked Malcolm.
"Well, I'd think that was obvious, Lieutenant." The young man was looking more and more confused and uncomfortable with every passing second. "We're together, you know." The tactical officer's unusual obtuseness had him puzzled. Travis was trying not to be too obvious, but he was afraid he might have to spell it out for him.
"You can go sight-seeing together," suggested Hoshi.
This time Malcolm had to hide his laughter by pretending to cough. He wasn't positive, but he thought Travis might actually be blushing.
"I don't think so," said the helmsman, his eyes firmly locked on the viewscreen. He briefly glanced down at the controls then back at the screen, but he refused to look at the officers to either side of him.
"Is something wrong, Ensign?" Malcolm inquired pleasantly once he was able to speak.
At that moment, Commander Tucker stepped out of the turbolift onto the Bridge. He was no longer the painful red color he'd been when he'd been rescued from the desert, but he was still moving a little gingerly from the injury to his ribs.
"Commander," Malcolm greeted him. He spared a quick glance at Sato to see if she was going to continue their game or let it go. But the decision was taken from her through sheer chance.
"Lieutenant, Ensigns," Trip greeted them all. "Looking forward to shore leave?" he asked the room in general. He approached the engineering station that was situated next to Malcolm's post at tactical, brushing his fingers lightly along Malcolm's shoulder as he passed. He leaned over the engineering console, tapped several buttons, and scanned the information he'd called up on the screen.
"Yes, sir," piped up Hoshi. "We were just discussing our plans. I understand there's great sight-seeing on Risa."
If Trip realized what she was playing at, he didn't let it show. Malcolm was pretty sure he was clueless on the matter. "That's what I hear. And the locals are supposedly ready and willing to show off those sights to tourists." Malcolm choked on a laugh and coughed again. "You okay?"
"Something in my throat," the tactical officer said. Across the Bridge, Hoshi was biting her tongue. Travis was still as a statue.
"The Captain in his ready room?" asked Trip, oblivious to the sub-text around him.
"Yes, sir," answered Hoshi—the only one capable of coherent speech at that moment.
"Good." Trip eyed the three bridge officers curiously. "Everything all right?"
"Good," he said again. He rang the chime for the captain's ready room, giving the others one last puzzled look before entering.
Malcolm couldn't take any more. One look at Hoshi and they both burst out laughing.
Startled, Travis looked from one to the other, dumbfounded. "What?" he demanded.
It only made them laugh harder.
End Log 24
As of 1 Sept 06: