Risa was more beautiful than she'd ever imagined. Stephanie stood on the small balcony of her cozy hotel suite and took a deep breath of the sweet, fresh air. She could see the sea from here, and the slight tang of salt on the breeze reminded her of home. She sighed as homesickness hit her. Stephanie shook it off. Spending a long time far from home was part of her job. She'd gotten used to it when she'd worked on New Berlin on the Moon and later on the test vessel Ellison. And now she was here—farther than she, or any other human being, had ever traveled.
She shook her head, pushing serious thoughts away. She was on vacation, and she intended to enjoy herself. Already she and Mae had had a successful shopping trip. The bathing suit and the Horga’han she'd bought were presently sharing space on the suite's small sofa.
Stephanie took one more deep lungful of air and went back inside. Picking up the outrageously bright, floral-patterned suit, she headed for the bedroom to change. The Horga'han would wait until tomorrow; today she and Mae were going sailing.
The door chimed just as she was doing up the buttons on her shorts. Stephanie grabbed a lightweight tank and pulled it on over her bikini top as she went to answer the door. As she'd expected, it was Mae.
"Come on in," she said. "I'm almost ready to go." Stephanie popped back into the bedroom and reappeared moments later with a pair of sneakers in one hand. She sat on the sofa and pulled them on.
Mae was eyeing the little statue next to her. "Is that the Horga'han?" she asked.
"Yep. Check it out." She picked it up and handed it to her friend.
Mae examined it carefully. "Weird."
"I think it's kind of cool. Even if you ignore its intended purpose, it's a pretty cool statue."
"You're really going to use it?"
"Uh, yeah." She finished tying her shoes and looked up at Mae. The engineer had set the statue on the low table and was looking at her dubiously. "Would it make you feel better if I told you I plan to be careful?"
"I'm having a hard time figuring out how casual sex with an alien is being careful."
Stephanie decided not to correct her friend's use of the singular. She rose. "I'll be fine. Trust me. This is a hell of a lot safer than some things I've done in my life."
"This is a lot different than working security," argued Mae, misunderstanding the nature of the danger Stephanie was talking about.
"That's not what I meant." She considered before continuing. "You know some of what I've done in my life, but you don't know all of it. Trust me when I say I know what I’m getting myself into, and I know how to handle it. Now, let's go sailing." Stephanie flashed a grin, which Mae couldn't help but return. Mae wasn't really satisfied with the answer she'd gotten, but she realized it was the best she was going to get.
"Hang on!" Stephanie quickly checked the pockets of her shorts. "Hotel pass, credit chip." She grabbed a pair of sunglasses from the table. "Shades. Okay. I'm good."
It was a beautiful day for sailing. Stephanie and Mae had spent the entire afternoon and evening tacking back and forth across the wide pristine bay, occasionally stopping to take a swim in the luxuriously blue water. There were several boats out, and they'd shared friendly waves and smiles with a number of them as they'd passed.
Both women were pleasantly tired, but neither was quite ready to head back to shore. Instead, they anchored out in roughly the center of the bay to observe the Risan sunset. As they watched, the rich Parrish-blue sky filled with warm shades of orange and pink, deepening slowly to magenta, lavender, and purple as the sun slipped below the watery horizon. The sky darkened and, one by one, pinpricks of light began to dot the deep blue velvet canopy.
Stephanie laid back on the deck of the boat. She crossed her ankles on the low metal rail and folded her arms under her head. Mae joined her, reclining so she mirrored her friend's posture.
"Think we could spot Sol from here?" said Stephanie, staring up into the sky.
"Not without a telescope," Mae replied. "You didn't bring one, did you?"
They lay there in silence for some time, enjoying the quiet lapping of the water against the boat's hull as it rocked gently up and down.
Finally, Stephanie spoke up again. "I'm starving."
"The concierge said there's a great floating restaurant out here. They supposedly serve seafood right from the deck."
"Yeah? Right on." Mae sat up enough to lean on her elbows and look around. They were one of only a few boats left out on the bay. She spotted a cluster of lights about half way between their position and the dock. "I wonder if that's it," she said.
Stephanie rolled onto her stomach and lifted her head just enough to see over the rail past and her friend's feet. "Where?" Mae pointed. "Huh. Maybe. Let's go find out."
It was indeed the place they were looking for. Stephanie steered the small sailboat in close, and Mae tossed a line to a young man waiting for just such an occasion. "Welcome," he called out. He wound the rope around a cleat and moved on to catch the next, repeating the action.
"Permission to come aboard?" said Stephanie. She let down the anchor and secured the tiller and sail. It was an easy operation with all the automated conveniences the Risan boatbuilders had built into the vessel. More than once that day she'd wished she could have one just like it sent back to Earth for when she had shore leave at home.
"Permission granted," replied the young Risan man with a smile.
Stephanie held out a hand, which he took and helped her over to the restaurant boat. Then he turned his bright smile and dark eyes to Mae as he helped her to cross, too.
"I hear this is where we can find the freshest seafood on Risa," Stephanie said.
"Yes, it is. Please take a seat at any table. A waiter will be along to help you."
"You're not going to be our waiter?" Mae asked coquettishly.
"I'm afraid not. But I'm sure you'll be happy with the service."
They found a small, candle-lit table and sat. Stephanie leaned in over it and said quietly, "And you've been dissing me about my Horga'han?"
"What?" asked Mae, although she knew what her friend was talking about.
"You were so flirting with that guy!"
"So? He was cute."
"Hmm. I’m thinking pot kettle." She gave the engineer a look of mock consternation. "I'm sure there's an analogy in there somewhere."
"Oh please. It's not like I was—" She stopped short as a waiter approached them.
"Good evening, ladies," he said with a smile. "May I tell you about tonight's specials?"
"Actually, why don't you just bring us whatever you like the best?" suggested Mae. She flashed him her most flirtatious smile. "This is our first visit to Risa. I don't think we'd know what to order."
The waiter returned the smile. "I'd be happy to." He gave them a nod and departed.
"Slut," teased Stephanie under her breath.
"I'm just trying to create a positive image of humans," protested Mae with false innocence. "We don't want to be known as the ugly tourists of the galaxy."
Stephanie laughed. "You have a point."
"Good afternoon, Ensign!"
"Hey, Doctor Douglas," was Mae's startled response. "I didn't see you there."
"I just arrived," Kyrin said with a smile. "And please, don't call me 'Doctor.' I’m on vacation. The only person's mental health I'm concerned with today is my own. Just call me Kyrin."
Mae chuckled. "All right, then call me Mae."
"Delighted. Did you enjoy your first day and night on Risa?"
"Yeah. Stephanie and I went sailing. It was gorgeous."
Kyrin glanced around. "Is she joining you today?"
"She had other plans," Mae answered, and quickly changed the subject. "So, are you taking one of the tours?" It seemed a safe assumption considering they were standing in the waiting zone for the sight-seeing transports.
"Yes. Liam and I thought it would be nice to see some of the Risan countryside before we have to go back to Enterprise. I understand there's a waterfall that makes Angel Falls look like a leaky kitchen sink."
"I read about that in the Vulcan database," answered Mae with enthusiasm. She held up a small camera. "I thought I'd check it out, too. Take some pictures to send home."
"Then you should join us!" suggested Kyrin. He looked around the sunny waiting area in mild annoyance. "Assuming we'll be an 'us' before the transport is ready to go."
"I'm sure he'll be here any second."
Kyrin gave her a sardonic look. "You must not know Liam very well." It was said only half in jest. "The boy is always late for anything but a duty-shift."
"Well," joked Mae, "maybe you need to impress on him that some social functions are just as vital as a duty-shift."
"My dear, I've tried," he replied with over-exaggerated weariness. "Maybe when the results of the officers' exams come in he'll be able to focus a little better on life as opposed to duty."
"You haven't heard yet?"
"No, and Liam was so hoping to have the results before we arrived here. Starfleet isn't the hideous bureaucracy it could be, but neither is it the well-oiled machine they'd like us all to believe. Ah! There he is!" He held up an arm and caught the attention of crewman Liam Donnelly. Liam smiled and approached them as an announcement came over the tannoy.
"The next tour will be departing in three minutes," a pleasant female voice said. "Will passengers please board the yellow transport to the left of the waiting area? The tour will depart in three minutes. Thank you."
"You're late," Kyrin chided the new arrival.
Liam brushed an errant lock of black hair back from his face. "You know the story about the swan and the scorpion?" the Irishman said, humor flickering in his bright green eyes.
"I know, I know. It's in your nature." It was obviously an issue that had come up between them so often it was now a running joke. "Let's get aboard the transport before it leaves without us." He ushered the young man ahead of him to be certain he wouldn't be left behind. Kyrin looked back at Mae. "Are you coming?"
"If you don't mind a third wheel," she replied uncertainly.
"Absolutely not," was the counselor's emphatic response. He and his companion had been very careful to keep their relationship platonic; the addition of a third party to their trip would help re-enforce the image to any observers. Neither man wanted any doubts about the nature of their friendship that might jeopardize either's position in Starfleet. Once both were officers, however Look out, baby! thought Kyrin with a smile.
The trio settled into seats, and it wasn't long before the transport was on its way.
Normally a late-sleeper, Stephanie was surprised to wake early. Sun streamed through the gauze curtains, dappling the covers with soft, diffused light. Looking around, she smiled. She was wrapped in a happy tangle of arms and legs. It took several moments to determine which were her own.
A low voice spoke to her left. "Good morning."
"Morning," she answered softly. She gazed at the man next to her. She would have mistaken him for human were it not for his telepathic abilities and eyes so dark she couldn't tell where the pupils left off and the irises began.
"Shall I order us breakfast?" he asked.
"Yes, please," answered Stephanie. The night had left her satiated and hungry all at once.
Carefully, he untangled himself from flesh and bedclothes, and rose. Stephanie soaked in every centimeter of his lean, fit body before he pulled on a robe.
While he went to make the call to room-service, Stephanie rolled over onto her right side. She ran gentle fingers through the carnelian-colored hair of the woman still sleeping there, leaned in, and brushed a tender kiss against her lips. The Risan shifted a little, her eyes opening. They were a blue so deep Stephanie felt she could easily have drowned in them.
"Good morning. Taaqat's ordering breakfast. Do want anything in particular?"
"Whatever he orders will be fine," the Risan woman said with a smile. "I had a lovely night."
"So did I."
They exchanged another kiss, this one deeper and more passionate, reminiscent of the night's activities. Stephanie could feel the tension building in her center, the heat and wetness there an almost instantaneous reaction to the touch of the Risan woman. Tongues explored lips and teeth, refreshing sense memory.
Stephanie reached out a hand and gently massaged the woman's soft breasts, alternating between them. The Risan responded in kind, and Stephanie let out a soft moan, her already firm nipples tingling with sensation.
Finally, reluctantly, the two separated. "May I use your shower while we wait for breakfast?"
"Of course," answered Stephanie, slightly breathless. She stole one last kiss before letting the other woman go.
Stephanie watched the svelte red-head sashay toward the en-suite, natural grace and sensuality explicit in her every move. She sighed and lay back against the pillows. "Life is good," she said.
She took one more moment to relax and indulge in the memory of the night's most pleasant activities before forcing herself to throw back the covers and get up. It was the last morning of her shore leave, and she had to keep on some sort of schedule. She pulled on a pale green, lightweight robe and headed into the living area.
"Breakfast will be here shortly," Taaqat informed her in the deep, chocolatey voice Stephanie had instantly adored. "I hope there wasn't anything special you ladies wanted?"
Stephanie sidled up to him. "Derzhava said anything would do." She slipped one hand inside his robe that gapped open so invitingly, showing his broad, muscular chest. Her fingers raked gently though the light covering of hair she found there. "And I left orders with the room-service staff that no matter what else was ordered, they were to send up coffee with it."
Unconsciously, Taaqat leaned into her caress. "Coffee?" He gave her a puzzled look as he rolled the alien word around on his tongue.
"Well, the local equivalent." Stephanie's hand slid around his back and down to his firm buttocks as her other hand loosened the tie on the robe. "It's a beverage from Earth. Bitter, acidic, mildly toxic, and delicious." She nipped at his chest playfully, lips and tongue enjoying the sensuousness of his skin.
"Your description seems unlikely, but I'll take your word for it." He smiled.
The Risan woman, Derzhava, emerged from the en-suite and stood in the arched opening between bedroom and living room. She had wrapped her silken hair in a towel and her lithe body in a yet another robe—this one a blue that perfectly complemented her eyes.
She looked at them, a coy smile playing on her soft lips. "Is this the appetizer?" she asked.
Stephanie glanced back and forth between her companions. "We've got some time before breakfast arrives " She was rewarded with smiles from Taaqat and Derzhava alike.
Yep, Stephanie thought, life is so very, very good.
"I'll catch you later," said Cormack to Lawless. They were standing on the deck of Enterprise's landing bay, having just returned from Risa. As Cormack had disembarked from the shuttlepod, her eye had caught something that took her very much by surprise.
"Meet you for dinner?" suggested Lawless.
"Sounds good," was Cormack's slightly distracted reply.
Lawless shifted the strap of her overnight bag on her shoulder and headed toward the door.
Most everyone else in the landing bay was trying to look elsewhere, but Cormack wanted to know what was up. She strolled casually toward Lieutenant Reed and Commander Tucker. The men were clearly trying to make a discreet exit. Cormack had never been much for discretion—at least not when her curiosity was piqued.
"Everything all right, sir?" she asked her C.O. It wasn't every day he appeared in nothing but his blues and a robe in public. Tucker was in a similar state, and She took a subtle sniff of the air. they stank. She couldn't help but wonder just what had brought them to this ignominious condition.
"Fine," Reed replied. Tucker wouldn't look at her. "Excuse us, Ensign." They'd been working hard to retain what little dignity was left to them after their unfortunate encounter on Risa. Now, they gathered the modicum that was left and made a swift exit.
Wonder what the story is behind that? Cormack thought. She shrugged. She'd find out later when she could get Reed alone. Clearly it was something he wouldn't readily share with a crowd.
Finally he was clean. Trip sighed.
Malcolm looked at him from where he sat on the foot of the commander's bunk. "Better?" he asked although he knew the answer. Malcolm, too, was feeling much improved after a shower and change of clothes—even if those clothes were just his standard Starfleet coveralls. "Ready to get some dinner?"
"Am I," said Trip emphatically. Their misadventure had left them tied up for nearly twenty-four hours, and he was starving. They left the cabin and headed toward the mess hall.
Over large plates of steak and potatoes, Trip finally worked up the nerve to ask quietly. "You're not going to tell anyone about what happened, are you?"
Malcolm was surprised. "Of course not!" he exclaimed sotto voce. "Getting mugged, stripped, and tied up are not exactly events that will improve our reputations. How would that look? The Armory Officer and Chief Engineer of Starfleet's top ship getting taken like that?"
"I suppose it wouldn't help if we claimed to be drunk at the time."
"We were drunk at the time." They both clammed up as two crewmen passed on their way to another table. Malcolm shook his head. "It was stupid. We should have been more careful."
"We needed to let off some steam," argued Trip, although he was uncertain whether he was trying to convince himself or his partner. "Besides, it's over and done. I say we just forget it ever happened. As long as we're agreed we're not going to tell anybody, no one else ever has to know." He eyed Malcolm carefully. "We are agreed, right?"
"Of course! Who on Earth would I tell?"
It wasn't anyone on Earth that had Trip concerned. "Okay."
Malcolm stopped eating and looked at him. "What?" He'd caught a note in the engineer's voice that he couldn't quite place.
"You sounded unconvinced."
"No. You said you won't tell. You're a man of your word." Trip knew it was true, and he fought to keep his own worries from obstructing his good sense.
There was a silence as they continued eating. Malcolm thought hard, trying to figure out what was bothering his lover. It was obvious he was upset about something; Trip was too ingenuous to hide his feelings well. Malcolm only wished he could determine what it was, as it was clear the engineer wasn't going to tell him on his own.
For his part, Trip was brooding. It wasn't a natural state for him and he found it unpleasant. Unfortunately, he also found it unavoidable. He was remembering a few short hours ago when they had returned from Risa. Everyone else had been polite enough to ignore the fact that he and Malcolm were in an unusual state of undress. Even in the shuttlepod the Captain and Hoshi had managed to talk around it—despite Porthos's interest in their exciting new smell. In fact, now that he thought back on it, he began to wonder if he and Malcolm weren't the only ones hiding something. He'd been too preoccupied with his own situation at the time to notice.
"Do you think something weird happened down on Risa?" he said suddenly.
Malcolm looked at him. "You mean aside from our own bit of excitement?" he asked dryly.
"I mean to the Captain. Didn't he seem a little odd on the trip back?"
Malcolm had noticed an unusual expression on the captain's face at one point, but he'd ascribed it to his attempt to ignore the stink coming off his two officers. Malcolm said as much to Trip.
"Maybe," the engineer agreed. He didn't believe it, but he didn't have another explanation ready. Then it struck him. "You think maybe he hooked up with somebody?"
"What? You mean some Risan beauty swept him off his feet for the weekend? I doubt it. You know him better than I, but I didn't think he was the sort you know?"
Trip had to admit Malcolm was right. "Yeah. I wonder what was up, though."
"Don't ask," advised Malcolm. "He may just ask you in return."
"Good point." That brought Trip's thoughts back to a place he didn't want to go, so he changed the subject. "Looking forward to getting back to work in the morning?"
Stephanie used her evening to catch up on the news from home. There was a letter from her sister, Ryn, complete with pictures of her nephew's fourth birthday. The still images made her at once both sanguine and melancholy. She missed her family. There was Kevin blowing out the candles on his cake. The next picture showed him and several other children playing a game the purpose of which she couldn't even begin guess. A third was a candid shot of Gemma and the very pregnant Ryn sitting together on the sofa, smiling and laughing. Stephanie would have bet a month's pay they hadn't a clue their picture was being taken.
Must have been Mom, thought Stephanie. She's the only one brave and crazy enough to take Ryn's picture without permission. She chuckled as she imagined the aftermath when her sister realized what had happened.
The last picture was a family portrait of sorts. There was her mother looking not a day older than she had for the past ten years. There was Ryn actually smiling for the picture. Gemma stood next to Ryn, smiling easily, one arm wrapped lovingly around her wife. Standing in front of them all was Kevin, now four years old and trying to look very grown up. His attempt was foiled by the chocolate frosting daubing his face, but it was a good effort nevertheless.
Stephanie smiled, fighting back tears. "What's your problem, Cormack?" she snapped at herself. "They're just pictures."
Of course, that was the problem—they were just pictures. She angrily wiped a tear from her cheek and finished reading the letter from her sister.
The door slid open, startling her.
"Hey," said Liz. She gave her bunkmate a concerned look. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Stephanie sniffed and blinked quickly to stem the flow of more tears. "I'm good. How's Travis?"
"Much better." The relief was clear in the exobiologist's voice and face.
"So what happened, exactly?" Stephanie wanted to know. She'd only heard a passing report that Travis had broken his leg while rock-climbing and been brought back to Enterprise.
"He had an allergic reaction to the painkiller the Risan doctors gave him. Luckily, Phlox figured out what it was and was able to treat it." Liz sat on her bunk.
"Wait a minute. I thought the Doc was hibernating."
"He was and is. Sub-commander T'Pol and I had to wake him up." Seeing Stephanie's inquisitive expression, she held up a hand. "Don't ask."
"Okay." Stephanie shrugged.
"How about you? How was shore leave?" Liz had drawn one of the short straws in the lottery. Only half the crew had gotten to take shore leave; she had been among those stuck on the ship. In truth, she hadn't minded. It was quiet on board, and while the last time she'd visited an alien planet had been fine, her first experience hadn't been a positive one. "Did you do everything you wanted to?"
Stephanie couldn't help but grin, glancing at the Horga'han now sitting on the shelf over her bunk. "Oh yeah."
"Something wrong, Trip?" Archer looked at his Chief Engineer over the breakfast table. "You're kind of quiet this morning."
"Just thinking," said Tucker.
"You want to talk about it?" He salted his eggs lightly and took a bite. He had his own concerns at the moment, but he'd spent the past twenty-four hours hashing through them to no avail. Jon welcomed the opportunity to help his friend—perhaps this would be a problem he could solve.
Trip considered the offer. He could certainly use some advice. He'd feel stupid taking something so petty to the ship's counselor—maybe a friendly ear was all he really needed. "It's nothing. I'm just having a problem with one of the crewmembers."
Archer was surprised. In his experience, he'd found his congenial engineer could get along with just about anybody. "Is it T'Pol?"
"No." The Vulcan science officer wasn't Trip's favorite person, but they'd begun to come to something of an understanding over the ten months of Enterprise's mission. "No, it's not." There was a pause as the engineer tried to put his problem into words. "You ever get jealous?" he asked. It felt good to have someone to talk to, even if he didn't really know what he wanted to say.
"Sure. I wouldn't be human if I didn't." Archer took a sip of his orange juice, used the moment to surreptitiously observe his old friend. He didn't know where the conversation was going, but he was more than willing to follow it through to its conclusion. Tucker would get there when he was ready.
"Even if you knew it was stupid? I mean, even if there was no reason, but you just couldn't help it?"
"Absolutely. That's the way it usually is with jealousy—at least in my experience."
Tucker contemplated this. The only noise in the room was the constant hum of the ship and the clink of silverware on plates. "So you think I should just let it go. Right? There's no reason for it, so I should just get over it."
"Get over what, Trip?" When the engineer didn't reply, Archer asked, "Is something wrong between you and Malcolm?"
"No! No, sir." Trip was honestly surprised by the suggestion.
It had been a guess on Archer's part, and he was glad to find he was wrong. He liked the steadying influence Reed seemed to have over the excitable engineer. In return, Trip had brought Malcolm out of his shell a bit. It was a good thing to see from either side. "Then what's eating you?" he asked.
Trip shook his head. "Nothing."
Tucker's shoulders slumped. "Never could get a lie past you," he said.
"No? How often have you tried?"
The joke had the desired effect, and Trip chuckled. Archer smiled in return.
"It's Ensign Cormack," Tucker said finally.
"Ensign Cormack?" Archer was surprised. "What's going on? I haven't seen anything on her report."
"No, you wouldn't. She's a good officer and, from what I've seen and Malcolm's told me, she's damn good at her job."
"So what's the problem?"
"I don't like her."
"You're not required to like everyone, Trip."
"You don't understand, sir. She's pretty much Malcolm's best friend." He felt petty and stupid, but he had to say it. "That's why I don't like her."
Archer understood. "You're jealous of the time they spend together."
"Partly. I want to know what she knows about him, and I want to know about the secrets they have."
"What makes you think they have secrets?"
"Best friends always do!"
The captain thought about that. He had to admit he agreed. There were things Trip knew about him that he'd never told another soul, and he believed it was the same with the engineer.
"Besides," continued Trip, "there was something she said the other week." He was remembering the brief conversation he and Cormack had had after the rescue of Archer and Mayweather from the Tandaran detention complex. They'd run into one another on the way to sickbay to check up on Malcolm.
"You know, we're probably going to be in the doc's way."
"Probably," agreed Cormack amiably. "But I'm used getting on Doctor Phlox's nerves."
"Oh?" In spite of himself, Tucker was curious.
"Oh yeah. Malcolm hasn't told you about it? I'm not the most patient of patients, I'm afraid."
Before he could question her further—specifically on why "Malcolm" would know anything about it—they arrived.
"What did she say?" Archer was asking.
Trip glanced up, pulled from the memory. "Huh? Oh. Nothing specific, it was just the way she said it."
"Have you talked to Malcolm about it?"
He knew what Archer was going to say even before answering the captain's question. "No," Tucker admitted.
"You might want to do something about that." There was a tone of gentle reproof in his voice; it was exactly what Trip had expected.
"I know. I'll talk to him tonight."
Stephanie was disappointed. Malcolm staunchly refused to impart any information beyond the vaguest of explanations. She'd tried broaching the subject casually, but he'd remained deliberately obtuse. Finally, she was forced to ask him outright.
"It was a misunderstanding," he told her.
"Some misunderstanding," she replied.
"That's it," echoed Reed with finality.
"Come on! I'm dying of curiosity!"
"You might want to see Doctor Phlox in that case. Perhaps he can prescribe something for you."
Reed was walking quickly and the shorter Cormack had to pick up the pace to keep up. They both knew she'd have to drop the subject once they reached the Armory, with or without getting satisfaction.
The blonde woman tried one more tactic. "I'll tell you what I did on my shore leave," she offered. She didn't really want to tell him, but it seemed only fair to offer something in exchange.
Reed shot her a sly glance over his shoulder. He didn't slow down. "I can guess what you did," he said. "I saw that statue you brought back when we were standing in the landing bay. It was poking out of your bag."
He was right. Not knowing how big it would be, she hadn't budgeted enough room in her overnight bag for it. As a result, she'd had to tuck it in as best she could and zip the bag up to the statue's neck.
"It was a Horga'han, wasn't it?" Reed continued. "I read about them in the Vulcan database."
"And frankly, I'm not interested in the details." He was teasing her and it was fun. It wasn't often he had the opportunity to yank his friend's chain like this, so he was milking it. He was mildly disappointed when Cormack didn't even blush.
"Too bad," she said with a suggestive smile. "It was a lot of fun." She might not be able to get what she wanted, but she was damned if she was going to lose this round of teasing, too. "The red-head wasn't your type, but you'd have liked the brunette." She flashed him a wicked grin and entered the Armory.
The ready room door chimed. "Come in," called Archer. He was catching up on what had happened in the two days he'd spent on Risa and was pleased for the interruption.
Ensign Sato entered and the door shut behind her. "Transmission from Starfleet, sir," she said holding out a data card. "It's the results of the officers' exams."
"How'd we do?" he asked taking the card. There had been two Enterprise crewmen hoping to pass these exams and make ensign.
"I don't know, sir. I didn't think it would be right to look."
Archer nodded. She was right, of course. It was good to know he had a comm officer with such integrity she wouldn't even peek at exam results. "Thanks, Hoshi. Dismissed."
"Yes, sir," Sato said and left.
The Captain held the card between finger and thumb, turning it on two corners. He hoped both crewmen had passed; he hated to bring disappointing news to members of his crew.
Archer took the card and slipped it into his computer.
Doctor Douglas looked up from his computer at the sound of the chime, a puzzled expression on his round face. He wasn't expecting another appointment that afternoon. "Come in," he called.
Liam Donnelly entered and let the door slide shut behind him. His expression was very serious, and he held a data card in one hand.
Kyrin looked back and forth from Liam's face to the card. "Is that ?" he asked.
The crewman nodded. "Results," he confirmed.
"You've seen them?" He found he was as nervous now as Liam had been immediately before taking the officers' exams.
Kyrin's face fell. "You didn't " He couldn't complete the sentence. Liam had had such high hopes. He'd studied hard, and everything Kyrin had heard suggested he was bound to make ensign. The idea that he'd failed was heartbreaking but, considering the crewman's dour expression, unavoidable.
Liam couldn't stand it any more. A grin split his face, and his green eyes positively danced with glee. "No, I haven't. Haven't failed, that is. You're looking at the newest officer aboard the starship Enterprise," he said proudly.
Kyrin leapt to his feet and was around the desk in an instant. He let out a whoop of joy and grabbed the new ensign, holding him a bear-hug. Liam laughed as he returned the embrace.
"This calls for a celebration," Kyrin declared.
"I can think how to begin." Liam extricated himself from the embrace just long enough to lock the door to the small office. "You're not expecting anyone, I hope?"
"That's good news. I've been wanting to do this for months." Liam took Kyrin in his arms and kissed him soundly.
Trip did not, in fact, talk to Malcolm that evening. The lieutenant was working late in the Armory. Tucker considered doing the same in Engineering—there were certainly enough reports to keep him busy for several hours—but he decided against it. Instead, he followed one of Reed's habits and went to the gym. He was hoping a bit of exercise would help him blow off some steam.
The gym was empty when he arrived, and he was glad for the solitude. Tossing his towel aside he released a pair of hand weights from their secured spots in the weight rack and began a warm-up set of biceps curls. Tucker found the steady repetition of weight training calmed his mind—and his mind certainly needed calming lately. Between the recent events on Risa and his growing dislike of Ensign Cormack he was having a tough time concentrating.
Wonder if she's working late, too? he wondered suspiciously. It was a thought unworthy of him, and he was angry with himself for thinking it. What the hell's wrong with you? She's never done anything to get you so wound up. She's gone out of her way to help you and Malcolm. That was the problem, though. Was she helping them out of an honest desire to assist a friend, or was there an ulterior motive underneath?
He set down the free-weights angrily, letting them clang loudly on the metal rack. Then he nearly jumped out of his skin as someone spoke.
"You okay, Commander?" The inquiry was sincere, the tone of voice clearly concerned. It didn't make Tucker feel any better about the intrusion.
He turned around to see Ensign Cormack looking at him from across the room. She was on her knees, having just rolled out her yoga mat on the bare gym floor.
"Fine," he snapped.
Cormack started slightly at his unusually sharp tone. She shrugged it off, putting it down to his having been startled from his thoughts. "Okay." She stood and moved to one end of the mat, began loosening up tight muscles.
Tucker watched her for a moment. Then, being the kind of person who really preferred getting along with people, he tried to think of something pleasant to say. "Not working late?" was all he could come up with.
"Nope," answered Cormack. She hung down from her waist, allowing her hands and wrists to dangle against the floor. "The lieutenant doesn't need my help to go over status reports, happily." She rolled up to full height and reached both arms toward the ceiling.
"Right." There was a pause Tucker found awkward; Cormack didn't even notice. "I'll stop bugging you then. So you can get on with your workout."
"No worries, sir," said Cormack good-naturedly. She leaned over again, placing her hands flat on the mat and jumping her feet gracefully back into the plank asana.
Not knowing what else to say and deciding anything he could think of just then would be better left unsaid, Trip returned to his own workout. Unfortunately, he found it even more difficult to concentrate now that he had company. He regarded Cormack surreptitiously as she moved smoothly from one pose to the next, lithe, graceful, strong
Snap out of it! his mind ordered suddenly. That has nothing to do with why Malcolm likes her. They're friends. That's all.
He believed this was absolutely true—from Malcolm's stand point. But he still wondered about Cormack, and no matter how hard he tried to fight it there was a kernel of distrust in him for the female ensign. With a resigned sigh, he turned his back on her and traded his hand weights for one of the long bars.
He set the weight to the level he wanted and lay back on the bench. It was dumb to do bench presses without a spotter, but Trip didn’t care. He’d come here hoping to be alone; he certainly wasn’t going to ask for Cormack’s assistance.
That didn’t stop Cormack offering, however. From her contorted position, she spotted Tucker out of the corner of her eye. "D'you want me to spot you, sir?" she asked, carefully unfolding herself.
"Nope," grunted Trip.
"It's no trouble," she tried again. If he squishes himself when I could have prevented it, Malcolm's gonna kick my ass, she thought. It didn’t phase her that the bar he was lifting probably weighed nearly as much as she did; she still believed she could help.
"No thanks," was the engineer’s strained reply.
Cormack shrugged, although she knew he couldn't see her from his angle. She couldn't force him to accept her help. "Okay. I’m here if you change your mind." When she got no reply, she shook her head and returned to her own workout. But she kept one eye on the commander for a while, just to be on the safe side.
As long as he kept moving, Trip felt better. He was focused on the weights, the strain in his muscles, the sweat of his palms on the metal bar. But as soon as he stopped, his mind was right back where it had been all evening. He heaved the bar back into its rests with a grunt of equal parts exertion and frustration.
Forget it, he thought angrily. He rose and grabbed his towel, wiping sweat first from himself then from the bench. He set the weight bar back to neutral before locking it down.
In the twisting triangle asana with her eyes closed, Cormack never even noticed him leave.
End Log 25
As of 1 Sept 06: