Archer took one last look at the data on the computer screen. The Paraagans were an interesting culture. In some ways they reminded him of the early pioneers of North America, striking out to find what resources nature could provide them. In other ways, he found their matriarchal civilization completely alien.
What did you expect, Jon? he chided himself. They are aliens after all. He chuckled at his own xenocentricity and closed the file.
"Come on, Porthos," he said. "Time to sleep."
The beagle gave a small bark, not moving from where he stood on his dog-bed, and looked at his master doubtfully.
"No, really. I mean it this time. I'm done studying for tonight." The captain pulled back the bedclothes and was about to climb under them when a question occurred to him. He returned to the desk and reopened the file on the Paraagans.
Again, Porthos barked.
Archer glanced at the dog over one shoulder. "Yeah, yeah," he muttered.
Trip rolled over and looked at the chronometer. 0056 read the luminous green numbers. He sighed in frustration and punched his pillow, hoping to make it more comfortable. He was suffering from yet another bout of insomnia, and this time he knew the magnetic constrictors had nothing to do with it.
What's your damn problem, Trip? his mind snapped irritably. Can't sleep without your security officer?
Oh yeah, he thought back at himself. That's real funny. But once his annoyance had passed it occurred to him that might just be the problem.
His mind had been on Enterprise's Tactical Officer most of the evening. During dinner with Archer and Phlox, Tucker had been distracted enough for both men to notice and comment. He'd brushed off their friendly inquiries with lies about technical issues cluttering up his thoughts. It had been clear Archer knew he wasn't telling the truth, but the engineer had managed to escape after the meal without being questioned further.
Now he was lying in his bunk, mind racing, unable to sleep. There was an option--two, even. He could go to sickbay for a sedative, or he could contact Malcolm. The second option was certainly the more appealing, but he hesitated to follow it through. Half a dozen excuses why he shouldn't call him scrolled through his thoughts. All of them were pushed aside.
"Couldn't hurt to see where he is, at least," Trip mused aloud, pushing back the covers. Reed had told him he and Cormack would be working late on the phase-cannons. If they were still there, maybe he'd go see if they could use a hand.
Right, Trip. Just keep telling yourself that.
Ignoring the jealous little voice in his head, he input a request for Malcolm's current location into the computer. His shoulders grew tense when he saw the results. "The mess hall?" he muttered. Taking only a moment to tell himself he shouldn't continue, he input another search. In seconds, his suspicion was confirmed.
Great. You have the information. Now what are you going to do with it? He sat on the edge of his bunk, thinking.
They're friends. They're probably just relaxing. They've been working all evening, after all, the sensible part of his mind said.
He could be relaxing with me, answered the little green monster petulantly.
He probably figures you're asleep--like you should be. Like any reasonable person would be.
Well, maybe I'm not feeling real reasonable right now.
All the more reason to stop what you're doing and go to sleep.
That's the point. I can't sleep.
With that, he'd made up his mind. He pulled on a robe over his bare chest and pajama bottoms and stepped into the corridor.
The mess hall wasn't exactly between his quarters and sickbay, but it wasn't exactly out of his way, either. He would take the slightly more circuitous route, and if he ran into anyone on the way, so be it.
"That was wonderful," murmured Liz happily. She curled herself around her lover and rested her cheek on his warm, strong chest. After the scare they'd had at Risa, it felt especially good to hold him, reassure herself that he was here safe and well.
Travis turned his head enough to kiss her forehead. "You're beautiful. Do you know that?"
"Only when I'm with you."
"Uh-uh. You're always beautiful."
Liz smiled, settling deeper into the embrace. "Thank you."
Stephanie burst out laughing. "Oh my gods! You should not do that while I'm drinking!"
"I'm sorry," said Malcolm unrepentantly and grinned.
"I mean, shit! Did you want to see tonic water come spurting out my nose? Because that's damn near what happened."
They were alone in the mess hall. It was nearly 0100 hours; all the sensible crewmembers were on duty or asleep. Reed and Cormack had been working late on the phase-cannons. Enterprise was unable to fire the weapons while at warp; particle discharge would destabilize the warp field. After several weeks of calculations and simulations, they thought they had the problem solved--all it needed was field testing. Unfortunately, if it turned out they were wrong, the field tests would blow out the nacelles. But that was a hurdle for another day. Now they were winding down before turning in.
Her laughter calming, Stephanie sighed. "I should go to bed. I'm wiped."
"Me, too," Malcolm agreed. He drained the last of his Guinness. "Good work today."
"Thanks." Stephanie smiled. She took pride in her work; it felt good to have it recognized by her C.O.
She took a final sip of tonic, crunched one last ice cube, and stood. "Coming?"
"Yeah." Malcolm rose, too, and picked up their empty glasses.
"I'd've got them," protested Stephanie as he deposited them in tub set out for just such late-night meetings.
"Good night," said Stephanie as they parted ways at the mess hall door. "See you in a few," she added jokingly.
"Good night," Malcolm replied with a wry smile at her too-true jest. They went their opposite ways, neither meeting anyone in the quiet corridors.
Hoshi awoke with a start and looked around. Thinking perhaps she'd overslept her alarm, she glanced at the chronometer. 0103, it read.
That's not it, she thought.
She was sure it was some sound that had wakened her, but nothing stirred in the dark cabin. Closing her eyes again, she strained to hear something, anything, which might be different from the usual nighttime sounds of the ship.
There was nothing. Hoshi opened her eyes once more, peering into the darkness, reassuring herself everything was as it should be. She shook her head in puzzlement before rolling over and falling back into an uneasy sleep.
Mae knew she was dreaming. That was the first strange thing.
She was dreaming about cheese. That was the second strange thing.
The cheese began to sing to her in Arabic. That was when she forced herself to wake up.
That's it, she thought, rolling over and readjusting her pillow. No more frosted animal cookies and chunky salsa right before bed-time.
"We should get some sleep. It's very late."
"So? You don't have an early duty shift tomorrow, do you?"
"No." Liam shook his head, sending dark locks flopping into his eyes. He reached up to push them back, but was beaten to it by the hand of his lover. "But you have appointments first thing," the young man continued only half-heartedly. He was busy enjoying the attention of the fingers that ran first through his hair and then teasingly down the back of his neck.
Kyrin leaned in, using that same hand to pull his head closer into a deep, warm kiss. When they finally parted, the psychiatrist sighed. "I suppose you're right. Sometimes I really hate being so responsible."
Liam nodded. "That's the truth." He reached out and turned off the small bedside lamp. Settling back into the bunk, he looked up at the small port in the exterior bulkhead. "You're lucky you've got a window. I love to just lie here looking out at the stars."
"Don't tell me you only want me for my cabin," teased Kyrin.
"Nah," replied Liam, the grin on his face echoed in his tone. "But it's in my Top Ten."
Kyrin laughed and kissed his lover again.
Stephanie cursed the alarm incoherently. "It's too bloody early," she mumbled to the empty cabin.
Empty? She looked around. A small smile appeared on her bleary-eyed face. Liz didn't come home again last night. You go, girl.
She stumbled to the lav and washed her face with the peppermint soap she saved for particularly challenging mornings. Then, not able to face the complexity of a french braid, she opted instead for a simple plait down the back. Next, she brushed her teeth and dressed. Despite all her efforts, she was still rubbing sleep from her eyes when she entered the mess hall.
"Ugh," she grunted, wincing in the brightness of artificial morning light. "Long time no see." Stephanie collected her usual morning beverage and a banana nut muffin. A slow squint around the room located Mae, and she made her way to the engineer's table.
"Morning," said Mae.
"Ugh," repeated Stephanie.
"Uh-huh." She sipped her latté with the passion of a desperate soul at a desert oasis. "On the up side," she said after consuming enough caffeine to formulate coherent thought, "we should be able to fire the phase-cannons without dropping to impulse now."
"Then it was worth it."
"Did you get any sleep at all?" Mae asked.
"A few hours, but not half enough. Guess I got spoiled on shore leave." In more ways than one, her mind added lasciviously.
"Huh?" Stephanie was pulled abruptly from the pleasant memory.
"You're smiling. You never smile before coffee."
"Shore leave," she said, smiling even more licentiously.
"Don't say anything," Mae ordered abruptly. "I do not want to know." In truth, a corner of her mind was very curious just what her friend had gotten up to on Risa; she simply didn't think she could live with the image of it should she find out.
The dark-haired engineer finished her own cup of coffee and said, "Well, I hate to rush off, but I want to get to Engineering a little early today."
"How come? Working on a project or something?"
"Yeah. The project is not pissing off Commander Tucker."
"Huh? I can't even imagine him getting pissed off."
"Come visit Main Engineering." Mae shook her head. "I don't know what his deal is, but I hope he's through it soon. He's on a seriously short fuse."
"That doesn't sound like him at all."
"Tell me about it. I gotta go." Mae rose. "See you later."
"Yeah. Good luck."
"Thanks," replied Mae with an expression that said she expected to need it.
Left alone at the table, Stephanie munched her muffin in pensive silence. Wonder what's up with the commander, she puzzled. He'd seemed perfectly normal the other night when she'd run into him in the gym. At least, she thought he had. Now she looked back on it, hadn't he been quieter than usual? That's just stupid, she told herself. Of course he wasn't chatty; he was lifting weights. She shook her head. It was too much for her sleep-deprived brain to contemplate so early in the morning.
Stephanie started, almost choking on her latté.
"Sorry!" Liz slid into the seat so recently vacated by Mae. "You okay?"
"Yeah," coughed Stephanie. "Yeah. You shouldn't sneak up on a body like that." Then she smiled, remembering the empty bunk across from her own that morning. "Good night?"
Liz flushed slightly. "Yes, thank you," she answered.
"So where's the boy-toy?"
"Sorry. You know I only say that 'cause I know it bugs you."
"I know. What are friends for, right?"
Stephanie grinned. "Right."
There was a pause while both women ate their breakfasts. Stephanie broke it. "So, you're saying Travis has fully recovered from his injuries," she said playfully.
"Stephanie!" Liz exclaimed again.
The blonde woman laughed. "I'll take that as a yes."
The door chimed. Trip blinked into wakefulness, squinted at the chronometer. "Damn," he muttered.
Again, the door chimed. "Yeah, yeah," he mumbled, climbing from his bunk. "Who is it?" he called out.
"It's Malcolm," came the reply.
Trip opened the door to discover his lover looking at him, a curious expression on his face.
"Were you expecting someone else at this hour?" the lieutenant inquired teasingly.
"No, no. C'mon in." The commander stepped back, allowing him to enter.
The door slid shut behind him, and Malcolm took a seat at the foot of Tucker's bed. "You look like hell," he commented. "Did you sleep all right?"
"Thanks and no," said Trip flatly. He stepped into the lav and shut the door.
Out of habit, Malcolm rose and straightened out the blankets on the bunk. He had just about decided to make the bed properly when Trip emerged from the lav.
"Leave it," the engineer said. He moved to the closet and pulled out fresh blues and a clean uniform. He pulled off his pajama-bottoms and began to dress.
Malcolm smiled libidinously. "Don't rush into that uniform on my account." Trip said nothing and continued dressing. Malcolm frowned. He didn't expect to be taken up on his suggestion, but it was unlike his partner not to at least comment, joke, something. "Is everything okay?"
"I told you. I didn't sleep well. I got something from sickbay around 0100 last night, but that didn't make the morning come any later."
"You should have called me. I was up. I could have helped you pass the time." He smiled again, took a step toward his half-clothed lover. Trip stepped away, causing Malcolm to pause. "What's wrong?" the lieutenant asked. "Besides your disrupted sleeping habits," he added quickly before Tucker could use that excuse again.
"I don't want to talk about it right now." Trip pulled on his uniform and sat to put on socks and boots.
"I said I don't want to discuss it. Okay?"
It wasn't even remotely okay, but Malcolm nodded. "Okay," he echoed. "Do you still want to get some breakfast?"
"I can't." Trip stood. "I forgot I'm supposed to be meeting with the Captain and T'Pol this morning. About the Paraagans," he added in explanation. He deliberately avoided meeting Malcolm's gaze, certain he couldn't maintain his façade of calm in the face of concerned blue eyes. He didn't lose his temper often; he didn't want to lose it now.
If not now, when? he demanded of himself. Talk to the man, for crying out loud.
Later. I'll talk to him later, once I've had time to chill out.
How long will that be? You're supposed to be going on an away mission together. Do you really think waiting until afterwards is a good idea?
"Walk with me as far as the mess hall?" asked Malcolm. He hadn't a clue what was bothering Trip, but that didn't stop him wanting to be near the engineer. Even a distracted Tucker was better than being alone.
Trip shrugged. "Sure."
The two walked in silence toward the mess hall. Entering it, they met Ensign Cormack. She was ordering up another double latté. "Morning, sirs," she said with a smile.
"Good morning," replied Malcolm.
Trip just nodded hello and glanced back at Malcolm. "Catch you later." He didn't wait for a reply as he headed back out and down the corridor toward the captain's private dining room.
Reed watched him go, perplexed and concerned.
Cormack noted the expression and Tucker's abrupt departure. "Everything okay?" she asked, collecting her drink.
"I don't think so, no," was the lieutenant's distracted reply.
"Can I help?"
This time Reed looked at her as he answered, his tone and expression troubled. "No thanks." He didn't know what was bothering his lover. He saw no point in hashing through his lack of information with a third party, even with as close a friend as Stephanie. He picked up an empty mug and placed it under the dispenser. "Zariphean tea, hot."
Cormack recognized her C.O.'s reticence and let the matter drop. He'd let her know if he felt the need to talk. "I'm telling you, if you want quality with your caffeine, you need to start drinking coffee," she said lightly.
Reed gave a derisive chuckle, happy for the distraction. "You and your coffee. Any civilized person knows tea is the appropriate morning beverage." It was an old argument they both enjoyed. The familiar, friendly ribbing was just what he needed to lighten his subdued mood.
"Looking forward to the mission today?"
"Yes. It should be quite interesting. I'm familiar with matriarchal societies from when my family first lived in Malaysia. I'm curious to see what this one is like in comparison."
"Why, Lieutenant, I had no idea you were anthropologically inclined."
Reed shook his head. "Hardly."
They moved to the buffet where the morning's breakfast offerings were laid out. Cormack grabbed another muffin. "I'm totally hungry this morning," she commented.
"We were both up late working hard." Reed chose a plate of scrambled eggs and toast.
"Join me and Liz? We're over by the windows." She nodded in the direction of the table.
"No thanks. I have some studying to do before the mission. I think I'll just claim a spot in a quiet corner."
"Okay. See you later."
They parted ways, and Cormack rejoined her bunkmate.
"Isn't Lieutenant Reed going to join us?" Cutler asked. She'd observed her friend's interaction with the Tactical Officer and assumed he'd be joining them.
"Nah. He's reading up on the Paraagans, I think." She glanced across the room to where Reed sat. He took a sip of his tea and pulled a datapad from one pocket.
It was less than five minutes later when a page came over the comm. It was Captain Archer.
"Lieutenant Reed, report to the Launch Bay."
Reed took a last quick swallow of tea as he tucked his datapad back into a pocket. He hurried to the comm panel by the door to respond. "On my way, sir."
Neither he nor anyone aboard could have guessed what would happen next
End Log 26
Continued in Shockwave, Enterprise Season 2: Shockwave Part 2, and Log 2:1
As of 1 Sept 06: