Log Rhythms - Season Three
Malcolm left the Captain's Ready Room silently fuming. Additional training drills weren't a hard sell for him. It was the fact that Major Hayes had gone behind his back to the captain to suggest them, and that Hayes would be conducting them that stung. Archer could justify it any way he wanted--new tactics, new technology. None of that changed the fact that Starfleet had been out there for nearly three years, while the MACOs had been training in simulations on Earth.
Malcolm kept his expression under strict control as he crossed the Bridge, not making eye contact with anyone seated at the various stations. He wasn't needed there at the moment, so he headed to the Armory. Better to stew and simmer in the privacy of his office and begin working on this latest unwelcome assignment where the occasional muttered epithet wouldn't bother anyone.
'Coordinate the training sessions with the major,' Reed thought as the lift carried him down to F-Deck. He knew what that really meant, no matter how Archer phrased it.
Young looked up from the armory console where he'd been doing his best to be invisible. Lieutenant Reed had come on duty early and in as foul a mood as Young had ever seen him. He'd given the lieutenant his Gamma-shift report, which was basically the usual not much they'd had for the past several nights and Reed had taken it with a scowl more often reserved for days when the systems were malfunctioning or in need of repairs. He'd then disappeared into his office, much to Young's relief.
The upper door opened and Cormack appeared. She, conversely, was smiling for a change and Young had to wonder why. Not that he was complaining. She'd been as grim as a reaper for weeks. Rumor was she'd been having medical problems. Maybe she'd gotten good news from Phlox. He shoved the idle thoughts aside. He had no interest in delving into her private business.
"Hey, Ian." Her step was positively bouncy as she descended the stairs.
Stephanie had slept well last night, and in her own bed rather than the protective Shuttlepod One for a wonder. Phlox had checked her over just minutes ago and told her that the trellium inoculation he and Ari had been working on for the past three and a half weeks was ready for her as soon she was prepared to take it. She'd said no for the moment since she felt almost like her old self. She knew it wouldn't last, but she wanted to enjoy it while it did. Sooner than later, they were sure to come upon another field of anomalies that was better gone through than around. Then she would take the new drug. For now, her head had hurt so minimally when she'd woken that morning that a double latté with cinnamon had taken care of it.
She crossed the room to where Ian stood at the main console. She smiled at him. "You're relieved, Ensign. Go home."
"I'm glad someone's in a good mood," he said.
"Why? What's up?"
He lowered his voice although there was no reason to think Reed would hear them from within his little office in the back of the armory. "The lieutenant is spitting nails this morning."
"Seriously?" She glanced towards the closed office door.
"Seriously. You want my advice? Keep your head down and your mouth shut today."
"That is not your usual kind of advice," she joked.
"Yeah, well. He nearly bit my head off when he got here."
"Did you give him bad news?"
"I gave him the blandest report imaginable. Literally nothing happened overnight. All systems are working. Nothing went wrong. There were no security alarms, no malfunctions. It was dead quiet all night, eh? I could've thrown a dance party in here and I wouldn't have missed an alert."
"Then what's his deal?" She frowned, concerned at what might have upset Malcolm, and hoping it wasn't Trip. Again.
"Hell if I know."
Reed's office door opened and the man himself stepped out. "Cormack. A word."
"Yes, sir," she replied smartly.
He disappeared back inside and she traded a wary look with her fellow ensign.
"Good luck," Young said. "You're gonna need it."
"Run, you coward," she declared dramatically. "Save yourself."
That got a chuckle from him. "See you around--if you survive." He shook his head as he made his way up the metal stairway to the upper door. He departed and she crossed quickly to Reed's office. If he was as grumpy as she'd been warned, she would be wise not to keep him waiting. She put on a neutral expression and opened the door. "You wanted me, sir?"
"Yes. Come in."
"Yes, sir." She entered only so far as necessary. The door didn't even close behind her. Reed didn't seem to notice.
"We're adding some new training drills. With the MACOs."
Suddenly his bad temper made sense. "Oh!"
"Oh?" he echoed, challenging.
"Nothing. What do you need from me, sir?"
Her formal address wasn't lost on him. She was walking on eggshells and she was right to. He fought down his anger. It wasn't Cormack who'd caused it; he shouldn't take it out on his staff. Particularly not on one who'd been in a shockingly fragile state for longer than he liked to think. And that just added to his general aggravation levels, not having been informed of the extent of her condition, and its cause, sooner. "I need you to go through personnel combat training records and work out a roster that will pair security staff and command officers with appropriately matched MACOs."
"Yes, sir. Do we have a schedule yet or do you want me to work on that, too?"
"You make up the matches. Let me work out when they'll happen. Major Hayes will be providing the content."
"Yes, sir," she said again.
Cormack exited the office with a feeling of relief. Now, at least, she knew what was going on, why he was in such a rotten mood. She thought about the last bunch of anomaly-induced dreams she'd had. Only one had yet come true: Malcolm and the major covered in blood and sweat, fresh from a fight. She got the feeling that dream would be reality soon.
"I should warn Phlox," she muttered to herself. It could wait. She had a job to do first.
Stephanie and Maggie were enjoying an evening sparring match in the small cargo bay that had been converted into the MACOs' training room. Since word had come down that there were to be combined Starfleet/MACO training drills, the bunkmates had agreed it would fun to get a jump on things. So far they'd both won a few rounds and lost a few, and they'd both learned a fair amount about each other's fighting styles and techniques.
They were in the middle of a match, Stephanie teaching Maggie a move she'd gotten from Lieutenant Reed, who in turn had picked it up from a Klingon, when Phlox's voice came over the comm.
"Sickbay to Ensign Cormack."
Stephanie offered Maggie a hand up from where she'd thrown the younger woman and jogged to the comm panel by the door. "Cormack here."
"I'm receiving readings of strain and trauma from your biosensor. Are you in distress?"
She let her head fall back, almost laughing before shaking her head and answering, "Not this time, Doc. I'm just getting in a good workout."
"Very well. Don't overdo it. One good day doesn't mean you're fighting fit."
"Understood. Thanks. Cormack out." She rejoined Maggie on the sparring mat.
"Strain and trauma?" quipped the younger woman.
"Don't flatter yourself." Grinning, Stephanie took a ready stance, fists raised. "It's your turn to try that combination on me."
They faced off, and a minute later Stephanie was looking up at her bunkmate from the cushioned floor. She grinned. "Nice!"
"Thanks." Maggie helped her up and they sat on a bench to cool off for a minute.
Stephanie grabbed the towel she'd brought with her, wiping sweat from her face. "Good match."
"You, too. I guess I should've known you'd be good at this, but I never really thought about it before now." Bowman took a pull from the water bottle she'd brought with her.
"You probably didn't expect to be fighting against Starfleet instead of next to us," Cormack joked.
"Besides, the shape I've been in lately with these flipping migraines, I haven't been up for much sparring. Lucky for us both, today's been a rare good day. We must not be passing many anomalies for a change."
"Yeah." She took a swig of water from her own bottle. "I underestimated you, too, by the way."
"Yeah. I knew you were an expert sniper. I didn't expect you to be so skilled at hand-to-hand, too."
"So, we both got a pleasant surprise." Maggie grinned again and her good humor was contagious. Of course it helped that Stephanie was inclined to be cheerful already. "Tell me something?" the MACO said a little hesitantly.
"What d'you want to know?" Stephanie took a longer drink from her water bottle, waiting for Bowman to go on.
"Does Lieutenant Reed hate me?"
"I'm sorry, what?"
"I know that sounds totally teenage, but for real. He's never friendly to me. He's always so..."
"I was going to go with cold, but your word is more respectful. I get the impression I've done something to make him angry but I can't figure out what it could have been."
"You didn't do anything. He's not angry with you. He doesn't hate you."
Maggie looked at her, doubt in her sweet, round face. "How can you be so sure?"
"I know Malcolm really well. We have history."
Bowman's brown eyes went big as saucers and her voice dropped to conspiratorial levels even though there was no one in the room to overhear them. "Oh my god! You've had sex with him!"
Stephanie sat back in shock. "What?! No! How did you get from 'history' to 'sex' in, like, half a heart beat?" Her eyebrows squinched together as she tried to follow her bunkmate's bizarre train of thought. "I didn't think I hit you in the head that hard while we were sparring."
"No. But you said 'history'. Usually, when someone says 'history' like that, it means they've been, you know, intimate with someone."
Stephanie opted to ignore the fact that sleeping in the same bed with her C.O. for several nights could be considered "intimate" if one didn't have all the facts. Maggie didn't know about the cold that had quarantined Stephanie and Malcolm in his cabin together two years before, and she didn't need to know, either. "Suddenly the difference in our ages makes me feel like an old woman. When did this definition of 'history' happen?"
"I don't know. It just is. If that's not what you meant, well... What did you mean?"
"I've been working for Malcolm--Lieutenant Reed," she corrected herself at Maggie's suggestive raising of eyebrows, "for nearly three years. We're friends as much as colleagues."
"Friends? I didn't know he went in for friends."
How could she explain things without betraying Malcolm's tightly held privacy? "Look. The lieutenant can be a tough guy to get to know, I'll give you that. He likes to keep to himself. But if you spend enough time around him, you come to realize there's no one you'd rather have watching your back."
Maggie pursed her lips, her expression doubtful. "I don't know. I feel like when he looks at one of us, he's seeing the enemy."
"I don't think he thinks of MACOs as the enemy. Competition, maybe."
"We're here to help, to support Starfleet staff, not compete with you."
"I know that. Malcolm knows it, too." Although I'm not sure he believes it, she thought. Maggie wasn't wrong that Reed was unhappy about the military presence on board. After all, it directly affected his department and indirectly suggested that his superiors didn't think his own team could do the job. Not that she was about to say as much out loud. Instead, she changed the subject. "You want to go another round?"
"Sure you're up for it?" teased Bowman. "I mean, you just said you were feeling old."
"Girl, please. I can totally kick your ass again if you want me to."
"Bring it on."
Reed's "discussion" with Major Hayes early that morning was still on his mind as he sat at the Bridge Tactical Station. He'd let Hayes know in no uncertain terms who was in charge of security on this ship. He'd seen men like Hayes all his life and he wasn't about to let the major take any more than Reed was willing to give. In the end, Malcolm had gotten his way, as he'd been determined he would. That meant the first hand-to-hand training session with the MACOs would be tonight. He'd checked in with Cormack before coming on duty to let her know he needed her match-ups by lunch so that he'd have time to review them and send them out before evening.
Right now, he had more immediate concerns. They were making for what T'Pol called "an unusually strong gravimetric disturbance" roughly three light years away.
They slowed as they approached what looked like an orange, seething mass in space. Ribbons of flashing light shot through its roiling interior.
"It appears to be a convergence of spatial anomalies."
T'Pol's words didn't strike him as ominous at first as he reported, "It's more than 700 million kilometers in diameter." It wasn't until she mentioned a biosign within the phenomenon that his mind made the connection: a single person in there, experiencing who knew what; a single person aboard Enterprise, likely experiencing something extremely unpleasant. Not knowing what they were approaching, no one had alerted Ensign Cormack to prepare for it. It was too late to warn her now. Whatever was going to happen to her must have already begun, and he had his own concerns at the moment.
"Bring the grappler online," Archer ordered him.
His first shot went wide, but on his second, Reed was able to compensate for the distortion within the anomaly field. Unfortunately, the field expanded as they tried to pull the alien pod from within it. The Bridge was engulfed in moments. He coughed as he reported, "We're losing systems all over the ship."
"Helm's not responding," added Mayweather.
T'Pol spoke up. "There are rising levels of ammonium sulfide in the atmosphere."
The captain sat and hailed Engineering.
"Commander Tucker," came the reply after a brief pause.
"The helm's not responding. We need full reverse right away."
"I'm on it."
Malcolm heard the chirp of the comm closing and seconds later the ship lurched as it sped backward out of the field. The atmosphere cleared quickly and he took a breath of clean, recycled air.
"Helm's back online," Travis announced.
"Get us out of here," ordered Archer.
Now the crisis was past, Reed had time to wonder if Cormack was all right, but still no time to do anything about it as the captain ordered him to collect Tucker on his way down to the launch bay to examine the pod.
"Aye, sir," he said and swiftly departed the Bridge, hoping against hope that he'd find Stephanie safely tucked inside the trellium-D-lined Shuttlepod One.
Cormack was alone in Reed's office. He was on the Bridge that morning and had given her permission to use the little space to finish working on the training rosters he'd assigned her. He needed them by noon. She sighed over the personnel records, trying to coordinate groupings that would provide match-ups to challenge the command staff officers without overwhelming anyone. Starfleet's training was good, but the MACOs' skills were hard core. Distracted as she was, it took her a minute to realize an anomaly migraine was coming on. Once she recognized the signs, she sat up straight in the chair. "Shit." One day and one night free from constant pain, and she'd become complacent. She rose and a wave of dizziness hit her along with a flash of a mental image of a Xindi insectoid vessel crashed on a dusty planet. She steadied herself against the desk, caught her breath, and waited for the room to stop spinning. She had to get to safety. She could tell already the first-aid-kit-level painkillers weren't going to cut it. Not even at a double dose.
Leaving the office, she made for the nearest Armory exit, calling out to crewman Martinez as she went. "Juliana, you're in charge. I'll be back as soon as I can." She only hoped it would be before Reed found out she was gone. She hated abandoning her post like this. She would feel even worse should he learn of it, even if he knew why she'd done it.
A wave of pain swept over her as she waited for the turbolift. Again she had to grab for support. The lift arrived and she stumbled into it at the same time Phlox's urgent tone came over the comm. "Sickbay to Ensign Cormack."
She opened the comm to reply breathlessly. "Here, Doc."
"Where are you?"
"Turbolift outside the armory." She was too disoriented to know which lift and her eyes wouldn't focus on the panel that would tell her. She squinted against the bright light and growing pain. Where had she exited the Armory? "Don't know where. I think...port side?"
"Can you get to Sickbay?"
"Ummm..." She found the button for D-deck and pressed it. "Coming up."
"I'll meet you at the turbolift."
It was the longest two-deck trip of her life. As the door slid open, a wave of pain hit Cormack so hard that she cried out and collapsed, bruising hands and knees on the hard deckplating. Through the pain haze, she heard Cohn's voice. "Her biosensor is overloading. The readings are maxed out."
Phlox knelt beside her. "Stephanie? Stephanie, can you hear me?"
She managed to nod once, a grunt of affirmation escaping her lips. It hurt too much to think, never mind speak. Images began to spin around her, overlaying reality: a dark room full of eggs, a red giant star, four Xindi ships. Sounds and smells crept in: weapons fire, explosions; burning hair, melting metal. People shouting for help, shouting orders. People crying out in fear, in agony. She tasted ozone and smoke, and choked them.
Too much. Sensory overload. Stephanie clutched at her head, falling to her side and curling into a tight fetal position. Shaking, gasping for breath, coughing and crying.
Her wails rang in Cohn's ears, cutting into them like knives. He held onto enough professional detachment to do his job. Running a deeper scan, he scowled at the results. "She's going into shock."
"Give me the trellium counter-agent."
"Now, Ensign!" Phlox barked. "Yesterday she consented to the trellium injection when it became necessary. It's necessary now."
Cohn set aside the tricorder and opened the med-kit they'd brought. He grabbed the vial of trellium derivative in one hand and an empty hypo in the other. Fitting the two together, he handed it to Phlox. "Here."
His expression intent and his hands moving efficiency, Phlox set the hypo at the lowest projected effective dose of trellium and pressed it to Stephanie's neck.
Cohn reclaimed the tricorder. "It's not working!" He glowered at the tricorder screen, willing the device to give him better news.
"I'm increasing the dosage by ten percent." Phlox suited action to words and injected her with the drug.
"I'm getting something!"
"Precision, please, Ensign."
"Her PHC readings are stabilizing. Serotonin levels dropping."
"And her pain response?"
Cormack's screams dropped to whimpers and slowly died out into silence. Her posture, too, affirmed the tricorder's readings. Rigid muscles relaxed significantly. Her breathing eased. Her arms unwrapped from their protective position around her head and she rolled onto her back, returning one arm to drape over her eyes against the lights of the corridor glaring down at her. Ari stood up and moved to shade her from the brunt of it.
Cautiously, she lifted her arm to peek out from underneath. Looking around, she saw Phlox and Cohn's concerned expressions looming over her. She tried to sit up.
"Not so fast." The doctor put a hand on her shoulder to keep her supine. "How are you feeling?"
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, considering before answering. "Okay. I think. Throat's a little raw. Muscles are aching. Not sure how I ended up on the floor."
"Can you sit up?"
"You just stopped me trying."
Phlox let out a tiny chuckle and exchanged a glance with Cohn.
"Good sign?" Ari asked with a little smile.
"Very." Together they helped Stephanie first to a seated position and then slowly to standing. She took a few moments to get her balance. "Still a little shaky, but yeah. I'm okay," she repeated, this time with more conviction. A smile cracked the mask of her face. "I'm...good." She giggled.
"It's okay. I'm just... I don't hurt." She giggled again, a little manic but too happy to care how it came across. "I think I'm a giddy from lack of pain."
Phlox turned to Ari, who still held the tricorder. "Report?" Her complete reversal, from the trauma of moments ago to her current calm, was jarring in its abruptness. He needed proof beyond her words that she was all right.
Cohn scanned her once more and reported on the readout. "Everything looks normal, for the most part. PHC levels are still high, but they've stabilized. Activity in the thalamus also remains high, but it's back within a normal range. Dorsal posterior insula showing no pain reaction and there are no unexpected readings resulting from the injection." He smiled, a little astonished. "Just like the tests projected."
"So, does that mean I can go?" Stephanie was eager to return to the armory. She trusted Martinez could handle things in her absence, but now that she felt better than she had in months, she was eager to get back to work and forget all about finding herself screaming on the deckplating in a D-Deck corridor. She'd dealt with a lot of indignities in this damned Expanse. The possibility of a random crewman passing by while she stood there, sweaty with stress and shivering in reaction, was the potential straw to break the camel's back.
"I need to run a few tests before I release you," Phlox said. "Assuming everything comes up clear, you can return to duty."
Stephanie's shoulders drooped a little, but she wasn't surprised. "Imaging chamber?" she asked unenthusiastically.
He nodded. "Imaging chamber."
Cohn gathered up the med-kit and together he and Phlox escorted Stephanie to Sickbay, one on each side of her as if afraid she might collapse again at any moment. She glanced down at her feet, willing them to stay steady until she could sit down again. This whole vulnerability thing had seriously worn out its welcome.
"You're not going to tell me who's in the training session tonight?" asked Trip over dinner with Malcolm.
"You'll find out in less than an hour. Why are you so eager to know now?" Malcolm stabbed his fork into a bit of bangers and mash and took an angry bite. He wasn't angry with Tucker, but he couldn't hide his feelings as well as usual that evening, so he didn't bother to try. At least, not around Trip, who would forgive him even if he didn't understand.
"But Tuesday and Friday evenings? Why then?"
"Because that's when I want them." He wasn't going to admit to anyone, not even Trip, that he'd chosen the times as much to spite Major Hayes as because he genuinely did prefer to work out in the evenings.
Trip put the most positive spin on it that he could think of. "At least we're guaranteed to get to spend our Friday nights together." Malcolm only grunted an ambivalent agreement. Trip's brows drew together in puzzlement. He took a swallow of sweet tea, and said, "There's nothing wrong with some extra combat training. I thought you'd be the first to say so."
"Just drop it."
"Okay." Trip sought a less touchy subject. "How's Ensign Cormack doing after this morning's excitement?"
"Hmm?" Malcolm gave him a baffled look. "How do you know about that?" Phlox had only told Malcolm about it to explain why she'd been absent from her post when he'd come looking for her report.
"I reversed the engines to pull us out of the anomaly field, remember?" joked Trip, deliberately misunderstanding. "That was a little exciting."
"You know that's not what I'm referring to. You specifically mentioned Ensign Cormack. What do you know about her from this morning?"
Trip shrugged over a bite of broccoli. "You checked up on her between coming off shift and meeting me for dinner."
"Now, I have to ask, how--?"
"I just heard it somewhere. I also heard that whatever's been up with her isn't any more." He didn't know any more than that and he was curious.
Malcolm didn't enlighten him. "It seems so, yes." It was a touchy subject for him. He'd been more than a bit nonplussed when he'd learned the anomalies were causing her to have severe migraines. The fact that he'd been kept out of the loop regarding the situation was infuriating and he'd let both Phlox and the captain know--in professional terms, of course. If he'd been better informed, he might have thought of the shuttlepod refuge himself and sooner, too, and saved his friend a great deal of distress.
Trip waited for more. It wasn't forthcoming. "You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"What do you want me to say?"
"I'm not stupid. Rumors have been flying for weeks. I know she's been sick a lot, and I heard a couple of those Triannon pilgrims last month whispering about a curse or something, which is ridiculous, but it had to come from somewhere. Plus, she's been spending a lot of time in the launch bay the past few weeks. Now, I know the pods' defensive systems are fine, so what she's been doing there is a mystery to me."
"But you have some ideas, clearly."
Trip shrugged again over a bite of salmon and didn't meet Malcolm's challenging gaze. "I checked the access logs."
"You what? Why?"
"I was curious. She wasn't checking over the pods. She was accessing one of them in particular and staying there, sometimes for a half an hour, sometimes for half a day. Hell, she was even there overnight a few times. Now, either there's some weird experiment going on, or for some reason she needed that trellium-D lining around her."
"You've been thorough."
"You don't know the half of it."
"What does that mean?"
"Phlox was granted access to the trellium-D ore after we ditched the Triannons on their homeworld."
Malcolm looked at him, eyes wide in astonishment. "I had no idea you were such a busybody, or that you had so much free time on your hands."
Trip played it nonchalant and didn't fool Malcolm for a second. "I had help."
A light bulb went on in Malcolm's head. "You had Lawless's help." The engineering ensign was positively uncanny in her ability to gather information. "I never would have thought she'd snoop into her best friend's affairs."
"Yeah, well. She knew enough already to be worried. It made it pretty easy to get her to help out."
"I take it back. You're not just a busybody, you're a sneaky busybody."
"Maybe I should be in security," joked Trip.
"Maybe you should stick to engineering mysteries and leave the medical ones to Phlox."
"And the personnel ones to you?"
"Yeah, well, I'm not apologizing. Besides, I'm sure there's stuff Mae knows that she didn't tell me. And I swear I haven't talked to anyone else about it. So, it's not like I'm telling tales out of class."
"I'm glad to hear it."
They finished dinner in silence that wasn't as comfortable as usual. Knowing it was up to him to lighten the mood, Malcolm tried an oblique peace offering. "Do you want dessert? I saw some sort of pie in the case earlier."
"I don't want to weigh myself down before training," Trip said with a joking smile. "That's why I went for the fish instead of the sausages, like someone I know."
"You know my feelings on fish."
Trip chuckled. "Yeah. I do. Look, I have a few things to check up on in Engineering. See you for training afterwards?"
"Twenty-thirty hours. You'd better not be late."
"I wouldn't miss it."
Hayes demonstrated a shoulder throw with the assistance of Chang. "We incorporate elements from numerous disciplines," he said, helping the corporal to his feet. "It's extremely effective in hand-to-hand situations. What I'd like to do now is break up into sparring pairs, run through some of the moves you just saw. Let's get started."
They paired off not entirely as Cormack had intended, but Reed felt confident that the Starfleet personnel would acquit themselves well. They would rotate as the session progressed, anyway. Only one match-up worried him a little and he approached the pair to check in.
"Everything all right?" He glanced between a clearly hesitant Trip and Corporal Bowman.
Tucker looked down at his petite sparring partner uncertainly. "Umm..."
Bowman only waited impassively. She wasn't concerned about the match-up, but both men outranked her by a fair margin, so she kept quiet.
It was Cormack who broke the brief, tense silence. "It's all right, Commander, Lieutenant," she assured them as she approached.
Trip looked unconvinced. "No disrespect, but I don't want to hurt you," he said to Bowman.
Cormack clapped an arm around Bowman's shoulders. The women were of a height and Trip knew from experience that Cormack was tougher than appearances might suggest. She smiled as she read the thought in his changing expression. "Bowman can handle herself just fine. Like the Bard of Avon said, 'Though she be but little, she is fierce.' Have fun!"
Malcolm swallowed a chuckle, his dark mood overcome momentarily by Stephanie's mischievous sense of humor. They moved away, leaving Tucker and Bowman to it. "You're certain they'll be all right?" he asked in an undertone.
"Don't worry. She'll go easy on him," quipped the ensign.
Malcolm snorted a laugh and let it drop. He had his own sparring partner to face and so did Stephanie. He hesitated. He'd asked her earlier, but felt compelled to double check. "You're sure you're all right to train after what happened this morning?"
"I'm fine. Phlox cleared me for regular activities."
"This is beyond 'regular activities'."
"I'm fine," she repeated firmly. "If I have a problem, I'll bow out. I promise."
"And if I see anything worrying, I'll pull you out myself."
"Fair enough. Now, do you want Chang or Ryan?" She tipped her head towards the patiently waiting MACOs.
"I'll take Ryan," Reed said quietly.
"I can handle him."
"I know you can. I remember the last time you did."
So did Stephanie. It had been in a combat simulation not long after they'd entered the Expanse. She'd accidentally sent Ryan to Sickbay with a broken foot. Ryan hadn't been too pleased and had shared several choice words with her as a result. She didn't know if he was one to hold a grudge, but decided this first joint training session wasn't the time to find out.
"Yes, sir. Hey, Chang," she called over with a smile. "Let's see what you've got."
Corporal Cole spotted Bowman ahead of her down the E-Deck corridor and jogged a few steps to catch up. "Hey, Maggie. Getting breakfast?"
"Amanda, hi," she replied with a smile. "Yeah. You want to join me?"
"Unless you have other plans."
"Nope. I'd love company. Eating alone always seems a little sad to me." Bowman's sweet face was open and friendly. It had misled a number of opponents in past combat and Cole was curious about the most recent one. Breakfast would be a perfect opportunity to find out.
They collected their food and found an empty table across the room from the door. Fortunately for Cole's purposes, it was also a fair distance from any fleeters. They sat. "So," she began without preamble. "I hear you kicked some Starfleet ass last night."
"Ryan told me."
"When did Ryan have time to tell you anything?" They'd finished up training late enough that Maggie had grabbed a shower and headed straight to bed.
Cole smiled suggestively. "When do you think?"
Bowman returned the look with a dubious one. "To each their own, I guess."
Amanda only laughed lightly, her smile sly. "I'm glad you feel that way. I'd hate to consider you competition."
"No fear there."
"Tell me about the training session," Cole insisted. "He said you faced off with Commander Tucker more than once."
"We rotated partners some, sure. I guess I squared off against the commander a couple of times."
"And took him down a couple of times, too."
"He gave as good as he got."
"I'd like to find out how good he can give." She wiggled her eyebrows over a sip of coffee.
"You're screwing Ryan and you're eyeballing Commander Tucker at the same time?"
"Please," Cole said dismissively. "Ryan's just a fun fuck and he knows it. We're not exclusive or even particularly attached."
"That's your business. I don't need to know."
"So, what?" Maggie took a bite of peanut butter and jelly toast, wishing her fellow MACO would change the subject. She was out of luck.
"So, how was it getting your hands all over the commander?"
Maggie practically choked on her toast. "We were sparring."
"That doesn't mean you couldn't assess his finer points. Those arms, for example."
"What?" Cole was genuinely confused. She was just dishing. Okay, there were ulterior motives to her dishing, but so what?
"You know what. Or do you?" She looked at her, puzzled. "Do you not know he's taken?"
"Taken? What are you talking about? There's no ring on Tucker's finger." Not that a ring was necessarily a perfect indicator of attachment, but it was a fair sign. And one that she had specifically noted was absent.
How did Cole not know? Bowman didn't think she had inside information just because her bunkmate and the lieutenant were friends. She was still doubtful about Stephanie's claims they hadn't slept together, but that was neither here nor there. "Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed are together."
"How together is 'together'?" Cole wasn't giving up that easily. "I mean, Ryan and I are 'together', when we feel like it."
"They live together, dummy. They're a solid couple." Her words finally seemed to get through to Amanda.
Cole sighed dramatically and shook her head. "What a shame."
"Not for them."
"No, but for me." Amanda grinned and Maggie knew she wasn't really upset, just a little disappointed at losing a potential conquest. "I really want a piece of that engineering action."
"I'm going to tell Ryan you said that," she teased.
"Please do. He performs better when he knows he has competition."
"Oh my god, stop!"
Cole only laughed and dug into her huevos rancheros with smug glee.
"Did you and T'Pol have any luck going over that pod once the alien was removed?" Malcolm sat in his usual spot on the bed with Trip's feet in his lap, massaging the center of Trip's heels alternately. They hadn't seen one another since before breakfast and he was curious about the alien technology.
"Yeah. All those wires the guy was hooked up to?"
"Biometric sensors. It looks like someone plugged him in and tossed him into that anomaly field to see what it would do to him."
"What a disturbing thought." He traded Trip's left foot for his right.
"It gets worse."
"In what way?"
"The pod's alloy matches the outside of the spheres."
Malcolm's hands stilled. "You mean the alien we pulled out of it might be the same race as whoever built the spheres?"
"Yep. Don't stop." Trip nodded towards his feet. "That feels good."
Malcolm resumed his reflexology massage, wondering if Trip had realized yet exactly what region his attention was focused on.
Trip sighed and relaxed into the pillow cushioning his back against the bulkhead. He let his eyes fall shut. "Nice." He wanted to talk to Malcolm about last night's training session, mostly about the abrupt halt to it that he'd called. But at the moment he was too happy to disturb the tranquility between them. He was a little surprised, therefore, when Malcolm brought it up.
"You did well against the MACOs yesterday evening."
"Even against Bowman."
Trip opened one eye to see Malcolm's teasing smile trained on him. "Thanks," he repeated wryly. "Stephanie wasn't kidding about her being fierce. Next time I won't go so easy on her."
In fact, he hadn't gone easy on Bowman. At least not after the first time she clocked him on the jaw and flipped him over her shoulder. Trip knew it and he knew Malcolm knew it, but Malcolm let him enjoy his little illusion. Briefly.
"It's weapons training next," he said. "How's your aim?"
"Good enough not to embarrass you, if that's what you're worried about," Trip replied.
"You know, Corporal Bowman is an ace sniper."
Trip opened both eyes and pinned Malcolm with a challenging look. "Are you trying to make me feel inferior?"
Malcolm shook his head, eyes full of mischief. "No, love. I'm just teasing you."
Trip chuckled in response. "Yeah, well, I hope your aim is better than mine or she's gonna show up both of us."
There had been a time when they hadn't been able to make fun of one another like this. Trip had been too fragile, too volatile and unpredictable, and Malcolm had been too frustrated and high strung as a result. It had made good-natured ribbing a perilous prospect. It felt good to know that had changed.
Malcolm switched his attention back to Trip's left heel.
"Mmm," Trip sighed, resettling his hips and bum more comfortably into the mattress and letting his eyes fall shut again. "That feels really good. What's that supposed to be affecting, anyway?"
"What do you think? If I'm doing it right, you should be able to tell."
Trip took a relaxing breath, assessing what he felt, checking in with his body starting from his head and moving downward to where Malcolm worked on his feet. About half way there, he paused. He wriggled his hips again, adjusting. A smile spread across his face.
He could hear the matching smile in Malcolm's voice: "Figured it out, have you?"
"Why don't you move a little higher and find out for yourself?"
Malcolm happily obliged.
Liz eyed her lunchtime companions. "So, how did the weapons training go this morning?"
"You can't possibly want to hear about that," Hoshi declared.
"Why not? Travis was there, but I haven't gotten to talk to him yet. I want to know if he did well or if I shouldn't ask him how it went."
Stephanie chuckled over her grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. "I know this logic. This is the logic that tells you not to ask after someone's ailing family member until you know they're not dead."
"Wow," declared Hoshi. "That got dark fast."
"You and I have been friends for a couple of years now. This can't surprise you."
"Okay, okay." Liz pulled the conversation back on track. "Morbid analogies aside, she's not wrong."
"Why don't you tell us about the alien from the pod we pulled out of that anomaly cluster instead?" suggested Hoshi.
"Yeah. Do you know where he came from or what species he is?" Stephanie asked. She wasn't overly eager to discuss the morning's training either. Frankly, she was still pissed off about the figurative dick-measuring Reed and Hayes had done.
"There's not a lot I can tell you," insisted Liz. "I haven't been in Sickbay since Friday night. He's an alien and he's dying. Phlox is doing what he can, but it's like he's demolecularizing."
"Yes. That's the medical term for it," said Liz less sarcastically than her words suggested. "So, about Travis? Weapons training?"
Hoshi shrugged. "I thought he did really well, but I wasn't keeping much track of other people's scores."
"No," agreed Stephanie, happy for the chance to focus on the amusing part of the morning. "You were too busy keeping track of Corporal Romero's muscles."
"I got my training rounds in, and I know I did well--considering I'm not a big fan of guns. If I take the time between rounds to enjoy the sights, who's it hurting?" She took a bite of the chocolate mousse she'd decided she'd earned for not only not embarrassing herself at target practice but earning 'most improved' over the course of the session. She'd started at the bottom of the standings, so she had the furthest to go, but that didn't dim her pride in her accomplishment.
"You did very well," affirmed Stephanie. She turned to Liz. "And so did Travis. On the Starfleet side, he was better than anyone, aside from Malcolm and me."
"And they're the professionals," added Hoshi encouragingly.
Liz smiled broadly. "Good! He'll be happy to tell me about it."
"I still can't believe you want to hear about weapons training."
"What I want is a husband who's in a good mood. You have seen him smile, right? I'm happy to listen to whatever stories he wants to tell when he smiles like that." Liz punctuated her declaration with a bite of potato salad.
Hoshi turned to Stephanie. "She has a point. Travis has a great smile."
"He does," Cormack agreed, then couldn't resist a little more teasing. "So does Romero, don't you think?"
"You're not going to let that go, are you?"
"Why would I? I know you're into each other. My own love life is hampered by conflicting duty schedules right now, so I'm living vicariously. So?"
"So?" echoed Hoshi.
"I think I liked you better incapacitated."
"Sorry. I'm kidding. But I'm not talking." Hoshi shook her head to emphasize the point, then allowed herself a cheeky grin. "I'm not one to kiss and tell."
"You just told! Now tell more," urged Stephanie.
Still smiling suggestively, she shook her head again. "You'll just have to use your imagination."
"Oo, goody. I have quite an imagination."
Hoshi and Liz both cracked up at that and, encouraged, Stephanie wiggled her eyebrows.
"So," said Liz when their mirth had died down. "You and Lieutenant Reed were the best of Starfleet. Who was the best on the MACO side? Major Hayes?"
"Corporal Bowman," said Hoshi.
Liz looked at her in surprise, bite of fried chicken suspended half way to her mouth. "Really?"
"She's a sniper, remember?" Stephanie said.
"I'm not sure I knew that."
Hoshi glanced around and lowered her voice a fraction. "Was it my imagination, or was Major Hayes baiting the lieutenant about that?"
"It wasn't your imagination." Stephanie shook her head in disgust. She didn't personally have an issue with the major or any of the MACOs. Well, maybe Ryan, she admitted silently. But really it's him who has issues with me. "I can't blame him too much for it, though. Malcolm was being kind of a dick."
"Damn." Hoshi looked at her side-eye. "You are not pulling your verbal punches today."
"I'm a little pissed off at both of them, if you want to know."
"Malcolm and Major Hayes?"
"Why?" asked Liz.
"The two of them having a pissing match is one thing, but they dragged my bunkmate into the middle of it. That wasn't cool."
"What are you talking about?"
Hoshi sat back. "I think I know. The whole top score thing, right?"
"Well, I don't know," protested Liz. She got the feeling this wasn't something she would get out of Travis. He wasn't a big fan of gossip. "Fill me in."
Stephanie sighed, knowing how tenacious her ex-roommate could be. She wasn't getting through lunch without giving up a full explanation. "It was right at the beginning. Malcolm took out four targets at training level two in ten seconds. He was looking a little smug about it, too, which was its own sort of tactical error. Hayes pretends to compliment him, but then makes this assholian comment about how he might want to schedule more practice time. I mean, Malcolm wasn't warmed up. He got better as it went on."
"Beside the point. Why are you mad at Lieutenant Reed?'
"I'm getting there. Okay, so. Hayes ups the level to four and takes out nine targets in ten seconds. Showing him up, right?" Stephanie paused, Liz nodded, so she went on. "As if that's not bad enough, Hayes points out that his own score was middling and that Maggie holds the record. Fourteen hits at level four in ten seconds."
"He was giving one of his team some deserved praise," Hoshi said.
"Please. You can read people better than that."
"Yeah, okay. He definitely did it to make Malcolm look bad."
"Wait, you just said she's a sniper," said Liz. "She should be good at target practice."
"Sure," agreed Stephanie. "But Maggie's already worried that Malcolm doesn't like her, and this didn't help."
"Why wouldn't he like her?"
"Not just her. The MACOs in general."
Hoshi nodded. "There's no denying that's true."
"I still don't know why you're mad at Reed." Liz's mind was spinning trying to keep track of all the pieces. Who's flirting? Who's fighting? Who's going to be prom queen? It was worse than being back in high school.
"I'm mad at Malcolm because I'm sure Hayes's little game today was retribution for the way Malcolm called a halt to the combat session the other night."
"I'm glad he did that, if what happened to Travis was any indication of how it was going," Liz said firmly. She'd not been happy to see her husband come into sickbay with a split lip that evening. All his protestations couldn't convince her that his sparring partner hadn't been out of line. Now, it sounded like Reed had been on her side of that argument.
Stephanie shrugged noncommittally. "I'm not saying Kemper didn't push it in that match, but Travis was never in any danger from him. If he'd kept his eyes up, he never would've gone down."
"That's what Travis said, but I still don't like it."
"What is it with men, anyway?" Hoshi asked, mostly rhetorically. She knew the answer and the three women voiced it together, laughing: "Testosterone!"
"There's a saying I heard years ago," Liz said, still chuckling. "Let me think. 'There cannot be two stallions in the same small stall of camels.'"
Hoshi laughed again. "That sums up the major and the lieutenant, all right."
Stephanie remembered again the one vision from last month that hadn't yet come true. "I think it's going to get worse before it gets better, unfortunately."
The other two women grew somber at the thought. "As long as they don't put Travis, or anyone else, in the middle again, so be it," said Liz.
Stephanie considered the images in her mind's eye: black eye, split lip, swollen knuckles, cuts, bruises. No one with any sense would get in the middle of a knock-down drag-out like that. "I doubt we'll have to worry on that count."
Tucker came to on the floor of Engineering with Doctor Phlox standing over him. "You'll be fine, Commander. I woke up from a similar state myself a short time ago." Phlox helped him to his feet.
"Thanks, but I'm not real sure what happened," said Tucker. He remembered seeing the alien intruder, putting up his fists, and then... Nothing.
"Time for explanations later." Phlox was already moving on, directing a pair of med-techs to take the anti-grav gurney with the dying alien back to Sickbay.
Tucker looked around, trying track down someone who could give him a status report. Instead, he spotted Ensign Cutler dividing her attention between Malcolm and Major Hayes, both of whom looked like they'd been through a barroom brawl worthy of The Quiet Man1.
While Liz was focused on Hayes, Trip approached Malcolm. "What the hell happened to you?" He couldn't look at Malcolm without wincing in sympathetic reaction.
"It looks worse than it is," Malcolm said staunchly, holding an icepack to his left cheek beneath an eye that had swelled shut.
"Bullshit," countered Trip softly. "You look like you did after the Suliban worked you over." The memory made his stomach turn with worry.
Cutler overheard the exchange from where she examined the major not a meter away. "He gave as good as he got, Commander." There was more than clinical detachment in her voice. In fact, she sounded distinctly disgusted. To Hayes she said, "Your left kidney is bruised, but none of your ribs are cracked. You can make it to Sickbay on your own two feet."
"Yes, ma'am," Hayes replied.
She turned to Malcolm. "You, too. Neither of you is getting a free ride. You can both walk, and don't expect me to offer a shoulder to lean on to either of you." She packed up her medical gear while the men watched silently, each of them wary of saying anything to elicit further chastisement. It didn't matter that she carried the lowest rank among them; for the moment, as the only medical officer attending, she was in charge.
"I'll see you in Sickbay. Go there immediately you're finished here. You, too, please, Commander Tucker," she went on with far less animosity. "It's not as pressing, but Phlox will want to run a full scan to be sure you're completely recovered." She turned as though she would leave, but stopped and turned back, pinning Reed and Hayes with an angry glare. "I would love to be a fly on the wall when you two get hauled up in front of Captain Archer. Don't think you won't. He'll be getting a full medical report on your 'sparring match' as soon as I'm done writing it up. I'll see you shortly, gentlemen."
They waited until she'd departed Engineering before letting out a collective breath.
"I suddenly have a lot more respect for Travis," said Malcolm, "and I already held him in high regard."
"She's tougher than I ever realized," agreed Trip. "I never knew she could be scary."
"She reminds me of Bowman," put in Hayes. The Starfleet officers looked at him curiously and he explained. "Sweet-faced and steel-strong."
Malcolm almost laughed. "For once, you and I are on the same side."
"You two better get to Sickbay before she comes back looking for you. Meanwhile, I need to find out what happened here."
"Hm, yes. I think that's my cue to make my escape."
Trip turned on Malcolm, wary. "What did you do to my engines?"
Malcolm spotted Lieutenant Hess headed their way. "I'll let your second in command fill you in. Excuse me." He made a hasty exit closely followed by Hayes.
Hayes and Reed shared the turbolift from the Bridge in tense, awkward silence. They may have claimed to have settled things while in the presence of Captain Archer, but Hayes knew from experience that it wasn't going to be that simple. Reed said nothing when he got off on D-Deck, and Hayes let out a small sigh of relief once the door had shut behind him and the lift continued to E-Deck and the Mess Hall. He hadn't eaten yet that morning and he tended to prefer an early breakfast. He was famished.
He had orders from the ship's physician to refrain from any activity more strenuous that walking from point A to point B for the next three days. That was going to make tomorrow night's mixed training session interesting in a whole new way. He needed to figure out who to use to replace him in any demos, and he would have to be particularly clear in his verbal explanations. The idea didn't thrill him. He was a show-and-tell teacher; just telling while others showed wasn't his preference or his forte. He concluded that decision could wait until he'd eaten.
Mind focused no further ahead than breakfast, he emerged from the turbolift and found himself suddenly in the company of Corporal Ryan.
"Good morning, Major," said Ryan, striding along beside him.
"How are you, sir?"
Hayes stopped in the middle of the corridor and Ryan pulled up next to him. He eyed the young man. Idle conversation wasn't his style, at least not around his commanding officer. Hayes wondered what he was up to. Ryan was volatile by nature. Not the sort to pick a fight, necessarily, but certainly one find excuses to believe someone else was picking one and react to it. "What is it you want, Corporal?"
Ryan shrugged and it wasn't an innocent gesture. "Just checking on you, sir. You know. After last night's...excitement."
Hayes deliberately responded as if he misunderstood. "The alien did some damage to the systems. We were able to stop him."
"That's not what I meant, sir."
"Then get to your point."
Ryan hesitated only a moment while a Starfleet crewman passed them. He waited for the woman to disappear from view around a corner. "I just meant that if there was anything, or anyone, you wanted...addressed, I can do that for you. While you're laid up, so to speak." He leaned in and his voice lowered. "I've got your back, sir. You know?"
It was what Hayes suspected and he wasn't happy to be proved right. "You'd better hope, Corporal, that I don't have a clue what you're talking about. You don't want me to misunderstand and think that you're considering some sort of retaliation." He watched Ryan's eyes go a little wide in fear and the corporal glanced about them nervously.
Ryan backpedaled hastily and inexpertly. "Oh. Oh! N-no, sir. Nothing like that."
God, he was a terrible liar. Hayes nodded tightly, his lips pressed into a thin, disapproving line. "That's good." Now it was the major's turn to drop his voice. "Because if I hear a single word or learn of a single action that so much as hints of retaliation against any member of Starfleet, you're going to spend the rest of this mission confined to your quarters. Is that clear?"
"Good. Now get out of my sight before I regret going so easy on you."
"Yes, sir!" He snapped a salute and turned to go.
"Oh, and Ryan."
He froze at the sound of his name and looked back. "Sir?"
"You just volunteered to be my demonstration stand-in at training until I'm cleared by Doctor Phlox."
"Yes, sir," he repeated less enthusiastically. Ryan beat a hasty retreat.
Hayes sighed, shaking his head. Just what I don't need, he thought wearily. His stomach growled, reminding him of his original intention and destination before he'd been waylaid. He would feel better once he'd eaten. He resumed his walk to the mess hall, which he found blissfully empty. He got himself a cup of black coffee, found a plate of bacon and eggs in one of the warming cases, and sat down to enjoy his much belated breakfast.
Lunching with two of her fellow engineers, crewman Taylor watched Lieutenant Reed go by, a mug in his hand and a bandage over his eye. "Wow," she said quietly to her companions. "I heard there was a fight, but oof."
"It was with Major Hayes," replied Lawless, always on top of ship's scuttlebutt. "Before the alien started disrupting systems on his way to Engineering."
"That was the craziest thing I've ever seen," Snider declared over her salad and club sandwich. "He walked through my cabin wall and out the door. The closed door." She tucked her strawberry-blonde hair behind one ear and shuddered at the memory.
"He did more than that. You should see the warp reactor. It's a mess."
Taylor shook her blonde head, ponytail swaying with the motion. "Tell me about it. I've been working on repairs to all the power relays he damaged when he went for his little walk."
"I guess I'm lucky. He didn't hit any major communications systems," said Snider.
"Hey there." Liz Cutler smiled at the trio, tray of food in her hands. "Is this engineers only or can a sciences ensign join in?"
"Have a seat," said Lawless. "You know Turie Snider and Jane Taylor, right?"
Liz sat down, setting her tray on the table before her. "Mostly from your medical records, but yes. Hi." She smiled again. The engineers returned the greeting with matching smiles.
"So, how's the alien?" asked Mae over a bite of enchiladas verde.
"Gone?" echoed Taylor.
"He was disintegrating. That's how he passed through the bulkheads last night." The others nodded, encouraging looks on their faces. "Well, he finished disintegrating."
"Can we not discuss this over lunch?" Snider looked a little queasy and Liz nodded.
Mae shrugged, contrite. "Sorry. Bad timing on my part. We should have stuck to talking about the fight instead," she joked.
"Don't get me started on that," warned Liz. "I am not happy with either party involved." Reed may have stopped the training session when Travis got bloodied, but his personal rivalry with Hayes had to stop before something worse happened. "They're going to get other people hurt if they don't knock off the schoolyard nonsense."
"Look at it this way," said Mae. "Maybe now they've gotten it out of their systems."
"I hope so."
Across the room, Malcolm was unaware that his activities were being discussed, although it wouldn't have surprised him to know it. He'd seen the surreptitious and the less subtle looks from virtually everyone he'd crossed paths with that morning. He'd acted like a child, just as Archer had accused, letting personal conflict bleed into professional--literally. He gingerly touched the cool back of his hand to his split lips. He could use another injection for the pain and swelling, but he was too proud to ask Phlox for it.
Without preamble or greeting, Madeline set down a tray of food and took a seat across the small table from him. "Good afternoon, sunshine. You look pretty."
"Thank you," replied Malcolm grimly.
"I hear you had an exciting night. Clearly the rumors were true." She took a bite of her BLT and observed him intently, her head cocked to one side. His lips were split and swollen. Half his face was hidden by contusion. A bandage over his left eye set off the bruises around it to stunning effect. "I like the eye patch. Makes you look like a pirate. Very rakish."
Phlox had repaired the detached retina he'd suffered, but it would be a few days before the eye was back in full working order. "I don't suppose it would help to say, 'you should see the other guy'."
"Not particularly. Honestly, Malcolm, what were you thinking? I'm a professional negotiator, and my own brother decides he'd rather handle things the old fashioned way."
"Don't start. I already got an earful from Captain Archer this morning."
"I'm sure you had it coming." Then she added in Reed-y solidarity with her brother, "I hope your opponent did, too."
"Don't worry. The captain was equally liberal with his admonishment."
She chuckled over a sip of sparkling water. "That's the most verbose interpretation of 'he chewed us both out' that I've ever heard."
"I'll pretend that's a compliment."
"Aren't you hungry?" She nodded at the lone mug of tea in front of him.
"But your face hurts too much to chew anything?" There was a hint of sympathy in her voice, but only a hint.
"Then eat some yogurt or soup or something else soft."
"Thank you, Mother," he replied sarcastically.
"Someone has to be the grown-up here. Honestly--"
"I said don't start." He heaved a small sigh. "Please."
Maddy backed off. "I'm sorry. You should eat, though. You're doing no one any good playing starving martyr."
"I thought the term was starving artist?" he joked half-heartedly.
"The way you painted Major Hayes's face with bruises, I suppose there's something to your argument." She smiled, taking some of the sting out of the words.
"I should get back to the Armory."
"Really? Right this moment?"
The disappointment on her face caused him to hesitate. They'd seen little of one another lately. Despite her current teasing and scolding, it was nice to chat with her. "No."
"Then stay and have lunch with me."
"All right." There must be something in the cases he could eat without wincing. "I'll see what I can find."
T'Pol looked at across the low table with its glowing pillar candle and other meditative aids. "Ensign, your mind is wandering."
Stephanie opened her eyes and shook herself back to awareness of her surroundings. "You're right. Sorry."
"Is something bothering you?"
"I was thinking about last New Year's Eve. There were parties in the Rec. Center and Main Engineering, remember?"
"Yes." T'Pol hadn't participated beyond a cameo at the primary event to satisfy the captain's desire that she "mingle a little." It had been mildly interesting to see how humans celebrated the arbitrarily derived end of a stellar year. "I found a quiet evening alone to be preferable."
"Well, it's not your holiday, is it? Earth, Vulcan. They don't even have the same length year. Why would you care?" said Stephanie matter-of-factly.
"From your mouth to the captain's ears," replied T'Pol dryly.
Stephanie chuckled. "Well, you're off the hook this year since it's been the 31st of December all day and I haven't heard a peep about any celebrations."
"Is that what's bothering you?"
"Yes and no. Yes, I like New Year's and it would be nice to have that feeling of normalcy of having a party tonight. No, there are much bigger things to worry about. Now that I feel better, the magnitude of what we're here to do is creeping back into my mind and kind of overwhelming me." It was easier to put into words than she would have expected. All those sessions with the ship's counselor were having an effect.
"In that case, I believe our meditative sessions are that much more valuable to you." T'Pol tilted her head, a thoughtful expression on her face. "Although perhaps altering our focus somewhat would be helpful."
"What do you mean?"
"The trellium injections you're receiving have reduced your symptoms considerably."
"Yeah. Like 99.9%."
"That includes your visions."
It was true and Stephanie had mixed feelings about it. The visions were informative but ultimately unhelpful. It was frustrating feeling so helpless. Almost like Cassandra of mythology, only instead of no one believing what she said, in Stephanie's case no one could change what she saw. She inhaled and let the breath out in a slow sigh. "Yeah."
"I suggest that rather than focusing on retrieving what you can recall from your last attack before being treated by Phlox, we address more mundane concerns."
"Mundane?" echoed Stephanie. "I'm not sure that's the word for it."
"Perhaps quotidian would be more accurate."
"Yeah. Okay. That's reasonable."
They returned their gazes to the flame of the pillar candle. Then, both women closed their eyes, inhaling deep breaths and exhaling slowly. T'Pol began to recite a Vulcan mantra to calm the mind, and Stephanie soon felt its effects. Her mind stilled its agitated swirling. T'Pol, on the other hand, found it harder to focus. Like the ensign earlier, her thoughts wandered. She took several more deep breaths before they at last fell under her control.
Bonnie was alone in the darkened Rec. Center. She leaned one shoulder against the exterior bulkhead, staring out at the star field. Exactly one year ago, she'd stood on a small stage in that very corner with the windows at her back, singing old standards with a traditional jazz trio. What a difference a year makes, she thought.
The small alarm she'd set chirped and she began to count down quietly from: "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one..." Another small alarm chirped the hour. "Happy New Year."
She pushed away from the bulkhead, shaking off uncharacteristic melancholy. "And time to go on duty." She straightened her uniform and, humming softly, left the Rec. Center. The hum turned to words as she reached the turbolift. As she was swept up to the Bridge, she sang her favorite verse of the poem in the original dialect that her father had taught her when she was a child.
"And there's a hand, my trusty fiere,
For auld lang syne, my jo,
Liz rolled over in the bed and peered at the green numbers on the clock: 0002. She nudged Travis. "Hey. Are you awake?"
"Mmm?" He opened sleepy brown eyes. "I guess so. What's going on?"
"It's the New Year."
"Huh?" he grunted, not awake enough to understand the significance.
"January first, 2154." She leaned in and kissed him. "Happy New Year."
Travis gave her a sleepy smile and they kissed again. "I want all my New Year's kisses from now on to be with you."
"Sap." She smiled fondly and snuggled closer, letting her eyes close and breathing in the clean, warm scent of him.
"Yep." They fell together into contented sleep.
Trip bundled up his uniform and everything else he'd worn that day and dumped the lot into the laundry. He'd have preferred a luxurious shower, but he'd settled for an efficient one. At least now he was clean and dressed in clean PJs. He ran fingers through still-damp hair, encouraging it to air dry before he climbed into bed.
Malcolm was there before him, lying under the covers, still awake, waiting for him. For a change, he wasn't passing the time reading a book or catching up on work reports. Unsurprising since he was currently down to one functioning eye and, Trip suspected, a perpetual headache from the damage Hayes had inflicted. Oddly, as much as he sympathized with Malcolm, he couldn't find it in him to be terribly upset with the MACO. He'd witnessed the pissing match between them at both training sessions. He had no doubt Malcolm was due a share of blame for the fight. That didn't make it any easier to look at his lover's injuries, however.
He shut off the main cabin light. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he kicked off his slippers. "You want me to do some of that foot reflexology on you for a change? Might make your face hurt less."
Malcolm sighed. "It's a sweet offer, but no, thanks." He shifted onto his back under the covers, propping his head up under one bent arm and staring, one-eyed, at the ceiling.
Trip couldn't help the pained expression on his own face at the sight of Malcolm's battered visage. "Damn, Hayes really did a number on you."
"I'll have you know I gave as good as I got."
"That's what Cutler said, too. If you did to him half of what you did to the warp engines, I believe you." Trip softened his words with a small smile. He slipped under the covers and rolled onto one side, looking at Malcolm. He wanted to reach out, lay a gentle hand on his bruised cheek, and take away the pain. Since that was a magical power he lacked, he instead found Malcolm's hand under the blanket, laced their fingers together.
Malcolm let Trip pull his arm from its warm nest and press a kiss against the back of his hand. He turned his head on the pillow and looked at him. "What was that for? Not that I'm complaining."
"I wanted to give you a New Year's kiss, but with that busted lip of yours…"
"That's considerate of you, but I think one kiss won't do any harm," said Malcolm with a quiet chuckle. They shared a cautious kiss.
"Okay?" Trip asked.
"Perfectly. Happy New Year."
Trip released Malcolm's hand so he could reach to turn out the bedside light. He settled in under the covers. "Hell of a change from last New Year's," he said thoughtfully.
"Hmm. Yeah. A lot's changed in a year. Good and bad." He didn't ask if Trip felt the good outweighed the bad or vice-versa. It wasn't a fair question to a man who'd lost his little sister from a man who hadn't. Yet there'd been so many positive changes in their relationship that he couldn't rule out the possibility entirely.
"You're the good part."
Trip's murmured words in the darkness warmed Malcolm's heart and he smiled despite his bruised face and split lip. "So are you. Good night, sweetheart."
End Log 3:11
1 IMO, the single best fight scene ever filmed. Not martial-arts-y or special-effects-y like we're used to nowadays, but what other fight ranges across beautiful countryside and stops for a pint at the pub, all set to a jaunty Irish soundtrack? If you haven't seen it, you should.
2Auld Lang Syne, Robert Burns, 1788