Log Rhythms - Season Three
Hoshi couldn't sleep despite her exhaustion. Her visit with her former students in Brazil had wound her up, and she was overtired from working so many long days and nights. Rolling over in her bunk, she found the new position no more restful than the last. She looked at the chronometer. It was nearly 0300.
Giving it up as a lost cause, she sat up and turned on the small reading lamp. Hoshi blinked as her eyes adjusted, and then pushed back the covers. She stood, went to the closet, and took out her embroidered silk robe--the one luxury she always allowed herself no matter where she traveled. It took her only a few moments to put it on over her pajamas, slide her feet into fluffy yellow slippers, and leave her cabin.
She headed towards the mess hall, her feet making no sound on the hard floor of the corridor. A cup of tea would relax her. If she was lucky there would be leftover cookies.
The mess hall was barely lit at that hour, but it was sufficient to find the clean mugs and see that there were indeed cookies. Hoshi placed her mug under the drinks dispenser. Even though she was alone, it felt strange to disturb the silence, so she spoke softly. "Chamomile tea, hot."
Claiming her tea and a few madelines, Hoshi turned to go. It was then she realized the mess hall wasn't as deserted as she'd thought. At a corner table a lone figure sat staring intently at datapad. The pad's light was just enough for her to identify him. It was Ian.
She considered saying hello, but he was clearly focused on what he was doing. She decided it was best to let him be. Before she could turn away, though, Ian set the pad down and tiredly scrubbed his face with one hand. Then he used the same hand to massage the back of his neck.
Hoshi had the sudden urge to rub his neck and shoulders for him, but she couldn't bring herself to offer. They were only beginning to become friends again, and she felt something that personal was too much at this point. But he obviously needed a break.
He still hadn't spotted her in the darkness near the door. When he stopped rubbing his neck and ran both hands through his short, ginger hair in a clear sign of frustration, Hoshi made her decision. She crossed the room, moving away from him, and announced her presence by "accidentally" bumping into a chair.
Ian looked up abruptly. "Hey," he said in startled greeting.
"Sorry," Hoshi replied, affecting a surprised look of her own. "I thought I was alone. Should I go?"
"Uh No." Ian shook his head. He was surprised to see her, but also pleased. He welcomed any distraction just now, and he found he was glad that the distraction came in the form of Hoshi. "Join me?"
"Thanks." She wended her way through the tables towards him, taking the time to study his expression. He looked tired, but he didn't seem upset or annoyed by her presence. She sat down and put her mug on the table.
"You're up early," said Ian, for lack of anything cleverer.
"Actually, I'm up late. I couldn't sleep." She took a bite of cookie and followed it with a sip of her tea. "What about you? Are you up early or late?"
"It's been so long since I had a decent night's sleep that I'm not really sure," he admitted.
Hoshi nodded. "That could be said for most of the crew lately."
She glanced at the datapad. "What's that?"
"My report for Lieutenant Reed. I want to get it done before morning so he'll have it first thing." Reed had trusted him with the armory for the better part of two full days. He wanted to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was worthy of that trust.
Without knowing quite why, Ian felt the need to ask Hoshi something--it didn't really matter what. She'd shown an interest in him and he wanted to do the same for her. His tired mind sought a neutral topic, something neither too personal nor too impersonal. It was a tough balance for Ian to find. Then the obvious solution struck him. "Have you had your shore leave yet?"
"Half of it." Hoshi nodded. "I wish we all had more time. I wanted to go to Travis and Liz's wedding, but it just didn't work out. I spent today in Brazil at the university where I taught, and the day after tomorrow I'm visiting my parents."
"At least you'll get to see your family." Ian tried to sound upbeat, but suspected his words fell flat. It wasn't that he was uninterested; it was that he realized his question could too easily be turned around on him--which it was.
"What about you?" Hoshi knew that both of Ian's parents were dead, but he still had a brother in Alberta. "Are you going to visit Brady?"
Ian actually chuckled with wry mirth. The idea of visiting Brady was just plain absurd in his opinion. "Huh. No. I've talked to him since we got back, but we don't need to meet in person. We don't have enough to say to each other to fill up even a tenth of the forty-eight hours of leave I've got, and he doesn't need me in his way on the ranch, taking up space. Besides, if I visited I'd probably have to see Aunt Annie, and nobody'd enjoy that."
Hoshi doubted it would be as bad as Ian said, but she didn't feel it was her place to contradict him. Maybe he was right. She'd never met any of his family; Ian undoubtedly knew them far better than she ever could. "Aren't you going to use your shore leave at all?" she asked in concern.
"Ari asked me to come home with him for a day. He's only used half his leave, too, like you."
"Are you going to go?" Hoshi sipped her tea as he replied.
"Maybe. I don't know if I can deal with a family as functional as his, though," he half-joked. "I mean, I can't quite imagine it, eh?"
"You never know. It might be fun."
"It'd sure be different," he commented sardonically.
Deciding to get away from what was clearly a sore subject for Ian, Hoshi asked, "How are things in the armory?" She munched her last cookie.
"Busy." Ian shrugged. "Nothing compared to what it'll be if they decide we're going back out right away."
Ian looked at her directly, his curiosity piqued.
"I don't have any inside information, if that's what you're wondering," Hoshi assured him. "I just have a feeling."
"Things the Captain says--and doesn't say--about his meetings with Admiral Forrest and Ambassador Soval."
Ian leaned forward, resting a folded arm on the table. "How do you know there's stuff he's not saying?"
Hoshi shrugged and sipped her tea before answering. "The tone of his voice. His body language when he comes back from the meetings." She shrugged again. "I just hope he says something if they find some comm logs in the weapon wreckage."
Ian nodded knowingly. "So we can trace them and narrow down where the thing came from."
"Actually I meant so I could work on learning their language and programming the translation matrix properly."
He looked at her pensively, a small smile on his face. "I guess that's why you're in Communications and I'm in Tactical."
Hoshi returned the smile, thinking how their skills complemented one another. "I guess so."
A silence fell that was comfortable at first, but as it lengthened it grew a little awkward. "Well," said Hoshi. "I should try sleeping again." She rose, taking her tea with her. "I hope your report turns out well."
"So do I. Thanks."
"Night." Ian turned back to the datapad, and Hoshi left him to his work.
T'Pol opened her eyes slowly, bringing her awareness back to her darkened cabin and the single lit candle before her. She sat still, staring into the flame for several moments before unfolding her legs and lithely rising to her feet. She turned the lights on to half power, and then bent to blow out the candle. She returned it to its place on her small altar.
Her meditation had helped focus her thoughts, but she still hadn't reached a conclusion on the subject that currently concerned her. She checked the time and saw there was well over an hour before her duty shift began. Hypothesizing that voicing her thoughts might assist in her decision-making, she sat at her desk and activated the computer's recording function.
"Sub-commander T'Pol's personal log for July ninth, 2153. The decision whether to remain on Enterprise or return to Vulcan is far more difficult than I expected it to be. As I anticipated, Ambassador Soval disapproves of my desire to remain here. He has made it clear that should I stay it will be at the cost of my position with the High Command." T'Pol paused, considering her next words carefully. "I have the impression that there is information the ambassador is withholding, although whether it relates to my own situation, Enterprise's crew generally, or the entire human race is unclear."
She paused again, and concluded that this verbalizing of the situation was getting her nowhere. "Ambassador Soval has allowed me the time it takes for Starfleet to debate and deliberate their next move to make my decision. I intend to use that time well, particularly as there is no telling how long or short it may be. Perhaps a discussion with Phlox will be enlightening. End personal log."
Without another word, she stood, traded her loose clothing for her uniform, and headed to the mess hall for an early breakfast.
Stephanie looked out the window of the small, sub-orbital commuter transport as it descended towards its destination. She smiled at the city below. Vancouver.
Seated across from her in the cramped private cabin, Bonnie saw the glance and the smile. "Happy to be home?" she asked her lover.
"Oh yeah," affirmed Stephanie, turning her smile on the auburn-haired woman. "Thanks again for coming with me. It means a lot."
"I wasn't about to pass up a chance to meet your family."
"I know, but I still feel bad that you're visiting my family instead of your own." Even after all Bonnie's assurances, Stephanie had her doubts.
Bonnie leaned across the small space between them and rested a hand on Stephanie's knee. "It's okay," she said gently yet firmly. "I've told you that."
"I know, but--"
"No. No buts. I talked to my folks after Travis and Liz's wedding, and I talked to them again yesterday. I even talked to my cousin Cari, and Pete and Darragh. Everyone's cool. Everyone's fine." She caught Stephanie's gaze with her cool green eyes. "I want to spend today with you."
Stephanie's smile grew warm and grateful. "Thank you." Then her expression turned wry. "I hope you know what you're getting into."
The transport banked at that moment and a pleasant voice came through the comm. "Now descending into Vancouver International Airport. Local time is 7:23 a.m., and the current temperature is fifteen degrees under clear blue skies. Please remain seated until the transport comes to a complete stop at the terminal and the departure light is turned on. Thank you."
"That's our stop," said Stephanie unnecessarily. "Last chance to back out."
Bonnie chuckled. "Not on your life."
The transport landed with an almost imperceptible bump, and the women rose. Once again the flight attendant spoke. "Welcome to Vancouver, British Columbia. Please enjoy your stay in this beautiful city, or wherever your final destination may be."
Stephanie took her leather jacket from the hook where it hung, and slipped into it. "Okay?"
Bonnie put on her own tan suede coat and nodded at her. "Okay."
They departed the transport with the two dozen or so other passengers. They hadn't been in the terminal fifteen seconds when Stephanie heard an unmistakable voice call her name.
She looked around and spotted her sister, Ryn, waving and grinning with delight.
"Hey!" called Stephanie, returning both the wave and the grin. She gave Bonnie a quick glance to make sure she didn't lose her, and then wove her way to the waiting woman.
Ryn embraced her sister warmly. "Hey, yourself," she said, as she released Stephanie. "It's so good to see you!"
"You, too! You look great!" Stephanie stepped back and took in her sister with a glance. Despite the walking stick in her hand, Ryn radiated health and happiness. She wore sleek and sassy flats, earth-toned slacks and blazer, and a cheerful yellow blouse. "You look like a college professor."
"I am a college professor," Ryn pointed out, still beaming.
"Yeah, but horticulture," Stephanie teased back with a grin that matched her sister’s. "I can't imagine you wear this in the greenhouses."
"Hardly," replied Ryn dryly. "This is an occasion. I dressed up." Her tone was pointed but not accusing as she gave her younger sister's jeans, babydoll t-shirt, and leather jacket a mock-dubious once-over.
Stephanie ignored the look. She reached out and tugged lightly on a white lock of her sister's hair. "I see matters have straightened themselves out a little."
"Oddly enough I don't miss the curls, but it looks like the color isn't coming back." Ryn's naturally warm brown hair was streaked with stark white from her injuries the previous year.
"I like the stripes. I still think you should dye them electric blue. Something to bring out your eyes." Stephanie paused in the banter and turned to her right enough to bring Bonnie into the conversation. "Ryn, this is Bonnie Fraser. Bonnie, this is my sister Ryn."
They shook hands. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you," Bonnie said.
"You, too," agreed Ryn, subtly surveying the auburn-haired woman and smiling in approval at what she saw.
Bonnie noticed and was silently pleased with her last-minute choice of outfit. She'd endured several panicked seconds that morning when she'd realized everything in her wardrobe was either too formal or too casual for the occasion. There was nothing in between. Mae had rescued her by loaning her a pair of chinos that went surprisingly well with Bonnie's purple spaghetti-strap top and flats.
Eager to make the most of her one day home, Stephanie said, "So let's go!" She grabbed Bonnie by the hand and headed towards the nearest exit.
Ryn followed more slowly, using the mother-of-pearl-handled cane adeptly. "My car's this way," she called after her sister, redirecting her to continue down the concourse before exiting. Stephanie and Bonnie waited a moment for her to catch up, and then the three proceeded at a calmer pace.
"Sorry. I forgot," Stephanie said.
"That's okay," Ryn assured her with a smile. "Sometimes I forget, too. I don't use my cane much anymore, but I didn't know how far I'd have to walk from the car. Have you had any coffee yet this morning?"
"Not nearly enough for as early as we had to get up."
Ryn chuckled. "Good. Then it's a quick stop at JuLu's and then off to Mom's house. Gemma's taking the kids over there once they wake up."
"Forgive my ignorance, but JuLu's?" asked Bonnie.
"I was going to ask the same thing," Stephanie added. "But as long as there's coffee involved, I didn't want to question."
"Oh there's coffee involved." Ryn gave them a knowing smile and led the way out of the terminal and into the parkade where she quickly paid for parking.
It was a cool Vancouver morning that promised a warmer day ahead. Stephanie zipped up her jacket as she inhaled deeply. "I love the smell of this city," she sighed. She took Bonnie's hand again as they crossed the lot to Ryn's waiting car.
They settled into the car--Stephanie in front with Ryn, and Bonnie in the back. Ryn put the car in gear and pulled out.
"So, what's JuLu's?" Stephanie asked as they merged into the light, early morning traffic.
Her sister answered with another question. "You remember Lute and Juniper Greene?"
"How could I not? Why?"
"I'm sorry," interrupted Bonnie. "Lute?"
Stephanie turned enough in her seat to look at her directly. "That's nothing. It's short for Luthientinuviel."
Bonnie nearly choked on a surprised giggle. "You're kidding."
"Someone likes Tolkein a little too much."
Ryn chimed in. "At least she wasn't named Bilbo."
"Yeah, because that's a boy's name," Stephanie deadpanned.
Bonnie burst out laughing, and Stephanie couldn't hold her straight face any longer. Chuckling, she turned to Ryn. "So tell me why we're talking about Lute and Juniper?"
Ryn shot her sister a wry look. "You do need more coffee. JuLu's Espresso and Bakery?" she prompted.
Stephanie's slow "morning-mind" finally caught on. "It's their coffee shop?"
They chatted comfortably while Ryn drove, the sisters filling each other in on the lighter aspects of their lives since the alien attack. Stephanie was glad. She didn't want to face weightier conversation until she was sufficiently caffeinated. Her luck didn't hold for long, however.
"Several Canadian bands are planning a benefit concert for the families who lost their homes in the attack," Ryn announced suddenly.
"I heard about that," put in Bonnie. She'd kept mostly quiet up to that point. Now she felt she had something to contribute. At Stephanie's curious glance, she went on. "When I talked to Cari and the others, they told me. Rowan's Circle is involved."
"You know Rowan's Circle?" asked Ryn, curious.
"They're my cousin's band."
"Cool." Ryn smiled back at her through the rearview mirror, and then returned her attention to the road as they merged onto the Granville Bridge. "Cordelia's Sisters are playing, too, and so is a new band out of St. John's called Bivalve. It's too bad you can't stay longer," she said to Stephanie. "There are people who would really love to see you--and meet you," she added, with another brief glance at Bonnie.
"Next time," Stephanie replied. "You can tell anyone who asks that next time Enterprise comes home, I'll see them all."
"Next time, eh?" Ryn's worry and tension were obvious in her tone.
"Yeah. Next time." Stephanie shot her a sidelong glance and said firmly, "There'll be a next time."
"You sound certain." Ryn tried for a light tone and noticeably failed.
"I am." It was a lie that Stephanie wouldn't even admit to herself was untrue. "Once this crisis is past, we'll be able to spend more time here before whatever mission comes next."
Ryn had serious doubts, but decided to keep them to herself for the moment. "Good."
Stephanie deliberately changed the subject. "Now, about that coffee?"
Bonnie leaned forward a little in her seat. "You know that's fundamentally impossible, right?" she asked, happy to feel the tension lessen with the change of topic. Listening to Ryn and Stephanie's exchange was like witnessing a family argument, but with the added personal connection of being a member of the crew for whom there truly might not be a "next time". She put the thought aside.
Ryn glanced at her over her shoulder this time. "Oh I know. I just find it amusing to suggest once in a while," she quipped. She smirked, and Bonnie chuckled and sat back.
Stephanie shook her head in mock solemnity. "And here I thought you two wouldn't hit it off."
"You didn't!" exclaimed Ryn, genuinely surprised.
"No. I didn't." Stephanie grinned. "Now coffee!"
The door to sickbay slipped open and Phlox looked up from his microscope. "Ah! Lieutenant Reed, come in," he called cheerfully.
"You asked to see me?" Reed replied, entering the room far enough that the door slid shut behind him.
"I did, I did." Phlox rose and crossed to a console that, from Reed's perspective, looked just like every other console in sickbay. He sat down and called up a file on the computer. "Have you ever heard of Vulcan neuropressure?"
Phlox gestured for Reed to come take a look. As the lieutenant crossed uncertainly to join him, he went on. "On its simplest level, it's a method for Vulcans to focus and relax. It has healing benefits for both the body and the mind."
Reed leaned in and dutifully scanned the data on the screen. Then he turned a puzzled expression on the doctor. "Why are you showing me this?"
"Because this is just the sort of thing that I believe would help with Commander Tucker's current, hm, situation."
Understanding lit Reed's face. "You think this will work for him?"
Reed's face darkened. "I'm afraid you've lost me."
Phlox sat back. "Vulcan and human physiology is too different for this exact technique to work for the Commander. However, I've been researching human equivalents. Acupressure is quite similar, for example."
Reed tried not to get his hopes up this time. He was glad he'd restrained his emotions when Phlox continued.
"Unfortunately it's not something an untrained person should attempt without supervision, nor is it a practice one learns quickly."
Reed grew impatient. Knowing there were remedies, and immediately being told those remedies were unavailable seemed nothing short of sadistic. "Doctor, I have a great deal to do--" he began.
"Of course. That's why I'm glad you could spare a minute." Phlox turned from the screen and picked up a datapad. "Here." He held it out.
"What is it?"
Phlox waggled the pad a little until Reed finally took it. "It contains basic instructions and charts for reflexology." The doctor smiled broadly as if this explained everything.
Reed felt blindsided by the non sequitur. He stood gaping for a moment before responding. "Reflexology?"
"Yes. It's a deceptively simple system for stimulating or relaxing various parts of the human body by massaging certain areas of the feet."
Slowly this time, light dawned on Reed. "I think I see."
"Unlike unsupervised acupressure, the chances of doing any real harm through basic reflexology are minimal. And the best part is that you can practice your technique on yourself!"
Reed nodded, a small smile barely curling the corner of his mouth. He'd just been handed something that could not only help Trip, but which provided an excuse for a bit of physical contact--something he and his lover had shared too little of lately. "Thank you, Doctor."
"You're welcome. Let me know how it goes, hm?" Phlox was genuinely curious. He had neither the time nor a willing patient on which to test his discovery. He hoped Reed and Tucker would have great success.
"I will." Reed nodded once again, this time in good-bye. He tucked the datapad into a pocket and left sickbay, muttering to himself as the door shut behind him, "Now I just have to find a way to get Trip to let me try it."
With Enterprise docked at Jupiter Station, there was no restriction on direct communications with Earth. In fact, everyone on the crew had been encouraged to contact people back home. There was no telling when or if an opportunity like this might present itself again.
Trip had put off making the call for too long already. He locked the door to his quarters and sat down at the desk. First, he queried the computer for Malcolm's location. As he'd expected, the lieutenant was in the armory. "Good," he muttered to the empty room. Next, he put a Do Not Disturb order on his comm. He hesitated to do it, but went ahead anyway. Trip didn't want to be interrupted; he owed his family that much.
He opened a comm line to Earth and requested his brother's place in Kenmare. He fidgeted while he waited for a response.
When it came, it wasn't what he had expected. Rather than his brother or sister-in-law, or even one of their kids, it was his mother who answered the call.
"Hey, Mom," he said.
Clearly his call hadn't been what his mother, Paula, had expected either. Her immediate look of surprise shifted to delight almost instantly. "Hey, Trip, honey," she replied, joy and tenderness in her voice. Her blue eyes shone brightly at him even from half a solar system away. "How you doin'?"
Her ready smile and her thick Savannah accent nearly caused Trip to break down right there and then. It was like being suddenly transported back to his childhood, to the big kitchen where she was in charge and he was always safe. "Okay," he lied, then followed with a truth so she might not notice. "Busy. How're you?"
"Oh, we're all right. Muddlin' through. Yer daddy's out with the youngin's or I'd holler at him to come talk to you, too. We didn't know you'd be callin' today."
"No. I'm sorry." He couldn't help but feel guilty about not calling the moment they got into space dock. He should have, but he couldn't bring himself to do it at the time. He still wasn't sure he was ready, but he had to try.
"Don't you worry about it, Trip, honey," Paula insisted. "I'm just so glad to hear from ya. I was just fixin' t'head out to the market. I'm glad I was runnin' slow." She smiled at him.
Trip could barely remember a time his mama wasn't smiling about something. Sure, she got angry sometimes, and she didn't smile then. But it was always short-lived anger, and before you knew it she was laughing again. Now, though, he thought her smile looked a little tired.
"How's everyone there? I bet the kids are happy you're hanging around longer than you planned." Trip tried to keep his tone light, but he had only limited success. The reason his folks were still in Ireland was because their own home was gone.
Paula laughed. "Every day they can get away with it those kids make Chuck take them to the park. They're kickin' around a soccer ball or playing catch out there near every afternoon. Between you and me, I think Jake and Ailish're happy to have a break from it. I swear those kids are full of more energy than one o' yer warp engines. Well, they've got Chuck twisted right 'round their little fingers--and he loves it. Oh he grouses about it and makes a fuss, but you know yer daddy."
Trip nodded. He could remember doing those same things with his dad when he was kid. Sometimes one or another of his siblings would join them; sometimes it was just the two of them. He guessed his expression must have given away some of what he was feeling, because his mother frowned at him in concern.
"How are you really?" she asked. She peered at him intently, and he actually leaned back a little in his chair, hoping to avoid her intense scrutiny. "You look tired. Are you eatin' enough?"
"I'm just real busy. That's all. I haven't gotten a lot of sleep lately." Her frown deepened, and Trip immediately regretted his words. He quickly changed the subject. "How are Jake and Ailish?"
Paula wasn't letting him off the hook, though. "They're fine, honey. I'm more worried about you."
"I told you I'm fine. Just busy."
She obviously didn't believe him. "Mm-hmm," she replied through tightly pressed lips.
Trip never could lie to her successfully. It was as if she had a sixth sense telling her when her children were holding back the truth. "I went to Florida yesterday."
Paula's expression softened in understanding. "I see. Not on your own, I hope."
He shook his head. "Malcolm came with me."
"Have you seen it?" Trip asked, his voice catching. He cleared his throat.
She nodded somberly. "Yeah. We've seen it."
"We flew right over where--" Trip stopped. His face grew hard as he fought back the painful memory.
"You flew over Lizzie's place, didn'tcha?"
Trip nodded at her, unable to speak.
Paula nodded thoughtfully back. There were tears in her eyes, but she remained calm and collected as she went on. "We did that, too. It was hard. Real hard. Then we flew over where our house used to be. I didn't mind that so much. There were a lot of memories in that ol' house, but ya don't lose memories just because the house they were made in is gone." She looked at him, and the tenderness in her eyes was almost too much. "We all miss Lizzie, son. I wish you coulda been here fer the wake. Meg and Jose and the twins flew in all the way from Peru. Paul couldn't make it in person, but he called us and we all got to talk to him. Ailish did everything up real Irish for a proper wake," she went on, melancholy and amusement mixing in her tone. "Well, she would, wouldn't she?" Paula chuckled, and then grew sober again. "I'm so sorry you couldn't'a been here."
Trip remained stone-faced and silent through her story. He wasn't ready for this. He shouldn't have called. This was a mistake. He had to say something, change the subject. Before he could, though, she surprised him by doing it for him.
"Where's that fella o' yers, anyway?" Paula asked suddenly. Her eyes were still misty, but her perpetual smile was back.
"Huh? What, Malcolm?"
"You got another fella on that ship?" she challenged, teasing.
"No, ma'am." He shook his head.
"Well where is he? I wanna meet him face to face." She looked past Trip as if Malcolm might be hiding just out of sight.
"He's working. It's crazy around here. I've only got a little time to talk to you myself." It wasn't the whole truth, but neither was it an outright lie. Trip hoped she'd take it at face value. The fact was he couldn't face both Malcolm and her at the same time. It was all he could do to talk to her alone; she made everything too real.
"That's a shame. Well, how's that captain o' yers doin', then? You tell him from me to stop workin' you boys so hard." Her tone was scolding, and finally Trip relaxed enough to chuckle at her.
"You know it doesn't work like that."
She feigned indignant ignorance. "I know no such thing. You two've been friends fer how long? More'n ten years? I think you can ask him fer a little time off fer you and that darlin' little lieutenant o' yers."
Trip almost laughed. He couldn't imagine how Malcolm would react to being called his "darlin' little lieutenant". Then he thought of how little time they'd spent together lately, and how it was Trip who had forced all the distance between them. His face fell again. Grasping at a more neutral topic, he replied wryly, "I'll talk to Captain Archer about it."
He was humoring his mother, and she knew it. "You do that," she said firmly. Then her eyes twinkled, and she couldn't hold back her smile any longer.
There was a pause, which Trip broke awkwardly. "Well I'd better get going."
"I know. There's lotsa work t'do."
"All right, honey. Yer daddy'll be sorry he missed ya. Maybe we could call ya back later?"
The idea terrified Trip in a way he couldn't have predicted and didn't comprehend. "That's not a good idea. I don't know when I'll have time to talk again," he answered quickly.
She nodded and pretended she believed him. "All right. You take care, now."
"And go get yerself something t'eat before you go back to that engine o' yers," she said, and there was a real challenge beneath her light tone.
Trip sat up straighter in pure reflex. "Yes, ma'am."
She eyed him carefully until she was sure he really would do what she'd said. She nodded once, satisfied. Then her face softened and her eyes grew bright once more. "I love you, son. We all miss ya somethin' fierce."
"I love you, too. And I miss y'all, too," he replied, emotion drawing him into her warm, comforting accent.
"You be careful, and keep safe. Ya hear me?" She shook a finger at him. "You can tell yer captain that's an order from me."
Trip smiled a tiny smile. "Bye, Mama."
Trip closed the connection. The sudden silence that followed felt heavy on his ears.
He stood abruptly before it could get to him. He quickly removed the DND command from his comm, and then left the cabin. He figured he could down a quick dinner before going back to engineering. His mama wouldn't be happy if she knew he planned to rush though the meal, but at least she couldn't say he didn't do as he'd been told.
"You're cooking dinner?"
"Don't misunderstand me," Stephanie went on quickly at Gemma's slightly piqued tone. "I love when you cook. It's just that we haven't all been together in so long, I don't want you stuck in the kitchen on your own all evening."
Gemma turned an amused expression on her. "And what makes you think I'll be on my own in this kitchen?"
Immediately Stephanie recognized her mistake. She laughed. "All right. So we're all your sous chefs, eh?"
Her sister-in-law grinned. "You're a quick one, little sister," she replied, using the old endearment.
Bonnie entered the airy, sunny kitchen. "There you two are," she said, smiling. Gemma opened the refrigerator and began to hand various items out to Stephanie. "What's going on?"
"Gemma's going to fix dinner for the family," explained Stephanie, "and we're all being conscripted to help." She set the large head of cauliflower, the bag of fresh spinach, the block of paneer, and packages of chicken and lamb in the sink while Gemma went to the pantry for more ingredients.
"Full Indian dinner," Gemma said, not turning around. "Are you a vegetarian?"
Assuming the question was for her, Bonnie replied, "No."
"And what about spicy food?"
"I love it."
"Excellent." Gemma emerged from the pantry with her arms full of canned goods. Stephanie and Bonnie both moved to help her, relieving her of the precariously stacked burden and placing everything on the counter. "Thank you." She dove back in and reappeared almost immediately with two stacked containers--one of basmati rice, the other of lentils--and a bag of potatoes.
Stephanie took them from her, and Gemma brushed loose dirt that had come off the potatoes from her sleeveless silk kameez.
"Don't you want an apron?" Stephanie asked, putting the items on the last remaining bit of empty countertop.
"Of course she does," answered Ryn for her partner, coming in just in time to hear the question. She had long since removed her blazer; the warm afternoon and homey atmosphere making it superfluous. She carried Lalita in her arms. "Here." She handed the child to Stephanie. Her arms now free, she opened a low drawer and pulled out an apron. "For you." She passed it to her wife. "Where are Mom and Kevin?"
"Finishing up the surprise," Gemma replied, dutifully donning the apron and tying it behind her back.
"Oh. Right." Ryn nodded knowingly.
Stephanie looked back and forth between her sister and sister-in-law, balancing her niece on her hip. "Surprise?" she prompted.
"Yes," answered Ryn. She made no move to explain. Instead, she pulled two more aprons from the drawer and handed one to Bonnie. "I assume we've all been enlisted to assist?"
"Yeah, thanks," answered Bonnie, taking the apron.
"What?" asked Stephanie. "Don't I get one?"
Ryn looked at the group's attire, ending on Stephanie's jeans and t-shirt. "No."
Bonnie chuckled. Stephanie pursed her lips in mild annoyance but took it in stride. "I wear a uniform every damn day," she pointed out. She leaned back against the counter to better support the little girl she held. "She's getting big," Stephanie commented.
"She's over a year old," Gemma reminded her as she shooed Stephanie out of the way. The kitchen was large, but not large enough for all four of them plus a fourteen-month-old baby. Stephanie took her niece aside to the big kitchen table and sat down with the child on her lap. Lalita babbled happily and waved her little fists in the air.
Stephanie supported her with one arm and held up her free hand, palm out toward Lalita. "Come on," she urged. "Show me what you've got." One randomly swung fist just managed to clip her thumb. "Good start, but you need to work on your aim." She looked up at Ryn. "She's gonna be a good fighter."
"If that's what she wants to be," Ryn replied noncommittally.
Stephanie turned her attention back to Lalita. "Come on. Hit me again." She held up her hand once more, and this time a blow connected with the center of her palm, making a tiny smacking sound. "Yeah! Good girl! Keep it up, and I'll get you a job on my ship." Stephanie grinned proudly.
Bonnie smiled at her antics a little doubtfully. She'd never been one for children, and had thought her lover felt the same way. Now she wondered if her assumptions were completely off base. Chill out, Bonnie told herself. She's just being a good aunt. Then she happened to glance at Ryn, who didn't appear at all amused by Stephanie's actions. Or not? Ryn was tense and deliberately trying not to notice what was going on at the table.
Gemma picked up on it, too. "Ryn, will you start cutting up the chicken, please? And Bonnie, if you would begin cleaning the vegetables?" she asked pleasantly. She crossed the kitchen to Stephanie. "Come with me, please."
"Huh?" Stephanie looked up from her game in surprise. "Sure." She took a secure hold on her niece, rose, and followed Gemma out of the kitchen. "What's up?" she asked as they reached the dining room.
"Please don't suggest again that either of the children join Starfleet."
"What? I didn't--" Stephanie protested.
Gemma held up a hand, forestalling her. "Not directly, no. But you must realize how the idea frightens your sister--particularly considering your chosen profession. After all that has happened, you must." Her deep brown eyes searched Stephanie's face for a hint of understanding.
Stephanie frowned. "I was just talking. She's only a year old," she said, indicating Lalita. "It's not like I'm going to whisk her off to outer space at the end of the day."
"That's not the point. Little sister " She paused, uncertain how to make Stephanie understand. She decided she simply wouldn't try. "Please just don't do it again."
"Okay." Stephanie still didn't get it, but she shrugged. What the hell? I'm home for barely twelve hours and already I'm screwing up, she thought. "Whatever you say."
"Thank you." Gemma returned to the kitchen.
Stephanie bounced Lalita a little in her arms. "I think I upset both your mommies," she whispered to the child. Lalita just burbled happily and grasped one of Stephanie's loose blonde curls. "You're lucky you're not gonna remember any of this, eh?"
"Ba-ba." Lalita tugged the curl.
"Ow." Stephanie shifted her niece so she could unwind the child's fingers from her hair. As soon as she freed one curl, Lalita grabbed another and tugged again. "Yeah," said Stephanie, chuckling with limited amusement. "Fun game."
Lalita giggled and pulled harder. "Ba-baa! S'eep"
"Ow! Right. 'Baa-baa, black sheep'," she quoted the old nursery rhyme. "I get it, thanks, but the curls are not wool." Now the child had both hands in her aunt's hair. Encumbered as she was, Stephanie was fighting a losing battle. Another sharp yank made her cry out again. "Ow! Damn! That's it. Let's go see if your mother is too pissed off at me to help, shall we?"
The pair returned to the kitchen and were greeted with instant laughter from all three women.
"Yeah, yeah," Stephanie said, peeved. "Can I get some help here?"
Bonnie realized she was the only one in a position to help immediately. "Um, yeah." She dried her hands on her apron and crossed the room to her struggling lover. She eyed the situation awkwardly. She had no experience with babies, and so didn't know where to start. "Uhh What can I do?"
"Just take her so I can use both hands to get her fingers out of my hair."
"O kay." Bonnie took hold of Lalita around her ribs and just under her arms, lifting her a short way from Stephanie.
Stephanie quickly unwound the little girl's fingers from her hair and tucked the locks behind her ears. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Bonnie still stood there, holding Lalita in front of her like a sack of flour. "Um " She looked around for rescue.
Ryn saw her desperate expression and took pity on her. "Hang on." She washed the chicken from her hands and took the child from Bonnie. "How about we put you in your high-chair?" she asked her daughter.
As Ryn settled Lalita in her chair, Stephanie caught Bonnie's hand and gave it a quick squeeze. Bonnie smiled in surprise, but before she could ask for an explanation, Stephanie spoke up.
"Gemma, what can I do to help?"
"You can slice the paneer into cubes, please," the other woman answered.
"For saag paneer?" Stephanie asked, finding a knife and unwrapping the Indian cheese.
Dinner preparations continued. While the women worked, Ryn and Stephanie's mother appeared in the doorway with Kevin at her side.
"It looks like we're not needed here, Kevin," Jeanine said to her grandson.
Kevin looked disappointed. Normally it was his job to stir cold sauces or tear lettuce for a salad. As neither of these things needed doing, he was left without a task. "But I want to help!" he declared.
"Kevin," Ryn called from across the kitchen. "Why don't you and Grandma set the table?"
He frowned and crossed his arms belligerently. "That's no fun."
"Sure it is. You like folding the napkins, don't you?"
He didn't respond. It was true, he just didn't want to say so.
"I have an idea," Jeanine said, looking at him encouragingly. "How about we use the fancy dishes? And once we've set the table, we'll go pick a bouquet from the back garden. What do you think?"
Kevin begrudgingly agreed and the two headed out to the dining room. It wasn't long before the others could hear the gentle clink of plates being taken from the china cabinet and placed on the table.
Stephanie smiled over her task. She was home more completely than she could have hoped. Even if it was only for a few more hours, it was enough. She planned to remember and treasure every moment of that day.
Suddenly the communicators Bonnie and Stephanie carried chirped in unison. The two women exchanged anxious looks. Stephanie wiped off her hands and pulled the communicator from where it was clipped to her jeans pocket. It whistled a specific three-tone alert as she opened it.
"All-hands," she said softly. Without actually meeting anyone else's gaze, particularly her sister's, she said, "Excuse us."
She and Bonnie left the kitchen and slipped outside to the back yard.
Archer made the announcement to the crew that evening. Starfleet was through debating. Enterprise would be deployed to the Delphic Expanse--the place determined to be the origin of the Xindi weapon. It was an unfamiliar region of space bordered by a thermobaric cloud layer. Somewhere beyond those clouds were the Xindi.
Work on the ship's systems, already in overdrive, kicked up another notch. The armory would be retrofitted for new weapons; both engine efficiency and hull polarization needed to be optimized; communications enhancements were already underway.
And then there was the crew--in Archer's mind, the most important component of the ship.
He and T'Pol sat across from one another in his ready room. Several datapads littered the desk between them. Archer examined one closely.
"This is more than I expected," he said in a heavy tone. On the pad's screen were the names of the crewmembers who had decided to stay on Earth when Enterprise left for the Delphic Expanse. There were eleven of them.
T'Pol picked up another pad and handed it to him. "Admiral Forrest sent a list of his recommended replacements based on their skills and records. All have indicated their willingness to join the mission. They only need your review and approval."
Archer accepted the datapad, setting the first aside, but within easy reach. This second list was twelve names long. If he approved them all, which he most likely would, they'd be back to the original crew complement--before they'd lost Daniels. He would have to read their personnel files tonight. "Thanks." He put it with the first pad, and looked at his Science Officer. "Is there someone on that list who you think can replace you?" he asked bluntly. He was too tired for niceties, and knew they would be wasted on the Vulcan anyway.
T'Pol was surprised by his directness, but she appreciated it. "There are two possible candidates, yes," she replied. "Although there are also two candidates among the current crew."
"Do I need to ask who they all are?" His green eyes held a deeper question, and T'Pol had no answer for it yet.
In traditional Vulcan fashion, she didn't bother with any preamble. "I haven't yet reached a decision on whether to accept the position offered to me by the High Command or to stay with Enterprise. I will have an answer for both you and Ambassador Soval before Enterprise leaves space dock."
"Okay." Archer suspected he already knew what she would decide, but he wasn't eager to hear it.
He had opposed her appointment to his crew, but over the past two years he'd come to rely on her knowledge and value her opinion--even when he chose to ignore both. He decided to let the subject drop for the time being. She would give him an answer when she had one, and he couldn't force her to rush her decision. "Where's the pad with the MACO files?" he asked, eying the remaining datapads.
T'Pol reached for one and handed it over. "Here."
He silently read through the list of names. He didn't look up from it as he asked, "Do you know anything about them?"
"Only what we were given in their personnel files," she replied.
Archer sighed. More personnel files for him to review before he could get some sleep.
"Hayes, Major Jeremiah Matthew," he read aloud. He looked at the picture of the dark-haired man who led the team of military commandos. He looked as Archer would have expected a career soldier to look--tough, no-nonsense, and ready for a fight. It wasn't at all the image Archer had ever wanted to present to alien species, but circumstances had changed drastically since Enterprise had first left Earth. Then, he'd been full of hope and idealism. Now his greatest hope was that he and his crew could save the human race from extermination, and his idealism had crawled into a dark corner of his heart to hide and wait until it was safe to emerge again.
He turned to the next task. "They're due aboard the day after tomorrow. Have you been able to arrange the new crew quarters assignments?"
"I have." T'Pol handed him yet another datapad. "I made the assignment on the assumption that you will approve the twelve new crewmembers Admiral Forrest recommended." She eyed Archer, who nodded in agreement. It wasn't like he had much choice, and he trusted Forrest's opinion. "I was able to quarter the new crew and the MACOs satisfactorily, as well as the negotiator from Starfleet."
Archer had mixed feelings about bringing aboard a civilian negotiator for this mission. The diplomatic part of him was all in favor of meeting these Xindi and coming to a peaceful resolution, and the idea that he wouldn't have to shoulder that particular burden himself was a relief. Unfortunately, the chances of settling things diplomatically appeared nearly impossible, in which case he'd be deliberately bringing a civilian into a war zone. "Do we know yet who the negotiator is going to be?"
"No. That's why I've assigned him or her to Lieutenant Reed's old quarters."
T'Pol's announcement took Archer a little by surprise. He'd been aware for some time that Reed had moved in with Tucker, but it wasn't a subject in the forefront of his mind. He considered the mental and emotional state Tucker had been in ever since his sister's death. Practicality aside, he had to wonder if reassigning Reed's old cabin was a good idea. "Is the Lieutenant okay with that?"
"I didn't ask."
"Maybe you should. I agree that your solution is logical, and I don't expect he'll object, but you might just let him know what's going on before a stranger comes aboard and starts redecorating."
T'Pol saw Archer's logic, too. "I will."
"Is that it?"
"Nearly." She handed him the next to last datapad. "Your schedule for Admiral Forrest's visit tomorrow," she explained.
Archer nodded. The Admiral was coming aboard--ostensibly to do a formal check of the ship and crew's readiness. In truth, he and Archer wanted a little time to discuss matters without Soval standing over their shoulders.
He picked up the final datapad and squinted at it. His eyes were near to crossing with exhaustion, but he fought it back. I'll need coffee if I'm going to get through all those personnel files tonight. "What's this?"
"Phlox is expecting a delivery of two hundred snowbeetles. It requires your signature."
Archer didn't bother to try reading the pad. He simply picked up a stylus and signed the line at the bottom of the screen. He handed the pad to T'Pol. "All right. If that's everything, I'll start reviewing the personnel files you provided."
Recognizing the dismissal, T'Pol rose. "I'll speak to Lieutenant Reed." Without another word, she departed.
Archer fished through the pile of datapads for the two he wanted. With them securely in hand, he headed off to the mess hall for a large cup of very strong coffee.
Although activity increased on Enterprise, Archer had refused to cancel anyone's shore leave. For some, it could well be the last time they ever saw home. He wouldn't take that chance away from them. As a result, Ari went ahead with his plan to visit his parents in Toronto. Ian decided to take him up on his offer and come with him, although at the moment he was rethinking that decision.
Ian examined the house doubtfully. "Maybe I shouldn't have come."
"Why?" asked Ari. He, too, looked at the house and smiled. Everything was just the way it always was, from the white columns of the covered porch to the manicured front lawn. He crossed the green grass and put a hand on the old tulip-tree, past blooming this far into the year. "It's perfect."
"Yeah. Perfect. You should've brought Lawless, not me."
Remembering the brief, wild tryst he and Mae had enjoyed behind the 602 Club a few nights ago, Ari turned a dry smile on his bunkmate. "Don't take this the wrong way, buddy, but if I could have brought Mae instead of you, I would have."
Ian nodded. "Yeah, I know. She used up her leave with her family, so I won the prize."
"You didn't have to come."
"Right." It was true enough. Ian could have said no, and right then he wondered why he hadn't.
"Give it a chance. You might have fun if you just chill," urged Ari.
The impending mission already cast a pall over the brief vacation. Ian was determined not to bring his best friend down even more on what was supposed to be a happy occasion. He put on a smile and a joking tone. "You just wanted to introduce Mae to a few of Toronto's back alleys."
Ari took his teasing in stride. He certainly hadn't told Ian all the details of what had happened in San Francisco, but there had been no hiding that it had happened. "Better her than you."
"You just keep believing that," Ian countered. "You'll never be lucky enough to find out otherwise."
"I can live with that little mystery."
"What d'you mean, 'little'?" demanded Ian in mock offense.
"Come on." Ari ignored the comment and headed across the lawn towards the front porch.
Ian affected a flustered manner as he followed. "Oo. He's taking me to meet his parents! This is all so sudden!"
Ari laughed. "You're a freak. Now behave," he jokingly admonished his bunkmate.
"Where's the fun in that?"
Ari opened the door, calling out, "Hello? Mum, Dad? I'm home!"
A moment later his parents appeared in the front hall, and the young men were swept up in greetings, hugs, and happy tears.
Ian escaped the whirlwind of emotion just long enough to catch his breath. Yeah, he thought. This is gonna be swell.
"So, how long do you have before you leave again?"
The words were neutral, but years of practice had taught Hoshi to recognize the accusation hidden in her mother's tone. "Just today and tomorrow," Hoshi replied.
They sat across from one another at a small table on the patio behind her parents' home. The house and garden had been damaged in the aftermath of the attack, but all evidence of it had been eradicated by the time Enterprise returned to Earth. Her mother didn't tolerate disorder.
"Today and tomorrow?" Naomi echoed her daughter's words. "I see."
"I wish I had more time to visit you and Father."
"No, no. You explained everything already. Your job is very important, and you're vital to your mission." It was obvious from her tone that whatever Enterprise's mission, she felt Hoshi's visit to her family should take precedence.
Hoshi kept her expression pleasant. There was no point arguing. Her mother had supported her move to teach in Brazil, but she had never accepted Hoshi's decision to join Starfleet. Naomi couldn't understand what space offered that couldn't be found at home. "What time is Father getting back?" Hoshi asked, hoping to change the subject.
"Within the hour. We didn't know exactly when to expect you."
"I know. You said." Hoshi sipped her iced tea and looked out at the garden. "Your flowers are beautiful," she said, trying another tactic to improve her mother's attitude. "If you hadn't told me there'd been damage, I never would have known."
Her plan worked. Naomi perked up immediately. "It was a mess. Let me tell you " And she was off.
They rose from the table and Hoshi followed her mother around the garden, listening as she pointed out the plants that had needed replacing and those she had been able to salvage. Some things she'd had to replant completely, and the water feature had needed repair. Hoshi actually smiled as her mother babbled on and on. It was a nice change from the disapproving tone she so often used with her daughter.
That was how they passed the time until Hoshi's father arrived, interrupting Naomi's litany of garden stories.
Hoshi grinned to see him, and they hugged for nearly a minute before she let him go.
"So," he began when she finally released him, "have you and your mother had a pleasant visit?"
"Yes. We spent the time admiring your beautiful garden."
"Not ours," Yukio corrected her. "It's all your mother's. I can't take any of the credit."
Hoshi nodded to Naomi. "I'm sorry. I know better."
"There's no harm done," her mother insisted.
"Is there tea for me?" her father asked, sensing the warning signs. He'd been disappointed he couldn't be there when Hoshi arrived. He wanted to spend as much time with her as he could before she had to go, and he knew that the women in his life got along better when he was there to buffer them. He looked at the pitcher of iced tea hopefully.
"I'll get you a glass," Hoshi offered, moving to go inside.
"No, no," her mother contradicted. "You sit with your father. I'll get the glass." She disappeared into the house, and Hoshi and her father sat down at the little table.
Yukio spoke softly and quickly. "Now, before she comes back and makes me change the subject, how are things on your ship?"
"They're all right. I think I've finally got my space legs. It only took almost two years," she joked dryly.
"I knew you would."
"You and Captain Archer. I wish I'd been so sure."
"Ah, Captain Archer. How is he?"
"He's well. As well as can be expected, I mean."
"I don't envy him his job--or yours." Yukio smiled at her and there was sorrow, joy, and everything in between in his smile. "My little girl. I'm so proud of you."
Hoshi's eyes misted. Her father was a kind, loving man, but he didn't offer praise often or lightly. "Thank you."
Naomi returned with a glass then, and the moment passed. Hoshi smiled at her. Not even her mother could spoil the feeling of pride and love her father's words had given her.
Malcolm stood in the corridor outside Engineering wondering exactly how the conversation had gone so horribly wrong. A multitude of reasons for Trip's sudden anger leapt to his mind, but they were only excuses and Malcolm was tired of excuses. Several of the crew had lost loved ones in the attack. Everyone on board was tense and tired. There were undoubtedly others sleeping poorly and experiencing nightmares; Malcolm himself had had plenty of restless nights and unpleasant dreams. None of those reasons were enough any more.
Perhaps I am pushing him too hard, he thought. Then he shook his head. This is not my fault, he told himself firmly. He'd been patient beyond any reasonable expectation. He'd given Trip so much room that he rarely saw his lover for more than a few moments a day, and the nights often found Malcolm alone in their bunk while Trip slaved away in Engineering. And when Trip did join him in bed, he was usually doped up on sleep-aids he'd managed to coerce from Doctor Phlox. Hopefully that part will change soon.
Malcolm played the recent row over in his head as he slowly walked back to the armory. He couldn't understand Trip's unwillingness to grieve over his sister's death. He knew it wasn't out of callousness or lack of feeling. It was all too clear that Trip was hurting terribly, but he wouldn't face it.
"She's dead." Trip had stated it as a simple fact. "So are seven million others. She was no more important than any of them."
"She was more important to you. There's nothing wrong with admitting that," Malcolm had argued, feeling the pain of Trip's denial as an almost physical force.
That was the moment when Trip's temper had snapped. "I'm getting' real tired of you telling me what I can and can't do. And while we're at it, I don't need you to remind me that Elizabeth was killed. So just let it alone."
In that split second, seeing the anguish in Trip's eyes and face, and hearing it in his voice, Malcolm had thought he would finally break. But Trip had turned away quickly, and the moment was lost. Trip had crushed Malcolm's hopes entirely when he turned back just long enough to snarl, "Maybe you should pay more attention to upgrading your weapons so you can blow the hell outta these bastards when we find 'em."
Then he'd stalked off, leaving Malcolm alone and at a loss--a state he'd been in far too often lately.
Malcolm hailed the turbolift, which opened immediately. He stepped inside and let the door close, but didn't select a destination. He was happy to have a moment entirely to himself. The irony of it wasn't lost on him.
For a split second he wished he hadn't agreed to T'Pol's request. She'd found him in the mess hall that morning and asked for his permission to reassign his old quarters to the negotiator Starfleet was sending. It was more a formality than a genuine request, and he knew it. He couldn't legitimately claim the cabin if he wasn't actually living in it. So he'd given his consent without hesitation. Now he wondered if that had been the best choice.
He leaned against the wall heavily. "I can't take this any more," he said softly to the empty lift. But he knew that he would continue to take it for as long as necessary--until the moment Trip finally let down his defenses and allowed himself to mourn. Malcolm wouldn't abandon him.
He took a cleansing breath, stood up straight, and pressed the button for F-deck. The lift silently descended.
Everything in the armory was as he'd left it. Members of both his team and Tucker's were hard at work adapting the torpedo tubes for the new photonic torpedoes that would be loaded on board tomorrow. Young had worked up a schedule that had the same teams from the different departments consistently working together, and it was proving just as efficient as the ensign had suggested. He’d have to remember to tell him that. Normally Reed would have been excited by the prospect of new weapons. In fact he had been--right up until Trip had expressed such an eagerness to use them.
At Reed's entrance, Cormack looked up from her work. She immediately knew something was wrong, and guessed rightly that it was something to do with Commander Tucker. Reed had left with Tucker less than five minutes ago--not enough time to integrate the photonic torpedoes into the power grid as they'd gone to do. Unfortunately things were so busy that whatever it was would have to wait. Still, she knew full well from the stony look on her C.O.'s face that she couldn't let him go on long without back-up.
"Lieutenant," she called, uncertain what she would say, but feeling the need to say something.
He crossed the armory to her at the main targeting control. "Ensign. Is there a problem?" he asked, all business.
She lowered her voice when she replied. "I was going to ask you the same thing--but this isn't the place," she added, beating him to it. "Catch you in the gym later? We could spar."
"I've had enough fighting for one day. How about dinner instead?"
"Sure. What time?"
He looked at the work she was doing, and then turned and surveyed the activity throughout the rest of the armory. "If I say 2100, do you think we'll be done here by then?"
"Even if we aren't, we'll definitely have earned a break."
"All right. 2100 it is." He gave her a tight smile, and then scanned the room for someone who looked like they needed something to do. "Nahai," he called. The engineering crewman looked over expectantly. "I need help integrating the new torpedoes into the power grid." The young man nodded. Reed muttered tiredly, "Once more unto the breach," as he crossed the room toward Nahai.
Cormack overheard and added softly to herself, "Cry God! for Malcolm, Enterprise, and Earth--if the Bard will forgive the paraphrase." In her opinion, 2100 hours couldn't come too soon.
Ari's dad was in the back yard firing up the barbecue. His mom was in the kitchen putting together burgers for the grill and every possible topping one could want to go on them. More extended family would arrive any minute. Ari's two remaining grandparents lived in the Toronto area, as did his two aunts and their families.
Ian took the brief moment alone to say to his friend, "Your folks are cool." He thought he hid his bitterness well. He didn't begrudge Ari his happy home life; he just envied it more than he expected and a lot more than he'd ever admit.
"Thanks. I think so." Ari smiled. He rose from the sofa and walked to the big picture window that looked out over the front yard and the street. "You'll like the rest of the family, too. There's kind of a lot of them, but everyone gets along well."
"You're kidding. No family feuds? No drunk uncle who likes to pick fights with the in-laws?"
"Afraid you'll be bored?" joked Ari, glancing back at his bunkmate where he sat in a floral-patterned wingback chair.
Ian leaned forward, one elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his hand thoughtfully. There was mischief in his eyes as he spoke. "Possibly. I suppose if I can't handle the domestic bliss I could pretend to be the drunk uncle and start picking fights with people."
"You're too young to be my uncle. Maybe you should play the drunk cousin instead."
"Works for me," nodded Ian.
"Be careful who you pick those fights with, though. My Aunt Leigh is tougher than she looks, and my Aunt Sanne will just plain kick your ass."
"I'll keep that in mind."
They both chuckled a little at the plan that would never come to pass. Ari turned back to the window. "It's too bad Zack couldn't get time off to be here, too," he said, a little wistfully. Ari's twin brother was an engineer on Columbia, and they were working as hard as Enterprise's crew to get their ship ready. Unfortunately Columbia wasn't close enough to finished to join her sister ship on the upcoming mission. It would be more than a year before they were ready to leave space dock.
Ian stood and walked a slow, weaving path around the living room. He was having trouble sitting still. Something about the place put him on edge, although he tried his best to ignore it. He'd found that moving around occasionally helped ease his tension. "Can you swing a visit to his ship while we're in dock?" he asked, ending his roaming next to his best friend.
"No. I asked, but there's just no way. Even if I had the time, he doesn't." Ari shrugged, disappointed but accepting of the situation as it was. "I'll call him tomorrow from Enterprise. Maybe he can steal half-an-hour to talk."
"Sure," encouraged Ian.
"Boys?" Ari's mom called from the kitchen just then. She poked her head around the doorway. "Ari, honey, go help your father with the barbecue. I'm afraid he's going to singe his eyebrows off again." She turned to Ian. "You're in weapons. Surely you're good with fire?"
Ari laughed and said, "Sure, Mum." He bumped Ian's arm with the back of his hand. "Come on. Let's go save Dad from himself."
Archer sat alone in his cabin, watching the disturbing video footage of the Vaankara crew that Soval had provided. A part of him hoped that repeated viewing would inure him to the images of zombie-like Vulcans behaving like something out of one of Trip's B-grade horror movies. Another part of him hoped never to be that unfeeling and numbed to violence.
The door chimed and he shut off the recording. "Come in," he called.
Tucker entered the cabin. His uniform looked as though he'd slept in it, but Archer had it on good authority that Tucker hadn't slept in over thirty-six hours. The engineer held a datapad in one hand.
"Commander," said Archer. "What is it?"
"I thought you'd want this as soon as it was done," Tucker said, offering the pad. As Archer took it, the engineer went on. "The enhancements to structural integrity should allow us to travel at warp five for nearly six times as long as before without gettin' shook apart." His usually light southern accent thickened unexpectedly--a sure sign that he was exhausted.
"Excellent. I'll look at this before turning in." Jon hoped his old friend would get the hint.
If Trip did, he didn't show it. "Yes, sir. I'd better get back to Engineering."
"Sure you don't want to stay for little while? Have a drink? We could all use a little time to relax. I've been so busy, I'm sure Porthos would appreciate some extra attention."
The beagle's head popped up from where he lay on his cushion on the floor. He looked at the two men hopefully, his tail thumping the deckplating.
Tucker shook his head. "Sorry, Porthos. Maybe another time." He turned back to Archer. "Captain."
Tucker turned and left without another word. Porthos let his head fall back down onto his paws in disappointment.
"I'm with you," his master said wearily.
Hoshi rolled over and glared at the glowing numbers on the bedside chronometer: 0310. Not again, she thought in irritation. I have got to get some sleep! She pounded her pillow and flopped back onto it heavily.
Forty minutes later she was still staring through the dark at the ceiling. Her brain simply wouldn't be quiet. She'd spent the day with her family, and now her mind was full of everything she'd done right or wrong, and the ways in which she could have done better. It was okay when it was just her and her parents. Things were a bit strained with her mother, but that was neither new nor unmanageable. It was when both sets of grandparents, her uncle and aunt, three cousins with their spouses and children, and her mother's best friend arrived that she'd begun to feel stressed.
"This is ridiculous," she said aloud. Shoving back the covers, she rose and slipped into her silk robe and fuzzy slippers. Tea helped last time, maybe it'll help again. And if it doesn't, I'll stop by sickbay and get something from Phlox.
Somewhere deep in her subconscious, out of range of her waking thoughts, hid the hope that she would run into Ian in the mess hall as she had last time.
Hoshi didn't understand the twinge of disappointment she felt when she found the mess hall empty. She shook it off and filled a mug with hot chamomile tea at the drinks dispenser.
Mug in hand, she searched the glass-fronted shelves for something to nibble with her tea. She had just spotted a small stack of cream pan when the mess hall door slid open. Hoshi looked up and met Malcolm's startled expression with her own.
"Lieutenant," she said in uninspired greeting.
"Ensign," he replied.
"Are you working late?" Hoshi regretted the question the moment it was out of her mouth. He was out of uniform--dressed instead in loose pants and a t-shirt. For all she knew, they could be his pajamas.
Malcolm gave her a tiny, wry smile, and said, "No." He picked up a clean mug and placed it under the drinks dispenser. "Black tea, hot, decaffeinated." He didn't actually like decaf tea, but neither did he want the caffeine keeping him awake. He was awake enough without help from stimulants.
It was obvious from his manner that he wasn't there for company, so Hoshi simply claimed one of the cream pan and turned to go. "Good-night," she said as she passed him.
He nodded once at her. "Good-night."
Once the door closed behind Hoshi, Malcolm sighed his relief. He liked the ensign, but he didn't want to talk to anyone right now. He took his tea and left the mess hall. He strolled along silent, dimly lit corridors until he reached the aft observation lounge. Entering, he immediately shut off the lights that came on automatically.
Malcolm sat and sipped his tea, looking out at the Jupiter Station docking arms that held the ship.
He'd woken from a restless sleep when Trip had finally returned to their cabin. While his lover had undressed and donned his pajamas, Malcolm had feigned sleep. He'd seen no point in trying to talk to the younger man--after the fight they'd had that afternoon, he couldn't think of anything to say anyway. So he'd laid there with his eyes closed, breathing evenly and slowly, and waited. Eventually, Trip had climbed into the bed, keeping as far to his own side as he could.
In the past when he'd done that, it was because he hadn't wanted to disturb Malcolm. Invariably, though, his mere arrival in the room would have woken Malcolm from his usual light sleep. Then Malcolm would roll over and spoon in behind Trip, holding him comfortably close.
Not lately, though, and definitely not tonight. Their argument still rang in Malcolm's mind, and once he was sure Trip was asleep, he'd slipped out of bed and left their cabin.
He was angry. He knew that was why he couldn't sleep. The last time I felt like this he thought back, trying to remember a time when he'd felt as he did now. He came up empty-handed. Certainly there'd been nights with Rupert when he'd gone to bed upset or angry with the other man. When he'd found out Rupert was cheating on him, he'd waited up all night--only to have his anger and pain twisted and turned against him when his former lover got home. But nothing he'd felt then was the same as what he felt now. Malcolm couldn't categorize it, and that was contributing to his sleeplessness.
Geneviève always said you should never go to bed angry with the person sleeping next to you. He shook his head. His old friend's advice had always seemed reasonable and achievable before now. Not that I followed it then, either, he admitted to himself.
Even his dinner that evening with Stephanie hadn't really helped. It felt good to chat with her, and he knew that if he brought his problems to her she would do everything to help him. He simply hadn't wanted to talk about it anymore. He'd wanted a night where he didn't have to think. It had been nice while it lasted.
He sat back in the soft chair and sipped thoughtfully at his tea. He wouldn't get back to sleep now unless he went to Phlox for chemical help, and that was something he didn't want to do. It's going to be another long day.
Trip walked through his dream in a daze. He was thirteen years old and hanging out in the family's big back yard. Lizzie sat on the edge of the swimming pool. There was a cup of lemonade in her hand, and she took a drink as she dangled her feet in the cool water. She couldn't see the wall of fire coming up fast behind her.
"Lizzie!" he called to her, waving frantically. "Lizzie!"
She turned and smiled at him, waving back cheerily.
"Get outta there!" Trip shouted. He tried to run to her, but his feet were rooted to the ground. Try as he might, he couldn't move. "Lizzie, get outta there!" He waved her away, pointed frantically at the encroaching blaze. She continued to smile, a look of bemusement at his actions on her face. Suddenly neither of them was a child anymore. She still sat with her feet in the pool, but she was as he'd last seen her--a grown woman, with long blond hair and the same sparkling smile as their mama.
Trip could see her speaking, but no sound reached him.
"I can't hear you," she shouted silently. The fire was nearly upon her. It lifted her fair hair on waves of heat, but she was oblivious to it.
Trip woke with his own scream echoing in his ears. He sat up abruptly, heart pounding in his chest, breath coming in gasps. Sweat beaded his skin. It was as if he could still feel the heat of the fire from his dream. Slowly his breath and heart slowed, and a chill spread over his bare chest, arms, and back. He rubbed his hands over his face, trying to scrub away the horrible dream images. He looked around the dark cabin for something real to focus on.
It was then he realized he was alone.
He put a hand between the sheets where Malcolm should have been. They were cold to his touch. For a moment, Trip wondered where he'd gone, and then realized that it didn't matter. I told him to leave me alone, he reminded himself. It wasn't strictly true, but his actions over the past weeks had said it more clearly than any words.
I should be glad. I got what I wanted.
Deep down, though, it wasn't what he wanted--not even remotely. But if he allowed himself to acknowledge it consciously, then he had to admit that he needed Malcolm more than ever right now, and if he needed Malcolm at that moment it was because he'd lost Lizzie, and he just couldn't face that loss. He willfully shoved aside every emotion but one.
Get angry, Trip, he ordered himself. He focused on that kernel of anger in his gut. He'd felt it there ever since the Xindi attack. He fanned its flame until it warmed him from within.
He turned hard eyes on the deserted half of the bed. "Whatever," he muttered to the darkness. Then he rolled over onto his side with his back to the emptiness. Eventually he fell into a fitful sleep.
It was a big group that gathered around one of the larger mess hall tables. Liz sat at one end with Travis on her right. Next to him were Stephanie and Bonnie. At the far end sat Ian, and around the other side were Ari, Mae, and Hoshi. All had drinks in front of them.
"I feel like we're starting a new gaming session," joked Stephanie. She swirled the ice in her nearly empty glass of tonic water.
Travis nodded and took a swallow of his beer. "Yeah, it does."
"We're missing Novakovitch, though," pointed out Liz. Ethan was one of the eleven crewmembers who had decided to leave Enterprise. She would miss seeing him on her lab shifts.
The others were quiet, some nodding agreement.
Mae sipped at her cosmopolitan. "Did he say where he'd be going next?"
"No." Liz shook her head. "He didn't know. Wherever else Starfleet needs him, I suppose."
A silence fell. It was the night before deployment, and the feeling of somber anticipation was heavy throughout the ship.
Ian tossed back the last of his beer. "I need another. Anyone else?" He rose, his empty glass in one hand.
"I'm in," Ari replied, handing over his own pint glass. "I owe you one."
No one else took him up on his offer, so Ian took the two glasses to the drinks dispenser for refills.
Liz looked over at Hoshi. "So, Hoshi, how was your shore leave?"
Hoshi hesitated. "Good," she replied finally. Then she added, as if confirming it for herself, "Yeah. It was good."
"You sound uncertain," Stephanie pointed out.
Ian caught Hoshi's response as he returned. He sat, sliding Ari's beer over to him.
"Parents, you know?"
"Thanks," Ari said to his roommate.
Stephanie nodded in understanding. "Ah. Parents."
"Yeah, I don't have that problem any more," Ian commented. If anyone was surprised by his callous words, no one showed it. Ari was the only one who knew how Ian truly felt. He decided to deflect attention from it.
"He got to deal with mine instead," said Ari lightly.
"And how did that go?" Stephanie inquired, although her glance went to Mae rather than either of the men.
"Well, my dad managed to barbecue the burgers without incident, so that's always a plus."
The rest of the group chuckled.
"I take it that was in doubt, eh?" asked Bonnie, laughing.
"Yeah," agreed Ian. "Apparently his dad has a long history of burning things when he barbecues--and not always food, either."
Ari nodded emphatic agreement. "Too right. This time the most excitement came when my Aunt Sanne nearly dropped the carrot cake she'd brought. She caught it all right, but the cream cheese frosting and her shirt were a bit worse for the experience." He took Mae's hand where it rested on the table, and she tensed almost imperceptibly. "You'd have laughed." He smiled at her. She smiled back, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. Ari didn't notice. "You'd like Sanne."
"I'm sure I would," said Mae, subtly extricating her hand from his.
He turned to Stephanie and Bonnie. "What about you guys?" he asked.
"We had a great time." Stephanie looked at Bonnie for confirmation.
"Totally," the other woman agreed. "I'm still full from that huge, fantastic dinner Gemma made--and that was two days ago." She looked at her lover. "How do she and Ryn manage to stay so fit?"
"Because Gemma doesn't cook like that every night," Stephanie answered, "and they have two kids to chase after."
"That'd make a difference," said Travis. "Just ask my mom."
"How is your mom?" Bonnie asked him. "Is the Horizon in the system right now?"
"No. They headed out a few days before we got back. All the ECS ships were recommended to check in once they'd completed whatever runs they were on when Earth was attacked. They were pretty close at the time. First in, first out, you know?"
"Right. That makes sense."
Another weighty silence fell over the group. This time Stephanie broke it. "I'm going for another round. Can I get anything for anyone?"
"I'll take another lemon drop," said Bonnie, holding out her martini glass.
"Anyone else? I'm not using my liquor ration for anything else, so you might as well take advantage, eh?" She glanced around the group, looking for the glasses that were closest to empty. "Liz? Hoshi?"
"Sure," Liz said. "Why not? One last hurrah before we leave home, right?"
Liz finished her chocolate martini and handed the glass over to her former bunkmate.
Stephanie looked back to Hoshi. "Hoshi? Yes, no?"
"No thanks," the comm officer replied. "I have an early shift in the morning, and there are still a few last minute communications issues to be worked out."
"Okay." She took the three glasses to the drinks dispenser.
When she returned and passed them to the appropriate people, Liz asked her, "Have you met your new bunkmate yet?"
Stephanie's face fell. "Gods. You had to remind me. No, I haven't."
"Are you expecting the worst?" asked Ian.
"After living with Liz, of course!"
"I'm not sure how to take that," the exobiologist said with a bemused expression.
Stephanie hastened to assure her. "No, I mean, after a roommate as good as you, how can I not expect the next one to suck?"
Liz smirked. "That's better."
"I'm almost afraid to go back to the cabin. The MACOs came aboard, like, four hours ago. I'm afraid of what I'll find."
Mae chimed in then. "Well, it's a safe bet that she won't have hung up lace curtains, at least."
"That's a plus, yeah." Stephanie nodded and sipped her drink. "MACOs and lace curtains don't exactly go together by nature, do they?"
They continued to chatter for another half-hour or so before Stephanie finally said, "It's getting late. I suppose I should go meet my new bunkie."
"Your enthusiasm is overwhelming," quipped Liz.
"Do you want back-up?" Ian teased.
Bonnie looked at him, and said jokingly, "I was gonna ask the same thing."
"I think I'll manage on my own, thanks," Stephanie laughed, her mood on the subject finally lightened. "What little I gathered from Malcolm says her specialty is sharp shooting, not hand-to-hand. I bet I can take her if it comes to that." She stood.
"If we hear shooting, we'll send in a team," Ian assured her, a gleam of mirth in his pale eyes.
"Thanks." Stephanie leaned over Bonnie and kissed her good-night. "See everyone tomorrow."
As she left, Mae said, "It's probably time for me to turn in, too." She'd nursed her one drink all evening, and now downed what little dregs were left.
"I'll walk with you," offered Ari.
"You don't have to. Stay if you want," she said as she rose from the table.
"No, I'm done." He stood next to her and glanced around those still seated. "Good-night, everyone. Ian, I'll see you later."
"I won't wait up."
Mae said a general good-night to the table, and added to her bunkmate. "See you later."
"I'm not far behind you," Bonnie replied.
Ari and Mae left the mess hall together.
Once alone in the corridor, Mae said in what she hoped was a joking tone, "Really, you don't have to walk me home."
"It's on my way," Ari answered with a smile.
He shrugged. "So I take the long way around. It's no trouble, and I get to spend a couple more minutes with you."
They walked in silence the rest of the way to Mae's cabin, and then stopped outside the door.
"Well, good-night," Mae said.
But Ari wasn't quite ready to say the same. "I'm sorry you couldn't come with me to Toronto the other day."
"You know--" she began, but he stopped her.
"I do. I'm not upset with you or anything. I know you needed time with your family, and I would never try to take that from you." He smiled, and the expression was a mix of slyness and shyness. "Besides, you gave me one hell of a night to remember you by."
There was no denying it, but neither was she sure how to acknowledge the odd compliment. "Yeah."
Ari grew thoughtful again. "I just wish we'd had more time before leaving again."
"Maybe after this mission." Mae didn't know why she said it. There was no guarantee she or any of the crew would survive to see home again. Any space exploration was dangerous, but this was far beyond anything they'd faced up to now.
"Absolutely," replied Ari. He nodded decisively, unwilling to consider the possibility that there might not be an 'after the mission' for either of them. "Good-night." He leaned in and kissed her gently on the mouth.
Mae didn't pull away, but neither did she lean into him as she might have. When they parted she simply said, "Night," and slipped into her cabin.
A few corridors further on, Stephanie entered her own cabin. She didn't really know what she'd expected to find, but a rosy-cheeked and smiling young woman definitely wasn't it.
"Hello?" she said as the door shut behind her.
The round-faced woman smiled back from where she knelt on her bunk, sticking a small poster to the bulkhead over her bed. "Hi!" she exclaimed. She took a moment to make sure the picture was secure before stepping onto the floor. "Corporal Maggie Bowman," she said in introduction. She stuck out her right hand.
Stephanie took it and shook it. "Ensign Stephanie Cormack. Nice to meet you."
"You, too!" Maggie smiled again, an ingenuous smile that made Stephanie feel dubious and yet cheered. It was an odd combination. "I hope you don't mind that I've hung up a couple things."
Stephanie looked at the items decorating the wall over what used to be Liz's bed. The first was a photograph of what she guessed was Maggie's family. At least they all looked related, with similar broad smiles and round faces. The other two were small posters of bands that the young woman presumably liked. The first Stephanie didn't recognize; the other was almost too familiar.
"You like Cordelia's Sisters, eh?"
Maggie's big brown eyes lit up. "Do I! They rock!"
Stephanie couldn't help it. She laughed. Crossing the small cabin, she sat on her bunk and began to take off her boots. "Yeah," she agreed. "They do."
"You know them?" Maggie sat down across from her, every movement full of bounce and vivacity.
"Yeah." She didn't say how well.
"So," Stephanie began as she took her boots to her locker and tossed them inside. "You're a MACO?"
Maggie rolled her eyes as if this was a question she got all the time. "I know. I'm not what you expected."
"You're really not."
"I hope it's a pleasant surprise."
She seemed sincere, which made Stephanie dubious once again. Not one to mince words, she replied, "Honestly, that depends. You're not like this on the job are you?"
"Like--" Stephanie sought the right image and found one she believed would suit. "Like a living champagne bubble."
Maggie laughed. "No, ma'am!"
"Oh sweet Goddess," protested Stephanie instantly. "I know I outrank you, but do not call me ma'am while we're off duty. In fact, try not to call me that even when we're on duty."
"Okay. What department are you in?"
That brought Stephanie up short. "No one told you?" She sat in the desk chair.
Maggie shook her head. "No. We just came aboard this evening, you know? And all I was told was my cabin number and your name. I mean, I know why we're here, but not the details of the mission or anything yet. We're supposed to meet the Security Chief tomorrow at 0700 for orientation."
"In Starfleet the title is Tactical Officer."
"Oh!" She nodded again, filing the information in her head. "So you didn't say what you do."
"I'm in security."
"Oh!" Maggie's smile widened. "Then we'll be working together."
"Probably." Stephanie gave her new bunkmate a strained smile. "Excuse me a second."
Stephanie turned in the chair so she was facing the computer. It took only a few seconds to send a quick text message to Bonnie. It said simply, "Gods help me. She's perky."
Arriving at her quarters, Bonnie was met by Mae. "You have a message," the engineer said.
Bonnie sat at the computer and opened the message from Stephanie and burst out laughing.
Archer sat at his desk, frowning at the computer. The words on its screen had been muddled for the better part of an hour, but he had too much to do to let a bit of eyestrain put him off. He could manage for a little longer until it was time to meet up with Trip.
The ready room door chimed, and he heaved a small sigh. Part of him was glad for the distraction, while another part cursed the interruption. He decided to embrace the excuse to take a break. "Come in," he called.
The door opened and T'Pol entered. She stopped across the desk from him, and stood with her hands clasped loosely behind her.
"Sub-commander," Archer greeted her, the barest trace of a question in his voice.
"Captain." No hint of her intention showed in her tone. She was strung tightly, but she was firm in her resolve.
"Have a seat."
"I prefer to stand."
Archer's stomach sank. Enterprise was due to depart in less than twenty-four hours. T'Pol's formal bearing, and now her decision not to sit, were indicators he didn't like. He was positive he knew what she was about to say.
"I have spoken with Ambassador Soval," T'Pol said.
Archer waited. He had refused to rush her in her decision. He wouldn't change that now--no matter how much he wanted the waiting to be over.
"With your permission, I have decided to stay with Enterprise."
Archer's stunned silence filled the ready room for only a moment. Inside he was more relieved than he could have anticipated. But the responsible part of him, the part that looked out for the well-being of his crew before his own desires, spoke first.
"Are you certain this is what you want to do?" he asked. Visions of the Vaankara crew flitted briefly through his mind.
If possible, she actually stood even straighter. She would have been annoyed with his question if she were human. Of course, were I human this would never have been an issue, she reasoned. "I have considered my decision carefully."
There was a touch of reproof in her voice, and Archer cursed himself inwardly. Of course she has, he thought. There was no doubt she had considered every aspect of her decision assiduously. It was her nature. Still, questions remained. "What did Soval have to say?"
"He was displeased, but ultimately the decision is mine. I have decided to resign my commission with the High Command."
Archer rose. "After all you've worked for, are you absolutely certain this is what you want?"
T'Pol understood his question. He would consider himself a poor commanding officer if he didn't assure himself that she wouldn't later regret her choice. His worry was illogical. Regret was a human emotion.
It occurred to her at that moment to wonder if perhaps Archer might regret her choice. "I wish to stay," she said calmly. "Do you still want me as a member of your crew?"
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," he admitted.
"Then we are in agreement. The only question left is the reorganization of the command structure. Naturally I cannot remain as your First Officer if I no longer hold any official rank."
Archer had considered this point before, but in a different context. He had expected her to leave, forcing him to choose someone to promote to the position of Science Officer. In that case, Trip would naturally become his First Officer, as he would have been if T'Pol had never joined the crew.
"You're right," he replied. "I'll have everything sorted out for the next Command Staff meeting. I expect you to be there, with or without official rank," he added.
Archer gave her a small smile. "It seems silly to say, 'Welcome to the crew.'"
She simply arched an eyebrow at him. "Indeed."
He put on a sober face. "Was there anything else?"
"Then you're dismissed." T'Pol turned to go, but Archer's next words caused her to pause. "I'm glad you're staying with us."
She turned back to meet his gaze. "I, too, am pleased."
Archer quirked another smile at her, and she departed. He sat and let out a relieved sigh. "One less thing to worry about," he muttered to the empty room.
He looked at the computer screen and decided it could wait until the morning. If he stopped now, he could change into civvies before meeting up with Trip. He found the idea appealed to him more than he would have expected. Maybe it'll help Trip relax and open up a little if we're not uniformed and formal. He saved the file he was studying, turned off the screen, and left the ready room.
Malcolm returned to his quarters alone. It was past midnight, and he'd been in the armory for over sixteen hours without pause. At least he knew he could sleep tonight, confident that his department was ready for deployment.
For once he wasn't disappointed to find the cabin empty. He knew where Trip was, and it wasn't buried in his work in Engineering. Instead, he was having a drink with Captain Archer. Malcolm had strongly mixed feelings about it, but he'd made no protest when Trip mentioned his plans earlier. Frankly, he'd been so glad that Trip was actually speaking to him--in a reasonably pleasant manner, no less--that he'd simply nodded and told his lover to enjoy himself.
Perhaps the Captain will be able to get through to him where I haven't, he thought without much hope.
As he changed out of his uniform and into a t-shirt and pajama pants, he noticed the "message waiting" light on the computer. Once he'd disposed of his dirty clothes into the laundry chute, he went to the desk and sat down. He nearly disregarded the message when he saw it was from Trip's mother. Then he realized it wasn't addressed to Trip, but to him.
He frowned in puzzlement. He'd included brief messages to Trip's family a few times, and received the occasional greeting in return. But those had always been in the context of letters for Trip. This was the first time one of the Tuckers had sent something solely to Malcolm.
He opened the file.
He recognized Trip's mother, Paula, instantly--after all there was a small framed photo of her and her husband right there on the desk. Her bright blue eyes lacked the sparkle he recalled from previous communiqués. But this was the first message from her that he'd seen since the attack, so of course she looked more worn and tired than usual.
The vid began to run.
"Dear Malcolm," said the image on the screen. In those two words alone, her heavy Georgia accent was evident. Malcolm had to smile. He'd never told his lover, but he liked Trip's mother's accent even better than Trip's own.
"I'm sure yer surprised t'be gettin' a message from me. Chuck told me I'm bein' foolish, but I just told him to mind his own business." Her tone was kinder than her words. This was clearly the sort of comfortable bickering banter she and her husband shared regularly. "I just wanted to talk t'ya fer a minute without Trip listenin'. O' course I'm trustin' that he's not standin' there next t'ya." She smiled coyly, like a kid caught sneaking sweets before dinner, and a glimmer of brightness returned to her eyes. Malcolm found himself smiling again in response. She had that indefinable quality that made you feel good just to be near her--even when her presence was only digital.
Suddenly her expression grew serious. "All right. Now I know we've never formally met, and I know it's not my place t'tell ya what t'do or how t'behave, but I'm gonna do it anyway." She looked out of the screen at him with sharp intensity. "You look after my boy," she said firmly. "He and Lizzie were as close as two peas in a pod, and I know that as much as our family's hurtin', he's carryin' more than his share o' the load." Tears misted her eyes, making them gleam in a sad imitation of their usual light. "I know y'all've got enough troubles o' yer own up on that ship o' yers, but I am askin' ya to be there for Trip no matter what happens." Her tears threatened to stop her voice, but she fought through them and went on. "I can't be there, and he won't come home." The pain in her voice was palpable and struck Malcolm's heart. He felt his eyes tingling and blinked back tears of his own. "So you gotta be his family out there. Ya hear me?"
She paused almost as if she expected an answer. Malcolm nodded at the screen.
"All right. That's all I wanted t'say. Y'all be careful out there." She sniffed back more tears determinedly. "And y'all come on home again real soon."
The vid ended and the screen went dark. Malcolm took a moment to compose himself, wiping a tear from the corner of one eye and clearing his throat. Then he security locked and filed the letter in his private folder. For whatever reason, he didn't want Trip finding it and viewing it.
Knowing sleep would be long in coming now, he didn't even try. Even his long hours in the armory that day weren't enough to counter the galvanizing effect of Paula Tucker's message. Under normal circumstances, he would have settled in with a book until he grew drowsy, but he doubted he could focus on reading just then. He traded his pajamas for workout gear and trainers, and headed to the gym for a turn on the stationary bike. There he could work to tire out his body enough to sleep while his mind could wander wherever it needed--and it certainly had a lot to think about.
All crew members were finally aboard, including the new diplomatic liaison, officially chosen less than a day ago and just making it onto the last boarding shuttle. None of the command staff had time to meet the negotiator before departure. The primary bridge crew was on duty. Sato was at the comm station, with T'Pol behind her at Science. Reed manned Tactical, while Mayweather sat at the helm. Tucker had emerged from Main Engineering and now sat at the engineering station near Reed. Archer stood in front of his chair, too tightly wound to sit.
All eyes were on the main viewscreen where Admiral Forrest's somber visage looked back at them.
"I don't have to tell you how much is riding on your success, Enterprise," he said, addressing the crew at large although his gaze was locked on Archer. "Earth and all of humanity are in your hands."
Archer's voice was rough with emotion, but his tone remained even as he replied. "We'll do everything we can."
"I know you will. Good luck, Enterprise, and God speed."
The comm line closed and the Admiral's image was replaced by the familiar star field bordered by the Jupiter Station docking arms.
"Docking clamps released and retracting, Captain," Mayweather informed them.
"Take us out, Ensign," Archer said as he finally sat down.
Slowly the ship moved forward and the docking arms receded from sight. An eternal moment passed while everyone waited for Mayweather's next announcement.
"We're clear of Jupiter Station. Now at the minimum safe distance for warp."
"Take us to warp two, Ensign," ordered Archer.
"Warp two, aye."
There was the familiar and almost imperceptible shift as the ship crossed the light speed barrier.
It wasn't until they were out of the solar system that Archer spoke again. "Plot a course for the Delphic Expanse."
Mayweather was ready. "Course plotted and laid in, Captain."
"Warp five. Engage."