Log Rhythms - Season Three
Archer was alone in the Captain's Mess. He'd breakfasted early by himself and the detritus of the meal had already been cleared away by an alert steward. Now he sat reviewing the information on his datapad-the agenda for the upcoming command staff meeting. There was a great deal to discuss, yet Archer felt woefully uninformed considering the magnitude of their mission. They were trusting to luck and their sensors to find a sign of the Xindi once they were inside the Delphic Expanse. He suddenly felt like Christopher Columbus, who had set out from Spain with nothing to guide him but the stars and the firm belief that he would find what he sought.
"Of course," Archer muttered to the empty room, "he landed half a world away from where he meant to go."
He shook his head and turned his attention to more immediate concerns. After all, they would have to travel for several weeks before even reaching the thermobaric cloud layer that surrounded the Expanse.
Before turning in last night he'd finally learned the name of the negotiator Starfleet had assigned to the mission. He hadn't yet met her in person, however; unlike the MACO leader, she hadn't reported to him upon her arrival. He wondered if perhaps there were two people with her name and that she was someone entirely unknown to him. Her photo and resume made him suspect otherwise, however, and he was concerned how certain members of his crew would react.
He glanced at the chronometer inset beside the comm. I guess I'll find out in a minute.
The first person to arrive was T'Pol. Rather than her usual form-fitting uniform, she was dressed in the looser garments generally worn by Vulcans on assignment to Earth, although she had chosen to forego the long outer robes.
"Good morning," the Captain said, rising as she entered.
"Good morning," she echoed. She took a seat on the far side of the table with her back to the windows. Archer couldn't decide if it was to be out of the line of incoming traffic or so she could see everyone else as they entered. He guessed it was both.
Reed arrived next with a sullen and tired looking Tucker beside him. The men sat, but not next to one another. Archer noted the distance and frowned inwardly. "Gentlemen," he greeted them.
Tucker just nodded as Reed said simply, "Captain."
Major Hayes joined them next. He had introduced himself to Archer the previous evening per regulations. He looked just as he had in his picture. His brown and gray MACO uniform was simple and utilitarian, and there was a lithe control to his movements that suggested he was always on alert, ready to fight. Archer fought his unfounded dislike for the dark-haired man, reminding himself it was the reason he was there, and not the man himself, that he objected to. While it had been Archer's decision to request military back-up on this mission, it had taken a lot for him to reach that decision. He still hoped for a diplomatic resolution.
"Major Hayes," Archer said in greeting. He noticed Reed's intrigued yet guarded glance at the MACO, and silently hoped the two would work well together.
"Captain," Hayes replied. At his questioning look, Archer gestured to the table and its empty chairs.
"Take any seat, Major. We don't stand too much on formality in these meetings."
Hayes said nothing, but Archer imagined he caught a hint of disapproval in his eyes as he took a seat.
Phlox, Sato, and Mayweather arrived in a group and filled in the gaps between the other officers, leaving only one empty chair directly in front of the door. It was close quarters with so many of them in the small room, but no one complained.
Archer glanced again at the chronometer: 0732. The negotiator was late-only slightly as yet, but it still wasn't a great first impression.
He was about to suggest they give her another minute before starting, but was interrupted before he got the first word out by the door whooshing open once more.
"I'm terribly sorry," said the blonde woman, rushing in and sitting in the empty chair. "I'm afraid I got a bit lost."
Out of the corner of his eye, Archer saw Reed stiffen and his eyes widen. Tucker, too, sat up straighter, and Sato smiled in surprise. If the woman's clipped British accent wasn't enough, their reactions to her arrival confirmed Archer's suspicions. He turned to the negotiator and gave her a pleasant smile. "We hadn't quite started yet," he assured her.
"Oh good!" She set a datapad on the table before her and activated it.
Archer turned to the group at large. "Good morning, everyone. Let's get started." He sat down at the head of the table and glanced at his datapad even though he knew how he intended to begin. "Before we make the necessary introductions, there are some changes that need to be noted." He looked first to T'Pol, who looked impassively back and gave a slight nod. "As most of you know, T'Pol is no longer with the Vulcan High Command." Judging from the unsurprised reactions around the table, he guessed that in fact everyone knew-except perhaps for the two new crewmembers. "She retains her position on Enterprise, but not her rank. Therefore a change of title is in order. I think Science Specialist suits well, don't you?" he smiled at her.
"It is a logical choice," T'Pol agreed.
"Excuse me," Sato spoke up, looking around Tucker to the Vulcan woman. "How should we address you now? Presumably sub-commander no longer applies?"
"That is correct."
"What about Doctor?" suggested Phlox cheerfully. "You hold several degrees, if memory serves."
T'Pol considered before replying. "I do hold a number of degrees that are roughly equivalent to human doctoral programs."
"That settles it, then!" Phlox smiled broadly.
"In that case, the next order of business is Commander Tucker," said Archer, happy to have that out of the way.
Tucker looked up at his name. "Me, sir?"
Archer smiled again. "There's also a change in command structure to consider." He paused briefly, hoping to see light dawning in his old friend's tired eyes. When it didn't, he went on encouragingly, "Congratulations, First Officer Tucker."
If Tucker was pleased, it didn't show on his face. "Yes, sir. Thanks, Captain."
In contrast, Reed perked up at the announcement, a smile almost breaking through his stony expression. But when Tucker reacted so flatly, his face grew once more still and impassive.
Archer's smile faded, too. So much for that.
He turned to the newest crewmembers and began the introductions. "Major Hayes, Negotiator Reed " Several heads turned at that moment. " as you just heard, this is Doctor T'Pol, Science Specialist. Next to her is my first officer and our Chief Engineer, Commander Charles Tucker the Third." He continued around the table. "Communications Officer Ensign Hoshi Sato; Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Armory Officer; helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather; and Doctor Phlox, our Chief Medical Officer." He glanced briefly at each of his command staff, and then back at the two newcomers. "This is Major Jeremiah Hayes, commander of the MACOs, and our new diplomatic liaison, Negotiator Madeline Reed."
He noticed that Malcolm only briefly made eye contact with Hayes, nodding once at the commando before turning his gaze on Madeline. Archer went on, trusting the lieutenant to remain professional at least until the meeting was over. "Major Hayes, Lieutenant Reed," he said, pulling the armory officer's attention back to ship's business, "I suspect you'll want to discuss your teams' coordination once we're finished here."
"Yes, sir," confirmed Reed coolly. He tore his gaze from his sister to properly look at Hayes. His stiff expression didn't change, however. "Armory, 0900?"
"Sounds good to me," Hayes replied.
"All right," said Archer, clinging to order he felt was on the verge of fraying. "Let's get down to business."
Malcolm had hoped to catch his sister immediately after the staff meeting, but he was foiled by an unknowing Ensign Sato. As they all rose from the table and moved to depart, Hoshi intercepted Madeline and introduced herself, reminding the other woman of a time they'd spoken once before. The two left, chatting in a comfortable manner that instantly put Malcolm on edge.
He fought off his feelings of unease and irritation. He had to get to Maddy and talk some sense into her before it was too late. Their current course would take them reasonably close to Vulcan territory for a short time. It was conceivable that he could convince Captain Archer to make a brief side trip to drop her off with the Vulcans so she could be returned to Earth.
First, however, he had a meeting with Major Hayes. A glance at the time told him he had fifteen minutes before they were due to meet in the armory. He decided to use at least a part of that time to speak with Trip. The engineer wasn't far ahead of him as they left the Captain's Mess, and he was undoubtedly headed for engineering. Malcolm caught up to him just as Trip hailed the turbolift.
They stepped inside.
Trip didn't look at Malcolm as he requested D-deck. The lift began its descent, and Malcolm knew his time was short.
"Congratulations," he said, forcing a smile onto his face. He was genuinely pleased at Trip's new position as first officer, but Trip's reticence at the announcement made him wonder how the engineer felt about it.
"Huh?" grunted Trip. He glanced briefly at Malcolm, a blank look on his face.
"On your new position. First Officer. That's outstanding."
Trip shrugged, indifferent. "I would've been First Officer from the beginning if T'Pol hadn't been around. She gave up her rank, so I get the benefit." He shrugged again. "Sort of feels like a hand-me-down, if you know what I mean."
Before Malcolm could digest the other man's odd reaction, the lift stopped and the door opened.
"See ya later," said Trip as he stepped out.
The door shut behind him, and Malcolm was left alone in the silent lift. After a moment, he shook his head and requested F-deck. As the lift descended to the armory level, he willfully dismissed the brief, strange conversation. He would think on it more later. Right now he needed to focus on his meeting with Hayes.
He'd exchanged barely a dozen words with the major, but already he didn't like the man. In part he resented Archer's decision to call in military commandos. He tried to put the feeling aside, but it was difficult. In his opinion, the MACO presence was evidence of Archer's serious lack of faith in Reed's abilities. After two years under Archer's command, he'd thought they'd gotten past that. It was disappointing to find out otherwise. He wanted to believe that Major Hayes and his people would be an asset. He wanted to believe that their presence wasn't a reflection on him and his team. But no matter how professionally he tried to face the issue, it felt personal. Not that he would let Hayes or Archer know it. He would be the picture of professionalism, and prove to them both that he and his people were perfectly capable and competent.
He arrived in the armory to find Hayes already there waiting for him. It took Reed aback, but he didn't let his discomfiture show on his face. He wasn't used to being the last one to a meeting he had scheduled himself.
Cormack was on duty that morning, and she looked over with relief at Reed's appearance. "Lieutenant," she said. She hadn't expected Hayes and once they'd introduced themselves, they'd spent a long five minutes in tense silence. She was glad he was no longer her problem.
"Ensign," Reed replied evenly. The quick look he gave Cormack silenced any further word from her. He looked at Hayes. "Major?" He gestured to a door at the back of the armory. It lead to the small office that up until this mission he'd used exclusively for storage, preferring to deal with his team in the larger space of the armory proper. Now it had been cleared out and a small workstation and two chairs filled it.
Hayes nodded once and preceded him into the room.
Mae yawned hugely behind her hand. She'd slept poorly the previous night, tossing and turning until even her heavy-sleeping bunkmate had woken up from the noise. Of course, after the Klingons attacked in the middle of the night, no one on board was asleep. The attack had lasted only a few minutes; the new torpedoes with antimatter warheads had made short work of the Klingons, disabling their warp engines. Enterprise hadn't escaped undamaged, however.
"We boring you here, Ensign?" Tucker's sharp tone cut through Mae's tired mind like a knife.
"No, sir." She blinked several times and did her best to focus on the briefing.
"I'm glad to hear it." He turned his attention back to entire group. "All right. We lost a couple of impulse relays, the subspace transceiver is offline, and the sensor grids are running on backups. Hess, take a team and get to the relays. Snider, the transceiver's yours. You need any help?"
"I could use Dillard," the comm tech answered.
"You got him." He nodded at Dillard who gave a nod of confirmation back. Tucker went on, glaring again at the hapless Mae. "Lawless, if you don't have something more interesting to do, take a team and do a full diagnostic and maintenance on the internal and external sensor grids. Almack, take Rossi and Nahai and head to the armory. The weapon ports took minimal damage, but Lieutenant Reed requested an engineering team to help with the repairs." He looked around the assembled group. "Any questions?" There were none. "All right. Let's get to work."
Ensign Almack and the two crewmen gathered up toolkits and departed as Hess picked out a handful of people for her team. She promptly began organizing the repairs to the impulse relays. Mae was left with half a dozen people to choose from and quickly pulled out crewmen Kelly, Rostov, and Fletcher. She stifled another yawn, unwilling to make herself a target once again for Commander Tucker's unusually short temper that morning.
Tucker had been on edge ever since the Xindi attack. Lawless and the rest of the engineering team had slowly grown accustomed to his taciturn manner, so different from the cheerful Chief Engineer whom they'd worked with for two years. Today, though, he was testier that usual. Mae ascribed it to the late-night attack. They were only a couple of days out from space dock and the warlike Klingons were already causing problems. As if we don't have enough problems without them butting in, she thought.
In the past Tucker and his department had faced this sort of situation with determination and the firm belief that they would get through it and everything would be back to normal. This time it was different. The feeling in Engineering was grim, and everyone approached their repair jobs with dour resignation. Conversation was minimal and entirely work-related. Mae wished she'd been assigned to the armory job. At least there she expected the atmosphere to be a bit austere. It was a difference in Tucker's and Reed's command styles-or rather it had been.
She bit her lip to stop yet another yawn. Rostov caught her at it and gave her a sympathetic look. He glanced around to be sure he wouldn't be overheard, then leaned towards her and said in an undertone, "I hope it won't be like this the entire mission."
"You and me, both," she replied just as covertly. She and her team set to work.
It had taken longer than Malcolm planned or hoped. The sudden and entirely unexpected appearance of the Klingons, and the subsequent repairs, had thrown his schedule into disarray. Now, with everything under control, he'd finally managed to track down his sister for a quiet chat. The computer put her location as the mess hall, so that's where he was headed.
Since the command staff meeting two days before, Malcolm's goal had been to speak to Madeline and get her off the ship. As if his job wasn't difficult enough, having his baby sister on board would eventually make it impossible. He had the security of the ship and crew on his hands. He didn't have the time or the resources to keep an extra eye on her, too.
He entered the mess hall and looked around. The place was crowded at that hour, and the enticing smells of dinner reminded him how long it had been since he'd last eaten. He ignored the growling in his stomach. He had a job to do first. It was then he spotted Madeline. She and Hoshi sat together at a small, round table, talking amiably while they dined. He paused, considering his options. It hadn't occurred to him that she'd be with someone. He'd foolishly assumed she'd be on her own, but of course he'd been judging by his own nature. Two days was plenty of time for Madeline to make new friends; it was Malcolm who had trouble getting to know people.
He was in luck, however. As he hesitated, Hoshi said something and rose. Madeline stood, too, and they bussed their table. They would have to pass him to leave the mess hall, so he stood where he was and waited.
Madeline spotted him standing there, but her smile never wavered. She excused herself from Hoshi, who smiled back and departed. Madeline looked at her brother happily. "Malcolm," she greeted him. "How are things in the armory?"
"Fine," he answered stiffly.
Madeline continued to smile, but she knew him too well not to know something was bothering him. The door behind Malcolm opened suddenly and the pair quickly stepped aside to let the group of crewman pass. "Let's get out of traffic," she suggested. She took the lead, and Malcolm found himself following her out into the corridor. It wasn't how he'd planned things.
Madeline continued chatting pleasantly. "So everything's all right in the armory after that attack?" she questioned, doubting his earlier terse reply.
"Ah, yes," confirmed Malcolm. "We took minimal damage, actually. The new torpedoes performed well." He couldn't keep a note of pride from his voice.
"Well that's good to hear." Another group of people, this time leaving the mess hall, converged on them and they had to move to one side so the crewmen could get past. "I guess we're still in the way."
"Perhaps," suggested Malcolm, "the forward observation lounge?" There they could have some privacy and were unlikely to be interrupted.
"Lead the way. I haven't quite gotten the layout of this place worked out yet." Madeline smiled again. "I'm sure I'll get it before we reach the Delphic Expanse. I have at least six weeks, right? That should be enough," she joked.
"That won't be a problem," Malcolm replied, leading the way to the observation lounge.
Something in his tone made Madeline suspicious. "Why do I think that comment has nothing to do with my ability to find my way around?"
"Because it doesn't."
They reached the lounge and went inside. Madeline was momentarily distracted by the stunning view outside the port. The star field slipping by at warp three-point-five was unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. "It's quite beautiful, isn't it? I can see it from the window in my quarters, but not like this."
"Enjoy it for now. You're going home."
Madeline turned sharply to face him, the view forgotten. "I beg your pardon?"
"I'm sure I can convince Captain Archer to take a short side trip into Vulcan territory. There are two ships within easy reach of our projected flight path. You can transfer to one of them, and then arrange for transport back to Earth."
"I see." Madeline's tone was as cool and even as Malcolm's. "And in what delusional reality will this take place?"
Malcolm's patience snapped. "You can't stay on Enterprise!"
"I think you'll find that Captain Archer and Starfleet Command feel otherwise."
It was clear to Malcolm that he had a fight on his hands. He ought to have expected it. He tried to make her see his point of view. "It's difficult enough keeping this ship and its crew safe. I can't keep an eye on you, too, and still do my job."
Madeline crossed her arms over her chest. "No one asked you to. I'm part of this crew now. I am not your personal responsibility."
"And if something happens to you out here, do you really think Mother and Father are going to accept that argument?"
"It's not up to them. You wouldn't know, but they're proud of my appointment to this mission." Malcolm looked at her doubtfully, and Madeline reluctantly amended her claim. "They're not pleased, but they are proud. You are only responsible for my safety as a member of this crew. I don't expect any special treatment. Nor do I expect you to try to undermine the authority that Starfleet has given me by trying to get me thrown off the ship. The future of the entire human race is at stake here. Considering the scope of what we're doing, whether or not one individual survives is irrelevant."
"Irrelevant?" Malcolm was stunned. "No one is expendable out here."
"My point exactly," countered Madeline angrily. "You need me. I've studied human-alien relations for over a decade. It's what I majored in at university. This is what I do. I negotiate treaties-"
"Trade agreements and border disputes," he interjected.
Madeline went on as if he hadn't spoken. "-and I'm damned good at it. What did you think my meeting in San Francisco was about?" she asked him frankly.
"I-" Her question brought Malcolm up short. He wouldn't admit it, but it had never occurred to him to ask her. He'd been so pleased to be able to see her that day that the reason for her presence had been unimportant.
She went on before he could think of an answer. "You know what I do. I don't see why you're surprised to see me doing it here."
"Because this is a starship!" he exclaimed. "A starship that is undoubtedly going to see a great deal of combat before this mission is through."
"And I'm here to try and minimize the conflict and hopefully help end this mission in a peaceful, diplomatic way." She met his steely gaze with her own. "I'm not asking for any favors, Malcolm. Just let me do my job." She continued to glare at him. "Or are you unwilling to share your hero status with your little sister?"
"This has nothing to do with heroism!" snapped Malcolm angrily. He was furious-furious with her and with Captain Archer; furious with whomever it was at Starfleet Command who had decided she was the best choice for this mission.
Madeline's expression was grim. "I'm glad to hear it. Now if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She stared him down until Malcolm took a single step to one side. "Thank you, Lieutenant." She walked confidently past him and out the door. It had barely closed when he stormed towards it, and it swept open again to let him pass. He caught up with her quickly.
"Don't think this discussion ends here," he snapped, striding along next to her.
"On the contrary." She halted abruptly next to a turbolift. Taken by surprise, Malcolm almost tripped as he stopped beside her. She glared at him, her two-toned eyes flashing her anger but her voice perfectly calm. "This discussion ends right here and right now." She stabbed a finger at the lift control. The door opened immediately. She stepped inside and requested a deck at random so that the door would close again before Malcolm followed her. The door slid shut, cutting her off from his anger for the time being.
"Is everything okay?" a voice behind her said.
Startled, Madeline turned. She'd been too angry to notice the lift was already occupied. The woman who'd spoken had hazel eyes, and her dark blonde hair was pulled into a neat French braid. If Madeline remembered Starfleet rankings and color coding correctly, she was an ensign either security or engineering. "Yes. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Stephanie responded politely. She didn't recognize the woman, but she had recognized Malcolm's annoyed visage outside the lift. She knew that Starfleet had chosen Madeline Reed to negotiate with the Xindi; it was a small ship, and news spread quickly. It was easy to deduce that this was her. Stephanie wondered just what had transpired between them to cause Malcolm's obvious aggravation and his sister's equally clear irritation.
The lift stopped and the door opened. Neither woman moved.
"Did you want this deck?" Stephanie asked after an awkward pause.
"I-" Madeline gave her a chagrined look. "No. I just wanted to get away from " She hesitated, uncertain how to refer to Malcolm when speaking to a member of the crew. She opted for the simple choice. " my brother."
The door shut once more and the lift continued on its course.
"Ah." Stephanie nodded sympathetically. She'd been on the receiving end of Malcolm's temper more than once. It was never pleasant. "I'm headed to stellar cartography. That's on B-deck," she offered.
Madeline sighed. "That'll do. My quarters are on B-deck." She regained her composure and smiled politely. "Madeline Reed," she introduced herself, holding out a hand.
"Ensign Stephanie Cormack." They shook hands.
Madeline's face lit up at her words. "Cormack? It's a pleasure to meet you at last. Malcolm's told me a great deal about you."
"Oh dear," quipped Stephanie flatly.
"Not at all," Madeline assured her, laughing lightly.
The lift stopped and the door opened again. "B-deck," Stephanie said, gesturing for Madeline to precede her out. They stepped into the corridor and Madeline looked around, getting her bearings. "Can you find your way okay?"
"Yes, thanks." She smiled. "I hope to run into you again."
"It's a small ship." Stephanie's reply was noncommittal, but she followed it up with a smile.
"Perhaps I'll feel that way once I've learned my way round a bit better."
Back in the mess hall, four MACOs sat down to dinner together.
Corporal Chang tucked into his plate of steak and potatoes. He grinned. "I'll give Starfleet points for the food," he said around a mouthful.
"Classy, dude," commented the burly blond man next to him. "You could swallow before you talk." Sergeant Kemper was the ranking officer at the table, and he felt it was his responsibility in the circumstances to see that the rest of them behaved in a civilized manner. Kemper was a city boy from Duluth, but he had what Corporal Bowman called a "farm-fresh look" that would have seemed right at home on one of Wisconsin's famous dairy farms.
"Thank you," said Bowman-the only woman in the small group, and the person stuck sitting across the table from Chang.
Chang swallowed the huge bite. "What?" he asked, oblivious to the obvious as usual.
Kemper shook his head. "Forget it. I don't know why I even try."
The fourth member of the group, Corporal Romero, chuckled. A perpetual smile warmed his handsome face, and there was a joking sparkle in his brown eyes as he said, "It's because you're an optimist, Sarge. You're always looking for the best in people. It's just that with Chang, this is the best you're going to get."
The others laughed, even Chang, who had a genial nature and laughed easily, even when he was the butt of the joke. "You got it, dude," he grinned in agreement with Romero's assessment.
Kemper decided to change the subject. "Bowman, I hear you got quartered with a fleeter."
"Yeah. So?" She looked at him, an expression of pleasant inquiry on her round face.
"So what's she like?"
Bowman shrugged. "She's nice. She's funny. She has great taste in music." And she has nightmares, she added silently in her own mind, but kept that last bit to herself.
The others waited for more, but it didn't come. "That's it?" Romero prompted finally.
"Yeah. Why? Did you expect her to eat me alive or something?" She took a bite of her chicken enchilada.
"Nah." He dared a glance over at Chang and was glad to find that for once the other man's mouth was closed while he ate. "We're just curious."
"So ask Palmer," said Bowman. "Or Austin, or Alcanterra, or-"
Kemper cut her off. "We will. But you're here right now, so we're asking you."
"And I told you, Ensign Cormack's nice. You'll meet her soon enough. You can judge for yourself."
"Huh?" Chang grunted cluelessly around yet another mouthful of food.
Bowman rolled her brown eyes at him. "Saturday? Training with the security team?" she reminded them all as if they were a little slow.
"She's security?" asked Romero, the first to catch on.
Finally Chang spoke without anything in his mouth. "You think everyone is nice." His tone was disdainful.
Bowman glared at him pointedly. "Until I'm proved wrong, yeah."
Chang's usual affability tended to fade when he dealt with Bowman. He said nothing, instead making a show of shoving another huge bite of food into his mouth.
Romero made a disgusted sound and looked away. "Man, you're gross. No wonder you can't keep a girlfriend."
"That's not the only reason," commented Bowman. She didn't exactly regret her past with Chang; she simply considered it a brief bout of insanity that had fortunately passed quickly.
"Bite me," said Chang, not trying to hide the half-chewed food.
"All right, Corporals," Kemper said. "That's enough."
Immediately the three backed off each other, mumbling, "Yes, sir."
Kemper went on in a quieter tone. "We're the newbies on this ship, and I shouldn't have to remind you that fleeters and MACOs aren't traditionally the best of friends." The corporals all nodded; the history of unease between the two organizations was well known on both sides. "We're here to do a job, and acting like a bunch of ten-year-olds isn't going to make it easier. So behave yourselves."
"Yes, sir," said Chang, aware that a fair portion of the reprimand was aimed at him. He'd heard it before, but somehow it never quite stuck. He was lucky he was such a good soldier or he'd never have been picked for this assignment.
Romero nodded contritely at Kemper's brief lecture. He, too, had heard it before-usually in the company of Chang or Ryan. "So, Sarge," he began, "any idea what to expect?"
Kemper shook his head. "The Major hasn't said anything to me about it. I'm taking it like any training we've had before. Just show up on time and be ready to work."
"With fleeters," put in Chang.
"With fleeters," Kemper confirmed.
"Great." Chang's tone was flat and unenthusiastic.
"What did I just tell you?"
Bowman answered for Kemper. "To behave."
Archer sat at the desk in his ready room. He had a meeting scheduled with Madeline Reed at 0900. In the meantime he was catching up on his history, reading about Earth's ancient explorers. The idea of leaving home for the unknown had always been a part of Archer's psyche; he'd always believed he had the soul of an explorer. Now, as they flew almost blindly towards the Delphic Expanse, he wondered if he still believed it. He wondered if those ancient explorers ever felt as terribly unprepared as he did now. Columbus with his three ships sailing for an India he didn't reach struck him as better equipped than he was. Or what about Leif Erikson, crossing the North Sea to the new world decades before the Normans had even invaded England? Erikson had been told of a land beyond Greenland, one whose coast was green instead of glacial, but what had made him believe that was enough to go on? In those times, sailing off the map was akin to sailing off the edge of the world. Enterprise had a map to the Expanse, but what lay beyond it was anyone's guess.
The starcharts might as well say 'Here there be tygers,' he thought.
The ready room door chimed, drawing him from his musings. He closed the document he was reading on his computer screen before calling, "Come in."
Madeline Reed entered. "Good morning."
"Good morning," he smiled. "Have a seat."
She sat down across the desk from him. She held a datapad, which she activated as she sat. "I'm afraid I haven't anything new to discuss with you about the mission," Madeline began apologetically.
"Neither do I," admitted Archer.
"Still, I think these weekly meetings are a good idea. In the end it will help us understand one another better, and that will ultimately help us when we negotiate with the Xindi."
Archer respected her optimism that they actually would be able to negotiate with the Xindi. "First we have to find them," he reminded her.
"I'm sure you will. Now, I wondered if I could ask you about one of your earlier missions?" Madeline glanced down at the pad she held.
Archer leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk. "Which one?"
"Well, I suppose technically I shouldn't call it a mission," she corrected herself. She looked up from the pad and met his patient, impassive gaze. "I'm curious about your time in front of the Klingon tribunal."
"Ah. I wondered if you'd ask about that since the attack by Duras." He sat back again. She had an intent way of looking at a person that Archer found slightly unnerving. It was almost as if she were paying too much attention to what you had to say. He wondered if it was just his imagination, or if maybe it was her two-toned eyes that he found so unsettling. He tried to ignore the feeling.
"I was curious before, actually, but the attack certainly enhanced my interest." Madeline smiled almost self-deprecatingly. "I thought since we have nothing new on the Xindi, you might be willing to humor me. It would be helpful to me professionally to know more about the Klingon justice system."
Archer's reply held a note of irony. "For starters, there's not a lot of 'justice' involved." He began to tell her everything he knew about the Klingon system of "justice."
Reed couldn't remember the last time he'd been so tired.
Ah, right, he thought. It was yesterday.
He sat down heavily on the bunk and pulled off his boots, massaging tired feet through sweaty socks. "Ugh." The socks came off and dropped to the deck next to his boots. He was even too tired to get up and put them where they belonged.
He rubbed hard at the top of one foot just below the ankle joint and at his heel alternately, silently thanking Phlox for introducing him to reflexology. He hadn't yet found an opportunity to use it on Trip, but Malcolm was happy to practice his technique on himself in the meantime. Slowly, the ache in the small of his back eased and he finally sat back and let his foot go.
"What a week," he muttered to the empty cabin. It had been the longest eight days of his life, and it had been capped with an equally long day today. He thought back on the last twelve hours; it was all he could face at that moment. It had started badly with a second fight with Madeline; and now it was ending with Enterprise beyond any remotely reasonable rendezvous with a Vulcan vessel. He'd even entertained the idea of shipping her off to the Andorians, but had dropped that plan quickly. Despite his efforts, Madeline was along for the mission and he could do nothing about it.
He rose and removed his coveralls. Reclaiming his socks from the floor, he shoved the lot down the laundry chute. Then he followed them with his black uniform shirt. Barefoot and clad only in his regulation blues, he padded wearily to the lav. He used the head and then ran hot water to wash his face. It was long shot, but he hoped he could scrub hard enough to make the week go away.
It didn't work. In the end, his face was clean but it looked just as tired as it had before. Malcolm took his toothbrush from the cabinet. He turned his back on the mirror and leaned against the sink while he cleaned his teeth.
As if the situation with Madeline wasn't bad enough, today was the first time he'd had a chance to watch Hayes's MACOs train. There'd been some hand-to-hand sparring between his security and the commandos, and while his people had acquitted themselves well, he couldn't help noticing whenever one of the MACOs excelled over one of them.
The most notable occasion had come during target practice. Hayes had agreed that each team should be cross-trained on the hand weaponry the other used. There was always a chance those skills would be needed in a fire fight. Everyone had needed a few shots to adjust to the unfamiliar weapons, except one person: Corporal Bowman.
Malcolm finished cleaning his teeth and put away the toothbrush. He filled a glass with cold water and carried it back into the cabin, thinking of the young woman with a mix of awe and-he hated to admit it-envy. His first reaction upon seeing her had been surprise, followed immediately by doubt. Her angelic face, wide brown eyes, and soft fringe of brunette hair were not things he associated with a military commando. But her shooting-that was another matter entirely. She was a natural with any hand weapon she held. She seemed to have an instinct that allowed her compensate almost instantly for any particle shift or beam drift. It was uncanny.
Setting the water glass on the nightstand, he pulled back the covers on his side of the bunk and sat down. He thought back to that morning's exercises. He'd handed Hayes and Kemper phase pistols with blank charges, and then went on to tell the assembled MACOs what they needed to know as he demonstrated with a third. Once he was done speaking, he activated a holographic target and the two ranking MACOs took a turn with the weapons before passing them along to the next person.
Malcolm had been mildly surprised when Hayes immediately handed his phase pistol to Corporal Bowman. When she hit the target accurately every time, his surprise grew to admiration.
Hayes had smiled at him. "Helluva sniper, isn't she?" he'd said, his tone proud. Malcolm thought he detected a hint of challenge in it, but refused to take the bait.
"She certainly is," he'd agreed, silently wishing one of his own personnel had done as well with a MACO rifle. None of them had done badly by any stretch, but no one could match Bowman's precision-not even Ryan, the other MACO sharpshooter. She would be a definite asset on this mission. He only wished she were one of his.
Malcolm turned the light down low. He didn't know when Trip would come in, if he came in at all that night, but he always left enough light for the other man to find his way around the cabin. It was Malcolm's way of saying without saying, "Welcome home. I'm here."
Finally he changed out of his skivvies and into pajamas. He sat down on the bunk and once again pulled a foot up onto his lap and began to massage it.
Trip entered sickbay with a tired, heavy tread. He was worn out, but knew that sleep wouldn't come easily, and when it did it would eventually be interrupted by nightmares. He couldn't handle it much longer. If Phlox couldn't give him something to really knock him out, he didn't know how many more nights he could stand waking up screaming Lizzie's name.
"Hey, Doc," he said wearily.
Phlox looked up from his desk and returned the greeting with a bit more enthusiasm. "Good evening, Commander."
"You gotta give me something to help me sleep tonight, Doc," Trip went on without preamble.
"I can give you the same thing as last night, but I don't recommend it."
"Then give me something stronger."
Phlox shook his head deprecatingly. "Now, now. I've told you before that these sleep-aids aren't a long-term solution."
"I don't want long-term," argued Trip, although as tired as he was his words lacked vehemence. "I just want one night at a time."
"Hm, yes. If it were only one night, I'd believe you. However-" Phlox continued before Trip could argue further, "-I will give you something that should help." He crossed sickbay to a cabinet where he found a hypospray and the drugs he sought. "Have you spoken with Doctor Douglas yet?" he asked as he fitted the ampoule to the hypo.
"No," answered Trip flatly. It was a discussion he'd had with the Denobulan several times since the Xindi attack. "I thought we'd beaten this particular horse to death by now."
Phlox turned to him, confused. "I beg your pardon?"
Trip shook his head. "Never mind. I'll talk to Douglas when I'm ready to talk to Douglas." If I'm ever ready, he added silently to himself.
"Very well." Phlox approached the engineer and Trip automatically tilted his head to one side. The doctor injected him and then stepped away once more. "You'd best head to your cabin quickly. This sedative is quite strong." It was true, but it wasn't the whole truth. He'd given Trip enough to help him relax, but it wasn't enough to put a full grown adult to sleep.
"Thanks, Doc," sighed Trip. "G'night." He turned to go.
"Good night, Commander," Phlox called after him as he departed.
Once the door closed completely, Phlox opened a comm line. "Sickbay to Lieutenant Reed."
There was a short pause before Malcolm replied. "Reed here. What is it, Doctor?"
"Commander Tucker is headed your way. I've given him a sedative as he asked, but it be more effective if it's combined with a little massage therapy."
"Understood. Reed out."
Phlox smiled and returned to his work.
Malcolm sat once more on the edge of the bed. It was where he'd been when Phlox hailed him; it made sense to return to it now. He pulled his right foot onto his lap, and began to rub at the base of his toes. He didn't know if it really was helping his ears and eyes as the reflexology charts indicated, but it certainly made his toes feel better.
That was how Trip found him.
Malcolm looked up. "Hi," he said neutrally. The last thing he needed was to do or say something to make Trip defensive, and these days it was impossible to predict what would send the engineer off.
"Hey," was Trip's equally neutral reply. He crossed the room to the closet and silently changed out of his dirty uniform and into clean pajamas. Malcolm watched him surreptitiously, trying to gauge his mood. He looked down at his foot again as Trip walked to the lav and went inside, shutting the door behind him. It didn't escape Malcolm's keen eyes that he was rubbing at one shoulder as he went.
Quickly, Malcolm grabbed the datapad that sat on the night stand. He turned it on and checked the reflexology chart on its screen. Right, he thought as he shut it off and put it back down. Then he returned to massaging his foot, waiting for Trip to emerge.
When he did, Malcolm said nothing. Trip walked around the end of the bunk to the other side, glancing briefly at Malcolm as he passed. "Your foot hurt or something?" he asked without real interest.
Malcolm couldn't have hoped for such an ideal opening. He leapt at it. "Not really."
"Then why're you rubbin' it?" Trip pulled back the covers and sat down.
"My back was hurting."
It was enough to pique Trip's curiosity. He actually turned to look at Malcolm directly. "Huh?"
"Phlox recommended some foot reflexology." He didn't add that the doctor had actually recommended it for Trip. "It's awkward trying to massage your own back."
Trip had unconsciously been doing just that, reaching one arm over the opposite shoulder. He stopped and let his arm fall into his lap. "I suppose so."
"I could do the same for you," suggested Malcolm.
"I don't know. Phlox gave me something to sleep. Said it'd work pretty quick. I should just go to bed." He laid down on his side, his back to Malcolm.
"I could rub your feet while you lay there. It might help."
Trip didn't turn around. He pulled the blanket up to his neck, trying to hide the fact that he was still trying to rub the knot from his shoulder. "I don't think so."
Malcolm noticed and shook his head at his lover's stubbornness. He tried to sound matter-of-fact, almost indifferent in his reply. "Okay. It's helped me sleep, but if you're not interested then never mind."
There was a short silence, and then Trip's voice came muffled through the near darkness. "Do I have to do anything?"
Malcolm allowed himself a small smile of victory. "Just lie on you back and relax."
"Okay." Trip rolled onto his back, and immediately Malcolm rose and moved to the end of the bed. He untucked the covers enough to get to the engineer's feet.
"Let me know if you get cold."
"Mmm," was Trip's mumbled reply, already drowsy from the effects of Phlox's sedative.
Malcolm sat down and rested Trip's feet on his lap. He began to massage them, using his strong fingers and thumbs to rub the balls and tops at the same time. He heard Trip give a tired, and he thought maybe even contented, sigh. He continued his ministrations, moving further up the tops of Trip's feet. This time he definitely heard a relieved moan from the half-asleep man. Malcolm smiled and continued to massage until he could hear Trip's deep and even breathing.
Satisfied with the evening's accomplishment, Malcolm smiled as he tucked the covers back around his lover's feet. He stood, but before returning to his own side of the bunk he dared to lean close over Trip's cheek and whisper in his ear, "Sweet dreams."
He turned out the light climbed into bed. It was the first time in weeks that both men slept undisturbed through the night.
Young entered the armory and looked around. Not seeing the person he sought, he went instead to crewman Martinez. "Afternoon, Juliana," he said.
"Buonas tardes, Ensign," she replied.
"Is the Lieutenant around?"
"In his little office." Martinez frowned and lowered her voice. "I liked it better when he used it for storage."
Young chuckled. "I agree. Thanks for the tip." He headed to the small door that hid Reed's office and rang the chime. The door opened, and Reed looked up at him from the desk.
"Ensign," he said. "What can I do for you?"
Young entered the cramped space, deciding he'd definitely preferred it when Reed conducted armory business in the armory itself. The office was more of an afterthought than an actual room, in his opinion. "I have the training schedules you asked for, sir." He handed Reed a datapad. "I used the personnel files to make up the MACO and armory teams so that as we could work with as many permutations as possible. Matching people with different skills, and so forth, since we have no way of knowing exactly what we'll be facing and who will be available at what times once we find the Xindi."
"Thank you, Ensign," Reed said. "Have you given a copy to Major Hayes?"
"I have one for him here." Young patted a pocket.
"Good. See that he gets it as soon as possible. I want to go over it with him once I receive the training simulation scenarios from Ensign Cormack and Sergeant Kemper."
"You're free to go."
Young turned to leave, but Reed stopped him again briefly.
Young turned back "Yes, sir?"
A pleased and proud expression tugged at Young's face, but he kept his composure. "Yes, sir."
Jon and Trip sat at the table in the Captain's Mess, a half-empty bottle of Kentucky Bourbon between them. It had become something of a ritual with them since leaving Earth. They met for drinks late in the evening once a week. It wasn't always the same evening or even the same hour, but it happened once in every seven-day span. This week it happened to be a Thursday.
Neither Trip nor Jon had spoken for several minutes, each man caught up in his own private thoughts. Finally, Trip broke the silence in a quiet, contemplative voice.
"My mom makes the best pecan pie in the world. Maybe even in the whole solar system."
Jon nodded, but said nothing. Trip went on. It was almost as if he were talking to himself.
"It's been my favorite thing to eat ever since I had the teeth to chew it. I remember when I was a kid, I could tell before I even walked in the door after school when she'd baked one. It wasn't until I was twenty, or maybe even twenty-two, that I found out her secret ingredient." He swirled the bourbon once more and tossed it back in a single swallow. Then he reached out and poured another measure.
Jon looked over at him. "What was it?" he asked, reaching his own empty glass towards his old friend.
"This," Trip replied, gesturing with the bottle before pouring Jon another drink. "A shot or a shot-and-a-half, depending on her mood, went into every pecan pie my mom's ever made." Trip set the bottle back down on the table, and went on. "She'd serve up a big piece with a big pile of sweet whipped cream on top." A ghost of a smile turned up the corner of his lips, but his eyes were sad.
Jon smiled at Trip's obviously fond, if melancholy, memory. "I'd love to try it sometime."
"You'll think you've died and gone to heaven."
Both men fell silent once more.
It wasn't long before Jon's thoughts inevitably turned to history. Ironically, with the future of the world at stake, he'd found that reading history helped him remain focused on his goal. His studies so far had taken him back to the Polynesian explorers who departed from Indonesia to settle Easter Island, Hawaii, New Zealand, and many more mid-Pacific islands along the way. Their first trips had been only tens of miles, but the distances between Pacific islands widened as they went eastward. What had gone on in their minds as they traveled those distances in their double hull dugout canoes? Certainly they were experts at navigating the sea, but how did they know how to find the islands that were so small in comparison with the wide Pacific Ocean? How did they know those islands even existed? Was there evidence that had since been lost? Or was it simply the need to expand and colonize, to find new homes for a growing people? Or was is just faith?
He wanted to ask what Trip thought. He wanted to know if his old friend had the same doubts he did about finding the Xindi. They were acting on the word of a temporal operative whose allegiances and agenda were unknown. They were heading into a region of space insulated from the rest of the galaxy by a thick cloud, and from which the only report they'd ever received was video footage of Vulcans gone mad. Put in those terms, Starfleet was equally mad to think Enterprise would ever find what it sought.
Jon sipped his bourbon, taking the moment to surreptitiously observe his friend. The grim and shadowed expression on Trip's face was enough to keep Jon silent. He could have his doubts, but for Trip's sake he couldn't voice them. He set down his drink and turned his gaze to the stars.
Trip stared down into the burnished golden liquid in his glass. He swirled it around, watched it catch the light, inhaled the heady aroma that rose from it. He wondered if the liquor made the light seem warmer, or if it was the other way around. His thoughts and feelings spun like the bourbon, and he wished the liquor or the light would warm him, too. He took a swallow, but the burn of it as it traveled down his throat was too brief, too transitory to thaw him out completely.
But it must have had some effect, because he finally felt brave enough to voice a question that had been plaguing him for some time.
"Am I a bad person?"
Jon was yanked quickly from his historical ponderings. He thought he couldn't have heard Trip's question correctly; the bourbon must have made his hearing fuzzy. "What?"
Trip looked at him, his blue eyes meeting Jon's green ones with an intensity the older man found painful.
"Am I a bad person?" Trip repeated. "I need to know."
Jon wondered if he expected an easy answer, or if he even wanted one. "No." It was the truest answer Jon had, if not the deepest.
Trip was silent for a moment, thinking it over. "How do you know?"
This question, at least, wasn't a surprise to Jon. On some level he'd known his simple answer wouldn't satisfy his old friend. "I know you," he said, after a pause. "I've known you for a long time. You're not perfect." Trip gave an amused snort, which made Jon smile. He went on. "But you're kind. You care. And I don't think I know anyone who feels as much as you do."
Trip's amusement faded abruptly. "Not lately. I can't feel much but angry these days."
Jon didn't reply. He sipped his drink as he thought. He couldn't say "I know how you feel" because he didn't. He couldn't. As angry as he was since the Xindi attack, he expected it was nothing compared to what Trip was going through. Then he had another idea. "What about Malcolm?" He didn't know the armory officer's history, but he'd long suspected hidden-or more likely buried-depths of hurt in the man. It would explain a great deal.
"What about Malcolm?" echoed Trip, puzzled.
"Have you talked to him?"
Trip looked down into his glass, now deliberately avoiding the gaze he'd sought earlier. He lifted the drink to the light, and then swallowed it all at once. When he'd regained his breath, he said, "Not really. Not since the fight we had."
This was news to Jon. He'd been so absorbed in his own problems, the problems of the mission and of Earth, that he had somehow missed this bit of news. "What happened?"
Trip shook his head. "I yelled at him. He was just trying to help, and I practically bit his head off."
"You know he rubbed my feet for me the other night?"
It was obviously a rhetorical question, so Jon said nothing.
"I was so tired, I just let him do it." He looked up once more. "Best I've slept since you know."
"Mm-hm." Jon sipped at his drink again, waiting.
There was another thoughtful silence, broken yet again by Trip.
"I need to apologize." With deliberation, he set his empty glass on the table. He stood.
Jon, too, set down his glass. "Here." He took the bottle from the table and held it out. "Sometimes a peace offering helps."
Trip almost chuckled as he took the bottle. "Thanks."
He left the Captain's Mess and headed towards his cabin. It was earlier than he usually came back from his evenings with Jon. He wondered if this time Malcolm would be awake.
Trip reached his quarters and went inside. Malcolm was there, dressed in his pajamas and seated at the computer.
"Hey," said Trip.
"Hi," replied Malcolm. Then he broke from their usual monosyllabic script. "You're back early."
"Yeah." Trip remained by the door. Now that he was there, he didn't know how to begin.
Malcolm noticed the bottle, half-hidden where it hung from Trip's hand. He nodded towards it. "What's that?"
Trip looked down almost as if he'd forgotten what he carried. "It's " He looked at Malcolm again. "It's a peace offering." He held it out, a slightly embarrassed look crossing his face. "There's not a lot left, but maybe you'd share it with me?"
Malcolm considered, then stood and moved away from the desk. "I'll get glasses." He went into the lav, took two clean glasses from the cabinet, and returned to the cabin. He set them on the desk.
Trip didn't even have to open the bourbon. The cap had been left behind in the Captain's Mess. He poured out two measures. It was just enough to empty the bottle. He set it aside and picked up the drinks, handing one to Malcolm.
"Thank you," Malcolm said evenly. No hint of what he might be thinking came through in his voice, and his expression was neutral.
Trip took a deep breath, let it out. "I owe you an apology." He met Malcolm's intense gaze with his own. "I shouldn't've yelled at you about " He couldn't quite finish the thought, so he tried another way of saying what needed to be said. "You were trying to help, and I I was the biggest jerk I could possibly be. I'm sorry."
Malcolm nodded once, his heart suddenly warmer than it had been in weeks. It wasn't the cathartic breakthrough he wished for, but it was a step forward. A large step forward.
He raised his glass, and said simply, "Apology accepted."
A small, relieved smile broke Trip's worried expression. He raised his glass to his lover's and they clinked them together gently.
Malcolm sipped the clear amber liquor, and smiled at the taste. "That's familiar."
Trip's smile spread. "Yeah. I thought you might recognize it."
"Mm," Malcolm agreed. "These are much nicer surroundings, though. Much warmer."
"Yeah," confirmed Trip with a nod. "Lots warmer."
"At the risk of sounding like a kid on a family car trip," Stephanie began over the foam of her morning latté, "how much longer is it supposed to take for us to reach the Expanse?"
"Another three weeks, give or take a few days-or another attack by Klingons," Bonnie answered.
The couple sat in companionable silence, sipping coffee and eating breakfast.
"So, your new bunkmate seems okay-despite her initial perkiness," said Bonnie with a teasing smile.
Stephanie replied dourly, "There's nothing 'initial' about it. Maggie's a naturally perky person." She took a cleansing swallow of latté and adjusted her attitude. "Still, it could be worse. She could be perky while she's working as well as when she's off duty."
"I'd think it'd be hard to be perky while you're shooting at people."
"If anyone could do it, it would be her. Fortunately she's not." She nibbled thoughtfully at a pumpkin muffin. "Actually, it's a little creepy."
Bonnie looked at her, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"It's almost like she's a different person when she's working. She's cool, professional. She's a helluva sniper," Stephanie added with admiration, unknowingly echoing words spoken by Hayes at the first training session. "And then when she's done-like when the training session is over, or whatever-she's suddenly this cute, perky person again. All smiling and cherubic. It's disturbing."
"I can see how it would be." Bonnie took a bite of scrambled eggs as she thought it over. "There's nothing weird in her psych file is there?"
"I have no idea. I don't think there could be, eh?"
Bonnie shrugged and sipped her decaf. "You never know. MACO regs may be different from Starfleet."
Stephanie shook her head. "Even so, I can't imagine Starfleet would let anyone on this mission who was mentally unstable."
"I don't know." Bonnie smiled teasingly. "They let you on it."
Stephanie returned the smile with matching one of her own. "You're too quick for me," she replied dryly. "I need more coffee." She rose. "You need anything?"
Stephanie returned shortly with a second latté.
"Are we still on for next movie night?" Bonnie asked as the blonde sat down again.
Stephanie nodded noncommittally. "We're on, but Do you really want to see the movie they're running?"
Bonnie shrugged and took a bite of scrambled eggs. "I don't have to. Why?"
"I'd kind of like a quiet night in. We could still watch a movie, but maybe just the two of us. What do you think?"
"I like that idea a lot. It's just-" Bonnie looked at her lover, doubtful and hopeful at the same time. "Is your bunkmate going out that evening?"
Stephanie's face fell a little. "I don't know. I kind of assumed Mae was going to the movie with Ari."
Bonnie shrugged. "Maybe. I don't know. I'll find out. But in case, why don't you ask Maggie what she's doing, too."
"I will. Maybe we'll get lucky."
"Maybe." There were many levels of possibility in that one word, and Bonnie backed it up with a sultry smile.
Stephanie couldn't help but grin back. "Sounds fun, and it's been way too long since we've had serious fun."
They continued their breakfast. Stephanie slowly savored her latté and nibbled at her muffin. As if the caffeine had only just caused her to notice their usual mealtime companion was missing, she asked, "So where is Mae this morning, anyway? Do you know?"
"She said she had something to do before Alpha-shift, so she was just going to grab something on the go."
"Huh. Okay." They fell silent again, and Stephanie grew thoughtful. "Has she seemed okay to you lately?"
Bonnie thought about it. "I guess so. It's hard to say. We've all been so busy, you know? I've hardly seen her."
"Yeah." Another brief silence fell. "I wonder what was so urgent that she would skip coffee?"
"I don't know."
Ian took one look at his bunkmate as he entered the cabin, and he knew something was up.
"What happened to you?" he asked Ari.
The med-tech's hair was mussed and his uniform was rumpled. He wore a slightly stunned, but not upset, expression, and there was an odd gleam in his brown eyes.
"Huh?" grunted Ari in surprised inarticulateness. He turned his bewildered look on his bunkmate.
Ian had the morning off, but for some odd reason he hadn't felt like sleeping in. Now he was glad he'd risen when his friend's alarm had chimed. He had a feeling the morning would be more interesting than he could have anticipated. "What happened to you?" Ian repeated distinctly, setting aside the datapad he was working on. "I thought you were on duty this morning."
"I ran into Mae."
Ian smirked. He had a guess at what had happened, but decided to let his friend tell the story himself. "Oh?"
Ari looked at him, a deeply thoughtful expression on his face. It wasn't the reaction Ian expected; he was curious where it would lead. "I don't know," Ari answered at last.
Ian sat up straighter on his bunk and swung his legs over the side. "What do you mean? What happened?"
Ari sat next to him. "She was in a really good mood. She said Commander Tucker's been better this week. 'Not such a prick' were her exact words, actually."
"Okay." Ian couldn't see the connection, but he was willing to wait it out.
Ari looked at him questioningly. "Remember what happened at the wedding reception?"
Ian nodded. He hadn't been there and Ari hadn't shared the details, but he knew essentially what had gone down between Ari and Mae out back of the 602 Club. "Sure."
"She ambushed me."
Ari shook his head. "Just now. Between sections twelve and thirteen. In a storage locker."
Ian couldn't hide his admiration. "Right on, Ari." He grinned.
"I guess. It was exciting, I admit." He gave his bunkmate a half-embarrassed, half-smug smile. "Only "
"Only what? What I wouldn't give to have some sexy someone ambush me in storeroom."
Ari's expression grew sardonic. "I'd think you'd be more likely to be doing the ambushing."
"You've never-" Ian cut himself off. "Never mind. So what were you gonna say?"
Once again Ari became a bit bewildered and distracted. "Say?"
"It was exciting, only ?"
"Oh. Only, it was weird, too."
Ian's patience was thinning, but he held onto it. "Define weird."
Ari thought hard. "Frantic, but dispassionate."
"Huh." Ian thought about it. "Yeah. That's definitely weird."
"Yeah. I need to change." Ari stood up and pulled off his boots so he could undress.
While he did, Ian surreptitiously checked where he'd been sitting to see if there was a wet spot left behind. He couldn't imagine his bunkmate being that untidy, even where frantic sex was concerned, but it never hurt to be sure. Fortunately all was clean. He looked up as Ari tossed his coveralls down the laundry chute, took fresh underwear from his locker, and went into the lav. Okay, so not "all", he thought, unable to hide his amusement. Luckily, with Ari in the other room, he didn't have to. He chuckled quietly to himself, but then he grew pensive. "Frantic, but dispassionate." What the hell does that mean?
In the lav, Ari was wondering the same thing as he cleaned himself up with warm water and a washcloth. His damp blue briefs lay on the floor where he'd dropped them. He looked down at them in puzzlement mixed with pleasure. Mae's actions ever since that night in San Francisco had been unusual to put it mildly. Today wasn't the first time she'd cornered him unexpectedly in one of Enterprise's corridors. However it was the first time since leaving Earth that she'd taken the situation so far. He wouldn't have minded so much-he wasn't opposed to spontaneous and clandestine meetings, per se-if only he could figure out what was really going on.
He looked at his reflection in the mirror over the sink. "Face it," he said quietly. "You need to ask her." Then he glanced down at his body, naked from the waist down except for his socks. "But first you need to get dressed and get to work."
The five MACOs sat casually around Corporals Ryan and Romero's small cabin. Romero was cross-legged on his own bunk and Bowman sat at its foot, her back to the bulkhead. Above them on the upper bunk, Ryan lay on his stomach, resting his weight on one bent arm and dangling a nearly empty beer bottle from his other hand. Private Money managed to score the only chair in the room, consigning Palmer to the floor.
Ryan tipped back the last of his beer and caught Palmer's eye. Palmer nodded, and Ryan tossed him the empty. The young private took another longneck bottle from a cooler that nestled under the desk, passed it to Romero, who handed it up to his bunkmate.
"So where's Cole tonight?" Bowman asked the room at large. She'd expected the other corporal since she'd been there the last time they got together to dish about the security fleeters.
"Are you kidding?" Money replied. "They're running one of those old Hollywood movie musicals. It's a cold day in hell before she passes up one of those."
"Oh. I knew it was movie night, but I didn't know what they were running." Bowman briefly wondered which musical it was, but decided that if it wasn't live theatre it wasn't as good anyway.
"So, what do you guys think about Ensign Young?" Romero asked. The MACOs used these casual beer nights to share their impressions of the Starfleet security team, and having finished with the crewmen the previous gathering now moved on to the officers.
"He's hella good looking," commented Money, tossing back a long swallow of beer to punctuate her point.
Ryan laughed, smirking lewdly. "I think we all know what else you're thinking about him." He wiggled his eyebrows.
Money shot him a challenging look. "Jealous?" She licked the rim of the bottle enticingly.
Her teasing was effective, and Ryan had no qualms letting everyone know it. He rolled onto his back and moaned, milking the moment. Then he sat up enough to look at Money. "You're evil, Private," he accused her only half-jokingly.
"Nah," she contradicted. "You're just an easy target, Corporal."
Everyone laughed at that, including Ryan.
"So, come on." Romero tried to pull the conversation back on track. "What else?"
"Uptight," Palmer commented. He scrubbed his dark crew-cut thoughtfully with the hand not holding his beer-a habitual gesture. "He's got a serious stick up his ass, if you ask me."
"He's got something up his ass," put in Ryan, always ready with an opinion. Then he added crudely, "Or else he wants something up his ass."
Bowman gave a disgusted snort and leaned beyond the foot of the bunk to look up at the fair-haired fellow sniper on the bunk above. "Do you have to make a sexual innuendo out of every single thing someone says?"
"Why? Feeling left out?" he derided.
"You wish." She returned her attention to the rest of the group, deliberately ignoring him. "Young seems okay to me. I heard he had a rough year."
Money set her beer on the desk and pulled the coated elastic band from her hair. "The whole planet had a rough year," she said, as she swept her long black hair up again into a new, tidier ponytail.
"Yeah, but I mean his mom died suddenly last winter, well before the Xindi attacked."
"Oh." Money reclaimed her drink.
"Where'd you hear that?" Romero asked Bowman.
"When you're nice to people, you learn things," she answered simply. She'd finished her drink, but retained the bottle. It kept the others from asking her if she wanted a second one, and she liked having something to keep her hands busy. She tucked a lock of soft brown hair behind her ear and began idly peeling the label from the empty bottle.
Money eyed Romero across the small space of the cabin. "You didn't say what you think of him yet."
Romero shrugged one shoulder. "He's smart. And he's tough. None of you've had to go a round with him in the hand-to-hand training yet. You'll see what I mean. Just wait until you're the one pinned to the mat with his arm across your throat." As if he could sense Ryan's impending rude retort, he glanced up at the underside of his roommate's bunk. "Shut up, Ryan."
Caught with his mouth open, Ryan briefly gaped like a landed fish while everyone else laughed.
Romero looked smug and moved the conversation along once again. "So how about Ensign Cormack?"
Bowman shook her head. "I'm not going there. She's my bunkmate. You can talk about her after I leave."
"Even if it's good?" offered Ryan.
"I know your kind of good," she countered. "I don't want to hear it. Besides, she has a girlfriend."
"All the better," he leered. "I'd pay to watch that."
Bowman dropped her bottle on the bunk and rose. Her jovial manner was suddenly gone, replaced by a stone-cold expression and tone. "So do you want me to kick your ass, or should I ask Cormack to do it personally? Judging by yesterday's training, it won't take her very long."
Before things could get uglier, Romero stood up and put a placating hand on Bowman's arm. He shot Ryan a warning look, but his words were for her. "Hey, chill out. You know Ryan is micrograms short of testosterone poisoning. He can't help being an asshole."
Bowman relaxed, and as quickly as her temper had flared, it faded. She smiled at Romero and rolled her eyes, her expression as much for Ryan's behavior as for her own. "I know. I just forget sometimes." She sat and reclaimed her empty bottle, returned to fiddling with the label.
Romero gave his bunkmate one more warning look before sitting down again at the head of his bunk. "Hey, Palmer, pass me another beer."
"Sure." Palmer traded him a fresh beer for the old one, and then claimed another for himself.
Romero took a swallow and leaned back against the bulkhead. He'd removed his boots long before, and so he pulled his feet up onto the bed, resting his forearms on his bent knees.
"So," began Money, breaking the silence. "No one's mentioned the Lieutenant yet."
"He outranks Major Hayes," said Bowman, a note of caution in her voice.
"So?" Money's tone was slightly defiant.
Ryan tossed in his two cents, which for once weren't loaded with innuendo. "Aren't you going to let us talk about him either? Why don't you just leave so the rest of us can have fun?" He swigged back his beer angrily. His ego still stung from her remark about the previous day's training. He'd faced Cormack in hand-to-hand, and she'd taken him down in short order. He didn't like being reminded.
This time Bowman refused to rise to the bait. She had no intention of letting the others know that half the reason she was stalling her departure was because she was giving Cormack and Fraser some time alone in the cabin. Ryan would undoubtedly have a field day with that bit of information. "Okay," she acquiesced. "I think Lieutenant Reed is okay. He's kind of strict, but he has to be. He's got a lot of responsibility on his shoulders."
Ryan snorted contemptuously. "No more than anyone else on this ship," he argued.
"That's not true."
"He's a jerk," piped up Palmer. "He's like Young, only even more uptight."
"I'd like to see you try and do his job," Romero challenged.
Palmer shook his head, his dark blue eyes sharp despite the beer. "Nah. I'm happy being a grunt. 'Nough responsibility in that for me."
Money gave him a dismissive glance. "You've got no ambition. I'm planning on making Corporal off this mission."
"If you live through it."
Palmer was about to make another retort when Romero, the group's unofficial moderator, intervened. "Cool it, you two." He was beginning to regret having invited this gathering. Everyone seemed more on edge than usual, and the beer was doing nothing to ease their tension. "Maybe we should call it a night," he suggested.
Bowman glanced at the antique watch she always wore on her left wrist. It wasn't even 2030. She wasn't enjoying herself tonight as she had on previous occasions, but she was determined to stay out until 2100 as she'd promised her bunkmate she would. If Romero wanted them all to clear out, though, she wasn't going to impose. She could find something to do to pass the remaining time. "That's a good idea," she said, rising from the bunk. She finally relinquished her empty beer bottle to Palmer, who disposed of it with the others.
"Yeah, it's late," agreed Money. Finishing her drink, she too handed over her empty.
"Next time, I'm not the trash man," muttered Palmer, not really put out, but feeling the desire to complain a little. Instead of downing his own beer, he rose and took it with him as he followed the two women to the door.
Good-nights were exchanged, and the cabin was returned to its two inhabitants. Romero took a thoughtful pull on his beer, assessing the evening. His musings were rudely interrupted by a loud belch from Ryan. "Dude!" he protested.
Ryan said nothing, but hung his head over the edge of the bunk to look at the other man. He grinned. "Good one, huh?"
"That's my charm!"
"You have no charm. You're sub-human." For the hundredth time since coming aboard, Romero wondered who he'd pissed off to end up with this lout as his bunkmate. He suspected it was less that and more that he'd been chosen as the least likely to kill Ryan before the mission was over. "I'm going to bed." He didn't bother to finish his beer, but instead rose and headed with it to the lav with the intention of pouring the rest of it down the drain.
"You're not throwing that out, are you?" Ryan asked, suddenly concerned.
"I am," Romero replied, not looking back.
"No!" Ryan sat up, but he was too slow to stop him emptying the longneck into the sink. "What a waste," he sighed, and drowned his sorrow with more of his own beer.
Romero glanced up at his bunkmate with repugnance. "I was just thinking the same thing."
Ari rang the chime to Mae and Bonnie's cabin. He waited, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. It was absurd, but somehow he couldn't put off the feeling of awkwardness that had descended on him. It felt like the first time he'd asked her on a date.
The door opened suddenly, and he took an involuntary half-step backwards in surprise. "Hi," he said.
"Hi," replied Mae. "What's going on?"
"I wondered if you might want to have dinner with me?"
"Now. We haven't really seen much of each other lately." At Mae's amused look, his awkwardness grew. "I mean, that way, yeah, not-" He took a breath and collected his suddenly frayed thoughts. "We haven't really talked much lately."
It was as if shutters closed behind Mae's eyes. She became coy, but there was a distance to it. "You'd rather we talk when we run into each other?"
Her abrupt change of demeanor wasn't lost on Ari. It had taken a while, but he'd noticed over the past few weeks that something strange was going on with her. Her habit of stealing him away for brief and random trysts in various storage closest or jefferies tubes was his biggest clue. It was completely unlike her, but it had somehow become her favorite game. "I'd rather we talk to each other sometimes, yeah," he answered. "We haven't really talked in I don't know how long. Maybe since we left Earth?" His dark eyes met hers and he went on, a hint of challenge in his tone. "Maybe even before that."
Mae shrugged nonchalantly. "We've been really busy. We've barely seen each other outside of our little meetings." She casually unzipped the collar of her uniform a few centimeters.
Ari refused to let her distract him. "Yeah, I know. That's why I thought we could get some dinner and talk."
"Are you sure you're only hungry for food?" she asked coquettishly. She leaned a shoulder on the door frame and angled her body so he could see past her into the room. "Bonnie's not here." She lowered her voice. "Just think. We'd have an actual bed this time."
"No." He was resolute. "What are you doing?" he asked, a concerned frown furrowing his brow.
"I'm inviting you in."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it. I'm not stupid, but I'm not a mind-reader, either." Not for the first time he wished they'd managed to bring back some of the strange magnetic ore he and Liz had accidentally discovered. It had enhanced people's normally limited psychic facilities. Judging from the odd look that flashed across Mae's face, he wondered if she felt the same. It wasn't worth asking; they didn't have the ore. Ari went on determinedly. "I know something's wrong, but I can't fix it unless you tell me what it is."
"I don't know what you mean," Mae lied.
"Yes, you do." He looked at her, anxious, confused, and a little angry. "What's gotten into you?"
She smiled slyly. "Nothing yet."
That was the breaking point. "Right. Never mind then. I'll see you later." Ari turned to go.
Mae gave it one more try. "I have just the place in mind. Tomorrow, about 1000 hours."
Ari paused and looked back over his shoulder at her. "I don't think so. When you want to talk to me, you obviously know how to find me. See you."
Mae watched him go. Her heart raced and she opened her mouth to call him back. Somehow she couldn't bring herself to do it. I'm nuts, she thought as he turned a corner and disappeared from view. She stepped back into her cabin and let the door shut. Crossing to her bunk, she almost collapsed as she sat down on it. I'm totally nuts.
Ari had come to her and stood there, offering the one thing she knew she really needed. And rather than doing the smart thing and talking to him, she'd tried to seduce him. She didn't know if she felt better or worse about it knowing that she'd failed. She shook her head and a near hysterical laugh escaped her before she burst into spontaneous tears.
She sat there, alternately laughing and crying, and all the time thinking, I've gone completely insane.
Trip and Malcolm sat on neighboring exercise bikes, pedaling and talking. It felt good to Malcolm to be able to spend some recreational time with his partner. Things were still rough between them at times, but since Trip's apology they had at least been able to regain some of the closeness they'd shared before the attack.
"I spoke with Hoshi this morning," Malcolm said.
"Yeah? What about?" asked Trip.
"We're expected to reach the thermobaric cloud that surrounds the Delphic Expanse in just two more days. We won't be able to communicate with Earth after that without some of what she called 'major technical gymnastics'."
"I've got a comm buoy ready to drop inside the cloud. It should get us through to Starfleet Command."
"Can you be sure of that? I mean, we don't know the exact depth of it."
Trip shrugged one shoulder. "We know the approximate depth and the composition based on what the Vulcans learned. It's enough."
Malcolm only nodded in agreement. Trip was the engineer, after all. If he said it would work, Malcolm had faith that it would.
"So how're the MACOs working out so far?"
This time Malcolm shrugged. "They're very competent."
"I think that's called 'damning with faint praise.'"
"No," contradicted Malcolm. "That would be if I said they were very adequate."
Trip chuckled. "How can anyone be very adequate?"
"I'd hate to find out." His smirk was a silent echo of his lover's laughter.
"Hey," Trip changed the subject. He didn't look at Malcolm as he spoke. "Can I ask you a favor?"
"Of course. What?"
"Rub my feet again tonight? I've gotta admit, I'm kind of sick of Phlox's drugs, and I think that reflexology thing helps me sleep."
"Of course," Malcolm said again. He was happy to do whatever he could to help Trip.
Trip turned a bright and grateful smile on Malcolm that the older man instinctively mirrored. "Thanks," said Trip.
"Any time," answered Malcolm, and meant it.
Six hours had passed since Enterprise entered the thermobaric cloud layer that surrounded the Delphic Expanse. Lawless intently monitored the intake manifolds. She hoped they'd be through soon; the systems were having a hard time filtering the cloud's particles.
"Comm buoy away, Commander," announced Snider from her station at the aft end of Engineering.
Lawless glanced up from her station, and noticed everyone else watching, too.
"All right. I'm sending a test signal through to Starfleet Command," Tucker replied from yet another station. He transmitted the standard Starfleet test pattern, and everyone in Engineering waited tensely for a response.
When the confirmation response came through, the department breathed a collective sigh of relief. Tucker even smiled slightly. "All right. I'll be on the Bridge if you need me." He headed out to give Archer the good news personally.
Everything ran smoothly for about six minutes. Then weapons fire rocked the ship. The console in front of Snider sparked and she leapt back instinctively.
"We've increased speed to full impulse!" exclaimed Lawless, fighting to keep the intake manifolds from clogging up with the sudden increase in particulates.
Snider accessed the sensors. "We're under attack from three Klingon vessels!" Then she promptly amended her statement. "Make that one. Two of them have broken off pursuit."
Without warning, another volley of weapon fire hit. Explosions flared all around Engineering. At the warp reactor control, Ensign Almack cried out as he was flung back by a sudden flare. A split second later, a blast on the upper level sent crewman Fletcher flying over the catwalk.
"Three antimatter injectors are out!" shouted Hess, rushing to the warp engine console to check on both Almack and the engine. He nodded that he was all right, and she confirmed that they were in no immediate danger of an antimatter cascade or a containment failure.
Snider opened a line to sickbay. "Medical emergency in Engineering!" Without waiting for a reply, she rushed to the unmoving Fletcher. At the same moment, crewman Rostov took over her post.
Blasts continued to shake the ship, and then suddenly the Captain's voice came over the comm. The message was simple.
"Captain Archer to all hands, hold on."
Everyone grabbed hold of anything secure. Snider did her best to brace the unconscious Fletcher while also keeping herself from being tossed across the room. Inertial dampeners could only do so much. G-forces increased as the ship banked sharply to starboard, forcing everyone to fight to keep upright. Then they were pressed into the deckplating as Enterprise's bow pitched upward and over like looping rollercoaster car.
Thirty eternal seconds ticked past. Then the ship shook once again, but more gently.
"Shockwave," Rostov called out, relaying the data from the ship's sensors. "The Klingon vessel's been destroyed."
Hess checked the systems to see if they'd lost any more antimatter injectors. She gave a small, satisfied sigh. "Remaining injectors are intact."
The aft doors opened and Phlox rushed in with Ensign Cohn beside him.
"Over here!" Snider called to them. Phlox immediately examined the fallen crewman while Cohn checked on Ensign Almack.
"We're out of the cloud layer," announced Lawless. It would take time to clear the intake manifolds, but at least they were no long taking in new debris.
Hess spoke up, making herself heard throughout the engine room. "All right, people. I want full diagnostics on every system. When Commander Tucker gets down here, he'll want a report. Let's not disappoint him."
Cohn helped Almack to his feet, and then knelt beside Phlox just as Fletcher began to regain consciousness. "How is he?"
"He'll be all right," Phlox replied, pocketing his medical scanner. "Hail sickbay to send a gurney."
"Right." Cohn caught sight of Lawless as he rose, but Mae deliberately avoided his eye. This isn't the time, anyway, he told himself firmly. But he couldn't help frowning as he found the nearest comm panel and relayed Phlox's order.
"I'll be right there, Ensign," Northfield confirmed through the comm, and then closed the line. She looked over her shoulder at Cutler. "Ma'am? They need assistance in Engineering."
Cutler looked around sickbay. Already people with minor injuries were trickling in, but so far the flow was light. Maybe they'd be lucky and it would stay that way. She could always call for back-up if it got out of hand before Phlox and the others returned. "Go."
"Yes, ma'am." Northfield gathered what she needed and left. Fortunately an anti-grav gurney only required one handler when unoccupied.
Cutler began triage on the injured crewmembers, organizing them by severity of their injuries. There were two with second degree burns from sparking consoles. A science crewman hobbled in on a sprained ankle. Cutler decided she could wait, and handed her an icepack in the meantime.
As Cutler treated the second of the burn victims, the door slid open, and Madeline Reed entered. She looked a bit dazed and held a bloody towel to her forehead. Cutler quickly finished with the man she was helping and sent him and his fellow on their way. She hurried over to the negotiator, guiding the dazed woman to a biobed.
"Let me see," Cutler said, gently moving the towel away.
Madeline didn't fight her. "I'm afraid I wasn't quick enough when Captain Archer said to hold on," she explained almost apologetically. In fact, she'd been careless. Her previous space-faring experience was limited to smaller, slower vessels. There'd never been an occasion where a ship moved quicker than the inertial dampeners could compensate. She realized too late that Archer's warning was a practical one. She couldn't help but wonder if Malcolm hadn't been right-that she shouldn't be out here, that she was in over her head.
Cutler asked the usual questions as she quickly and efficiently cleaned and bandaged Madeline's wound. "Can you tell me your full name?"
Madeline had to focus, but she answered each question correctly. "Madeline Jane Reed."
"Where are you?"
"The sickbay of Enterprise."
"The Captain's name is?"
"Archer. Jonathan Archer."
Cutler finished up. "Don't worry. It looks worse than it is," she assured the shaken negotiator.
Madeline smiled wanly. "Good." She was still a bit woozy, but her mind was clear enough to decide that she wouldn't be so careless and, she had to admit, overconfident in the future. It's a sharp learning curve, but I learn quickly.
"Still hurting?" Cutler asked.
Cutler gave Madeline a hypo for the pain, and then a concerned look for her still slightly stunned expression. She pulled a penlight from her pocket and shone it in the other woman's eyes. "Your pupils are a bit slow to respond," she said as she pocketed the light. "Sit still here until Doctor Phlox comes back, okay?"
"Okay," echoed Madeline.
Cutler went finally to the science crewman with the sprained ankle. As she did, the door opened once more and Cormack entered sickbay, cradling her left arm against her body. Barely two steps behind her was a young, somber-faced security crewman.
Looking up at their entrance, Cutler asked, "What happened?"
Cormack nodded first towards the crewman. "His console flared up on him," she began. "I had a run-in with a ladder and then the floor. Torqued my shoulder, but I don't think it's dislocated this time." Her tone was more disgusted than pained, but her expression belied her calm words.
"You two have a seat. I'll be there in a minute."
Cormack sat on one of the empty biobeds, wincing as she did. The crewman just stood stiffly by the wall, out of the way.
At that moment, Phlox and his entourage returned and the level of organized chaos suddenly skyrocketed. While Phlox and Northfield transferred Fletcher to the medical scanner, Cohn sized up the situation and went to Cormack.
"What happened?" he asked, setting down his med-kit and pulling a small medical scanner from it.
"I was on the ladder in the armory when we did that L-4," she explained. "At least, I'm guessing it was an L-4. It sure as hell felt like one when I hit the deck."
"It doesn't look too bad," Cohn said as he examined the results of the scan. "I'll need to do a proper full scan, though."
"Oh good," replied Cormack in a deliberately off-hand tone. "I wouldn't say no to painkillers, by the way."
Cohn chuckled. "I'll see what I can do."
Across sickbay, Cutler finished treating the science crewman and moved on to the young man who had arrived with Cormack.
He held out his hands. Both had minor burns on them. "My console flared in the attack."
"You're lucky," she told him with a comforting smile. "This doesn't look bad at all. Come on." She lead the way to a biobed. "Sit down." He sat ramrod straight on the edge of the bed; his every cell seemed tense. Cutler cleaned his injured hands and began gently applying dermoline gel to them. His serious expression never changed while she worked. "You're supposed to let go when your console catches on fire," she teased, hoping to help him relax.
"Yes, ma'am," he replied solemnly.
She glanced up from treating his injuries. "You're new on board, aren't you?"
"Yes, ma'am," he said again.
"What's your name?"
"Ferridec. JD Ferridec."
"Is this your first mission outside the system, JD?"
"No, ma'am. I grew up on the ECS La Tuque."
"A boomer, huh? My husband's a boomer." She smiled at him, and was rewarded with a smile in return.
"Ensign Mayweather," Ferridec said.
"That's right. Okay." She stood back and tossed the swab she'd used into the waste bin. "You're going to be fine. Just try not to touch anything for the next half hour or so while the gel does its work. After that, you can return to duty."
"Yes, ma'am. Thank you." He stood and left sickbay.
Cutler looked around. Northfield was finishing up with Fletcher, settling him on his biobed for over-night observation. Cohn guided Cormack to the large medical scanner; Cutler almost chuckled at the dirty look her bunkmate gave the machine while she thought no one was watching. Phlox talked quietly with Madeline as he examined her with a hand-held scanner. Determining that everything was under control, Cutler began to clean up the detritus left from the treatment of the handful of patients.
There was a touch of irony in her tone as she whispered to herself, "Welcome to the Delphic Expanse."