Log Rhythms - Season Three
Madeline wasn't an early riser by nature, but growing up in the Reed household had trained her to wake early whether she liked it or not. She'd resigned herself to it years ago. Even in space where time was entirely arbitrary, her inner clock reset itself to ship's time and woke her regularly right around 0530. When she'd first left home for university, she'd tried to train herself out of the unwanted habit, forcing herself to stay in bed until the time she wanted to get up. Inevitably she would fall asleep after about an hour only to wake up later than she intended and feeling entirely groggy. It took her over a year to discover a better way to make use of the time.
She glanced at the bedside chronometer. Right on time. She rose from her bunk and wrapped her bathrobe over her pajamas. She missed the luxury of a teakettle in her quarters, but understood the reasoning against such amenities on board. Fortunately she'd learned her first morning on Enterprise that the mess hall was quite vacant at this hour.
She used the lav, and then slipped her bare feet into slippers. It was three decks down to the mess hall, but the walk once she reached E-deck was short. In under five minutes, Maddy was back in her cabin with her mug of steaming black tea with just a splash of milk in it.
She set the mug on her desk, sat down, and turned on her computer screen. First she checked on the progress of the Xindi database translation. She and the Captain had studied the data together for several hours and learned a lot. But a full translation would aid her own work immensely. Archer might be able to work with spatial coordinates and ship blueprints, but what she needed was less tangible. The way the Xindi organized their information, what they found to be most important, and how that all broke down into its component parts was what she wanted to understand. It would give her more insight into their culture than anything they'd gotten so far.
Unfortunately the translation wasn't complete. She hadn't really expected it to be. She knew Ensign Sato would continue working on it today, though. Archer had made it a priority. Madeline had spoken to Hoshi briefly before turning in, and Hoshi promised to let her know as soon as the job was done. That had been moments before the comm officer had invited her to a girls' poker night. Maddy had surprised herself by accepting; she knew nothing about poker. She would need to do a bit of research, learn the basics of the game before the get-together. Right now though she had work to do.
She opened her notes from the previous evening. They were short—just the basic items she wanted to expand on later. At the top of the list was Captain Archer. Of particular concern were Archer's actions towards the former prisoner, Orgoth. She sipped her tea, letting the steam warm her cheeks.
Where to begin? She didn't know exactly what had transpired, only what she suspected and what she deduced from Malcolm's expression when he returned to the armory. She'd waited for him there, hoping to learn more, but he wouldn't speak to her. She wasn't too worried. She knew how to get to Malcolm. It wasn't easy, but she had a lifetime of practice at it.
She reviewed her notes again and began to type, sipping her tea at random intervals. An hour passed quickly, and she yawned as she realized the time. Madeline gave her expanded notes a quick skim and decided she was satisfied. She removed her robe and slippers, turned out the light, and climbed back into bed. Within minutes, she was fast asleep. Her alarm would wake her again at 0730.
Romero placed a small mug under the drinks dispenser. "Bica curto, very hot." He'd been doubtful when he first heard that he could order his favorite Portuguese coffee; he couldn't imagine it being as good as the almost painfully strong stuff he'd discovered while stationed in Lisbon. He learned right away that his doubts were unfounded. Claiming his steaming, froth-topped drink, he balanced it on his breakfast tray next to his plate of sausage and egg casserole. Turning, he jumped, a little of his coffee nearly spilling over the rim as he found himself face to face with Hawkins. "Geez!" he exclaimed. "Don't sneak up on me like that, man."
Hawkins chuckled. "Sorry, dude." He placed his glass under the dispenser. "Orange juice, cold," he ordered. He glanced at Romero as he waited for the glass to fill. "Any idea what we're doing today?"
Romero gave a half-shrug. "More drills and training scenarios?" It was a safe guess; it was what they'd done nearly every day since coming aboard.
Hawkins rolled his blue eyes. "Fabulous," he muttered sarcastically. He picked up his drink and the two of them wound through the mess hall to the nearest empty table and sat down.
"What else would you suggest we do?" Romero asked practically. He took a sip of his bica, relishing the strong flavor. Then he dug into his casserole.
"I don't know," replied Hawkins, shaking his head. "I guess I'm just anxious to get out there and accomplish something, you know?"
"I know what you mean." They'd both been on the second team sent to the sphere to recover Enterprise's stolen supplies, but neither commando had found it a particularly fulfilling assignment despite its importance.
"If I'd been on that first team to explore the sphere," Hawkins went on, his thoughts following those of his teammate. "That would have been something."
"Or the team sent to the derelict alien vessel before that," added Romero pointedly.
"Yeah, okay," Hawkins conceded. He had been on that mission, which was more than Romero could say.
At that moment McKenzie and Bowman approached with their breakfast trays. "Hey," said McKenzie. "Mind if we join you?"
"Have a seat," offered Romero, gesturing to the empty chairs. "We were just talking about that alien ship you explored," he continued as the women sat down. His eye caught movement across the room, distracting him momentarily. He immediately refocused on the conversation.
"Ugh," grunted McKenzie, grimacing. She didn't think she'd ever forget the image of those alien corpses floating in the null gravity. "That was something, all right." She took a drink of her cranberry juice and followed it with a bite of granola and yogurt.
Bowman knew all about that mission, and she chose to change the subject. "Stephanie said she ran into you in the gym last night," she said to the other woman.
"Yeah," confirmed McKenzie, happy for the new topic. "She and Ensign Sato were both there. We got chatting over the free weights."
Romero's attention had drifted across the room again, but this brought it forcefully back. "What about?"
"What did you talk about?" he clarified.
McKenzie shrugged. They'd talked about a lot of things. Hoshi had told her about her first real away team mission. That, too, had been to a derelict vessel full of dead aliens. Although each of them had reacted very differently to the circumstances, the two women had bonded over the similar experiences. But McKenzie didn't feel like sharing all that. She took another bite of her breakfast before answering. "Nothing in particular. Chick talk. You know." Bowman nodded, but the men just looked mystified. It was enough to make McKenzie chuckle. "Never mind."
They ate in silence, and again Romero's eyes wandered. Bowman noticed and tried to see what had him so distracted. As best she could determine, his gaze kept darting towards a table across the room where Ensigns Cormack, Sato, and Cutler sat. Clearly one of the women had caught his eye. She guessed it must be Sato—the only available one in the little group. She smiled to herself. She didn't know the comm officer well, but she'd seemed nice the couple of times they'd interacted. Stephanie spoke well of her, too, and Maggie had no reason to doubt her bunkmate's opinion.
Bowman wasn't the only one who picked up on Romero's fractured attention. "What do you keep looking at?" Hawkins asked suddenly.
There was a pause before Romero realized Hawkins was talking to him. "What?"
"What're you looking at?" the blond man repeated, sitting up and searching the room with his eyes.
McKenzie turned to look, too, and spotted the trio of Starfleet ensigns. She smiled. "I bet I know."
"Huh?" Hawkins followed her gaze, and smirked. "Oh," he said knowingly.
"Will you two stop staring?" demanded Romero in a tight undertone. There was a hint of a flush on his naturally tan cheeks.
Smiling and chuckling, Hawkins and McKenzie turned back to their breakfast companions. "You got your eye on someone, huh?" Hawkins wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Romero couldn't deny it, so he kept silent.
"You think I'd tell you?"
"Can't be the brunette," opined McKenzie, flipping her long blonde ponytail back over her shoulder from where it had slipped when she turned. "She's married to that hunky helmsman, Mayweather."
Bowman decided to play along. Romero was a good guy; he could take a bit of friendly teasing. "Can't be Cormack. She's spoken for, too," she said with an overly innocent smile.
"If it's that obvious," said Romero, taking it in stride, "then why did you ask?"
"I hate to disappoint you, man," Hawkins said with overt sympathy, "but I distinctly remember Chang telling me how Sato flirted with the Sarge."
"Thank you. I was there, you know."
"I don't think she's interested in the Sergeant," put in McKenzie.
"Why not?" Romero wanted to know. He hated to get his hopes up, but any chance was better than no chance. And there was no harm in gathering information.
"That chick talk I mentioned?" The others nodded. "It didn't include any mention of Sergeant Kemper."
"Yeah?" Romero couldn't help smiling a little and glancing once again at the three fleeters.
Across the room, Cormack noticed his scrutiny, but when she met his eye he immediately looked away. She was about to ask her friends if either of them had noticed it when she realized that Hoshi was just as interested in the MACOs' table Romero was in theirs. She smirked. "Which one?" she asked slyly, guessing what the answer would be.
Liz looked puzzled, but Hoshi nearly gave herself whiplash turning her head away from the other table so quickly. Stephanie laughed, and Hoshi blushed. Catching on, Liz glanced furtively toward the MACOs. "Hmmm The last guy you dated was Ian, so I'm going to guess the blond one."
"Which blond one? The man or the woman?" queried Hoshi, trying to play it cool. Just because she'd been caught ogling didn't mean she had to be the butt of her friends' teasing.
"Well," began Stephanie, "you did seem to be getting along well with McKenzie in the gym yesterday."
"Was there bonding?" queried Liz playfully.
Hoshi realized that no matter how cool she played it, she couldn't avoid getting razzed. "It's not Laile," she admitted. She liked the woman, but not that way.
"Oo," Liz said, eyes wide with delight. "Now it's 'Laile', is it?"
Stephanie shook her head. "It's not her." She looked at Hoshi and went on matter-of-factly, "I mean, you two definitely connected, but I sensed no sparks."
Hoshi was about to point out that bonding over dead aliens wasn't really conducive to sparking, but Cormack went on before she could speak.
"Hang on. Didn't I see you flirting with Kemper not too long ago?"
"No," Hoshi calmly contradicted her and took a bite of her cereal.
"It's the blond guy," declared Liz with a nod. "She's not denying it, so it must be him. What's his name?"
Stephanie didn't answer. She dared another glance over at the MACOs, and caught Corporal Romero surreptitiously looking their way. Again he looked away the moment he spotted her looking at him. Stephanie smirked. "It's Carlos, isn't it?"
"That's the blond guy's name?" Liz looked doubtful.
This time Stephanie answered her, but she kept her eyes trained on Hoshi. "No."
Hoshi said nothing, but the sudden rosy flush of her cheeks confirmed Stephanie's guess.
"So it's Romero, huh?" Liz turned another delighted smile on Sato.
Still Hoshi made no comment. She didn't know why she was so hesitant to share her current infatuation with her friends, but there was something about Carlos Romero that turned her knees to jelly like she'd never felt before. The few times she'd met his dark-eyed gaze she'd gone completely giddy and had to fight not to giggle like a thirteen-year-old. Even Ian hadn't affected her quite like this. She continued to eat in silence.
"He's hot," opined Liz, shooting another quick look that direction.
"He's a good guy," Stephanie added. "Not just good at his job, either. From what I've seen and what Maggie's said, he's a real upright guy."
Finally Hoshi spoke up. She couldn't help but smile. "If I'd known that, I might not have flirted with Kemper."
"I knew it!" exclaimed Stephanie loudly enough to garner them a few startled glances. She lowered her voice and went on, pointing an accusing finger at her friend. "You were flirting!" Her demeanor changed abruptly. "Why were you flirting with him when you've got the hots for Romero?"
Now Hoshi's blush deepened and her expression grew chagrined. "Because I didn't know what to say."
"You're a linguist, and you couldn't think of anything to say?"
"In a wide variety of human and alien languages, no less," Hoshi confirmed sardonically.
Stephanie burst out laughing, and received several more curious glances in response. She calmed herself enough to gasp, "That's just too funny."
Liz defended the comm officer. "I think it's cute. And I think he's cute." She took a bite of oatmeal and chewed thoughtfully. Finally, she added decisively, "You should ask him out."
"Maybe," said Hoshi.
"Yeah," agreed Stephanie. "You definitely should. Put the poor guy out of his misery."
The other women looked at her in puzzlement. "What do you mean?" Hoshi asked.
"I mean he's been checking you out for the last ten minutes at least."
Hoshi's heart raced suddenly, and a hopeful smile turned up the corners of her mouth. "Really?"
"Then maybe I really will ask him out. Anyone know what's showing for the next movie night?"
Liz and Stephanie both shook their heads. "You'd have to ask Commander Tucker," said the exobiologist. "Assuming he's still picking the films."
"I doubt it," Hoshi said. "I doubt he's thinking much about movies these days."
The mood at the table grew suddenly subdued.
Back at the MACOs' table, Romero and the others finished up their breakfasts. Carlos noticed the sudden change at the fleeters' table and wondered at it. Specifically, he wondered if he could somehow turn it into a conversation starter with Ensign Sato. He was usually a well-spoken guy, but there was something about her that drove all sense from his mind. He was afraid if he tried to talk to her without preparing first, he'd end up saying something stupid. He couldn't afford that. She'd already shown she was more interested in Kemper than in him, but that wasn't enough to put Carlos off. She'd only flirted with Kemper that one time, and McKenzie said she hadn't mentioned him the previous evening. He could handle that—assuming he could bring himself to talk to her.
Hawkins nudged him on the shoulder, startling him from his musings. "Wake up, man. Time to start another exciting day of training drills."
Carlos dared one last glance back at Hoshi as they bussed their table. She was smiling again, and he had to smile, too. She was beautiful.
Maggie noticed him noticing Hoshi, and whispered so the others couldn't hear, "You should go for it."
Carlos started in surprise. He'd been caught again. "Maybe."
"She was staring at you all through breakfast," Maggie went on in an undertone. They followed several steps behind McKenzie and Hawkins as they left the mess hall.
"Yeah?" He grinned hopefully, his heart thumping in his chest.
"Yes," she assured him.
"Maybe I will."
McKenzie and Hawkins stopped at the end of the corridor and waited for the stragglers. "Are you coming?" Laile called back to them.
"Yeah, yeah." Romero and Bowman picked up the pace and rejoined their comrades. The small group headed for the gym.
Ari looked up from checking his inventory list as the sickbay door slid open. He set aside the datapad and rose quickly at the sight of two MACOs. One of them supported the other, who limped badly. "Sit there." Ari directed the pair to the central biobed as he picked up a medical scanner. "What happened?"
It was Romero who answered for the injured Ryan. "Accident in a combat sim. It's his right foot."
"That wasn't an accident," Ryan spat. "That bitch has it in for me."
"Can it," Romero ordered sharply.
Cohn raised a curious eyebrow, but said nothing as he scanned the injured man. "You're lucky. It's just a Jones fracture in your fifth metatarsal."
"It is, actually," confirmed Cohn. He set aside the scanner and looked Ryan in the eye. "I have to get this boot off. It's going to hurt."
"It already hurts," snarled Ryan through clenched teeth.
As carefully as he could, Cohn removed the MACO's boot and sock. Ryan sucked in a breath, but said nothing. Already the foot was swollen and beginning to discolor. "Lie back." Cohn helped support the damaged foot as the MACO laid down. He picked up a hypospray. "This is just an anti-inflammatory and painkiller." Ryan nodded and Cohn injected him with the medications. Then he fetched a small device from the equipment cabinet.
"What is that?" If it was going to be used on him, Ryan wanted to know exactly what it was.
Ari held it up. "Bone knitter," he explained. "Hold as still as possible." Cohn turned on the device and aimed it at Ryan's right foot.
"How come I've never seen something like that before? I've busted enough bones. I could've used it." Ryan's tone was accusing.
"It's not powerful enough for more serious breaks, but for something like this it's ideal. It was brand new tech from Starfleet Medical R&D when we first left space dock."
"Huh. That explains it. Fleeters always get the good stuff first."
Romero glared down at the surly corporal. "They developed it," he said, a warning heavy in his voice. "Of course they had it first."
"Nearly done," said Cohn, more to stop the argument from escalating than for any other reason. As he'd hoped, the men fell silent. He finished up his work and turned off the knitter. Setting it aside on a nearby tray, he said, "You need to stay off that foot for the next twenty-four hours." Ari went to a narrow closet in the starboard bulkhead. "Here." He pulled out a set of crutches and returned with them.
Ryan sat up and took them from him. He expertly adjusted them to the correct length and then rose, balancing on his good foot and the crutches.
"You've done this before," commented Ari to lighten the heavy atmosphere.
"Like I said, lots of busted bones in my life." Ryan turned to leave.
Quickly, Romero grabbed Ryan's discarded boot, shoved the sock into it, and turned to Cohn. "Thanks," he said on behalf of his bunkmate.
"You're welcome," replied Ari. He gave Romero a small, understanding smile.
Romero nodded once and followed his bunkmate out the door.
Left alone once more, Cohn shook his head as he cleaned up and put away the equipment he'd used. He was glad that other than visits like this one, the MACOs were neither his responsibility nor his problem.
He picked up his discarded datapad once more. There were a few items they were low on in sickbay. He'd have to restock out of the supplies in Cargo Bay Two. He checked the time. Phlox would be back shortly; Ari would go then.
Bonnie dressed in her uniform at the same time Mae changed out of her own and into pajamas. A tense silence filled the cabin. Bonnie wanted to break it, but she knew if she did things would just get ugly. The words of their argument still hung in the air, almost tangible. She wasn't ready to apologize and didn't feel she should have to.
Mae went into the lav, and Bonnie sat down on her bunk to pull on her boots. She was stalling, but she didn't want to go on duty until they'd sorted out this latest disagreement.
Finally, just when the helmsman had begun to think she would just have to leave and deal with it later, Mae reappeared. The women stared at one another for several more moments before Mae spoke.
"You're going to be late for your shift," she said, her tone brittle.
"This is more important," insisted Bonnie.
"This is done. We're done."
"I don't understand why—"
"Why do you have to understand?" demanded Mae, interrupting her. "I don't understand why you won't just stop it when I ask you to stop it!"
Bonnie's temper was rising again. She knew she should shut up, leave, go to work, just get the hell out and leave her bunkmate alone. It was frustrating and infuriating. "Fine," she snapped, rising sharply to her feet. "Do whatever you want. Don't talk to me. I'll see you later." She stormed out.
"Goddamn it!" Mae swore at the empty room. She knew her bunkmate meant well, but she really wished Bonnie would keep her mouth shut once in a while. Fuming, she crossed the room, slapped the lights off, and stomped back to her bunk. She climbed under the covers and wrapped her arms around an extra pillow. Sleep was slow in coming.
Of all the late nights Trip had spent with Jon, this was the latest. There had been nights when he never came home at all, heading instead to Engineering or anywhere that wasn't his cabin. By Trip's reckoning, those didn't count. Tonight he was going home, and it was very, very late. He'd never intended or expected to be out so late, and he wasn't sure why he had been. It wasn't like he and Jon had talked about anything especially new or deep. They'd just watched part of an old water polo match, kicked back some drinks, and talked about Nothing, thought Trip. He smiled just a little. It had been a good evening.
Now he wanted to slip into bed next to Malcolm and sleep for a night and a day, although he knew he'd be lucky if he could manage as much as an hour or two. Even if he didn't have to get up for Alpha shift in the morning, he couldn't have slept so long. If he was lucky, his inevitable nightmares wouldn't wake his partner this time. He hadn't been very lucky until now, however. He felt bad about causing Malcolm so much trouble and lost sleep. That was part of what kept him out some nights, although deep down he knew it was only a small part.
Reaching his cabin door, Trip knelt down to untie his sneakers. He slipped out of them and picked them up in one hand before opening the door as quietly as humanly possible. The chance that Malcolm would sleep through his return was slim, but it wasn't impossible. It had happened at least twice that Trip could think of just off the top of his sleep-deprived head.
The cabin lights were off except for the one that Malcolm habitually left on low for him. There were times when this habit had infuriated Tucker so much that he'd stayed out all night just for spite. Now Trip shook his head at his own childish behavior. In his heart he knew Malcolm meant well. It's not his fault it makes me feel like a truant kid who's mom's been waiting up for him.
He set down his shoes in an out-of-the-way corner before going over to the closet. Then he pulled pajama pants and a t-shirt from a drawer, and went to the lav. Putting one hand over the light control, he turned it on low before it could come on full automatically. A silent glance towards the bed assured him that Malcolm hadn't stirred.
Trip quickly washed up and changed into his pajamas, tossing his shed clothing down the laundry chute. Finally truly ready for bed, he returned to the main cabin. He turned off the light, slipped into the bunk, and soon fell heavily asleep.
Malcolm woke with a start. He lay still for several seconds, trying to determine what had disturbed him. The cabin was dark but for the dim starlight coming through the port. That meant Trip had come in and turned out the light. He listened and heard his lover's quiet, deep breathing. He smiled, glad his partner had finally made it to bed and was actually managing to catch some sleep.
He went on assessing what his senses could tell him. It wasn't much. The ship felt and sounded the same as ever. So what was it? Why was he awake?
He rolled over and practically jumped out of his skin.
Beside him in the bed, Trip was sitting bolt upright. His eyes were open, catching the little light in the room.
Malcolm pushed himself up on his elbows. "Trip?" The engineer made no response, and he tried again a little louder. "Trip?"
Without a word of response, Trip pushed back the covers and rose from the bed. His movements were awkward, and he almost stumbled as he stood.
Malcolm quickly got up and turned on the bedside lamp. Trip didn't flinch; he barely blinked at the sudden light. "Trip?" he tried a third time, and for the third time got no reply. "What is it?"
Instead of answering, Tucker crossed to the closet and opened it. He moved strangely at first, almost as if he found it hard to balance. He soon found his footing. To Malcolm's increasing puzzlement, Trip changed out of his pajamas into blues, shirt, and coveralls. Then he turned and walked to the door.
"Trip?" Malcolm tried again. He scrambled to his feet and rushed to the open closet. He barely had time to pull on his own coveralls over the cotton boxer shorts he'd worn to bed before Tucker opened the door and headed out of the cabin.
Malcolm was still zipping up his uniform as he followed him out into the corridor. He must be sleepwalking, he thought. If so, it was something as unexpected as it was unwelcome. There was far too much potential for accidental harm to both Trip and Enterprise. Malcolm reached out a hand to shake him awake, but stopped himself. Isn't there some rule that you're not supposed to wake a sleepwalker? He didn't know the reasoning behind it, but decided for now simply to stick close to his partner and make sure he didn't hurt himself.
They stopped at a turbolift. Anyone watching would have assumed both men were wide awake as Trip reached out a hand and hailed the lift. That's assuming they don't look down, Reed thought, glancing down at his and Trip's bare feet. The lift doors opened, and the men stepped inside. Again Trip reached out, this time to request E-deck.
Malcolm had no idea where Trip was leading him. He hoped it wasn't to the cargo bays; one of them had been off-limits since mid-afternoon due to an anomaly affecting the grav-plating. The lift descended and the two emerged. Malcolm was relieved when his lover turned away from the corridor that led to the cargo bays. Then his stomach lurched as it occurred to him that Trip might be headed to Engineering. He could handle things if they met someone in the corridor, but there would be trouble if Tucker, in a sleepwalking daze, started to mess with the warp engine or some other critical system.
Malcolm gave a small sigh of relief when they walked past Main Engineering without even slowing down. His relief was once again short-lived when they turned instead into the upper level of the launch bay. The bay was dark. Only dim track lighting broke the blackness. Even the control room was dark; no one was on duty at that hour.
But Trip didn't go to the control room. Barefoot, he padded silently over the metal catwalk that made Reed's tender feet hurt. Malcolm wondered that his lover didn't feel it, wondered how he could sleep through it. Trip stopped suddenly at the railing and looked out over the bay below. The two shuttlepods stood as dark as shadows, barely outlined by the low light.
Malcolm felt distinctly uneasy. He began to think his decision not to wake his lover had been a bad one. "Trip," he called softly. "Come over here, please."
Trip didn't answer. Malcolm moved closer to him. Although Trip appeared outwardly calm, Malcolm could see his pulse in his neck pounding at a frenetic pace. A light sheen of sweat covered his skin.
The sleeping engineer's breathing caught, and he shuddered. He took a step forward so that his legs were pressed up against the safety railing. Immediately, Malcolm was beside him, but he still refrained from grabbing Trip and shaking him awake. He must be here for a reason. He hoped that whatever was going on in Trip's subconscious mind would be sorted out, solved by this strange excursion.
Then Trip climbed up onto the railing and all bets were off. Malcolm grabbed him by the waist and half-pulled, half-tackled him back from the brink. They landed with a heavy thud and a grunt on the catwalk, Malcolm's body partially padding the fall for his lover.
"Wha—?" Trip woke completely disoriented. He rolled to one side, off of Malcolm, and onto hands and knees, looking frantically around him. "Where—? Huh?"
Malcolm fought to regain his breath enough to reassure him. "Trip, it's all right!" He sat up and reached out a hand to the other man. "Everything's all right."
Trip's uncomprehending look was matched by his tone. "Malcolm?"
"What the hell's going on?"
"You were sleepwalking." Malcolm crawled the short distance to his lover's side, ignoring the grating that bit into his knees through the fabric of his uniform. He put a hand on Trip's arm and helped him sit up straight. The younger man shivered, and Malcolm put an arm around him. "Are you all right?"
"I don't know." Trip looked around, trying to get his bearings. He finally figured out where they were and his confusion only grew with the knowledge. "Why are we in the launch bay?"
Malcolm shook his head. "I hoped you could tell me."
"I don't know," said Trip again. "Can we get out of here?"
"Sure." They both rose uncomfortably to their feet.
"Ow!" Trip exclaimed. He glanced down at the cold metal grating. "Damn. This stuff really wasn't made for bare feet."
"Come on." Malcolm led him to the door and they stepped out into the deserted, and blessedly smooth-floored, corridor.
The pair was silent as they made their way back to their cabin. Once inside, with the door safely closed behind them, Trip sat heavily on the bunk. Malcolm hesitated before sitting down beside him. "Are you all right?" he asked gently.
"Yeah." Trip nodded as if convincing himself as well as Malcolm. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"Do you remember what you were dreaming about?"
Trip thought for several seconds. There was an image in his head, clear as a photograph: the terrible chasm that was the ripped-out spine of the Florida peninsula. In his mind, he'd stood on the brink of it, shouting Lizzie's name.
His tone was flat and empty as he answered. "No."
Malcolm frowned in concern. If Trip didn't know what had caused him to go wandering, then it was likely it would happen again. And if it happened when Malcolm wasn't around "Are you sure? Maybe if you knew—"
Trip cut him off. "I don't."
Malcolm was startled by his abruptness, but took it in stride. It wasn't the first time Trip had snapped at him, and under the current circumstances he knew it wouldn't be the last. "Okay." There was a pause before he spoke again. "Do you think you can get back to sleep?"
Trip shook his head. Malcolm glanced at the bedside chronometer. It wasn't quite 0500 hours.
"All right," Malcolm said. "I'll stay up with you."
"You don't have to," protested Trip, feeling a quick twinge of guilt that his protestation was more for himself than for his lover. He didn't want company just then.
Malcolm gave him a small, wry smile. "I don't think I'd have much luck sleeping after all this excitement." A pang of disappointment twisted his stomach when his comment didn't elicit the tiny smile he'd hoped for. He tried a different tack. "How about we get an early start on the day? A hot shower, a hot breakfast. What do you say?"
Trip nodded. A hot shower sounded pretty good at that moment as his uniform clung damply to his skin. And the sensible part of him admitted that it was a better choice than sitting in the dark thinking about Lizzie or burying himself in Engineering. "Yeah. Okay," he agreed. "I could sure use a cup of coffee, too."
"All right. Shower, coffee, breakfast. In that order." Malcolm gave him an encouraging smile. Again he was disappointed when it garnered only a distracted nod in reply. He fought back his disappointment as he collected their robes from the closet. He set them on the bed next to Trip, and then went to the lav for their toiletry kits. Trip hadn't moved by the time he returned. He stared into space, and Malcolm could only guess what he saw there.
He stood at the foot of the bunk and waited a moment or two for his lover to snap out of his reverie. When he didn't, Malcolm spoke gently. "Hey," he said.
Trip started and looked up at him, eyes almost as confused as they'd been when he'd woken on the launch bay catwalk. "Huh? Oh. Right. Thanks." He stood and took his kit from Malcolm, and then picked up his robe.
Malcolm frowned to himself. Doubting his chances he tried one more suggestion. "Perhaps Doctor Douglas—" He got no further.
Trip was suddenly alert and angry. "Malcolm, drop it!"
Malcolm bit his tongue to keep his own sharp reply inside. The day had started roughly enough; he didn't want it to degenerate into a fight with his lover. Instead he looked Trip in the eye and answered in a calm, if tense, voice. "All right, I'll drop it. For now." He must know this can't go on forever, he thought in frustration.
Trip said nothing. He knew Malcolm's patience was limited. He was aware he'd already pushed it farther than was fair. Inevitably it would break. That didn't stop him from continuing to push. He wondered which of them would snap first.
Mae sat on one of the two exercise bikes and pedaled slowly. The gym was the one place she could go to get away. There was something about a long bike ride that distracted her from everything else. She turned up the bike's resistance and pedaled a little harder. If she rode long enough, she could focus her mind on nothing but the feeling of physical exertion. She increased the resistance again, pedaled harder.
She barely noticed when someone took the bike next to her. Mae didn't glance up, intent as she was on working her muscles as much as she could for as long as she could stand it. Minutes passed, and she kept upping the resistance, upping the difficulty until it felt as if she were biking up a small mountain. Her heart rate rose. Her breathing grew quick and shallow even as she fought to keep it deep and regular. Left, right, left, right. She rose a little out of her seat to give herself greater leverage. Left, right, left, right. Harder, farther, faster.
"Training for the Tour de France?"
The voice at her side so startled Mae that she nearly fell off her bike.
"Sorry!" Madeline apologized. "I shouldn't have distracted you."
Mae's bike quickly ground to a halt without her struggling against it. She sat back and inhaled deeply, gradually regaining her breath. "It's okay," she panted. She leaned forward and rested her arms on the handlebars.
Maddy let her own bike slow to a stop, and then reached a hand across. "Madeline Reed," she introduced herself.
Mae nodded and shook the blonde woman's offered hand. "Mae Lawless," she replied, still a little breathlessly. "You're the negotiator."
A brief silence fell between them, as neither could think of anything more to say. Then Mae's eyes focused on the t-shirt Madeline wore. It was black, with a logo in fiery shades of red and gold. "You're a Doctor Who fan," she said, gesturing at the shirt.
Madeline glanced down at her shirt. It was one of her favorites and she often wore it when she went to the gym. This was the first time anyone had commented on it. She looked up again and smiled at Mae. "Yes. Are you?"
Mae nodded. "Yeah. I love B sci-fi, and some of the earlier seasons kind of fit that bill, you know? That's how I first got into it."
"I'm not very familiar with B sci-fi." No one else would have noticed the subtle disappointment in Mae's look. Hoping to alleviate it, Maddy quickly went on. "But I suppose Doctor Who's early special effects were rather rough, shall we say?" Before another awkward silence could descend, she asked, "Which is your favorite Doctor?"
Mae's eyes lit up a little. It had been a long time since she'd had the chance to geek out with anyone over one of her favorite old television shows. "That's hard to say. Eccleston was amazing, but how can you not love Tom Baker?"
"It's simply not possible," agreed Madeline. "But of course there's Patrick Troughton to consider. He was too darling for words in that great furry coat."
"He was like a little brown yeti in that thing," laughed Mae.
"What did you think of the last Doctor? The thirteenth?" She paused unexpectedly as she realized, "I've forgotten his name."
Before Mae could respond, the gym door slid open and Hoshi entered. She waved a greeting and approached them.
"Hi," she said, and the others greeted her in return. "How's it going?"
"Very well," replied Madeline with a smile. "Mae and I were just discussing a mutual fascination with old science fiction television."
"Xena: Warrior Princess?" Hoshi asked hopefully.
"No, sorry. I'm afraid I don't know that one." Maddy looked at Mae questioningly.
Mae shook her head. "You lost me, too."
"That's okay. It wasn't really sci-fi. It was more historical fantasy action-adventure with really strong female characters," explained Sato. Maddy and Mae looked at her somewhat blankly. Hoshi laughed and shook her head. "Never mind." She went over to what the crew tended to refer to as "the giant hamster wheel"; no one seemed to know what the thing was actually called.
Madeline watched her with fascination. "Are you going to use that?" she asked with a hint of excitement.
"Can you show me? I've been dead curious, but never had a chance to see someone use it before now." She gave Mae a look both apologetic and excited. "I'd love to chat Who with you more later."
"Sure," agreed Mae. "That'd be cool." She smiled, and Madeline got off her bike. She quickly wiped it down with her towel and went over to where Hoshi waited by the hamster wheel.
Mae considered going back to her workout, but decided against it. Her momentum was lost, but she didn't really mind. Instead she decided to shower and then sit down in front of her computer screen to watch a little old fashioned television. She smiled again. An evening lost in science fiction TV; what could be better for taking her mind off of reality? She climbed off her bike and wiped it down so it was ready for whoever used it next. Waving a quick good-bye to the other women, she headed to the shower room.
Stephanie snuggled back into Bonnie's warm embrace and sighed happily.
"Comfy?" Bonnie murmured, hugging her lover protectively.
"Mm-hmm. I just wish you didn't have to go on duty tonight."
"Me, too." She hesitated only a moment before adding, "But even if I didn't, you still have a bunkmate to think about." It wasn't exactly a sore subject, but neither was it something they enjoyed talking about.
Stephanie's sigh this time was resigned and a little frustrated. "Yeah. I know. We've got to stop taking advantage of her generous nature, too. A free drink now and again isn't really a fair trade for the time we get to spend together."
"I'm open to suggestions," said Bonnie, hoping that her partner had miraculously come up with some since the last time they'd discussed the problem.
Stephanie didn't answer. She shifted just enough to be able to see the time, and then slumped back against Bonnie again. "Stupid Mae," she sulked.
"Huh?" Bonnie looked down at her, tilting her head so she could almost look Stephanie in the face.
"Nothing. I'm just being selfish."
"You?" teased her lover. "Never."
"Ha, ha," replied Stephanie, taking the teasing in stride. She grew thoughtful again. "What's up with her, anyway? Do you know?"
Bonnie hesitated for a split second before answering. "No." She looked away as she spoke, focusing on nothing in particular. "I don't know."
"She and Ari were so tight, and then—not. And I have no clue what happened. I mean, she used to talk to me about stuff, but now I can't get a word out of her."
"Mae doesn't share unless she really wants to," replied Bonnie evasively.
"Yeah, I know." Stephanie sat up and turned to face her partner. "Has she told you what happened?"
Bonnie hoped her equivocation wasn't too obvious as she answered. "Not much. She told me she's still sorting out her feelings."
"That and other stuff. Her mom's death, too. I think she's having a really hard time with that." It was true, if not the whole truth.
Stephanie nodded in understanding. "I can understand that too well." She settled herself back in Bonnie's arms.
"I wish she'd talk to you." I wish she'd talk to any of us. How long does she think this can go on? she wondered in exasperation. The fight they'd had the other night was still fresh in her mind, stinging her memory.
"Me, too," replied her lover, unaware of Bonnie's frustrated thoughts. "I've tried talking to her a bunch of times, but she's just shut me out. At least she's talking to you a bit, eh?" Stephanie was a little jealous of the fact, but fought down the feeling. Better that Mae's talking to someone, even if it isn't me, she tried to convince herself.
"Yeah." If you could call what we do talking.
They fell silent. With Stephanie apparently appeased by her answers, Bonnie relaxed a little. She looked over Stephanie's tousled, curly head at the chronometer. It was time to go. Bonnie hated that she was actually relieved, even glad that she had to leave her lover's cozy bunk. But any more questions about Mae might force the issue, and she didn't have the right to discuss it.
Bonnie didn't like keeping secrets. It frustrated the hell out of her that she couldn't even talk to Stephanie, but she'd made a promise to Mae. Bonnie hoped Mae would sort everything out soon and talk to the woman who was supposedly her best friend.
She kissed the top of Stephanie's head. "I've got to go."
Stephanie made a pouty face. "Bother." She let her lover climb past her out of the bunk, and then continued to sprawl there, naked under the sheet, watching the other woman dress for duty. "I'll miss you," she said eventually.
"I'll miss you, too." Bonnie sat next to her to pull on her socks and boots. Stephanie trailed her fingers over Bonnie's thigh. "Keep that up, and I'm going to be late for my shift," Bonnie half-joked. Her self-control where her lover was concerned was limited.
Stephanie knew it and thoroughly enjoyed messing with her. "I just want you to have something to think about over the long, quiet, boring night."
Bonnie grabbed Stephanie's hand before it could enter dangerous territory. She turned green eyes on her and saw a devilish twinkle in her lover's hazel ones. "I'll be lucky not to steer us into a star," she said adamantly, her grin completely undercutting her attempt to be stern.
Stephanie's expression turned ingenuous, her tone overtly innocent. She sat up and leaned forward until the sheet slipped to her waist, rested an open palm on her bare chest in melodramatic fashion. "On account of me?"
"You're evil!" laughed Bonnie, standing up and stepping away. "I've got to go."
Stephanie relaxed and grinned, happy enough with the results of her game to let the other woman off the hook. "Okay. Kiss me good-night."
Bonnie gave her a teasingly suspicious look, but acquiesced. They kissed, a long, steamy kiss that left both of them wanting more.
When Bonnie finally forced herself to pull away, she gave a Stephanie a look that was both eager and chastising.
"Oops." Stephanie rose from the bunk, pulling the sheet with her and wrapping it around herself. Using her free hand, she guided Bonnie to the door. "Have a good shift. I'll see you tomorrow night."
"See you tomorrow." Bonnie gave her one more quick kiss. "Sweet dreams," she said.
"That's a guarantee." Stephanie grinned at her. Bonnie returned the smile and then departed.
When the door had closed, Stephanie turned and looked at the cabin. "Hm. Better clean up," she said to herself. Trading the sheet for her hot pink pajamas, she began to tidy up the scattered toys and put the cabin to rights before her bunkmate returned.
"Kelly!" barked Tucker.
The young crewman flinched, instantly wondering what she could possibly have done to bring down her C.O.'s wrath and wishing the job she was doing was a little farther off of his personal radar. She straightened up and turned to face him, putting her back to the bulkhead. Her stance was strong despite her misgivings. "Yes, sir?" she replied, all crisp professionalism
"What the hell d'you call this?" he demanded, gesturing to the area around her. She'd been working on replacing several worn differential amplifiers. The detritus of that work lay scattered about her feet.
Kelly decided the best defense was to face his onslaught head-on. At least it would be over faster that way. "Sir. I call it a mess, sir."
"Damn straight. Now get it cleaned up and get those amplifiers back online."
"Yes, sir!" She immediately turned to the task, happy her berating had been so short-lived. She'd witnessed others who hadn't been as lucky.
Tucker looked around sharply. Instantly, everyone who had stopped working to observe his most recent tirade was heavily engrossed in his or her tasks. He glowered at entire department, although no one was foolish or daring enough to make eye contact with him. His lack of sleep, combined with the newest incarnation of his recurring nightmare, put him in a particularly foul mood. He wanted to vent it at someone. Kelly had been an easy but brief target, and everyone else was treading on eggshells.
Then the sane part of his mind took over. Take a break, it told him firmly. Get a cup of coffee and let these people work in peace for five minutes.
He glared around the room once more until he found the person he sought. "Hess."
The petite lieutenant jumped and braced herself for an attack. She did her best to keep her face impassive as she turned to him. "Yes, sir?"
"I'm taking five. You're in charge until I get back."
Tucker nodded once at her and left Engineering.
Ten silent seconds ticked past, and then it was as if the entire department heaved a collective sigh of relief. A dark cloud lifted with the Commander's departure. Everyone continued their work with renewed energy, a weight at least temporarily off their shoulders.
Archer and Madeline sat across from each other in the captain's ready room. A feeling of well-restrained antagonism hung in the air. Madeline had spent some time considering the meeting's agenda. She was still unsatisfied with what little she knew about Archer's interaction with Orgoth while the Osaarian was in custody. But Archer had shut her down the moment she'd begun that line of inquiry. Now the two eyed each other sternly across the desk.
It was Archer who eventually spoke. "Ensign Sato and her team are making good progress on the translation of the Xindi database."
"I received her report," replied Madeline coolly, annoyed but unsurprised by the change of topic. "The information so far has been helpful."
"I'm glad to hear it."
She regarded him for a long moment before going on. It was clear she would get nothing from him in this meeting, but she gave him what she had learned anyway. There was no point in her being deliberately uncommunicative. "Of the five Xindi species, the reptilian appear to be the most militaristic. There's evidence that suggests they are the military faction for all of the races, in fact."
"The corpse of the probe's pilot was reptilian." Archer's tone was harsh as he thought of the attack. He wondered if he'd ever get past the anger.
"Yes. According to what I've found in the database, I believe the insectoid species are also militaristic in nature, although I get the impression that they're more like an internal police force. I could be wrong. I'm working with limited data, as you know. It's quite predictable, really, considering Earth's various insect species," she added. "Of course, any interaction we have with any of these species will be largely affected by the individuals we encounter, but I think it's safe to say that those most likely to be open to negotiation will be among the arboreals and the primates."
"Primates," echoed Archer distastefully.
"It that a problem?" she asked archly in a rare misunderstanding of his tone.
"No." He shook his head. "It's not that. 'Primate' just sounds almost insulting. That's not the best way to begin a negotiation."
Madeline's tone was wry as she said, "I don't think calling them 'humanoid' would be any better in their eyes, do you?"
For the first time in the meeting, Archer's demeanor softened. "I see your point," he conceded. "Do we know anything about the fifth species?"
"Not yet. I'm hoping there's something in the untranslated sections that will help us on that point."
There was a pause. She expected him to ask her more specific questions. When he didn't, she asked a question of her own. "Have you come any closer to knowing where to look for the Xindi weapon?"
Archer shook his head. "No. As you said, I'm hoping there's something in the untranslated data."
"And in the meantime?"
He looked at her, his expression stony. "In the meantime, we continue doing what we're doing."
"That will only get us so far, Captain."
His eyes flashed angrily, but he quickly controlled his temper. "Thank you, Negotiator. Did you have a better suggestion?"
Madeline had overstepped her position, and she knew it. Should have planned that a bit better, she thought. "I apologize. We're all under pressure. I know you're doing everything you can."
He nodded once, accepting her apology and offering a wordless one of his own. "That's it, unless you have anything else you want to discuss." It was an opportunity and a challenge in one sentence.
"You know what I want to discuss, Captain," Madeline began. As he was about to protest, she continued. "It can wait. I will have the answers I need, Captain. One way or the other." This time the challenge came from her.
Archer recognized it and understood; she meant Malcolm. "Good afternoon, Negotiator," he said evenly.
It was an obvious dismissal. Madeline rose. "Good afternoon, Captain." Taking her datapad with her, she left the office.
Once alone, Archer sat back heavily. Coming from anyone else, he would have found her challenge almost laughable. The idea that Lieutenant Reed would willingly give up that information was absurd, but Madeline was his sister. Archer had no doubt that if anyone knew how to get past Malcolm's defenses it was her. Unless he ordered Lieutenant Reed to keep his mouth shut, there was a possibility she would get him to talk.
He reached towards the comm panel, fully intending to summon the Lieutenant to his office. He hesitated, his hand hovering over the controls. He sat frozen for several seconds, and then he slowly lowered his hand to rest on his desk.
Cormack had no idea why Phlox wanted to talk to her. She'd been suspicious of the request ever since she'd seen it in her messages that morning. The little bits of her day that weren't spent working were spent pondering what he could possibly want with her. She wasn't due for a check-up. She hadn't injured herself recently enough to need any physical therapy or even a follow-up appointment. It briefly occurred to her that he might somehow have found out about the migraine that had woken her the other night. That's absurd, she thought. No one knew but Maggie, and there was no reason she would have mentioned it to anyone. Stephanie hadn't even told Bonnie. Her motives in keeping it secret were entirely selfish and cowardly and she knew it, even though she'd justified the omission to herself in half-a-dozen ways.
Cormack was so caught up in her thoughts that she nearly bumped into T'Pol outside the door to sickbay. "Whoa! Sorry!" she exclaimed.
"It's quite all right," T'Pol replied. "Excuse me." The Vulcan woman's face looked tired, almost pained. She continued on her way without another word.
Stephanie briefly watched her go, wondering what could be bothering the Science Specialist. It's none of your business, she told herself. Then she turned and entered sickbay. Stopping just inside the doorway, Cormack looked around. At first she thought the place empty, but then a strange squawking sound drew her attention. It sounded like a sick seagull.
"Hello?" she called.
Another squawk answered her and Phlox appeared from around a corner. He squawked again in an inquisitive fashion. Cormack looked at him as if he'd gone insane.
Realizing his error, Phlox cleared his throat. "My apologies," he said with a smile. "I was talking to my Pyrithian bat."
"No worries," Cormack replied, although her expression changed very little. "You wanted to see me?" she went on.
"Ah, yes!" His face lit up, and then grew intensely curious. Cormack had to fight the urge to take a step back as he approached. "You are still doing yoga regularly, correct?"
This is getting stranger by the second. "Yeah. Why?" She couldn't guess where he was going, but she didn't have to wait long to find out.
"I have a pupil for you."
"You— I'm sorry, what?"
"I have a pupil for you," he repeated happily.
"No-no-no." She held up a hand to forestall him. "I'm not a yoga instructor."
"I'm sure you're sufficiently qualified to teach one student a few asanas and relaxation techniques. Commander Tucker—"
"Oh, no. No." She pointed a single emphatic finger.
Taken aback, Phlox looked at her uncomprehendingly. "I don't understand. Is there a problem between you and Commander Tucker? He didn't mention anything when I spoke to him."
"Why would you—? Hang on." She took a moment to collect her thoughts. "Why do you want me to teach Commander Tucker yoga?"
"It would complement the reflexology that Lieutenant Reed is giving him," he replied as if this explained everything.
Cormack shook her head again, but this time in confusion. "Okay. Hang on," she said for the second time. She took another moment to think, and once she did it made some sense to her. "You think if Tucker learns some yoga it will help him deal with whatever."
"Precisely!" His smile returned. "So, shall I let him know to meet you in the gym at 1700 tomorrow? Or would later in the evening be better for you?"
"I'm usually there later, but—"
"Then 2100 hours it is. I'll let the Commander know you'll be waiting for him."
Cormack was stymied. "You—? What?"
"Thank you, Ensign. That's all I needed to see you about." He ushered her the short distance to the door and opened it for her. Cormack moved towards it instinctively. "Good-bye." Phlox smiled again and waved her out the door.
She remained standing in the corridor while she worked out exactly what had just happened. She had to admire his maneuvering; he'd have made a great con man or Vegas dealer. She headed down the hall away from sickbay. Almost laughing, she muttered, "The sneaky bastard."
Ian entered his cabin with a pitcher in his hand and a grin on his face. He used his free hand to flip on the lights, oblivious to the fact that his roommate was fast asleep. "Man, you have gotta try this!" he exclaimed.
Ari blinked owlishly, trying to get his bearings after being so abruptly awoken from a heavy sleep. "Huh?"
Ignoring the grunted reply, Ian went to the lav and grabbed two classes from the cabinet, shutting it with a loud clack. He emerged, set the glasses on the desk, and poured pale liquid into both. He set down the pitcher and picked up the glasses, holding one out to his bunkmate. "Here."
Carefully, Ari levered himself to a sitting position. He reached out and took the offered drink, still half dazed. "What is it?"
"Caipirinha," Ian replied eagerly. His cheeks were flushed pink and his eyes were unusually bright.
Ari eyed him and the drink with equal doubt. "Are you drunk?"
"Almost," his friend admitted with another grin.
"I though you and Travis were planning a guys' night for Thursday, not tonight."
"We are. This was entirely informal. I got talking to Romero—you know?"
Ari nodded. He knew the MACO well enough.
Ian took a swallow of his drink and went on. "We were just hanging out and got talking—work, old assignments, whatever. I suggested we get a couple of beers. He says he's got a better suggestion. Said something about being tired of beer lately. As if you could get tired of beer, eh? So I find out he's Brazilian, right?" He took a swallow of his drink while Ari tried desperately to follow the non sequitur. "And he tells me about this drink they have there." He gave his bunkmate a look and a nod towards the glass that was dampening with condensation in Ari's hand.
"This—what did you call it?"
"Caipirinha," repeated Ian. It had taken him most of the evening to learn to pronounce it properly, and he was happy to show off his new skill.
"What's in it?"
"Lime, sugar, and cachaça."
Ari was fully awake now and his mind moved a bit quicker. "Some sort of liquor, presumably."
"Yeah." Ian had a sudden thought. "Is that a problem? I mean with the treatment Phlox has you on?"
Ari almost said yes, but he didn't like to lie. He had been injured by an anomaly while retrieving medical supplies from Cargo Bay Two, and while Phlox had ordered him off of his feet and off caffeine until the treatment was complete, he'd made no other restrictions. Besides, he had to admit to some curiosity about this beverage that his friend had thought was so great that it was worth bringing home a pitcher of it and waking him up at nearly midnight.
"No. It's fine."
"Then try it!" Ian downed his own and refilled the glass.
Still dubious, Ari took a sip. The ice cold drink was both tart and sweet. He couldn't quite compare it to anything else he'd had, but it was delicious. He sipped again. "That's good!"
Again Ian grinned. "I told you! Carlos is a genius!"
"Did he invent this?" He gestured with the glass and took another swallow.
"No, no! It's like the national drink or something. Been around for centuries."
"Mm," acknowledged Ari. He looked down at his glass in surprise. "How did it get empty so fast?" He must have downed it without even realizing.
"Here." Ian reached over with the pitcher and refilled the glass.
"Thanks." He took a slow, savoring swallow. "Genius. You're right."
"Yeah. Smart and good looking," commented Ian, downing his drink and refilling it once more.
Ari caught the lascivious look on his bunkmate's rosy face. He smirked. "Got your eye on him, eh?"
"Huh? Ehhhhh " Ian shrugged, hedging. "I don't know. I think he's into chicks."
"So are you. You're also into guys," Ari pointed out analytically. He took a thoughtful sip.
"You have a point." Ian's face grew dreamy and wicked at the same time.
Ari chuckled and took another drink. He felt the cool liquid slide down his throat while it also warmed his limbs from within. It was good stuff, and it was strong. He blinked again, forcing Ian back into focus. Suddenly Ian moved over and sat on the foot of Ari's bunk. The med-tech had to refocus again.
"You think maybe he'd go for it?" Ian asked eagerly.
Ari shrugged and held out his empty glass for a refill, which his friend quickly provided. This stuff is way too easy to drink. Need to be careful, thought Ari taking yet another swallow. "He might. Never you know until " He paused, corrected himself. "You never know until you ask," he said with careful clarity.
Ian laughed and pointed at him. "Man, you're half gone already!" He nearly fell off the bunk with his raucous guffawing.
"Look who's talking!" countered Ari, amused.
"Yeah, but I had a few of these before I get—got here." He straightened himself up onto the bunk once more and took a drink to punctuate his point.
Now Ari laughed. "So tell me more about Carlos," he said. It had been quite a while since either of them had had any good news on the romance front, and he was ready to hear something positive. Maybe he could live vicariously through his best friend.
"I don't know. What don'tcha already know?'
"That makes no sense."
"Okay, okay." Ian thought and drank for a moment. "He's Brazilian."
"You said that already."
"He's been a MACO for six years or something, got promoted to corporal a year and a half ago. He's been to Portugal—was stationed there for a while."
"Okay. Go on," encouraged Ari. He continued to sip at his drink.
"You've seen him," Ian said as if it was enough, but then considered some of his favorite aspects of the MACO. "He's got that thick almost black hair and gorgeous dark eyes that just make your cock jump, you know?"
Ari almost choked and had to take another swallow of caipirinha to clear his throat.
Ian didn't notice. He went on. "And have you checked out his ass?"
Ari shook his head and said wryly, "Not as such."
Ian looked at him with deep, drunken sincerity. "You should." He leaned in, waxing poetic on his topic. "It's tight, and just a little round. You know? Not like melon round, but just enough that you could really get a good grip on it in the right situation."
Ari began to regret his inquiry. "I had to ask," he muttered, reminding himself.
Ian chuckled and leaned in closer, his eyes a little glazed now from all the liquor in his system. He pinned Ari with his gaze. "And he has these lips." Ian licked his lips thinking about them. "They're just " He sought the right words, and came up empty. "They're like You just wanna " Unable to explain, his drunken mind decided to show rather than tell. He caught Ari's head with his free hand and pulled him into a breath-stealing, passionate kiss.
Ari's eyes widened in shock, but he was too far gone to pull away. He just let Ian go until he'd finished his demonstration.
"Like that," Ian said, catching his breath. "You know?"
Ari wasn't sure exactly what to say. Finally: "I do now."
It took several uncomprehending second for Ian to realize what he'd just done. Then his eyes grew large as saucers, his flush deepened in embarrassment, and he practically leapt off the bunk. "Shit! Dude! Sorry! I didn't mean—"
"It's okay," Ari hastened to assure him, although he was still slightly stunned from the unexpected experience. "I'm sorry. I'm just not—"
"I know, I know! Shit! That was totally not—" Ian turned a full circle in place and then back again, as if trying to figure out a way to go backwards in time and undo what he'd just done.
If Ari could have risen and grabbed him by the shoulders, he would have. But between the injury to his knee and the alcohol in his blood, there wasn't a chance in hell. It was a shame because Ari was getting a little dizzy just watching Ian repeatedly spin in place. "Sit down!" he ordered suddenly.
Startled into obeying, Ian abruptly sat on his own bunk.
"Thank you." Ari finished off the rest of his drink and set the glass down on the floor.
"I'm really sorry," Ian repeated sincerely.
"It's no big deal. Forget about it."
Ian nodded once, emphatically. "Right." Quickly seeking something else to talk about, he made the worst possible choice. "So what the hell's up with you and Mae?"
Ari's head sank to his chest. He took a weary breath and looked up at his bunkmate. "If I knew that, I wouldn't be here kissing you." When Ian started to apologize again, Ari shook his head. "Forget it," he repeated firmly. "Really." Ian nodded again, but this time kept his mouth shut.
Ari collected his frayed and drunken thoughts. "I thought things were fine. Even after her mom died. It was hard, but it was okay, you know?" He didn't wait for an answer, and Ian didn't offer one. "I met her family, and we got along great, I thought. But it's not her family I'm in love with, so I guess that's not so important right now."
Ian's fuzzy brain still managed to pick up on the important part of what his friend just said. "You're really in love with her, huh?" he asked quietly. He held his half-empty glass in one hand, forgotten. Condensation dripped unnoticed over his fingers.
"Yeah." Ari met Ian's bleary gaze with his own. "I really am."
"Have you told her?"
Ari thought back to the dream he'd had when he and Liz were stranded on a frozen planet. He'd told Mae then in what he'd thought was nothing more than a near-death hallucination. He'd been shocked and confused to learn that it had been real. The whole thing was too confusing to explain even when he wasn't buzzed on Brazilian cocktails. He shook his head and chose not to answer his friend. "Ever since the reception—Travis and Liz's wedding reception," he added in clarification. "I don't know what's going on in her head. I've tried finding out, but it's like she's closed a door and put a really big lock on it."
"That sucks," sympathized Ian.
"Yeah. Seriously." It was an understatement, but it summed up the situation well enough.
It wasn't enough for Ian. He felt indignant on behalf of his best friend. "I mean, what's her problem?"
"Um her mother is dead?" suggested Ari.
"Yeah, I know, and I get it, eh?" Neither man was so drunk that he missed the significance of the moment. Ari nodded once, his face serious despite the alcohol flush in his cheeks. Ian went on. "What happened? Don't you have any clue?"
Ari made a hopeless gesture. "I have no idea. I mean, one minute we're fucking like bunnies in a storage cupboard, and the next she won't even talk to me."
Ian stopped his rant long to stare in shock. "Storage cupboard? How did I miss that?"
"We didn't announce it!"
Ian shook his head and went on, growing angrier with each word. "She's jerked you around ever since we left Earth. That's not cool. I should kick her ass." He stood as abruptly as he'd sat and began to pace the small cabin.
His angry glare and heavy tread scared Ari into sobering up slightly. "Relax," he said, a note of concern in his voice. Ian looked ready to follow through on his threat, and right now that was a very bad thing. If he flew off the handle, there was nothing Ari could physically do to stop him. "It'll be okay."
Ian rounded on his friend. "You don't know that," he argued. "Where the hell does she get off, huh? She can't treat you like that."
"Ian, relax." Now his tone was sharp, commanding. He fixed the armory ensign with as steady a gaze as he could manage. "I'll deal with it myself. Now chill out."
The air was charged with tension as they stared at each other for most of a minute. Ari felt more than a little like a lion tamer with an unpredictable animal on his hands and not even a whip and chair to protect himself.
Finally, the moment passed. The very air seemed to relax. Ian sat heavily on his bunk and looked at the glass still in his hand. He drained it, rose far enough to set it on the desk next to the nearly empty pitcher, and then sat again. His shoulders slumped and he looked across the room at Ari. "It's still not cool."
"No, it isn't," agreed Ari. "But I love her, and I'm willing to wait it out."
Ian shook his head. "You're a stronger man than me."
Ari actually smiled a little, although it was tinged with something Ian couldn't quite identify. "I wouldn't say that."
There was another silence—thoughtful this time—while both men considered things. Eventually, Ian shook his head and rose. "You want some water?"
"God yes," affirmed his bunkmate. "Please." He handed over his empty glass from the floor. Ian picked up his own and filled both at the sink in the lav.
They downed the contents in silence, and Ian refilled them. Ari emptied his glass again and shook his head at the next offered refill. He handed the empty glass back, and Ian left both in the bathroom to be dealt with later. Ari resettled himself in his bunk while Ian changed into pajamas, leaving his shed clothing in a pile by his bunk. Finally, he turned out the light. He climbed into bed, exhausted and with his head spinning.
"Ian?" came Ari's quiet query through the darkness.
There was a hint of a smile in Ian's voice. "I'll kick her ass for you anytime, you know. Just say the word."
Ari chuckled. "Sure. Like you could get past Stephanie to do it."
They both laughed. "Right," Ian agreed. "Night, buddy."
Trip stood in the lav, staring at his reflection in the mirror over the sink. He was ready for bed—physically. Mentally there was nothing he could do to prepare himself. He was almost accustomed to the nightmares by now. But since his sleepwalking adventure, he was scared. He desperately wanted to sleep, but now he was afraid of what he might do.
He leaned both hands on the edge of the sink, hung his head, and closed his eyes. Instantly the image of ravaged Florida was before him. The waters had receded since he and Malcolm had visited the scene. He had seen the pictures. Once nature had finally settled down, ocean levels had dropped all over the world. The trench carved by the Xindi weapon held the sea water that had flooded in and since drained off and through the land to either side, at last finding its level.
Again he saw himself standing on the edge of the watery canyon. The detail in his mind was intense. He felt the ground firmly beneath his feet, shattered pavement mingling with stranded and broken coral. He smelled the salt of the water and the reek of dead and rotted sea life. It came to him on the hot, humid breeze. He inhaled deeply and let out the breath in a long, exhausted sigh.
Trip opened his eyes and pushed away from the sink. There was no point in stalling any longer. If he was going to try to sleep, that time had come.
He left the lav and returned to the cabin. As Trip knew he would be, Malcolm was sitting up in the bunk pretending to read a datapad. In the past he really would have been reading what was on the screen, but Trip knew better these days. It was a front, a façade put on for Tucker's benefit. Malcolm looked at him and he braced himself for the inevitable question.
"Would you like me to rub your feet?"
Trip was in a bad enough mood that he was inclined to say no. He knew it would hurt Malcolm's feelings, although the older man would do his best to hide it. Tucker wavered for a moment. His feet were tired; he'd barely sat down all day. In the end, though, mind won out over matter.
Reed said nothing, but Trip could see the stifled hurt in his eyes. To his own surprise he relented a little. "You could do something else for me."
Malcolm perked up a minute amount. He turned off the datapad without bothering to mark his place, and set it aside. "What?"
"Lock the cabin door. Put some security code on it that you don't think I could break. Better safe than sorry, right?"
It was common sense, and Malcolm silently chided himself for not thinking of it earlier. He got out of the bunk and went to the door controls.
Trip sat on the bed, hoping he wouldn't regret his request. It was one thing to lock himself in as a precaution against sleepwalking. It was another thing to be trapped in his own cabin when the nightmare eventually came. Common sense won out as it had early in the day. Better that than jumping off the shuttle bay catwalk.
"There," said Malcolm. He turned off the overhead light and returned to the bunk. He waited for Trip to get under the covers before joining him there. "Safe as houses."
"Your house usually include a coded high security lock?" Trip grumbled.
To Malcolm's delight and Trip's surprise, Trip actually snorted a laugh at that. Malcolm reached a hand to his lover, and was rewarded by Trip's hand slipping into his own. They lay silent for some time before Trip finally sighed heavily. His foul mood seemed to drain with the breath. "This is the best I've felt all day," he admitted. He rolled onto his side to face his partner.
Malcolm said nothing, continuing to hold the younger man's hand. Daring to hope, he leaned forward to kiss Trip on the mouth. Abruptly the engineer let go of his hand and rolled onto his other side. Malcolm's anger flared in spite of himself. Is it so much to ask? One good-night kiss? A part of him wondered if Trip was being deliberately mean. Then he vehemently quashed that train of thought. "Good night," he said, trying to keep his feelings from showing in his voice.
If Trip noticed anything, he didn't mention it. All he said was "G'night."
Without another word, Malcolm shut off the reading lamp and turned his back to his lover. Neither slept well that night.
Ari relaxed on his bunk, reading. It wasn't often he had the leisure time to read, and after the unplanned booze-up he and his bunkmate had indulged in the previous night, he was particularly glad he had nowhere to be that morning. He didn't feel awful, but he didn't feel great either. A pillow cushioned his back against the bulkhead while another supported his right knee. He wore a dark gray sweatshirt, loose pants, and warm socks. The fabric over his elevated knee moved slightly, accompanied by a stomach-churning wriggling feeling in the joint. He did his best to ignore it just as he had since Phlox had begun the treatment.
The door chimed, startling him. He looked up and towards the closed door to the lav, hoping Ian had heard the chime and would answer it. No such luck. "Ian?" he called out. "Can you get the door?"
The lav door opened and Ian emerged. He was already dressed for duty and had an electric razor in his hand. The only sign of last night's binge were the dark circles under his eyes and the pitcher that still sat on the desk. "Sure." He quickly finished shaving as he crossed the small cabin. He clicked off the razor with one hand as he opened the door with the other.
To the surprise of both men, Mae waited on the other side. She looked momentarily stymied. "Is Ari here?" she asked.
Ian stepped back, gesturing to his recumbent bunkmate. Mae stepped into the room and stopped short. Any greeting she'd planned stuck in her throat at the sight of him.
"Hi," said Ari, hoping to jumpstart some sort of conversation.
"Hi," echoed Mae, more out of reaction than anything else.
Silence filled the small cabin. Ian looked from one to the other and shook his head to himself. He tossed his razor on his bunk and said, "Excuse me." He slipped past Mae and out the door.
Subtle, thought Ari, but he couldn't blame his friend for wanting to make a hasty exit.
"Hi," Mae said again uncertainly.
Ari sat up straighter. He marked his screen and set aside the datapad. "Hi," he repeated, wondering if this was to be the extent of their conversation. He wondered why she was there, and hoped it was to talk at last. There was another pause as he waited for her to say something more.
Mae looked at him, a puzzled frown on her face. She nodded to his pillow-propped knee and asked abruptly, "What happened?"
"It was that anomaly in Cargo Bay Two," he answered. "I was there when it hit. I got knocked about by flying containers, and ended up with a torn meniscus in my right knee."
"Oh." Mae knew about the anomaly that was warping gravity in the cargo bay; there'd been a ship-wide announcement to stay out of the area until further notice. She'd had no idea that anyone, let alone Ari, had been injured by it.
The fabric over Ari's knee moved, and Mae jumped slightly. "What was that?"
"Edosian slug," Ari replied with just a hint of distaste. Normally he was all in favor of Phlox's natural remedies, but this was the first time he'd been on the receiving end of one like this. He'd quickly developed a great sympathy for everyone who'd endured Regulan blood worms, eel therapy, and any number of other indignities. Seeing that his short answer had left Mae just as confused as she'd been before, he added, "It repairs damaged tissues like cartilage."
Now her expression went from confused to slightly sickened. She swallowed hard. "It's inside your knee?"
She was about to ask something more, but obviously changed her mind. "How are you? I mean, aside from your knee?"
He shrugged. "Fine, thanks. How are you?" Ari had at first decided to let her meander her way to her point, but he began to rethink that strategy. He and Mae had barely seen each other since her bizarre behavior shortly before Enterprise entered the Delphic Expanse. He'd wanted to talk to her all that time, to find out what was wrong. Only when he understood why she was doing what she was doing could he try to fix things, or at the very least be there for Mae while she fixed things. But until she told him what was up, he was stuck. He'd tried and failed to get through to her. It was hard, but he was doing his best to leave it up to her.
"I'm " Mae hesitated. "I'm sorry."
Ari got the impression that wasn't what she'd been about to say, but he didn't challenge or question her.
She went on. "I've been distracted, I guess. Confused. I took it out on you."
Ari said nothing, shrugged once. What she said was true, but he didn't have to rub it in.
"Anyway, I'm sorry," she said again. "I hope Maybe we could try being friends again?"
Ari's stomach twisted and it had nothing to do with the sensation of the slug in his knee. "You want to be friends?"
"I " Mae hesitated again. "Is that okay?"
He felt like his heart had been crushed under a giant boot. "Yeah. Sure," he answered, his voice tight.
"Really, I'd like " She trailed off.
He waited a moment to see if she'd finish her thought. She didn't.
"What?" he asked, trying not to let his hurt sound in his voice. "What would you like?"
Mae shook her head. Her eyes were bright, but Ari couldn't be sure if it was the angle of the light or unshed tears that caused it. "I have to go on duty." She turned quickly and practically ran from the cabin.
"Mae!" Ari called after her, but the door had already closed. Even if he hadn't been ordered to bed rest, he never would have caught her. By the time he grabbed his crutches and got himself upright, she'd be half way to engineering. "Damn it!" he cursed at the empty room.
Mae's gait was stiff and quick as she hurried away from Ari's cabin. He'd been hurt. How had she not known that? She'd heard nothing about anyone being injured. Of course, if she were honest with herself, she'd never thought to ask if anyone had been injured.
She entered Main Engineering in something of a daze.
Tucker called out to everyone to gather up just as the door slid shut behind Lawless. The dark circles under his eyes were darker than usual—evidence of yet another bad night. Reed's security lock had kept the sleepwalking engineer safely contained in his quarters this time, but neither of them had gotten half enough sleep. He fought back a yawn and forced his eyes to focus on the datapad in his hand.
Tucker began dividing up teams and assigning tasks. Lawless barely heard her name, let alone that she was to work with Kelly on the plasma connector circuits. Kelly had changed out the differential amplifiers the previous day, and this was the next step in the system's maintenance. The pair worked quietly, only speaking when it was necessary, and even then only in hushed tones.
"Ensign?" Kelly practically whispered. "Ensign?"
Mae jumped slightly. She was so distracted that she'd not heard the young crewman. "Sorry. What?"
"The micro-caliper? Could you hand it to me, please?"
"Sure." Lawless bent and retrieved the device from the toolbox at her feet. As she handed it to Kelly, they heard raised voices. Apparently it was time for Tucker's morning tirade.
Kelly shot a quick glance at Lawless. "He's starting early today," she muttered under her breath.
The ensign only nodded. Her already tense shoulders tightened even more. Tucker's voice rose.
"I wonder who he's railing at this time," Kelly went on in a hushed tone.
"Rostov," Mae said through tightly clenched teeth. She'd caught the name out of the corner of her ear. She clenched her fists at her sides and willed herself to be calm, fighting for every ounce of her considerable self-control. Mae felt her blood pressure rise with Tucker's voice. Every nerve in her body was frayed nearly to breaking.
Tucker's angry words washed over her. She didn't even register them, only his tone and volume, which continued to grow angrier and louder until finally Mae snapped.
"Jesus Christ! Will you stop shouting?!"
Silence as heavy as a New Orleans afternoon fell over Engineering. Tucker spun to face the source of the offending cry. His face was red hot with fury, but his voice was stone cold.
"What did you say?" It was more threat than question.
Mae continued, oblivious to the danger or simply uncaring. She met his angry glare with her own. The flood gates opened.
"I said stop shouting for Christ's sake! Yesterday it was Kelly. The day before it was Nahai and Snider. Now it's Rostov. Who's next on your personal hit list, huh? Every morning we all come in here wondering what new excuse you'll come up with to rip someone a new asshole, and who it's going to be today."
"That's enough, Ensign!" barked Trip.
She bulldozed over him without slowing down. "You've been abusing this department for days. It's been a bitch working for you ever since we left for the Expanse, and since we got here you've turned into a god-damned dictator!"
Mae barely paused for breath. She advanced on him as she ranted, undaunted by the rage that flashed in his icy blue eyes. "You've stormed around here looking for ways to find fault. It's like some sort of prison work camp. Morale's in the toilet and it's your fault! You're so god-damned self-centered that you can't even see it! You're caught up in your own problems and you're forcing the rest of us down with you. What makes you think you can treat us like that? Do you think you're special? Do you think you're different than us? Better? Worse? Alone? You're not! You're not any of that!"
They were nose to nose now, shrieking at each other like bedlamites.
"Shut it, Ensign! That's enough!" Tucker shouted over her.
But she wasn't done. "Do you think you're the only one with the right to be angry? Everyone on this ship was hurt by the Xindi attack. Your sister's dead! So's my mother! So are seven million other people! You don't have a monopoly on pain!"
"That's it!" bellowed Tucker. Finally he got her attention. Lawless fell silent, breathing heavy, eyes flashing. "You're relieved of duty until further notice! Now get the hell out of my engine room!"
The pair of them glared at each other for a brief moment, and then Mae turned and stormed out.
Dead silence filled the big room. Tucker glowered at his crew. "Well?" he snapped.
Instantly, everyone refocused on their work. Trip stood there for several moments, mind spinning with too many feelings to identify. Shit! He turned sharply and stomped out after Mae. His rational mind told him he needed to fix this, and fix it now. He looked both directions along the corridor and around the corners at either end, but she was nowhere to be seen. "Shit!" He stood, fists on his hips, trying to think where she would have gone. He came up blank and decided to forget it for now. He would deal with Lawless later. He turned and stomped back into Main Engineering.
Lawless had left almost at a run. By the time Tucker came after her, she was half way to sickbay.
The sickbay door opened just as she reached it. Unable to stop her momentum, Mae collided with T'Pol in the doorway.
"Oof!" Mae grunted, as both women caught each other's shoulders for balance. T'Pol's eyes widened and her hands involuntarily gripped tighter at the same time Mae's let go. "Ow!"
Abruptly, T'Pol released her grip, but her expression remained unchanged. "My apologies, Ensign. You...startled me."
"Sorry. Totally my fault. I wasn't watching where I was going," Mae said in a rush. "Excuse me."
"Of course," replied the Vulcan woman even as Mae stepped quickly around her and disappeared into sickbay. The door shut, leaving T'Pol alone in the corridor. She stood there for several moments, stunned by what she'd accidentally learned. Her normal mental controls were somewhat ragged of late, but even if she'd been at her best she couldn't have helped but pick up on Lawless's thoughts. The ensign was projecting them like a silent, mental roar.
T'Pol took a deep, cleansing breath. Information learned by accident and without the person's knowledge or permission was rare. Under normal circumstances, T'Pol would simply ignore what she inadvertently discovered. But what she'd heard in Mae's mind was staggering to the Vulcan. She almost turned around and went back into sickbay. She wanted to talk to Mae immediately. But she knew she had no right even to share an opinion, let alone offer advice. It was a serious dilemma for her, and there was no time now to give it the consideration the situation warranted.
She allowed herself another few moments to collect her scattered self-control, and then made the only choice she could. She hailed the nearest turbolift and headed up to the bridge.
Inside sickbay and unaware of the quandary she'd just created, Mae looked around. "Doctor Phlox?" she called urgently. "Doctor Phlox?"
"One moment, Ensign," she heard him call, but still didn't see him.
Mae waited impatiently, fidgeting and shifting anxiously from one foot to the other. Finally, Phlox emerged from a curtained med bay.
"What can I do for you, Ensign?" he asked.
Almost before he finished speaking, Mae blurted out, "I've made my decision."
Phlox nodded in understanding. "Ah! Very good. If you'll have a seat, we'll discuss it." He tried to usher her to one of the peripheral exam areas.
"I don't need to discuss anything," argued Mae, standing her ground. "I know what I want to do."
"I'm not questioning your choice, whatever it may be," said Phlox calmly, still trying gently to guide her to the med bay. She allowed herself to be led there.
"Good." She sat down and he pulled a heavy privacy curtain around the area.
Phlox smiled at her. "Now, which option did you wish to pursue? Gestation, incubation, suspension, or termination?"
"The last one. And I'm ready right now if you just want to go get whatever you need to get to abort this pregnancy."
"Certainly. The morning is free of other patients. Barring an emergency, there's no reason not to proceed now. Unless you're expected on duty today?"
Mae almost laughed. "No."
"Good, good." He opened a drawer and pulled out a hospital gown. "Change into this, and I'll be back shortly."
He left her alone in the curtained exam area. Her hands shook as she undressed, although whether it was in nervous anticipation of the procedure or reaction to her fight with Tucker, Mae couldn't say. Get it together, she ordered herself, slipping out of boots and coveralls. If I'm freaking out, he might think I'm doing this on a whim. In fact, she'd been thinking hard about her options for weeks, ever since learning she was pregnant. The news had been a complete shock. The birth control method she'd used so successfully for years had suddenly failed. Phlox had explained that her body had simply adapted to it over time, like antibodies combating an illness. Sometimes, he'd said, it just happens.
She'd been angry for a little while, but she wasn't someone who dwelt on the how or the why when she could focus on finding a solution. Mae had seriously considered talking to Stephanie about what had happened. In her heart, though, she knew exactly what her friend would say, so there was no point in asking. Bonnie knew what was going on, but that had been unintentional. She'd caught Mae vomiting one too many times for "something I ate" to be convincing. Mae had made her promise not to tell anyone, and not to offer any advice. Mae knew it was hard on her bunkmate, but Bonnie had reluctantly agreed.
I couldn't talk to her, or Stephanie, or anyone. I had to make this decision on my own. I have to know that the choice and its consequences are mine. Talking to her friends would have provided a support network, but it would also have caused her to wonder how much influence their opinions had on her final decision.
She'd reached that decision last night. That was why she'd gone to Ari's cabin this morning. He has the right to know what I'm doing, and why I've been acting so weird. He deserves at least that much. So many things factored into it; why she'd thought a quick chat before work would be sufficient to cover it all was beyond her. Mae shook her head at herself. What was I thinking? Then she answered her own question. I was thinking I'd drop my bomb and then go hide in Engineering. What a bitch.
In the end it hadn't mattered. Finding Ari recovering from an injury had so stunned her that she'd lost her nerve. It was the proverbial final straw on the camel's back. I've been so caught up in my own problems—just like I accused Commander Tucker of being, she thought, bitterly aware of the irony. It never even occurred to me to wonder how Ari was doing. She hadn't even sought him out to say hi or ask if he wanted to go for coffee. What a bitch, she thought again.
Now that she had a course of action she intended to follow it. She inhaled deeply, let the breath out in a long, slow stream. Relatively calmed, she continued undressing.
Once she'd changed, she folded her uniform and set the stacked clothing on the counter. Then she sat on the biobed, with her bare legs hanging over the side, and waited for Phlox's return. She could hear him moving about, but still she jumped when he spoke.
"May I come in?"
He entered, securing the curtain behind him. He pulled with him a rolling tray with several items on it. The only ones immediately familiar to Mae were the hypospray and the speculum. She was relieved to see that the latter was the most intimidating looking item on the tray.
Phlox first adjusted the head of the biobed, and then handed Mae a small pillow. "If you'll just sit back?" As Mae settled back, he folded down the foot of the bed and extended the stirrups from their cubbies. He guided her feet into them. "You'll feel some discomfort, but there should be little or no pain. The compound in the hypo will—"
She cut him off. "You explained all the procedures before. I remember what you said."
"All right. Let's begin." He injected the hypo into her neck, and Mae relaxed into the pillow.
Trip and Malcolm sat at a table near the center of the mess hall. There were empty tables around them despite the busy time of day. Anyone who worked in Engineering—and anyone with a bunkmate or buddy who worked in Engineering—was giving Tucker a wide berth.
Rumors of Lawless and Tucker's blow-up that morning had spread quickly throughout the ship. Malcolm wondered how much of it was true, and how much the story was exaggerated by the time he heard it. He wanted to hear his lover's version of the incident, but was hesitant to bring it up. This was the first time in weeks that he and Trip were actually sitting down to a nice dinner together. He didn't want to spoil it. He glanced around, shook his head slightly, and turned back to his food.
Trip noticed Malcolm looking around them at the empty tables. It was easy to guess what he was thinking. Tucker swallowed his bite of mashed potatoes. "I guess everyone heard about what happened this morning."
"It's not a large ship," admitted Malcolm.
"Especially when there's some good gossip," Trip added with bitter humor.
"Can you tell me what actually happened?"
Trip shook his head, thinking. "It was ugly," he said after a moment. "Not good suppertime conversation."
"But you really suspended Lawless until further notice?" This surprised Reed more than anything else he'd heard. Resources, including crew, were limited. Every able body was needed on active duty.
Malcolm let out a low whistle. "Captain Archer's going to want a good explanation for that."
"Shit." Trip closed weary eyes. When he opened them again, he focused on Reed's puzzled frown. "I forgot about that part. I'm kinda surprised he hasn't called me on it yet, now that you mention it."
"Good evening, gentlemen." Madeline's cheerful greeting startled both men. She stood next to their table with a dinner tray in her hands. They looked up at her. "May I join you?"
Malcolm gave Trip a quick glance, which the engineer returned with a tiny shrug. "Of course."
"Thanks." Maddy set down her tray and pulled a chair over from an adjacent table. She sat. "Awfully empty in here tonight, isn't it?"
Malcolm knew his sister wasn't that thick, but he wondered if Trip would figure it out.
Tucker looked at her for a moment, and then actually chuckled a little. "Nah. You're just braver than most, Negotiator."
"Please, call me Madeline," she said. "I've never liked titles."
"And you're working for Starfleet? That must be challenging."
"I like a challenge." She smiled at him, and Trip found himself smiling back. Then as quickly as it had come, his smile faded. He turned back to his dinner.
Maddy was curious but let it go. She took a bite of penne with mushroom and clam sauce. "Mm! This is lovely!" she exclaimed when she'd downed the bite. She looked from one man to the other. "So. Do either of you blokes know how to play poker?"
Malcolm shook his head. "No. Why?"
"I've been invited to join in a girls' poker night. I've never played, though, so I could use some pointers. But if neither of you can help, I'll have to keep asking around."
"I used to play," Trip said, barely glancing up, "but it's been a long time."
"Any tutoring is better than none," Madeline replied hopefully. "Perhaps the three of us could have a bit of a go this evening."
"I I can't tonight."
Malcolm frowned again. He suspected that after dinner Trip planned to return to Engineering. He needed to take the night off—for several reasons. "What have you got going tonight?" he asked as neutrally as he could.
Trip gave an evasive shrug and didn't meet his partner's curious gaze. "I promised Phlox I'd do something for him tonight."
"Sounds mysterious," joked Madeline.
"When's the poker game?" Tucker asked to change the subject.
"Tomorrow night. So you see I've left it until the eleventh hour," she added, chagrined. "I just haven't been able to find the time."
"Sorry I can't help you."
"It's hardly your fault. I've always been like this. Haven't I, Malcolm?"
He smiled wryly. "Yes, you have."
"Bastard!" she laughed and smacked him on the shoulder. "You're supposed to deny it and say how wonderful and organized and prepared I always am."
"I'm not a liar by nature," quipped her brother.
"Just for that, you get to help me with my research tonight." She looked sly and shot a glance at Trip. "I know you don't have a better offer because your man has other plans—whatever they may be."
Too late, Malcolm realized he'd played into her hands. He knew that gleam in her eyes. It wasn't just poker she wanted to find out about. The smile on her face confirmed his suspicion.
"What time shall I come over?" she asked pleasantly.
Malcolm looked at Trip. "What time are you helping Phlox?"
"Twenty-one hundred," he answered shortly.
Malcolm looked at Madeline. "Will that work for you?"
"Perfect." She smiled. Malcolm knew that smile. It meant trouble.
Tucker entered the gym with a sense of trepidation. He looked around from the open doorway, glad to see that the only person there was the person he was supposed to meet.
Cormack hadn't yet noticed him, and he took a moment to watch her. She was sitting on one of two yoga mats. The purple one, he noted for no particular reason. The other mat was blue. That one, laid out perpendicular to the first and about a meter away, was clearly meant for him. The only other items near by were two small towels.
Cormack sat with her knees bent and the soles of her feet pressed against one another. She was bent over at the waist with her arms stretched out on the floor in front of her. Tucker wasn't positive, but from where he stood it looked as though her face was actually resting on her feet.
He stepped into the room, allowing the door to slip shut behind him.
Cormack's head turned at the sound, and she smiled at him. "Commander, hi." She unfolded herself and stood up. "C'mon in."
"I hope you don't expect me to bend like that," he joked stiffly.
"Not tonight," she replied with forced lightness. She was dubious about this whole proposition, but she would do her best to see it through. She gestured to the blue mat. "Join me?"
He crossed to where she waited. There was a brief, uncomfortable pause. "What do you want me to do?" he asked at last.
"Well, you can start by getting barefoot."
Tucker had come in his usual gym gear—sneakers, loose sweatpants, and a tight t-shirt. He went to the nearest bench, sat down, and untied his shoes.
Another awkward silence fell. This time Cormack broke it. "Look, Commander, unless I miss my guess you and I both got tricked into this." His expression confirmed her suspicion. "Thought so. Phlox would've made a hell of a con man, eh?"
"Would have?" Tucker replied sardonically.
She laughed. "Right."
Trip set his sneakers aside and stood up. "So ?
"So," echoed Stephanie. "Have you ever done anything like this before?"
"Do you have any chronic injuries or anything I should know about? Bad knee? Old football injury?" She was nervous and babbling. She forced herself to stop.
"Nope." Trip shook his head. "Nothing."
"Okay. Come take the mat here." She gestured to it again.
He stood on the blue mat, faced her on the other one, and waited.
Stephanie hesitated again. "I'm sorry, Commander. I'm I've never actually taught yoga to anyone, so I'm a little nervous."
Trip wondered if her nerves were at all related to the fight he'd had with Lawless that morning. The women were good friends after all. He decided not to bring that up. Instead, he tried some honesty. "You're nervous? I've been dreading this ever since Phlox talked me into it."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but that makes me feel a lot better."
They both chuckled.
"All right," said Trip, taking the initiative. "If we're going to do this, we'd better just do it. Where do we start?"
"Right." Stephanie nodded once. "I'm going to teach you some basic poses, or asanas as they're called in Sanskrit. This is Hatha Yoga, by the way. That means Sun and Moon, and it's really all about creating a balance among your various bodies."
"What?" Trip wasn't sure he'd heard correctly.
"There are four bodies according to yogic philosophy. There's the physical body, the astral body, and the pure energy body. I think. There's another one in there somewhere, but I never can remember what it is. Okay?"
Tucker shrugged. "Whatever you say."
"Okay. I'll teach you a sequence called the Salutation to the Sun, and a few other standing stretches. Then we'll cool down with some seated poses. I think that'll probably be enough for your first go, eh?"
"Sounds like plenty to me."
"Then come stand at one end of the mat with your feet together. Hands in front of you in what's called the prayer pose." She demonstrated, and he copied her. "Here we go."
Madeline looked around the cabin her brother shared with the ship's chief engineer. She nodded once and smiled. "Very nice."
Malcolm stood at the foot of the bed and watched her scrutinize the room. The cabin was little different from any other on the ship, although it was larger than most, and there was a good-sized window. The only distinguishing factors were the few personal items displayed here and there. "Thanks," he said a little wryly.
Ignoring his tone and crossing to the desk, Maddy picked up one of the framed photographs from it. "This must be the Commander's parents."
"You can call him Trip, you know. And yes, those are his parents."
She set down that picture and picked up the next. "I'm honored." She held it up so he could see it. It was a picture of her from several years ago, taken when Malcolm had first left London for San Francisco. "I see I'm the only one who rates a photo."
"You didn't think I'd have a picture of Father, did you?"
"Hardly," she replied, rolling her eyes. She set the picture down. "That's it? I'm surprised there aren't more pictures of Trip's family. He has quite a lot, hasn't he?"
Malcolm hesitated, then decided it wasn't a secret and said, "There was one of his sister, Lizzie. But he put it away after the Xindi attack."
"Lizzie. She's the one who was killed." Maddy turned to face him and leaned back against the desk. She crossed her arms over her chest. "Why did he put it away?"
Malcolm shrugged. "You'd have to ask him."
"You must have an idea," she pressed.
"Of course I do."
They looked intently at one another for a few moments. "I suppose," said Maddy at length, "he found it too painful a reminder of her loss."
"You'd have to ask him," repeated Malcolm stubbornly.
Maddy relented. "I don't need to know. It's none of my business, really," she said, knowing full well this was what her brother was thinking. She wanted to ask Malcolm what he would have done in Trip's place. That won't get me anywhere, she thought. And she knew she had no good reason to ask it; it was only morbid curiosity on her part. Instead she smiled.
Uh oh, thought Malcolm. There's that smile again.
"How about that poker research you promised to help me with?" she asked.
A little surprised, Malcolm said, "There should be something in the computer. There's an entire games subdirectory within the entertainment directory."
"Good. Show me."
Malcolm crossed the room and sat at the computer. Maddy came to stand behind him and hovered over his shoulder. He searched "poker, rules" and came up with far more information than he would have expected. "It looks like there are quite a few variations on the theme."
"What looks like the most common?"
He scanned the screen. "Uhh Five Card Draw and Texas Hold 'Em look most likely."
"Let's start with the first one. May I?" she gestured to the chair.
"Be my guest." He rose so she could take the seat. He had little interest in the game and was happy to relinquish the computer to her.
As she settled herself in front of the screen, he picked up a datapad from the bedside table and made himself comfortable on the bunk. He could review the shift reports for the day and start work on next month's duty rosters while his sister scoured the computer databanks.
Several minutes passed in comfortable silence.
"It looks pretty straightforward," Maddy said eventually, glancing up.
Startled from his studies, Malcolm looked across at her. "Good."
"Yes," she went on. "There are several hands of varying value, and the person with the highest wins. When no one has any of those hands, it's just the highest card that takes the pot."
"That sounds simple enough," he agreed.
"It does, but then there's the betting. Apparently that's where the strategy comes in. You have to figure out how much you're willing to bet on each hand, and you have to try to figure out whether the other people playing are bluffing."
"You should be good at that part."
Maddy chuckled. "Bluffing?" she quipped.
"Telling when other people are bluffing," he replied, knowing she already knew what he meant.
Her expression shifted so subtly that even Malcolm, who knew her so well, missed the change. "What about you? Are you good at telling when someone is bluffing?"
Malcolm gave a small shrug. "I suppose. I've been involved in enough interrogations to have a good idea when someone is lying to me."
"What if it's someone you know?"
"What?" Malcolm was puzzled. He set aside the datapad and sat up straighter, turning so his legs were over the side of the bed with his feet resting on the deckplating.
"Can you tell when someone you know is bluffing?"
Suddenly Malcolm knew where she was going. His blue eyes grew guarded. "Sometimes."
She knew the moment he'd sussed her out. There was no point in being circumspect any longer. "And Captain Archer? How well can you read him?"
"Meaning?" Her gaze was just as intent as his.
"We've been in a lot of tight situations. Sometimes I've gauged him correctly, other times he's surprised me."
"Do you find him to be an ethical person?"
"And when you found him with the prisoner Orgoth," Maddy pressed. "Were you surprised?"
Again the two eyed one another intently. Malcolm waited for another question, wondering if he would answer it or not. He wouldn't know until she asked.
"I see." Maddy turned back to the computer screen. "Is it all right if I use your messenger to send myself this information?"
"The poker rules." She glanced at him. "Then I won't have to look it all up again. I'll just have it."
Malcolm was surprised, but didn't let it show. He'd expected her to question him more. When she didn't, he grew pensive. What did I say that she's already satisfied? I haven't given anything away. I kept my answers as balanced and neutral as possible. Didn't I?
Apparently he'd been quiet too long. "Sorry. Go ahead."
"Thanks." She quickly sent herself the page on the screen. Then she rose, and instinctively he stood, too. "I'd better head home." She smiled. "Thanks again for all your help," she said, walking to the door.
"You're welcome. Good luck on poker night." He was still somewhat stymied, and fought to keep that fact hidden from his sister.
"Thanks. Good night."
Maddy left the cabin. Standing in the corridor, she allowed herself a brief moment of satisfaction. She'd gotten what she wanted. Her expression became thoughtful, and she turned and began walking towards her cabin. Although she didn't know the exact details of what Archer had done to Orgoth, she now knew that his actions had been, in Malcolm's view, unethical. What did her notes say? The incident involved—at least peripherally—a gun and an airlock.
By the time she reached her quarters, she had a good idea of what had happened.
Trip left the gym feeling unexpectedly calm—calmer than he'd felt in a long time. He knew it wouldn't last, but he hoped to take advantage of it while it did. Phlox's timing was uncanny; the yoga was exactly what he needed tonight.
He entered his cabin, nodding hello to his partner.
"Hi," said Malcolm from his seat at the desk. He surreptitiously surveyed the younger man as he crossed the room. Tucker had left dinner early and was already gone when he and Maddy had returned to the cabin later. Now Trip was dressed for the gym, not for work, and Reed wondered what Phlox could have wanted that required such casual dress. It wasn't as if he needed physical therapy for an injury.
Trip disappeared into the lav. When he emerged a short time later, Malcolm had reached a decision. He turned off the computer screen and rose from behind the desk. "So did you take care of whatever it was Phlox needed?" he asked off-handedly. He deliberately avoided making eye contact so as to remain as unthreatening as he could while walking to the closet and removing his pajamas from a drawer.
Trip let out a single, self-deprecating chuckle. He hadn't told Malcolm what he was doing that evening; he'd felt too embarrassed. Now that just seemed silly. He sat on the edge of the bed and removed his shoes, which he'd only put on minutes ago when leaving the gym. "You could say that. He tricked me into learning some yoga," he replied simply.
Malcolm turned a puzzled look on him. "He what?"
"That's not all. He tricked Ensign Cormack into teaching me."
"Oh." There seemed little else to say.
"I'm actually kind of glad," admitted Trip. He looked hopefully at his partner. "Would you rub my feet for me tonight?"
"Of course." Pleased but still puzzled, Malcolm readily acquiesced to the request.
Neither man spoke again until both were dressed for bed and Trip was once more seated on the bunk. Malcolm settled in to massage his feet. He'd become fond of the ritual and was glad Tucker had asked for it.
Trip settled back against the bulkhead while his lover set to work with his strong hands. He sighed, a relieved yet heavy sigh.
"Is something wrong?" asked Malcolm tentatively.
There was a pause before the engineer replied. When he did, his tone was both weary and disgusted. "I fucked up, Malcolm."
"In what way?"
"With Mae this morning."
Malcolm nodded empathetically.
"She lost it, and then I lost it. I've never had that happen before. I've snapped at people, sure. I've even chewed out a few—especially lately," he admitted dourly. "But this morning " He trailed off. His earlier calm was fading, as he'd known it would.
Malcolm's heart skipped a beat. Was Trip really admitting that he needed help? It had been so long since his lover had come to him, leaned on him, needed him. He wasn't sure how to react. He didn't want to push Trip for fear he would shut back down again, but he wanted to show that he was ready to help in whatever way he could. He chose his words with extra care. "You said at dinner you couldn't tell me about it. Can you now?"
Trip shook his head. "There's no point repeating what either of us said. Although she did most of the talking. I just kicked her out of the engine room and told her not to come back." He sighed again. He'd made his share of poor choices during his time with Starfleet, but he'd never done anything to compare with this. He'd never thought he was capable of it. He hated learning that he was. "I can't believe I did that."
"It's not irreparable," said Malcolm reassuringly.
"You don't know."
"I do." Malcolm's hands stopped moving, although he still held lightly to his lover's feet. "You're not the first person to make that sort of mistake with someone under his command. Hell, you're not even the first person in this room to have done that."
Trip met Malcolm's earnest blue gaze. How could I have forgotten about that? he reproached himself. "You're talking about Cormack."
"Yeah. I fucked that up right royally, but it's sorted out now."
"How did you fix it?" Trip asked, hoping against hope for an easy answer and knowing he wouldn't get one.
"It's an amazing technique," answered his partner, a hint of a teasing gleam in his eyes. "Revolutionary new thing. It's called talking to each other."
Trip let out another chuckle, this time one laced with irony. "I figured as much."
Malcolm fixed him with a look of utmost sincerity. "You're good with people, Trip. I'm not. If I can fix a mistake like that, then certainly you shouldn't have any problem."
"I suppose you're right," Trip replied, but his tone was still doubtful. "Maybe tomorrow."
Malcolm turned his attention back to the younger man's feet. "Maybe," he encouraged gently.
"Malcolm?" Trip said after another short silence.
"Hmm?" He glanced up and saw more openness in Trip's face than he had in months. It brought a lump to Malcolm's throat and he swallowed it down.
The comm chirped unexpectedly then, startling them both. Malcolm saw the walls reform in an instant behind his lover's blue eyes. The moment was gone, but the brief glimpse of the old Trip gave him hope. He held onto it like a lifeline.
T'Pol set down her mug of tea and looked across the breakfast table. "Captain," she began.
Archer looked up from his scrambled eggs. "Yes, Doctor?" he replied.
"I wondered if you'd given any thought to the incident in Engineering yesterday morning."
The Captain's face darkened slightly. "I've given it a lot of thought, but that doesn't make me any happier about it." He'd heard the rumors like everyone else, but reading Tucker's report had still shocked him. It wasn't the sort of thing he was accustomed to reading.
T'Pol's expression was enigmatic as she went on. "Have you spoken to Commander Tucker or Ensign Lawless about it?"
"Not yet." Archer took a sip of his orange juice before going on. "I have a meeting with the Commander this morning."
Archer eyed her curiously. There was more than her usual inscrutability to her words. "Is there something you want to tell me about the incident?"
She considered her words carefully. She had information she had no right to, and her personal code of ethics did not allow for sharing that information with a third party. However, T'Pol considered it too important to keep to herself. She had meditated on the problem for quite some time the previous night. "I didn't witness it, so I can only speculate."
Her eyes met his across the table, and Archer knew without a doubt there was more going on than she was saying. He knew her well enough to know that much, and to know that she was trying to tell him something without having to say it in so many words. He wondered why, but decided it was best to simply follow her lead. She undoubtedly had her reasons. Right now the information was more important.
"So, speculate," he suggested, his tone deliberately casual.
T'Pol gave the tiniest of understanding nods. He had figured out what she was doing and, to her pleasant surprise, was willing to do this her way instead of blundering about in that particularly human way. "It seems out of character for both the Commander and the Ensign to have behaved as reports say."
"Usually I'd agree with you, but everyone's been on edge lately." Particularly in Engineering, he added silently.
"Yes. However," she went on, "I wonder if there's something more. I haven't made a specific study of it, but I have noticed that humans often allow their emotions about one situation to affect their behavior in another, even when the two situations are entirely unrelated." She fell silent and waited to see if Archer had what he needed to make the next move.
He continued to look at her as he thought about what she'd said. It made sense, and it was so obvious he could have kicked himself for not thinking of it sooner. Obviously Tucker was allowing his personal feelings to affect his behavior towards his team. Was it so unlikely that Lawless might be doing the same? She'd lost a close family member in the Xindi attack, just as Trip had. It was certainly a possibility.
T'Pol watched in gratification as comprehension spread across Archer's face. She had accomplished her goal, and she hadn't violated her ethical code to do it.
"Thank you," Archer said. "I'll definitely take that speculation into consideration."
T'Pol simply nodded once and returned her attention to her breakfast.
"You wanted to see me, Captain?" Trip stood uncomfortably in front of Archer's desk. He knew what was going on, and had dreaded it since Malcolm mentioned the likelihood yesterday at dinner. The Captain's brief call the previous evening had only increased his dread. Now it was morning and after three whole hours of surprisingly restful sleep, even Trip had begun to question his behavior the previous day.
"Have a seat, Commander."
Yep. Not a friendly chat. Archer's tone of voice was more than enough to tell him that. He sat down, muscles protesting the movement in a quiet, encouraging way. His yoga session with Cormack had been intense despite its brevity. He'd never thought something so fluid and almost peaceful could affect him so strongly, both physically and mentally.
"Care to explain why you've relieved one of your top ensigns of duty?" asked Archer. It wasn't the curious inquiry the words suggested. The Captain expected an answer, and he expected it to be a good one.
Tucker tried to remain neutral in his response. He didn't need his emotions clouding his judgment as they had yesterday. "She was insubordinate," he began, knowing it wasn't enough of an explanation. "Extremely insubordinate."
Archer wasn't convinced. "Ensign Lawless was 'extremely insubordinate'?" he echoed. "That's extremely unusual, isn't it?" He deliberately repeated Trip's chosen adverb.
"In fact, there's not a single incident of insubordination prior to this anywhere in her Starfleet records. And that make me wonder, why now?"
Trip went on the defensive. "If you're suggesting I drove her to it, Captain, I wasn't even talking to her when she went off."
"I'm not suggesting anything like that, Trip," Archer assured him. "I'm suggesting that maybe there was something else, something unrelated to the situation, that caused her to choose that moment to step over the line." His demeanor shifted from stern to thoughtful. "What's going on in that engine room, Trip? The reports I get are all barebones and depthless. No one's talking through official channels, and what little I'm picking up in ship's gossip doesn't fill me with confidence." He leaned forward, resting his forearms on his desk. "This isn't like you, Trip. You've always been conscious of your crew's lives outside the department. I've seen you take an interest and help someone even when it had nothing to do with your job. What's going on?" he repeated intently.
Tucker was silent. He knew Archer was right. It was exactly what Lawless had shouted at him; he was too caught up in his own problems to give a damn about anyone else's. In the past he'd taken an interest. When someone's work wasn't up to snuff, he'd made quiet, friendly inquiries. He'd been interested in his crew's wellbeing. That had changed since Lizzie's death. He wasn't proud of it.
Finally, he broke the prolonged silence. "I'll talk to Mae."
"Today," added Archer.
"Today," echoed Trip.
The Captain once again grew stern, but retained a hint of compassion for his old friend. "Dismissed."
Maggie fumed silently as she stalked down the E-deck corridor. The evening had started badly, and in her case, ended as quickly as it had begun. She'd been looking forward to a relaxed evening with some of her fellow MACOs. She'd hoped that Ryan's recent injury would keep him from getting too boisterous and therefore offensive. Instead his broken foot, even freshly healed as it was, put him in the mood to complain. Maggie had barely opened her beer when he crossed the line. His foul, vicious words still stung her ears.
She paused and took a swig of the beer she still carried, trying to get a hold of her temper. She rarely got angry, but when she did, it was something to behold. She didn't like it. Sometimes it even scared her, as it had tonight. Standing dead center of the corridor, she took several deep breaths, willing herself to calm down. She took another swallow of beer to cool the heat that had risen in her before she continued back to her cabin.
The door slipped open at her command and she stepped inside. Cormack looked up, surprised. Then her expression grew concerned.
"What's wrong? Are you okay?" Stephanie asked, rising from her seat at the desk.
"Yeah," said Maggie, still tense. She went into the lav and poured the rest of her beer down the sink.
Stephanie followed and watched her from the doorway. "You sure? You're back awfully early."
"Yeah." The young MACO heaved a huge, cleansing sigh and chucked the empty bottle down the trash chute. She turned to her bunkmate. "Is it too late to take you up on that invite for poker?"
If Cormack was surprised, she didn't show it. "It's never too late. I even got extra chocolate in case you changed your mind." She smiled.
Maggie smiled back. She almost laughed now as she remembered Ryan's virulent epithets. If only she knew what he'd said about her, she'd kick his ass all the way back to Earth.
"What?" asked Stephanie, a little wary and yet amused.
"Nothing. Just something funny came to mind. Should we go? I don't want to make you late."
"Just a minute." The blonde woman crossed to her locker, and this time Maggie followed. She sat on the end of her bunk as Stephanie dug out her sneakers and put them on.
"Should I change?" Maggie asked, suddenly uncertain.
Stephanie glanced up at her from where she knelt tying her shoes. Maggie wore a long-sleeved black t-shirt, fatigue pants, and her MACO-issue boots. "Nah. You're fine. I'm no glam-pot either." She straightened up and indicated her own worn jeans and faded blue tank-top. She picked up a bag from the desk, and Maggie heard it rattle.
"Is that the stake for tonight?" She indicated the bag.
The pair left the cabin and headed to Liz and Travis's place on B-deck. As they rode the turbolift upwards, Maggie asked curiously. "So if we're having a women-only poker night, where's Ensign Mayweather tonight?"
Stephanie paused in thought. "I don't know." She shrugged as the lift stopped. They stepped into the corridor and turned left. "Liz volunteered to host, but I didn't think to ask what Travis would be up to while we invaded."
They reached the cabin and rang the chime. The door opened almost instantly and Liz grinned at them. "The keeper of the chocolate. I hope you're ready to lose it all."
"You wish," replied Cormack in amusement. "I brought a new sheep for fleecing," she added, indicating Bowman.
Cutler ushered them in, laughing. Fraser and Sato were already there, setting up a folding table.
"Hey, Sweetie," smiled Bonnie. She and Stephanie exchanged a quick hello kiss.
"Where's Mae?" asked the blonde.
"She's staying home tonight. She's not having the best week, eh?" Fraser knew more than she let on, but again was forced by her promise to keep her mouth shut.
Sato piped up as she pulled over a couple of chairs. "I can't believe Commander Tucker flew off the handle at her like that."
"Were you there?" asked Cutler, adding more folding chairs to the set-up.
"No. Ture told me about it at lunch today."
"Ture?" echoed Cormack, trying to place the name. "Snider?"
"Yeah. She said it was scary and stunningly ugly."
"Damn." Cormack sat down on the foot of the double bunk. "Bags please."
Immediately Fraser and Sato pulled small fabric bags from their pockets and tossed them to her. Cutler fished in a drawer and added hers to the pile. Cormack picked it up and looked at it. Then she looked over at her former bunkmate. "You embroidered your name on it?"
Liz shrugged. "It's only three letters, and I'm not even done. See?" She crossed over and pointed out the undotted "i" and the "z" that wasn't quite filled in. "I had some free time, but since Ari injured his knee I've been covering part of his shifts. I should be able to finish over the weekend, though, since he'll be back on duty."
Cormack just chuckled and shook her head. "Okay." She began sorting almond, peanut, and plain candy-coated chocolates into the bags.
All the time the others were talking, Bowman stood silently to one side of the door, watching and listening and wondering if she'd made a mistake. Before she could say anything, though, Stephanie glanced up from her counting. "I have a bag for you, don't worry." She looked at Liz again. "Are we expecting anyone else?"
"Negotiator Reed," Sato answered for her. Stephanie and Bonnie looked at her in surprise. "She looked like she could use an evening off," the comm officer explained. "And I wanted an excuse to get to know her a little better."
"That's fine," Liz replied for everyone. "I admit I'm curious, too. She's been into sickbay a few times, but that's not really the most conducive place for getting to know someone."
"No?" questioned Fraser. "I'd've thought you could learn a lot about someone in sickbay."
"A lot of clinical or confidential stuff, sure."
"Ah. Gotcha." Bonnie took a seat. "Who has the cards?"
"I do," replied Sato. She sat, too, and smiled across at Bowman. "Have a seat." She opened the deck of cards and began shuffling.
Still a little uncertain, Maggie sat in the nearest chair. "Thanks."
The door chimed at that moment. Liz answered it. "Hi! Come on in." She moved aside so that Madeline could enter.
"I'm sorry if I'm late," the negotiator said.
"Not at all."
"Nope," confirmed Cormack. "I'm still sorting the stakes, so you're fine." She shot the newcomer a quick smile.
Madeline smiled back and looked at the women at the table. "Where should I sit?"
"Wherever you like," Liz answered.
Maddy sat in the empty chair to Sato's right, between the comm officer and Fraser. "Hello."
"Hi," replied Hoshi. "I'm glad you decided to join us."
"Me, too. I really appreciate being invited."
"You might not be so glad later. It all depends on how well you play," quipped Fraser. She offered a hand, which Maddy shook. "I'm Bonnie."
"Madeline." She looked over at Bowman, and reached her hand across the table. "You are?"
"Corporal Bowman. Maggie," the young woman answered a little awkwardly. She shook the negotiator's hand, and then sat back again. At the same time, Liz sat down in the seat between her and Sato.
"This is Maggie's first foray into our debauched little world, too," put in Cormack with a grin. She rose from the bunk, bags in hand. "Here you go." She began handing them around, with new ones for the neophytes. "Plain are worth one," she explained for the benefit of Madeline and Maggie. "Peanuts are five, and almonds are ten."
"Got it," replied Madeline.
Stephanie took the last empty seat, placing her between her bunkmate and her lover. She set her bag on the table before her. "Let's play."
Hoshi set the deck of cards in front of Liz, who cut it and slid it back to her. "All right," Sato said as she began to deal. "The game is five card draw, nothing wild. Ante up, ladies."
Bonnie, Stephanie, and Liz each tossed in two plain chocolates. Madeline and Maggie followed their lead, and the game was on.
Tucker stood outside the door to Lawless's cabin. He'd thought a lot about what he was going to say to her, and had come up with nothing. The fact was, both of them were in the wrong and he wasn't sure how to fix it. He was only here now because the Captain had ordered him to speak to her today, and there were only a few hours of the day left.
At least today had been a reasonably good day. Everyone in Engineering was still walking on tiptoes and speaking in hushed tones. It wasn't the way he usually liked to run his department, but it was an atmosphere he had created so he dealt with it. Maybe sorting things with Lawless and getting her back on duty would improve things a little. With this in mind, he rang the chime.
Seconds passed and he wondered if she wasn't in. Then the door opened and he was confronted with her cold, closed face. She wore sweats and a baggy green t-shirt, and she was barefoot.
"Ensign," he said formally, wishing he'd come earlier when she didn't look like she was ready for bed. "May I have a word with you?"
She pressed her lips together in a thin, angry line. Trip imagined he could see her reining in her temper, but held his ground.
In reality, Mae's pinched expression was just fatigue. She looked at him for a moment, wondering why he was there at all. Finally, she just asked.
"Why are you here?"
"We need to talk about yesterday." There was a flash of something in her eyes, but it was too quick for Tucker to register what emotion it had been. "May I come in?"
Lawless considered the request. "No. But we can go to the observation deck at the end of the hall."
He was a little surprised, but acquiesced. "All right."
"Hang on." She stepped back inside and was gone for more than a minute. Trip began to wonder if she was really planning on coming out again when the door opened once more. She'd traded sweats for jeans, put on a sweater, and slipped her feet into sandals. "Okay."
They walked in silence to the observation deck and went in. The lights came on to half, and Lawless immediately turned them up to full. They weren't there to look at the stars. She turned to face Tucker, crossed her arms over her chest, and waited.
Tucker fought the urge to shuffle his feet. He had the inexplicable feeling that he was some how on trial. He didn't like it, and his expression turned hard.
Mae noticed and stiffened slightly. Suddenly his presence was almost threatening. She braced herself both mentally and physically. She didn't really think he'd strike her, but she didn't care to take chances. She wished she'd thought to keep her path to the door clear.
It took several moments for Trip to see through his own defensive anger to recognize the posture Lawless held. When he did, he was nearly sickened at the realization that she was afraid of him. He had to diffuse this situation before it got any worse.
Careful not to move quickly, he sat in the nearest chair. "You want to sit down?" he offered, gesturing to one of the other cushioned seats.
Cautiously, she sat as far from him as she could.
"You were way out of line yesterday."
Mae said nothing. There was nothing to say. He was right.
Trip went on. "So was I."
This surprised her, but she remained silent. She didn't think verbally agreeing with him was the best choice at that moment.
"I know I haven't been the easiest guy to work for lately. I'm working on fixing that." He fell silent a moment, trying to decide how to go on. He thought about what Archer had suggested that morning. "Is there something I should know about? Or something you want to talk about?"
Still Mae didn't reply, but she was thinking hard.
"It's just—that wasn't like you," Tucker tried again. "I've never seen you lose your temper before. Not like that." He'd often left her in charge when he was called to the bridge or elsewhere. It was her calm nature and even temperament, as well as her professional competence, that made him feel he could trust her with the task. "Can you tell me what happened? Or something? Anything?"
Lawless studied his face carefully. His expression was open, inquiring, and concerned. At last she spoke. "Off the record or on, sir?"
"Off the record, if that's what you want."
She thought about that a moment, and then nodded.
"Off the record then," Tucker affirmed.
He nodded in agreement.
She gave tired sigh. "You're right that it's been hell working for you lately."
Tucker refrained from pointing out that this wasn't precisely what he'd said. He simply acknowledged the truth of her statement with a single nod.
Mae saw it and appreciated it. "I haven't been myself lately either," she admitted. "Not for a while. That's going to get better now."
"It is?" His question wasn't doubtful, but rather a request for affirmation.
"Yeah. I haven't dealt with things real well since my mom died." She gave him a significant look, which he avoided. She let it go. She was hardly in a position to press her C.O. on his own issues. "Also " She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I was pregnant."
Tucker jumped and his eyes widened in shock. "You're pregnant?"
"Was," she corrected him. "It had me kind of messed up, emotionally, mentally, whatever. I took care of that. And I have an appointment with Doctor Douglas for tomorrow morning. To talk about things."
"You " He put two and two together and again felt sickened. "You Your decision "
She looked at him, puzzled. "What?"
He wasn't sure he could say it. "It didn't have anything to do with the fight you and I had?"
It was Mae's turn to be shocked, and now she was angry again. "No! Absolutely not! Do you think I'm so " She sought the right words. " so flighty and capricious and easily influenced that I'd—"
He quickly cut her off. "No! It's not that. I just " The truth was he didn't want the responsibility of her abortion on his conscience. He didn't have a problem with what she'd done. He just wasn't ready to have been an unwitting part of her decision. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply anything like that."
She studied him for a moment. "All right," she said, her voice tight and her words clipped. "Because that was the toughest decision I've ever had to make, and I made it myself. I guarantee you that you never entered into it."
They watched each other across the small room, each caught in his or her own thoughts and wondering at the other's.
Finally, Lawless spoke again. "Was there anything else, sir?"
"Yeah," he answered. "After your appointment tomorrow, I expect to see you back at your post."
This made Mae happier than she wanted to admit, but she refused to let it show on her face. She wasn't ready to let him see how much her suspension had affected her. She simply nodded. "Yes, sir."
He rose, and she followed suit. An awkward pause grew between them until Trip stuck out a hand. Mae didn't even have to consider before she took his hand and shook it. They released their grip.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning," Tucker said.
"I'll be in at 0930," she replied. "After my appointment."
They left the room together and parted just outside the door. Mae returned alone to her cabin, a small smile on her face for the first time in two days.
Trip caught the nearest turbolift up to B-deck. Malcolm was waiting for him when he arrived at their quarters.
Reed rose from where he sat on the bed, reading. He set aside the datapad and took in Trip's demeanor with puzzlement. "Did you get everything sorted out with Ensign Lawless?" he asked.
"Yeah," Trip replied, although he wasn't entirely convinced of it. In spite of what Mae had said, he held a kernel of doubt at her veracity. The timing was just too coincidental. As much as he didn't want to believe his explosive behavior had had anything to do with it—he didn't need anything else on his conscience—he couldn't quite convince himself that it hadn't influenced her somehow.
"Trip?" Malcolm's tone and expression were concerned. "Is everything all right?"
Trip looked at his lover—his patient, long-suffering lover. For the first time in months, he wanted to share how he felt with the other man. He wanted to tell him everything Mae and he had discussed. But he couldn't say anything because he'd promised her confidentiality. The irony of it was almost painful. "Yeah. It's fine. We worked it out and Lawless'll be back on duty tomorrow."
Malcolm was too perceptive not to know he was holding something back. "It's okay. I'm not going to ask you to break a confidence." Trip relaxed noticeably, and Malcolm silently congratulated himself on guessing correctly. "Are you tired?"
Tucker was a little surprised by the non sequitur, but he just shrugged. "When am I not tired?" he replied with gallows humor.
"Fair enough. It's just I thought you might like to watch a movie with me."
"There a lot of explosions in it?"
Malcolm chuckled. "A few, but not until near the end." In fact, he'd put together what he knew of Trip's movie viewing preferences and the mood his partner had been in for so long, and come up with something he thought would cheer him up a little. "Have you ever heard of Mel Brooks?"
Tucker looked at him like he'd just asked if he'd heard of Christmas. "The man who made Young Frankenstein? Of course I have. Why?"
"Good. I thought we could watch Blazing Saddles. Do you know it?"
"I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it."
Malcolm actually grinned. "I know it quite well due to my old friend Geneviève. I think you'll like it. First, I suggest you change out that uniform and into something comfortable." He indicated his own chosen garb—pajamas.
"If you say so." Trip went to the closet and began to undress. "I feel like I've been in this thing for a lifetime," he said as he stripped off his uniform and tossed it in the laundry.
"I can confidently say that is not the case. I saw you put it on at 0600 today." He sat on the edge of the bunk and watched his lover trade dirty clothes for clean sleepwear. "Ready?"
Malcolm settled extra pillows on the bunk so they had a comfortable viewing area and then arranged the computer screen so they could see it well. "Turn the lights down, please." Trip did as asked and settled himself on the bed. Malcolm started the movie and joined him.
The opening scene began, the music swelled, and already Malcolm found himself grinning in anticipation. Geneviève had always insisted this was the funniest film ever made. So far, Malcolm had never found cause to doubt her claim.
He glanced surreptitiously at Trip, and was thrilled to see a small smirk on his lover's face already. Good, he thought. He needs a reason to laugh. He snuggled up a little closer to the engineer. Trip didn't move away. Malcolm relaxed and let himself be caught up in the absurdity of the film. It felt wonderful.
"Arrgh! Ye're bluffin'!" snarled Stephanie in her goofiest and most piratical voice.
"Ye think so, eh?" Maddy countered with equal silliness and piracy. "Well it'll cost ye three big'uns ter find out. Arrgh!"
They squinted across the table at one another like a pair of blonde Popeyes.
Hoshi spoke in her quiet commentator's voice. "And the challenge is on." She turned to Liz beside her. "For expert analysis, we turn to my co-host, Cherry Choco-sauce."
"Thank you, Ho-Ho," replied Liz evenly.
"Cherry, what sort of chance to do you think there is that Maddy is actually bluffing?"
"It's difficult to say, Ho-Ho. Based on her earlier play, I would say that Maddy is unlikely to bluff, but we have no evidence to suggest that she hasn't. It's tough to read this newcomer to the poker scene."
"So what you're saying is that you have no idea."
"That's precisely what I'm saying."
Maggie fought back her laughter. She wasn't sure when the whole pirate thing had started, but she found it hilarious. And every time Hoshi, Liz, or Bonnie had folded out of a tight game they'd fallen into this ridiculous sports announcer banter. It was wonderfully absurd, and she loved it. Maggie was almost grateful to Ryan for being such a prick that evening. That was that impetus that had caused her to turn to these women for company. Even though she was out of chocolate herself, she was having more fun than she ever would have expected.
"Arrgh! So what'll it be, matey?" challenge Madeline.
Stephanie squinted at her, thinking hard. It was true she didn't know how much the other woman had or hadn't bluffed over the course of the evening. And Madeline's stack of chocolates was evidence that she played well. Stephanie's eye never left her opponent as she said, "I'm all in. Arrgh!" With her free hand she shoved all of her candies into the kitty.
Maddy wasn't surprised. She'd learned a lot tonight about each of her opponents, and one of the things she'd learned was not to challenge Cormack unless she could back it up. "Arrgh! So that's the way ye want to play it, eh? On yer own head be it." She laid out her cards, confident of her hand. "Three of a kind. Arrgh!"
Stephanie acted as if she'd just been stabbed through the heart. "Arrgh! Arrgh!" she cried, clutching her chest with one hand. "And I've only two-pair." Then her expression suddenly became sly and predatory. She laid down her cards. "Of sixes, that is. Arrgh! Har, har, har!" She gave her most piratical laugh as she hauled her loot towards her.
Everyone laughed, and Bonnie gave a cheer through her munching. She'd decided a few hands earlier that she'd take her winnings and call it good for the night. Now she was happily nibbling candies, watching the others play, and occasionally contributing to the play-by-play.
"Who's up for another hand?" asked Stephanie in her normal voice once more. She began sorting her winnings into piles by denomination. She playfully smacked Bonnie's hand as her lover tried to sneak away one of her almonds.
"Maggie and I are already out," Bonnie said, laughing. "And I have to go on duty soon anyway."
"I think I'm ready to call it a night, too," said Hoshi. She began scooping her winnings into her bag.
Stephanie looked around at the others. Bonnie used that moment of distraction to snag a peanut from her. "Liz, Maddy? You up for it?" She turned on her pirate's voice again. "Or are ye too lily-livered to challenge me? Arrgh!"
Maddy laughed. "I think it's time for me to bow out, as well," she replied. She had the third largest pile of chocolate now that she'd lost a good portion to Stephanie. She didn't eat much chocolate as a general rule, so even the diminished pile would keep her happy for quite some time.
Stephanie looked hopefully at Liz. "Oh no," said her old bunkmate. "I've got precious little left here, and I'm not giving it to you."
"Arrgh! Cowards! I'm surrounded by cowards!" bemoaned Pirate Cormack. Bonnie used the moment to steal yet another chocolate. Stephanie shot her a popeyed glare. "And don't think I'm not seein' what ye're up to, ye saucy wench!"
"Ye can take it out o' me hide later," quipped Bonnie. And then for good measure added an "Arrgh!"
Stephanie laughed. "All right. All right." She gathered her loot into her bag. Hoshi stacked the cards and put them back in their box.
"Liz, would you like help cleaning up?" Maddy asked their host.
"Please and thank you," answered Liz with an appreciative smile.
It took only a minute or two with all of them helping to get the chairs and table folded up.
"Just leave them against the wall for now," Liz instructed. "I'll make Travis help me take them back to the quartermaster tomorrow."
"Speaking of Travis," said Bonnie, "where is he tonight?"
"I'm not entirely sure," admitted Liz. "He said he was going to hit the gym, but he can't have been there all this time."
"Maybe he went for a beer with some of the guys?" Hoshi suggested.
"Probably. Ari's on his feet again, and I bet he'd be happy to have a guys' night out."
Stephanie suddenly remembered an off-hand comment Young had made that morning. "I think Ian said something about beer with the guys, now that you mention it. I'd totally forgotten until just now."
Hoshi smiled at Liz. "Well, we'll clear out, and then you can hail Travis and tell him it's safe to come home."
"Men and beer?" said Maggie, comfortable enough around them at last to offer an opinion. "You'll see him again when you wake up in the morning."
Liz laughed, as did the others. "I think you may be on to something," she said to the young MACO. "Good night, you guys."
One by one they filtered out into the corridor, exchanging good-nights before going their separate ways. Stephanie, Bonnie, and Maggie rode the turbolift together down to E-deck. They stepped out, and Maggie turned right. She paused a moment, waiting for her bunkmate.
"I'll catch you up," Stephanie said.
"Oh! Right." Maggie grinned. "G'night, Bonnie."
"Night," replied the helmsman with a smile.
They waited until Maggie was around the corner and they were alone in the corridor. Stephanie rested her hands on her lover's shoulders, and Bonnie wrapped her arms around the shorter woman's waist.
"See you for dinner tomorrow?" murmured Stephanie as she nuzzled her face in the crook of Bonnie's neck.
"Mm-hmm," was Bonnie's contented reply. "I'll be thinking about you tonight."
"Don't run us off the road," joked Stephanie. "Getting to sleep is gonna be a bitch." She raised her head and her gaze met her lover's. "I'm sorry."
Bonnie was totally taken by surprise. "Sorry for what?"
"Sorry that we don't have somewhere that's our own. Together. You know?"
"Hey, no. Sweetie, it's okay. We're doing okay, right?"
"Yeah." Stephanie smiled, but it was a little melancholy. She rested her cheek on Bonnie's shoulder. "Think we can get Ari and Mae back together?" she said, half-seriously.
Bonnie gave a tiny shrug. "Maybe."
Stephanie was suddenly alert. She lifted her head and again caught Bonnie's eye. "Really?"
"What's going on? Do you know? You know, don't you?"
There was no point in denying it. "Yeah. But I can't tell you about it. You have to ask Mae. But," she went on, "I think things are going to get better for her now. And maybe they'll get better for her and Ari as a result."
"That'd be awesome," said Stephanie sincerely. "And not just because it'd mean we might get a few more nights together. Those two are just so right, and I want Mae to be happy, eh?"
Bonnie nodded. "I know what you mean." She leaned in and kissed her partner, a long, sweet good-night kiss. "I'll see you at dinner," she said softly.
"See you there," answered Stephanie, smiling contentedly.
"Oh they will be." Stephanie grinned. "Good night."
Reluctantly they parted, Stephanie heading back to her cabin and Bonnie to the bridge for Gamma shift.
Maggie was already in bed when Stephanie came in. "You're quick," the ensign commented, tossing her bag of chocolates onto the shelf over her bed. She crossed to her locker, pulled out her hot pink pajamas, and began to change.
"I'm tired," replied Maggie simply. "I had a great time tonight."
"Good. I'm glad you came. It's always good to have new players."
"So you can beat them and get all their chocolate?" teased Maggie.
Stephanie chuckled. "I won't deny that's part of it." She tossed her dirty clothes down the laundry chute, went into the lav, and shut the door. When she came back out, she saw Maggie had turned off the overhead lights but left both bedside lamps lit. Stephanie climbed into her bunk and relaxed into the mattress. "Good night," she said as she turned out her light.
"Good night," echoed Maggie, and turned hers off, too.
Soon both were asleep, and it didn't take long for Stephanie to fall into a dream.
She sat at her computer console, watching video footage of what looked like a science fiction monster movie. The setting was a darkly lit jungle. Two people were fighting. They were humanoid and they wore Starfleet uniforms, but their features were alien. Their noses were broader, and there were protrusions at their temples. Round red hollows on their jaws moved in and out as they clicked and chirped at one another. They moved half-stooped and loping, more like apes than humans.
Then she saw in the background. A female watched the males fight. Stephanie knew they were fighting over her, fighting for dominance, fighting to determine who was the alpha-male.
Suddenly, she recognized all three of them through the alien features and the shaggy hair: Archer; Reed; Sato.
Stephanie jerked awake and shook off the disturbing images. That was just weird. She rolled over, resettled the covers, and focused her mind on pleasanter thoughts. With images of Bonnie in her mind and a smile on her face, she eventually drifted back to sleep.